Wednesday, December 31

Forgotten frosty mornings of the past

You have no idea of how cold it feels outside, the wind chill factor at dawn this morning brought frozen tears to my eyes.

Looking back on 2008, an ever-present chill seems to have been abroad in the world. I’ll refrain from shouting ‘good riddance and bring on the New Year’, as 2009 is likely to be even worse for many. But then isn’t that the way, and still the world goes on. In ten years time we’ll doubtless be crying about something else. As with Sunny Jim, McPlonker will be just a distant memory that causes us to shake our head and stifle a wry chuckle. It must be part of the human condition, our programming, that thing which seemingly allows us to wipe all the negative recollections from our hard drive, to only recall the positive and fun parts, to always see the past in good light.

An annual treat at this time of year remains a bottle of Springbank single malt, something that’s become progressively harder to locate. Not being chill-filtered, the whisky develops a slight haze when exposed to low temperatures, and – from the state of the cloudy bottle now sitting on the shelf in my office – allows me to deduce that I’m little warmer inside or outside of the barn.

Monday, December 29

PP Arnold

Initial booking for the new year... Geno Washington and PP Arnold, in concert locally. The last time I saw Washington was in Bloxwich, in ’67. PP Arnold I haven’t previously seen live, but, as the girl responsible for that definitive recording of Cat Steven’s ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ (Alexandra Burke - and Duffy - eat your heart out), and for her iconic roll in the surf with The Small Faces, she has to be worth a look.


That’s definitely the last of our goose broth. Like it or not - and as it’s my turn to cook - we’ll be dining on sweet & sour pork tonight (rare breed, naturally). I’m spicing it up with some leftover chipolatas (it is still Christmas). Don’t go near town: I’ve just returned from a little business I had to take care of in Exeter: it took forty minutes just to reach the car park, and that was full – I was reduced to feeding meters. The high street is bedlam. I don’t want to hear one more word from our retailers about how tough it is out there. If you can’t sell to shoulder to shoulder punters, seemingly weighed down by the money in their pockets, you don’t deserve to be in business. And yes I accept that Exeter is almost exclusively employed at the taxpayers’ expense, but at least the money is circulating.

-isms and boredom

Because most people are bored senseless from being cooped up over Christmas, yet still feel the need to say something as a means of fulfilling an obligation, newspapers and the blogosphere are stuffed with regurgitated articles about very little – Toby Harnden’s response to a Michelle Obama’s email being a case in point. The sad thing is that I’m reading these articles instead of venturing outside. A fieldfare and other assorted thrushes have returned to the yard, and I should be out with the camera instead of parking my bum on a radiator and reaching for the binoculars. Those Americanisms that appear to irritate Harnden seem harmless enough to me, and appear more an illustration of the tendency to politeness that’s so prevalent across the pond. Along with the mini-library of books that Mrs G. gave to me this Christmas, there’s a real anorak of a publication entitled ‘Damp Squid’, by Jeremy Butterfield. It pretends to a wealth of fascinating facts and figures across the whole spectrum of English – from vocabulary size and word origins to spelling and meaning, from word groupings and idiomatic phrases to grammar and usage. If Americanisms are not your sort of thing you should be warned that the Oxford Corpus of global texts, on which such publications as the Oxford Dictionary of English are based, is constructed from roughly 1% each of Caribbean and South African patter, 2% each New Zealand and Indian, 3% East Asian, 4% Canadian, 5% Australian, 6% Irish, 26% British, and 50% from the US. ‘Have a nice day’, it seems, is here to stay.

Redundant pen knife... as I usually write with pencils, she's treated me to a new ‘electric’ sharpener. In a five minute fit of boredom I reduced a whole box of Staedtlers to lead coated wood shavings.

Saturday, December 27

A return to porridge

I have to admit to becoming bored by goose, and there’s only so much piccalilli and pickled red cabbage you can eat. Those two emergency rump steaks hidden away at the back of the fridge are starting to look very tempting. With a virtual absence of news these last few days have felt like a holiday. As with cold goose, regurgitated end-of-the-world stories weigh heavily on a body. At least the Blues are back to winning ways. I was toying with the idea of putting on my walking boots and tramping across the moor, but the wind-chill factor serves as a cruel reminder the sunshine’s just another sneaky ruse adopted by winter to disguise itself. It’s nearly half past eleven and the vehicle’s still encrusted with frost.

Friday, December 26

Feet up

Boxing Day, and everyone’s out blowing the cobwebs away. Didn’t see the hunt, despite an estimated 250k people out there defying the ban; however, it does sounds like a bad day in southern Afghanistan: guns to the right, left and centre. Most of the rest of the country seems to be queuing at the sales... sad people.

Thursday, December 25

Merry Christmas

It’s a pleasant day outside; the yard a noisy mix of blackbirds, wrens, marsh tits, and woodpeckers chiselling away at the limbs of an oak. There’s a mixed flock of redwings and strikingly colourful blue-grey headed fieldfares (the birds of winter) feeding off hawthorn berries.

...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.
(John Clare: Shepherd’s Calendar)

Our neighbour’s wood-burning stove reminds us we’re not alone and that the track will soon be a procession of pickups and four wheel drive vehicles. I must try harder to limit my intake at this morning’s get together, though you’re reluctant to offend by not drinking your fair share of good cheer.

Wednesday, December 24

Another pub bites the dust

Well, that’s my last pint in The George. It was the first place I went for a drink after moving here. Just as everyone was settling in at the bar last night the place caught fire and burned down around their ears. Drove across to have a look this morning. An historic inn which had been on the go since 1450; hundreds of years of history reduced to a pile of rubble. Must have been quite a party as there were 100 firemen and 20 appliances (a fair number of the buildings in the village are also thatched).

Update: All that's left...

Tuesday, December 23

Last orders at the Café

Another sad day, in that after 143 years, the Café Royal - a London institution frequented by Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde - has closed its doors. Must admit, we’ve had one or two enjoyable sessions there over the years.

Meanwhile, the carnage on our high street continues – with most stores offering a mandatory 50%-off to entice shoppers inside. Some are now advertising another 15% reduction from the remaining 50%! Even middle-class icon Boden is discounting 60%. Canny shoppers appreciate this is pure horse shit however, as discounted items are more than likely just left-over crap, or bought in junk; the good stuff is probably still at its original price. I wonder if Harrods have a problem selling their popular £15 loaf? Unfortunately, some stores are said to be running so short of cash they will have difficulty paying staff this month’s wages (not to mention the rent or ordering new stock). The Japanese are confronting their difficulties by smashing crockery against the nearest wall. And who saw last night’s Panorama? Drive by shooting - it would be letting Goodwin off lightly.

As if things weren’t grim enough, I heard from the good lady of an old drinking buddy in Baton Rouge yesterday: the lad’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer and goes under the knife in a couple of weeks time. It never rains, eh?

Monday, December 22

It’s contagious

Yours truly is in the crap again, having transferred my cold to Mrs G. Screwing with her Christmas could mean that (a) I won’t get fed, and (b) it’ll be weeks before hearing an end to it. As it was, I’d only just managed to get my hands on a goose, securing the last in the butcher’s window. The fact that it’s the size of an ostrich should prove interesting - we’ll probably be eating goose pie/cassoulet/curry/hash through January. Still, with all this talk of recession I should probably get used to eating leftovers. As our neighbour’s also stopped by with more pheasants from his weekend shoot we’re unlikely to be short on protein. And just to prove you can’t keep a good woman down, Mrs G. is out back baking a fresh batch of cantucci.

Nagging wife required for RBS?

Several women who have made it to the top in City law and accountancy firms are being considered by the Government as possible additions to the boards of nationalised banks such as RBS, Lloyds and HBOS. The principal requirement appears to be that they display a similar disposition to the late Les Dawson’s fictitional mother-in-law.

Saturday, December 20

Another pit stop

If it's true what they said in this week’s newspapers – that sneezing is a reaction to thinking about sex – then I must be a horny little bugger. All I wanted to do this morning was curl up on the sofa with my packet of Lemsip and to listen to the footy. Unfortunately, needs must: too many errands to run. And would you believe it, a piece of discarded metal punctured both front and rear nearside tyres - that’s seven I’ve replaced in 14 months. I’ve started buying Korean jobs as they’re 30-40 quid cheaper than the usual premium brands. Crawling about in the mud under the motor, trying to manoeuvre a jack into position, was not the sort of tonic I was looking for.

Thursday, December 18

New box

Given the limited amount of telly we watch, our trusty 20” Sony has proved more than adequate, and for more years than I care to remember. Imagine the shock, therefore, of my installing a 37” widescreen high-definition job alongside the fireplace (joint family Christmas present). I know, I know: 37” is nothing these days; but it’s still something of a culture shock - the room looks like a sports bar. I’ve had to fork out for a HD satellite box and employ someone to nail a dish onto the side of the barn. But what pictures... I can see why our more mature presenters are concerned.

Wednesday, December 17

The lurgy

It’s the same most every year: I enter Christmas season full of good cheer, only to be frustrated by some scabby-faced individual coughing their germs over me, and with inevitable results. I suppose it gives me an excuse to drink hot toddies. I’ve pinned the blame on that bank clerk who served me last Friday - she with the dyed blonde hair and Magnum P.I. moustache; the one who’d dribbled breakfast down the lapels of her uniform.

