Friday, January 29

No one is speaking or we're not listening?

Two points from last night’s BBC Question Time. What came across from a significant number of the studio audience – and this was alluded to some time ago by Tebbit on his blog, an issue with which I can sympathise – is a growing frustration with the belief that no political party represents their interests, that there’s no one they can envisage voting for at the forthcoming election.

Global warming again reared its head. Stock defence from the big girl’s blouse, Bradshaw, continues to be that of ‘Scientists tell us we’re all doomed, and as I’m not a scientist (and therefore incapable of informed or rational thought), remain happy to swallow whatever they tell me.’ Having read Byson’s Short history of nearly everything in tandem with Leben des Galileo, scientists’ ethics, honesty and integrity isn’t exactly a given. East Anglia, et al? And why on earth do they keep wheeling out Granddad Simpson in the form of old Lawson?

Wednesday, January 27

No bid

Leaving no stone unturned we attended today’s auction for the Triumph Stag. Only three of the nine prospective bidders turned up, and though I’d bought my cheque book, the heart wasn’t in it. In the end the property sold for less than we’d been prepared to pay a month ago, off market. Of course that was before I’d had sight of the surveyor’s report – ground contamination was the last straw. I was pleased to see the agents fail to crack their magic number. Bunch of tossers. O well, another one down; onwards and upwards ... Talking of hearts: the medic rang with the result of my annual check up: everything appears to be in working order; even with the fry ups and odd curry fest, cholesterol has settled at 5.8. Hurrah for statins.

The wealth gap

That awful woman Harman buggered my breakfast this morning by leaping from the wireless to launch her class based election crusade. It’s a subject that would once have engaged me. Now, with the benefit of experience, I can’t be arsed. Seizing on the National Equality Panel’s claim that the wealth gap has grown exponentially under Labour, by presumably comparing oligarchs and investment bankers who earn squillions with immigrant communities on benefit payments (Tim Worstall does it better), she hopes to further distance the Cameron clan from voters. According to perceived wisdom, the difference between haves and have-nots are, to a large extent, determined by the aspirations of a child’s parents. However, railing against the failings of dysfunctional parent isn’t going to help, especially when Mom blows her increased remuneration on Buckfast. Access to a decent education and peer pressure remains the key, along with the prospect of employment. If Labour had spent a fraction of the money they’ve pissed away this last 12 years on universal quality education maybe we could have made a difference. We passed up an opportunity – the 4th richest country economy in the world for God’s sake! – and now the money’s gone.

Sunday, January 24

Another week beckons

With the shooting season drawing to a close Farmer Charles has not disappointed: a final brace of pheasants for the freezer. It’s been a game weekend, with flocks of pigeons coming to grief in the oven. And very nice they were; the almost perfect accompaniment to football on TV ... roll on February when the drink begins to flow again. I’ve taken to marinating each dish in claret prior to cooking in order to sniff the fumes. Another week of Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre, Hegel’s theory of tragedy, or assorted Marxist claptrap, and even drink may not be enough. Just 3,000 more words to pen and I can move on.

Saturday, January 23

Still around

I’ve not given up on blogging; it’s just been a busy week, in and out of Exeter. Amongst other things I needed a haircut before I began tripping over myself. One of the perils of living in the sticks is the dearth of barbers; those telltale tufts of wool attached to the clippers hint at alternative day jobs. Yesterday we returned to look at a property we’ve been stalking. If I could use a motoring analogy, Triumph Stag springs to mind. It looks cool in a retro sort of way, but in the cool light of day is actually a dilapidated piece of crap that you could only envisage as your ideal home after consuming large quantities of malted barley. The roof needs replacing, as does the entire drainage system; there is no bathroom or kitchen to speak of (though strangely, an ‘illegal’ bidet in the WC); it needs rewired and re-plumbed; boasts major damp problems and countless infestations; and the surveyor hints darkly of lead based paint, asbestos and Radon gas. My insurance agent tells me there are concerns about the area’s propensity to flood ... and the last vestige of my enthusiasm seems to be ebbing away.

