Sunday, December 31

Booze makes us more right-wing?

“Personally this jars with my own experience; since conservatism is associated with higher levels of fear – conservatives’ brains perceive threats more than those of liberals – I think I tend to become more liberal as I drink more. Of course in the morning, when I wake up in bed still wearing all my clothes and my mouth tasting like sandpaper, that’s a different matter.”

Hogmanay…

Clean house…tick; settle debts…tick; drink glass of whisky with slice of fruitcake…(at appropriate time); schedule early night.

The traditional four days of goose eventually gave way to smoked eel and veal burgers. Today it’s beef, a rib roast – the last hurrah. Fittingly, an ’89 Ch. Gruaud-Larose.

Saturday, December 30

Cocktails…

An archaic genre? I promised Mrs G. at least one cocktail over the festive period. The finest gin, equal measures of red vermouth and Campari, served in iced glasses. A rash bet at Haydock Park.

Friday, December 29

What a morning…

Dartmoor at its best. Wild and windy it may be but I slept the sleep of the dead. Crawl out of bed in the dark, switch on the kettle, light a fire and you're off and running. In the words of Ike and Tina, providing I get enough kip, ‘There ain’t no mountain high enough.’ Gudgeon can spout cliches with the best of 'em.

Caught in a downpour this morning. Although it’s supposed to be a toasty 4°C, the gales have determined otherwise (rain-hail-sleet-snow). Returned home saturated. Sky has now cleared and the sun is shining.

Wednesday, December 27

Woke to a blizzard … real snow at last

Don’t you just love this time of year. Especially the power cuts. Ban my wood stove on pain of death.

Tuesday, December 26

Grade 1 winner for local girl

Bryony Frost rides and wins her first Grade 1 on Black Corton.

Still feasting

Over the years I’ve tried every commercial brand and have come to the conclusion that, if you are going to drink Buck’s Fizz, you have to buy real oranges and squeeze them yourself. Also reinforced my belief that H. Forman & Son are the only people for smoked salmon. Today sees a repeat of the goose, this time with spiced tangerines and a spectacular Burgundy wine.

Finally got around to finishing Kieran Fallon’s autobiography. A litany of the usual suspects: incompetent medics, dodgy policemen and a corrupt establishment. It’s a decent read and well written for a change. Thanks to Santa the library has been replenished.

Monday, December 25

Seaweed, miso and even kimchi


Millennials are changing what we eat. Like most, I’ve travelled and absorbed influences from around the world, from around Britain; and yes I’m big on pickled stuff (there’s six or more varieties between the store cupboard, fridge and pantry, all homemade)…we eat sauerkraut every week. Giving up dairy products would be a problem, however, given my daily consumption of milk, yogurt, butter and cheese. I increasingly eat less meat and that’s more to do with portion control than frequency. The biggest switch in recent years is the absence of seasonings in the sense of sauces and spices to jazz things up – a ladle of supermarket gloop. The quality of food in this neck of the woods is so good it would be sacrilege, you’d miss the point.

Christmas Day permeates the homestead. Despite my condiment reticence, traditional lunch wouldn’t be the same without bread sauce, apple sauce, and sage and onion stuffing. Millennial food doesn't quite cut it at this time of year.

I’d be even more the grump sans our customary exchange of Xmas presents. It may ‘only’ be the traditional socks and books, a crate of vino and box of chocs, but we’re all just kids at heart. Thanks for the festive texts. Best wishes to everyone.

Sunday, December 24

We live, as we dream – alone

How good to have the house quiet
all to myself again, to be able to walk
towards a room and know
I shall be the only one there
no movement except my movement
no sounds except the sounds I make
(Geoffrey Squires)

Cheap at half the price

The cost of decent meals runs between £3-500/day, excluding the price of the food! By the simple expedient of providing Mrs G. with fresh flowers and a steady supply of Pol Roger, it seems I’m quids in.

Saturday, December 23

Keep your head down and mind the accent

Mrs G. is still cooking up a storm (late shift). Ever eager to enter into the festive spirit, she’s decorated her toque blanche with tinsel. You think I jest? I never jest. Not so much Swedish Chef as Scottish woman with vast array of sharp implements within reach. And talking of Scottish chefs… ‘Nick Nairn decked on the corner of Union Row.’ Aberdeen nightlife obviously hasn’t changed over the years (Mrs G. lived on Union Row and I worked round the corner). Never a place to loiter at chucking out time.

The ghost of Christmas present

Five days on the trot, up town, – on or before 09:00hrs. By up town I mean Tuesday to Exeter, Wednesday Newton Abbot, Thursday Plymouth, Friday Totnes and this morning to Tavistock. If I haven’t got it by now we’re doing without. Today’s excursion was to collect our goose from the Beaworthy lad. It may be a beaut but by the middle of next week I’ll be sick of the thing. Today is Pie Day – three of my favourites. So little time, so much scoff. There’s a picture of Godrew Smith in today’s Times obits, and by rights I should more resemble the doughty trencherman than the waif I am. …Smith believed that enjoyment was an essential component of editorial life. Thus his fortnightly ideas sessions, held in the office, involved caterers bringing in rare beef, York ham, salads and chilled Chablis; office gossip took precedence over editorial matters; features were conjured up on a wave of exuberance. “He had an utter enveloping joviality,” said one of his reporters, Philip Norman, adding, “He was the ghost of Christmas present.” Reminds me of a place we once knew.

Friday, December 22

Dad dancing...

I’m a sucker for Xmas. As soon as Noddy Holder and Roy Wood hit the airwaves I’m a goner. Not sure about the perennial George Michael (currently playing), who was more a soundtrack to the young lads in the office. The young lads are now in their mid 50s and probably still fantasising about being shacked up in a ski chalet with someone special. A sad bunch the lot of us Abba fans all.

Thursday, December 21

Christmas fare

I collected my portion of a slaughtered steer from the neighbour this morning. Grazed wild on Dartmoor, his beef is always a bit special. Like most things in life we’re continually told are not good for us, the taste of seared saturated fat is a real treat – and not just the half-dozen sirloin steaks, nor the fillet, the three-rib roast and rolls of brisket, the tail and cheeks… There’s a festive crate of Deuxième Cru Classé Bordeaux waiting in readiness.

Wednesday, December 20

Not there yet

To Newton Abbott, chauffeuring Mrs G. to Teasy-Weasy’s salon for her Christmas makeover; then Totnes for groceries and gossip; before returning to a spell of heavy-lifting in the yard. The homestead may be semi-isolated but you wouldn’t think so judging from the number of delivery vans, everyone trying to square things away prior to the fateful day. Too many places to go, things to do, before we are allowed to relax.

Heating the UK's housing stock

Landlords must improve the energy efficiency of F and G rated homes from next April under new regulations designed to protect vulnerable tenants and cut carbon emissions. Good luck with that one. Exhibit A is a copy of the homestead’s energy rating certificate from when we moved in several years ago. I doubt two coats of paint have improved things appreciably. Although Gudgeon goes on a bit about my fondness for ye olde wood stove, life at the homestead would be damn uncomfortable without one. The WHO standard on warmth (room temperature comfort level) is 18°C (64°F) for normal, healthy adults who are appropriately dressed. At this time of year, however, we fluctuate between 9-13°C. Throw a log on the fire and the homestead becomes a magical 21°C, my ideal medium. I could of course improve the energy efficiency, but – as the energy efficiency survey attests – only by razing the place to the ground and rebuilding. ...Truth is the two of us are significantly warmer here than in the barn (our previous home), where we were obliged to decamp to a tiny back bedroom every winter in order to survive. Damn green taxes...George bloody Monbiot.

Tuesday, December 19

Keeping calm and carrying on

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the traditional shit happens moments. Our ancient boiler has given up the ghost and the only man in England who can fix the damn thing (has spares) is missing till January. Merely a question of wearing a thicker sweater, throwing more logs on the fire and downing another glass of antifreeze.

To a local Farmers’ Market with the boss yesterday. If there’s one thing guaranteed to spark an explosion it’s when purchasing two-steak packs and the stallholder asks if madam is happy with a boy’s steak and a girl’s steak mix. I always walk away. Mrs G. is a 103lb size 6 who out-eats me by a margin and has a punch to match, a tongue-lashing was the least of his problems.

Sunday, December 17

Sunday morning political shows

Whenever my fealty to the Conservative Party is tested, up pops Richard Burgon. I’ve never claimed to be anything special, but what a shower. Those that know him assure me Corbyn’s a bit of a thicko, has no sense of humour, and is the least likely you’d call to team up with for a pint on the way home from work – not least if he’s accompanied by Diane Abbott or David Lammy (and yes, Liz Kendall makes Abbott appear a polymath). Can you imagine these guys running the country? I’ll concede Emily Thornberry is a formidable old battle axe, in the same sense Nurse Ratched was a metaphor for the corrupting influence of power and authority in mental institutions. But is this really the best we can do?

Even the mighty

Marvellous! First time I’ve seen a nuthatch driven from the feeder, beating a retreat in the face of overwhelming odds – a veritable swarm of long-tailed tits.

Saturday, December 16

Way to go Eagles

Christmas is pure indulgence, and nothing spells extravagance like Seggiano antipasta, bellota ibérico ham, mature Manchego, and the classiest bread (and butter) imaginable.

Wrapping up warm

The traffic warden was quick out the block this morning, ticketing everyone who was slow getting out of bed. Two old girls in front of me at the Kwik-E-Mart admitted they hadn’t gotten up til lunchtime yesterday as it was too cold. It’s a toasty 3°C today, though it doesn’t feel particularly warm – a barefoot young woman wearing nothing but skimpy underwear earned my respect, as she rummaged through the boot of her car presumably looking for a wet suit. Young lad next door is home from boarding school for the holidays, and when not racing past on his pony is careering down the lane in dad’s Massey Ferguson. I’d feel reassured if I thought he could see over the dashboard. Chill it may be, but there’s barely a cloud in the sky.

