Tuesday, July 31

Old days

After a particularly arduous morning I have retired to watch the Olympic eventing competition from Greenwich. Following the action on television affords an opportunity to converse a little more knowledgeably with our horsey neighbours, whilst also allowing me to reminisce – supping, as I am, a glass of Meantime London Stout. Meantime’s flag ship Greenwich Union used to be our local; over the years we outlasted seven landlords, prior to the current management. I note the bar food has changed somewhat.

Sunday, July 29

Moving target

It’s difficult to determine the enemy, the focus changes with each outrage. Slugs and moles are always high on the list, as are snails.

Saturday, July 28

Chicken shelter

Ok so it’s not Taylor Wimpey, and would probably be marked down by master carpenter brother-in-law, but I am quite pleased with what must be my first project since that letter rack in third-year woodwork class.

Thursday, July 26

Over-engineered and undeliverable

I have to say, the mini shelter for Mrs G’s chickens is turning out rather well. I set myself the challenge of building something from the scrap wood that litters the shed; what I presume to be the residue of my predecessor’s DIY projects. Whilst the shelter began life as a rather modest affair, as befits my talents, it has since morphed into something designed to cover the 100 year storm scenario. It’s sounder than the structure that houses my motor. My problem now is similar to the Gibb’s conundrum in NCIS. Never mind how the boats he builds make it out of his basement, how do I get this thing out of the shed.

Tuesday, July 24

‘Morally wrong’

... to pay tradesmen cash-in-hand, says minister. This is probably the moment those morally righteous prigs castigating Phillip Green and Jimmy Carr leave the room, because at one stage or another we have all been tempted. Whilst taking issue with the term ‘discount’ to describe a cash-in-hand transaction, I have to admit that at the outset I was rather attracted by the idea of taxes being raised from consumption rather than income. You get to keep a bigger percentage of the money you earn, and choose to spend it yourself, rather than allow an expense-fiddling politician to do it for you. OK so the rapacious hands of the Chancellor will doubtless confiscate the money one way or another, but at least you get to hang on to it for a while. However, that was some time ago, when we were talking 10% VAT. The current 20% takes a significant slice of the net earnings you had set aside to cover excise duty. I guess at the end of the day – as with the calculation Osborne made when reducing the top level of income tax to 45% – there comes a point at which people elect to work less or spend less, and revenues fall. Unfortunately the poor schmucks at the bottom don’t always get to choose, and morality becomes a luxury they can’t afford.

Monday, July 23

... and the livin' is easy

Today must be the warmest we’ve experienced since moving to this neck of the woods. I’ve spent most of the afternoon working on a mini field shelter to prevent Mrs G’s chickens laying coddled eggs. After the last six months weather I’m not complaining, am only too happy to apply a layer of sun block on top of the insect repellent. Not that you’d want to repulse the beautiful damselflies that fraternise among the lily pads, nor the long-bodied, giant-eyed dragonflies emerging from beneath the surface of the pond. In almost any direction you care to gaze there are rabbits and squirrels, butterflies and wrens...and, after the weekend, peace and quiet.

Sunday, July 22

Everything arrives at the same time

With Olympic Games in the offing, what a weekend this has been for sport enthusiasts: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France, Ernie Els the Open (Monty eat your heart out), and Alonso triumphing at Hockenheim. Of course even I couldn’t put a positive spin on the prospects for Team GB’s footballers. Contrast Tom Hiddleston’s Henry V performance last night with Gigg’s clamped-jaw approach to our National Anthem prior to the Brazil game. Prick. Truth to tell, compelling as the action from Royal Lytham was, today’s weather is too good to ignore. Summer has arrived big time and it would be criminal not to take advantage. I barbequed a giant rib of beef...it’s been a while. Please let it continue for a few days.

It streaks by, and memories fade

You wonder where it went, and why you didn’t pay more attention as life went streaking by.

Thursday, July 19

Life is most often a lottery

... than reward for good behaviour. If today’s lunchtime session is to be believed the evils of strong drink are being patently ignored by our senior crew. We ate lunch today at a packed Platters Restaurant (turning them away at the door), and were surprised to find ourselves amongst the youngest of the diners by a decade or two. Whatever it is that people have chosen to forgo in these dire economic times it ain’t a bottle of vino. The restaurant has a nice old fashioned feel; faded but comfortable, with good food and decent service. The sort of place you’d expect to settle the score with Virgil ‘The Turk’ Sollozzo. It’s worth remembering Al Lettieri died of a heart attack aged 47. I think the motto is to enjoy yourself while you can.