Monday, January 18

Could be worse

Although today (third Monday of the year) is thought by many to be the gloomiest day of the year (weather, debt, time since Christmas, New Year’s resolutions, etc.), this morning’s post contained another fifty quid from those tight fisted characters in Glasgow (Premium Bonds). Prizes have been much reduced since NS&I began siphoning the revenue for McPlonker’s discretionary vodka fund. He’s probably drinking my 46 bottles. Am feeling somewhat righteous, given January’s the dry month; living off fruit and porridge, mince and tatties. I need every ounce of motivation I can muster to get me through this bleakest of our seasons. There’s a great line in Martin Amis’s new novel that goes something like ‘Keith was now well launched on the bullet train of the fifties, where the minutes often dragged but the years tumbled over one another and disappeared ...’ It follows on from AS Byatt’s recent interview where she equated her present life as being propelled down the twisting rapids of a mountain river and suddenly finding the sea coming into view. Last night, armed with such cheery thoughts, I sat watching Branagh’s Wallander on the BBC. Whilst he does a credible ‘let’s cut my throat right now and get it over with’ performance, in line with Mankell’s flawed detective, and is doubtless favourite to lift a Bafta, I have a soft spot for the Swedish version and Krister Henriksson: not least because it’s in Swedish, and not quite so focussed on the me-me-me, but also because of the superior supporting cast. That said, I seem to recall most of them committed suicide in the last episode. So glad I’m not living in a Nordic country.

Thursday, January 14

Verdict on woodcock

I’m a game-bird fan, obviously. Pheasant, grouse, partridge, quail, woodpigeon, and, more recently, wild duck ... I eat them all. However, woodcock (tonight’s supper) was a revelation. Getting hold of the critters is practically impossible if you haven’t friends who shoot. Mrs G. roasted them a la Tebbit (we’ve been working our way through his cookbook – copies to neighbours who supply us). It’s good to see the old Chingford skinhead back in action with his Telegraph blog. He could show the new crowd a trick or two; Iain Dale gives a hint as to why he’s experiencing difficulty being selected for a Tory seat.

Mobile again

We made it off the reservation to find life still exists out there on the streets of bleak mid-winter. Fog was good enough to drift in from Dartmoor and conceal the unsightly effects of the thaw. Despite a tenacious ring of ice around the barn our postman had finally battled though, carrying a backlog of demands from rapacious utilities suppliers, and proforma invoices from surveyors and solicitors. A smiling dentist with his eye on an unexpected tax bill also touched me for the usual eye watering sum. I came home, bit into a slice of toast, and promptly cracked another tooth (must have a word with the Boss regarding the tensile strength of her soda bread). I try to look on the bright side: at least my name’s not Benitez.

Wednesday, January 13

Escape, maybe

Gale force winds arrived yesterday morning, carrying more snow; blizzard conditions in places. People had a hard time making it home, and the unfortunate were marooned in stationary vehicles for six or more hours. With some communities restricted to 4x4 vehicles the Air Ambulance was working overtime, as old folk turned cartwheels and tobogganists collided with trees. I’m hoping today sees the end of it, at least for a while. We’ve been becalmed for more than a week now. Fingers crossed, the motor should have a chance of making it out this afternoon. Let’s hope punters’ panic buying hasn’t decimated the stores and that there’s something left to purchase which will enliven our diet. Truth is, the chores are stacking up; lots of errands to run; serious dental work scheduled for this afternoon. Despite the inconvenience and trials of the weather, Devon, thankfully, isn’t Haiti. And City continue their unbelievable run. Next stop Everton.

Monday, January 11


Whilst the frontier spirit is being tested to the full, unbidden, benevolent neighbours deliver milk and newspapers; another gifts us a brace of woodcocks – beautiful, but proverbially foolish birds. They need to hang for 5-6 days before being roasted with trail and head intact, and served on toast.

