Monday, December 31

Haste ye back

I’ll miss it when it’s over: Christmas, that is. Our tree lights continue to sparkle and the kitchen remains lit up like the Arboretum illuminations. King’s College are still belting out Ding dong! merrily on high. I guess Mrs G. will be digging out her Jimmy Shand Jnr recording this evening; it’ll be the White Heather Club all over again. Hogmanay isn’t what it used to be, thank god. Tramping the streets for days on end, party to party, armed with little more than six cans of Tennent’s and a half-bottle of Famous Grouse.

Saturday, December 29

Where you find them

A stormy time, overnight. Continued heavy rain, trees blown down. We’ve lost a section of fencing – two sections. However, aside from a couple of leaks, the homestead remains standing. People less sanguine, of a certain stripe, would suspect the hand of Old Testament malice. The dim yellow-green light renders all but the immediate area black; whilst a wind nurtured amid the tors continues to bludgeon its way through what’s left of the holly and fir. Doors shake and beams creak. A delightful fragrance of wet sheep, sodden timber and rotting vegetation seeps in through vented windows. The footy is on the wireless and there’s a sizeable roll of brisket poaching on the stove – leeks, swede and carrots, naturally. You take your pleasures...

Friday, December 28

Selfish escapism over the holiday period

Exposure to your mother-in-law – virtually any relative – over the Christmas period, is injurious to your health. So they say. And today should be set aside for chilling in front of the television. Selfish escapism. On average we are expected to have already drunk the equivalent of 65 units of alcohol and participated in five arguments (presumably with relatives)...Little sister has this morning emailed me a copy of Grandfather Gudgeon’s ‘Band of Hope’ membership card (circa 1882). I assume it’s a pointer to my 65 units.

Bah! Humbug!

Simon Jenkins indulges his killjoy instincts in this morning’s Guardian – the old line about ‘fiddlin’ while Rome burns. His rationale is that popular will and a sophisticated democracy is an oxymoron, and the nine-billion smackeroonies would have been better spent on cod-liver oil. I don’t disagree with the premise that people shouldn’t do as I do but do as I say, but you have to throw them a bone occasionally. Given the distraction and supposed feel-good factor the Olympics generated I doubt there is a politician in the house who doesn’t believe it money well spent. And after all, it was our money, or at least money we borrowed and promised to pay back.

Wednesday, December 26

Boxing Day sales

Outside looks and sounds forbidding, gusting winds and lots of chilly wet stuff. Continued flood warnings...the possibility of a landslide or rockfall. Plagued by a conscience of excess however, I had little choice but to don the boots and make an effort. Once up on the moor and lost in the mist the elements don’t signify. Bliss. Mr G. aside I haven’t seen or heard anyone this past day or so. Come to that, apart from the chickens I haven’t seen a living thing since lunchtime on the 24th. What price the Boxing Day sales scrummage? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

After the Lord Mayor’s’s refried duck

The big day is over. And good riddance, you say. But damn it, I enjoyed myself (I wasn’t the one doing the cooking). My principal responsibility amounted to little more than opening bottles and stoking fires. Needless to say Santa did his duty. I received a twelve-month supply of personal grooming products and a tottering pile of reading material. After the last eight-hundred page Mantel I am sorely in need of Jack Reacher ... Most of our nine-pound bird remains intact, significantly less so the pudding. I suspect cold/refried duck (and eggs) will feature heavily over the next couple of days.

Sunday, December 23

Mustn’t grumble

Mrs G. wanted a duck for Christmas. Not just any duck: one that required a 75m round trip to her trusted supplier in the hinterland. At least our roads are clear, which is more than I can say for the rail-track that disappears beneath a Noah-inspired ocean. I doubt anyone is journeying here on a train. It appears just as bad at the other end of the country: Stonehaven, where we began married life, has flooded in sympathy ... I called in at the Quik-E-Mart for sprouts and mince pies on the way back only to discover a scene from Mad Max beyond the charcuterie counter. I can understand why the government is reluctant to offend the church, given their recent attempted stitch-up, however, limiting Sunday opening at such a late stage in the proceedings is a recipe for more disgruntled voters. I’ve now returned to the homestead. My feet are toasting in front of a roaring fire and I am supping a bottle of Burgundy’s finest. It has begun raining again.

