Wednesday, November 30

Kicking off the season

Our first serious festive lunch and at the grandest of venues. Five hours around the table without anyone taking a leak! Impressed the hell out of yours truly. Am gratified in this age of identity politics you can still muster such a diverse group of individuals determined to enjoy a drink and put the world to rights. Even more impressed with the hostess who we left behind to clean up.

Sunday, November 27

Nowadays everyone’s a potential crazy

Today has resembled one of those old fashioned Sundays: when everything stayed shut, including the pubs – when you actually looked forward to returning to work Monday morning. Watching paint dry ain’t in it, so when someone knocked on the door I jumped at the opportunity… Many years ago there was a literary community in situ with a reputation for what my grandmother would have categorised as ‘loose living’, and while there are a couple of books that address the era, there’s always someone who thinks I can shed fresh light on the subject. That a number of the visitors look like a cross between Grayson Perry and Charles Manson explains why so few make it across the doorstep.

Saturday, November 26

Black Friday frenzy?

Let’s face it, the last place you would want to be on a sunny day is up town. I’m an online shopper at this time of year, and if the number of delivery vans are a guide so is everyone else along the track.

It wasn’t so much Black Friday that felled me yesterday, rather a rack of mutton we ate for lunch that had been in the barrel too long. Today I’m functioning on one cylinder. Although the thermometer outside reads a reasonable 5˚ it doesn’t feel that warm, and impressed as I am with the neighbours get up and go – Saturday mornings are for guns and horses, I’m not quitting my fireside.

Thursday, November 24

Mr Incorrigible

Although we’ve eaten some nice food this past couple of weeks, yesterday’s Irish fry – the bacon, cabbage and spuds, is about as good as it gets. Another unexpected treat today, with a bucket of oysters from the fishmonger. We don’t see the little suckers too often here in the sticks. As much as I enjoy oysters and the effort involved, they’re worth it to witness Mrs G’s face when I’m rolling about the floor with a shucking knife – she has the emergency services on fast dial. The highpoint of today is a bake off between Mrs G’s Dundee Cake and the local Artisan Baker. Of course there’s only one thing you can drink with fruit cake... Given we are all going to hell in a handcart what more can you do?

Wednesday, November 23

Schoolchildren beat up police officers

I see the old neighbourhood hasn’t changed. Remind me again why we moved to Devon ten years ago... Escaping knife-wielding teenagers, only to be trampled underfoot by marauding sheep.

Tuesday, November 22

Party day

              Normal service resumes tomorrow.

Monday, November 21

Damp but undaunted

Today’s atrocious weather has been kept at bay by two blazing stoves. As always I’m pleased to be on top of the hill rather than down below in sleepy hollow, beneath two foot of flood water. Comfort food for supper: wild-venison steaks and baked potatoes. Another busy week in the offing, places to go and things to do.

Sunday, November 20

Local markets

There was a time the local bakery and chippy, the café, were repositories of local cuisine. Nowadays your average market stall holder has a degree in gastronomy from an Italian university and sells the sort of produce once the provenance of Soho family grocers. It’s a long way from Dolmio sauce and the just about managing.

Saturday, November 19

Citizens of the world

The Trump revolution is doomed to fail, says Martin Vander Weyer. “Only a third of Houston’s citizens are white, and only 22 per cent of under-20s; the Latino population has risen from 6 to 41 per cent in two generations, its birth rate boosted by a culture of family support that tends to produce healthier babies. What’s significant about this, according to sociologists at the city’s Rice University, is that by 2050 all of the US will look like Houston today, with a majority of minorities in all age groups below 60.”

I appreciate it’s pure selfishness on my part, but I lived in Houston for a while in the 1970s. Think Travolta and Debra Winger, Mickey Gilley’s in Pasadena. Many of the lads were good old boys from the country and the city was a touch pastiche. Back then I loved jetting about the world, the diverse cultures, before returning home to my comfort zone. Unfortunately in much the same way our cities boast identical international chain stores and restaurants they now appear to host a similar cultural mix. You don’t have to go anywhere anymore because everywhere is on your doorstep. Am not sure there’s anything wrong with this, but sometimes – for just a minute or so – I miss the excitement of travel as was, the differences.

