Saturday, April 30

Best of British, and foreign influence

I gambled that most people would stay home yesterday, to watch the wedding on television. The annual Exeter Food Festival proved too much a draw however, falling as it does on a public holiday. Installing a large screen and some fine weather only enhanced the attraction. There were lots of union flags and festive cheer, and little evidence of militant atheism or republican sympathies. Let’s face it: who could fail but to be impressed by such pomp and ceremony. It was gratifying to note we still do certain things well. When the crowds became too heavy we loaded up with goodies from the food stalls, and returned home to dine on (French) champagne, Polish-style bread and continental-inspired charcuterie.

Friday, April 29

Steady, The Buffs

Another royal wedding; another era beckons? This afternoon – courtesy of some wonderful food and the Quik-E-Mart’s champagne special – I sat slumped through a repeat of an old David Lean film, ‘This Happy Breed’. Tell me, exactly, what has changed over the years?

Tuesday, April 26

Memorable days, memorable games

Spent part of what turned out to be an enjoyable day walking across one of the seemingly less-inhabited parts of southern Dartmoor – disused tin workings and china clay pits. Perfect terrain for such as yours truly, with wonky knees and a growing aversion to steep inclines. That said, there were still marshy stretches, which – given Mrs G. had elected to go with bare feet/walking sandals – meant I ended up piggybacking the good lady through the morass. Then a long drive home, to kebabs and beers, Man Utd v Schalke 04 on the wireless. The only time I’ve been to a game in Gelsenkirchen was for the first leg of the 1970 European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, between The Royal Blues and Joe Mercer’s Manchester City – dim, distant days of Colin Bell and Franny Lee. Fun days; the currywurst days. Have you noticed how everything appears wine and roses when viewed through the haze of nostalgia.

Monday, April 25

Enjoying the moment

The sheep have already graduated to distant pasture. They’re a smelly bunch this year; a stroll across the fields necessitates Wellies. We could do with a rain shower to freshen things up. Whilst I haven’t seen any figures, and if our local reservoir is to be believed, water shortages could well be a feature of this summer. For now, though, the weather remains a pleasant interlude.

Wednesday, April 20

A practise weekend

Another I got wrong. I thought it was quiet for an Easter weekend...and that was, of course, because Easter falls this weekend, dumb schmuck that I am. The duck was excellent however; ditto an Argentine Malbec that came my way. Sheep have returned in numbers and it’s the set of The Sundowners again. I celebrated by barbequing four-skewer’s worth of lamb kebabs. The number of visitors has also grown exponentially over the last three days; everyone is driving too fast/too slow/in the wrong direction. They can’t believe their luck: glorious summer time. I’m off to buy a new deck chair for the yard.

Saturday, April 16


Feet up, read the newspapers. I’ve driven more than I care to recently. A mild touch of dromomania perhaps? The vehicle has taken a beating; can’t see it holding together much longer. areas explored, new pubs located. 14th Century or thereabouts is not uncommon, only these days they come with running water and occasionally, inside lavatories. Most times I’ve a tendency to look rather than touch: country pub atmosphere can be seriously overrated, and once or twice this past year I’ve been poisoned by poorly kept ale. I took off again yesterday but only to track down a decent duck for Easter. Chose to walk closer to home, ’cross the Ponderosa. Rewarded by the presence of a large red deer in the woods – a big beast, humongous. Witnessed a series of standoffs between rival cock pheasants, including a scarce black. Flies the size of small wrens! All but tripped over a gloriously-coloured dog fox. Mrs G. would pay good money for hair that shade; so different from the scabby-looking vermin in the city. And the air has that sweet scent of barley (fodder) and coconut (gorse). Everywhere, nesting birds, or rather, birds constructing nests. A semi-final day...must avoid applauding the wrong side.

Bull fighting

Roddy Doyle. Damn, he’s good – he’s grand. Hits the nail. Fuckin’ –. Had to drag my feet, read more slowly; ration the stories – savour the lines. How does he...? Must have been there himself? Jesus, but. Damn, he’s good – he’s grand.