It’s a thought

From Lynn Barber at the Speccie... Oh really, Dougie, how exactly would you deal with crime? I’d get a big barren island off Scotland somewhere and drop all the criminals on to it from a helicopter at 100 feet. Wouldn’t they get injured? Yes — the ones that survived could eat the others. And then I’d have tour boats cruising round the island and every passenger would be given a rifle and whoever shot the most criminals would win a prize.

The West is becoming dumber

Seems we’re not as smart as we thought. Timothy Bates suggests it may be something to do with the decline in Grammar Schools, failing to stretch our most able. Of course other theories are available.

Deserving charity fights its corner

Legions of writers of literary fiction are waiting to be discovered, just as soon as they actually write something. I could be the next Harper Lee, would-be authors bemoan, if only someone would pay my rent – and bring back the net book agreement, levy a tax on Amazon, stop people reading crime and romance, vegging out on box sets, playing Candy Crush, voting for Brexit-inspired recessions… I blame Thatcher.

Friday, December 15

It’s tough, being a girl

We all went to school with girls like Suzanna Leigh. Unfortunately there weren’t enough routes to accommodate so many ambitions. Have come across a number of old faces in recent years: one or two made it, many more crashed and burned.

Mangers in stables

Friday fish: salmon en croute, washed down with a livener from the Côte-d'Or. An afternoon following horse racing on the box. Reward for a busy morning ... in town for supplies. Too many pavements obstructed by the sort of people Cher used to sing about, the ones that sell lucky heather and mistletoe. Bumped into an old neighbour who has long since returned to the city – the lad was looking for a berth for tonight. Had to explain that, as he hadn’t managed to cross the homestead’s threshold during our five years as neighbours, the chance of his kipping on my sofa was on a par with the Blues achieving promotion.

Blind leading the blind

Bereft of any particular talent, at least in relation to my cohort, I’ve always regarded myself as the archetypal Mr Average. This comes with a tendency to defer to the ‘experts’. The older I get, however, the more I realise how shallow their arguments, how flawed the assumptions.

Thursday, December 14

Best laid plans…

Chilly day, rain, sleet and snow. Neighbours out in force, exercising their steeds. We are entertaining at home – corks popping, roast in oven, when the power fails. Trees have to be cut down. Lunch defaults to oat cakes and tinned sardines. You can’t keep a good crowd down, however, not least when they’re suitably oiled and dancing by candle light to the beat of a transistor radio. Reminds me of the 1970s, what life would be like if that little fucker from Islington took over. “I had no idea it was so gloomy,” says Bjorn. You don’t know the half of it matey.

Wednesday, December 13

Snowflakes’ invitation to infirmity

According to Philip Larkin “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” Frank Furedi, however, believes it’s well-intentioned campaigners demanding more health-resources that do the real damage. “What children need from adults is not a diagnosis but inspiration and leadership. Instead of obsessing over children’s vulnerability and fragility, we should be cultivating their resilience, and encouraging them to develop a real sense of independence and selfhood.” Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

Exploring a premise

Nicola Sturgeon has been given a warning by her chief economist that raising income tax for high earners risks losing millions of pounds for the Scottish economy. Tomorrow’s budget is likely to result in anyone who earns more than about £33,000 being asked to pay extra. Those on salaries of £75,000 or £100,000 are expected to pay considerably more than they do now. ...Last night’s national news featured a couple of Glaswegians bemoaning the cost of living, rents, utilities and food, demanding that “Something must be done!” Which we assume is code for someone else must pay. Sturgeon now has the opportunity to test-run Labour’s premise that, in the interest of fairness, anyone earning above the mean should pay higher taxes to support those on low pay; and that the ‘rich’, however much you squeeze them, will stay put rather than move.

Tuesday, December 12

Welcome back Anne Marie

“Why the Tories are wrong to restore the whip to Anne Marie Morris,” writes James Forsyth. “Restoring the whip to Morris less than six months after it was taken away from her suggests that the Tories are not taking this incident as seriously as they should. This is the wrong call both politically and morally. Morally, this kind of casual use of racist language is deplorable bad manners. Politically, it is foolish because it makes the party look tolerant of racist language at a time when the progress it made with ethnic minority voters under David Cameron is being reversed.” …On the face of it who would disagree? And yet I take issue with Forsyth over his assumption that Morris used the phrase deliberately. Newton Abbot is hardly a multicultural community, and avoidance of the archaic term in question would not necessarily be as hardwired as it undoubtedly is in Forsyth’s Islington, not least when you’re married to Robert Peston’s sidekick. Even Gudgeon slips up occasionally. I give myself a slap and move on. I really hope the Spectator doesn’t feel it has to publish this sort of shit as a counterweight to Douglas Murray.

The mind boggles

Jeremy Corbyn, the angry grandpa.

18th Century hospitality

As much as I enjoy my visits to the City of Bath, nothing will induce me to read Jane Austen. Like most young boys at school I stuck to my feral half of the classroom, scrapping with the lad next to me, both of us clutching a football in one hand and our logarithm tables in the other – while the girls sat huddled in their corner reading 18th Century romance novels. A significant number of these girls became school teachers and wreaked their revenge by feminising our classrooms and emasculating our sons. Purely on the strength of Jennifer Ehle’s heaving bosom, I did once watch BBC’s presentation of Pride and Prejudice. There’s a scene where Mrs Bennet’s sister rushes to the Longbourn estate to inform one and all that Mr Bingley is returning to Netherfield. Bingley’s arrival is preceded by zillions of tradesmen and estate workers getting the place in order. It springs to mind because the neighbour has decided to host a traditional ‘family’ Christmas this year and a team of gardeners have been labouring on the grounds for days, a steady supply of workmen engaged in prettying the battlements, a giant festive fir installed in the yard, and convoys of liveried vans delivering victuals and hooch… Methinks it’s time to dust off the dinner jacket and inveigle an invite.

Monday, December 11

Learning to love Beck’s Blue

At this time of year we’re hit with the traditional drink-driving warnings, today’s Telegraph pointing the finger at poor public transport provision, not least in rural areas. Unfortunately public transport doesn’t exist in this neck of the woods, let along at closing time, so you can assume most everyone leaving the Dog & Duck and climbing into their motor is at risk. If you’ve had a skinfull you’ll bum a lift or call for a taxi, obviously. But after just two pints…? Our one and only restaurant also poses a problem, in that a drink with your meal costs £50 – £25 for the bottle of wine and £25 for a taxi. Can’t say I’ll ever grow to love Beck’s Blue, but you reach an accommodation of sorts.

Sunday, December 10

Back online

A pleasant, sunny morning … assuming you discount the 60mph wind, the resulting power cut and zero services. On the plus side, I didn’t have to listen to that pious ingratiate Andrew Marr.

Saturday, December 9

Different universe

As a plebeian stalwart, I must take issue with Max Hastings: “…scarcely anyone active in British politics dares to tell voters important truths, foremost among these that Brexit will make them poorer. Moderate Tory MPs remain imprisoned by the party’s right, masquerading as tribunes of the plebs…” The vote to LEAVE was taken despite the best efforts of project fear and with an appreciation of the downside. A reduction of GDP in support of me and mine was understood and accepted. The unpredictable and frightening part will come when we take the hit and our expectations remain unfulfilled.

Minor inconvenience

As there’s no wind it’s a toasty 1°C this morning, a mere four layers of clothing. I’ve a couple of things to take care off, but that chair by the stove already beckons. Mistimed my run into town for papers and milk, cut off by a neighbour returning his herd to pasture after milking, another deciding to match twenty bullocks in a show of strength against the motor, then the stables exercising steeds… Trust me, these minor inconveniences beats shivering on Charing Cross concourse at this time of year, a chirpy voice from the tannoy informing me my train is cancelled. I wouldn’t like to calculate the amount of hard-earned pocket money that’s crossed the station bars at Charing Cross and Cannon Street while waiting on a ride home – as a number of you have reminded me this week.

Friday, December 8

Rest and Recreation

Training exercise descends into mass brawl.

Traditional festive panic

Leftover ducks’ legs with lots of cabbage this evening … a lesser spotted Burgundy (the Puligny Montrachet was exceptional, tonight’s Chassagne Montrachet less so). Up town shopping today, panic time in the Christmas present stakes. What do you buy the woman who has everything? There are racks of designer gear that has never seen the light of day. Am sure every other guy is in the same quandary – doubtless a lack of imagination on my part. But then you can get a bit bonkers about Christmas.

Thursday, December 7

Ducks' legs again

Tough walk today: having to wade through the mire, contend with fast running water (longer run-up) and a strong headwind. Bumped into a couple of likely sorts with very large packs and one serious runner, otherwise it’s pretty quiet. Nice to see the sun for five minutes, snow and ice is due this evening. Am on kitchen duty (my repertoire shrinks as Mrs G’s grows). Ducks’ legs and carrots, an old favourite – find something you can handle with a degree competence and keep banging it out. I’ve a fresh and cheery Pinot Noir from Puligny Montrachet that will suit fine.

The Christmas Markets to come

Ed West saying the unsayable.

All good fun

The utility room is full of wet clothing after I was dragged from my pit during the night (Storm Caroline arrived). No way Neil Diamond’s going on the turntable today. Stumbling about in the dark with a ladder while pissed on from a great height is not my idea of fun – the yard is flooded this morning. What doesn’t kill you, as they say.

