Tuesday, December 31

It’s Hogmanay: Mine’s a large one

The usual Hogmanay question: Do I go down the pub or stay home? There was a time I relished Hogmanay celebrations. Good ones would stretch to a 3-4 day binge. Whilst I enjoy a session in the Dog & Duck as much as the next man, in truth it’s for the company rather than quality of their booze. And right now a dish of Mrs G’s boiled beef and dumplings – a bottle of my own choosing – beats the pants off a fancy dress knees up at the local. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. A glib sentiment but true. Hogmanay has become a young man’s sport.

Monday, December 30

Duck-free omelettes

Yesterday the roads were covered by black ice; this morning they are under water. The yard resembles a war zone. As a sop to an ounce of prevention I prepare best I can, but the storms overwhelm; a lightning strike has taken out the neighbour’s utilities. On the plus side my stock of booze and firewood is holding up well. Last night saw an end to our duck. You can’t accuse us of not recycling, as the single, albeit sizeable bird provided roast dinners on Christmas and Boxing Day, special fried rice for Friday’s supper, and bowls of morale-boosting soup throughout the weekend. Despite having to learn to swim, the chickens have continued to lay throughout. So I guess today it’s a return to omelettes.

Saturday, December 28

Back to work

Although we have the New Year celebrations to look forward to, this morning feels like a winding down from Christmas – the point at which we cheerfully acknowledge it was a lot of fun but are glad the fun’s over. There’s a limit to the number of drinks you can swallow and pies you can eat, a noticeable lift of the spirits with the realisation we don’t have to sit through another rerun of The Shawshank Redemption. Given the quantity of oatmeal stuffing and Christmas pudding consumed it will probably take another week before I stop farting, but then that’s the reason Mrs G. purchased all those scented candles.

Friday, December 27

Best laid plans fail for good reason

Given what has been going on around the country, we appeared have been spared the worst. And after Wednesday’s surfeit of Christmas cheer, our day of gluttony, it was good to escape across the moor and give Mrs G. time to clean down the worktops, to dispose of the empties. Needless to say there weren’t many people about on Boxing Day, the sensible types electing to stay in bed and sleep it off. As the day panned out theirs appeared the sensible strategy. I was beat up enough on my return, without having next-door’s power giving out and my having to dig up a buried junction box. The day went downhill from there. What with crawling around in the mud and rain I was forced into three changes of clothing. All good fun of course. Such things are merely sent to try us, to ensure we don’t become too complacent in life.

Wednesday, December 25

South London Mansions

Life goes on. RIP Ron Noades, and the reprise of Alan Curbishley.

Tuesday, December 24

Best laid plans...

Thirty-two flood warnings issued for the region. Christmas: don’t you love it. By any standards it was crap in town this morning. The Quik-E-Mart was pure wind up, husbands despatched to pick up turkeys and buy parsnips being pitted against each other like the cast of Fight Club. I thought we had escaped the weather relatively lightly. However, wind had stripped the roof from both the chicken coop and the field shelter – and so the two hours I’d allotted for a lunchtime session at the Dog & Dog was spent rebuilding Done Peckin’. The roof, which takes a couple of people to lift, had cleared two fences before coming to rest. Needless to say it rained sleet throughout. A bottle of ale and slice of Mrs G’s fruit cake seems scant reward.

Monday, December 23

Home or away?

Damn it’s breezy out there (assuming a strong gale is classed as breezy). A river is flowing past the back door and heading downhill at a rate of knots. A further three-inches is forecast for today. Apart from an obligatory trip to the Quik-E-Mart I can’t see me venturing far. I trust there’ll be no Brick Lane vigilantes on the tills. A number of the neighbours are setting off to spend Christmas with distant relatives, which, given the state of the roads, is rather brave of them. But then I spent yesterday morning drinking coffee in another neighbour’s kitchen whilst listening to their plans for entertaining/accommodating several branches of the family tree during coming days. On balance you’d probably choose to brave the elements and avail yourself of other’s generosity rather than undertake the heavy lifting yourself. Whether you are scheduled to play home or away, this particular fixture is rife with danger.

Saturday, December 21

In the bleak mid-winter

Or should I say the first day of winter. Given our recent weather it doesn’t feel like we’re only now starting out. Fell out of bed at one minute before eight – a late night and it’s the weekend. This morning’s drive across the moor to Tavistock was worth a trip in itself, grim but pure inspiration. Mrs G. got her duck, which was the point of the outing. I say duck: its size suggests part ostrich. I stood and listened to the Sally Army Band for a half-hour whilst eating a whole Oakcroft pork pie in lieu of breakfast. Great pastry albeit heavy on the lard – not a politically-correct pie. Sauntered back home in time to catch the racing from Ascot and Haydock. Now then, where’s my checklist? Stocked larder: tick. Plentiful supply of hooch: tick. Giant stack of firewood: tick. Presents wrapped: tick. Guess I’m set for Christmas.

I’d comment on last night’s steak & kidney pudding but words can’t describe… And thanks to Andy for Bugle Annual.

Friday, December 20

Late night visitors

We received a visit from the police last night. Despite its rural isolation, Hound of the Baskervilles country, ghostly apparitions – opaque faces pressed against the window – aren’t a regular feature of the homestead. The men in blue were looking for a neighbour, and our rural byways and human habitation didn’t tally. Down there; you serious? They didn’t elaborate on the reason for their inquiry; given the time of year you assume a domestic – the pressures that accompany an uncooked turkey and too much Warninks.

Thursday, December 19

Surfacing for air

Capitalising on a break in the succession of passing storms it was good to get out on the moor. Wet and bleak would be an apt description. Fuckin’ cold would be another. Grim as the place can be at this time of year, I can’t think of anywhere I would rather reside; certainly not back at South London Mansions. An hour of Exeter’s foot traffic is sufficient to hasten me home. Our shopping is almost complete. The homestead’s larder is groaning under the weight of food, and the drinks cabinet is unlikely to embarrass when the neighbours call. Christmas lunch remains under review: we have two more farmer’s markets in which to decide. This evening is my turn at the stove: freshly-caught scallops (at least that’s what the fish monger claims) on a bed of saffron rice.

Update: As I suspected, the scallops were suspect. Thankfully I had acquired a bucket of raw shrimp that were begging to be peeled, deveined and fried in butter.

Sunday, December 15

Making myself useful

It’s a formidable challenge but I’m determined to survive Mrs G’s annual festive dineathon. So far I have faced down the traditional boiled ham – the carrots and parsley sauce, the sautéed potatoes and fried eggs, the endless sandwiches … Breezed through a fish pie, the bread-crumbed lemon soles and John Dory. And today we despatched her roast ducks. Ducks are a subject of their own and Mrs G. goes to extraordinary lengths to source the little suckers. They like most meals are a reservoir of memories, not least the naff décor of the White Tower. But then as with all such historic venues it is the companionable diners you recall rather than the restaurant; it is in such establishments they reside. I’ve more than a week of suet puddings, roasts and ragouts to overcome prior to the pièce de résistance – am obliged to rise to the trial with provision of suitable wines and dinner table repartee, the entertainment. You see I have my uses.

When it's gone...

The world moves on remorselessly. And what a world. Despite the odd hiccup, the general health, wealth and welfare of the rank and file continues to rise. Let’s face it: who of us – however fond the memories – would want to return to the 70s. That said life is relative, especially for privileged – and inevitably there is always someone grander motoring in along the turnpike. Andrew Marr bemoans the changing face of Mayfair and Belgravia in today’s Spectator blog. I like the lad, even if he is part of the establishment that make their living sneering at the sort of punters who support UKIP – those who rage against the loss of life as they’ve known it. And yet here he is. It seems immigrants are wonderful people providing they know their place and don’t shit in your particular neighbourhood.

Friday, December 13

What you would tell your 14 year old self?

According to the Spectator that is. For myself and off the top of my head:
  • Get the hell out of where ever it was you were born. 
  • Hard work and determination gets you everywhere.
  • Find something you enjoy doing and pursue it obsessively.
  • Look for a solid partner to balance your strengths. 
  • The counter punch is a respectable strategy.
  • Ignore Taki and leave the serious reading until you are older and wiser 
  • The clock is ticking, enjoy yourself. There’ll come a time to be boring. 
  • People tend to get what they deserve, don’t moan or blame others.
  • Shit happens. Develop a sense of humour.
  • Learn to play the piano and to hold your drink. 
  • Everyone at some stage makes a prat of themselves. 
  • Old boys are full of stuff worth knowing. 
  • Watch out for the lad at the next work-bench: he’s your biggest threat.
  • You have to save to accumulate.
(Truth to tell my original list reflected rather badly on me.)

The recuperative power of dairy-based beverages

A fierce wind is blowing down from the moor this morning and the rain has resumed its assault on our neighbour’s corrugated roofing. You have to guard against attacks of melancholy at this time of year. Although the festive season is a special occasion, indulgent and très enjoyable, memories can and do intrude – old acquaintances are brought to mind. Perhaps it’s why we suddenly develop an inexplicable taste for eggnog: it anaesthetises the past. Reading Cormac McCarthy novels rarely helps. I know the stories well enough – mine’s a sorry looking edition, full of those ‘life is hard and then you die’ kinds of thing. Much like myself the pages have become separated from the spine and are crimped at the corners. The hardest lesson in the world is that when things are gone they’re gone. They don’t come back.

