Sunday, October 31

New arrivals

A sizeable mixed-flock of Redwings and Fieldfares has settled outside. Everything seems to be flying in at the same time. Our Bullfinches and Nuthatches (above) have been joined by a couple of new faces: white-breasted Treecreepers (Tree mice) and a diminutive Tidley Goldfinch (Goldcrest). Whilst the woods do indeed echo the song of the Goldfinch, it’s the brouhaha of screaming Jays, warning off an owl, that prevails. You know w’at de jay-bird say ter der squinch-owl! ‘I’m sickly but sassy.’ (Uncle Remus)

Update: also spotted: a pair of what Mrs G. would call a ‘Cock o’ the North’ or ‘Tartan Back’ – more commonly known as a Brambling or Bramble Finch/Cock.

Superior tactics but no goals

I was impressed with Ian Holloway’s good grace, in crediting Alex McLeish’s superior tactics for the victory over Blackpool. Today, too (and I’m working on the basis of Talksport’s commentators), Big Eck continues to demonstrate that, unlike Strachan, the lad is Scotland’s loss and Blues’ gain. Damn it, if only they could put the ball in the net a little more often. Another away point; but only four goals in the last seven games.

Bear Paws, Moscow Style

Buy the paws skinned. Wash, salt and marinade for three days. Casserole with bacon and vegetables for seven or eight hours; drain, wipe, sprinkle with pepper and turn in melted lard. Roll in bread-crumbs and grill for half an hour. Serve with a piquant sauce and two spoonfuls of redcurrant jelly.

Grand dictionnaire de cuisine (1870), Alexandre Dumas.

Saturday, October 30


You can’t beat Friday-night television for a taste of our cultural (musical) Smorgasbord. In concert with the record number of listeners and viewers who followed this year’s Proms, the Boss tuned in again last night to hear the performances of Nelson Freire and the BBC symphony orchestra. And though a fairly-recent repeat showing, likewise, the subsequent story of Allegri’s Miserere. The fun had barely begun, however, as we were then treated to an hour-long take on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (Classic Albums), followed by a ninety-minute pass at the origins and development of British heavy metal. I was going to say metal passed me by at the time, but that would be to ignore Thin Lizzie and Jethro Tull. Punk, which the latter program touched on, was the secret vice. Anyway ... all this waffle is just my roundabout way of recalling that, at noon tomorrow, the Blues are playing Ozzy Osbourne’s gang in the local derby. Whilst Villa can also boast David Cameron, Mervyn King and Tom Hanks as supporters, we have those celebrated banjo players Jasper Carrott and Roy Wood.

Friday, October 29

Still game

Housing market weakness gathers momentum ... I’m gutted.

The barn’s first thousand litres of winter heating-oil was delivered yesterday. I hope whatever accommodation eventually comes our way is more fuel-efficient than this cross between a warehouse and wind tunnel.

I think we’ve eaten more than enough venison and pickled-plums for a while (and no, it wasn’t the Exmoor Emperor). Staying true to the game theme, last night’s supper featured partridges on a raft of roast parsnips and pears. The accompanying Australian Riesling was none-too-shabby. A butcher once told me it was hard work, selling game to the wider market. Unless exotic fare can be presented as an adornment on a pizza, zapped in the microwave or dished up in sweet & sour sauce, it’s beside the point. You’d think – given the profusion of cooking programmes on television – that everyone was a dab hand with the frying pan? But there you go. Damn it I miss not having a grill: what I wouldn’t give for cheese-on-toast.

I always love this view because I am looking back at the horizon, to where I’ve been and not where I am going: my walk is nearly at an end and there’s only another mile left to limp to the car park. Four days on the trot and my knees have finally said enough.

Looking around the Quik-E-Mart last night something dawned on me: every other guy in the queue was of an age and had grey hair, yet I seemed to be the only lad without a beard. Appears I’m missing a vital part of the uniform. I supported facial hair many years ago but beards became deeply unfashionable, particularly if you were doing business with American organisations. Something to do with negative connotations about your character – that you were hiding something, are untrustworthy. Mrs G. has promised to cut my nuts off if I so much as consider it.

Thursday, October 28

Sensibility or self-indulgence?