Wednesday, December 6

Older women more likely to be poor

“Older women are more likely to be poor, socially isolated, badly housed, unhealthy and die sooner because of a lifetime of lower pay and unequal working conditions than older men, according to a new report … cumulative poverty and disadvantage throughout life mean that many will suffer poor health, financial insecurity, weak social connections and ultimately a shorter life.”

And yet the thing that always struck me, at Kings Cross Station, when anticipating the arrival of Mother-in-law on one of her royal visits from sunny Aberdeen, was how, when the carriage doors opened, it was five elderly men and five hundred grey-haired grannies that stepped onto the platform.

Clock is ticking on the shopping stakes

Pollution wipes out the benefits of walking, a new study suggests. To determine the impact of pollution on exercise, researchers asked 119 people to take a two-hour stroll along Oxford Street, a busy shopping area that regularly breaches dangerous pollution levels. …It’s easy to poo-poo this sort of academic garbage, but even I would be dumb not to recognise the difference in air quality between the homestead and South London Mansions, let alone my old stomping ground Oxford Street. The danger to my health at this time of year, however, has less to do with pollution, as the stress invoked battling ten zillion other Oxford Street shoppers, everyone desperate to find presents for our nearest and dearest

Tuesday, December 5

Festive excess

Mugged in the yard by a flock of long-tailed tits. They always travel mob-handed, moving in rapid surges through trees and over hedges, descending en masse to snaffle the feed. Cute little characters. In Devon, for whatever reason, they call them Bum Towels?

To Newton Abbot and Exeter for supplies – just think how tough it was in the old days before Amazon and white-van-man. Picked up a second Christmas tree for Mrs G. That’s two Fraser Fir non-drop trees…two sets of flashing lights…more baubles than Aladdin’s cave.

Dotting the i's and crossing the t's

Hopefully the kerfuffle in Brussels is a fuss about nothing and an agreement is close. Not being party to discussions, I’d bet a large part of the current hiccup is down to Theresa May’s well publicised ineptitude as regards her inability to relate to other human beings, those boasts about not being clubbable rebounding on the girl. Arlene Foster suggested May has made zero attempt to crack open a bottle and get to know her; Nicola Sturgeon made a similar remark.

Monday, December 4

Out on the hills today...

When you come back, 
Your hands smell 
Of walking gloveless.
                   Aidan Mathews

Sunday, December 3

Style

Am listening to Mourinho on the box (MOTD)… Having watched ‘Bullitt’ this weekend for the 54th time, had decided that has to be Jose’s natural environment (1968 San Francisco). Mrs G, however, assures me the boy’s a natural Tony Curtis type ‘Persuaders’ man?

Sunday lunch: baked ham with lashings of parsley sauce, washed down with an obvious nutty, creamy oaky thing ... an overlaying citrus and apple, with a nice sour, cabbage nuance, adding to a complex, savoury note – zesty fruit, but with a cashew and Brazil nut character and a burst of refreshing, almost tangerine/lime acidity... Jesus, it’s a bottle of wine!

Saturday, December 2

Weekend warriors

A couple of degrees up this morning. Not that I fancied following the kayak stalwarts onto the Dart. Weekend warriors on horses, bicycles and in canoes; a fair few walkers, too.

A rare visitor to the homestead: the last dunnock I saw here was back in the spring, and it was promptly killed by sparrows, sans bows and arrows.

Old friends – good friends from the ’80s – appear out of the blue, behaving as though there has been no gap. When do ‘old friends’ become vague memories – someone I once knew – as opposed to the mi casa es tu casa sort?

Friday, December 1

It’s all go…

First day of winter, the yuletide season – and it’s bloody cold. To market this morning, the fishmonger and baker, the barber’s (gossip and jokes) and florist. Home for lunch (caldo verde), then off to Haldon to acquire a Christmas tree, before rushing back for the World Cup Draw.

Wednesday, November 29

A hard frost this morning

We are knee-deep in birds of every description, yours truly being dispatched to Ike Godsey’s for peanuts and seeds to keep our feathered friends happy. Nuthatches dominate the feeders, two song thrush bully everything on the ground. A fox stole into the porch and took a fat ball from the box – he was closely followed by a line of impeccably-dressed riders on large hunters, driving a riotous pack of hounds. An impressive sight whatever your persuasion. Have now lagged pipes and sorted garden machinery, returned to the market and stocked up on provisions, chopped lots of wood and fed multiple stoves. ...Veal olives for supper, washed down with a glass of Pommeroy’s Plonk. Everton v West Ham on the wireless.

Tuesday, November 28

A familiar story

Young people in ‘left-behind Britain’ face worst life chances. I thought Alan Milburn wouldn’t be far away. I wish the lad luck but, having lived in Walsall, Rhyl and Great Yarmouth, I can assure him it’s been this way for the past fifty years. You get an education (or not), leave, and don’t go back. Blair made a stab at moving jobs to the provinces, only to see them privatised, rationalised or outsourced overseas. Not sure there’s anything you can do to change this without inspirational leadership; and local talent, obviously, becomes scarcer with every generation. Finkelstein talks about an inequality of esteem?

Wake up call

Am mentally unprepared for winter. Have yet to lag the outside pipes or doctor my garden machinery with fuel stabiliser; need to check the roof and the drains, change water-filters and flush the system…yada yada yada. Two things strike me as regards my tardiness. The first is that, post-2008 and the subsequent Brexit vote, we’ve become conditioned to a diet of doom and gloom from our cheer-leading reptiles in the MSM. Convinced we are all going to crash and burn – die in a gutter of shit, stony broke and riddled with cancer – part of us has switched off and stopped taking care of the basics. Counter-intuitively, because we’re actually still here and having fun, maybe even prospering, another part of ourselves is persuaded we are now invincible and can afford to give a belligerent finger to the man and his doomsayers, that it’s OK to engage in foolish and risky behaviour – maybe even vote for the nutjobs currently running the Labour Party? …Don’t worry I’m not that far gone. But you can see where this sort of thing leads. I need to get my arse in gear.

Sunday, November 26

Hibernating – it’s turned cold

In my pit at half-nine, out cold soon as head touched pillow – slept through to seven this morning. Catching up on the zzzs. Places to go, things to do.

Friday, November 24

Calves liver for supper

It used to be, still is, a treat – the one-time speciality of three London-based Italian Restaurants we once frequented. Small world that we inhabit, our current neighbour is contracted to supply veal to a fashionable restaurant in the same locale. While the candle-lit atmosphere – a gun taped to the lavatory cistern – is a thing of the past, thanks to the availability of similar produce and Gudgeon’s dexterity with a corkscrew, we continue to enjoy something of the flavour.

Thursday, November 23

It’s the way you tell ’em

“Reacher put his left fist on the table. The size of a supermarket chicken. Long thick fingers with knuckles like walnuts. Old nicks and scars healed white against his summer tan…” I can’t resist this crap – it’s like the compulsion you get every once in a while to order a pint of lager.

Wednesday, November 22

Singing and dancing in the rain

Despite the gales and heavy rain, nothing – not even Nerdy Hammond’s budget – is going to dampen today’s party spirit. Mrs G’s birthday celebrations kick off this morning with champagne and cinnamon rolls. The main event (result of much negotiation) features roast chicken. A decent free-range bird remains the Gudgeon family’s ultimate comfort food, especially when partnered with a dish of skirlie and glass of Meursault.

Remembering the past

On this day in 1869 the Cutty Sark was launched on the Clyde. The world’s sole surviving tea clipper and fastest vessel of her time – a testament to the twin virtues of luck and survival.

Tuesday, November 21

A homestead staple

Bleak morning on the moor – black, wet and windy. Trudging for 2-3 hours through ankle-deep sludge might not sound fun but it beats work. There’ll come a day – hopefully some zillion years from now – when I’m too old or infirm. Returned home to the familiar aroma of Comté cheese souffles fresh from the oven.

Monday, November 20

A return to the basics

The Monday morning job I’ve been putting off for an age: emptying cupboards, disassembling the ‘pain to get at’ domestic plumbing system, degunging and flushing out waste pipes – all now (hopefully) serviceable for the next year or so.

Following days of fine dining we have returned to our mundane life in the sticks, the traditional homestead diet of hardtack, aka rib-eye on ciabatta trencher, roast quail and couscous, veal sweetbreads with mushrooms in cream sauce. Further celebratory dishes are planned this coming week.

Sunday, November 19

No way to win an argument

Watching BBC’s Sunday Politics this morning … Gisela Stuart debating with Alastair Campbell. It seems that no matter how reasonable the opposition, Campbell always behaves to type – a belligerent drunk. Whatever the merits of the argument, the public will always take against an arsehole.

Saturday, November 18

There’s no fireside like your own

You couldn’t fault our accommodation in Bath: large suite of rooms in a stunning historic home, the perfect location and sublime cuisine... And yet it’s nice to be back home – feet up in front of a roaring fire, bottle of Château Thénac, racing and footy on the box. Am good for another year.

Friday, November 17

More rabbit than Sainsbury’s

Apart from their natural attributes – the sticky-out bits – there are a number of things separating the sexes. For instance, women fall out of bed every morning with a compulsion to talk – non-stop, all the time, incessantly. We ate breakfast this morning in the company of an Irish couple from Worcester: and there was little you could do, charming as she was, to shut her up. I’m not at my best in the morning. Life looked a lot better after a pint in the Dog & Duck, though there too... Then at lunch – The Ivy Bath Brasserie – with women from Chelsea and Tottenham. Fortunately by this time I was up to speed, into the swing of things so to speak. Can’t say I miss the corporate roundabout, the mass social gatherings, especially at this time of year – but today I enjoyed myself.