Thursday, December 12

In the lap of the Gods

The Spectator’s Charles Moore suspects the Irish are fearful of Scots voting yes in 2014. I wonder what happened to Salmond’s band of happy brothers, the mythical Celtic/Viking commonwealth that stretched from Dublin to Oslo? The independence referendum seems a long time coming and viewed from the backwaters of southwest England appears something of a phoney war. I assume it will kick off in earnest next summer as we draw closer to the fateful day. The subject raised its head during our recent visit north of the border, not least with those relatives of a nationalist bent. They are wonderful people and I love them to bits, but as the rhetoric rises and the facial tics appear, you sense the advocates are barely two pints short of a Nuremberg Rally. That’s the problem with nationalism: it frightens the horses. If Scotland does vote yes in September I would like to think Edinburgh will continue to pay its share of keeping the Northern Ireland economy afloat.

Wednesday, December 11

Thankless jobs

Mandela and Moyes are seemingly the only two men in the news just now. Like most I’m bored with both; good lads and saddled with unenviable jobs, but vastly over-rated. On another day Ofsted may well have designated both individuals as losers, so arbitrary is the court of public opinion. Today’s Telegraph compares Fortnum & Mason Christmas cake with that of Iceland and comes down in favour of the latter: yet all this tells us is consumers have limited taste and wouldn’t recognise decent cake if it grew teeth and bit them.

Redwings have decent taste, given a flock has just descended on the homestead and stripped the holly bushes of berries. Yesterday it was grey plovers en route to somewhere exotic. All sorts pass through here. This morning the Quik-E-Mart was overrun by visitors. I don’t know what it is with women but they appear to have an insatiable appetite for gossip, so much so you can’t access the groceries because of their canting. And when you do manage to squeeze through, their offspring are pawing the produce – poking the bread. If you’ve visited food producers’ facilities you will appreciate the extent to which staff go to in order to protect the goods, yet all is nought when the end product is used as a plaything for ill-bred malcontents. The malevolence when you take them to task is something to be seen. Who’d be a school teacher?

Tuesday, December 10


Pork cheeks are the sort of thing you expect to mince or braise for three hours. As with beef skirt, however, there are alternatives. Butterflied and slow pan-frying for 50 minutes leaves the little suckers caramelised and unbelievably oleaginous – especially if they’re a tasty rare breed. Throw in a dish of stewed tomatoes and the meal is something special. Our neighbours have slaughtered so many animals recently it is hard to keep up. The so-called Mediterranean diet this isn’t, but damn it the stuff is good. Given what’s stacked in the fridge, the festive season appears to promise a whole lot of fun. My cholesterol can go hang for a week or two.

Of a similar mind

America is happy to mind its own business, says Justin Webb in today’s Times. I’ve a sneaky feeling there’s a lot of voters this side of the pond that are sympathetic to Pickens’ County Sheriff, Rick Clark – and not just fans of Mrs Brown’s Boys. The parliamentary response to Cameron’s call for intervention in Syria more than reflected the popular will of the UK electorate. This morning I received two emails from old friends – ex-colleagues. One is in Bootle, Merseyside, the other in Houston, Texas. Their manifest differences are as nought in comparison to the similarity of their views.

Sunday, December 8

No mercy for Rudolph

That said I think we’ve eaten more than enough venison this past month and am obliged to move on. Yesterday it was roast woodcock, today braised pheasant. We are saving the wildfowl for Christmas. And still the neighbours’ guns blaze … I’m trying to get into the festive spirit. The tree is up, decorated; presents have been purchased and charity donations despatched. Kings College are playing on the wireless. You always worry about not being prepared – so as I speak a tanker is discharging its cargo into our propane tank (I assume Sundays are double-bubble). Must remember to thank that nice Mr Osborne for my winter fuel allowance (I’ve already spent it three times). At least the homestead will be warm when the neighbours call ’round for a drink. Sam Leith assumes that if you’re middle-aged and middle-class your parties are crap, but that depends where you’re coming from. A word of advice for The Times generation … Most middle-aged people I know are grand-parents and don’t require baby sitters. We don’t serve Prosecco at this time of year, it’s Champagne. As for twiglets (and sausage rolls)? In the unlikely event we would provide them they are hand-made by a local artisan baker. Slutty casual would be the staff, not the guests. Parties we used to have are well and truly buried – and NO-ONE smokes. There is no such thing as a classy non-alcoholic drink, and dancing is another story.

Small mercies

Life is always subjecting us to tests. Whilst sometimes they can be forbidding challenges, even catastrophic in nature, our bugbears are more usually the petty irritations of life that are sent to try our patience. Trudging to the barn of a morning and discovering I have forgotten the key; emptying the contents of a giant ‘cook’s matches’ box on the floor in the course of lighting the fire; swallowing scalding tea when my mind is distracted. And it’s true what they say: always in threes. When I was younger I used to rage; why me? Nowadays I’m so grateful that’s all I have to worry about.

Thursday, December 5

Male and female brains are wired differently

Christmas shopping in Exeter, like any large city, is not for the fainthearted. Anything I needed to buy I’ve purchased online; Mrs G. being the tactile sort likes to handle things before parting with her cash. Accordingly, after jointly purchasing a new television, we separated and headed off to buy personal gifts. This translates as, whilst the good lady shops, I adjourn to the Dog & Duck. I enjoy Christmas enormously but if you are not disciplined it’s too easy to piss away your hard-earned money on gratuitous crap. What I mean by gratuitous is that money remains the lazy option, an excuse for a lack of imagination. Something you hope will buy her off – get you off the hook, i.e. a piece of glitzy nonsense.

Winter in the Highlands

Today’s weather north of the border appears quite bracing and our visiting antipodean relatives are doubtless wrapped up warm. Along with most of their generation, this morning’s pension news provides little comfort. Retirement at 70 is almost a given, later if you want to retain a decent standard of living. I’ve always been somewhat cynical about the state pension and what services, medical or otherwise, will or won’t be available during my dotage. We all know the NHS is unsustainable and that means testing is on the rise. Truth to tell the chance of them killing rather than curing you is now so great, if punters have the cash they are already voting with their feet. The trouble with universal services is a drift to the lowest common denominator. 

Wednesday, December 4

Complete and utter hell.

Jay Rayner in the Guardian: Right now there's a luxe food economy, focused on a couple of London postcodes, which is entirely supported by a grotesque, preening, Louboutin-heeled, gold-plated iPhone-carrying, plastic-crashing, Bugatti-driving, natural resource-pillaging excuse for humanity that floats like some gold-flecked scummy head on the warm beer of the rest of an economy simply trying to make do.

 Arkady Novikov should surely have learnt something from Gerald Ratner?

For this is the real tragedy. Many of these restaurants are actually rather good: superb ingredients, great cooking, skilled service. And all of it is completely wasted on the very people who can afford it; the ones who book into them not out of greed or even a tinge of hunger, but because they like the way the lighting flatters their complexion and the toiletries in the bogs make them smell like one of Dita Von Teese's freshly pampered armpits.


Tuesday, December 3

I can always find time to eat

It’s back to winter rib-stickers with a vengeance. Today’s braised oxtail and ox cheek is one of the Boss’s finest. My bottle of Rumpole claret wasn’t too shabby either. Busy days just now: places to go, things to do. Life, as I’ve oft said, is governed by a perception the sand is draining too quickly. The days, weeks – years, fly past remorselessly. I have to make a conscious effort to stop and stare. Although I keep this blog alive for old times’ sake – to stay in touch, in recent months it has become something of a box ticking exercise, a casualty of necessary daily obligations and alternative distractions. And then many of the blogs I enjoyed are no more as people have moved on and the world has become increasingly sanitised. The blogosphere is beginning to stall.

Monday, December 2

Away day

Brushing up on my driving skills. Whilst I learned to drive and passed my test in a Land Rover, driving off road remains great fun.

Sunday, December 1

An optimistic future

Yesterday we drove to the New Forest to attend the first birthday of a grand-niece. A dozen or so tiny tots were in attendance, together with a sizeable contingent of doting adults. If Boris Johnson is to be believed these children’s future appears bright. By the time the little tykes reach adulthood, Britain – or rather London – will again be the centre of the universe. Though I wished the kids luck, I suspect their prospects are already assured – mandated by the expectations of their parents and supportive grand-parents.

 … he said it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.

Friday, November 29


The daily routine is full of comfortable distractions and if you're not careful life can pass you by. At least the moles appear purposeful. My track winds its way through their burrows, up onto the moor. It has taken several days for me to locate and terminate the yard's lone intruder ... Just now our light is a similar shade of grey-blue-black. There's no breeze and everything remains static, silent - almost a Kentridge-like print. The cattle appear frozen, statuesque, rooted in the peat. The ponies have gone to where ever ponies go to at this time of year, and the sheep are in the freezer.

Thursday, November 28

Another place, another time

People don't feel safe no more, he said. We're like the Comanches was two hundred years ago. We don't know what's goin to show up here come daylight. We don't even know what colour they'll be. (All The Pretty Horses.)

The compilation album is still going strong

The Now compilations celebrate 30 years! I can predate them. Hidden in amongst the Stones, Dylan and The Who, there are embarrassing Tellydisc compilations that include tracks from such luminaries as Barry Manilow, Captain & Tenille and Richard Clayderman.

