Tuesday, August 30

Lazy and patronising

‘I want to be like Bill Nighy when I grow up’ (Telegraph review). I suppose I can see the appeal, but it’s a dangerous game – only marginally the right side of old fart swinging the lamp. My default reaction to Page Eight – twenty-minutes in – was to switch off. Hare’s production is hackneyed, out of date and clichéd in the extreme – anti-American, anti-Israel, rendition, torture... Grief, give it a rest. In the end I relented and watched the film on iPlayer. Very BBC – you just knew the £60k was going into a Waitrose bag and not one from Tesco. It wasn’t so much the cast of frighteningly needy and neurotic women, but more the stereotypical Johnny Worricker: that traditional English mixture of self-deprecation and vanity, dressed up as a pretentious jazz-loving art enthusiast who drinks whisky and drives an old Saab. Where haven’t I seen that before?

Out and about

Bank holidays...where do all these people come from? From the accents and vehicle registration plates, I guess just about everywhere. Yesterday we settled for a picnic in the company of sheep at Huntington Warren Farm. Large portions of roast beef sandwiches. I had barbequed a rib of beef that’d been languishing in the freezer since the Devon Show. This particular area of South Dartmoor is a relatively out-of-the-way area, free from maddening crowd – Skylarks and wheatears, with glorious views all the way to the Teignmouth estuary. Fresh air and physical exercise: slept for eight hours. A welcome rest as these are busy times.

Saturday, August 27

Exotic migrants

Swallows have begun massing outside on the telephone lines. The swifts left some time ago and are already sunning themselves in Africa. Atlantic bonitos, however, are swimming in the opposite direction. A rare species for our waters, one was caught this week off the Cornish coast. There was also news of big cats, with evidence of a leopard living wild in north Devon. Wallabies, too, have been sighted in the area. I hear they pick raspberries during the summer and work behind reception desks in local hotels.

Thursday, August 25

Debt and retribution, or not

I do try to understand. I listened to yesterday’s debate from the LSE, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was a straight Keynes Vs. Hayek contest chaired by that nerk Mason. What puzzled me was neither side appeared to acknowledge the probability that, either as individuals or as an economy, we would be so much poorer in the future. Both seemed to assume that if ‘their’ path was followed, fingers crossed, it would be onwards and upwards again. Redwood writes this morning in advance of Bernanke’s appearance. He makes the point that more than one Dollar in three currently being spent by the Federal Government is borrowed money. I acknowledge our own position isn’t too different; likewise, that we have to keep the show on the road a while longer if only to give our lords and masters more time to perfect their exit strategy. But at what stage do we bow the inevitable; is there an inevitable? Is it a case of tiptoeing along, quietly inflating the problem away? When do they let us, the public into their secret? And is any of this worth losing sleep over?

Wednesday, August 24

Weather, not Tuscany, is the British obsession

The runner bean glut continues to fire the imagination. We haven’t got as far as covering them in custard but it comes close. A rare run out for the barbeque yesterday, before I lose my touch. I’ve ten bob on the weather improving the very day the kids are due back in school. If I recall correctly it was the same last year. Every holidaying family I met was on the phone to a travel agent, booking an October break in the Spanish sun. Watching last night’s opening scene from Andrew Graham-Dixon’s The Art of Russia in itself justifies a trip to a warmer climate. Dostoyevsky may have been correct in his assertion that, to the rest of the world, Russia is an unknown, unexplored, enigmatic and mysterious country, but the mere sight of it freezes your socks off...makes the Scottish climate look positively Mediterranean. I hope Samuel Eto’o knows what he’s in for. Despite the ingratiating charm, Francesco da Mosto’s preceding journey through Tuscany and Umbria was almost as watchable. If I ever manage to stir myself into travelling again it will be for a grand tour of my own.

Saturday, August 20

Russian roulette

As a way of jazzing up supper you can’t beat a side order of Padron Peppers. I picked up a bag from the Quik-E-Mart yesterday and they’re a lot of fun. On the face of it, Padrons are just small, sweet green peppers that you fry in olive oil and sprinkle with rock salt. However, about 1 in 30 turns out to be explosively hot. Last night’s meal turned into a scene from The Deer Hunter.

Wednesday, August 17

Still eating

I strive to be a glass-half-full type, but with this morning’s mist and the frost-like appearance of the dew on the grass, my mind is already turning to autumn...winter, even. Let’s face it: so far it hasn’t been much of a summer. I say so far because September often rides to the rescue. Not that it’s affected the neighbour’s allotment. We’re already knee-high in runner beans and courgettes. And as we discovered last year, there’s quite a lot you can do with beans and courgettes (only another six jars to go). Have recently taken to procuring our lamb from a different farmer; Suffolk cross and highly recommended. Tonight’s supper includes the leftovers from yesterday’s roast, along with a South American inspired sweet red pepper, garlic and chilli dressing and/or pomegranate and parsley flavoured Greek yoghurt. Of course it wouldn’t be quite be the same without large portions of sautéed courgettes and runner beans.

Monday, August 15

Moral collapse

If the initial response to the debate is anything to go by, harking back to the good old days has returned to fashion. Memories can be selective, however, and I suspect what constituted ‘good’ in times gone by probably falls well short of contemporary expectations. When I was born the population was defined as 70% working class and 28% middle class. In 2011 the direct reverse is true. People hope for more from life. Back then many didn’t expect a lot and were rarely disappointed. I guess you could argue that life, for us, has been a pleasant surprise. I doubt the current generation are so easily satisfied.