I don’t get Philip Roth. He’s a big name and everyone raves about the lad, but... all that hackneyed Jewish introspection crap? (And don’t get me started on Woody Allen.) Paradoxically, I can’t seem to get enough of Saul Bellow. Maybe it’s down to Citrine being of an age, which makes this particular novel so appealing? Sympathetic attraction is always a draw, as is Bellow’s humour. Boredom and sloth are of course familiar themes, and in truth, while I, too, have slept through momentous historical events, I find there’s usually another following close behind. And let’s face it, we all know a Cantabile – have been suckered into investing in beryllium mines. Whilst death and metaphysics aren’t exactly comfortable bedfellows for us isolationists, there are those long winter nights to consider. I’ve stood gazing at the zillion or more twinkling stars during recent cloudless evenings and it sets the mind to wondering. Guess I’m now obliged to read Howard Jacobson?

Monday, October 25

Three of everything

If only we stopped to consider the money each of us has pissed away over the years. But then that’s what our economy is built on – consumer spending; a virtuous circle, we were led to believe. I have no less than three versions of the Are You Experienced album: the original vinyl, acquired in the ’60s; a cassette tape from the ’80s; and a more recent CD. I don’t count Mrs G’s iPod. That said, the cost of duplicating music catalogues seems as nothing compared to the decades of obsolete hardware – music centres and the like – that lie rotting in lofts and landfills. One of the few mediums I’ve been loathed to part with is the Walkman – and now Sony, today, has retired them. They stopped making Walkmans in Japan earlier this year but kept things going until the shelves were cleared (China are still knocking them out). I have three units in serviceable condition and use them to play the ’80s stuff that – like Martin Amis novels – don’t travel well. Let’s face it I can hardly see myself shelling out for another run at Sheena Easton. Whilst many believe the last rights on CDs are long overdue I suspect baby-boomers will guarantee a lengthy retirement.

Saturday, October 23

I’ve stirred the puddin’ and made a wish

To dispel the litany of gloom which passes for news I’ve taken to starting the day with Vaughan Williams. The light of the office window proves a draw for insects on dark, cold mornings and which in turn attract the wrens, that most bumptious of characters. Autumn has seen an increase in most of our feathered friends with the exception of my favourites, the blackbirds. Though the haws and sloes are almost extinguished they’ve been supplemented by holly berries encouraging the blackbirds to remain in those areas where such trees are abundant.

Here inside the barn (sanctuary from a succession of alternating squalls and rainbows) everything has the rich smell of currants, raisins and sultanas, of tobacco-scented muscovado sugar and freshly-ground spices. Mrs G. is hard at work on another variant in the Christmas pudding line. I ate one of last year’s the other day and very nice it was. Half was consumed on day one with crème fraiche; the remainder on day two, fried with breakfast; and days three and four for lunch, cold, sliced, as an accompaniment to goats’ cheese and a very nice old ruby ale.

Having completed my chores and settled down to read today’s pre-match analyses I was subsequently dispatched on an emergency mission to procure more suet. Needless to say all the Quik-E-Mart had on offer was the improbably labelled low-fat variety. How the fuck you can conjure low-fat suet remains a mystery to me. I’ve stood and watched as butchers strip the stuff from a carcase – it’s fat! Half a tank of diesel later I managed to acquire the last (literally) packet of suet at one of our well known super-stores, it sat alongside a shelf full of the so-called low-fat variety (obviously we don’t want the bloody stuff – if you’re going to pig out on pudding the least you can do is eat real shit). On the way back I had to call in and pick up some wool Mrs G. had ordered for a sweater she intends knitting for me. I hate to appear a cheapskate, but, having calculated I could buy five jumpers from Ike Godsey’s for the same price this wool cost, I can only conclude my new winter warmer is being woven from the pubic hair of some long-extinct Andean quadruped.

You daren’t say too much just now as the Boss had convinced herself United were going to get rid of Rooney and replace him with that nice Fernando Torres from Liverpool.

Thursday, October 21

In the cold light of day

Cold being the operative word this morning: a thick frost is covering the ground. At first glance the spending review doesn’t appear a tough sell (people were expecting worse?). The government are hoping that 70% of the punters won’t notice any ill effects, at first, and will support an attack on our mythical workshy scroungers. You can’t deny the coalition has taken a radical approach; one that would, to a large extent, have been copied by the opposition? I don’t for a minute expect them to achieve their aims – life’s not that simple. Events, my dear boy, events... Yet politics seems to have become interesting again; the next four years will be a boon for commentators, for and against. Radical it may be, but viewed from the confines of Manor Farm it seems vaguely familiar.