Too stupid to succeed

Well that's my deficiencies explained; and by Boris, to boot. I think we all appreciate the point, however bluntly put. Some refer to this as meritocracy. Whilst it doesn't harm your chances by being born into a wealthy, educated family such at the Johnsons, you can't make a silk purse make a silk purse out of a sow's ear (I can't believe I said that). I guess we will continue to hear this sort of claptrap - social mobility, etc., all the way to the election. At least they're not suggesting we move as fast as the slowest member of the team; as with the politics of social envy, that way lies a commune in Brixton. No doubt it's all Thatcher's fault; that and the demise of the grammar school. I guess you have to fill the column inches with something.

Tuesday, November 26

Life of Brian

A sad day.

Better the devil you know

I can't say this era is blessed with a particularly capable breed of politician, and Alex Salmond is very much the archetype. I was around in the early 70s when Scottish nationalism last strutted the stage; and although I have no idea which way the vote will run, I suspect the debate this coming year will be heavy on acrimony and light on brotherly love. Whilst I have no doubt that Scotland could go it alone, people are frightened of change. For that reason I'll bet against a vote for independence. Local sensibilities will also play its part, not least self-interest.

 Pure coincidence that on the day the independence white paper is launched I ate porridge for breakfast and an Arbroath Smokie for supper. The latter was acquired during last week's trip. It is a grim product; the world has moved on.

Sunday, November 24

Glass half-full

For someone totally indifferent to Doctor Who, Romanian gypsies and dodgy Labour donors, it's tempting to suspect I am somehow missing out. After spending this past week at opposite poles of the country it also occurs that life on the margins of our multi-cultural society misses a trick or two. I have to say, however, that life right now - even given the weekend's sporting results - is pretty good. I appreciate even to say so tempts fate, but let's occasionally have the courage to enjoy ourselves. Damn it I'm already in the Christmas mood. Lunchtime in the Dog and Duck obviously helped.

Keeping the cold at bay

Along with the short days and hard frosts of the mornings, it's back to normal-service on the food stakes. Our neighbour has slaughtered a number of hoggets and the freezer is fully stocked. Suppers have featured a liver, still warm - washed down with a nice Chianti; stuffed hearts (prunes, apple and breadcrumbs) on top of celeriac and potato mash. Hearts aren't Mrs G's sort of thing, and so for the Boss's birthday I produced a seafood risotto as part compensation - a suggestion of northern Italy to lighten the scene. As the homestead readies itself for our traditional Christmas tree, a seasonal fragrance of stewed fruits - cinnamon, clove, orange peel and star anise - emanates from the kitchen, and sets the stage.

Saturday, November 23

Onwards and upwards

Damn but it's nice to be back at the homestead. A great trip and lots of fun, but I can't party the way we used to. At least I managed to avoid making a dick of myself, upsetting or offending anyone. That's provided the assembled company missed my crunching on what at the time I thought were pistachio nuts but turned out to be discarded olive stones the assembled throng had spit into a bowl in front of me. Although the accommodation was excellent, with the exception of my brother-in-law's fishcakes, the food we ate was a disappointment. It doesn't matter whether a chef, teacher or doctor, there's obviously only so much talent you can spread about. The drive north - post Manchester/Liverpool - was spectacular, especially the autumn colours of Cumbria and Perthshire. In the new motor it was almost effortless. We stayed over in Cumbria; everyone was dressed in breeches and tweeds, carrying guns - and if the accents were to be believed, social mobility is alive and well in that part of the world. They serve nice beer there too, but execrable wine. Our eventual venue at the end of the 600m journey was an old favourite, now something of an institution. And let's face it, a suite in the region's premier establishment was the least we deserved. The two of us celebrated over the weekend with several friends who were alongside us back in 1973. I guess that's it for another ten years or so.

Friday, November 22

Not a happy bunny

24 hours into our anniversary adventure I backed the motor over my laptop, losing three months or more of my life. I was not a happy bunny. Worse since I have purchased a new machine and discovered the world has moved on from my trusty steam-driven unit. I find myself obliged to purchase expensive software in order to retrieve the Gudgeon archive.

Thursday, November 14

Doesn't time fly?

This week we celebrate our Ruby Wedding Anniversary – 40 years! And they said it wouldn’t last, was doomed to crash and burn. Damn it, time flies (when you’re having fun). Mrs G. and I are away on a beano.

The new poor

The demise of Bob Cratchit, as white-collar workers become the new poor. The circle has been completed within my working lifetime, as a generation of working-class drones that swopped their boiler suit for a shirt & tie and the lower middle classes, now returns to the lathe.

Wednesday, November 13

A spade: a long, flat piece of wood

In today’s Telegraph Frank Skinner bemoans the oppression of the crowd and the limits to freedom of speech. ‘People can’t hate anything anymore,’ he avers. A sentiment frequently echoed by Reginald D. Hunter and his ilk. Men in particular have become emasculated, afraid to point out the obvious in case of causing offence. In the same paper, Jack Straw admits to a spectacular mistake. A mistake his successors can’t even now admit to. There’s an oft-quoted phrase that is popularly used to describe First World War infantry. A century on and it sometimes seems the lions are still led by donkeys; castrated ones to boot.

Monday, November 11

Day off

It is great out there this afternoon, mist and swirling rain…swollen rivers and waterlogged tracks. The weekend’s rubber-clad adrenalin junkies have packed their kayaks and returned home – a five mile walk and not other body in sight. Punishing stuff at times, it seems you are always either climbing a steep incline or negotiating a bog. However if I don’t make the effort I can’t then relax; sit on my backside and read a book or watch the box conscience-free. And as I have difficulty imagining myself doing this in ten years time I’m making the most of it.

Sunday, November 10

Remembrance Sunday

One of Napoleon’s dictums was that to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was 20. Mmm…those days are a little cloudy. I guess Vietnam was still on the go, as were the troubles, the Red Army Faction was active (I was living in Germany at the time), and there was that pesky Cold War threat of Nuclear Armageddon. Inflation in the UK reached a 30-year high at 8.6%; mineworkers and postal workers had voted to strike; the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders entered liquidation and Rolls-Royce was declared bankrupt. Whilst I could go on, at the time I think I felt that – in comparison to my father and grandfather’s generations – we were having a relatively easy time of it. Maybe not as cosseted as the current batch of 20-year-olds, but then we never expected to inherit the earth, were faced with quite so much competition or under such pressure to succeed. Of course I’m not comparing like with like: Dalglish with Suárez, Keegan with Bale. You can only play the team in front of you. I’d like to think our soundtrack was superior, but then both my father and grandfather would disagree.

Friday, November 8

Silver Darlings

It’s Friday and supper comes direct from Brixham, smells of the sea; oatmeal, herring and potatoes is a perennial favourite. There are fresh herring roes on toast for starters. It doesn’t get much better, albeit I’ve a soft spot for shrimp gumbo and Dover soles.

Latest office accessory: the Quick-E-Mart is selling eight-pint cans of Speckled Hen, complete with a tap.

It is still raining

Given what’s happening in the Philippines I felt quite chipper this morning when trudging across the yard beneath my sou’wester. I can’t believe the reservoirs are only seventy-eight percent full. The saying ‘there’s always someone worse off than you’ sprang to mind. Such trite observations reinforce my resolve on bleak mornings; is one of the axioms ingrained in us by our parents when we are infants. Last night as a distraction I watched the film No Country for Old Men – again. I can always find something new in a story no matter how many repeats; as the reel begins to roll my mind meanders. I have to watch something several times and then try to piece together the snippets. As soon as Sherriff Bell began his monologue, some clichéd logic directs me to passages in McCarthy’s book of the same name, and on to Yeats, pluralism, the evils of democracy, rapacious governments, pensions and old age. Right about then is when I reach for the bottle. … And talking of mackerel-crowded seas…did you see Rick Stein on the sofa this morning, plugging his new book. What gives with the Walsall Corporation bus-driver’s jacket? When Englishmen attain a certain age something happens to our dress sense. I call it the Portillo effect: the never-to-be-resolved conflict between our narcissistic tendencies and the shield of self-deprecation. It’s difficult to be both a peacock and invisible at the same time.

Wednesday, November 6

Portsmouth betrayal

If the response in the Dog & Duck is anything to go by, announcing we were obliged to admit twenty million Romany gypsies would be tame by comparison. There are a lot of unhappy bunnies down here. I’m not unfamiliar with shipyards, and no doubt – at least in the eyes of BAE – the ending of shipbuilding in Portsmouth is the rational move. However, the result is yet another nail in the coffin of our three principal political parties.


I noticed, in his senior years, that my father was treated with polite but well-meaning condescension by youngish women. They spoke more slowly and louder, as though he had become a simpleton. I’ve witnessed a similar trend during my recent visits to the city, in the coffee shop and certain department stores. The worst culprits are nurses at the local surgery. They address you as ‘my love’ or ‘my darling’. As if I would leap into bed with any of them, pretty as they may be. What happened to ‘Mr Gudgeon’ or ‘Sir!’?

Tuesday, November 5

Irving Berlin, eat your heart out

Following the weekend storms it was wonderful to see blue skies, however temporary. My fear is that Monday was the final half-decent day of the year; that this is it until next spring. Everything conspires to put a damper on life at this time of year, not least the media. For the sake of sanity I’ve begun to ration the news. Paxman isn’t alone in his wearying of our political class and the circus that surrounds them. And if you thought Sven-Goran’s book is the nadir of popular culture, I suspect there’s a lot more to surface before Christmas. Immigrants, the cost of utilities, crap public services, BBC troughers and dodgy cops…our list of grievances appears never ending.

