Wednesday, September 30

Grumpy old man

Old geezer warns the advent of supermarkets is killing our traditional British village. He believes the demise of village shops – where sour-faced biddies sell stale vegetables and dented tins of marrowfat peas – is a bad thing. Communities are changing for the worse, he says, too few incomers bow and scrape as they used to. It’s difficult finding suitable help, everyone commutes to the city to earn a living wage. And don’t get me started on immigration ... It wouldn’t be so bad if everyone wasn’t breeding like bunny rabbits.

Tuesday, September 29

Nice try, but no fluffy toy

Phew, for a moment I thought he would produce something clever. Instead it was more of the same old waffle – familiar themes and u-turns, sleights of hand. That’s not to ignore the increased benefit payments, higher minimum wage, free child care for the poor, free personal care for dotty grannies, restoring the pensions/earnings link, blah-blah-blah. You can accept it at face value as aspirational bullshit, or go with tax and spend writ large. Mind you, I thought his reintroduction of workhouses for pregnant teenagers was a corker; he’ll presumably staff them with psychopathic nuns. Abolish hereditary peers by all means, but heaven forbid we include hereditary Labour parliamentarians or nice little earners for the spouse. McPlonker’s principal theme seems to be ‘our product’s crap but you’ll hate the alternative.’ Not sure that’s going to work. The election looks to be successive appeals to that mythical hardworking majority; the many, not the few; to the people of all the talents; about fairness and justice, getting on with the job, dreaming big dreams, the moral dimension ... Mandelson’s right: the election’s gone, but we can screw the Tories with a hung parliament, and really fuck the country.

Pain in the ...

The good old BMA are at it again: families are subsidising problem drinkers. I think the argument goes that, because supermarkets only make pennies on booze, they are obliged to increase the cost of groceries to compensate. Conversely, if stores then fail to attract sufficient punters (having removed their loss-leader), less food would be sold, and the cost to said families will increase. Previous studies seemed to indicate that hiking the price of alcohol doesn’t necessarily lead to a fall in the consumption of heavy drinkers; they simply spend less on food, and the kids go hungry. We all appreciate the problems associated with alcohol, and it would be nice to walk down a city-centre street of an evening without being assaulted, but these spurious arguments from the BMA do little to further the cause.

Pushing the envelope

My moorland excursions are hardly feats of Olympian legend – Ranulph Fiennes I’m not. However, given the dodgy knees, I don’t do too badly. And anyway, who wants to queue to visit Everest when it resembles little more than the rubbish strewn excuse for a popular bank-holiday destination. The whole point is to get away from people, and I can easily achieve that in this part of the world. Yesterday I limped through the mist to the top of Yes Tor and set out across the murk towards Great Kneeset.Visibility can be a problem these mornings, but the lack of rain has made walking on Dartmoor a more pleasant experience. I enjoy these trips to the top of the valley beyond Lints Tor. You’d imagine it would be a popular route, but if you crave solitude, a sense of loneliness, it serves. I’m now up to completing a six-hour stretch before the legs give way. The trick is to be within crawling distance of a car park when they go.

Sunday, September 27

Brighton should be fun

‘World Statesman of the Year’ targets Abigail’s party guests. Like that’s going to work. This is not exactly the Bob Crow fan club he’s appealing to, not at a time Labour is depending on union money to help squeeze the vice tighter. What part of white van man has gone over to UKIP and the Tories don’t they understand? If we are to believe the polls, even public-service employees think they’re better off voting Conservative. Grief, even Mandelson says he’ll work for Cameron. Rats and sinking ships don’t come much bigger. Then there’s the SNP and BNP to consider – one of the more interesting asides this week came from Mrs G’s pinup boy at the Spectator. I suppose we shouldn’t forget the Lib Dems: though after their dismal conference perhaps we can, even Vince has tarnished his appeal. There are some interesting spread betting wagers to be placed these coming months.

BBC to hire old biddy to read news? Make your minds up. Only last week it was suggested schools dismiss their senior teachers, who were past it, and replace them with twenty-somethings, to better connect with and inspire media/computer savvy children. I’d love to meet whichever woman has the brass-neck to apply for the proposed post of token wrinkly at the Beeb. According to Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, she must also be a Tory, to counter the corporation’s innate liberal bias. Ann Widdecombe, come on down.