Talking of birds. I’ve at last finished Lynne Truss’s sporting odyssey, Get her off the pitch. An entertaining tale of literary angst amongst the sweaty armpits. She’s more popularly known for her Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and this is written with similar, albeit self-deprecating enthusiasm.

Theoretically the long-term memory is able to store large quantities of information for a potentially unlimited duration. I wish ... The problem is trying to find the bloody warehouse. Whichever archive my past has been stored in is lost to posterity. That said, reminders of incidents from long ago – a football tournament or boxing match, for instance – often provides a key to the door. So thanks, Truss, for a brief run around some of the old stomping grounds, and commiserations for the kicking you received.

Saturday, January 9

Saturdays ...

Sod the expense. I’ve resurrected a couple of oil-filled electric heaters in an effort to boost the barn’s ambient temperature, though this hasn’t alleviated the necessity of draping blankets about my person. A neighbour came banging on the door offering to run errands in his 4x4, he hadn’t seen me for a while and was a bit taken back by the ragged Yeti ensemble and shoulder-length hair. Think James May meets Rupert Rigsby. In between Soccer Saturday on Sky and waiting for the radio commentary from St Andrews I’m trying to sort my CD collection (always a sad sign) and catch up on homework. The Boss has baked a new line in biscuits flavoured with preserved ginger, syrup and two types of sugar. Trust me, they’re nothing short of brilliant, and play a large part in maintaining the necessary number of calories I find I need to combat cold weather. Aromas emanating from the kitchen would indicate the production line has since switched to assorted loaves and pheasant pies.

Friday, January 8

Staying home

It was a ludicrous thing to do. No, not Hewitt and Hoon’s putsch, rather my walk to the village this morning – third day on the trot. The lightweight trousers and leather gloves were certainly a mistake; next time I’ll be wearing heavyweight kit, it really is that cold. Hiking back with five kilos of assorted vegetables and a bottle of milk was no joke either. That said, the views across the moor are beautiful, and so quiet – a guy passed me on skis and that was about it. Apart from the sheep of course, and the fieldfares and redwings. Have managed to get the motor fired up, though it’s not going anywhere. The temp gauge reads -2C – practically spring weather after the last two nights; strong winds and more snow are forecast and I do not intend venturing out over the next couple of days. I’d been looking forward to the Manchester derby on Wednesday, now it looks like the weekend could also be cancelled.

Another fun day

‘Please, please, don’t go outside’ say the authorities, ‘it’s too dangerous.’ I can’t see the motor being back in service anytime soon, so if I do, it’ll be on foot. As you can imagine – and like everywhere else in the Country – the roads and tracks are coated in thick ice. Gritting is nonexistent. Our mains water froze as early as nine-o-clock last night. I got it going again but need to maintain a continuous flow to keep the pipe open. Our next meter reading should prove interesting. We’re in good shape, with power and plenty of heating oil (boiler’s just been serviced); the propane won’t last another week, which is unfortunate, but donning a third sweater should help. Foxes have been sniffing around the barn, looking for food; a barrage of shotgun fire from next door would seem to indicate they’ve got close to Farmer Charles’s chickens. Could use some fresh vegetables; you can take only so many beans and marrowfats.

Thursday, January 7

The big chill

Cold? If we ran out of heating oil we’d be burning furniture. I won’t bore you with photographs of snow but you can take my word that we’ve more than our fair share. Yesterday, with the motor out of commission, I donned my boots and shuffled the 5-6 miles ’cross field, track and lane, for a trip to the Quik-E-Mart. Needless to say supplies haven’t made it through to the village, so we’ll have to continue to drink our tea sans milk. I guess it’s not that bad (I’ve worked in the Highlands), though many roads are closed, others only navigable by 4x4 vehicles. Unfortunately, this morning looks worse. Am thinking about joining our Irish friends in Costa Rica.

Update: we made the TV News! BBC Spotlight weatherman says our little hamlet equalled the 1958 record of -15C last night, and this evening we could touch -16C. Better break out the woolly bed socks.

