Sunday, May 29

Time and tide, as they say…

We live at the end of the line. Anyone venturing this far has no alternative but to turn around and bugger off back to where they came from. I just wish they could manage it in less than an eight-point manoeuvre. That said I can’t believe how quiet it is today. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve the usual procession of strangers, walkers – I even disposed of my expired ride-on mower to a passing rag and bone man. Aside from the buzzing insects, however, silence is golden.

I sometimes look at myself in the shaving mirror and see the thirty-something Gudgeon I so admired (we’re all narcissists at that age). Unfortunately, reflections in shop windows constantly remind me I’m a ringer for my father in his later years. Whilst my sympathies are with the Brexiteers, in my heart I know we are a lost cause. Like as not this referendum will be about drawing a line beneath us. To cling to a way of life is understandable, continuity brings a sense of place and belonging. Stick with it too long, however, and you end up a sad caricature of something you saw on television years ago – take to wearing kilts or buckskin and feathers. There’s a nice book review in today’s papers by Juliet Nicolson on the subject of the English Country House and the gentle decline of the long weekend. Comes to us all.

Saturday, May 28

Sunshine and barbecue

Pork ribs, marinated in oranges and lemons. What a glorious day. The weather an aberration to what is the start of a traditional bank holiday. This morning the wireless reported a 62 mile queue of traffic on the M5, all heading in this direction. Thankfully, given how quiet it’s been at the homestead, none of them appear to have made it. I can’t believe we’ve sat out on the yard all day sunning ourselves: this isn’t the Dartmoor I’ve come to know and grudgingly accept. Even the neighbours have played ball and gone away. …Congrats to Steve Bruce. Always liked the lad, even if he continues to struggle. Commiserations to Exeter Chiefs.

Thursday, May 26

Dusk…

When in doubt barbecue a shoulder of lamb flavoured with lots of rosemary and garlic. The yard has a sizeable flock in situ. Sit long enough and most everything wanders past…assorted stray dogs and cats, a vixen, countless bank voles and rabbits, the tawny owl, a grass snake, toad and bat…and then mist rolls down and rain falls, the pleasant soft sort.

Wednesday, May 25

Yawn

In the spirit of adventure we ate lunch at a new (for us) local venue. ‘The latest and most heart-felt project of Ashburton Cookery School’s Stella West-Harling, a champion of local produce.’ Crewed by a typical band of young enthusiasts, it serves the usual stale tried and tested menu in much the same way Costa serves coffee and sandwiches. Ok I’m spoiled, but that’s no excuse for a lack of effort.

The EU vote should be more than Project Fear

Brexit is more than an economic argument in much the same way our lives are greater than can be proven by logic and science. We need to believe in things that are not entirely justified by reason, says Julian Baggini.

Scottish economy improves

A report in December 2014 found alcohol consumption in Scotland had fallen by the equivalent of 38 million pints of beer a year since 2009. The decline was linked to the economy crashing ... But last year the NHS said alcohol sales had begun to increase again. Ergo...

Millennials not much happier than Bob Cratchit

The drudgery of entry-level jobs in professional services is rife, writes Maximilian Kaupp-Roberts in the FT. The financial sector goes to great lengths to recruit the brightest and best, then saddles them with duties that were previously assigned to clerks.

Barriers to a happy life

“The relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along, and believing that having children will improve one’s marriage is a tenacious and persistent myth among those who are young and in love. The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of a couple divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together. Downsides to having children may partly explain why more and more women in the United States and around the world are choosing not to procreate. According to the US census, the percentage of childless American women (ages 15-44) increased a staggering amount in just two generations: from 35% in 1976 to 47% in 2010.”

Elsewhere ... “Parents of children under 16 were slightly more likely to be in distressed relationships (22%), and becoming a parent for the first time was "one of life's events most likely to reduce relationship quality" the report found.”

Epitaph for a past, Last Whites of the East End

Hats off to Kelly Close’s sympathetic documentary exploring the exodus of white working-class residents from the East End of London. It steered a reasonable path through what is an obvious minefield, reinforcing my belief that Chucka Emunna’s plea for a more integrated society hasn’t a prayer. For a snapshot, a talking point, the programme was excellent. However you could write forever on this subject and fail to do it justice. There are probably post-graduate courses that barely scratch the surface. Truth is most of us would flee either of the Newham communities, pre and post mass-immigration. Race and religion isn’t the only dividing line. Although humans are group creatures in the manner of East Enders, the upwardly mobile are as susceptible as the immigrant to quitting the security of the group for the advantages of belonging to a higher social class or more successful country. Maybe Thatcher was right about there being no such thing as society, and our evolutionary imperative will always prioritise self and family over community.