Hunkered down

A decent night’s kip would have been nice. Unfortunately the neighbour’s remuda escaped, resulting in a posse of quad bikes and a moon-lit roundup. Today has been grim, chill, even before Storm Angus arrives. Am thankful for log fires. Chased round all morning in order to leave the afternoon free for Saturday's racing and footy... Scotland v Argentina. Shoulders of Whiteface Dartmoor for supper, a glass or two of rich and savoury Rioja (soy, peat, morello cherry and ripe plum).

Thursday, November 17

Remember Dolly the Sheep?

A fun day, yesterday. Wayne Rooney would have loved it. Even the weather played ball. Thursday by contrast is Bad Day at Black Rock, with gusting winds (40+kts) and heavy rain – my Thomas Magnum aloha shirt a major wardrobe malfunction. Thankfully this is not Aberystwyth and we don’t live in a caravan. As for yesterday… if we eat turkey again this next millennium it will be one time too many. Fortunately today’s grocery delivery included a half-carcass of lamb – a strange beast with one leg, multiple shoulders, eleven hearts and three livers?

Wednesday, November 16

Indian tycoon hosts £59m wedding for daughter

£59m??? If the Gudgeon celebrations cost as much as £100, 43 years ago, I'd be shocked. I borrowed £20 from the mother-in-law to buy a round of drinks.

Asceticism is for January

Mounting obituaries and this morning’s routine scan at the clinic are timely reminders the clock is ticking, that one day those pesky chickens will be banging on the door wanting to roost somewhere. For today, however, the chickens can bugger off. We are celebrating our wedding anniversary with a free range bronze turkey and a bottle or two of Bodegas Gramona’s finest. El pavo comes with all the traditional (non-Iberian) trimmings, including classic oatmeal stuffing, cranberry confit and bread sauce.

When icicles hang…and Tom bears logs into the hall...

Not quite the full moon this morning but more than sufficient to light the yard. A pair of tawny owls are always on duty when I step outside for firewood, warning each other, to-whit, to-whoo, I’m up and about.

Tuesday, November 15

Silence of the hogs

Out and about yesterday. Eight of the twelve vehicles I passed or that overtook me were Land Rovers. You wonder what the roads will look like a decade from now when these old workhorses have gone. Picked up something for dinner from a familiar source; rural and isolated springs to mind. A great bear of a man from the pages of Stella Gibbons, the gregarious sort who stumbles from the shed to greet you with lots of back slapping and hand shaking. It’s the dried blood and entrails decorating his overalls that worries me.

Saturday, November 12

Bollywood comes to Dartmoor?

No Lord Mayor’s Show, albeit a sizeable (Asian) crew filming below Huccaby Bridge this morning. A brave starlet in diaphanous frock, risking life, limb and pneumonia, perched on a rock in the river.

Friday, November 11

England v Scotland

While hardly the muscular rivalry of bygone years, you’re still going down.

Always comes in threes


Leonard Cohen expires and is lionised as only popular entertainers are. At eleven the country marked Armistice Day, my Grandfather’s generation. Then this afternoon's post delivered news of a death in the family, along with the tinge of guilt such messages encompass. You grow up alongside each other only to end up communicating via greetings cards at Christmas. And when the cards fall from fashion…

Thursday, November 10

Calm down, dear

Paul Mason may be unhinged but Simon Schama is merely a prat.

Equal opportunity offenders

On reflection it’s been a wonderfully entertaining couple of years, what with the General Election returning a Conservative majority and Jeremy Corbyn, a European Referendum that resulted in Brexit, and now America’s Presidential Election. By ‘entertaining’ I mean both the quality and emotional content of commentary. It’s gratifying to know people still care. Whether headlining on broadsheets or indulging in banter at the Dog & Duck, everyone has an opinion and is determined to voice it. I acknowledge there may be an element of racism in some of the more intemperate broadsides, but it’s refreshing to call a spade a spade sans the obligatory threat of medieval retribution. Racism and virtue signalling – Farage and Toynbee, Trump and Merkel – are sides of the same coin.

Wednesday, November 9

So much for pundits and pollsters

I nod off in my chair at half-one, with Andrew Neil and entourage confidently calling the election for Clinton. The end of old, uneducated white men, they say – let’s hear it for Latinos and women. Gudgeon wakes at half-four to find the Donald is looking a winner?

Tuesday, November 8

Who has the best lines?