Wednesday, January 6

Skiving off work

I’m behind with my studies and have a class this week. Do I knuckle down and play catch up, or rely on bluff and go out and play in the snow? My critique on 1930s poets has been returned with a B-, along with the usual plea for more contextualisation and less abstraction (he means less bullshit and waffle). We’ve since moved from Neue Sachlichkeit to German playwrights, and the influence of European modernism on post-colonial African cultures (I kid you not). Grim eh? Should have bought a Harley instead.

It can’t be snow, the earth’s too warm

Last night’s Sky News guests included two characteristic, smug bastards to review the newspapers. As is custom, any part of the press that used the appearance of snow to question the ‘settled’ position on global warming were casually but caustically denigrated. Today I welcome Andrew Neil to the ranks of Flat Earthers who dare to question.I don’t doubt that climate change’s afoot, but changing weather patterns are hardly the foundation for a new belief system.

Tuesday, January 5

Fun day

A fall of snow, though nothing in comparison to our northern cousins, or winters past. Principal problem hereabouts is that the white stuff has settled on top of ice. I spent a fair amount of this morning in reverse gear as my front-wheel drive can’t handle the inclines; this part of the world is one hill after another. Reminder to self: do not venture out without a shovel. Made it home but had to leave the vehicle moored-up on the other side of the farm. Lots of the schools are closed which should keep people off the roads; according to local radio the police are thinking of closing Dartmoor, none of the roads have been gritted.

Pushing fusion concepts too far

I returned from one of my trips to the Orient 15 years ago with a half decent print of Zhao Mengfu’s A Man and his Horse in the Wind, and a local cookbook. The latter was tossed into a drawer and forgotten, until recently, since when I’ve been steadily working my way through the index. Needless to say we’re short of Asian delis in the village and some interpretation of recipes is called for. Decent upmarket pepperoni has taken care of the Chinese sausage in my Claypot Rice problem, and the discovery of a premium brand oyster sauce is significantly improving marinades, but it’s never going to be Soho in the sticks. NB. Kung Pao Prawn and mushy peas is hard on the eyes.

Sunday, January 3

Frosty birds

The lads are all out back in the fields, shotguns in hand, blasting away at whatever moves. Most of the songbirds seem to have taken refuge in the yard. Robins and Wrens; a flock of orange-beaked Blackbirds, harbouring an occasional Song Thrush. Golden Thistle Finches and red-pink Bullfinches provide the colour – Alpes amongst Chaucer’s Romaunt garden, feasting on bramble seeds; as always the Great Tits and Sparrows, together with our ubiquitous Pink Twinks, Chaffinches. I’m still not persuaded to set foot outside.

Utilitarian meals

Frosty the snowman has a lot to answer for; damn it’s cold. I’ve been out walking these last three days (in reality little more than two-hour strolls), but today will hunker down against one of the working radiators. Sunday papers aren’t worth the effort. Despite our surrounding landscape resembling the inside of Mrs G’s freezer, water still flows from the pipes. Must try and crank up the vehicle sometime, see if it sparks. My volunteering to provide weekend meals was short-lived; seems reheated two-day-old curry (boosted by a tin of chilli-beans) isn’t to everyone’s taste. Breakfast was a rather sad slice of cured ham topped by cubes of pistachio-flavoured Turkish delight (gammon steak Istanbul). Expect normal service to be resumed fairly soon.

Friday, January 1

The new decade

It’s a beautiful blue sky with which to start the new decade. My only immediate reflection on the last ten years is how quickly they’ve gone; seems just five minutes ago we were surfacing from a spectacular millennium party at South London mansions, before rushing to check our computers to see how they’d coped with Y2K. It took most of that year to work our way through the stockpiled foodstuffs and ready-cash we’d been hoarding. Many remained confused as to whether the first day of the third millennium was being celebrated one year too early. If you’d have asked me where I’d be in ten years time I doubt ‘on a farm in Devon’ would have registered; too busy chasing my tail.