Saturday, July 31

Life, and why people work

Whilst most often pointless, work passes the time and can sometimes be fun. Existential angst, et al. Nevertheless I can’t help but view it a sign of failure, the action of last resort.

As for reading, and the modern novel ... so far this week I’ve despatched Furst’s latest yarn, Spies of the Balkans, Gerald Seymour’s The Dealer and the Dead, and Long Lost by Harlan Coben. The best you can say about all three books is they provide employment for the numerous publishers, printers, and white-van-men that deliver them to the barn. They’re hardly what the great and the good would describe as literature, are not even especially good novels, but then life’s pleasures would be few and far between if all you ate was turbot and rhubarb crumble. Shaun of the Dead featured amongst the recent days’ viewing: as with the Dog & Duck’s meat pies and my page-turners, it supplies a necessary perspective.

Quip of the day: Mickey Rourke commenting on the most romantic thing he’d ever done. ‘I had a boxing match in Japan once and was in a big hurry to get back to my room in order to have a “chat” with a certain lady, so I knocked this guy out in the first round.’

Thursday, July 29

An apple a day

Exactly how many courgettes can a man eat? I’m running out of recipes and enthusiasm for the neighbour’s surplus vegetables. Not to be outdone by Farmer Charles, Mrs G. has moved into the mail-order bakery business, despatching boxed apple cake around the country ... In between trips to the Post Office I pursue my ongoing war against the Ponderosa’s encroaching undergrowth, the plus side to our triffid-like infestation of creeping tentacles being (hopefully) a bumper harvest of blackberries later in the year. Berries and muesli for breakfast, rather than a double helping of huevos rancheros, is my stab at healthy living. Having received a dressing down from our locum for the state of my blood pressure I have since managed to stay within prescribed limits (>120/80), loosing10lbs to boot. You read so much about health in the daily news it’s hard to keep up. Last week it was the suggestion we study more to stave off dementia, today we are told to drink alcohol in order to limit the severity of rheumatoid arthritis. I am already ahead of the game with regards to the latter, given red wine (along with a Mediterranean diet) has long been recommended as a way of staving off heart disease and protecting my eyesight. Statins, claret, Mickey Spillane and exercise: job done.

Sunday, July 25

Holiday reads

Can’t recall why I originally latched onto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives but I enjoyed it enough to go on and shell out for his posthumous magnum opus. Having now read 2666 I suspect Bolaño expired before the lad had chance to make free with the red pencil. Originally intended to be published in five parts the book was subsequently released in a single brick-like form. At close to nine-hundred pages of smallish print 2666 is not for the fainthearted, and probably not what you’d call a holiday read. It also suffers from being sanctified by large parts of the literary establishment, always a bad sign if you’re looking for a page turner. To a greater or lesser extent the stories revolve around the rape and murder of factory workers in Ciudad Juárez and touch on human fallibility, the mundane and arbitrary nature of most people’s lives – the anti-hero, the angst of relationships, and, thanks to the disparate nature of our post-national communities, illustrate a willingness to ignore those atrocities that, whilst close to home, are not considered relevant. Bolaño’s writing is both allusive and elusive, dark and matter-of-fact violent, and the perfect antidote to Stieg Larsson’s voyeuristic pulp.

Friday, July 23


Heavy rain has led to minor flooding along local roads, and the barn reeks of damp earth and wet clothing. Our swarming white-tailed bumble bees have beat a hasty retreat, back beneath the shed ... but for the first time in an age red deer have emerged from the woods to graze alongside us.

I’m into my latest attempt at a half-decent lasagne. In comparison to the Quik-E-Mart product none are without merit, yet neither are they quite the full tamale. For this particular version I’m leaving little to chance. There are layers of meat sauce fashioned from rare-breed pig and Campania tomatoes, another of courgettes, sautéed in olive oil and covered in torn basil leaves and two types of cheese, and a final layer of Béchamel – produced from the finest burro, organic type 00 Ortona flour, and suitably infused semi-skimmed milk. The ingredients are sandwiched between sheets of free-range egg and finely-milled semolina pasta from Puglia, and buried beneath an extravagant coating of weapons-grade Parmigiano-Reggiano. All I need now is a suitable bottle of vino.