Deep garnet-purple coloured and scented of baked blackberries, cherry coulis and cassis with nuances of eucalyptus, black pepper and liquorice. Medium to full-bodied, it fills the mouth with expressive black berry preserves and peppery flavours supported by firm yet approachable tannins and finishing long with a menthol lift... Greif but they’re full of it. “A veritable bargain in a stellar line up,” says my wine merchant, an impressive wine and a nice drink. However let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves: truth is a roast chicken was the star of tonight’s dinner.

Back to the barricades

While arch Bremoaners are invoking Harold Macmillan’s “Winds of Change” as a reason the 52% should roll over and compromise (this morning’s FT), most other papers continue to stoke the furnace, echoing the late Ian Paisley’s cry of “No Surrender”. Paul Mason is urging a re-run of Cable Street in this morning’s Guardian (the Met are already banking their overtime). Frozen out by Corben, Mason has become unhinged. It’s not so much winds of change as guaranteeing a return to the past. Who needs an Orgreave inquiry when we can sit and watch a rematch on the box.

Sunday, November 6

Our Spanish odyssey continues

The goat was a huge success, ditto the bottle of Rioja. I’m working my way through a list that takes me from bog standard rot gut, via Reserva, through to Gran Reserva. As an avowed Francophile, drinking Spanish (and Italian) wine is very much an adventure. I generally know what I’m paying for when it comes from Bordeaux and Burgundy, but varieties such as Mencía, Bobal and Merseguera are a stab in the dark.

Saturday, November 5

Political rebellion

“Activist judges rocked by populist backlash after Brexit ruling,” declares the weekend press. These superannuated Establishment lackeys, what on earth did they expect? It feels like a rerun of the 70-80s as two tribes go to war. I don’t necessarily disagree with the judiciary, but being thwarted by rich people and their lawyers is pure red rag stuff. Alex Massie can hardly deny us the opportunity to scream and rage snipe from the sidelines.

Friday, November 4

Our best hope?

Without a big sister to do our heavy lifting we are finished, says the Guardian. For fuck sake grow a pair and stop relying on American taxpayers to fight your battles.

Why deprive yourself?

Such is the fraught nature of yuletide nosh – having to choose between turkey and goose, smoked salmon or baked ham – we have submitted to eating all and everything, albeit spreading the meals over a two month period rather than a seven-day binge. This week’s glazed ham, a Christmas-week favourite, a case in point. Why deprive yourself when this sort of treat can brighten a grey November, partnering that 1er Cru Chablis I salted away. On Sunday Gudgeon barbecues a goat and Mrs G. bakes chocolate cakes.

Makes for lively conversation

I imagine Europe will be seeing a lot less of us in the future given last night’s conversation in the Dog & Duck. Having just returned from their usual trip to the continent, neighbours are aghast at the demise of the Pound and its effect on their spending power. Staycations are the future. Brexit continues to divide the community and I fear yesterday’s decision in the courts is merely inflaming rhetoric. Biting your lip appears the best course of action, and of course Gudgeon is known for his tact and diplomacy.

Thursday, November 3

Eviva España

A bit cooler these mornings, down to low single figures. Laying a fire and brewing tea are first order necessities… Our neighbour has recently slaughtered a steer, another neighbour several hogget. This morning I collect my portion from each and pick up additional supplies in town. November’s theme is the cuisine of España. Although Spanish nosh a la chorizo, tapas and tortillas has become a little passé, it’s basically an excuse to drink lots of Cava and Crianza.

Not so much Boris’s Titanic as the Vital Spark. Smoke is billowing from chimneys at either end of the homestead. I actually cut the grass this afternoon, hopefully its final trim until the spring of 2017 – before setting off across the moor and getting drowned in a downpour. Cold and wet I may be, but you wouldn’t swop this place.

Tuesday, November 1

I think we can answer this

'How did my mum manage with nine kids and just one tap in the house?'

Wall to wall Trump

Given the blanket coverage of America’s presidential election you’d be forgiven for thinking England was the 51st State. I can understand our interest – leaders of the free world etc. However part of the reason we remain so indifferent to our continental trading partners is the almost Europe-free content of our national media. I suspect we know far more about the hopes and aspirations of Ohio’s residents than we will ever know about the bürgers of Lower Saxony.