Wednesday, September 23

Looking forward to the travel stories

Nearly 100 establishments have been shortlisted for the Sea Fish Industry Authority (Seafish) National Fish & Chip Shop of the Year award. Never one to miss an opportunity – and as I was on driving duty with the Boss and in the area – we called in at the Peck family’s Camelford chipper, one of the Southwest’s five regional finalists. Rick Stein, eat your heart out: while the chips need a little work, it’s the best fried fish I’ve eaten in a while. The whitest of white stuff, top-notch batter and service with a smile. Spent the afternoon walking it off, barefoot, along the sparsely populated beaches of Cornwall’s north coast (and wondering how the family members currently visiting Sydney are faring?).

Serving it large

The trip to Northcott didn’t quite go according to plan as I was running late, and rather than risk the venue’s pickled tofu and chickpea salad, we adjourned to the nearest hostelry. Needless to say, a pre-theatre dinner of scampi in the basket at the local Weatherspoon’s went down like a hole in the head with Mrs G. It’s been some time since I’ve frequented one of the Spoon establishments, and this one, The Imperial, is a belter. A veritable booze cathedral. The succession of bars and spacious drinking areas leads one to another, being populated by a wide assortment of revellers – conspiratorial hen parties, garrulous students, muted couples sharing steak dinners, construction workers clad in orange protective clothing, and travelling businessmen toasting the downfall of rivals. You can’t argue with the prices, but visitors from the BMA would doubtless self-destruct. Punters can buy bottles of wine for as little as £4.99 (meals for £2.99). Seemingly popular with younger hyper-active inebriates are tins of something called Monster Energy, served with two shots of vodka. They enable you to remain awake when falling down.

Sunday, September 20

Mary Travers pops her clogs

Memories ... I could institute an ‘obituary of the week’ at the rate they’re falling. I started to write a post on the reissued Beatles albums last week but couldn’t work up the enthusiasm. Yes, I know: they transformed the world of popular music. But that’s not how I saw it at the time. Music was rarely something you sat down and listened to as a teenager: you were always on the move. Music was more about flavour, and for effect; something that played in the background – a soundtrack. And whatever motivated disaffected teenagers, it wasn’t necessarily the Fab Four. There was such variety in contemporary 60s music you could always find something different to suit the particular phase you were going through. And let’s face it, every kid had their ‘folk’ period – all that Baez, Seeger, Dylan stuff; when you discovered Robert Tressell and began dabbling in socialism. As with most things we eventually grew out of it. The 70s cured everyone of those sorts of fantasies.

The good life

Good news on yesterday’s footy. Big Eck might be short of fit players but it looks like he’s the makings of a defence?

I’m going to miss this summer. Three years of life in the sticks and we finally got a taste of what we came here for. It’s a little misty this morning but the high pressure system still seems to be with us. You can tell things are drawing to a close with the passing swallows and the rusting oak. The robins are also returning – at least they’ve begun singing again and are more noticeable. Viewed through my jury-rigged bifocals it seems the fence is sprinkled with the contents of a Bryant and May box. I’ve certainly eaten well enough, though just now things are pretty lean. That temporary bridge the dentist fashioned failed to pass muster, and a soggy gum isn’t best suited to barbecue. Busy day, today; busy week in fact. Between now and the end of the year the calendar looks increasingly congested. You only get to do this once.

Friday, September 18

Sights you don’t want to wake up to

No - not this latest attempt at deterring magpies, it’s the Boss’s current batch of damson and crab-apple jelly that disturbs me. The kitchen looks like traitors gate – there are muslin sacks of damson and crab-apple pulp hanging from the ceiling, dripping their crimson juices into buckets (big crop this year). She’s out to trump Gudgeon’s barbeque sauce, the one I’ve been perfecting for my charred-ducks recipe.

Our lad from DHL has just delivered the upcoming term’s Eng. Lit. tracts on aestheticism and modernism, the popular and canonical. All good stuff, I guess. Am (hopefully) ahead of the game, having already read most of the prescribed books, plays and poetry; but in order to garner Brownie points, have also booked seats at the local production of Ibsen’s A Dolls House. Part of me thinks this is above and beyond the call of duty... Nora Ephron was in today’s Guardian, wittering on to Jason Solomons about men’s reluctance to direct films that aren’t about them – and I thought, no shit. Suffering Chekhov and Ibsen, and having to read Woolf, Mansfield and Du Maurier is already a bridge too far as far as I’m concerned. Damn it, I chose 20th C. Lit. as a means of avoiding the Jane Austens of the world.