Saturday, December 22

A home afloat

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet ... Ted Hughes

The volume control on my wireless has struggled to compete with the howling wind. And train passengers have been warned against travelling here, to the Southwest: wherever you were headed is probably under water. Not particularly helpful advice if you are en route to spend Christmas with the family. By any measure this has not been an especially pleasant day, albeit unlike Hughes all is sweetness and light on the domestic front. It’s been entertaining, watching Mrs G. struggle to cross the yard – blinding wet doesn’t do it justice. Saturday is usually the busiest day of the week hereabouts, what with riders collecting mounts from local stables, friends and family visiting neighbours, weekend walkers, etc. However, I haven’t seen a soul. Let’s hope the weather improves by tomorrow as we’ve a lot of ground to cover.

The turkey run

Given the weather, the last place you would choose to be today is up town on a last-minute hunt for presents and provisions – the so-called turkey run. Whilst we’ve still to purchase a bird for the table, our traditional seasonal dining extravaganza is set in stone. Yesterday and today – the initial two days – always features a baked ham, and there’s no shortage of eggs to accompany it. I had assumed the chickens – the egg production machines – would have dried up by now, however, if anything they’ve turned up the volume. When I opened up this morning it was still pitch black, blowing a gale and driving rain. But as soon as the hatch goes up they’re off, splashing through the pools of water, feathers flapping in the wind – it’s like an old-fashioned burlesque show.

Thursday, December 20

School dinners weren’t really like this

I must make the effort to have an early night. You sit gazing into the dying embers, too comfortable to get up, too lazy to climb the stairs. Before you know it, it is morning and…once more into the breach. Places to go and things to do! Hopefully none of today’s duties includes a lunch commitment. Wednesday’s was an old fashioned four-hour affair at a local establishment that continues to win plaudits, and rightly so. You are seated around benches of eight and share the table d'hôte. Even here in rural Devon I found myself the sole Englishman amid a horde of Celts. Really good food, you couldn’t fault a thing. I ate all that was featured on the menu including all three afters. A school-dinners atmosphere is reinforced by the oleaginous steamed-pudding and jug of custard. You keep telling yourself it’s only once a year and wash it down with a flagon of cider or bottle of the local vino. The BMA wouldn’t approve.

Wednesday, December 19

Wellies are back, big time

Misery of the floods returns … A fair amount of rain has fallen in recent days; the back route out is under water to hub height. The Met Office recently described our weather as almost tropical. They repeatedly tell us that one-fifth of the month’s rain fell in a day, but it’s the same story every week. If our rainfall pattern averages itself out I calculate we should remain dry from now until 2021.


Too many of us are eating unhealthy meals! The medical mafia seemingly does its best to annoy most everyone these days: but then I guess that’s what special interest groups are for. Even yesterday’s Times leader-column made reference to their latest promulgation on public health. I’m sure if doctors had their way the government would hang banners from our dining-room walls come Christmas Day warning about the perils of indulgence. I must admit to a certain excess in recent weeks. Giles Coren was reviewing one of the old stomping grounds in the weekend press...As great as these establishments are, however, I doubt we’ve eaten better than this past twelve months. It’s primarily down to the availability of local produce – along with our making the time to prepare, cook and eat the food. Cupboard shelves groan under the weight of partridge and quail, venison and lamb, cheese and chutneys. And we’ve visited some excellent restaurants, too – tapas, pies and cobblers are just a selection of the memorable dishes from this month’s excursions. As The Thunderer reminds us, eating is a pleasure as well as a guide to the state of our health. I’ve no doubt that growing up in post-war Britain had a major influence on my generation’s relationship with food. Damn we were hungry kids.