Wednesday, July 18

Middle distance runner, me?

On the eve of the Olympics the Lancet weighs in by publishing a study that asserts a lack of exercise is causing as many deaths as smoking around the world. Do they ever give it a rest? You have to die of something. The BBC has a gizmo which provides an indication of where you are on the global fatty stakes. Given the quantity of food I consume, not to mention the ale, Gudgeon is surprised to learn he has an estimated 20 bmi on the obesity index: lower than 98% of the UK’s population, lower than 83% of the World’s population of similar age and gender – and that I most likely resemble someone from Kenya. Given there’s some 37 different ethnic groupings in Kenya it leaves me plenty of scope. A sun tan would be nice just now, as would the ability to run like the wind – and I do like banana beer. However, just because you’re a skinny runt it doesn’t follow you are fit and active. Like most, I still spent too much time on my butt.

Silage and the price of milk

... were two of the subjects covered at last night’s session in the Dog & Duck. Though in fairness to the regulars the conversation did touch on aspects of morality, justice, beauty, consciousness and knowledge ... and whether Andy Caroll is worth twenty million smackeroonies. The one thing we could all agree on is that life is rarely as clear and straightforward as it once seemed.

Thanks to fog, this morning’s visibility across the moor was less than 40yds – and that was before the horizontal drizzle arrived. Having jettisoned my specs (useless in rain) I blundered into a herd of Highland cattle. Seriously large beasts – crossbreeds I guess, equipped with magnificent horns. It gave renewed emphasis to the expression ‘poke in the eye with a blunt stick’. They tell me parts of the Highlands haven’t seen rain for the past three months. Let’s hope this current downpour, as forecast, will soon be on its way north.

Tuesday, July 17

The fun days

Hoo-effin-ray. Though it’s taken twice as long as I’d promised, the new electric fence is installed and working. Merely unwrapping the damn thing and laying it out on the yard led to a succession of comic bird’s nest snarls and accompanying profanities. Inserting the tread-in posts into Dartmoor’s granite strewn ground was also a challenge, as was the realisation I required double the number of supports to cope with our prevailing south westerly winds. However, the fun really started once I’d connected the juice. You wouldn’t appreciate how easily these things short. According to my testing unit’s 1-10 scale a 2 was the maximum charge achievable, something unlikely to worry your average vole let along the succession of foxes that trawl through the yard. Given I’ve witnessed one of them chewing the hind leg off of a neighbour’s sheep, Mrs G’s chickens would be little more than...well, chicken feed. After a two-day struggle and one or two enhancements the fence is now reading a credible 9 on the flashing-light meter, and – given the additional posts and tension wires – is reminiscent of a cold war checkpoint. All that’s required is a cardboard cutout of Richard Burton.

Monday, July 16

Wildlife apocalypse

According to the National Trust unless you are a snail or a slug this is almost apocalyptic weather for wildlife. Where are the hedgehogs when you need them? At least yesterday’s spell of sunshine encouraged the butterflies and ladybirds, whilst thistle patches entertained plenty of white-tailed bumble bees. Thankfully the midges are less of a nuisance this month, and there are fewer flies than I can recall in recent years. If robins are a measure of garden birds’ health I can’t see a problem as we have three rival families producing an endless stream of mottle-brown juveniles. And the swallows didn’t return to South Africa after all: having gone missing for a couple of weeks they’ve since returned to the shed. One of the resident pipistrelle bats crash-landed but we managed to relaunch it from the roof. Would that everything was so easily fixed.

Sunday, July 15

Crop rotation

Today’s glimpse of the sun meant I could temporarily swop my fleece for a t-shirt, a rarely-used pile of which sit forlornly in the cupboard, newly laundered to the bottom, next-on on top. As I’m never one to quit on a garment, today’s blast-from-the-past came embroidered with the motif ‘Pat Magee’s Surf Shop’. Whilst it must have taken some time to progress to the top of the heap, the shirt is testament to the quality of Fruit of the Loom apparel, having been purchased 30-odd years ago in Port Aransas. It still fits, as do my denims, a mere 20 years old. If you keep stuff long enough it becomes fashionable again; unfortunately you don’t.