Ephron, of course, wrote Julie & Julia – a current release depicting the early life of Julia Childs, the American cook. It’s billed as ‘the ultimate chic-flick,’ which means most men are unlikely to go within a million miles of the movie. Unfortunately, I’ve always had the hots for Meryl Streep; and many years ago when I was posted to Texas and switched on the TV, first thing I saw was Julia Childs. The lady’s up there with young Floyd, a real eccentric, hugely entertaining, and the reason why most of my TexMex recipes have something of a French flavour. Her series was apparently turned down by the BBC because they thought she was a drunk (you need to see her). Guess I’ll have to sneak into the cinema with my collar up.

The start of Stage 7

I walked down to watch the start –VE Day all over again. Returned a couple of hours late and it’s back to the Mary Celeste.

Thursday, September 17

On yer bike

I’m hot-footing it along the lane for a six-pack and pint of milk before the world and its granny arrives. If you’ve been following The Tour of Britain (our biggest professional bike race) you’ll be aware that Stage 7 starts from outside the Quik-E-Mart tomorrow morning, effectively closing the village. Edvald Boasson Hagen seems to be man-of-the-match so far, as today they wend their way towards Bideford. You can catch highlights on ITV4.You’ve no idea of the number of spares that follow on behind.

Wednesday, September 16

Abusing the system

Back home minus a tooth, or what remained of one. My first extraction since the ’80s – I’d forgotten what it’s like to have something torn from my jaw. The little sucker had hung on in there all these years, overcoming a filling, root canal treatment and an apicectomy, before going on to support no less than three crowns (never learnt to keep my guard up). Now faced with the choice between an implant or yet another crown (cantilever), I’ve predictably chosen the latter. Better the devil... I could have purchased a small car with what this single tooth has cost. Travel and London residency always excluded me from access to NHS dentists (closed lists), so it’s kind of irritating to note the mixed practice I’m now using has clocked 150 no-shows from its NHS clients during the last month.

Who gives a shit

Last night’s sterling effort by BBC’s Newsnight to debate the aftershock of Lehman was, as is usual when something seems worthwhile, all too short. Would that our political masters could openly discuss these issues and engage with the public. That said, I wonder what percentage of the population actually watched the programme, ever raises its head from the pavement. The only thing you can determine from what brief conclusions were arrived at is that there are going to be a lot of unhappy people walking the streets of Britain during the next decade. I hope to hell there’s half a brain somewhere in amongst the Tory tribe when they come to power, that they can glimpse the bigger picture instead of just fighting fires and continuing to drift; maybe rise above sectarian interests? Anyway, why should I give a gnat’s turd, I’m off to meet the dentist and not looking forward to the encounter.

Tuesday, September 15

Keith Floyd

Yesterday’s Channel 4 documentary on Keith Floyd turned out to be close to the mark. We sat there thinking the lad ain’t long for this world, and sure enough, today brings news that he’s finally hung up his apron. Floyd’s in-your-face enthusiasm inspired a generation of lads, at just about the time most women decided food was the enemy. I’ve all of his books, which I still refer to, including the edition on hangover cures. Having watched one of the old soak’s programmes recently you realise how much the world has moved on, but only, in part, thanks to Floyd. I met him just the once, down in Kinsale, where he was living at the time. Even then he looked a haunted guy. We all have – or perhaps had – mates like Floyd. Most have expired. I would never dream of judging them, you do what you have to do to get by. Rather the boorish and embarrassing than the alternative. Day one, join AA; day two, discover God and impress everyone with your piety.

Sunday, September 13

Alienating and criminalizing the public

Made an early start (for a Sunday morning), up on the hills back of eight-o-clock. Came across a contingent of Afro-Caribbean lads in the company of their minders. A taste of Outward Bound activity, for what I took to be city kids. I say ‘kids’, they were all a foot taller than yours truly. Whilst young people aren’t exactly a rarity on Dartmoor, you’re about as likely to see ethnic minorities carrying rucksacks as you were to see a black face on Saturday evening’s Last night of the proms. Nothing wrong with that, you say, each to their own. Fair enough, but then you’d probably have no idea how motivating it can be for a young lad from an urban environment to get out into the countryside. The youth-club leaders who transported me from Gypsy Lane to the Peak District’s gritstone crags, the mountains of North Wales and the West Coast of Scotland were arguably my most important source of inspiration during early teenage years. And I guess it’s just these sorts of guys – from youth clubs, scouting organisations, the YMCA, etc. – who are becoming seriously pissed off at having to pay £64 to acquire a certificate confirming they’re not child molesters. As if that would work! Just to rub salt into the wounds, I read in the Telegraph that Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, is indulging in what I presume to be the crudest form of blackmail – inferring that schools might be ‘quite suspicious’ if volunteers dropped out because of the new vetting procedures. ‘I just think people would express suspicion if parents had been working with children for quite a while, then said “well I'm not going to do it because I’m going to be checked” because people who do volunteer understand the need for safeguarding.’ If only she was as quick to endorse the GTC’s new code governing teachers’ standards of behavior.