Believe the local Ivy has been open barely a month and is bedding in. There’s nothing wrong with the food – but that’s not why you patronise this sort of place. Great buzz, good service, decent booze…highly recommended.

Thursday, November 16

Onwards and upwards

After Wednesday night’s hijinks, today’s lunchtime session featured one of Mrs G’s favourite venues and included an outstanding dish of fresh mussels followed by a half-decent steak chocolate tart and parsnip ice cream (a passable champagne and a non-too-shabby Beaujolais). Managed to swing by Howard Hodgkin’s Indian-themed exhibition at the Victoria, before yet more shopping and a bracing (lengthy) hike back to the hotel for a costume change. Though wedding anniversary numero forty-four has several hours still to run, Gudgeon is beginning to flag.

Stranger things have happened

On the face of it US$450 million for a work of questionable provenance seems a bit rich. But then everything’s relative, especially if you have billions in the bank. Would be nice to think the successful bidder is a philanthropist who will donate Leonardo's masterpiece to his local provincial public gallery.

Wednesday, November 15

Thankfully we've a decent billet

The bogs and mires of Dartmoor are a breeze, it’s the city streets that do for me – my knees that is (an old refrain). Gudgeon has been consigned to bag-carrying duties, press ganged into one of Mrs G’s shopping expeditions. I must have tramped every street in the city of Bath today, adjourning to an occasional hostelry was scant reward.

Tuesday, November 14

Social mobility isn’t necessarily a one way bet.

Generation guilt attracts older voters to Labour. I hate these generalised diatribes by the FT. This morning’s the usual shit about working class lad made good (from slag heap to school teacher), who now laments his kids are stuck in a rut and unable to continue to climb the greasy pole. “The opportunities open to my generation are not open to my children” says ex-grammar school boy Stan. If this is such a ‘generational’ thing, Stan, exactly how many working-class kids from families with four or more children made it into grammar schools back in 1965? As Mrs Webster confirms, “I was (we were) privileged…(the privileged few)” Given the four Webster sprogs’ careers have stalled or are non-existent, what did they study at university, and why – if we are so desperate for teachers – didn’t they follow in their parents’ footsteps? I’m not unsympathetic. But rather than a sub to middle-class slackers (Corbyn voters) who should have been given better career advice, I’d much rather our money went to the hard-up Wigan pensioners and their Millennial grandchildren that never made it out of Dickens Place. Nostalgia for the Welfare State? We lost the argument a long time ago and it ain’t coming back.

Armistice Day is over

Though Monday’s not my favourite day of the week, yesterday turned out pleasant enough. Arctic air brought snow to parts of England and thankfully the homestead was not one of them. While chill in the yard, accounts and correspondence allowed me to remain warm and snug inside – I have a busy week ahead.

Given the open animosity between rival factions of the Brexit debate, I’ve been steering clear of the Dog & Duck. The arguments have been exhaustively aired and combatants ceased listening to each other long ago. Everyone has adjourned to their respective trenches to glare at the enemy and wait for the whistle to sound. 

Sunday, November 12

Loose talk

Michael Gove says  attractive Iranian woman with photogenic child who managed to get her sweaty mitts on a British passport may well have been up to no good – but it would be unwise to speculate, still less to elaborate.

Saturday, November 11

Local runners and riders

Big win for neighbourhood rider Bryony Frost at Wincanton this afternoon, on the Paul Nicholls-trained Present Man.

Reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated

Woke early this morning to find the sky blackened by a flight of starlings. As if rain clouds aren’t enough. …To Tavistock Farmers’ Market to order the Christmas goose and pick up supplies. Our weather may be bleak but the drive is always a pleasure. Returned with a joint of suitably-aged (native breed) beef to see us through the weekend. Am making the most of things before they ban my diesel-powered work horse and forbid everyone from eating naturally-reared meat. Speaking of Land Rovers … the local dealer recently offered to buy back my neighbour’s Defender for more than it cost when new, three years ago. Maybe we’re not done yet.

Letting bygones be bygones is not in his nature

While I’ll read most anything, Gordon Brown’s life and times is unlikely to make it onto my beside table. Tribal affiliations aside, the lad’s never struck me as someone you’d want to team up with for a pint on the way home from work. That said of course, Philip Hammond is unlikely to lighten your working day and have you rolling in the aisles. Wonder what the plonker has tucked up his sleeve for budget day? I see the usual beggars are already on the street demanding more cash, Barnier and his cronies at the head of the queue.

The girl in front of me in the queue at the Kwik-E-Mart yesterday morning addressed me as ‘Young Man’. Made my day.

Thursday, November 9

The Last Picture Show

Saturday morning minor’s matinees, admission 6D. Gudgeon was a regular, albeit a couple of years after this particular photo was taken. Many thanks to Andy for the Bugle Annual.

Is it me, or…

Disappointed, maybe; but surprised, surely not?

Devon's rural past

Our old neighbours from The Barn days.

Frosty feldefares

… flocking fieldfares, speckled like the thrush, Picking the red haw from the sweeing bush That come and go on winters chilling wing And seem to share no sympathy with Spring. (Clare)

I wondered how long it would be before they appeared – the frosty feldefares (Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules) that is, also known hereabouts as the blue bird. A sizeable flock descended on the hawthorn this morning – at just about the time the neighbour’s guns opened up, though in their case it’s pheasants on the receiving end. A pleasant couple of hours across the hills … returned trés wet.

Wednesday, November 8

Life has its restrictions these days

After Tuesday’s deluge, today we adjourned to Dartmouth. A grilled brill (with chips) for Gudgeon and fried mixed seafood for the Boss. As with cooked breakfasts and pasta, I probably eat chips a dozen times over the course of a year – it seems everything is now an occasional guilty pleasure instead of one time daily fare. Just as soon as I square the booze and gambling, the clergy beckons.

Suppers of old

One of my pride and joys at this time of year – a giant holly bush laden with berries – lives on borrowed time. A softly twittering flock of Wind Thrushes – Redwings, has been congregating in the surrounding woods and making tentative raids on the yard. Any time now there’ll be a mass attack, and the berries – my remaining dab of colour – will be gone.

According to Berwick the birds are delicate eating. Romans held Redwings in such esteem they kept them in giant aviaries, fattening the birds on a paste of bruised figs and flour to improve their flavour. Local delis sold em for three denarii a pop.

Tuesday, November 7

English happier since Brexit vote

Another ‘Despite Brexit’. Average ratings for quality of life in England now stand at the highest since the ONS began measuring personal well-being in 2011. Apparently more than a third of us rate our happiness 9 or 10 out of 10. In spite of evidence to the contrary, however, the ONS believes it will end in tears.

Thought for the day

“Of all the testimonies I hear from people in management, one is consistent across industries: the gap between their best workers and their next best is orders of magnitude. Getting more from the merely good, through inducements, cajolery and measurable targets, is excruciating work.” (Janan Ganesh, FT)

Sunday, November 5

Disreputable smears

It comes to something when you have to choose between politicians and the plod. Am forced to give Green the benefit of the doubt.

It beats the gym

Bracing probably best describes this morning’s walk. The strength of the northerly headwind when coupled with that slope is a perfect workout for the heart, and a sure fire way of firing up your appetite. A flock of golden plovers, rising and dipping above the pony herd … neighbours on quad bikes checking stock, much of which will be coming down past the homestead the next couple of days.

Behold virtue-applauding

‘This audience is very bougie’, Mangu-Ward said at one point, and I’m sure I felt the entire room shift as 900 people defensively clutched the arms of their seats in fleeting, painful recognition of just what a posh pursuit anti-capitalism has become ... anti-capitalism has become a fatalistic pursuit, a comforting exercise in complaint, a self-aggrandising knowingness about the lameness of life, the pastime, almost exclusively, of the time-rich and well-off, of the kind of people who have gentrified Williamsburg and annoyed their parents by becoming cultural-studies lecturers rather than corporate lawyers.

A cold snap arrives


Embrace the cold, you say. Not likely. In the deeper recesses of the yard my log pile continues to grow. Worth its weight in gold. Order of today is comfort food: beef short ribs, braised over several hours in red wine and stock...lots of root vegetables. Truly, truly, unctuous … and with very elegant fruit on the nose, dark raspberries on the palate and beautifully integrated tannins, the accompanying Burgundy ain’t bad either.

Saturday, November 4

Seasonal food

Anchovies on toast, roast partridge with rainbow chard, Cropwell Bishop – a bottle of Syrah from the Languedoc. My only problem with wine from a region bordering the Mediterranean is its 14.5% ABV rating. In a year or two we’ll be drinking something more akin to sherry than quaffable vino.

Friday, November 3

Mediocre books … derivative me-tooism

Like panning for gold in the middle of rapids … Then there is the brute fact that shelf space is limited. Every new book evicts an old, probably better one. Pity that writer. Here’s a figure to chill the blood: every literary-fiction title written in English sold an average of 263 copies in 2015. There are more virgins in parliament than that.

Wednesday, November 1

Back in the saddle


Hurrah! November has arrived and gosoberforoctober is history. A bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Gudgeon is ready to face the festive season (6.0lbs lighter). The loss of October’s beer money to charity was prudently laid off on a wager with Mrs G., and a case of Gevrey-Chambertin from a highly-rated domaine is now parked beneath my desk. A large part of the fun is planning suitable meals to match the different vintages.

I know it’s fashionable to blame the boomers for everything, but maybe we really are a privileged generation. Let’s face it, we had a far better time in the old days than the current crop of candy-arsed ‘You touched my knee’ tosspots have now.