Whilst it’s become a truism that baby boomers have had it all, when I left school less than 10% of kids went on to university. Of course you need to balance this with England winning the World Cup and decide whether it was a worthwhile trade. Nowadays it seems everyone goes to university and England can’t win shit. I wonder which generation will prove the happiest.

Although a lack of discipline in schools is held as partly to blame, I’m not so sure those beatings with the tawse did much good. As with ASBOs it was more a badge of honour than deterrent. And whilst parents were probably stricter, peer groups – like today – were often the determining factor. The most effective discipline I can recall as a teenager – whether in the workplace or on the streets – were adult males, their readiness both to serve as role models and to give you a smack when you stepped out of line.

A moral collapse or the inability of John Terry and Wayne Rooney to do the necessary: your call.

Saturday, August 13

Escape from the country

A birthday seemed as good a reason as the riots for making ourselves scarce this week. Television coverage is the new soap; sanctimony knows no bounds. Penzance and its immediate environs were as far as we got – Newlyn, Mousehole and St Ives. As you would expect, for August, there was no shortage of other people taking a break...primarily the type whose children are more likely to deface cenotaphs than burn down shopping centres.For me, fish is one of the principal local attractions. There’s plenty of it and it doesn’t necessarily cost the earth. Called in at one or two of the usual watering holes, walked miles, paddled in the sea. In an effort to placate Fernley-Whittingstall, and for the fifth (and last) time, I ate pollock. Dreadful stuff; you wouldn’t feed it to a cat. Whilst I usually breeze through these landmark birthdays, this time it hurt. Truth to tell I’m pissed at turning 60. They say 60 is the new 50, but almost overnight I appear to have morphed into a grumpy, white-haired doppelganger of Spencer Tracy, circa Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. I’m not a happy bunny.

Tuesday, August 9

Back to the future

For all of the recent focus on rural crime in our local press, having your motor keyed or mower half-hinched sort of pales in comparison to the current troubles in the old neighbourhood. I was there first time around, in ’85, though back then I could run a lot faster. Just as sure as the mayhem will continue during coming days, so too will the hand wringing. Distributing more ping-pong balls and extra maths is unlikely to solve much of anything. Wherever the answers lie, they are well above my pay grade. Civil disturbances, market failures, famines and wars appear to be cyclical events that defy sure-fix solutions.

Friday, August 5

Busy on the roads

In what appeared to be a mass exodus from Baden-Baden I woke last weekend to discover the homestead had been invaded by a fleet of shiny black Volkswagens and BMWs supporting Deutschland plates. It seems the German-financed Euro is also doing its bit to support the southwest tourist industry. Today on Dartmoor it appeared the Netherlands turn, with one in five vehicles flying orange flags. Unbelievably (or not, given my track record), I tore another tyre. Whatever my next vehicle, it most certainly won’t be fitted with low-profile tyres.

Tuesday, August 2

Running against the wind

I’m older now but still running...Given that next week I qualify for free prescriptions, August ushers in the obvious nostalgia fest. It kicks off with a Bob Seger retrospective over the office stereo. Not sure why the 70s still holds sway, other than fond memories of the irresponsibility of those times. Much is made in the newspapers about the future pension shortfall of current twenty-somethings. As if the subject ever crossed our minds, back then. At that age we were still in the ‘Hope I die before I get old’ mode. As Plan A didn’t work everyone is now scrambling to accommodate Plan B.

Pensions minister Steve Webb can harangue young people as much as he likes, but when all they see is plummeting stock markets, view government bonds as damaged goods and receive scant reward for their hard-earned savings (let’s not get started on currency devaluation or 5% inflation), falling on deaf ears is what springs to mind. If you woke up tomorrow and decided to invest in allotments, sure as the sun rises, potato blight would arrive on the next bus...In such an uncertain future a return to hanging appears the common consensus. Next it’ll be Christians and lions.

Monday, August 1

Moving stuff around

Another laptop bites the dust. As with motor vehicles, they don’t make ’em like they used to. Three years seems the average life span. Still, let’s not complain. Replacements – whilst not exactly cheap-as- chips – are a lot more affordable than in the past. You can currently buy a half-decent machine (I don’t play games) for £5-600. My first laptop cost £2,500 (when two and a half grand was a lot of money) – and its computing power was less than a Casio watch. There’s a corner of the office that acts as a graveyard for old machines (I’ve never worked out how to dispose of them without the risk of someone recycling my life). Pride of place remains a Psion Series 5 and a Series 7. You can forget your iPads; these were so user friendly, so tactile, there was a time I couldn’t leave home without one or other. Given sufficient space to attach travel stickers they would resemble the exterior of an Edwardian steamer trunk.

Despite a passing interest in techie things I’ve never been able to make the jump to an eBook reader. Prior to our last move I retired about fifty-percent of my reading material. As the remainder is still in cardboard boxes, somewhere in the deeper recesses of the barn, to tide me over until we move on I have acquired another 150 or so. I didn’t mean to, they just crept up on me. But now that I’m back to manoeuvring around pillars of paperbacks it’s probably time to take a second look. As the sort of lad who downloads newspaper articles in order I can set about them with a yellow marker pen the odds are still against it.