Tuesday, December 16

Passing the buck

Gossip amongst some media hacks seems to be that the government may go for an early election - perhaps as soon as February. It sounds unlikely: can you imagine disillusioned Labour supporters queuing mid-winter for the chance to (re)elect McPlonker. However, anything he currently does has to factor in an election (keep the punters sweet), and when the shit really does his the fan in the new year, the government is going to have to make serious choices - maybe pursue a slightly different economic strategy that involves a lot more people (including Labour supporters) losing their jobs, homes and savings. Brown appreciates there is something to what Peer Steinbrück said recently, and in the Tory approach to limiting public sector debt. He knows there could be difficulties selling gilts to finance this debt, and interest rates may well end up being reversed in order to rescue the pound. If he’s had the election Brown can quite rightly say (a) you put me here, don’t knock it, or (b) you dumped me, when I could have saved you. Either way he’ll see an election as a ‘get out of jail’ card.

Monday, December 15

Time flies

It’s two years today since we emigrated from South London Mansions and moved into the barn. At the time the FTSE 100 was around 6,200, £1=$1.96, and we won’t mention house prices. Life here seems to consist of rain, floods and storms - and there are times when you wonder why we left the smoke. Let’s see, could it have been anything to do with the hassle of living alongside those eight million other residents in the city; perhaps it was the choking, polluted air; or our being woken by drunks exiting neighbourhood pubs at 24:00 each evening, the neighbours that insisted on arriving home and slamming their cab doors at 01:30, our being reawakened at 04:30 by incoming aircraft en route to Heathrow, the first of the trains at 05:30, or maybe it was the guy next door who ran his motor cycle outside my bedroom window for ten minutes every morning at 06:30 in order to warm up the engine? And we lived on a quiet street. Once the commuters got started and the school run began, it really livened up. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I miss - not least the 25 years worth of friends, however – broken legs aside – there are significant health benefits to living amongst the countryside.

Saturday, December 13

Low expectations

It’s not quite Christmas but Nat King Cole carols are already being broadcast throughout the barn. The Boss has completed our greetings cards and finished ordering the last of her gifts over the internet. I was worried the white-van-man wouldn’t make it here, such was the level of subsidence to the track. However, dutiful landlord dusted off his JCB and I was able to make for the Dog & Duck where, thankfully, the beer is still priced in Sterling. As it is we’re hardly into winter and they’ve turned up the faucets. Punters have had to be rescued from their vehicles, with areas of Devon once again flooded. ‘Never rains but it pours’ as they say. Andy Bond, the Asda boss, believes this recession will breed a new brand of UK consumer focused on thrift and a return to ‘traditional values’ and which will survive for half a century. We’ll apparently develop a World War II rationing mentality, with a shift from frivolous to frugal, where ‘frugal’ is cool. Guess it means we should expect jumpers, socks and handkerchiefs for Christmas presents.

Tuesday, December 9

Christmas tree inflation

You and me both, Boris... Mrs G. insisted on one of those blue Scandinavian trees whose needles stay put until January (grown in a field not more than a mile away), and refused to settle for anything less than eight foot in height. Accordingly, and despite my haggling, I’m now out of pocket some £40. Forty quid! Would you Adam and Eve it? It’s already been clad in 100m of John Lewis’s flashy lights and enough candy hooks to keep an average NHS dentist in new-year bonus cheques. Twelve months ago the same tree cost £25: so much for this stagflation crap.

Leeching off the public purse

I don’t usually comment on this sort of thing, but it’s hard for me to ignore today’s Times column by Rachel Sylvester. Having declined to sire children myself, I can understand why people become upset at having to meet exorbitant tax demands in order to maintain and educate other people’s fancies. That said, there’s an army of poor kids out there who are dealt the short straw – not least those of the Karen Matthews of the world - and I’ve no objection to lending a helping hand. What bugs me is having to bankroll initiatives like Sure Start, and watching well-heeled establishment types such as Sylvester take the piss by using Hackney social services as her childminder when she should be putting a hand in her pocket and paying for a nanny.


A crash as historic as the end of communism, presaging a fairer, less divisive economic model? Peston is arguably our (the BBC's) most prominent economic commentator, and – if I might be so bold - a prick of the first order. He’d be dangerous if he wasn’t so full of crap. This is just the sort of rubbish that filled the newspapers back in ’89, towards the end of MT’s reign. Yes, we all share the blame, some more so than others; and bankers have done little to enhance their reputations; but it was an accident waiting happen, one that was constructed and supported by its principal architect and cheerleader, Gordon McPlonker. Whatever the merits of current public spending plans, we still have to make something that somebody else wants to buy. Grief, you’d think we’d never seen a recession before. Thank your lucky stars you’re not at university just now and expecting to have a career when you graduate. You could be repeating the experiences of those poor schmucks who were born between 1961-64 - the ones that left school around 1980, that struggled through the two recessions of the early 80s and 90s. Any of the 19% that never managed to find employment (the first generation to be hit by the growth of flexible labour markets and the decline in manufacturing); the ones who had to settle for part time work; whose periods of employment were more likely to be measured in months, rather than years. Fairer, less divisive? Dream on.

Grumpy detectives

Like most, I’ve been taken up this last couple of weeks with Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender – something of a cross between Morse and Rebus, but more melancholy (if that’s possible). Is this the lot of men of a certain age? Mrs G. says we all become boring when we reach 40, turning into miserable bastards at 50. It has been fascinating, albeit confusing at times, to be running the two adaptations alongside each other. I was initially drawn to Branagh’s character, but that ugly sort, Krister Henriksson, is proving a winner. A couple of comments on the series: the adaptations try too hard, in packing a single TV episode with enough material to fill an Alex Cross film; I’d forgotten how boring G-Plan furniture was; the Swedes seem even more indifferent to their police that we do; you wouldn’t go within a hundred miles of a Swedish woman – what aggravating pains-in-the-butt they’re made to appear.

Monday, December 8

Crisp mornings

The early morning walk for a newspaper can be a chilly affair. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the effort, given the depressing stuff they print. Then again, there are worse places to wake up.

Ponies seem to be most everywhere on the moor, but whereas, years ago, there were reputed to be tens of thousands, numbers are now down to +/- 3,000. Grazing restrictions limit the size of the herds, and farmers probably find it makes more sense to use the land for sheep. Regretfully, the economic downturn means fewer ponies are being purchased, and last week’s Tavistock sales saw them knocked down to as low as ten guineas, the minimum permissible price. A significant percentage didn’t sell and will presumably be heading to the abattoir. I assume the horse meat trade is now defunct, given the restrictions on live animal transport; and that - unlike our continental cousins – a local market has yet to be cultivated. My Veronese dentist tells me you can substitute beef for horse meat when cooking a classic Pastissada, but that it’s a poor substitute.

Thursday, December 4

Shock windfall

What a nice chap the tax man is. Just as the cupboard was looking a tad bare, in rides HM Revenue & Customs with a Yuletide bonus. It’s pathetic how grateful you become when someone returns a fraction of the cash they’d already lifted from your pocket. One of these days I’m going to meet this mythical ‘hard-working family’ that McPlonker insists on giving my beer money to. Little Jimmy can go whistle for his new Christmas Nintendo as far as I’m concerned. Having legged it into town to spend my rebate before someone asks for it back, I made the mistake of visiting M&S, to stock up on woollen underwear. Unfortunately, today was one of the store’s bonanza 20%-off sales and the queue at the till was about 60 deep. Needless to say the socks were made to wait for another day. It is obvious there’s still a lot of money out there and that people are keen enough to spend it: always providing, that is, punters believe they are getting a bargain. People might not be buying cars or flat-screen TVs, but they can’t seem to get enough cardigans or slippers. M&S couldn’t restock the shelves fast enough.

Still alive

I’ve been remiss in posting but have been kind of busy. Active in the sense of being just about everywhere but near a keyboard – dashing around the streets of Totnes, Crediton, Exeter, Barnstaple... Have covered more miles than a rural bus driver this past week. It’s grim out there, in every sense of the word; Dartmoor a perpetually changing scene of freezing fog and waves of stinging icy rain. The cattle seem to take it in their stride, but trigger and the rest of the nags look totally disenchanted. Our first Christmas staff lunch - at a cafe, in Totnes: turkey, sage & onion stuffing and chipolata Panini. Don’t knock it, when you’re wet and cold you’ll eat most anything. At least I don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage any more: the good old taxpayer will foot the bill. Makes you wonder why everyone spent these past ten years paying for unemployment protection, and saving their pennies for a rainy day. Damn it, if only I wasn’t renting. There’s not a lot I can say about our ongoing slow motion train-wreck of an economy that isn’t already being articulated in the Dog & Duck, with a visceral hatred of everything one-eyed.

Thursday, November 27

Tonight's dinner

I’m not the wimpy sort when it comes to blood and gore, but if you’re hung-over, the last thing you want to do is walk into Mrs G’s kitchen when she’s disembowelling critters en masse. The floor is covered with newspapers, and she’s cling-filmed the work surface (she watches too much Dexter on TV). I think it looks more like a scene from Alien v Predator. It’s not so much the sticky mounds of entrails, those black congealed furry and feathery bits, or the haunting eyes, but more that gagging stench you get from the insides of well hung game - the pong is worse than dried out fishing nets. I used to do business with a medium-scale chicken producer years ago, and can still smell his production line of inverted birds en route to the knife. It’s a mucky old business, food.