Local democracy in action

News release from local overlords…

Last night, South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council voted on the proposal to create one new council. The results are as follows: 

• In South Hams 19 councillors voted to submit a proposal to the secretary of state, 8 voted against and 3 councillors abstained 
• In West Devon 13 councillors voted to submit a proposal to the secretary of state and 18 voted against the proposal 

This means that the proposal to create one new council for South Hams and West Devon will not be submitted to the Secretary of State. Councillors from both authorities now need some time to regroup and talk to their members before making any further statements about what this outcome means. 

Chortle, chortle, chortle… South Hams consulted the ratepayers on said proposal and then disregarded our 90% negative response, only to be thwarted by the bride.

Tuesday, October 31

Is the bar set so low?

That fifteen years ago the Defence Secretary’s hand should have come to rest on Hartley-Brewer’s knee is headline news must be proof enough the country’s lost its collective sense. Our adversaries must be wetting themselves, and not out of fear. I appreciate it’s only the reptiles manufacturing clickbait, but that the once great Telegraph is reduced to this sort of thing is a sad reflection of our times – John Profumo must be shaking his ghostly head. Robert Peston isn’t the only one who feels he’s not living in the same Britain as the rest of the country.

Monday, October 30

Peace reigns

Frost on the ground this morning. Glorious day, however, an opportunity to tidy the yard – fire up a bonfire and break out the brushcutter…put the allotment to bed. Two days short of November and I’m still mowing the grass. Aside from an argument between a jay and green woodpecker the place is eerily quiet – and I’m not complaining.

Wednesday, October 25

We are all on a journey now

It seems that at some stage in the near future everyone will be obliged – perhaps in the manner of Anthony Burgess’s Alex – to embark on one of Owen’s journeys to atone for the impure thoughts we once held. So much rending of garments. The world’s gone fuckin’ crazy.

Calm being the operative word

You don’t get many of these to the pound. A perfect morning, that is. Vaughan Williams playing on the wireless, barely a blemish in the sky – just THE SUN. Plenty of autumn colour to marvel at – a yard littered with the reminder of recent storms, sprouting fungi and extremely vocal robins. What was Einstein’s theory of happiness again?

Tuesday, October 24

With friends like Michael Bloomberg…

Stupidest thing any country has done besides Trump. … Britain doesn’t have an immigration problem and they didn’t need control of their borders. (We didn’t?) They have the English Channel – that gave them control of their borders. (Oh, OK) … Problems with immigration? Britain didn’t take anyone from northern Africa or the Middle East. (Yeah, right!) … But what Britain are doing is not good and there is no easy way to get out of the EU because if they don’t pay a penalty, (irony alert) everyone else would drop out. … Would I have built two big expensive buildings in London if I knew they were going to drop out? I’ve had some thoughts that maybe I wouldn’t have, but we are there, we are going to be very happy (says through gritted teeth). … I can’t be bothered to critique the article properly and only posted this as an example of the total disconnect between the Bloombergs of the world and us mortals – why we voted for Brexit.

Wet and windy

Out on the moor for a couple of hours this afternoon, albeit the weather remains grim. The fog hasn’t lifted, wind is gusting from the south west, and the drizzle ain’t going away anytime soon (I need new waterproofs). If you waited for more congenial weather you’d never leave the homestead, and even idlers like Gudgeon are susceptible cabin fever. Back home to coddled eggs and hog’s pudding.

Leading horses to water

Individuals with the highest risk of suffering heart attack and strokes are not being prescribed statins despite a major NHS drive to put more people on the drug, a major study reveals. The story suggests that when appraised of the side effects most chose not to take the pills – are talked out of it by their GP. I suspect in reality those that do take statins are the conscientious types already on top of their diet and exercise who are unlikely to suffer a heart attack, and the slobs amongst us most likely to succumb are just lazy buggers that can’t be arsed.

Monday, October 23

Pay doesn’t appear to be the problem

An anonymous teacher, 41, from West Yorkshire, wrote: “I’m desperate to get out of teaching. It’s exhausting, stressful and is ruining my life. I’m not a senior leader so can’t go on to be a consultant or inspector. I’ve been teaching for over a decade and most of the jobs I’ve seen that suit my skills and experience could mean taking over a 50% pay cut.” ...So, given were already paying teachers double the going rate, it seems pay isn't the problem we thought?

The language of tolerance

I recall listening to an old crooner years ago as he recounted how, after years of struggle, the Tamla Motown artists thought they’d cracked the mainstream market – had arrived. Unfortunately the very moment he reached what he thought was the pinnacle, in walked The Beatles, The Rolling Stones – white rock music … and blew everyone away. It felt as if Detroit et al were back to square one. There must be a similar feeling these days amongst women: a century spent battling for equality, and just as the prize is within their grasp, ‘womanhood’ is erased from public life.

Sunday, October 22

The cultural backlash is not easily dissuaded

There is a tendency amongst the political opposition and sections of MSM to prefix every Brexit comment with “People didn’t vote to become poorer”. The economic elite and jobs-focused Remain camp do this to justify their wish to renege on the referendum result by staying in the single market and customs union. These naysayers appear to have forgotten that during the referendum, project fear actually concentrated on the dire economic consequences of voting leave – it was their principal threat. Unfortunately for Cameron and Osborne, although the message got through and there was a tacit understanding we could be poorer, voters determined it was a price worth paying. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a sense of cultural rather than economic threat had by far the largest impact – and it seems we were not alone.

Food your gran would have cooked

As with painting and decorating, cooking has a lot to do with preparation. Have just watched Mrs G. dissect a 4½lb slab of beef (cheek) for the pot: 2lbs 6oz of usable meat; 1lb 14oz excess fat and membrane. The significant waste is one of the reasons these cuts are (were) relatively inexpensive. The relative bit acknowledges that, when celebrity chefs popularise such dishes, demand increases price. Throw in the cost of fuel, not least with long and slow cooking, and what was once considered poor people’s food becomes middle-class extravagance – one of the reasons mothers feed their kids processed crap (instead of encouraging them to keep retesting beetroot and parsnip, cabbage and dark chocolate).

In common with universal credit

“…an advance of £5,000 on your next novel.’ How are they meant to live on that?” The predicament could explain why so many less than successful literary types (90%?) identify with the left. Making a living from writing must be comparable to panhandling for precious stones in the desert, and yet universities continue to milk generations of gullible students with their creative writing courses. As with all dreams, as Boyd says, ‘luck’ and ‘fortune’ play a significant part. A number of old colleagues have published, a mixture of dry text books and Desmond Bagley-style adventure stories. I doubt sales stretched beyond friends and family.

Pots and kettles

Jose Mourinho: players should explain themselves after poor performance. Their manager speculating on his future life with PSG maybe?

Saturday, October 21

Hunkering down

Given the weather our proposed visit to Dartmouth Food Festival was cancelled. Walking 120yds across the yard to the barn is tough enough and I don’t imagine conditions quayside are any better. It’s a pity as we’ve enjoyed some great sessions in the past. Today is a day for sitting beside the stove, following the footy and racing on the box. Our compensation supper is veal bavette steaks with several types of mushroom in a cream sauce and roasted butternut squash. Would like to tell you the meal will be washed down with a nice Cote de Nuits Villages Blanc, but am determined to win the bet.

Making mountains out of molehills

A touch grim outside, having to remove tree limbs from the drive before I could head off for milk and papers, remnants of a rock wall that had collapsed into the road. Conversely… while the girls exercising their steeds look a little fraught, in reality it’s just a typical autumn storm; naming them merely elevates the norm into something seemingly catastrophic, needlessly putting the wind up Joe Public.

Approved and non-approved accents

“I can’t ever remember using words that my parents used: bairn for child, bide for stay, blate for shy, breeks for trousers, brig for bridge (to name a few of the Bs).” The lad’s 72 years of age and has never used these words? “It was like looking at some piece of folk art in a museum, encouraging the notion that the dialect was ill suited to modernity.” Gudgeon is considerably younger than Jack and such words were commonplace when I lived north of the border. I guess, like most Guardianistas, he exists in a more rarefied atmosphere (oh yes, Jack resides in Islington). The article, which could have been an interesting piece of social commentary, descends, inevitably, into petty spite.

Friday, October 20

Merluza en salsa verde

I seem to have spent most of this week dashing around the streets of Plymouth and Exeter. Though the two cities are equidistant from the homestead, there the similarity ends. The former has seen better days and struggles to attract investment, while the latter is a prosperous magnet for white flight from Londonistan. You hear plenty of complaints in the Dog & Duck about the unwelcome expansion of new housing in the area, but I doubt they appreciate just how many will be heading in this direction once Brexit is out of the way and a degree of certainty returns to the economy.

The other notable event this week is how often I’ve been rained on from a great height – literally rather than metaphorically. The yard has returned to its natural state, namely a sea of mud. This morning was the calm before Storm Brian arrives and, as I discovered, you can fill an entire day taking care of mickey mouse jobs: chopping wood, repairing a fence, servicing machinery and clearing soakaways, battening down in advance of Brian, to say nothing of installing new bathroom-fittings, repairing a catch on the stove and programming a new phone. I was able to collapse into my chair this evening with a clear conscience – a roaring fire and Ken Bruce on the wireless, another attempt to make inroads into my ever expanding stack of reading material ... dine on hake and clams in green sauce.