Monday, May 23

Something else we buggered up

“Baby boomers are to blame for a lost generation of gardeners, say the Royal Horticultural Society, because we didn’t bother to teach our kids. This ‘lost generation’ aged mid-twenties to forties treat their gardens as outdoor living rooms, with decking and barbecues.” The truth is that gardens and allotments were something from my grandfather’s generation. My father may have been ‘taught’, encouraged to take an interest, but his heart wasn’t in it – too knackered from working twelve-hour shifts. This lack of enthusiasm relayed itself to my generation, the boomers, incapable of keeping an indoor pot-plant alive for more than ten days. Fortunately for me I married someone who takes a passing interest in this sort of thing.

Keeping Schtum

Nick Hillman, former government advisor and author of a study on campus restrictions to free speech, says female students are the problem because they study arts and humanities subjects. “The concept of a trigger warning is a more obvious thing in an English literature lesson than a physics class,” he said. Hmm…it would be nice to think this is just a problem people go through at that age, before exposed to the cut and thrust of the big bad world. As a onetime employer I wonder how I could hire subject such shrinking violets to the crew that currently sit around the table. An observation I’ve heard more than once is that foreign-born girls employees are less of a problem and more able to look after themselves (have thicker skins). Not that such considerations come into play when sifting through applicants.

Above my pay grade

Chuka Ummuna appeared on television this morning to promote the Remain cause, criticising the immigration debate for focusing “almost exclusively on numbers, with too little attention paid to how we integrate people once they settle here”. Britain is becoming more ethnically segregated he said. This argument is made on an almost daily basis and you don’t have to be especially observant to appreciate the reality of multi-cultural life. I suspect many people rarely give it a second thought, regard segregation (an unfortunate and loaded choice of words) – choosing to lead parallel lives – as the natural order of things. That this is a bad thing we also accept as self-evident. One assumes larger brains than Gudgeon’s are beavering away in the background attempting to solve the conundrum.

Sunday, May 22

Woodcock Pilots

The Goldcrest – Tidley Goldfinch, as oft referred to hereabouts – hovers beneath the eves, harvesting spider webs to line its nest.

Everything comes back blissfully into fashion

Shovelling away slabs of grilled animal and emptying bottles of alcohol-heavy claret as if tomorrow isn’t a school day, a mythologised age of chaps in open-topped roadsters, who smoked rakishly, and thought they knew how to show a girl a good time. The Guinea mixed grill is the sort of thing open-top tourist buses should stop in front of. ...An occasional Gudgeon venue during the 80s. I suspect it is our friends from the States and Japan that keep these institutions alive today.

Back to the old stuff

I’ve been fortunate on the food stakes recently, not least with yesterday’s outstanding lemon soles and accompanying wild asparagus. The latter, a French import, was new to me. Earthy, grassy and nutty. I have also become a fan of razor clams, especially those from the Rias Gallegas estuaries in Galicia in the north west of Spain (served with Kalamata olives and a bottle of something from Bodegas Barbadillo). Suppose it’s back to Welsh cockles and turnips when we vote to leave. In advance of our culinary retrenchment, today’s pièce de résistance is a boiled gigot of Dartmoor mutton in caper sauce.

Saturday, May 21

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

There’s a slight domestic edge to today’s Cup Final, with Mrs G’s underachievers confronting the Eagles. Not that I’m necessarily a Palace fan. However, colleagues of old used to drag me along to Selhurst Park (corporate box), and I have fond memories – from the days of Malcolm Allison thru to Steve Coppell. I was consigned to a Gulag in East Anglia when the two teams last met at Wembley and so spared the disappointment. Norwich...now that’s a different story.

Things I have learnt today. Mrs G. is a fan of Tinie Tempah, whoever he may be.

Chattering class

“If I ruled the world” says Marcus du Sautoy, “the first thing I would do is to make sure that everyone understood Euclid’s proof that there is an infinity of prime numbers.” Euclid can take a flying fuck, I thought; unless the lad can fix the homestead’s plumbing and produce a half-decent roast chicken he ain’t worth shit.