Village Proms

Galvanised by Friday’s televised first night of the 2012 Proms, last night we attended a concert given by another of the local singing groups. Their programme, Masters of the King’s Music, featured the work of Purcell, Elgar and Handel (along with Weelkes, Williams, Byrd, Tallis and Davies). Entertainment aside I had wondered at the general standard of other choirs in the immediate area, and this one didn’t disappoint. They came mob-handed, so to speak, with their own orchestra. The line-up featured a number of old favourites, not least – given the recent Queen’s Jubilee (and the footy) – a spirited Zadok the Priest, and concluded after two hours with a rousing performance of the Hallelujah Chorus. The audience was almost as interesting as the choir. It could have been lifted from the set of Midsomer Murders. Pity our subsequent takeaway meal from the local ‘Chinese’ wasn’t of a similar standard to the music. It was the first carry out I can recall eating since our last visit to Rosemount Viaduct, some considerable time ago.

Thursday, July 12

Mine's a pint

I’ve downed some excellent ale recently; there really has been a renaissance in the brewing industry this past decade or so. It would be nice to say the standard of pub food has improved in tandem with the liquid refreshment, but then there are lots of things you would wish on an ideal world. I’ve always assumed a decent pint was the result of earnest endeavour and no little skill; conversely, your average plate of food appears a confluence of lowest common denominators. We have eaten out several times this past couple of weeks and little was worth returning for. But you do, if only for beer.

Whilst it’s taken me five years and countless disappointments, I have discovered a local butcher capable of producing edible faggots. You wouldn’t think a dish of minced offal would prove so elusive, but there you go. Cue large portions of marrowfats and mashed spuds.

Wednesday, July 11

Grumpy old man

I’m so pleased I found time to attack the grass yesterday. You can’t afford to spurn the opportunities presented by an occasional break in the clouds. Amongst the fleeting imponderables that occur when you find yourself physically engaged but mentally redundant – that fill the void: Why do slugs eat our courgettes but not the lettuce; how can five small ponies produce such a humongous pile of manure; what is the purpose of moles, other than to piss you off; what is it exactly that fosters our Victor Meldrew side, the predisposition to grumpiness? My list in response to the latter, at the very least, produced a wry smile.

Monday, July 9

Lords reform

Although we are not so directly affected as farming neighbours, the weather continues to frustrate our day-to-day activities. That’s us, by the way: beneath the Met Office’s red blob. Not that old chestnut again you cry. However, as mundane a subject as the weather may be, it is difficult not to comment on the effects of each successive storm or deluge, the ongoing consequences of our enduring low pressure system. Who’d have thought the jet stream would loom so large in our national consciousness. Then again, in these difficult economic times, the floods must be a boon to carpeting and furniture manufacturers. I’m just pleased we took care of the drains and soakaway last autumn, the water that has been running off the moor and past our door is a sight to see. All we have to do now is fix the roof. Given what’s going on in most people’s life I have to wonder at the preoccupations of our lords and masters. Do they ever stop and consider what percentage of the rank and file bothers to listen, and is our apathy the root cause?

Friday, July 6

English summer

Ah the pleasures of an English summer, a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Damn it, it’s July – and we have just taken delivery of another lorry-load of firewood. You have to keep the home fires burning in order to air the house, central heating isn’t quite the same thing. Morale is all in these conditions, and supplies from one of our favourite market stalls – along with a bottle of Sicilian vino, allows us to imagine a more Mediterranean climate. Whilst it’s true the outside has never looked so green, straw-coloured vegetation would be a lot more comforting. Needless to say local businesses are struggling to promote the brand; unless you seek the isolation of a partially submerged caravan in some far corner of a farmer’s field this isn’t the place to be. Thanks partly to regular infusions of comfort food and large portions of fruit cake it ain’t all bad. I’ve lots to read and a backlog of chores to occupy myself with, and if I become too melancholy (our swallows have fledged and buggered off back to South Africa), there’s always the Dog & Duck.

Wednesday, July 4

Rotten tomatoes are cheap

Barclay’s Bob Diamond was a revelation. I’m still not sure if he’s as dumb as he appeared in front of the Commons Committee or whether the performance was a clever ruse. I suspect somewhere in between, and that the Bobs of the world live on a different planet from the rest of us. Finkelstein wrote a decent article in today’s Times, proffering some advice to the banking industry. ‘This is not a PR disaster. It’s a disaster...You need to understand what the public cares about and how they think...You think it will blow over. It won’t blow over.’ The British public may not riot in quite the same way as they did in the 19th Century, but – thanks primarily to our economic troubles – we still want our piece of flesh. Someone somewhere has to carry the can for our misfortune, and bankers are as good a bet as any. The political class, who should also be in the frame, are only too happy to acquiesce in pointing the finger. That the rest of us were too comfortable to bother our arse about the way things were going this past decade or two is neither here nor there. Come on, let’s be honest, did we really think the government could throw all that money about and not wonder where it came from. Unless Cameron et al can conjure a credible response to assuage public scepticism we’re in for another £X million public inquiry. There’s a train of thought that suggests the old ways have a lot to recommend them.