Thursday, October 19

Glad I'm not just starting out

Half of students starting university are now first in their family to do so, new figures reveal. Impressive, you’d think? But that would be to discount the probability too many of these students are attending mediocre establishments and studying bullshit subjects that are unlikely to help improve their chances of social mobility. There are similar articles in the papers almost every week, all of which confirm such students are also unlikely to pay off their loans to we long suffering taxpayers. Aside from helping to fund this Ponzi scheme I don’t really have a dog in the fight. I do, however, make the following observation. Thirty years ago the organisation I worked for was recruiting non-graduates as trainees. In many cases you knew the trainees parents, and on the basis an apple never falls far from the tree, it was qualification enough. In due course a lot more people went to university, so much so there was an assumption (rightly or wrongly) of a direct correlation between increased numbers and declining academic standards. Ergo if someone hadn’t been to university it probably meant they couldn’t read or write and were innumerate: and as these disciplines were basic requirements, a graduate qualification – though not really necessary – became standard. Since that time, such is the qualifications arms race, this has been elevated to include the necessity for a post-graduate qualification. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for this sort of thing – the lad next door needs his PhD to perform as required, and in an earlier life my other neighbour was a Physicist. But a university education to gain employment as a postal clerk, seriously?

Wednesday, October 18

Public shaming is now mainstream

It’s difficult to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without being confronted by Harvey Weinstein’s chubby mush; to hear one-time starlets accuse the old perv of groping them, or worse; listen to industry grandees profess how surprised and shocked they are. And don’t get me started on Me too. There was a time, not long ago, when people pretended sex scandals weren’t suitable entertainment for polite society. I was going through the shelves last weekend and came across an article by Vicki Woods from thirty years ago when she was writing for the Spectator (Yes, I know: must have a clear out). I reference it as a reminder that newspapers once employed talent such as Woods – you really need to read the whole thing rather than this opening extract, as she goes on to lambast voyeuristic editors.

“How many times a night one likes to have sexual intercourse is not a permissible topic at dinner; nor is it a fit subject for a columnist on the Times or the Independent. Sex talk – Doing It, Loving It and Bragging About It – is for the lower classes, isn’t it? and the grimy papers they read. Sex and violence and smut and sleaze: it brightens up their dull lives and keeps them going between Giro cheques. The lower classes bonk away in an uncontrolled manner in their underprivileged housing – ‘I Had Sex at 13 and I’ve Never Stopped’ and grubby men in raincoats write about it for the grubby papers – ‘Are there orgies down your street? Tell us any day 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on 071 782 4498 (News of the World).’ The shoe-wearing classes are assumed to keep this sort of thing well tucked in, like a shirt-tail, and undiscussed, except sotto voce with a close friend …” 

It isn’t so much that men (such as Weinstein) fear being discovered to have bonked, Woods wrote, as the fear of being forever tarred by those shudder-making lower-class headlines and pictures of Karen or Debbie (as it might be) who looked like one’s cleaning-woman or her daughter. No man in public life, no merchant banker, no Harley Street doctor (or film producer), wanted to see his own haunted photograph slammed up alongside that of Ms. A. and Ms. B. posing and smiling in their favourite undies. …Given the Weinstein coverage it seems that nowadays everyone is more comfortable in demanding the salacious details of what was once called ‘mucky things’, and one would like to believe for the right reasons, rather than, as Woods implied, a means of keeping Kevin and Sharon in a permanent state of arousal.

Monday, October 16

Ophelia arrives

Out cold till half-eight this morning. Must have needed a kip. Weird light, the sky remains ominously dark – like looking through coloured cellophane. Breezy too, as forecast, swirling columns of autumn leaves and a constant roar. Fingers crossed the power cables hold as I’ve things to do. Fortunately I haven’t time to read the papers, those harbingers of doom and gloom with their increasingly dystopian look on life. If you were incubating inside someone’s womb you’d refuse to leave. Who needs Russians and their fake news when we’ve our own fifth column promulgating dissent and fostering resentment.

Saturday, October 14

Football and curry

This morning’s drive to Tavistock necessitated fog lights fore and aft. Town seems to have doubled its population (half term?), and the traffic – much of which was probably passing through en route to Plymouth (Christmas shopping already?) – nose to tail. Secured a pheasant for tomorrow’s lunch, my primary goal, and stocked up on pork chops. Two-quid for an hour’s parking is a bit rich, not least as there’s nothing in town worth hanging about for – little to buy or see. Returned home in time to catch Football Focus and the start of the racing, before donning boots and setting off again into the mist. Decent walk ... it cleared once we were up on the moor. You can’t waste these afternoons. Returned home in time for the results (way to go, Palace) and a mutton curry.

Friday, October 13

The modern-day Samuel Johnsons and James Boswells

Another coffee shop has opened in town, while elsewhere a pub closes. Changing demographics/ lifestyle … it’s back to the 18th Century and the Age of Enlightenment. Yeah, right! I took my Americano to the river bank and watched as they craned a line of moored vessels across the road to the boat yard and into winter storage. Gudgeon can while away an entire morning watching other folks work. Picked up supplies and came back the long way, calling in at Bovey – then through the mist past Haytor, Widecombe, Ponsworthy, Leusdon, Poundsgate… The 21mpg route. Dartmoor’s looking pretty spectacular just now, albeit a tad breezy. A fair number of visitors about.

Return of the dementia tax

“Buying rather than renting is rooted in our psyche.” Social housing’s principal attribute is to light a fire under its residents, to reinforce the message: that if you’ve any sense of aspiration, you don’t want to be here. “A vital sense of ambition can make the difference,” says Philip Collins. “Too many young people are limited not so much by the range of their talents but by the narrowness of their horizons.” That the sum of your striving should then be summarily confiscated is no way to foster ambition.

Same old, same old...

Autumn has barely begun and the papers are already predicting catastrophe at the NHS: “The NHS is more scared than we have ever been…” They fear the annual flu jab is a waste of time. “An evaluation of last year’s programme, seen by The Daily Telegraph, shows pensioners who had the jab fared no better than those who did not. Protection rates were far higher among children, with 66 per cent protection, the figures show. This year’s vaccine is similar to last year’s, which failed to effectively counter strains like those which have recently proved virulent in Australia.” …I’ve always signed up to annual vaccinations as I assume our local GPs get paid in part on meeting box-ticking targets – to help them out. However my local lad has proved singularly lacking in the service he provides. More of a gatekeeper to someone who knows what he’s talking about that the solid family practitioner of old. The fabled NHS itself is long past its sell-by date and chucking more money at the thing will solve nothing.

Thursday, October 12

Mundane stuff

Up town for supplies and a visit to the dentist, optician and barber, a tank of diesel, to collect a case of wine on special offer – 25% off. I may not be drinking but you have to plan ahead: Christmas is coming. Sales and promotions appear less plentiful these days, probably because everyone’s already operating on low margins. We had a new floor laid this week and the lad required money up front for materials. Cash flow: the bane of every small businessman. …Out on the moor after lunch (jambon persillé – brawn to you and me). Some days I can almost fly through the bogs and mires; some days it’s a real challenge and I return home well and truly fucked. …With the hunt season beginning next month, neighbours are exercising hounds – quad bikes, hunting horns and baying mutts. …The neighbourhood has become younger, the production of infants is on the rise. Young mothers dressed like Sherpas carry the mites in metal-framed packs on their shoulders. Let’s hope the kids are afforded the opportunity to enjoy this place as much as I do before it’s concreted over.

Wednesday, October 11

Voters may balk at the higher taxes required

You think? ...Free housing, food, transport and access to the internet should be given to British citizens in a massive expansion of the welfare state … Former senior government official Jonathan Portes and academics from University College London make the call for a raft of new “universal basic services” using the same principles as the NHS. They estimate it would cost about £42bn, which could be funded by changes to the tax system. The recommendations include doubling Britain’s existing social housing stock with funding to build 1.5m new homes, which would be offered for free to those in most need. A food service would provide one third of meals for 2.2m households deemed to experience food insecurity each year, while free bus passes would be made available to everyone, rather than just the over-60s. The proposals also include access to basic phone services, the internet, and the cost of the BBC licence fee being paid for by the state. 

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said the recommendations would “help inform Labour’s thinking”. ...Britain is in debt to the tune of £2tn and all I hear is spend, spend, spent. Give it a week and Theresa May will be spouting something similar to McDonnell. New Tories: like Old Labour, but with expensive suits.

Tuesday, October 10

Long shots, conjecture and ancient rivalries

Two goals up at half-time (I’m watching Holland v Sweden). Can’t see the cloggies pulling it off – but where there’s hope, as they say. Have also dusted off my Ecuador scarf in anticipation of a win later this evening for Los Amarillos.

Britain is fucked, says the IMF. …It’s a wolf, a wolf I tell you.

Dropped in on the BP Portrait Award at the Royal Albert this morning. As someone who never got beyond drawing stick figures in art class, am always blown away by portrait painting. I can understand why the judges selected the winners, although Jorge Abbad-Jaime de Aragón’s portrait of Antonio López García is a bit tasty. …I know it’s wrong of me, but charging £5 entry fee (£3 for the kiddies) appears to have reduced the gallery footfall by (I reckon) 75%. Absolute bliss for the remaining 25% of us.

Our dystopian capital city

“Otherwise known as the world of Blade Runner – a lonely place without home or humanity.” Tim Stanley, sticking it to the capital. “Personally, I hate London. Despise it. How could you ever love a city where the poor pay astronomical rents to live four to a damp-filled room, a stone’s throw from the glass palaces of the rich? They have torn down the old capital and rebuilt it in the image of Dubai, a place where no matter what the purpose of a building – library, school, florist – it looks like an airport lounge.” ...Oh for the good old days. When we paid astronomical rents to live two to a damp-filled room.

Monday, October 9

Genetics

“A good big ’un will always beat a good little ’un,” says Gordon Strachan. I suspect Scotland’s chance of breeding an exception to the rule – a Messi, Xavi or Iniesta – is on a par with England’s – and once you’ve conquered technique, exhausted the limits of tactical advantage, strength and height is all.