That’s the trouble with people these days: misguided priorities and a sense of their own importance – the unbridled certainty of their argument and the preceived ignorance of the opposition. Take AC Grayling for instance. Grayling rails against the enemies of democracy and the competence of the average voter: ‘paucity of information, short-term view, self-interest, limited concern for unknown others, impatience with detail, and emotionally-based preferences and antipathies for this vague standpoint or that, and for this political personality or that.’ Guilty as charged, thinks me. Unfortunately for the tetchy chattering class I still vote.

Friday, May 20

Friday night is music night

The hills are alive with the sound of Desmond Carrington. The Bromley lad broadcasting from Perthshire is 90 this week. And I’m still listening … an indication of how exciting my Friday nights have become. Submerged in mist (dreich ain’t in it), dining on Arbroath smokies whilst tuned in to Eddi Reader and Peggy Lee.

Thursday, May 19

I wonder where they are now

I feel a little guilty about supper (Barnsley chops), given tonight’s League One return leg at the Bescot Stadium. Walsall have a mountain to climb. The sweet tasting chops are from rare breed, pasture and herb fed, coastal shearling lambs. The accompanying Châteauneuf du Pape is a bit special too, lots of spicy stewed fruit. Mediterranean food for a wild Dartmoor evening, mist and blustery showers – the wood stove is blazing. It beats those Fleur de Lys pies we used to munch on at Fellows Park.

Wednesday, May 18

Each to his own

This morning in Exeter was warmer and dryer…some naff stuff on show at the RAMM. Mrs G’s favourite Asian restaurant continues to downgrade…the starched white linen disappeared long ago, and now the bar man has been promoted to front of house. I appreciate it’s probably both racist and sexist of me, but when I dine at a Thai restaurant I expect the usual smiling lady in appropriate traditional dress rather than Ted Bovis. It detracts from the experience – and irrationally, the cuisine. In the same manner I expect my bank manager to wear a suit, and the girl in the chipper to resemble Steph McGovern, I trust my food to be dispensed by an appropriate professional.

Just like old-style Tories

SNP love triangle and snouts in the trough. More like kids in a sweet shop…it’s not like they hadn’t been warned about getting into bad habits.

Tuesday, May 17

Spring is well underway

Although our bluebells are hanging in there, one more week and the wild garlic and nettles will have overwhelmed the margins. It isn’t so much undergrowth as a rapidly encroaching jungle. Having spent a good part of yesterday trailing the mower, today it was hard hat and face mask – the dreaded brush cutter. I always finish looking like jolly green giant’s tiny brother, covered head to toe in the detritus of plant life and globules of slugs and snails. To rub it in a crow decided to crap on my head and a neighbour’s pet rat – a foreign (European) mutt of undetermined provenance – savaged my ankle. On the plus side our freezer is working again, which is just as well given it contains a herd of expensive livestock (deadstock?). The trusty plumber also turned up to fix the boiler. It was designed, build and installed several decades ago and has to expire at some stage. Mrs G. spent the day downloading recipes from BBC’s website.

Monday, May 16

I thought we kicked this lad out at the last election?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Osborne and Balls alongside each other, on the same platform and singing from the same hymn sheet. You just know something is hooky when these two characters team up to sell it to you.

Any lingering doubts on which way I vote in the upcoming referendum were quashed when listening to Richard Dearlove’s talk as part of the BBC’s World on the Move day. Thank you BBC. Although there are lots of other people with equally compelling arguments.

Sunday, May 15

Women obliged to cook for their partners

The oil price rout has run deeper and longer than any oil market downturn in history, and comes at a time when the aging North Sea basin is losing its economic edge against cheaper exploration areas, leaving oil producers bloated with unnecessary costs, inefficient practises and rising debt. Speaking personally I’m not so sure the current downturn is any worse than the successive boom and busts of the ’70s and ’80s, it’s just that we have had it so good for so long. Given the usual economic cycle, you could argue the last two decades have been an anomaly. “It used to be pretty common to interview for a new job, land an offer that’s 10pc higher than your current rate, and tell your employer to beat that offer to keep you. You could boost your salary quite a lot for doing little more than a one hour interview. Now I hear colleagues talking at the water cooler about how they’re having to learn to cook for their boyfriends. The high-paid jobs are gone so they can’t go out for dinner all the time.” Fillet steak and chocolate torte give way to stovies and deep-fried Mars bars. ...Given the girls’ lack of experience, one assumes their stovies will be less than haute cuisine.