Wednesday, October 20

Freezing the TV licence

I guess a licence fee and the advertising that so frustrates our viewing is the price we pay for television, a Sky subscription perhaps the icing on the cake. It’s difficult to begrudge the £145 tax that funds the BBC. Difficult but not impossible: executive salaries, establishment condescension, political bias; the fact the licence fee is compulsory, and that it takes 25 journalists to cover a single story. I appreciate there are worse options: unless there’s been radical change German television can make Billy Cotton look cool (and you pay £170 for the privilege). Whilst a great deal of what’s broadcast is packaged with the patronising assertion that they’re ‘making it fresh and accessible to modern-day audiences’ (and all that entails), there’s more than enough to satisfy aspirational middlebrows. If only the BBC would stop behaving as though they’re the official government opposition party. Contrast yesterday evening’s Newsnight with Sky News look-at-the-papers, featuring Kelvin MacKenzie and Roger Alton. Saloon-bar ribaldry at its best.

Tuesday, October 19

Grumpy old men

This morning’s market seemed full of angry people. No doubt a sign of the times – not exactly doom and gloom, but rationed laughter and heavy on the grimaces. As this is venison season I was there to pick up a haunch for later in the week. Austerity can wait ’til the spending review’s been announced. The defence review has already caused ructions at the Dog & Duck, with the spectre of French aircraft atop a British carrier. Not sure where we’d be without our politicians to dilute the boredom of everyday life?

Sunday, October 17

Cold company

This morning saw our first attempt at a frost.

I suppose the mice will soon begin sneaking inside, a house sparrow has already set itself up on one of the bedroom’s beams. Last night's supper was interrupted by an errant bat that entered through the window and did several circuits of the table before exiting.

Thursday, October 14

From muesli to porridge

The last of our hedgerow berries were consumed at breakfast. We’ve become used to eating freebies and it’ll hurt to shell out two-quid or more for a punnet of imported fruit from the Quik-E-Mart. Good news is that the pheasant season is underway and Farmer Charles has been warming up the dogs, polishing his Remington. Our diet switches to buckshee game, and root vegetables. Weather-wise it’s been a bit special, the moor a millionaire’s playground: despite blue skies you can venture out with little but sheep and buzzards for company – perhaps a couple of helicopters (Pumas, I think) and the odd low-flying Tornado, but then that’s fun stuff. Yesterday was 21 degrees and I had to apply sun block, today it dropped to 9 degrees. Mrs G. has begun knitting.

Update: make that £4 a punnet.

Wednesday, October 13

The average British man

... stands 5ft 9in tall and weighs 13 stone? Chelsea’s first team average out at the same weight – and they’re 9ft tall! OK, 6ft 1in; but still... Guess I’m not quite as average as I’d assumed? Mr man-next-door is aged 38, which – if current the trends continue – leaves him with little more than twelve years to accumulate a pension pot, or face the rest of his natural selling rawlplugs or marshalling supermarket trolleys. Then again it could be worse: ‘Insecure, scared and very pissed off’. Whilst I take what’s presented in Paul Mason’s American odyssey (BBC Newsnight and Guardian) with a large pinch of salt, he portrays a much sharper edge to the concept of a squeezed middle. It’s a pity our media doesn’t make more of an effort with mainland Europe. I’d love to know what the picture looks like in our own backyard listen to our Teutonic neighbour’s take on the situation, for instance. We seem to be fed a more comprehensive picture about what’s happening on the ground in America and China than in the suburbs and cities of our economic partners.

Monday, October 11

Sheep and goats

Fairness and equality returns to the fore with the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s latest audit, confirming what I long suspected: we’re all closet Guardianistas (though Norman Tebbit would beg to differ). Most of the report is doubtless self-serving and repeats the blindingly obvious. Gender equality has improved the lot of middle-class girls at the expense of working-class boys; girls of Chinese descent – either through parental ambition, or driven by a desire to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their parents – make excellent students. Literacy, like football, doesn’t come easy to the Welsh; and British Pakistanis drive taxis because employers favour Eastern Europeans. Teaching, it seems, is a perilous occupation for gays; and whilst everyone has gay friends, they’d rather not know what goes on behind closed doors. The report determines that if you’re a black lad living in Rhyl on free school meals and your foster mother’s an unemployed lesbian tinker in a wheel-chair, life is unlikely to be a bed of roses.