Sunday, November 3

Chitterlings with boiled swede and mustard

Whilst despairing at society’s fixation with food in general and celebrity chefs in particular, I won’t deny my days are in part measured by meals eaten. Seasons, too, given the homestead currently reeks of freshly ground spices and reconstituted fruit (dark rum): Mrs G. is baking Christmas cakes. Brother of mine emailed to ask if I’d caught the weekend television rerun of Floyd’s ’88 take on Black Country cuisine: groaty pudding, black pudding and chitterlings, faggots and mushy peas – pure coincidence that I was sitting in the office listening to Stan Collymore on the wireless. Even talking about faggots lands you in trouble these days.

Friday, November 1

Alex Ferguson on turning 60

Reaching 60 can have a profound effect. You think you’re entering another room. At 50, a pivotal moment has arrived. Half a century. But you don’t feel 50. At 60, you say: ‘Christ, I feel 60. I’m 60!’ You come through that. You realise it’s a notional change, a numerical alteration. I don’t feel that way now about age. But back then, 60 was a psychological barrier in my head. It was an obstacle to me feeling young. It changed my sense of my own fitness, my health. ... It’s true. I know the feeling. And yes you do get over it.

Groundhog Day

It is a damp morning up here on our wind-swept corner, dark and bleak. Time of the year I guess and this is what autumn looks like. Quad bikes battle through the mire to check the stock; bleary eyed neighbours pass by en route to a desk in some distant town. Summer pleasures they are gone like to vision every one / And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on... The seasons are as consistent and regular as the headlines in the papers. I’m halfway through a dusty tome by Sebastian de Grazia, Of Time, Work & Leisure – a chance, its foreword says, to invoke the wisdom of ancient philosophers in a journey straight to the heart of modern (1962) industrialised society. Second-hand bookshops have a lot to answer for. So far it has taken me 250 pages to make the shocking discovery that humans are full of conflicted emotions, the foremost being that we don’t like to work but are quite fond of money. Reading on you suspect little has changed from the eighteenth century and that each generation is fated to reinvent the wheel.

Wednesday, October 30

What goes around…

As the proud possessor of the neighbourhood’s largest flat-cap collection, it seems I’m also the coolest…at least in east London. And I have the accent to boot.

The rise of meritocracy

I’ve always had a soft spot for the dim and indolent and been suspicious of those that advocate meritocracy. Why should what is little more than a genetic lottery afford the brightest all of the prizes?

Tuesday, October 29

Rising prices

Whilst it’s not a particularly clever strategy, to accuse the rank and file of pig ignorance, Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner is only stating the obvious. ‘Saving the economy’ comes at a cost. There’s a knock-on from sterling’s depreciation, stagnant incomes and the growing weight of taxes. Rather than the usual flannel, politicians of every stripe should be shouting ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ from Westminster rooftops. I suppose it is not easy to balance the need to instill confidence in the business community at the same time you’re pissing on consumers (voters), but hard facts – the realities of life, would be a refreshing change. Romans had the Colosseum to distract, we have our adversarial parliamentary committees and assorted witch hunts. Whichever party runs the asylum, I suspect continued rationalization of public spending and increased taxes remains the only way to go…unless of course you are pig ignorant or Russell Brand.

Sunday, October 27

Be Prepared

As Baden-Powell was so fond of saying. The vanguard to tonight’s storm has already arrived, with the loss of our electricity. It’s a bright morning but blowing a hooley. I am polishing up the primus stove in readiness.

Friday, October 25

Pork chops

Despite the breeze it was a marvelous day in Dartmouth, sea air and lots to see. The town is only a short run in the motor, and I should visit more often as it generates many memories. Today’s trip was a token visit for the annual food festival. Although there is little new, the Seahorse Restaurant’s suckling pig alone – Mark Hix in attendance – was worth the effort. Most of the galleries are running shows to coincide with the festival, so we did the usual rounds, chatted to the usual faces. Treated myself to a new jacket; sank a couple of pints in a busy hostelry along the lanes.

Wednesday, October 23

Captain Phillips

The Guardian gives 10 reasons why today’s television is better than the movies. Putting the longform storytelling and the fact that Brits are particularly good at television to one side, I would contend the reason our televisions score over the cinema is that you don’t have to sit beside yet another obnoxious nerd, who, when not coughing his lungs up, farting or scratching his armpits, is stuffing ketchup-laden hot dogs down his gullet. The local, dare I say generic, multiplex has all the charm of an empty warehouse and comes with the usual substandard sound system. Instead of Mark Kermode or similar acolytes – enthusiasts, the place is staffed with minimum wage employees serving food and beverages you wouldn’t feed to your livestock. Still, there are times you can’t avoid it – having to visit the cinema that is, even if it’s just for old time’s sake. Today’s movie was Captain Phillips, a biopic relating to the Maersk Alabama’s captain, when the vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates. As a recipient of Maersk hospitality both in Denmark and America, to have missed it would have been remiss – a dereliction of duty so to speak. The film is as diverting as touted, with Hanks giving it his usual best. It takes you back, nonetheless, and was probably instrumental in my choice of drink at the Dog & Duck en route home. I couldn’t quite face Gammel Dansk, but the Lamb’s Navy Rum was a comforting reminder of days gone by.

Tuesday, October 22

Comfort food

I’ll sound like the Daily Express if I continue to bleat on about the weather. But whilst people infer it’s grim up north, the southwest has its moments too. The Met Office suggesting winds would be fairly strong was an understatement, as is the quantity of wet stuff being deposited about the homestead. The original estimate was for 100mm this week and we must have exceeded that already. It is unseasonably mild, however. Despite the gales, the thunder storms, we remain in shirt sleeve order; and truth to tell, rain is a good enough excuse to avoid those outside jobs the Boss had scheduled...To counter the media’s barrage of gloom and doom we are treating ourselves to a medley of game dishes, rabbit, partridge and venison, roasted, stewed and grilled. Damn it’s good...And perhaps because of an unconscious effort to oppose the media misery, I’m currently reading john William’s Stoner. It is kind of a Mr Chips. A story of how we endure, sans the banality of Martin Clunes. Don’t mess with a classic, chummy.

Friday, October 18

Apples, apples everywhere

Thanks to farm visits and neighbours disposing of surplus produce, apples have been in abundance this year. Mrs G. wants to try and grow some of her own and as a consequence I spent part of yesterday with a producer, sampling a score or more of locally grown fruits. His cider wasn’t too shabby either. The general consensus is that nothing will grow at our location, though that’s merely a dare for me to try. We returned home with several varieties of cooking apple and the Boss spent the evening juggling pots and pans, yours truly being obliged to eat and score the results. The cider I had acquired to accompany the taste test was nominally rated at 5% alcohol: this proved to be grossly inaccurate.

Tuesday, October 15

Ignorance is bliss

We have nothing to fear, says Steven Gerrard in this morning’s Times.You’d think the lad would know better. When expectations (grounded in experience) are so low, when failure is the default setting, of course we have nothing to fear. I can still hear the wireless commentary: ‘…and Domarski has scored.’ I kept a cassette recording for years; to assuage the inevitable disappointment, I played it whenever my confidence rose prior to an England game. Sometimes it seems all we have to show for forty years of effort is the 2001 match at the Olympiastadion in Munich. Still, he who dares… I’ve dug out my England t-shirt (a memento of the Euro ’88 tournament – Marco van Basten cost me a fortune) and have placed a couple of beers in the fridge.

Sunday, October 13

Jam today

Because tomorrow you’ll have misplaced the jam jar or someone will have nicked the bloody thing ... Is it possible to identify a moment in the past when you were most content? There are occasions, such as this morning – out early on the moor, looking down towards the coast, a warming sun on your face, – when you doubt there’s a finer view on earth. Aches and pains are forgotten, the world – at least the pastoral world – lies at your feet. If only you could bottle the exhilaration for those long winter nights, the rainy days to come. Of course it’s just about that moment the hangover kicks in – you realise the distance you’ve walked and how far back it is. Feel-good moments are by nature ephemeral: they can’t be squirreled away.

Friday, October 11

Bacon and cabbage

Kinsale’s Gormet Festival starts today. If you’re not there you are too late as it was sold out weeks ago and the pints of Murphy’s are already flowing. As foodie jamborees go this is/was one of the best and a staple of our 1990’s itinerary, along with the usual faces from West Beck and Cork. The festival came to mind this afternoon when I switched on the television and caught a nostalgic repeat of Floyd on Food, broadcast not just from Kinsale but from our regular billet at the Cottage Loft. Floyd was living in Kinsale at that time. Inspired by these memories Mrs G. is whipping egg yolks and oil into a creamy aioli to accompany the fillets of lemon sole that comprise our supper. I content myself with a glass of white burgundy and memories of The Old Head.


There is a real taste of autumn this morning what with the chill of a north wind as it roars through the trees, the crunch as you trudge through heaps of leaf litter, beech nuts that rain down and sting. Swirling flocks have taken to the sky and mole hills appear across the yard: the battle begins. Badgers have dug another exploratory tunnel and there’s a smell of fox around the barn. Prospecting house buyers sniff neighbourhood properties.

Wednesday, October 9

Girolles, ceps and porcini

Yesterday we took the day off and returned to River Cottage HQ for a one-day session in foraging for mushrooms. Mrs G. has been harvesting fungi from around the yard and threatening to cook them, and truth to tell I am a little nervous about the prospect. Our host for the day was John Wright, mycologist, author and raconteur, with a seemingly encyclopedic reservoir of spore-related trivia. About half the day is spent tramping around the grounds of River Cottage, collecting and examining specimens, being dazzled by John’s Latin; and the remainder banged up indoors, watching the resident chef demonstrate ways in which to cook the little suckers. It was a worthwhile exercise in that it confirmed my right to be suspicious of what’s put before me. Meals are part of the deal at Park Farm, though these have proved to be rather hit and miss.