Saturday, May 14

Lark’s tongues and culinary folklore

Yesterday’s Totnes trip was a struggle, what with the weight of tourist traffic and the congested pavements in town. Car parks were full before ten. I say ‘struggle’ in the sense of queuing for a table at a popular restaurant, rather than competing for the last bottle of water in a refugee camp. Our population is growing and apparently, at least according to the smart looking totty from the IMF, is good for us – the more the merrier, she says. Afternoon on the moor was the reverse: yours truly the only man on the hills. Why anyone would want to spend the day poking about flea markets instead of mixing it with the skylarks beats me. However each to their own. Supper was roast topside of veal and English asparagus, a lip-smacking Pouilly Loché. …Saturday’s supper is (inevitably) cold sliced veal submerged beneath a tuna sauce, an old favourite from Elizabeth Camisa – their Soho grocery store one of our culinary touchstones during the ’70/80’s.

Nigel Farage is the least of Europe’s problems

This morning’s FT editorial says “The Remain camp should take nothing for granted, but on the economy – the argument that truly matters – its position is unassailable.” Gudgeon would humbly suggest the economy remains, at best, number two on the list. Unfortunately for the Remain camp, the FT (and John Major), this time around ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ may not be a defining factor. As a gambling man the Remain camp still has my money. Europe certainly hopes so, because – as Tony Barber alludes – for all of our faults, in addition to Britain’s money per se and our defence spending in particular, Britain weighs the continental balance in favour of a liberal democracy. What other European country would put an Eton ponce into No. 10 whilst appointing a Muslim oik as their Capital city’s Mayor.

Friday, May 13

Woman scorned

Donald Trump supporters are not the bigots the left likes to demonise, says John Harris. You may well be right, retorts John Major, the man who once lusted after old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the mist. However Major refuses to cease moralising or to try and understand how mainstream politics has failed so badly and could be rescued. Much better to accuse Brexit supporters of being xenophobes, to rage at whoever refuses to tow the party line. He probably thinks they’re the same ‘bastards’ who stabbed him in the back when he was PM. Those of us who were around at that time still remember Black Wednesday, sonny, and after having your hands burnt so badly, I would have thought you would be the first in line to walk away from Europe. The Tories still haven’t learnt from their fruitcakes and loonies jibe.

Thursday, May 12

Ship ahoy!

A break for lunch at Mrs G’s favourite Dartmouth hostelry, feasting on raw queen scallops, Fine de Claire oysters, and large Dover Soles. What appears to be Alexander Machkevitch’s £150m yacht is moored outside. If you are in the market for a super-yacht this vessel is definitely worth consideration. The oysters are good too.

Tuesday, May 10

Each to their own. Or not.

Higher-earning people prefer their own company, says Atlantic’s Adam Chandler, and when company is called for tend to pick and choose who they socialise with (apparently it isn’t family or neighbours). I’m not sure this implies anything bad about high earners, so much as low-income people (the sort that IDS believes should vote for Brexit) having more of a need to rely on each other (baby-sitting, short-term loans, a homer…managing day to day challenges). When we moved into the homestead the lad next door was good enough to welcome us and to lay out the neighbourhood ground rules: ‘If you are in trouble everyone will come running; otherwise no one hereabouts will bother you.’ Rightly or wrongly I translated this as ‘Keep your nose out of our business and we’ll stay out of yours.’ Works for me, I thought. But then life rarely conforms to expectations.

And they say satire is dead!

If I understand it correctly, should we vote leave, it will be left to Cormac McCarthy to write our obituary. From financial Armageddon to World War 3 and everything in between. This is not so much project fear as lakes of fire burning with brimstone. The elephant in the room may still swing it, however. Don’t get too smug about electing Sadiq Khan, says Trevor Phillips, Enoch may well have been right.