Sunday, October 8

Autumn fare

Flushed a snipe this morning, the first I’ve seen this autumn. As a taster for the changing season (and to clear space in the freezer) Mrs G. has cut up a number of veal tails and cheeks, and lit a fire under the cauldron. Melt in the mouth stuff that should see us through the next couple of days. Goes well with a nice Rhone, or would do if I hadn’t been conned into joining the Sober for October bandwagon.

And why not

A wonderful Sunday morning with hardly a breath of wind. Wispy pink clouds and what’s left of the harvest moon. If you ignore running water from a distant brook and those pesky crows, silence reigns. Autumn is writ large amongst the trees as for once we’ve retained some colour, the moor glows like antique-gold. Mrs G. insists we put don our boots and head off into the wilderness.

Saturday, October 7

We live in hope

This morning’s FT leads with a story about Germany rejecting May’s transition hopes. Seems that while Barnier isn’t averse, Merkel (and Macron) will block any attempt to fast-track trade talks. This could be the Prime Minister’s salvation, Germany and France affording May her ‘Falklands’ opportunity: the country rallying behind what would be viewed as an attack on the UK. A couple of Churchillian ‘Fight them on the beaches’ from Boris, and everyone will be on the streets waving pitchforks – Thatcher-style landslide for the Conservatives. The girl’s luck has to change some time.

Friday, October 6

Today's visitors

There are still plenty of insects in the yard, which is just as well as the trees are full of Long-tailed Tits. Skulking beneath them in the hedge, tiny Goldcrests. A Green Woodpecker is on the deck feasting on ants.

Gudgeon's supper: pork belly and black pudding, with eight types of mushrooms.

Thursday, October 5

Cavemen and Cowboys

You don’t need to read Roland Barthes to understand why tough-man getup appeals. It’s timeless. Whether it’s cavemen, cowboys or Crimean war Hussars, leather and militaristic attire has always come with a massive dollop of machismo and who doesn’t like that? Well, lots of men, it turns out. Indeed, modern masculinity spans feminist lads to “ultra-dads” and recent YouGov research found only two per cent of 18-24-year-olds describe themselves as “completely masculine”. 

Probably best not to comment ... But a bright pink parka! Seriously?

You learn to love moss

Wet and windy this morning; just as well I got off my backside yesterday. Please tell me that was the last time I have to mow the lawn till spring 2018 (at which time I will definitely shell out for a new ride-on). The place is looking half-decent, though I have to concede the moss has won. A score draw on the mole front, and two dead badgers along the lane. The traffic’s increased this past couple of years and motor vehicles rather than culling appears the brocks’ biggest threat. Ditto with livestock on the moor.

Wednesday, October 4

This isn’t exactly a rallying cry

For god’s sake put the girl out of her misery.

Leaky footwear

It’s darker and chillier these mornings, the birds remain quiet till half-six. Buzzards and crows lead the chorus. We need a couple of dry days … I was out walking on the moor yesterday (no shortage of frogs). The livestock have left their mark – as though bogs and mires aren’t enough. I need new boots.

Tuesday, October 3

Existential fears

Not quite two sides of the same coin.

My latest read seems prescient?

An extract from the introduction. Unbelievably, it’s a novel.

The mid-seventies saw the culmination of an apparent spiritual awakening in Europe and America … a shift away from the dominant patriarchal-reductive-consumerist model … to a real engagement with principles such as mercy, compassion and right action. It was, looking back a far more hopeful time than might be imagined, and as we entered the Regan/Thatcher years, hope seemed more essential than ever to the fabric of decent life … (to) combat the existence of that soul sickness which lies, almost necessarily, at the heart of a competitive, poisoned, overcrowded society … the public realm, the political and social, corrupted beyond redemption.

Doesn’t sound as though it’s going to be a page-turner, nor an era to which, as Corbyn urges, we should return. ‘A far more hopeful time’ my arse. A plague of boils more like.

Monday, October 2

Another critter bites the dust

OK, so it’s not exactly big-game hunting – and I do cut them slack; but when my carrots are threatened, the mole gets it.

The 21st Century and we’re reinventing the wheel

Yes, I know – juvenile crap and I shouldn’t give it house room. However… “We could also start thinking seriously about redistributive measures: from a cap on wages, a high inheritance tax, to a more progressive taxation system.”    While I’m sure big Len and the lads at Unite would warm to the bit about capping wages, in ‘fairness’ to The Guardian, it isn’t easy to fill all those column inches each and every day; and it also serves as a reminder to the Conservatives about the need to repeat simple truths. I guess the government could reinvigorate the Sure Start scheme with a view to indoctrinating the mites and their mothers from the outset. Unfortunately Labour got there first.

Saturday, September 30

Accident, waiting to happen

Someone rolled his motor and blocked the lane this morning. The road surface is wet and greasy and covered with fallen leaves – an ice rink. The result is an unfortunate detour that pisses everyone off and encourages the dipsticks among us to drive even faster in order to make up for lost time. It’s just a question of ‘how many’ more vehicles plough through a hedge or demolish one of the countless horses that are being exercised.

Greek salad and stuffed squid for lunch; Mrs G. is baking a beef and mushroom pie for supper; and there’s an old favourite on the box. Who remembers Shiner? He’d have eaten Bill Sikes’ mutt for breakfast. Peggy Mount and Hylda Baker ... the great Shani Wallis.

Friday, September 29

The kitchen ate it

You don’t need to eat tonight’s supper, a whiff will suffice: braised veal sweetbreads, a medley of mushrooms, cream sauce, mashed spuds.

We’ve a mixed community hereabouts. I passed our local traveller camp this morning. They’re the dreadlocks/hippy/anarchist sort, rather than gypsies. A mishmash of converted-vans and caravans, mongrel dogs and grubby-faced urchins. It occurs to me the one thing I haven’t noticed since their arrival several months ago is a washing line, laundered underwear flapping in the breeze. It resonates because, yesterday, I reread Amis’s review of Richard Eyre’s film on Iris Murdoch, her domestic arrangements...

“…even the soap is filthy. Single shoes (and single socks) lie about the house as if deposited by a flash flood … Dried-out capless plastic pens crunch underfoot. An infestation of rats is found to be congenial, even stimulating. Everywhere they go, they have to hurdle great heaps of books, unwashed clothes, old newspapers, dusty wine bottles. The plates are stained, the glasses smeary. The bath, so seldom used, is now unusable; the mattress is soggy; the sheets are never changed. And we shall draw a veil over their underwear. On one occasion a large, recently purchased meat pie disappeared in the kitchen. It was never found. The kitchen ate it!”

Guess it’s why Amis earned the big bucks.

Thursday, September 28

Go figure

The homestead has slipped seamlessly into autumn, a carpet of leaves now covers the mud. In between showers of rain I dash outside and apply another layer of paint to rotting woodwork. Have replaced/renovated a fair amount this summer but it’s a Forth Bridge kind of thing. Neighbours maintain platoons of tradesmen, while sons and daughters attend universities to study meaningless nonsense that allows them to work as baristas, bookkeepers and glorified clerks. The kids demand the tradesmen pay their fees, in the interests of fairness.

Wednesday, September 27

Jeremy Corbyn channels his inner David Steel?

Go home and prepare for Government! Young, Idealist and Cosmopolitan they may be; but at least Labour’s offering the electorate a choice, instead of the usual middle-ground (boring) tweak. Of course Waco tells us where this sort of thing ends.

Tuesday, September 26

The People’s Front of Judea

Oh come on, don’t knock it. For entertainment value alone, John McDonnell’s worth the admission price.

Tom Watson performs a Michael Gove and morphs into a snivelling, obsequious jelly. Couldn’t happen to a nicer man.

Sunday, September 24

Swinging the lamp

It’s why so few organisations hire old geezers. Unless (for some perverse reason) you’re from the Lib Dems or the Labour Party, none of us wants to be harangued by Uncle Albert from nine to five. As someone who was an employer for more years than I was as an employee, hiring mature staff – despite benefitting from their oft immense experience – rarely worked. The temptation to prefix every statement with ‘In my day’ being an immediate turnoff. Gudgeon is the worst of ’em – I wouldn’t hire me.

Queen Angela

Failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining. Yet another been there done that.

“The AfD is a monster created by the liberal elites who have closed their ears to the German electorate’s concerns. In contrast, the Brexit vote gave vent to similar concerns in the UK before the far-right could get any kind of electoral hold. Nigel Farage might actually be given some credit for relieving the electoral pressure in Britain before things turned ugly.”

What a great day

Soft rain, thick fog and an accompanying silence – divorced from the world outside. Typical Sunday morning … returned the neighbour’s trespassing livestock, set a couple of mole traps (losing battle), cleaned up the fox/badger muck from the doorstep, retrieved cabbage from allotment. After two days of fish it’s back to mutton, this time with caper sauce and a superb seven-year-old Châteauneuf du Pape that’d been hidden away.

Saturday, September 23

Been there and done that

“Only 26% of voters aged 65 to 74 say Labour would be an option for them if another election was called. Crucially, this includes the 25% who voted for Corbyn’s party at the June general election, suggesting Labour has only a tiny number of potential new recruits among this age group.”   That’s because we were around in the 1970s and witnessed these pricks in action. They want to rerun the civil war we had then. Once bitten, as they say. If the Tories sell us out to Brussels, however, all bets are off. We abstain, Corbyn wins – and another generation gets to learn the hard way.

Autumn Morn

Here’s to the dawn of an autumn morn! 
     The cry of the hounds and the sound of the horn... 

The hunt is out this morning.