Wednesday, November 26

Damp squib

Billed as the most important financial statement of my lifetime? What a basket case this Darling character is turning out to be – a poor man’s John Major, without the ‘I bonked Edwina’ cachet. I know, I know, I’m being unfair: it’s all Brown’s fault. But even an ignoramus like me could spot the pre-budget report was a loser; and no one out there had expected his deficit projections – borrowing £400 billion over the next five years. I’d already turned grey by the time we’d paid off the Yanks for WWII; the nephew’s kids will drawing their pension by the time we settle our sovereign-wealth-fund loans (always providing they’ll lend us the money). And you wonder why Jacqui Smith is issuing plod with 10,000 Tasers. There’s a lot of grief being stored up for when the Tories get their feet back under the counter. I know everyone else had said the same thing, but 2.5% off VAT: what’s the point? I was in an Exeter department store yesterday, carrying Mrs G’s shopping bags, and you couldn’t help noticing the prices: canteen of cutlery, reduced from £350 to £100; woman’s coat, down from £199 to £99... Everywhere bargain prices, but the store was empty, hardly anyone on the streets – and this is supposed to be Christmas shopping season.

Sunday, November 23

Back home

It is nice to be back home, even if the weather’s a bit on the breezy side. Slept for nine hours last night: am still getting over the trip: should have known better than to get into a drinking contest with an ex Sale man. Last thing I need to think about right now is more food (could do with a week on dry toast). As it happens, the neighbour’s dropped by with a brace of pheasants that he shot yesterday; thought he’d forgotten about us. Thankfully, they’ll need to hang for a few days: I’m not really in the mood for plucking and eviscerating wildlife. Also good to get back to the yard’s familiar feathered characters, although I managed a few ticks in the book whilst away. Apart from the common and herring gulls, there was a ridiculously large great black-backed gull on view. As you would expect, where fish are involved, lots of cormorants; also, grey herons and a little egret. Ring plovers, oystercatchers, curlews, and a couple of shelducks. Traipsed along the Camel estuary as far as Wadebridge, a fair enough hike – what with all the junk in my pack, before catching the bus back. I was the only guy who had to pay, who hadn’t a pass of one sort or another.

Saturday, November 22

Too much food

I’ve never been so glad to get home to a bowl of porridge. If I never see another oyster, crab or lobster again it won’t be too soon. So much for recession food. Mrs G. has acquired another diploma, signed by the Stein chap himself. She now knows the difference between sushi-grade tuna and the bog-standard variety, and can shuck oysters with the best of them. I teamed up with her compatriots during the evenings and drank far too much cheap wine - it seemed to go hand in hand with waving their Global knives about the place. Ate at Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, recently voted 10th best restaurant in Britain by the Restaurant Magazine, the top establishment in the southwest. Good service, but pretty basic stuff, sometimes poorly executed. The oysters were the best I’ve tasted in a while, but came with too many shell fragments and the odd milky variety. Everyone seemed to be tucking into curried lobster at £40 a throw. Tried their Singapore chilli crab, but you can’t beat the original; truth to tell, the Seafood Restaurant on Yarmouth’s North Quay is more to my taste. I’d had enough after two days, and ended up eating in a portacabin cafe on the quay that was full of dockers and lorry drivers.

Wednesday, November 19

Gone Fishing

Better keep this morning’s newspaper out of sight: M&S are to hold a 20%-off sale. It seems that whenever Mrs G. buys an article of clothing from M&S, it invariably fails to measure up; but what really pisses her off, gets the crockery flying, is discovering the sweater she bought last month has gone on sale for £30 less. If the economists are correct - and we are about to experience a period of deflation - I can confidently predict a run on china cups.

The Boss is away on a course, cooking at Rick Stein’s place in Padstow - filleting squid and boiling lobsters. I’m off with my fishing rod for a couple of action packed days in North Cornwall, home to Polkark, Doc Martin and Wycliffe. What chance it either blows a hoolie or lashes down.

Sunday, November 16


I’d never previously visited Clovelly. It’s a fishing village on the North Devon coast with a 14th century quay and some quaint customs. For a start it’s privately owned, by a single family. The quaint whitewashed homes are rented to suitable locals who, when not subverting European fishing quotas, spend their time looting wrecks and smuggling. At least that’s what the blurb at the visitor centre says. The place is too steep for motor vehicles, and the donkeys have been retired, so groceries and other consumables are transported up and down the alpine-like village streets by sledge. As you can imagine, it’s become something of a tourist attraction, and my previous reticence had a lot to do with the fear of being trampled by hoards of grannies from Wolverhampton. That, and the £11 parking fee!

However, today was the annual ‘Herring Festival’. Well, you know me and food. Mention the word ‘herring’ and I envisage Mrs G. frying batches of oatmeal encrusted fillets; serving them up in mustard sauce, with a dish of boiled spuds and a frosted glass of foaming lager. My years in Holland and Scandinavia have also imbued me with a taste for both the raw and cured varieties, and don’t get me started on bloaters and kippers. So when the Boss shook me awake and demanded to be driven to Clovelly I could already taste the mace and bay leaves.

Sucker that I am - I fall for these sorts of things every time. The foodie festival turned out to be a young lad selling Thai fishcakes and an old girl offloading her surplus of rhubarb jam. There was a wet-fish guy, but today I wanted mine cooked. And the lone soul frying herring at the back of the Red Lion was surrounded by a crowd six-deep and a TV crew. I’d have stuck around to see the headlining act, ‘The Singing Fishwives’, but after three rousing sea shanties from Hanging Johnny (a group of sea-going Wurzels) I decided to beat a hasty retreat, settling for a traditional Sunday lunch at the local hostelry. And after that, I promise never, ever again, to complain about the food at the Dog & Duck.

Thursday, November 13

Another rabbit story

Having given up on finding a supply of squirrel meat which hadn’t already been chewed over, I settled for substituting rabbit in that Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe I'd fancied. I never understood peoples reluctance to eat rabbit, until moving to Devon. It had always been a favourite of mine and a regular feature of maternal Grandmother’s cuisine. Back in my East Anglia days you could pick them up on the market for thirty-bob or so. Needless to say, at South London mansions the only rabbit I was able to lay my hands on was the superior sort that comes tagged with its very own serial number and a drapeau tricolore provenance. They also cost eight quid a pop. Hereabouts your rabbit is very much of the wild variety and arrives served up in differing degrees of ripeness. I’ve had one or two which tasted like they’d been subject to an exhumation. Even these latest specimens (from a good source) were pretty rank, my autopsy failing to determine whether they’d been blasted with a Remington, run over by that plonker in the Subaru, or beaten to death with a golf club. Anyway, I did the whole FW crap, marinating the beasts in a selection of exotic herbs and spices, before dusting the dismembered joints in seasoned flour and browning in bear grease. Having softened the usual mix of carrot-celery-onion and thrown in some chicken stock, I duly simmered for a couple of hours, removed the meat from the bones, and finished in a stock reduction/tomato sauce. And guess what: they were still shite! Waste not, want not: next time they get the jalfrezi treatment, with large portions of lime pickle.

Tuesday, November 11

Ships that pass in the night

There’s a room at the back of Ike Godsey’s which serves as a reminder to the old days. It’s an outrageous example of ’70s kitsch in various shades of orange, brown and yellow. The walls and ceiling are classic woodchip, pasted over blown plaster and surface-laid (re)wiring, and which – together with the nylon upholstered chrome furniture and garish strip lighting – is far more the tenement bedsit I recall from the period than any of that contemporary Scandinavian and Italian guff in the V&A. I was down there this morning (Godsey’s, not the V&A), and fell in with a character who was just passing through – en route to a family shindig in Cornwall. As you may have suspected, conversing with black-face sheep and Ruby Reds isn’t always as scintillating as I portray, and warm bodies with stories are like gold dust. Throw in a couple of pints and you can make a day of it. Anyway, said warm body was an ageing rocker – a 67 year old Status Quo facsimile (he could have been 47 and had just been through the wringer a couple of times), complete with ponytail, trainers, jeans and T-shirt. He’d spent 20 years running a pub in Highgate before disappearing with his third wife to her native Bogota, where he now resides – hence the stories. Unsurprisingly he failed to suggest any new answers to the pressing problems of our times, lamenting the decline of community values and demise of liquorice pipes with their bowls of hundreds and thousands.

A surprise call from a distant brother-in-law (I have seven). Distant in the sense he resides in the Shetland’s (or is it ‘on’ the Shetland’s?) and you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere in the immediate realm that’s further removed from West Devon. He’s a retired semi-pro footballer who now spends his time studying the breeding patterns of Atlantic Puffins and Northern Lapwings, sipping Sjolmet Stout and listening to Catriona MacDonald recitals on the wireless. He makes it sound a fun place. I’ve actually been there once – when another of the brothers convinced me to take his sister, Mrs G., on a weekend cruise. If I recall correctly (and I have no reason to dispute the veracity of the ship’s log, as we remained lashed to the bulkhead for the duration of the voyage) the run was completed in hurricane-force (12) conditions, a career first for all of us. Have kept my distance ever since.

Saturday, November 8

The Phillips conundrum

I knew Obama would start a flurry of ‘why it can’t happen here’ crap. Trevor Phillips, head of our Equality and Human Rights Commission, is the latest. I’m always willing to give this lad the time of day but he sends such confusing messages. Last month it was about white working class kids. Phillips says Barack Obama wouldn’t be elected in Britain because the country is ‘institutionally racist’? Not the general public, of course - we’re a nice enough bunch - just the characters that rule us. He then concedes that actually, no one has a problem with black people – would probably elect one to be prime minister if they put themselves forward - it’s only the Muslims we don’t like. ‘Muslims, to Britain’ he says, ‘are what blacks are to the USA.’ We’re particular about who we discriminate against, whilst everyone in America is prejudiced against everyone? Phillips believes the Tories are more inclusive because they are less democratic: Conservatives tell people how to behave - make them do as they’re told; the Labour Party allows unions, lefty intellectuals and socialist-societies (?) to continue their tribal hegemony, and to exclude. ‘Here, it's all to do with class. It is about culture, a different way of life and speaking.’ So... it’s not really about race after all, and down to knowing which fork to use, which books to read, the accent – having an Oxbridge (or conversely, a traditional salt-of-the-earth) background? Exactly what is he suggesting; he rules out positive discrimination, so what does he want to see happening?