Friday, September 11

End of a dream?

Space can inspire and deflate at the same time. That sense of wonder you experience when looking at the latest pictures from Hubble is immediately dissipated by news that we're spending too much on wars to fund a manned voyage to Mars. Unlike Japan’s first lady I’ll never get to meet a Klingon.

Normal service is resumed

Melanie Reid painted a grim picture of Scotland in yesterday’s Times. All I can say is, ‘so what’s new?’ I suspect 50% of the golf I’ve played in Scotland over the years took place while wearing waterproof clothing. Lost count of the overseas visitors seen trudging from the course after nine dispiriting holes, their having spent thousands visiting the home of golf. No wonder so many private clubs are struggling: who wants to pay a year’s subscription for three months golf. Then again, ditto Wales, Ireland, the north of England... and we in the Southwest have little to shout about. It was ever thus, the last two decade’s sunnier, dryer climate has been an aberration. Or maybe my perception was skewed by the Iberian Peninsula’s protective arm. South London Mansions had developed a Mediterranean climate – damn it, I was growing olive trees in the yard. No complaints about this week’s weather; another day or two of sunshine and they’ll be asking where my burro is. Am already receiving second glances from the Quik-E-Mart staff.

Whilst the erratic state of the weather’s enough to drive a man to drink, I’ll resist commenting on the latest BMA call-to-arms. There’s been more than enough spilt ink on the subject. What I would draw your attention to is one of our economy’s growing success stories: figures show the UK now has more breweries than at any time since the Second World War. CAMRA found that 71 new breweries started production in the past year, taking the nationwide total to 711. Stick that up your stethoscope.

Wednesday, September 9

Cornish sunshine

And not before time.There was only one place you could go to on a day like today.

Alternative transport

I’ll miss living off the neighbour’s vegetable surplus when it’s gone, though my interest in stuffed courgettes and pickled cucumber has started to wane. I won’t be sad to see the back of the wasps; they’ve proved more irritating than flies this year. September is one of those annual expenditure spikes when the vehicle service/tax/mot and insurance falls due. The latter seems to be drifting upwards again, thanks partly to an increase in fraud. It doesn’t help that my mileage has increased more than 50% to over 12k/year. Replacement tyres and brake pads tell all you need to know about my driving. I parked outside the garage between an early-model T120 Bonneville and an old Bedford delivery van carrying loaded milk urns (Tesco Local Choice?). In this day and age the bike looks an improbable means of achieving the once-famed 115 mph, and is certainly no match for the machines that are down here touring. I’ve been tempted to return to two wheels – our eleven-year-old neighbour tears about the countryside on one – but know it would be the end of me. Maybe a pony and trap would work?

Discretion as a virtue

If you’re involved with writing groups you’ll have discovered that not only do the fair sex outnumber us lads by a ratio of 3-1, but that many of the girls come armed with what are euphemistically described as ‘issues’. Writing, it seems, is cathartic – a means of addressing the past... of settling scores and waging war. My throwaway lines about whack-jobs do not go down well. When visiting a local artist yesterday I couldn’t help noticing the walls of her home were decorated with a series of psychogenic nightmares in mixed-media. It was less the garish dream sequences that caught my attention, more the profusion of giant Viz-like testicles enhancing the figures in her paintings. There are rams out back in the field with smaller knackers than these suckers. If you’ve seen the Lynx deodorant advert that features a boy playing with his maracas then you get the idea. I began to sense one of those Kathy Bates moments in the offing, suddenly wishing I’d brought along company for support, and suggesting, rather too quickly perhaps, that we adjourn to the Dog & Duck where there were witnesses and multiple opportunities for an exit. I’ve always felt you can never be too careful where guns, large dogs or women are concerned.