Thursday, April 14

Melting pots

Trouble at immigration – Do you belong here? I guess we all have our stories about entering one or another country. But moving on...there used to be a rabbi who was a regular contributor to Thought for the day, many years ago. I recall him reminiscing about the atrocities inflicted on his people by their neighbours, a community in Eastern Europe, back in the 1930/40s. On reflection he thought their mistake had been to segregate themselves, to choose, over successive generations, to live apart from the mainstream population. When the shit hit the fan and people wanted to strike out, his family became an easy target. Subsequent experience of Britain’s ability to assimilate non-natives led him to conclude that it takes a minimum of three generations to become part of the natural fabric? At the time I suspected an element of wishful thinking in his supposition. One of the lads from the Dog & Duck moved here from a neighbouring county some 50 years ago: he jokes the local community, some of whose families have been village residents for hundreds of years, still kid him about being a Johnnie-come-lately. It may well be that, in another four decades or so, people will become English rather than British Afro-Caribbean or British Asian, but I won’t hold my breath.

Wednesday, April 13

When nothing happens

When examined in the context of our life at the barn my score on Sundberg’s Boredom Proneness Scale predicts cabin fever an inevitable consequence. It appears I’m barely one more winter away from Jack Nicholson and the Overlook Hotel. Fortunately for Mrs G. life is rarely as predictable as Toohey’s corn niblets, and given the weight of Boredom’s probabilities, along with my not-inconsiderable experience on the subject, I seem to be reassuringly ahead of the game. Fun read, and a perfect antidote to the usual existential guff. Given the current vogue for happiness indices Toohey seems to have launched his book at an especially propitious time. That said, I’d prefer people kept their happy-clappy stuff to themselves

Do I not like...

Neighbourhood sheep make the news. A sight to gladden Graham Taylor’s heart? The trouble comes at show time, when you have to remove the dye.

Tuesday, April 12

Shrinking market

Punch acknowledges the continued demise of the British pub. It’s been downhill for years: changing consumer behaviour. Exactly how many guys do you know stop off for 4-5 pints on the way home? Whilst the price of booze is an issue for many, a couple of days ago I visited The Valiant Soldier – a now defunct pub that closed in 1965, reinventing itself as a museum. The price-list behind the bar advertised a pint of bitter at 1/5½d and bottles of Heineken for 1/3d...and even at those prices it didn’t work. None of the younger crowd in the sixties wanted to drink alongside their granddads. I remember supping in a local back then which was a double for TVS: wooden bench-seats more suited to keeping a chapel congregation awake than punters savouring their drink, lino on the floor, brass spittoons, a grumpy old landlord in braces and slippers. Later, after a decade of keg beer and Golden Wonder crisps, everyone began reminiscing. In the 80s the breweries introduced faux olde-worlde interiors, though to less than enthusiastic acclaim. It wasn’t the same thing, probably because by then your granddad had died. My watering hole at South London Mansions went through eight landlords over the years, each forlornly tweaking the business model. In the end they succeeded by concentrating on the youth market – mostly students, seemingly the only segment with money to burn. That, too, a soon-to-be-lost revenue stream.

Resting up, again

Grief, what with the sunshine, the kids off school and early-season visitors, you can’t move for tripping over bodies. I thought it best to grab something from the market and beat a hasty retreat. As luck would have it the butcher came up with a decent leg of goat, which, after being subject to one of the Boss’s marinades and a subsequent rub, gives me something to barbeque for tonight’s supper. Cue large portions of Mexican Rice and a glass of Jose Cuervo.

Following yesterday’s jaunt (two days on the trot) I’m in need of another break. Seem to be more injury prone than Louis Saha. We were over on the far side of Dartmoor, and it wasn’t so much distance walked (nor the constant drizzle) as the succession of steep inclines, the wear and tear on my ailing knees. Our planned picnic was more a shelter from the storm than a Manet painting; the later session in the Dog & Duck a grave mistake. Fingers crossed I’m able to say the same thing thirty years from now.

In the years since we’ve lived here it would be true to say I’ve seem a policeman on foot or in a squad car roughly once each week. These last couple of months, however, I must have come across five Pandas every day. The cynic in me suspects a budgetary wheeze somewhere. Let’s hope they’re a bit sharper than the Essex Police.