Wednesday, July 21

Nul points

Have lost count of the times I’ve sauntered past Plymouth’s National Marine Aquarium ... so this morning, with an hour to kill, curiosity got the better of me. I’ve fond memories of Boulogne’s Nausicaa. At this more local venue the admission fee is an eye-watering £11 (double what it cost to get into the Tate, St Ives). In retrospect I would have probably paid the same again if necessary to be let out of the aquarium. Surreal was my initial impression: submerged in a murky world of Pollock and squid, assailed by shoals of dwarf-like creatures I assumed to be other people’s children. The visit would have been transformed if I’d been allowed to sink a large steel hook in one of the little tyke’s nose and dangle it over the tank in front of a shark. The building has the atmosphere of an un-refurbished ’70s cross-channel ferry during a night-time transit, the sort with those sticky carpets that everyone had thrown up on. A depressing, shabby establishment in need of a change of direction.

Monday, July 19

Life outside

I lost interest in the political soaps post election, and what with catching up on a humungous backlog of chores subsequent to our visitors and the golf, haven’t time to devote to the Big Society. I suspect Cameron’s vision thing roughly translates into ‘we’ve run out of money and you are going to have to do everything yourself.’ Suppose it’s too much to hope this will be commensurate with a reduction in taxes? Whilst the consequences of Labour misrule will be fostered on us all in one shape or form and for years to come, the hair shirts would feel far more comfortable if the likes of Goodwin and his drinking buddy McPlonker were serving a lengthy stretch behind bars. It’s no consolation knowing the man who fitted us up, young Blair, is rumoured to have pocketed £20m since stepping down. Don’t purchase his bloody book when it comes out next month, he’ll only buy another mansion. Doubtless the voters’ pin-up, Vice ‘what time of day is it?’ Cable will provide us with the necessary answers in due course. Graduate tax ... good grief! Useless idiots, the lot of ’em. At least global warming appears to have been kicked into touch. Now, if only Damien Green could persuade Eric Pickles to wear a burka.

Fish got to swim and birds got to fly

Oscar Hammerstein? It seems the sight of a kestrel hovering above unsuspecting prey is less common than usual. Farming is relatively small scale in this part of the world and that may be why birds of prey still flourish. To clear our heads yesterday morning we walked the common for a couple of hours and followed Kestrels hunting along Red-a-ven Brook. Their demise is partly attributed to the decline of small mammals, its primary diet. The bird is called a Moosie Hawk by the people of Orkney, though a short-tailed vole is the real treat. Along with the ubiquitous Skylarks we also spotted a lone Wheatear, one of the world’s long-distance migrants – commuting between Greenland and Africa. They’re sometimes referred to as a Check Bird or Chickell in Devon, and more obviously, a White Ass or White Arse in Cornwall.

Sunday, July 18

Fourth and final round

Enough’s enough. I must have spent twelve hours Friday and another eleven yesterday in front of the television watching The Open (in HD, it’s brilliant). Doubtless there’s work to be done somewhere but alas not by me. Given it’s my turn to cook we’ve been living on reheated, stuffed courgettes (bumper harvest on neighbour’s allotment) and rice & beans. The weather failed to brighten as I’d forecast, has remained wet and windy, and there’s a depressing greyness about the place that’s typified by a general mood and mirrored at St Andrews in Calcavecchia’s sour countenance. Old dreams really do die hard, as Tom Watson discovered last year.

Thursday, July 15

Mr Grumpy

Guests can be a guilty indulgence: in order to pass the time and in an effort to entertain visitors you are sometimes encouraged to behave like an arsehole. By that I mean – and especially after a couple of beers – you allow yourself to make free with gratuitous prejudice. Conversely, I find, it’s also a truism that as time goes by the more liberal and accommodating you become. There’s been a lot in the press these last couple of days about how middle-class lefties gravitate to the right during their middle years. I’m not sure that’s true in the longer term, at least in my experience (though women can be of a different order – Attila the Hen ain’t in it for most I meet).