Friday, November 7


Mrs G’s dog-eared copy of Jane Grigson’s ‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ is getting one of those periodic workouts - I must have gotten through at least a pound of tripe last night. Having already been served up a slice of tripes à l’Espagnole and à la Lyonnaise, the obvious next step was a dish of tripes à l’Italienne – or ‘Trippa alla Fiorentina’ to you and me. It must have taken her an age to prepare and cook, but it was a touch special. Best tomato sauce I’ve tasted in some time (she reckons the quality of the wine makes or breaks it), and a half-decent lump of parmesan for the accent. This recession-cooking business is proving fun, though I’m not sure how those partridges from a couple of nights ago made the list. Tonight’s an old favourite: boiled beef and carrots. Aside from the brisket, and herb dumplings, the pièce de résistance is a green sauce (even better than my chimichurri).

Thursday, November 6

Rusting autumn

Speckled thrushes and yellow beaked blackbirds have returned in numbers, attracted by the crab-apple tree in our yard. We’re also being courted by a sizeable flock of redwings, bent on stripping the hedge of its bright red berries. Everywhere is ankle-deep in acorns and there’s not a grey squirrel in sight (Deadeye Dick and his Remington). Fearnley-Whittingstall was on TV a couple of nights ago cooking large portions of the furry critter, but ours had already been snaffled by that pack of Tasmanian devils which live in the woods. I think Farmer Charles needs to put his grandson straight about our local wildlife, and the improbability of resident badgers cross-breeding with an escapee from a private zoo.

The Ponderosa’s fortunes are obviously on the up: someone has been let loose with a chainsaw, and the banks and hedgerows along the soggy bottom pasture resemble those remnant stumps of teeth that protrude from the gums of old Mick in the Dog & Duck. A zillion cords of beech, field maple and oak have been stacked behind the barn - a wood-burning stove’s on order. Stout lads are installing new fences and running out drums of pristine razor-sharp barbed wire amongst a rust-coloured spectacle of dying trees and corrugated sheds. Leaping white-tailed deer are already making light of the new barrier.

Wednesday, November 5

The media celebrates Obama’s win

There’s a marvellous photograph on Andrew Sullivan’s blog of an election sign beside an American freeway proclaiming ‘Even we’ve had enough: American Rednecks for Obama!’ I’m beginning to understand how they feel. For TV pundits and the media in general, this election must appear their equivalent of police overtime pay during a miner’s strike. Aside from the tendency to Kinnock-esque waffle, Obama looks and sounds a formidable man. He’s certainly bought a smile to my face. From the outset I couldn’t help but see him as anything other than an analogy of Rock Ridge’s Sheriff Bart, and even now expect Gene Wilder to pop up from behind him waving a six-gun. It also smacks of Britain at the end of the 80s - that desire for change which brought Blair to prominence. Let’s hope this lad’s made of sterner stuff and it isn’t all talk. Doubtless Obama will have his detractors, not least that of Hedley Lamarr and his band of rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, half-wits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers, shit kickers and Methodists, and every other kind of stock movie villain.

Tuesday, November 4

The ecclesiastical Columbo

They used to say that police became corrupt as a consequence of their constant exposure to crime. Familiarity led to a casual acceptance and to subsequent temptation. I’m starting to view our ecclesiastical brethren in a similar manner. Not that they’re up to no good, you understand, it's more their tendency to mimic the downtrodden and dispossessed. Having bumped into two members of the clergy this past week, one male and one female, I was a touch taken-back by the slovenly appearance. Whilst appreciating the job doesn’t pay well and that I’m hardly a poster boy for Gieves & Hawkes myself these days, soap and water and flat irons appear to have become optional extras at the vestry. Ministering to people sleeping in shop doorways may be the thing, but adopting a sympathetic state of dress doesn’t have to be compulsory. It got me to wondering about whom it is that signs up for the post in these enlightened times. Being a vicar was once a semi-respectable profession - in the sense that if you failed to inherit the family pile or didn’t fancy fame and fortune with the hussars or on a tea plantation, some compliant uncle secured you a cushy number distributing wafers to the committed and sound advice to the needy. However, since the State has all but taken over the role of welfare, and now – at our expense – provides significantly more-attractive career options for those individuals so inclined, what – apart from God – is the attraction?

Sunday, November 2

The Trotters

The kids were off and as you would expect there's been a lot more traffic on the roads. Queues at yesterday's farmers’ market were less of a problem. Whilst consumption of ‘artisan’ food is largely a middle-class affection, even the golf-club crowd is a touch brassic these days. Unless you produce it yourself, rural incomes fall short of rare-breed pork and hand-crafted goats cheese. As if to accommodate these changing times, I'm told today’s special from the Boss's kitchen is a pot of slow-braised (5 hrs) swaddled pig’s trotters (they're bound up like Egyptian mummies) in an eye-watering (piquant) vinaigrette. Gloucester old spot, from a local farmer. I’m starting to look like that fat copper on TV who used to run a restaurant.

Saturday, November 1

Other people

Thanks to the internet I’ve almost given up on purchasing newspapers. I buy a daily for Mrs G. so she can flit through the crossword, though today’s Times was worth the price if only for that unbelievable front page photograph of Laurent Nkunda. I can’t believe we may be sending guys to that bloody awful continent to sort another UN problem. Not that you can blame the local lads on the ground: they’ve probably been give jack-shit in the way of equipment and support. Anyway, I do splash out on Saturdays for the FT - if only for the arts; and when my ISAs have sunk without trace, for a glimpse of the highlife. It’s nice to know people are still buying large chunks of the pampas and $20-30m paintings. Today’s contents (unbelievably) included a ‘How to spend it’ magazine containing 96 pages of in-flight advertising, featuring trinkets from Chopard, Dior, IWC and Louis Vuitton. It’s probably aimed at the sort of punters who can still spring for 31% of Barclays and Manchester City, European commissioners on expenses, and professional sportsmen; though there’s a good article on Triumph Bonnevilles.

Quantum of style

The mantelpiece has begun to fill with seasonal invitations: gallery exhibitions, parties and dinners. Our most recent is for a glittering gala champagne reception, hosted by Mr Michelin two-star himself: Christmas with Caines. The prescribed dress is ‘black-untied’, and I’m not sure what that means? I try to picture myself as an insouciant Daniel Craig look-a-like, dressed in my tux with bow tie askew; Mrs G. alongside in one of her Caroline Charles’ numbers, a ringlet of hair casually arranged across the forehead. Must seek the advice of my fashion guru, Farmer Charles. Heaven forbid I commit some social faux-pas at one of the local jollies.

Wednesday, October 29

Woss and Brand

I’d rather eat cold porridge with HP sauce than listen to Russell Brand - and Jonathan Ross can be a plonker of the first order - but bandwagon-jumping ain’t in it since their prank with Sachs’s answering machine. You’d have guessed an opportunist-tosser like Brown would be in on the act. After inviting Mrs Thatcher to tea, he’s hardly likely to baulk at sucking up to the Daily Mail readership. Has the man no shame? (No, is the answer.) If juvenile behaviour was a sacking offence half the guys I know would be out of a job - you should read my weekly postbag.

What continues to mystify and irritate me in equal measure is the media’s labelling of Sachs as a ‘pensioner’. Worse still: a grandfather. Bet there are grandparents from my neck of the woods who’re still in their 30s. Andrew Sachs is seventy-odd - and no spring-chicken it’s true - but does age alone disqualify him from abuse, make him worthy of special consideration? Truth to tell, I’m hacked-off with pensioner buddies boasting about their free bus passes and heating allowance, whilst sitting on sufficient gelt to refinance the debt of a small African country. And exactly how does reaching pensionable age transform Claudia Cardinale or Jane Fonda into toothless crones? I know lads in their 70s who are still single-figure golfers and can play a decent game of tennis, they have more sex than their thirty-something nephews, drink like proverbial fish, and could still knock seven bells out of yours truly if I stepped out of line. The media has stopped referring to victims or perpetrators by their race, so what’s with this age thing?

Tuesday, October 28

On the turn

Last week was all peach and pastel-blue coloured skies, with an occasional confectioner’s sugar-coating of frost; tawny owls, calling, from across the gully. This morning we’re back to willy-shrinking lashings of sleet, chapped skin and muddy gaiters. It doesn’t exactly enthuse. Still, there’s always Dan-the-man and his consignment of fresh fish. I’ve had this picture in my mind for days: scallops and black puddin’. And sure to form, the lad didn’t disappoint. How about fried slices of blood sausage topped with scallops, roasted chopped-potatoes with sprigs of rosemary, and a watercress and orange salad? It’s either that for tonight's supper, or beans on toast. Lunch was a giant pot of fresh-water mussels, straight from the River Taw; and a flagon of Sam’s cider.

Monday, October 27

Visitors to the outback

Back on our lonesome, honourable nephew and young Kylie having departed on the next leg of their round-the-world tour. I doubt the delights of Devon over a rainy weekend will compare too well with the jungles of Borneo and Cambodia, but we gave it a shot, criss-crossing the moor, pigging out at our local hostelry and – forgoing the trend for recession food a la mince and coley - at Burton Race’s Blue Angel. Not sure which of the two meals we enjoyed the most. At the end of the day it probably comes down to the company you’re keeping, the food being of secondary importance. Didn’t want to say anything at the time but I suspect the dynamic duo are going to need a larger mule train to handle their luggage. This wasn’t backpacking as I used to know it.