Friday, October 4

Who is best at building bridges?

I can’t believe Miliband is still doing the rounds, bleating about the papers. No one likes a cry baby. I watched BBC’s Question Time last night to try and gauge which way the wind is blowing at the end of the party conference season. Not that I gleaned much. I suppose we are all motivated by self-interest when we vote, what’s in it for us; the degree to which we feel ripped off versus the amount they put in our pockets; how charitable we feel and how worthy the recipients. As Philip Collins says in this morning’s Times, we are a nation of divided tribes, north versus south, public or private, rural or urban, richer or poorer – and that’s before you factor in religion and ethnicity, gender, the nationalists... Which party, I wonder, will be the most effective bridge builder?

Thursday, October 3

National Poetry Day

Rain, Rain, Rain, come again and again,
In the winter, in the summer and in spring,
Come with joy, fall with happiness and go with sorrow,
Rain, Rain, Rain come again and again.

Rain, Rain, Rain come to relive earth's pain,
Rain, Rain, Rain come to make nature happy,
Rain, Rain, Rain come to make livings happy,
Rain, Rain, Rain come again and again.

Rain, Rain, Rain don't go away,
Rain, Rain, Rain I hope you will stay,
Rain, Rain, Rain come again and again.

To say I’m simpatico with Vikram Pratap Singh’s affection for the wet stuff would be stretching a point, particularly as the homestead is currently subject to a monsoon-like assault from the heavens. Today should be fun for those residents below us. 

Wednesday, October 2

Requiem for Lanzarote

Sorting a dusty shelf of forgotten books I came across an old edition of The Sporting Year. It’s a selection of sports writing from 1976-77, when England were on their way to failing World Cup qualification for the second tournament in succession. Worse, still, they were beaten 0-2 by Scotland at Wembley. Little wonder Don Revie jumped ship. Although Manchester Utd won the FA Cup in ’77 this was Liverpool’s era, winning the league and European Cup. It was a time of sporting champions, not least James Hunt and Barry Sheene, Alan Minter and John Conteh, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson…Red Rum. I guess it depends what you were into at that time – who you recall, but it is an interesting read and good memory prompt nonetheless. So-called minority sports received far better coverage back then, not least that of orienteering. There’s a marvelous McIlvanney report from the ’76 World Championships in Aviemore which includes a description of competitor Lisa Veijalainen that in these enlightened days of ours is certain to be met with editorial disapproval: ‘A disturbingly attractive Finnish girl whose blonde hair streams down to her shapely buttocks…’

A call to the flag

As it coincided with my tea break I listened to Cameron’s conference speech this morning. Snake oil salesmen the lot of ’em, but then you have to vote for someone to run the country be it Tory toff or son of a rabid establishment-hating Marxist. I wouldn’t hold it against the latter: it’s an adolescent phase most of us pass through, along with a penchant for folk music, George Orwell novels and cans of Party Four. Whilst there was a time I enjoyed the banter associated with the tribal warfare that is British politics, by the time you reach a certain age everyone is pretty much set in their ways and bored rigid with the same old arguments. Let’s assume Cameron’s primary pitch is to a younger generation that has yet to decide which way to jump. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – this demographic rarely bothers to vote.

Saturday, September 28

Tough at the top

Mrs G’s antipathy for Moyes strikes me a tad unfair given his brief tenure. After last Sunday’s game, however, there is no stopping the good lady. I could hear her muttering in the kitchen: ‘He’s Ed Miliband in disguise.’ As long as United don’t ask for Jesse Lingard back said I. After this afternoon’s match I’m keeping my distance.

Hammer Films

I woke this morning to a flash of lightning and the sound of thunder, a bat circling overhead. I thought we had an agreement: I stay out of the loft and they steer clear of the bedroom. Spooky though. Mrs G slept on, seemingly oblivious – an occasional flicker from her blood-red eyes. Imagination can get the better of you, living in the sticks.

Tuesday, September 24

Woody Allen’s existential abyss

Some call it the black dog, though the phrase has become clichéd. It seems most everyone and his granny is suffering, hamstrung, that we live beneath a great nefarious cloud. To some it smacks of whining, an appeal for attention – demonstrates a failure to deal with life’s challenges. Grow some balls, they say, act like a man…whatever that means in the modern world. It’s difficult to function well in this emasculated culture of ours when everyone appears ready to take offence and feels cheated of their due. For myself I’m just trying to get from A to B as best I can. If you agree not to burden me with your problems, then I won’t cry on your shoulders.

Sunday, September 22

Blacks and sorrels, bays and pintos

Given it is Sunday and the weather so benign you’d have thought there would be more walkers on the moor. I was out before eight and in t-shirt order. Buzzards, a sparrowhawk, and larks galore…tiny lizards and slugs in equal numbers. And of course the ponies. I returned in time to escort Mrs G. to an open day at the artist Heather Jansch’s studio – her ponies are of a different sort.

Friday, September 20

No fear of sleeping in

The pheasants have returned with their early-morning din, the racket augmented by a scheduled trial of the heating system programmed for six and which shook the homestead. Not that heating is required, given our current spell of mild weather. Having recently relined the chimneys, yesterday I lit all three fires to test their efficiency. Furnaces weren’t in it. It would be comforting to believe we are this toasty in the depths of winter. Although too early for crows to dominate the trees, magpies are plentiful, and the yard is playing host to a score of wood pigeons. The moor is thick with ponies and black-faced sheep. The Tour of Britain’s Stage 6 arrives today, Bradley Wiggins et al. If the neighbours’ new-found enthusiasm for bicycles is anything to go by, it’s proving an inspiration.

Thursday, September 19

Mrs G. at the hairdresser

How good to have the house quiet
all to myself again, to be able to walk
towards a room and know
I shall be the only one there
no movement except my movement
no sounds except the sounds I make
(Geoffrey Squires)

Carrots, Beetroot and Fennel

... courgettes, tomatoes, red cabbage, beans, squash, onions, kale and corn. We ate an outstanding supper last night. It was billed as an evening with Guy Watson, the man behind Riverford Organic Farms. He describes himself as a left of centre anarchist, and given the lad’s formidable size I wouldn’t argue the toss. Riverford sells vegetable boxes to food conscious consumers and boasts a turnover in excess of £45m. This is a lot of carrots and must make them one of the largest employers in the immediate area. His entertaining banter enlivened a meal that, typical of the Field Kitchen restaurant, was heavy on the vegetables. If you are thinking of converting to a meat-free diet this would be a good source of inspiration, albeit last night’s feather-blade beef was cooked to perfection. As always the puddings were outstanding.

Wednesday, September 18

Ten billion smackeroos down the plug hole

As with so many things, especially when you’re playing with other people’s money, the old adage about it seeming like a good idea at the time seems most relevant. It’s no use whining about piss-ups and breweries, every organisation you’re likely to work for – come to that, every home in the country – loses a fair percentage of its hard-earned cash through making dumb mistakes, from poor investments. Just look at crappy Italian designer suit you bought, those kids you sired. Will we see anyone banged up for the abandoned NHS IT system? Is Fred Goodwin languishing in jail? You have to be sanguine about this sort of thing and ride with the punches. Continue to get up every morning as you always do, trudge into work and put your nose to the grindstone. Then at the end of the month when they hand you a cheque with half of your due missing, you can be gratified that someone somewhere is gainfully employed and having fun spending it for you. Clegg and Cameron are just typical of the new breed of 21st Century philanthropists.

Tuesday, September 17

Time to chop more wood

Although it is far too early to switch on the heating, what with the drop in temperature (14º inside the homestead) and the persistent rain, it’s good to see a fire back in the grate. Along with a bottle of Speyside’s finest it is one of my principal guilty pleasures. There may be some sort of Spartan virtue, a certain manly satisfaction, in dismissing the vagaries of our climate, but once my body temperature falls below a certain level I feel like a character in an episode of Cadfael ... It appears my copper bracelet is not the panacea I’d hoped.

Monday, September 16

They don’t get it

A vote for UKIP is a vote for a Labour government, says Peter Osborne. The Tories, he says, need to impress upon the electorate the downside to voting UKIP: Ed Miliband as prime minister. What Osborne and the Tories fail to grasp – and I can only go on what I pick up at the Dog & Duck – is the sheer bloody-mindedness of the people involved. They’re past voting for the best worst-option and are prepared to accept the status of a minority group, providing the party they support – whether elected or not – specifically and exclusively addresses and promotes the interests of their particular tribe, and that appears to be UKIP. I don’t believe these voters are too fussed about who sits at the top table, be it Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative.

Sunday, September 15

Let’s hear it for grouse

They were a tad ripe to say the least, but damn it the birds were good – surpassing, even, last night’s partridge. Having cooked the little suckers a la Tebbit, served them up on fried-bread trenchers and accompanied by bacon and damson jelly, the bread sauce – as the old boy suggested – was superfluous. And of course it was an excuse to sample the Famous Grouse itself. Today’s storm appears to have run its course and there’s blue sky to the north east. My waterproofing efforts have worked out reasonably well, although I’ve some remedial work tomorrow.