Sunday, May 8

Sunny Sundays

The 2,400 teenagers heading off across the moor yesterday morning have dropped lucky with the weekend weather. Sunshine and an occasional light shower. I was out myself at seven, getting the jump on our weekend walkers. Never let me take this place for granted. The past week has been fun. Life is fun, despite what Andrew Sullivan and Niall Ferguson tell us – and a bottle of Pol Roger never fails to lift the spirit. He who dares, as they say. It must be the first time I've cheered on Doncaster Rovers.

Friday, May 6

Ten Tors

A nice weekend for the challenge. Early one evening a couple of weeks ago there was a banging on the door. A lad had been out on the moor for three days with his two young sons. The weather was atrocious and they were exhausted. It had been an ordeal. Mrs G. fired up the kettle while I rang the local hostelries to locate suitable accommodation. There was nothing available – no room at the inn. In the end I cranked up the motor and drove our weary pilgrims to the nearest town, depositing them at the tourist information office. It was only when I returned home it occurred to me we could have put them up at the homestead. Opening your home to strangers isn’t the unthinking knee-jerk response it may once have been … and I’ve been feeling guilty ever since.

Lunchtime pint

Our four resident swallows are as nothing compared to the huge flock of house martins residing at the Dog & Duck. Throw in a muck-spreader, sheep dogs sleeping on the doorstep and the eau de byre...buzzing insects, and you have an archetypal rural pub. A Constable painting with too few customers.

Thursday, May 5

Busy busy

Although polls are open the only thing our constituency has on the ballot is the post of police and crime commissioner. I’d guess at a voter turnout of less than 20%. Faced with another gloriously sunny day and in the knowledge I would be suffering from yesterday’s shindig, Gudgeon had scheduled a lie in and lunchtime session at the Dog & Duck. Mrs G., however, had other ideas – the first of which included me driving south to the Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary. As if we haven’t enough sheep of our own around here, not least the Scotch Blackface and Whiteface Dartmoor, the Boss insisted we contrast their taste with a colourful breed from North Ronaldsay. To make the journey interesting I embarked on a back-doubles route which, while taking in some marvellous scenery, proved (given the hangover) a torturous trip. If I never see Slapton Village and Start Bay again I will be a happy bunny.

Last night’s party was deemed a success in that I managed to avoid offending any of our guests (who were still in recovery from the Hong Kong Sevens). Everyone knows me well enough and makes allowances. Let’s hope our neighbours are as forgiving, given the extent to which my voice carries. It was warm enough for al fresco dining, and throwaway remarks can be projected to surprising places.

Wednesday, May 4

Whin Linties

The mistle thrush brood look close to fledging. Lots of competition for worms, the yard a mass of nesting, feeding, flapping birds – buzzards soar through at head height. Whinchats are our latest arrivals, whin linties as Mrs G. calls them. Today’s sunshine has also brought out the grass snakes. The yard remains more mud than grass, with lots of dandelions to complement the yellow gorse. A three-kilo leg of lamb is about to hit the barbecue in readiness for tonight’s visitors. Let’s hope everyone is as hungry as our feathered friends.

Tuesday, May 3

Portugal’s favourite fish

Black scabbard fish for supper. Interesting taste and texture – and as long as you don’t eat the liver, aren’t particularly fussed about toxin levels and parasitic infections, well worth a try. Not so keen on the fried banana.

Misguided protest

Congrats to Leicester City. Who’d have thunk it; an impossible dream. The sun is out in celebration … barbecue at the ready. The Foxes’ triumph suggests almost anyone can achieve almost anything, given sufficient motivation and a willingness to compete. Something those parents keeping their kids at home in an effort to protect the little mites from the stress of Sats tests need to appreciate. The local school where I grew up was, last time I looked, rated in the country’s bottom five secondary schools. When consulted about the lack of achievement, parents backed their child’s happiness over the most basic kind of education. Sad. And frustrating for those people footing the bill, concerned about social mobility.

Our Chief Scout Bear Grylls is again bemoaning the absence of adult volunteers willing to become scout leaders. Apparently there are 35,000 children on the waiting list to join a troop. We don’t need to elaborate on the reason that men in particular aren’t putting themselves forwards. Both of the scout leaders I met supervising groups of boys on the moor this past month were young women. Maybe the world has passed me by, things have moved on, but with overly anxious mothers, the prevalence of women school teachers AND women scout leaders, you wonder where the lads’ role models are coming from, whether they will all grow up to resemble Grayson Perry.