Saturday, October 25

Things can only get better

Britain plunges into a ‘once in a lifetime crisis’ says the headlines, as we look set for a deep and long-lasting recession. The BoE’s deputy governor, Charles Bean, goes one better describing it as the worst financial crisis since Raquel Welch put out in a fetching shamy-leather bikini. I’m sure that for most people – especially those employed in the public sector – life will go on as usual, albeit without the M&S meals and next year’s holiday in Clacton. Having witnessed the shame of Healey going cap-in-hand to the IMF, various winters of discontent, the 80s roller coaster, bubbles, et al, there are worst things in life. I certainly wouldn’t swop our troubles for those of my parents or grandparents generation. ‘We’ve never had it so good,’ as Macmillan was fond of saying. A better quote than Mr ‘I’ve abolished boom and bust’ Brown. Given the current turmoil in the currency markets, wouldn’t it be nice to know the Pound was supported by truckloads of gold bars. O, wait a minute, didn’t someone flog our reserves in a fire sale? Remind me again about that old Labour anthem from the 90s: ‘Things, can only get better...’

Monday, October 20

Rain, rain, go to Spain

Despite the conveyor-belt of bad economic news I’m a reasonably happy bunny these days. Mind you, a spell of decent weather wouldn’t go amiss (five minutes ago it was an Indian summer, and he’s moaning already). I know, I know... but even when it becomes light, these mornings, it’s as though you’re seeing everything through that verdigris-like coating you get on dirty fish tanks in rundown Chinese restaurants - slime green. Because we’re below the water table, out’back becomes a sea of mud. I can sit on the step and listen as water bubbles up through the surface. Even the moles have snorkels. If it came from this one direction I wouldn’t mind so much, but it rains down from the sky as in proverbial buckets, rolls up across fields like the high tide at Bude, and sweeps in from the west with a despairing relentlessness that has you reaching for a bottle.

Thursday, October 16

Another dead critter out back

The line of sheep preceded us like Nepalese porters departing base camp. A rank smell pointed the way, and birds circled as though vultures. When we reached the place its head was still set in a macabre final pose, bloodied lips drawn back as if a scream. The creature’s eyes were full of rage; you had the feeling it didn’t die well, that at the time it had been a tad pissed off. Already eviscerated, a murder of crows was busy tearing gobs of rancid flesh from protruding skeletal bones. A herd of Welsh Blacks stood on top of the hill, silhouetted against the sun. All remained perfectly still, their heads bowed as though respectful members of some funeral party at the graveside.

New plaything

My light posting is due in part to the arrival of a new computer. It’s such a wrench, letting go of the familiar. I’d been staring unenthusiastically at this latest model for two days, summoning up the courage to switch in on. Each new machine seems a giant leap in terms of bells and whistles; and whilst it’s undoubtedly a thing of beauty, they don’t feel half as tactile as those early jobs. Have asked The Boss for a reconditioned Imperial for Xmas: that should shut me up. Given I now qualify as a student, I’ve upgraded from Works to Microsoft Office for thirty-something quid. They called the offer a steal and it is; unfortunately, Word seems to have progressed somewhat from when I last used it, several years ago.

Couple of new faces down at the reservoir this morning. A magnificent cormorant had taken up position on top a rock that was protruding above the surface (the water’s down a metre since I last looked). Huge black flippers and a beak that could do serious damage - have your eye out if you’re not careful . Its form suggests something of a throwback to prehistoric days, and I can’t help thinking of those cartoon dodos in Ice Age. He was accompanied by five, first-year goosanders. Large grey bodies and copper’ish, green-accented brown heads. I’m told that hereabouts, sawbills roost in trees, down rabbit holes, and even in owl boxes.

Monday, October 13

The shame of nationalisation.

A sorry and almost unbelievable story (I can’t ignore the news) of RBS hubris. I’ve been a customer for 35 years, and watched as it transformed itself from a customer-focused retail bank into an ego trip for Goodwin. What is it with these guys? I haven’t necessarily anything against empire-building megalomaniacs - have known enough of them; their problem, the reason that people like Goodwin come unstuck, is they use someone else’s company as a vehicle. If you want to play, play with your own fuckin’ toys.

Saturday, October 11


Blue skies smilin’ at me, nothin’ but blue skies do I see… Bing Crosby or Willie Nelson: either will do for me. What a glorious day; the Indians are still with us. Mid-October and it’s footy shorts and t-shirts. Slept away the afternoon on a bench in the yard with a titmouse and stoat for company. The perfect antidote to this week’s action in the financial markets. And England win 5-1. Life ain’t so bad.

Thursday, October 9

Recent read: Revelation

Revelation is the fourth in a series of novels from CJ Samson, charting the adventures of 16th century crookback lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his trusty sidekick Barack. Given Samson is an ex-lawyer with a doctorate in history, the narrative carries a certain authority. This latest story revolves around a crisis of faith in post-Reformation England, and features a series of gruesome murders based on the cheery visions of ‘Apocalypse John’, aka the Book of Revelation. The BBC are rumoured to be working on a series featuring that smarmy git Kenneth Branagh in the title role. Truth-to-tell, whilst I enjoyed the first two, and can appreciate the political machinations of the time, Shardlake’s a bit of a sad sort: one of those painful worthies that would benefit enormously from one or two character flaws and a touch of sexual depravity. He sounds too much like Michael Gove with a physical deformity. If Samson is to continue the theme he should also reflect on his tendency to modernise character psychology as it looses something in translation. Shardlake has plenty of advocates, but our hero needs to become less New Labour and more Tutor Taliban.

The morning after

Where’s young Mainwaring when you need him. The days of solid, dependable bank managers - like NHS dentists and English-speaking bar staff - are long gone. That adage about living in interesting times never more apt. How do you persuade people to save for retirement, when overnight, years of hard-earned savings are reduced to straw. How many companies will ever be capable of replacing the millions lost from their pension funds? Individuals are discovering they need the acumen of a central banker in order to keep one step ahead of insolvency. And remember folks, it happened on Brown’s watch. Truth-to-tell we’re all culpable, having lived high on the hog this last decade. Seems churlish to point blame at the City, our nation’s principal wealth generator these many years - provider of so many of those public service jobs which keep the country gainfully employed. With Russia hovering in the wings, I can see Labour fighting the forthcoming election on the back of some ill-thought-out Marshall Plan to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and housing, in an effort to guarantee people work. After landing everyone in it, our Scottish brethren’s efforts this last 24 hours may just have pointed a away out. Though any attempt on his part to claim credit for saving us will be rewarded the same way that Churchill was, after leading Britain through the second world-war. I’ve not forgiven Lamont for the ’92 debacle and feel he should still be rotting in some third-world dungeon. Brown’s a different kettle of fish altogether, and I demand first bags on helping shape how history views him.

Tuesday, October 7

Worse things in life

I’m with Geldof when it comes to Mondays (imagine there were few cheery faces in the City or at Canary Wharf yesterday). Having experienced a succession of adventures throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, and faced more industry downturns than a chamber maid at The Grand, yesterday seemed like a taste of the old days. Headless chickens weren’t in it. If I needed perspective it came during the afternoon, with an email informing me that my OU tutor - who taught journalism at University College Falmouth - had suffered a fatal heart attack. He leaves his other half and a teenage son.

Sunday, October 5

A hard winter in prospect

As if I required a further reminder of the financial straits in which we all find ourselves, or needed to exaggerate the pain of settling my accounts with the dentist and garage, last night the electricity supply went and failed on us. Nothing quite completes the pervading sense of gloom better than a damp, freezing barn in the pitch-black. Mrs G. had been engaged in cooking my favourite wildlife-surprise gumbo (the posh version of road kill stew), and was looking forward to a relaxed evening with Chief Inspector Barnaby. I was working hard on a backlog of homework (have started another OU course).

I've often pondered that if I was presented with the opportunity of time travel which period I would choose, and have always fancied Dickens's London. Et voilà , here I was: holed up in my office, dressed in a selection of ragged jumpers with a rug around my shoulders - a parsimonious Scrooge-like character, scribbling away by the light of our one and only candle, its flame dancing to the tune of a 30 knot draught from the prevailing northerlies, comforted only by the smell of wet thatch and our neighbour’s overripe cattle, and a rapidly dwindling bottle of Balvenie for moral support.

Friday, October 3

Not really the car's week

Agnostic I may be, but every so often someone sends a message that calls attention to your mortality, and which suggests that somebody up there may actually be looking out for you. I was returning from the city this afternoon - autopilot, at warp five - when the artic on point hit a mound of spilt rubble and fired a barrage of rocks at me, the first of which tore through the tyre’s steel wall and trashed the alloy wheel. Picture it: propelled downhill at speed into an asteroid storm, nowhere to go, nightmare road surface, and swinging beam on… As it happens, no big deal; we walked away. But it makes you think: it could have been my head instead of the wheel; the motor might have crossed the carriageway into oncoming traffic; there could have been a second truck at the rear… Something of an adrenaline rush at the time; though the vehicle’s now out of commission.

Tuesday, September 30

Je veux vivre tout seul

In saying that, this Leonard Cohen song was also recorded by Joe Cocker, Rita Coolidge, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson.

Breakdown at the Ponderosa

I’ve owned my current motor for three years, and it has never let me down. Starts first time, every morning: until today, that is. Hats off to Highfield Garage & Recovery who turned up post haste and, suspecting the fuel system was knackered, transported both me and the vehicle to their depot. They rectified the fault in double-quick time, and even more impressively, invoiced for the work at an extremely reasonable rate. My only grouse was that the five and queen of clubs was missing from the deck of cards in their waiting room. And if they could have swung for a £15 digital box to complement the TV, I could have tuned into Sky News or BBC 24, and followed our financial community doing their best to disappear down the lavatory pan with my hard-earned savings.

