Saturday, October 21

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 a 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 persill√© – 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.