It’s come to this...

From 60’s narcissist teenager and Hendrix devotee to the realisation – when driving into town this morning (moleskin trousers, flat cap and cardigan) – that there is a Bachelors CD in the dash and I am belting out Ramona to the bemused sheep. If he heard me Louis Gilbert would be turning in his grave.

Monday, July 2

On boats and stoats

It’s wet enough to imagine life on a narrow boat moored halfway up the grand union canal. Ah, memories. In spite of the winds, however, the grey skies and non-stop rain – ground mists that dissolve into the low cloud, it remains beautiful outside. Every time I walk on the moor I come across something that excites. Today was a face off with a stoat. Not that stoats are particularly rare, but occasionally you come close enough to interact and allow yourself to imagine something more of the individual creature. I’m told stoats are skilful predators with as many adversaries as prey and that they lead correspondingly short lives. As such I am pleased to have been afforded the nodding acquaintance.

You cannot be serious

“Bloody bankers, it’s all the bankers fault,” rants my barber, this morning, when rubbing in the pomade. “Why can’t we send them to prison; they’ve robbed us?” Now I’d be amongst the first to cheer at the sight of Goodwin and McPlonker swinging from a gibbet at the side of the A68, but this banker shite is starting to wear thin. It goes on and on, as Mrs Doyle used to say, and it is starting to bore.

I’ve a tendency to bow to sages with superior knowledge and expertise, however, our financial commentators often leave me puzzled. Capitol Economics’ Roger Bootle, for instance, writing in today’s Telegraph. ‘Euro debt crisis: is complete pessimism justified?’ Whilst conceding there’s weakened demand in the economy, rather than admit we’ve been living high-on-the-hog, on tick – in what my father would have termed a fool’s paradise, and that we have to change our ways, Roger insists we should inflate demand through a programme of ‘increased public investment’. Public investment in what, exactly? Details, please – I can’t get my head around this sort of nebulous concept. From what I read in the papers we cannot afford the hospitals we’ve already built. In order to circumvent the reluctance of debt-laden banks to shell out, he says, we should establish new tax-payer funded ‘debt-free’ banks (ignore the contradiction), staffed by unsullied (know-nothing) personnel that are not weighed down by past mistakes (and free to make similar, or even more novel mistakes); and/or for our ‘audacious political leaders’ (another oxymoron) to invent totally new ways of bypassing banks in order to get tax-payers’ money out there, into the great, insatiable black hole. If not tax-payers’ money, asserts Roger, then alms from philanthropic nation-states in surplus (Germany, for instance; or on the hook to China or Russia?). The trouble with people who earn a living selling waffle to gullible institutions is that people – particularly politicians, lacking business experience/ experience per se – may actually act on their advice. I’ve reread the article a couple of times and can’t but suspect it’s a spoof; that Roger’s indulging in a bit of piss-taking and making fun of me. Then again, what do I know?

EUFA Euro 2012

Spain were/are sensational. It was a very good tournament with lots of entertaining football. You couldn’t but be disappointed with England’s exit; although less so, I imagine, than if you are German and were expecting to win – doubtless they will return a stronger force. The Italian supporters must hurt; the players looked as though they did. I know learning how to lose and then responding in a positive manner is part of what life’s about, but it doesn’t make the process pain free. From the comfort of my armchair both Ukraine and Poland appeared to have delivered the goods, the visiting fans that were interviewed certainly thought so. We’ll be meeting both countries again soon enough, in EUFA Group H.

Sunday, July 1

Turn up the heat

In this morning’s Times, Terry Wogan bemoans the absence, or rather the changing fortunes, of tinned sardines (and pilchards). Our lad obviously doesn’t do the weekly shopping, as most stores still carry a reasonable assortment. The quality, however, differs enormously, and the adage, that you get what you pay for, generally applies. That said, for most of us, £5/tin is a bit rich, and unnecessary if you are mashing, refining and spreading on toast (or the insides of crust-free sandwiches for the Royal Box). Whilst Spain and France produce some of the superior examples, the Cornish, too, do a nice line in the pilchard stakes, rebranding them as Cornish Sardines in response to our aversion to the term pilchards. Just now, given the weather, Cornwall is the last place I want to be. For the first time in 10 years I feel like boarding an aeroplane and flying to M├ílaga.