Monday, September 29

Indian summer ends

So nice whilst it lasted; the colder, misty mornings return.The barbequed turkey was a huge success. Take one small orange and stud with a dozen cloves; stuff up the turkey’s jacksy, together with several crushed garlic-cloves and a sizable posy of sage from the garden; rub with melted butter, season, and throw on the Weber for 2 hours 15 minutes. Voila. Serve with couscous, salad, and a fruity chutney.

Sunday, September 28

Banana Beer

Purchased a crate of Mongozo last week, and I must admit, this beer ain't bad - a lot better than it sounds. Brewed in Belgium with Fairtrade bananas, the taste is very Caribbean. Great with curried goat or jerked chicken, and a good antidote to the Bohemian black lager I've been drinking.

Flame grilled whopper

The world outside has come alive this last ten days, thank to the late burst of September sunshine. Our yard's become a terminus for bird life. Greenfinches, coal, marsh, great and blue tits - all resplendent in their new outfits - queuing along the barbed wire and on top of posts, for a shot at the peanuts and autumn berries.Now the ground has dried, the combine is back cutting grass; the throaty growl of its attending tractors labouring on behind, towing their heavily-laden trailers across the hill to a silage dump. The neighbours have taken to leaving us buckets of apples, and Mrs G. is baking crumbles and pies. As a treat, I’ve decided to barbeque the black turkey I acquired from a man in the Dog & Duck. As this is my first attempt at grilling a whole bird, it should be an interesting exercise.

Friday, September 26

Marty’s gig

Spent yesterday in the sunshine, on the roof terrace of a Young’s pub in Exmouth - a spotlessly clean, Victorian seaside resort, on the banks of the Exe estuary. An association that stemmed from our mutual past-employer’s trade in local sand and china clay had led to a much overdue reunion, with two Marty Wilde groupies. Old friends from the coastal trade, down for one of Reginald’s concerts at the Pavilion. The old crooner’s still knocking ’em dead, apparently, though it was his daughter who produced the iconic hit. Lot’s of catching up, reminiscing, updating obituaries. If only we had a penny for every beer we’d… Forget it, life’s too short - introspection too much of an indulgence. Here’s wishing we don’t have to wait so long before our next session.

Wednesday, September 24

Ageism, and dangerous ground

Jan Leeming has been ousted as a 66 year old after suggesting, on a dating website, that she’s only 60. Given the lady’s looking for someone with ‘an athletic body’, our five-times-married former newsreader could be forgiven for gilding the lily. And whoever was ungallant enough to reveal the girl’s secret needs a slap on the wrist. I’m pleased to say that, at forty, Mrs G. remains a stunner. I’m confident of her age, being the sort of man who could never envisage himself married to a woman of more advanced years.

Tuesday, September 23

Bargains galore

The market’s settled back into it’s normal rhythm now the holiday visitors have returned home. Elderly gents in flat caps who favour walking sticks and small vicious dogs meet to discuss events. Traders have reacted to the economic chill by slashing prices on tumble-drier balls and thermal socks. Reading spectacles on sale at five pounds for two pair; and the would-be Lovejoy, hawking a nice line in George V & Queen Mary coronation mugs. Two Indian brothers added colour to the scene with their vivid casual wear. A dark, attractive gypsy couldn’t help but display her wares. The dealer in DVDs and slightly soiled paperbacks has discounted his last remaining copy of Battle of the River Plate (have seem it so many times I can identify most of the Admiral Graf Spee’s crew). OO/HO gauge wagons and brake vans sat marshalled alongside orphaned teddy bears. I drifted into the auction and, out of boredom, bid against a sad looking cove for lot 1001, an Eversure Fillacan. Loaded up with swedes and cabbages, marrows and mineolas - leaving plenty of time for a haircut before they opened.

Monday, September 22

The breakfast of champions.

Those soothsayers at the meteorological office prophesy an Indian summer with above average autumn temperatures. They wish; nothing about the weather seems average these days. This morning was warm enough to take breakfast at a table on the pavement, outside a local café. Coffee, toast and three paracetamol. I’d have taken four but the liver’s not what it used to be. Whilst not one for pill popping, it seems churlish to suffer, particularly when our pension funds have invested so many millions in enabling pharmaceutical companies to perfect the product. If only last night’s antics were at fault. Unfortunately, it’s more a sign of the times: an ageing body, labouring under a misapprehension. Breakfast, they say, is the most important meal of the day; and whilst the time-poor drones amongst us believes it a luxury, toast at least removes the taste of sleep from your mouth, settles that sick feeling you get after consuming fairtrade coffee. I’ve grown accustomed to the ritual, though for full effect it should really come with a cigarette, preferably a Gitanes - always guaranteed to do the trick. And a newspaper, of course. Sitting in the sunshine amongst the choking traffic fumes, with the promise of another day.

Well done septics

That’s another one over; roll on Celtic Manor. It was like the good old days, following each shot on the wireless. Shame for Faldo, but then he’s got big shoulders and a thick skin - a result of so many marriages. At least his Poulter pick came good. On the plus side... thanks to recent poor form the Americans were thought to be loosing interest. This win, at the least, guarantees their continued enthusiasm for the competition.

Sunday, September 21

No end in sight

This morning’s Guardian headlines with ‘Mass poll shows Labour wipe-out across country.’ The implications of a sizeable poll, published on PoliticsHome, would see Labour dismissed in favour of a 146 majority Tory government. And they still won't take McPlonker's fiddle away. He’s proving harder to shift than Robert Mugabe, standing in a pool of superglue; his intransigence stickier than sticky the stick insect who got stuck on a sticky bun. Has the man no shame, no self-respect? ‘It’s all America’s fault; nothing to do with me; nah, nah, nah…’ The chances of a Labour putsch are hampered by there being no one around with the balls to stand up to him. You’d think there’d be at least one individual who refuses to go quietly into the night.

Meanwhile, that shifty looking character, Will Hutton, castigates Brown for not pre-emptively putting in place measures that would have kept HBOS independent, and begun reshaping the City to deal with securitisation - new public banks, new regulatory structures, new managed exchanges for securitised debt and public insurance of securitised assets - especially for the housing market. He still hasn’t caught on: these lads couldn’t run my village post office, let alone police the City. I agree with him on one thing: we ain’t seen the half of it yet.

Saturday, September 20

The Beer Garden

Positive start to the day in that the A30 traffic OUT of Cornwall was bumper to bumper, whilst the road IN remained empty.Our first visit to the Eden Project. The background fragrance of herbs and vegetables is reminiscent of dinner in the oven, but then that’s what gardens are for: growing food. The Ale Festival afforded us this chance to visit (nothing to write home about). An opportunity hadn’t presented itself before as - on the odd occasion the weather’s been decent (you don’t do gardens in the pouring rain) - either the schools were off, or there were more pressing engagements. Eden’s a kind of mini Bluewater without the shops and restaurants: they built a garden centre instead of the retail mall.First impression was positive, in that there’s plenty of free parking and somewhere to take a leak. On the downside, if you’re not in tune with those bearded, sandal-wearing hippie types, and ecology’s not your game, you’ve come to the wrong place (California is defined as somewhere that exploits poor immigrant labour). I guess it’s what it is: a giant polytunnel, split between your actual rain forest and your Mediterranean flora and forna. A pleasant enough stroll, but once you’ve seen one palm tree you’ve seen them all. More suited to third-year kids studying natural sciences than grown ups. Catering’s a major disappointment, consisting of either pasties or pizza, though they do a nice lemonade.It has huge potential, but I can’t think of a reason why I’d go back, other than the staff were courteous. That said, Mrs G. came away with sketches and notes, for the design of her future garden - the one I will doubtless be landscaping.

Out for the day

Thursday, September 18

Beef & Growing Cattle South West

One of Britain’s premier cattle events returned this morning, with an estimated 3,000 beef producers and butchers attending Hatherleigh’s livestock centre. Over 200 beef cattle are on display, affording people an opportunity to compare different breeds; or in my case, to feast on the spit-roasted variety. Spend enough time around the judging ring and even I can tell the difference between a Hereford and a Charolais, and the basic points behind confirmation and fatness. If you’re into boy’s toys there are plenty of tractors, along with displays of farming equipment. Professionals from across the county compete in a butchery contest. And naturally, large quantities of beer and cider are available. Fell in with a shorthorn breeder who was down from the west of Scotland for the day and keen to educate me on the finer points.

The Medieval King’s Bath

King’s Bath and the sacred spring.Bath, a potted history:
  • AD Birth of Jesus Christ
  • 43 Romans invade Britain
  • c60 Romans develop Bath as a spa and centre of Pagan worship
  • 300-350 Christians turn up in Bath
  • 5th Century Romans go home

Wednesday, September 17

Roman Baths

Set off intending to watch the Blues in action at Ashton Gate, Bristol. For reasons I won’t go into we never made it, though I did get pretty close. The Boss must have won the subsequent argument as I recall being dragged from the pub to attend a Jane Austen lecture. What Mrs G. fails to realise is that the only attraction Austen has for most men is the cleavage fantasy we derive from low cut Georgian frocks.We ended up in Bath, staying at one of my budget hotel recommendations, in a room with a dual aspect - one window overlooking a graveyard, full of glue-sniffing teenagers, the other a four lane highway to hell. The surrounding shrubbery was overrun by rats the size of corgis. That said, the city itself is a woman’s dream shopping destination. Stores packed with expensive goodies, streets of fine art galleries, and restaurants of every shape and size. I came away with a sore head, she with the proceeds of a Sex In The City style shopathon.Visited the usual sights: Bath Abbey, the Roman Baths, Royal Crescent, the odd boozer, and - although the food’s nothing to write home about, had a marvellous dinner at the Balcony Thai - packed out, great atmosphere. And don’t bother with the upmarket Loch Fyne restaurant, we were admirable served by the chipper on Kingsmead Street. Try the fish n’ chips challenge: one cod, one haddock, excellent chips and a plate of mushy peas - for £9.99. Great table service, and they throw the pudding in for free. It was pensioners day; all were impeccably attired, and so well mannered.