Monday, September 7

Monday skive

As I was on duty over the weekend I elected to give work a miss this morning, swanning off up the hills. Mondays are quiet, or so I thought. Young shepherd had been tasked to bring the flock down and, high-revving quad bike aside, summoned sufficient whooping and hollering to accommodate the soundtrack of a John Ford western. Having climbed to the common and worked my way around West Mill Tor, across Yes Tor and High Willhays, I set out towards Dinger Tor and the Dartmoor hinterland. You often wonder – and I’ve said this before – about what would happen if the old ticka-ticka Timex gave up the ghost whilst you were walking off-piste, and fell face-down in the blanket bog. They’d probably dig you up in a millennium or two and put your perfectly preserved body on view in some museum. Anyway, no chance of that today... Out of nowhere our boys in blue appeared, courtesy of a long wheelbase Land Rover AND a brightly coloured helicopter.It seems someone had interpreted the shepherd’s calls of encouragement as a cry for assistance, and, as yours truly appeared to be the only guy on this stretch of the moor, I was going to be rescued. Rescued or shot – you never know these days when the lads turn up mob-handed, wearing stab vests and all that assorted ironmongery. Still, fair doos, it’s nice to know the constabulary are on the job and I won’t end up as a scientific curio. After exchanging pleasantries and assuring them everything was hunky-dory I continued on my way, eventually cutting down to the valley and following the West Okement back in. The walk along the river’s a favourite, but because it involves a fair amount of rock scrambling you do need good ankles and knees – which I haven’t. Doubtless I’ll be limping all day tomorrow. A five hour slog, it was all I could do to crawl across the portals of the Dog & Duck on the way home.

Sunday, September 6

Tough ways to earn a living

There’s a series of photographs doing the rounds, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition is titled ‘Comedians: from the 1940s to now.’ Fantastic images, not least Bill Brandt’s take on Peter Sellers, and the whimsical study of Meera Syal. My favourite is Lichfield’s shot of Tommy Cooper. What strikes you most – the frightening thing about comedians – is their shortened life span. I’d forgotten how many of the featured performers turned their toes up at a relatively early age. Pressures of the calling, perhaps, or life style? Thanks partly to my predilection for pasties and pints of Tribute, I too seem to be morphing into Johnny Vegas’s dad, and am trying to compensate by walking the local hills. Just now with the kids back in school Dartmoor is particularly busy. The adults are out at play, and if the cattle fail to trample or gore you, you can be sure to be mowed down by a succession of mountain bikes, horses, or be savaged by rogue German shepherds. Down around the Torpoint area this morning; lots of peripheral Navy Days activity in the sky – boy’s toys, formation flying and aerobatics.

Thursday, September 3

Open studios

Had promised El Supremo a run around the Drawn to the Valley Open Studios, and was successful in tracking down several of the venues. The individual work can be somewhat hit and miss, depending on your taste. Purchased a couple of prelim drawings for subsequent paintings commemorating the anniversary of Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge.

Whilst the Southwest has its fair share of arty communities it was difficult to be impressed during my recent visit to the Plymouth Museum & Art Gallery. A poor effort in relation to the size of the City’s history and population. Don’t get me wrong: they recently ran a Lenkiewicz exhibition, and there’s the odd Alan Cotton and Clifford Fishwick I wouldn’t say no to, but – compared to Aberdeen, for instance – it sells the populace short. A selection of fat-women caricatures doesn’t quite cut it. Suppose it’s back to the age-old argument about what a community spends ratepayers’ money on: a much needed roof over someone’s head, or something less tangible which may or may not advance the cause of social mobility.

The Union Inn, Saltash

Today’s lunchtime outing. Times columnist Santhnam Sanghera recently told us he remains somewhat chary about entering a pub flying the Union Jack. This one would freak him out.

Wednesday, September 2

The Ark beckons

New Orleans comes to Cornwall. Trust me: apart from a brief visit by the Jackson family, two years ago, little around here resembles The Big Easy. Aside from my collection of early Armstrong recordings and a souvenir glass from Pat O’Brien’s, I’m not what you’d call a trad jazz fan – at least not in the sense of bowler hats or striped blazers. Still, anything that gets the foot tapping... My mistake was arriving in Bude before opening time and deciding to go paddling in the sea. They’re reluctant to admit people dripping wet. On the plus side, I did eat a decent pasty for lunch. And despite the subsequent rain showers we spent an enjoyable hour or two negotiating the foreshore. Mrs G. is a big enthusiast of intertidal ecology. Returned home with a couple of additional specimens for what the Boss refers to as my growing collection of meaningless tat. I prefer to regard it as a fine example of the natural history ‘art installation’ medium.

Tuesday, September 1

Little Doggies

It was wild on Okehampton common this afternoon, and in more ways than the obvious – soaked to the skin being accepted as a given this week. I found myself witness to a round-up. The first time I’ve seen guys on horseback (rather than on foot or riding a quad bike) driving the cattle down off the moor. Real trail boss stuff, sans Stetson and chaps. There are still plenty of visitors about to enjoy the excitement, and no shortage of families spending their holiday under canvas. It’s heartening to see the tiny mites roughing it, sitting out in the open around a pan of sausages. Damn it, we had to: no reason why the latest generation shouldn’t suffer in kind.