Prejudice can be deeply ingrained, not least in my case with regards to a certain element within the BBC’s golfing fraternity. Adrian Chiles and his ITV football buddies might be mildly irritating but they are nothing compared to Alliss, Torrance, Brown, James, et al. As for that chirpy jockette, Hazel Irvine ... if I wanted to watch netball I’d buy cable television. When following The Open this afternoon I couldn’t help thinking all it needs now is for Montgomerie to make an appearance, and sure enough the big girl’s blouse minces onto our screen. How on earth the BBC expects to engage with a younger, more diverse audience on the strength of this retinue of bed blockers I’ll never know.They’ve nothing new to say; we’ve heard the anecdotes a hundred times before; for God’s sake move on.

The Open looms

As our guests pack their bags and ready themselves for the return drive north I expect our prevailing weather to ease. That’s just the way it works. We’ll doubtless have sunshine for a few days, until the kids break up from school, and then the drizzle-laden southwesterly winds will return. Turning up in a soft-top was always tempting fate. Yet everyone appears to have enjoyed the trip, touring Dartmoor and down amongst the fleshpots of Salcombe and Dartmouth. I guess a break from home is a rest in anyone’s book, whatever the conditions – and in spite of the Mexican rice, the salsa tunes and reactionary politics.

Monday, July 12

Sporty weekend

What with the World Cup Final, the Scottish Open and the British GP it’s a wonder we found time to barbeque yesterday. It was the last of our half-decent days for a week or so, seems the weather for July has (like the previous two years) taken a turn for the worse. That said, our visitors appear to be enjoying themselves, never rising before nine; but then just getting out of the city is usually enough. It is someone for me to commiserate with, having issued the last rites on the impossible dream, a compromise on price to address the defects not forthcoming. O well, onwards and upwards ... a bottle of Tesco’s claret and Iniesta’s goal helped ease the pain.

Friday, July 9

A lull in the action

So, thanks in part to the Gudgeon kiss-of-death, our Germanic neighbours buckle on the home stretch. Is there anything more pointless than having to compete for third and fourth place? Perceived wisdom now appears to side with Mrs G’s favoured Spain, but I’ve too much history with the Dutch – smoked too much halfzware shag – to give up on them when so close. Sans footy and pre The Open it’s back to my books and the wireless – the highpoint of last night’s listening being BBC Radio 2’s Nigel (the face of a serial killer) Ogden extolling the virtues of Saltaire’s Victoria Hall Wurlitzer. Fun times, these long hot days of summer.

Wednesday, July 7

Even handed

One of the drawbacks of living in the countryside is my having to drive 45 miles to buy a £3.40 replacement part for the brush cutter. That said, two more miles and I was on the beach for the rest of the morning, following the surfers while reading last night’s match reports. As the farm is currently entertaining German visitors, and I find myself coincidentally drinking Becks, I feel somewhat obliged to cheer on the Hun this evening. As a sop to the opposition we’re also serving up tapas.

Cromwellian intrigue

Another of my presents from Christmas past. As you would expect there are times during the 650 pages of Wolf Hall when the story begins to flag. Overall, however, and assuming you’re moderately interested in historical novels, the book’s an engaging enough yarn. I’ve read C.J.Sansom’s ‘Shardlake’ novels which feature some of the same characters; the first tale I approached enthusiastically, the second with waning interest and the third out of obligation. Wolf Hall is of a different order and I was disappointed when arriving at the end. No doubt there’ll be a sequel.

Sunday, July 4

I'm reviewing, the situation ...

What was it Ron Moody sang in Oliver? I hate to admit it but the impossible dream’s looking distinctly shaky. Whilst I’m up for a challenge as much as the next man the list of defects grows ever longer. New kitchens and bathrooms are a given; and rewiring can be a pain, but that’s part of the game. New boiler? Fair enough, but now it transpires I’ve got to replace the radiators with something more efficient, and find the copper pipes (which are buried under concrete) are leaking and I’ll have to dig up the flagstone floors. The damp I can take care of easily enough; however, two-thirds of the windows need to be replaced with hardwood double glazing. The roof’s good, albeit it has to be totally recovered/retiled (round about the same time I’m installing a new cold water tank in the loft). My potential scope of work goes on … yet nothing especially fazed me until we discovered the cracks – a structural question mark. Those of you who know my history relating to fissures in external walls and chimneys will appreciate how overjoyed I am. Did I mention the garage has to be rebuilt, or that it will cost a small fortune to remove asbestos from the site, and that there’s a problem with the private drainage – the cesspit? All of a sudden renting doesn’t seem a bad idea.