Sunday, September 14


India Knight’s assertion that Brand let America off lightly is way off the mark. “America is so odd. They’re not weird in New York, or in California, and I know vast swathes of the country are packed to the gills with charming, lovely, clever people. But you do worry about the rest of the populace when they threaten to do physical harm to a comedian for daring to suggest that Dubya, the least popular president in modern American history, doesn’t perhaps come across as being quite the full shilling.” I’ve spent time in New York and Miami, and visited San Francisco and LA on a number of occasions, but for me it’s Texas that defines America and American values. I’d lived there for nearly two years before the cynic in me appreciated that ‘have a nice day’ was a genuinely courteous salutation. Russell Brand’s routine was boorish in the extreme. I think McPlonker’s a prick, but he's my prick, and I’d resent any non-Brit who pointed out the blindingly obvious. If young Seinfeld came over here and took the piss out of Brown I’d certainly think less of the lad. It’s nothing to do with democracy or free-speech, Brand was pure bad manners. A chicken too: you wouldn’t dream of doing a stand up routine in a Moscow nightclub about Putin - Bush was just a cheap shot. Likewise his take on America’s social mores.

Boom in home brewing?

Citing unprecedented rises in gas, fuel, malt and the cost of cans, brewers have decided to hike their prices for the second time this year. Tennents lager is up 3p from tomorrow, with Carling and the boys following close behind. Marston’s are raising the price of Pedigree bitter by 10p. Back at South London Mansions people anticipate £4 a pint as being the norm. And they wonder why we’re deserting pubs. The familiar cry of ‘get ’em in’ could soon be a thing of the past, especially if unemployment mirrors today's Guardian prediction. What’s that government mantra again: ‘this won’t be like previous downturns as jobs are rock solid, and unemployment - like boom and bust, has been banished.’ Jobless set to rise above two million? And the rest. What was it they were chanting at St Andrews last season: ‘we’re going down, we’re going down…’ Not that I’m worried, I’m off to Mars, as soon as I've finished this bottle of Gold Miner bottle-conditioned ale that I picked up at the Quik-E-Mart: it's good stuff.

Saturday, September 13

Saturday sales

It was shoulder to shoulder at this morning’s sales; not the sort of beasts you’d see running at Kempton Park. More ‘my little pony’ than hunter or show, with prices in the order of 150-400 Guineas. Auctioneer in fine form. A zealous audience of lank-haired buyers who seemed to view personal grooming an unnecessary affectation. The penned horses wore a resigned look that probably comes from multiple ownership and having been through the mill a few times. Threadbare blankets and bird-nests of tack. Black greasy saddles which had seen more than their fair share of seats.

Coincidently, they were reviewing Simon Barnes’s book ‘The Horsey Life’ in today’s papers. You’d think, as he’s a writer on countryside matters (including birds) and a sports correspondent to boot, Barnes would be right up my street. But there’s something about him... maybe it’s that ponytail or the gormless smile which marks him out as a bit of a plonker? Sports writers are an acquired taste at the best of times, particularly when they stray from their brief (not least that fat lad who resembles Topol’s brother and who writes for the Times).

Friday, September 12

At the seaside

Ilfracombe is a seaside town on the North Devon coast - an area of outstanding natural beauty, renowned for its dramatic coastal cliffs and landscape. As with so many Victorian resorts, the great days are past. One of the few places I can visit and still feel a teenager, as it attracts the sort of holidaymakers who’ll likely be struggling with their fuel bills this winter. For now, however, they’re enjoying themselves - gorging on cream teas, saveloys and fish suppers. This particular area’s been settled since the iron age, when those pesky Celts set up shop; and if you followed today’s accents, nothing much seems to have changed: shades of Still Game, including a dead ringer for Isa Drennan. There’s a surprising collection of tattoo parlours, along with the cafés and chip shops. A number of likely sorts, lounging in doorways.

Her Majesty doesn’t drink pints

Draymen tried to deliver 12 barrels of lager ordered for the Croatia game to Windsor Castle, instead of the pub with the same name, five miles away in Maidenhead. Pub manager Misko Coric confirmed that they usually receive the Castle’s mail by mistake, but it’s rarely the other way round. A Windsor Castle spokesman confirmed that the Queen does not sit down in the evening with a pint, even when England are on the box.

It’s a mystery

I can’t get over the spite and venom with which our female columnists continue to attack Sarah Palin, the American VP candidate. I mean, I don’t quite understand it. Has she gotten under their skin or what? Minette Marrin’s piece in the Telegraph is typical, castigating McCain for his cynical choice, one that alludes to a venal desire for the Presidency and marks him a misogynist to boot. She says it ‘makes American politics a sick comedy, a laughing stock, that Palin’s popular support fills me with dismay…’ O, that we could have so exciting contest in 2010! (Labour dump Brown and elect Tony Benn their leader, with Hazel Blears his running mate?) Marrin’s assertion that she wouldn’t hire a baby-sitter on such scant acquaintance suggests McCain’s chosen someone from outside the loop, not one of us, not someone like Geraldine Ferraro? As with other female commentators, Marrin drums on about Palin being somewhat thick (as if Blair chose Prescott as VP because of the lad’s intellect). If the girl’s not up to the job I’m sure it’ll come out in the wash - during the next two months of electioneering. Seems it’s one in the eye for the sisterhood, or at least that part which believes they’re the chosen ones.

Thursday, September 11

New local attraction

Still my beating heart. As if there wasn’t enough in the way of local attractions, and as it used to be home to a leper colony back in 1350, some bright spark in a neighbouring village has decided to open a museum that’s dedicated to the disease (part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund). On the evening of its inauguration, later this month, there will be a torch-lit procession (the mind boggles: lots of people dressed as Ben Hur’s mom?). It is billed as the world’s only leper festival (no shit) and is now in its eighth year. The evening will include a sausage banquet, an Ugly Pageant (I’m not making this up) and live music. The three-floor Leper Museum contains the ‘Lepa nightclub’, available for hire to bands and established artists for rehearsals. A theatre group will be presenting their production of ‘The Life of a Leper’ later in the season. If you’re thinking of attending, 14th Century costume is mandatory; and it helps if you’ve got a scabby face.

Beer-drinkers bible gets it wrong

Supermarkets are killing off pubs, according to the latest edition of the Good Beer Guide. Shops sell beer at lower prices than bottled water, ergo, people no longer go to pubs; and - according to the Beer and Pub Association, they’re closing at a rate of 36/week. Sales of beer at pubs are now at their lowest levels since the 1930s - and it’s all down to supermarket discounts. It’s total shite of course. Richard Morrison was wittering on in last week’s Times about ‘the death of the British pub.’ He blamed widening fissures in modern society, speculating that nowadays, people rarely fraternise outside their own social group; that the previous bar-room mix of young and old, affluent and hard-up, professional and blue-collar has disappeared, along with tie-pins and Ronson cigarette-lighters. He also added a bit of bullshit about supermarkets and the smoking ban. But truth is that many of the lads were frozen out of public-houses long ago, and if it wasn’t for Tesco, life (for them) would hardly be worth living. Whilst my drinking circle used to include most every walk of life, in more recent years an average round of drinks after work has risen to £10-15. Maybe no big deal to you and I, but if it’s three nights a week, a sizeable wedge for the old boy on a pension and the van driver with a couple of kids at home. You’ll always need a hard core of the 5-8 pints/night characters for a publican to make it pay, hence the attraction of younger customers with an excess of disposable income. These days, pressure of work, health issues and financial constraints inhibit most others. Making some poor schmuck who’s unable to afford the Dog & Duck’s prices pay double for his tin of larger from Tesco doesn’t seem exactly equitable, and increasing the cost of beer in pubs (to address binge drinking) will only exclude yet more unfortunates.

Fried dodgy bits

Britain gets an offal taste of austerity, writes Martin Hickman. Hard times are encouraging more people to revert to ‘scratch cooking’ and to enter the world of entrails and internal organs. When we first moved to South London Mansions, the neighbourhood butcher on Loampit Vale featured a window of lights - lungs being the locally-preferred delicacy. These days it is availability rather than cost which restricts the take up of offal. Mrs G. still humours me with dishes of tripe, stuffed sheep’s hearts, kidneys and sweetbreads, and she recently boiled a whole ox tongue - though brains on toast are few and far between. If you look around you can still get chitterlings and pig’s trotters, but most faggots and brawn (they call it head cheese in the States) I’ve tasted tends to be of poor quality. A friend from Texas used to feed me fried bull’s testicles, but I can’t say I developed a taste for them. There’s a restaurant I’ve frequented a number of times which features pig’s bits (ears and snout). And I’m not adverse to the odd haggis. However, the crème de la crème is still calves liver - almost non-existent in this neck of the woods. The dish I miss most remains the late, lamented mother-in-law’s liver soup: pure nectar.

Pound rises, Brown calls an election...