Small mercies

Wind farm opponents live in the ‘stone age’ says Lib Dem nut job who would doubtless have us rubbing sticks together in preference to building nuclear power stations. But what can you expect from a party whose principal policy initiative is to pay a surcharge of 5p for not shopping online. Then again I guess we could be governed by a coalition that included the Greens – real nut jobs. From the periphery of our homestead it appears all the Conservatives have to do in order to walk the next election is to bung mothers a couple of quid and undertake a slight body swerve to the right. My money’s on a move to the right, but via a Labour/UKIP coalition. Trust me it’s not as daft as it sounds, though Labour would have to dump the Wally that’s leading them and grow some balls.

Normal life resumes

After a rude interruption for two international games it’s good to have the footy back. As with the seasons, the turning of the tide, the game provides a reassuring continuity to life. Saturdays (and Sundays) aren’t quite the same sans the anticipation, the coverage and subsequent analysis – though I can’t say I’ve come across much in the way of enthusiasm for football amongst my rural neighbours ... Commiserations to James Dickens, down but hopefully never out – a great fight.

Saturday, September 14

A return to root vegetables

Another local foodie meet today: the Ashburton Food and Drink Festival. There were a number of the usual faces on show, including a selection of Devon’s celebrity chefs. Returned with a bag of partridge and grouse, the latter imported from Yorkshire – scuttling back in time to catch the footy commentary on the wireless. As it happens it has turned out a pleasant afternoon, prior to what is being billed as our first real storm of the season – a chance to test how well I’ve done with regards to waterproofing the homestead. We may be losing the summer sun but it’s good to see parsnips and neeps back on the plate. And talking of turnips...today was the fourth successive defeat for City, their worst start to the season for 25 years.

Tuesday, September 10

Arty day out

We spent today touring a selection of venues from the Devon Open Studios. It’s an annual opportunity to visit a number of the county’s artists in their studios, most often their home, to view and discus their work. I’m afraid there were no Van Gogh discoveries, but it is a chance to meet people of a different stripe and to learn from them. Highlight of the day was the veggie burger I ate for lunch. Spotty-faced Goths they may be, but assuming you’re ok with beetroot and garlic, the food ain’t bad. The wine left something to be desired.

Same old

Attenborough says the boomers generation is as good as it gets, and without natural selection the future is all downhill. Greek philosophers probably sat around arguing a similar thing. At least the old boy’s not suggesting we let runts die, or promote war and disease as a means of culling the population – as he says, humans are a resourceful species.

Monday, September 9

Irish whiskey is making a comeback

Last week I toasted Heaney’s departure with a glass of Green Spot, my current tipple of the month. After a century of decline Irish whiskey is making a comeback, together with spuds and crubeens. It seems the growth is down to young people coming of age and developing more sophisticated tastes. That and the frequent reruns of John Ford westerns.

Sunday, September 8

Change in the air

The trees are full of barking crows...only a couple of swallows remain, reluctant to depart. The stonechats have seemingly packed their bags, the wheatears, too. I managed to get out across the moor this morning. A number of runners were training, one or two serious all-terrain cyclists. Grey skies and squally showers above...underfoot, bracken and rush shrouded in spiders’ webs. To the left, ponies hunkered down in the lee of the rocks; to the right, vessels anchored in the bay. Everything appears to be readying itself to turn a corner, to move forward.

Buckshee day

This morning is the first for a while I’ve woken and faced a blank. I haven’t anything scheduled, that needs to be done – requires painting or has to be fixed. And it’s a Sunday, to boot. Eight a.m. and I’m already bored.

Friday, September 6

So much for holidays

So far this week I’ve spent more time up a ladder or fighting the undergrowth than on my backside. I haven’t walked on the moor for a couple of weeks. That said my stomach isn’t complaining: we are eating good food. Today’s lunch party included a couple of girls on a literary retreat and a classic refugee from the summer of love. Most every person I meet appears to be a neurologist or general medical practitioner, and am I really the only lad in Devon who hasn’t attended Oxbridge or art school? I need to get back to Dog & Duck.

Thursday, September 5

Sweet tomato

This summer has easily been our best since moving to this part of the world. Tomorrow, however, things change. So for our last day of sunshine (and in the interest of further research) we walked a local farm in the company of a keen horticulturalist, sampling the produce, not least the dozen or so varieties of tomato grown on site in polytunnels (the gang boss is an Italian national). It seems nonsensical for us to consider growing our own when there’s so much fresh produce available locally. But then why bother to cook when the Quik-E-Mart has a chill cabinet.

Wednesday, September 4

They’re banged up again.

Let’s hear it for the start of another school term.

Monday, September 2

On holiday

This morning we began our staycation, holidaying from home. First duty was to pick up the new motor from the dealers; the remainder of the day being spent familiarising myself with something six inches wider and what seems a foot higher than our traditional mode of transport. After 160 miles of Devon/Cornish lanes I’m reasonably comfortable, but an evening studying the vehicle’s manual will certainly help. The onboard computer is a challenge, as is the stereo which is far superior to the sound system in the office ... It appears an Indian summer is a strong possibility, providing – if this afternoon is a guide – you stay away from the north Cornish coast.

Peas and carrots

Yesterday’s trip to River Cottage HQ was worth the effort. We spent the day with Craig Rudman, a man who certainly knows his onions. Despite a predilection for scientific names the lad was a mind of advice on such things as rhizome inoculants and the necessity for thermal stability in the subsoil ... precautionary tales about the constituent parts of municipal compost and unscrupulous seed merchants. His overriding principals appeared to be a necessity for quality soil, a large polytunnel, and the need for plenty of graft. The day attracted a variety of punters, from surfer Rastafarian roadies to the cashmere and diamonds brigade, and included a leisurely three-course lunch, along with a demonstration of how to hot-smoke pigeon breasts from one of their chefs – a cheeky chappie from Islay.

Saturday, August 31

How to grow cabbages

I’ve a good friend, George – a former golfing partner – who is (was) a painter & decorator, and who has mobility problems caused by spending a lifetime on top of a ladder. After only two days I can sympathise. Whilst I’m pleased with my efforts, I am gratified it is a once a year requirement instead of a living. Four coats of paint should see us through the winter. Truth to tell I’m buggered and not looking forward to tomorrow. The snagging will have to wait, as we’ve an eight-o-clock start: Mrs G. having booked the two of us on a course at River Cottage HQ, with their head gardener – in an effort to further my ambitions for the allotment.

Friday, August 30

Stating the obvious

What I have learnt from painting: don’t buy cheap disposable brushes in an effort to avoid cleaning them, it’s a false economy; avoid ladders in gale-force winds; there is no such thing as one-coat gloss.

Back to the drawing board

Yesterday’s vote in Parliament was a timely slap around the ear for the Prime Minister. You want a cocky bastard running the show, with the confidence to do the necessary, but with such inept opposition Cameron had begun to take things for granted. Like as not, post Blair/Brown few of us entirely trust politicians, fewer still the security services or lawyers (nor bankers, scientists or doctors). That the military had come out so strongly against action on Syria is telling. Now maybe he can get back to making sure the buses run on time and stop poking his nose in other people’s business. And we can return to the last minute action in the football transfer market.

The rural clock

The temperature’s down and there is an autumnal feel in the air, the nominal change in season was announced at six this morning with the explosive cry of a pheasant and the snapping limb of a beech tree. Whilst it’s still only August you find yourself rushing to finish the painting and caulking, continually adding to the wood pile. These last couple of months have been so pleasant and warm that it would be selfish to anticipate an Indian summer? I can but hope.

Wednesday, August 28

Small Tortoiseshell

Add colour to the yard this time of year, they sunbathe on rocks and flit about the nettles.

And talking of colour...it’s that time of year again, when the exterior paintwork requires attention. I had thought about a return of the Ringo Kid and his merry band of painters & decorators, however, once bitten...I’ve decided I am better off doing the job myself. Dangling from a ladder with a tin of gloss between my teeth isn’t my favourite pastime, but it’s one up on mucking out chickens or rodding drains. Preparation being all, I’ve spent the afternoon scraping and sanding, wiping down. Light has stopped play. Tomorrow I’m filling and sanding again, and maybe an undercoat. Forth Rail Bridge ain’t in it. In between I have to run errands to Exeter and Totnes. We’re supposed to be on holiday next week and there have been explicit threats to my person if I’m not finished.

Intervention in Syria

Let the bastards kill each other, says Diane Abbot. And I dare say a fair proportion of the public agree with her.

Tuesday, August 27

After the Lord Mayor’s Show

This past weekend has been about as good as it gets, with warm, sunny weather and, despite the near record number of visitors to the Southwest, amazingly peaceful and quiet – hardly a tractor or chainsaw to be heard. The only jarring note is the stallion: we now have six mares in the yard and at times it is frantic. Sunday we visited the annual Tavistock cheese fair, returning home with several excellent cheeses. Yesterday was our local fete, where we stocked up on pickled vegetables and preserves. I guess it’s back to work this morning, grass to cut, errands to run.

Sunday, August 25

Same old gripes

And talking about a gift that keeps giving ... Will Hutton. I’m not sure if what he says is because he believes it, or whether it’s because he’s paid to assuage a particular audience. Last week it was Brian May equating supporters of country sports with paedophiles, this morning Hutton is lumping Nigel Farage in with Osama bin Laden. Hutton rambles more that I do and I’m never quite sure of the points he’s trying to make. My initial take on today’s rant is that grass-roots democracy has gotten out of hand. Now everyone wants not just a say, but expects to be listened to. How unreasonable of them. In response he advocates (I think) we should either bring back Mubarak and the boys, or form soviet-style committees? Give the lad his way and I suspect he would set up detention camps for just about everyone from the happy clappy brigade to the SNP. And don’t get him started on nimbies.

