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.

Better than watching paint dry

Like most footy fans I remained glued to the TV screen until well after midnight, transfixed by the countdown to transfer deadline. And whilst Birmingham failed to upstage either of the Manchester clubs, and Aluko notwithstanding, what’s left of the crown jewels remained intact. Bet Sparky didn’t realise what was about to hit him up at Eastlands; a bottle of bubbly to Mrs G. whose prescient lunchtime wager on Robinho proved correct. Hughes faces enormous pressure to deliver but, for such a young manager, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Seems like only five minutes ago he was asking Fergie’s advice about taking on Blackburn. The City of Liverpool must be overjoyed. As must Blatter and Platini. Our economy might be headed for the toilet but the Premiership astrides the world. Whether brassic supporters can find the money to fill those stadiums is another matter.

Monday, September 1

Another granny bites the dust

And Paxman believed it was just white, middle-aged men who were getting shafted. Looks also go a long way, as poor Selina’s discovering. Wait until high-definition television hits the streets. Punters don’t like to look at wrinklies, it frightens the horses (the elusive 20/30-something male viewer). How did she think Kaplinsky got her job; ditto that plonker Maitlis. And I wonder to what extent Scott’s undoubted beauty played in her original success? Or others? ‘If only I'd had a decent pair of legs I could have been chief constable, instead of washed up assistant commissioner in central operations.’ Things will change: as the population ages and their political clout grows, wrinklies will become the new black and a force to be reckoned with; though I suspect we’ll continue to see 65 year old males playing lead against 25 year old girls.

Intellect can be terribly overrated

You wonder if it's worth getting out of bed? I can only hope that positive bounce from the Olympics continues, because the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is warning the Government of a catastrophic collapse in the property market; CBI reports weakest high street activity in 25 years; Alistair Darling confirms it’s all going pear-shaped; Smith’s Home Office expects an economic downturn to fuel illegal immigration, crime, extremism and racism (good job she has the police on-side); Russia continues it with the hard man routine (North Korea returns to its nuclear programme); Regus joins a tax exodus, as more City jobs look to be axed; no one can afford to heat their home or put fuel in the motor; London teenagers continue to be butchered; and Vince Cable tells us he told us so. Any minute now hurricane Gustav will body swerve New Orleans and head straight for Devon.

Palin’s selection as running mate to McCain has certainly enlivened the White House race. The first thing that strikes me, as an interested outsider and a betting man, is the speed with which the political establishment (media columnists) - here, as well as the USA - rushed to confirm ‘she’s not one of us’ and determines to make the point that the lady’s an obvious intellectual lightweight because of her degree in journalism. Must say, after having been sold the intellectual model (Gordon Brown), the alternative looks a lot more attractive.