Good on Satanta. Everyone was chuckling after their limited audience for the Andorran match. Following last night’s game the subscriptions should be rolling in. As an old sweat I won’t get too excited, having experienced so many false dawns. Like most I thought the current players would have come of age for the 2006 world cup, and the least said about the European championship the better. Doesn’t matter what the enterprise - sporting, commercial, or political - if it’s led by donkeys the outcome will be prone to failure. I don’t want to imply any personal credit for the change in England’s fortunes, but I did eat a bowl of linguini prior to kick off. Expect the Pound to rise and for Brown to manipulate the wave of euphoria.

Wednesday, September 10

Sore feet from the Soggy Bottom Boys

Don’t fall for that ‘just follow the river’ guff, Dartmoor’s so sodden at present that rivers proliferate at most every turn and destinations become increasingly elusive. Distance on the map seems irrelevant, as half the walk is spent retracing steps, having become trapped in the cul-de-sac of yet another impenetrable bog. Truth to tell we probably did little more than eight miles today, but it was such hard going. Didn’t see a soul. Not that you would expect to: the moor's become a more desolate place since everyone went home.

Obama’s kiss of death

Poor Barrack Obama. Verbose yawn that he is, a great many people thought the lad a winner. Unfortunately, Captain Titanic has gone and bet his weekly bottle of Wincarnis on the Presidential race - breaking with political convention and offering praise for the Democratic candidate. Talk about hanging onto coat tails. Meanwhile, the Guardian tells how fickle women can be. Worse still, a BBC poll suggests that people outside the US prefer Obama to be the future President by a margin of four-to-one. If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get up an American’s nose, it’s being told who to vote for by Johnny Foreigner.

Tuesday, September 9

The ultimate natural correction

According to this morning’s Radio 4, estate agents are selling only one house a week - the lowest figure for 30 years (since records began?). London agents, according to RICS, were averaging just 9.4 sales for the three months to the end of August (bet that covered a lot of salaries). General assumption appears to be that prices have fallen >10% since the ’07 peak, and that current offers are running at 10-15% below asking prices. That would mean we’re already close to matching Nationwide’s recent prediction, of property prices falling 25% between last year’s peak and 2010, and suggests there’s someway to go before the market bottoms out. Some people believe we’ve only 24 hours before the ultimate market correction occurs, when the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva is switched on. What price McPlonker disappearing down a black hole?

Monday, September 8

The nature of things

Start of another week, and the first suggestion of an autumn frost. September has a gentle but persuasive way of introducing harder times. Migration will soon be with us as our feathered friends head south to sunnier, more exotic destinations. Would that we could join them (think I feel a North African decorating job coming on). Hard to credit there’s so much ‘human’ traffic heading in this direction. Guess the grass always looks greener...

Even I couldn’t fail to notice the absence of bugs this summer. Hoverflies, in particular; didn’t help that aphids were few and far between. Ladybirds seemed a thing of the past. Would that we had more slug predators. I wonder what became of hedgehogs? Slugs and dung beetles seem to be the thing these days… And speaking of government, what price McPlonker and his bunch of halfwits finally calling it a day? Can’t exactly see Birmingham welcoming them with open arms. Don’t you hate that mythical ‘hardworking family’ of theirs - the one they’ve given all your money to. Not that Team Cameron looks an attractive proposition, but I suppose there comes a time when you have to put country first and vote the buggers in. Imagine it will take about eight years for the Tories to sort this shit out, before going on to screw it up themselves. It’s the nature of things.

Sunday, September 7

Reservoir horses, not dogs

Given it had ceased raining I snuck off to the reservoir for some fresh air. Whoever says a little exercise won’t kill you hasn’t jogged up 191 steps from the base of the dam. Those statins seem to be doing the trick, though I notice she’s taken to including a Glyceryl trinitrate spray along with my Bounty bars, just in case. It’s a popular area for walkers but thankfully not that popular. There’s always a handful of visitors circumnavigating the basin (you can tell the people down from London: all defensive and faux attitude), but as soon as you branch off up the hills you tend to be on your own. Came across juvenile frogs with remnants of their tadpole tail, in a pool, on the moor - in September? And you don’t see a Devil’s Coach Horse in an age, then along comes a veritable rash of the blighters. Home to a roast guinea fowl that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, served up with a pint of giblet gravy.

Saturday, September 6

Sweet tomatoes

Irregular they may be, but it’s the taste that counts. Despite the general economic gloom today’s farmers’ market was pretty active, though organics and designer produce may not be the thing if you’re counting every penny. A late breakfast which included outstanding sausage rolls (had been salivating since that feature on Scotch pies by the Hairy Bikers). Word has it that food prices are up 40% from a year ago; local newspapers confirm a rise in the theft of peas & runner beans from allotments. It’ll get worse if this rain continues and crops are left to rot in the ground.

Weather forecast

The rain has stopped; our way out remains above water. Sunday sounds promising. We must have copped for half of September’s average rainfall over the last 24 hours; wet stuff's falling faster than the markets. Devon remains a pool of mud, submerged roads and fallen trees.

Friday, September 5

Cry for help

According to a Royal Society report, thousands of high-flying white youngsters are giving up on maths and science because they don’t think they’re clever enough. By contrast, Chinese youths believe success comes from hard work, and are five times more likely to progress to A-level studies. If only a few of them would chose catering. Gordon Ramsey was here recently, doing his thing in a local bistro. The talented young daughter of the owners caught his eye and is being dispatched to study under Michael Caines. Inspired by such nerks as Jamie Oliver, white youngsters everywhere are opting for a career in the kitchen. Please God, some of them branch into Chinese food. I bet I’ve eaten at least one oriental style meal every week for the last 30 years - until I moved to the southwest, that is. Afraid of what I’d find I’ve deliberately stayed away from Asian restaurants. Yesterday, after two years of abstinence I succumbed - and was rewarded with what was probably the worst meal I’ve eaten in… whatever. Even that gunk we used to put away in the 70s was more attractive.

Please help, there has to be a so-called Chinese restaurant somewhere in Devon or Cornwall which serves reasonably authentic and edible food? Hiking back to The Peninsular on Bugsby Way seems a touch extreme.

Prodigal rides into the sunset, again

When Keegan returned we suspected it would end in tears. Like Curbishley, he’s one of a dying breed of Premiership managers that feels unable to work within a system which limits his role to that of a coach rather than manager and denies him autonomy over playing staff. And by the way this was being reported during the week you just knew Newcastle were positioning themselves for a breach of contract claim, and that it would end up in court. Best of luck guys, rather you than me. Given what’s going on in the business I can’t wait for Jeff Stelling and the boys this Saturday.

More rending of garments in today’s newspapers as less women are reported to be making it to the top. I think we all now acknowledge it’s there for the taking; that it is reticence in seeking higher office which precludes women’s success, not concrete ceilings. As we’re on a football theme and because the media always features this particular lady as the epitome of female success, I can’t help but cite Karren Brady - someone you have to admire. Whilst the club is lucky to have her at St Andrews, I would suggest a man with her experience would have ditched the relative comfort zone of Birmingham City long ago, moving onwards and upwards? Rather than aspire to Arsenal, for instance, she chooses to coast along with supportive owners, as the big fish in a small pond. I’m not blaming Brady for her career choice, just suggesting it’s an option that she - like many other women - have chosen, rather than something which has been fostered upon them.

As the Brown saga stumbles to it’s inevitable conclusion I’m reminded of how much more fun the Americans seem to have. Palin’s electric performance at the Republican National Convention promises a stream of entertainment with which to enliven our diet of grey weather and grim economic news. For someone from this side of the pond with a limited understanding of America’s social mores, it smacks of The Conners versus The Huxtables.

Wednesday, September 3

A film for posterity

To celebrate their 75th birthday, the British Film Institute has launched a scheme which asks members of the public the following question: ‘If you had to choose one film to bequeath to future generations, what would it be?’ Assuming you can’t opt out and are required to select a British film, it can only be David Lean’s ‘This Happy Breed’. A nostalgic view of my tribe’s England.

Critics rain on Government’s parade

What do I know. But it seemed to me that the principal cause of America’s housing crisis was pressure on lenders to issue mortgages to people who should never have been buying a house in the first place. Laudable though it was, encouraging self-reliance, such profligate lending was very much a wing and a prayer. And lo and behold, here comes Brown: the answer to our housing problem is to encourage yet more sub-prime debt; sucker people waiting on the sidelines to jump on board and bail out the building industry. Don’t get me wrong, if I was starting out and hadn’t two pennies to rub together, an interest free 30% deposit may be well worth a punt. But you’d better be it for the long term, because the spectre of unemployment looms large and house prices have still some way to go. Truth is, as Guido suggests, the number of people these proposed measures help will probably be dwarfed by the coming year’s repossessions from Government backed Northern Rock.

Tuesday, September 2

Wandering the moor

Those two swallows that sing in the yard each evening have suddenly become twenty, as time for departure to South Africa approaches. A sizeable flock were also performing at the reservoir this afternoon, together with a rival flight of House Martins. The odd Furze Chitter (Stonechat) looked well put out. Hiked up Longstone Hill and through the saturated bog to Black Tor where a couple of lads were honing their rock climbing skills. Returned via the Black-a-Tor Copse - a rare, stunted, primeval oak forest that stands above the West Okement. Adopted by a Shetland pony no higher than 24 inches at the shoulder; a giant Jack Russell that trailed me down to the river. The Okement tumbles through the trees into boulder strewn gullies and deep rocky pools the colour of barley sugar. Bottoms out onto an alluvial plain flanked by flowering furze and heather (referred to locally as custard and jam, because of the contrasting colours) and alive with beetles and dragon flies. You can spend hours, out here, walking on the moor - and hardly see a soul. The downside is that, if you fell face down in the bog, it would probably take 2000 years before anyone discovered you - albeit, in a perfectly preserved condition.