The gift that keeps giving

CHANCELLOR George Osborne will receive a £1 billion boost to his Treasury’s coffers following the release next weekend of the “63” car registration plates, according to a senior industry figure.

Saturday, August 24

Bygone days

Ed West and Fraser Nelson have rehashed their Spectator article entitled ‘R.I.P The Middle Class?’ for this morning’s Telegraph (News Review and Comment). It’s a frequently recycled argument and plays to their audience, however, I can’t let it pass without comment. Michael Gove is cited as an example of what was once possible to all, but now solely the prerogative of the rich: son of an Aberdeen fishmonger who was privately educated at Robert Gordon’s College. The current fees, although a third of more prestigious schools, still retail at £11,200/year – out-with, so the story goes, contemporary middle-class folks. I suspect it’s an indication of West and Nelson’s relatively privileged background that they confuse fishmonger (a lad selling kippers in Macfisheries) with what I believe Gove’s dad was: a fish merchant. I’d like to think fish merchants have more in common with the boys on the trading floor of a stock exchange than with grocers, especially given the buoyant state of the fishing industry at that time. In defence of the article, I have to admit two of my nephews attended Gordon’s back then (as did a fair number of the lads I subsequently worked with). Their dads were both sparkies and I doubt they could repeat the exercise today.

A print of Aberdeen Fish Market, on the office wall. I began my career in a first-floor room behind the sheds.


‘A million motorists heading for region’ says this morning’s papers. And a good proportion driving Chelsea tractors – the Quik-E-Mart has a line of X3s, X5s and Q7s parked outside. Down from London I guess. It seems the prospect of a dry, warm bank holiday has boosted the number of visitors.

Friday, August 23

Salvaging something from the dross

Given yesterday’s glorious weather, when we returned home I fired up the barbecue. As it wasn’t planned and we were in the city, I picked up a shoulder of lamb from Britain’s premier grocers. Home grown lamb isn’t exactly cheap just now, and the shoulder cost the same as last weekend’s leg of mutton. Unfortunately that’s the only similarity between supermarket and locally sourced meat – i.e. from the neighbours. Despite my best efforts, the wet rub and the attention paid to cooking, it was a poor imitation, and unlike last night’s footy hugely disappointing. Let’s hope the remains – my shepherd’s pie – is an improvement. It is unlikely to threaten Mrs G’s poached mutton and caper sauce.

Thursday, August 22

Fit for purpose

Exeter during August with everyone seemingly away on holiday is almost a pleasure. The city’s principal attraction over Plymouth is decent coffee. On an impulse I stopped by the optician’s and discovered a pair of specs that suited and which I liked. This could well be a first for me. I also managed a result with the motor, inasmuch as the dealer has offered an unbelievable trade-in price of £700. Although it is only nine years old I was resigned to scrapping the pile of junk, and truth to tell would have taken some delight in the act, even fantasised about driving down to the coast and rolling the damn thing off a cliff. I suppose I’ll miss it when it’s gone. A reminder that when you buy something – anything – it should really be fit for purpose.

Ageing population

An indication of changing times, as Dartmoor rescue group spends half of its time scouring urban areas for residents that have escaped from old-folks homes.

Wednesday, August 21

Doomsayers with bedpans

Shysters, they’re always on the make – promoting self-interest. Last year it was wind farms, this year more nurses. Forecasting the future is a fools’ game. Only months ago it seems Britain was finished, Europe had had its day and BRICS was the future – that little nerk Parris was scuttling about the City clutching a briefcase stuffed with silver ingots and bemoaning our fate. Now it is BRICS that are going down the pan. Who knows what 2030 will look like, but fat or thin, I suspect we’ll still be doing something or other to offend the Royal College of Nursing.

In garlic butter

A song thrush has returned to the yard this morning. Our slugs and snails are well down. And whilst it’s partly due to the year’s fine weather, it became so you couldn’t walk out the door early summer without hearing the clack, clack, clack of a thrush beating a snail against a stone. They were very much a 70s dish, restaurant favourites – the alternative to prawn cocktail. I wonder how many of those tricky tongs sit languishing in forgotten corners of cutlery drawers around the country.

Monday, August 19


If you don’t think pure Tory government is in Britain’s national interest – far more so than coalition – why be a Tory? Because what with Miliband seemingly no longer a threat, Cameron would rather do a deal with his coalition partners than with the conservative supporters who are considering voting for UKIP. Or is this his way of telling those traditional conservative voters to behave themselves or else?

Greenbottle flies

They go with the sheep, but then so does the marjoram. Bright orange rowan-tree berries colour the slopes, up on the moor it’s the so-called rhubarb and custard – purple heather and lemon-flowered gorse. We could use more colour; some sunshine, too. Furze chitters – rusty-red breasted stonechats – hold court. Their whirring wings, like giant bumble bees. Serious walkers are out and about, with packs and maps and decent footwear. Thanks to the flowering marjoram, the yard is alive with bees, butterflies and other crawlies...caterpillars and rabbits munch their way through stuff. On each available perch and upturned flower pot, a newly fledged robin.

Saturday, August 17

Career choices

Today’s obituaries include that of Rosalia Mera, the co-founder of Zara, and Spain’s richest woman. Mera left school at age 11 to work as a seamstress, her ex-husband and co-founder began his career at 13. Maybe there’s something to be said for sweatshops instead of A-levels or Uni?

Normal service is resumed

Opening day of the season and a return to normal service: match commentary on the wireless and a bottle of Speckled Hen. Of course the downsides include having to stomach that noddy Garth Crooks. At least it pretends to be a lad’s world, BBC’s athletics coverage appears to have degenerated into Mumsnet. Sports used to be about boxing and weightlifting, etc: nowadays it features tax exiles in skimpy lace dresses. I’m pleased to see both Palace and Bruce back in the Premier League, if only temporarily. Whilst stormy here at the homestead, I guess we could be back at Pittodrie: a blustery and raw day, according to the commentary. Although today is a write-off, the outlook appears fine. Our southwest tourism industry is celebrating its best summer in a decade, with convoys of visitors from as far afield as Germany, Scandinavia and Holland. Needless to say Totnes is a joke. I must have trampled on several small children en route to the off-licence.

Thursday, August 15

The auld enmities

We sat and watched the England v Scotland game last night. It was an entertaining match, far more absorbing than the Charity Shield. England has a number of outstanding young players. Our trouble remains a lack of world class performances, half a brain, from the mature members of the team. As a fixture it was a useful ‘friendly’, although the match serves to underline a lingering bitterness between sections of the population. Given what goes on in the Middle-East, Africa and elsewhere, I guess a little chippiness hardly signifies. There is much pontificating amongst the Western media and political class regarding Egypt, how the military have handled the opposition, but I could imagine not too dissimilar scenes in America if their religious right achieved power and began to rewrite the constitution. I guess none of us can believe the democratic opportunity afforded Morsi, and how quickly he fucked things up.

Wednesday, August 14

I hate you Butler

Why are so many preferences and prejudices elevated to the status of hate; when did slightly miffed of Chipping Norton become a perpetrator of war crimes? Inspector Blake didn’t hate Stan, was merely exasperated. Mary Berry apparently dislikes Jamie Oliver, but hates Gordon Ramsay’s programmes? The word is used and misused for effect. Hate isn’t about thin skins or football club rivalry: it is about bombs in small market towns and places of worship.

Monday, August 12

Monday night is pizza night

And decent ones at that. Il Vulcano is our local pizza man, Italian chef and farmer Gianni Colace, selling from a van (a converted ambulance) that’s parked at the Dartington roundabout. I can’t get over his traditional wood-burning oven in back of the van. The olive oil, olives, capers, salami, etc. come from the family farm in Calabria; the tomatoes and flour are also from Italy. Authentic stuff and highly recommended.

Saturday, August 10

The old ones are the best

Another birthday comes around, celebrated with a bottle of Dufftown’s finest and a selection of Elmore Leonard novels. Following a week of outstanding meals that have included one gargantuan haddock and several barbecued pigeons, I am to be treated to my all-time favourite: the Singapore classic, Hainanese chicken rice.

Friday, August 9

Holidays in full swing

It’s bedlam out there...nose to tail traffic. Appears everyone and his granny has arrived for their holidays. The baby boom is self-evident; we will have to build bigger cars.

Wednesday, August 7

Are we bothered?

Last night’s Make me a German continued BBC’s week-long snippets about life in a Federal Republic, featuring the manufacturers of my pencil-of-choice Faber-Castell. There’s not a lot you can do in a one-hour programme, however, in a somewhat stereotypical fashion it suggested a little of the flavour of the German psyche. Given we’re part of the EU I can’t understand why we don’t feature more of this European orientated bullshit, if only to inform us about our neighbours and partners (and competitors). Our media appears more fixated with life in bongo-bongo land than what happens on Britain’s doorstep. Then again I suppose few people in the south of England give more than 30 seconds thought to what transpires in Newcastle or Glasgow, or vice versa. Nuremberg barely computes.