Sunday, October 10

Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods

The state of the yard seems at odds with the barbeque autumn that’s forecast. Whilst today’s temperature is expected to climb into the 70s – and yes, half-a-sheep is already marinating in a slop of garlic and rosemary – outside is laid waste. The trees have finally ceased their furious threshing, leaving our plague of toads, lizards and miscellaneous fungus buried beneath a mantle of decaying leaves. The blood-orange fly agarics are even more conspicuous, their colour a too early reminder of Christmas and all that entails. Despite assurances that boiling in water renders the stools harmless I’m reluctant to experiment with their potential for culinary or hallucinogenic means. Together with the sour stench emanating from the nettles the scene is straight from a Heaney poem and echoes of the ponds and mine-spoil wilderness of pre-residential Bentley Common. If there’s a legacy to our stay at the barn, thanks in part to our largess with the seed, it will include a significant increase in the sparrow population. A sizeable flock now flits amongst the bramble and hawthorn, seemingly to the detriment of the blue tits. I guess it’s difficult to favour one particular group without impacting on another. Back to the life-ain’t-fair bit again.

Friday, October 8

Jaywick Sands

I can just about recall the summer exodus from Tottenham to Jaywick Sands when we were kids. Time hasn’t been kind to the place.

Back online

The only part of the Conservative Party conference I caught was Cameron’s speech. He sounds a relatively affable type, yet much as I’d like, I can’t warm to the lad. His speech seemed directed at the coalition in the spirit of consensus and was pitched over the heads of his own party members, at voters. On the face of it, ‘Don’t pin the entire blame on Labour, you all had your hands in the till’ appears a novel way of winning friends and influencing people, but hey, whatever works for you. Since the world came crashing down life has become all about fairness. I’ve been around long enough to appreciate this is just another way of telling us the government wants your money in order to give it to someone else. Cameron seems to be promoting fairness in the same way religion sells an idea of paradise: soak up the pain and it will come good on the night. I should be so lucky. Life, as with golf, isn’t fair; it never has been and never will be. How you deal with this immutable truth, now there’s the rub.

Monday, October 4

Even more doubtful outlook

I’m not sure if it was last night’s curry or Saturday’s Scottish-couscous that has me slurping Gaviscon this morning. Roast chicken’s not quite the same without it, but oatmeal – especially when eaten along with turnips – plays havoc with the digestive system. Mondays aren’t my favourite day of the week at the best of times. Then again, whilst Blues lost on Saturday, at least we’re not Roy Hodgson in disguise. If you’ve been following what the IMF and Joe ‘Mr Death Spiral’ Stiglitz are forecasting, we might as well be. I trust the lads at Celtic Manor can cheer us up. They need to, seeing this winter is forecast to be as bad as the last. Let’s face it, if you read everything the newspapers print you wouldn’t get up in the mornings.

Sunday, October 3

Doubtful outlook

I can’t see the Ryder Cup being settled today. The weight of rain falling on the thatch this morning, and which is heading across the Bristol Channel towards Celtic Manor, means only more sales for ProQuip’s concession stand.

Friday, October 1

With hey-ho, the wind and the rain

Listening to the Ryder Cup on Radio 5 live is mildly entertaining (seems Tiger Woods isn’t exactly a media darling). Suspension of play should hardly surprise: it RAINS in Wales. Always has. Why the Cup doesn’t decamp to Mediterranean shores I’ll never know. A mixture of money and Buggins’s turn I guess? Mind you, it’s not much better here on the Ponderosa. Leaden skies and saturated fields; persistent down-the-back-of-your-neck, rather than stingy-face rain. As with the spectators at Celtic Manor, you get on with it, with life. At the end of the day what’s a little rain? Yeah, right: ask me again come April and I’ll probably be less sanguine. Traipsing around the farm on days like this you can be forgiven for wondering what induced us to come here in the first place, to adopt our reclusive lifestyle. And then you recall last night’s Question Time and Andrew Neil’s This Week, and lingering doubts fast disappear. You can’t but despair at the great unwashed, the visceral hatred of guys like Brian Cox, and the unremitting banality of Diane Abbott. How can you not be underwhelmed by Oona King? Then this weekend we exchange Harman for Theresa May ... Argh! Where’s the fool when you need him.