Thursday, September 21

Why pubs fail

An institution past its time? £4.40/pint. Tim Martin has a lot to be proud of, although part of me feels he’s losing the battle; we’re a dying breed. So-called poor people can’t afford to frequent pubs and those that can are terrified by health issues. So, it’s a middle-class thing? Not really, but it is a factor – maybe we don’t fraternise as much as we used to? In the old days my boozing companions included a broad selection of drinkers, including bus drivers and brickies, city traders and brokers, actors and writers, grocers and butchers. Surprisingly, given our diverse backgrounds, we were not much of a difference. How times change.

A divided society

Our local Kwik-E-Mart – or rather its ruling family – is in the news again. Whether or not to shoot badgers. It’s not just a rural versus town argument, as the countryside is as divided on most every subject as the wider population is about Brexit. Half my neighbours vote Conservative and want to bring back hanging; while the dipsticks, the others, are for Vince, insisting we should all adopt a refugee. I haven’t really got a dog in the badger fight, but if I do catch the brock that’s tearing up my yard looking for worms I will most certainly kick it in the nuts.

Wednesday, September 20

The equinox approaches

As days shorten and trees turn colour I find myself pleasantly reassured by the natural rhythms of life – the seasons, familiar faces departing and new neighbours arriving, everyday births and deaths. Change keeps life interesting and helps avoid those perilous ruts, the status quo. Theresa May and Donald Trump are there to remind us what happens when we go to sleep on the job.

Tuesday, September 19

My desert island dish

Hainanese chicken rice for this evening's supper.

D’oh!

Man who climbed mountain in underwear gets hypothermia.

Of course there are even dumber things you can do.

Empty talk

Brexit a pipe dream … just talk? Who knows? The downsides to a hard Brexit might be painful, but not as catastrophic as allowing the people from anywhere with stars lipsticked on their faces to win the argument – our staying within the EU on reduced terms. I doubt the UK’s internal divisions would ever heal.

Climate change was always a load of tosh, admit ‘experts’. Who’d have thought?

Monday, September 18

Nul points

Oh for a little style, even at the expense of substance. I’m listening to May in Canada and she appears bereft of either, is bloody awful. It wouldn’t be so bad if her obvious deficiencies were compensated for in some way. Unfortunately the girl’s an all-round dud.

Sunday, September 17

Mine's a large one

Lots of athletes out and about this morning. Though I limped across to watch the action, Gudgeon acknowledges his running days are long gone – yesterday’s jaunt a punishing realisation. So as an antidote to our fitness orientated neighbours I’ve organised an old fashioned Sunday lunchtime cocktail session for the slackers – Negronis all round. Must admit, while I don’t drink this sort of thing often, it’s a real treat. Venison on the barbecue and country music in the offing.

Friday, September 15

History is written by the victors?

“Our new national sport. Today’s blameless generation versus your guilty one. Who will atone for our fathers’ sins? Even if they weren’t sins at the time.” I didn’t reread The Spy Who Came in from the Cold before tackling A Legacy of Spies but I did watch a rerun of Richard Burton and Claire Bloom for the umpteenth time. Three or so books ago I was ready to write off le Carré in the same manner as those aging crooners that insist on taking the stage in inappropriate clothing when they should be home drinking cocoa. His latest book, however, is a quality piece of writing. Unfortunately the lad’s turned into an old woman and like many of his ilk seems intent on rewriting history to benefit the contemporary market.

Wednesday, September 13

Life’s a lottery

Captain Mark ‘Foggy’ Phillips served with distinction in the Royal Marines and SBS for 25 years. A great athlete and four times winner of the 125-mile Devizes to Westminster canoe race, Foggy contracts a disease so rare that only one in a million people is affected and subsequently dies after a short illness.

Tuesday, September 12

The morning after

Up town this morning to see a man bout a dog … before adjourning to the Ship for a pint. Advertised as an oak-beamed Tudor inn with nautical heritage, the pub’s more a throwback to the 1970s. Given today’s clientele I was going to reference Rebus, but the accents were more Glasgow than Leith. Lots of punters my age or older, and a couple of good-time girls who’d seen better days. I don’t understand the need for some lads of a certain vintage to dress like teenagers – and if you must wear cut offs, why cannibalise your pyjamas?


Speaking of good-time girls. RAMM's latest exhibition (opens today) features a selection of  modern art from their Fine Art Collection, including Patrick Heron, Barbara Hepworth, Lucien Pissarro and Brian Rice… While not my usual thing, you can’t but be taken by Isabel Codrington’s ‘Morning’ – aka working girl after a night on the batter.

Monday, September 11

Buy one get one free

Received a soaking while filling potholes in the drive…autumn has most definitely arrived. Dried off chopping wood under cover. All good stuff, fresh air and what passes for exercise – even the ponies were impressed I’d surfaced. Mrs G. has been salvaging what she can from the post-storm allotment and Gudgeon is now surrounded by jars of runner bean chutney.

Although the silly season is supposedly over I’ve yet to reengage with the political scene. It doesn’t help that, following the furore over gender pay disparity, our male commentators are increasingly replaced by the cheaper option.

Highly recommended



Sardinhas "Petingas" Picantes José Gourmet. Damn it they’re hot (spicy).

Sunday, September 10

Only a numpty would buy English wine

I wouldn‘t go so far as Marco: however, in general, it is pretty average plonk sold at inflated prices. “The French make the best wine. The English just play at it,” he says. “We make the best Cheddar, we make great pasties. But we can't make very good brie or baguettes – and the French can't make pork pies.” Each to their own. Would also grudgingly agree that “London is the No 1 food destination, full stop. It has the talent and (the people who can pay) the prices.”

Appears autumn has arrived

Gales! Driven rain is the homestead’s number one enemy, it goes with the territory – keeps me awake at night. Thankfully we don’t live in Florida. Reluctant to accept the seasonal shift we are still eating summer food: olives and Padrón peppers, veal loin steaks with quality pasta and classy tomatoes, a bottle of stuff from the far north of the Côtes de Nuits above Morey-St Denis (the last of my birthday presents).

Saturday, September 9

Should have been staked out on an ant nest

His severed genitals stuffed in his mouth. ...I’ve read too much Larry McMurtry and Elmore Leonard.

Have lived through worse

Some good matches today, but then the Premier League is a series of exciting games. Am currently listening to Motson who is stepping down – love the old stories. We are all looking a little worn these days. Everyone is down in Brighton, and while I’ve a soft spot for Chris Hughton and have fond memories of Brighton, The Grand Hotel, my money’s on the Baggies.

Having repainted ‘the wall’ I’ve hung our recent addition. The artist says the picture can be read as a metaphor for how we've entered the 21st century, with a series of international crises, ecological concerns and political instability – think John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. To me it’s just a disturbingly spooky scene.

Nightmare in Cheltenham

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival… Hillary Rodham Clinton, Judy Murray, Chris Patten, Simon Schama… Grief, why would you? Perhaps for the deadbeat dad and gobby Brummie – their partnership must be such a comfort to Suzanne Moore and Marina Hyde.

Fish Fingers were never this good

The local metropolis is holding its annual food festival. Years ago these sorts of things were an opportunity for producers to promote their wares. Unfortunately they didn’t result in sales and have now deteriorated into a collection of fast food stalls selling questionable dishes of doubtful provenance you wouldn’t dream of eating.

Friday was fish day. Hake and John Dory. It was so good, today’s a repeat.

Thursday, September 7

Reviewing Pale Ales this week

Always a fan of pale ale, White Shield remains my standard from the old days. Another six brewers were taste tested over the weekend … Samuel Smith’s remaining the one to beat.

It’s that time of year: game birds appear in the butchers’ window.

Tuesday, September 5

When men resembled men

Early finish today, am in between (nearly) completing one project and moving to the next. Gudgeon seems to spend more time washing brushes than painting. As it’s lashing down outside I’ve taken a couple of hours off. Watching Edward Dmytryk’s ‘Anzio’ for the umpteenth time. Not exactly the greatest war film ever made, but what the hell – rather Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk than Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise.

You know you’re getting old when...

You take down a box of teabags from the cupboard for your morning cuppa and try to stuff a Matzo Cracker in the mug.

Sunday, September 3

Living the simple life

While not in the same league as Houston, today’s rainfall has been trés heavy. One or two diehards are sticking it out but most have struck camp and a bedraggled convoy is heading home. With nothing else to do I spent the morning applying a coat of vinyl to the bathroom walls – four hours stumbling about in the dark, choking on paint fumes. Quit in time for the Italian Grand Prix and a well-earned pre-lunch drink. We’re on day three of Friday’s barbecue, the latest reincarnation augmented by an outstanding salsa verde, plates of roasted vegetables and a fine Lalande de Pomerol. Thanks to a cold spring the allotment has been a disappointment this year; what it has produced, however, is first class.

Saturday, September 2

College struggles for new customers

In order to navigate the uncertainties of Brexit, farming needs to attract a more diverse group of people (clever urban types from a range of ethnic backgrounds) says first female head of Britain’s oldest agricultural college. There aren’t enough toffs (non-clever men in tweed jackets with leather patches and yellow cords) to fund my eye-watering vice-chancellor’s salary and pension.

Friday, September 1

Has to be barbecue

Monday, glazed baked ham and eggs; Tuesday, calves liver with green beans; Wednesday, feta and courgette frittata; Thursday, veal burgers and Greek salad. Friday?

Life in the sticks

It’s not so much a problem with Islam hereabouts as the rise of Beowulf style paganism. Neighbours have taken to dressing up in animal skins and, sword or axe in hand, dancing round a blazing pyre. Think of it as rural multiculturalism. One of these dark nights they’ll meet the hunt sabs returning from an exercise and all hell will break loose. While disappointed not to have been invited, the thought of having sharpened bones inserted in my chest and being suspended by rawhide straps from an oak tree is much less appealing than a mug of cocoa and an early night.