As with dogs …

Sprouts aren’t just for Christmas.

Sunday, December 16

No more woolly jumper

It turns out the enigmatic Sarah Lund is really Dirty Harry in disguise. Those ubiquitous international surveys we see so much of portray Denmark as one of the happiest countries in the world: but you wouldn’t suspect it from The Killing. Whilst everyone appears to live well and enjoys a relatively comfortable lifestyle, apart from the odd night at the Tivoli Gardens and an occasional bottle of Tuborg our European cousins appear to have little fun in their lives. I wonder to what extent these ordered Scandinavian societies so beloved of our leftwing establishment really do encourage the duplicitous conformity exhibited by the drama’s central characters. It would be frightening to think the only recourse available to righteous and non-righteous alike is a gun.

Friday, December 14

Hardly a multicultural hotspot

Melanie McDonagh pops up in today’s Spectator Blog with another contribution towards the census-inspired immigration debate. I say debate but in truth the conversation remains limited to muttering from the sidelines. The notion that immigration is good and opposition openly racist seems too embedded to be seriously questioned – even by Ed Miliband. In truth I find it difficult to be become engaged by the subject, buried as I am deep in the Southwest. Yesterday’s Guardian has an application that provides feedback from the census. It appears that whilst our immediate neck of the woods continues to experience a level of migration from elsewhere in the UK, the black and Pakistani community has dwindled to just 12 from each group; and although residents of Indian descent have soared over the past ten years by 150% to 115, the number of Sikhs has declined to 5.

Thursday, December 13

Misanthropic, moi?

For whatever reason – seasonal distractions, works’ lunches, stocking up on supplies and buying presents – posts tend to dry up this time of year. I am also desperate to finish my reading list before a new batch lands on the desk. Real-life demands have a habit of screening the world beyond the homestead. When I do find time to catch up with the pointless and predicable, what passes for news merely reinforces my prejudices. As long as there’s bread in the freezer and a bottle of Balvenie to hand civilisation as reported can take a flying...

Tuesday, December 4

The Fear

I’ve finally managed to catch up with the start of last night’s four-part gangster fest on iPlayer. You can’t knock Peter Mullan: he does what it says on the tin – and does it very well. If Bradley Wiggins was watching he probably thinks he got off lightly. However…the script; the supporting actors, most of whom were dire; those stereotype Albanians? The Fear is to drama as the Turner Prize to art. Just because you are operating on a TV instead of a film budget it doesn’t mean the production has to be third-rate. What a wasted opportunity.

Jingle Bells

We received our first Christmas card yesterday, hallmarked Gatwick – the traditional South London exodus to Cyrus. It appears the one area off-limits to a cut in domestic expenditure is our propensity to jet off to somewhere warm when the mood takes us. One more news bulletin about the Duchess of Cambridge and I may join them. I’m supposed to procure a Yuletide tree this week and am finding it difficult to get into the mood. Methinks it’s time to dig out the festive CDs and mulled wine.

Monday, December 3

Black autumn mornings

It was wild in the wee hours; I take on a thirty-degree list when stumbling across the yard to open the chicken shack. If you’re into ghost stories this is the place to be on black autumn mornings. The haze that shrouds the moon and banshee cry of western winds...those countless spectral forms that rise to greet you from the dark. Conan Doyle must have felt the same, though our neighbour’s howling mutt is hardly blood curdling. Another week: the challenges begin anew.

Sunday, December 2

On the edge of absurdity

This guy’s a favourite, he seems to pop up in every film I watch. A man after my own heart: I also wish I could live life with cue cards…always providing I get to pick the person who writes them.

Saturday, December 1

No rain today

A pleasant day up on the bleached-out moor. A dark sky, and a stong enough wind to ensure the sleet stings your face and brings a tear to the eye.