Monday, April 11

Bad day at the office

I guess it’s reasonable to assume that McIlroy sank a consoling pint or two after yesterday’s round. Doubtless Chris Evans cancelled the piano. In the grand scheme of things...but then this train crash will follow him throughout his career, those missed putts resurrected by the media as frequently and gleefully as they reminisce about Norman’s ’96 Masters. At least the young lad was swanning around Augusta in the sunshine rather than being co-opted into spring cleaning. It’s amazing how the junk stacks up. I disposed of a small library’s worth of paperbacks when last we moved, only to have acquired another 200 or so since setting up our stall at the barn. Much of it recycled paper, recycled stories.

Sunday, April 10

Friday, April 8

Lull before the...

Turnout time brings the usual seasonal sales at Ike Godsey’s: fencing materials and water troughs, mag licks and worming solutions, grass seed and silage additives...The vet has joined in with a special offer on neutering, Clegg being the first in line. What a wuss. Exactly who does he play to?

I can’t get over the Mediterranean-like weather, though you can keep your swarm of flies. The yard is already carpeted with daisies and dandelions, the hedges, flowering blackthorn. I ran across to Buckfast on an errand yesterday and visitors are thick on the ground. Coach loads of pensioners, retired couples astride ginormous touring motor cycles. Everyone enjoying a respite before the schools break up. The Germans and Netherlanders have yet to arrive.

I finished Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns. It was a good enough read, however, the lad’s hardly Hilary Mantel, still less Patrick O’Brian. Given how much the novel was feted (Incredible scope and originality, imaginative brilliance, rare thing, tour-de-force, moving, thoughtful, pitch-perfect, original, achingly romantic, compelling, hugely enjoyable, masterpiece, thrilling, brilliantly realised, magnificent, exhilarating, emotionally engaging, fluent and daring, vastly entertaining, marvellously wrought, dazzles, unforgettable, brilliant, stunning, extraordinary, magic, riveting...) some disappointment was inevitable; though I suspect the author was always onto a loser with a Dutch hero: sound people, but – aside from that brief era of total football – hardly swashbuckling. The epilogue, when de Zoet returns to Middelburg, is the most affecting part of the book. It’s up there with Cormac McCarthy in its brutal depiction of man’s latter years.

Tuesday, April 5

Government guarantees health, wealth and happiness?

In an effort to placate middle-class voters not rich enough to afford their children a private education our lords and masters are to provide early-round byes on University Challenge and internships at the local DWP office.

That’s assuming the kids can get there: Oil prices have reached a record high in sterling terms. I’ve been averaging 120 miles/day this last couple of weeks and can vouch that a tank of juice is now £80. Little wonder sales at the Quik-E-Mart are suffering.

Monday, April 4

Social mobility

David Willetts campaigns to promote working-class boys ahead of middle-class girls. It doesn’t say that in such precise terms, but we know what he means.

Keep right on to the end of the road

Most of us want to work beyond 65 says Pensions Secretary. My only contention is with the word ‘most’. I’ve worked with men who only realised the mistake of staying on until their mid-sixties when subsequently discovering their bodies were (by then) too fucked to fully enjoy their retirement. They wished they had settled for less and quit earlier. Conversely, another forced into statutory retirement tried to jump from the office roof. For him, work was everything. It defined who and what he was in society, it was where his friends resided. Without a mandatory retirement age I also suspect there will be a lot of 30-somethings forced to languish in subordinate roles, whose ambitions will never be realised. And because of the log-jam, some graduates may fail to secure their first proper job until they are into their 30s. Of course there is no ‘one size fits all’, and yes, if you want to (or have to) work beyond 65 there shouldn’t be barriers to employment. However, I suspect I’m not alone in thinking Duncan Smith’s argument a tad disingenuous, that altruism is not his prime motivation.

Sunday, April 3

Still eating

Yesterday was our monthly visit to the farmers’ market. An opportunity to stock up on the basics: bits of rare-breed pig, various sheep parts, and a slab or two of beef. The two of us returned home, and, concerned about the amount of meat we consume, ate a steamed cauliflower (with cheese sauce) for supper. To celebrate Blues’ win over Bolton, today’s principal meal features the perennial midland’s favourite: roast pork belly. There are endless variations on the theme, and it’s just as good when stuffed with honey-soaked apricots and accompanied by expensive Hungarian wine, as when flavoured with fennel and matched with sauerkraut and pilsner beer. The first of our food festivals kicks off later this month...roll on summer. Whilst as enthusiastic about root vegetables as the next man, it will be nice to see home-grown asparagus, and a return to Mediterranean fare.