Tuesday, August 6

Politicians and their promises

The waist-high wall of sandbags protecting the Quik-E-Mart has become a familiar fixture over the past couple of years; residents are still clearing the flotsam and jetsam after yesterday’s flooding. Yet more of our yard lies with neighbours below us, replaced in turn by wash from slopes above. Thankfully, this morning, a sun has replaced the fog and the clouds have moved on. Walkers are back on the moor, the track is busy with farmers moving sheep back and forwards between moor and shearing shed, partridges scuttle in and out of the hedgerow. Galvanised by the running water and news of London’s fatberg discovery, I chased up the annual visit from our privy man: he who empties the septic tank, all 800 gallons of the stuff. One way or another the system has cost a fair few bob since moving in. But then we don’t pay water or sewage taxes/rates, which – thanks to coastal erosion – can be quite considerable hereabouts. If only we could do something about those other taxes. The slogan painted on the side of the privy man’s motor says ‘This tank is full of political promises.’

Safe as houses, and sauerkraut

It appears London isn’t the only game in town. What with foreign buyers looking for safe havens and buy-to-letters, there seems no obvious immediate answer to the shortage of UK properties. Given the decline in Germany’s birth rate, I suppose we could all move to Dusseldorf? Though after Rick Stein’s German Bite on last night’s television you’d need to develop a hearty appetite. Whilst their cars may be the bee’s knees, German food looks dire – something from the middle-ages. Can you imagine eating a plate of Bremen lobscouse? Heart disease writ large. Most of the dishes appear better suited to lads that work on the deck of a Baltic trawler during winter. And is there anything more bland than the sight of pork, mushrooms and cream mit potatoes? The principal reason given for the German diet is as part of the recovery process after a night on the batter – and you thought we were binge drinkers. Then again they may be on to something?

Monday, August 5

Vorsprung durch Technik

Although I’m not a regular viewer, last night’s Top Gear – the last in the series – was worth tuning in for. Contrary to popular myth it appears we’re not doing too badly in the motor manufacturing stakes, tractors and Formula One cars alike. The following programme, Das Autos, The Germans their cars and us was just as entertaining, albeit the BBC were paying homage to the German machine and emphasising our inglorious past. Whilst it’s true the South Hams car of choice is an Audi, with Volkswagen close behind, I suspect both are marginally outnumbered by Land Rover – at least in the immediate area. Of course you can moan about the fact that our car manufacturers and profits are owned by foreigners, but at the end of the day it could also be argued that the lads at Nissan’s Sunderland plant have more money in their pocket than the crew from Wolfsburg?

Sunday, August 4

Lazy rainy days

We have been invaded by a band of recently fledged wrens, tiny balls of manic energy that are usually invisible, heard but not seen – who ‘sing so sweetly ’mid the gloom.’ Gloom being the operative word. I’ve lit a fire to boost morale: and just when I’d become accustomed to keeping a bottle of Beaujolais on the fridge door. Having settled for a day of feet up and bottled beer, I bought the Sunday papers. A total waste of time and effort as most everyone’s on holiday, the pages full of hastily written stocking fillers. I continue to review the motoring press, leaving pertinent articles in Mrs G’s in-tray. Have even resorted to watching a repeat of the British Touring Car Championship from Snetterton (had forgotten they still make MGs). It seems we have new neighbours...four-wheel drive and gun dog.

Saturday, August 3

The Germans and their cars

I am sorely tempted. You can’t knock German engineering, the quality of their motors. The car failed again this morning en route for sticky buns and newspapers. It is my fourth example of this particular marque and has proved a real disappointment. Reliability would certainly top my requirements for a replacement vehicle, IF it was within my purview. Unfortunately I ceded responsibility for procurement to Mrs G. It is her turn. Tongue-in-cheek I submitted a shortlist of ten, with high marks for economy and anonymity. Regretfully there’s been something of a backlash against yours truly, Mr Boring, with quality upholstery and user-friendly suspension trumping my request for a pickup.

Trying to avoid the ruts

... and getting stuck in the mud. Another Saturday comes around; another week gone! ‘Time flies’ is a common enough remark, though nowadays the sand seems to run ever faster – a speeding train through vaguely familiar countryside to an unknown destination. You can sense I’ve another birthday in the offing. You get to musing, without the encouragement of a bottle. It is said that to teach how to live without certainty, and without being paralysed by hesitation, is the principal attribute of philosophy (I’ve been reading Bertrand Russell again). Though we’d rather it was laid out before us, that the die was cast, it is the very unpredictability of life that makes it so interesting, keeps the flies from settling. Unfortunately Saturday morning is all too predictable: Mrs G. hands me the vacuum and points me in the general direction.

Friday, August 2

Good fortune follows the fork-tails

The swallows nesting in the barn have another brood to contend with. I guess it is nature’s way of playing catch up following last year’s dismal weather, and confirms the old adage about one swallow not making a summer – their high, stuttery cries continuing to brighten our days. To have them nesting in your property is thought to bring good fortune, though Glorious Goodwood has yet to back this up. I’ve missed the swifts this year: they appear to have passed us by. Kestrels, too, are thin on the ground.

Thursday, August 1

No need for sweat

The air is so humid – heavy with moisture – I lit a fire in a vain attempt to dry out the homestead. Following our neighbour’s birthday celebration yesterday I set off through the furze at half-seven this morning to clear my head. By the time I’d crested the rise my clothing was already saturated and clinging to my body. The moor remains hidden beneath a dense fog, and aside from a cawing crow and the distant fall of water, eerily quiet. No suggestion of a breeze, everything appears frozen in time. Even the giant lumps of beef I stumbled into remained fixed to the spot, seemingly disinterested in interlopers. The only movement comes from flickering white moths in the grasses and a lark feeding its young. I suspect work will take a back seat today – apparently there’s a mini-heatwave on the way.

Tuesday, July 30

Make hay ...

The kids break up for summer holidays and it’s monsoon season once again. Barbecue and salads give way to braised beef and cabbage; wellies become the order of the day. That said it is quite pleasant outside, sans stinging insects ... And it appears we are marginally happier than this time last year: seventy seven percent of the population think life ain’t too shabby.

At 24 Gareth Bayle is too young to reach for the stars, says David Bleat ... I’ve lost count of the number of lads I worked alongside who spurned the chance of advancement because they believed themselves inexperienced and feared failure, were scared of screwing up and making fools of themselves. Ten years later they were still at the same desk and being passed over. Then again I suppose you could throw William Hague at me: if he’d only waited a couple of years.

Union boss says we’re losing our soul

It wasn’t like this in the old days ... dream on, Gordon. Whenever someone bleats about morality it is usually because they feel irrelevant.

Friday, July 26


While waiting to watch a Slade* documentary on BBC Four this evening I sat through a repeat of last Sunday’s Albert Hall performance by the newly-formed National Youth Orchestra of the USA. They were performing Shostakovich's mighty 10th. What intrigues me, other than the excellent performance, is the seemingly disproportionate number of Asian musicians in the line up, and – given I listen to so many African-American musicians – the absence of black faces. Not that this means anything, I guess. I religiously watch University Challenge and am struck by the fact that only one in eight of the contestants are young women (when over half of university entrants are female). Such things puzzle me.

(*No not the fine art school.)

Rabbit and morel stew with olive oil mash

Our fine weather continues to hang on in there. Although today was supposed to be cooler the moor remains a veritable furnace, and as in recent days just two or three other walkers in the vicinity. Grazing cattle and furze chitters – restless stonechats – dominate its parched landscape. Foxes lurk amongst the bracken feasting on young pheasant. Back at the homestead it is pesky rabbits that hold sway. They’ve eaten Mrs G’s prize roses, stripping the shrubs of leaves and flowers. Needless to say – stable doors and bolting horses etc. – the yard is now a maze of protective netting. The good lady keeps vigil in a shady nook, patiently rocking to and fro, Remington in her lap. A varied diet remains one of my principal pleasures.

Thursday, July 25

Deluxe fish & chips

After two days of sweat and toil, Mrs G. and I sneaked off for a day out in Dartmouth. The weather is just about perfect. We walked around town looking in on the numerous galleries and boutiques that cater to visitors, admired the view on the water, and engaged in a little people watching. After flipping a coin we ate lunch at Mitch Tonks’ restaurant, The Seahorse. A glass of champagne and antipasti, followed by an excellent fritto misto di mare (John Dory, Red Mullet, White Bait, Monkfish, Squid and Soft Shell Crabs). Lots of visitors from the Continent and more Range Rovers than you can shake a stick at. We were followed all the way down by a Noble and a Porsche. Not a tractor in sight. Great Yarmouth it ain’t.

Tuesday, July 23

Happy with your lot?

I sat listening to Frank Bruno on this morning’s television. I can’t resist smiling every time I hear the lad’s voice. On the face of it, a charming and engaging man; saw him fight two or three times in the old days. There must be a celestial handicapper that doles out our lot, good and bad, in equal measure. Would I trade for an ounce of Paul Gascoigne’s talent if the bargain included a commensurate portion of his off-pitch demons?

Monday, July 22

Consumer confidence at four and a half year high

... although concerns continue about rising ‘utility bills’. And as if by magic, this morning I receive a letter from DWP confirming my name is in the frame for a winter fuel payment come Christmas. I’ve been paying in since 1967 and – despite what they say about the good fortune of us so-called baby boomers – have yet to see a penny in return. This will be my first instance of State largess. Of course that’s excepting the third-rate education I received at Crap Street Secondary Modern and some NHS treatment for a broken leg. What’s the betting our Universal State Pension is scrapped one week before I become eligible?

Sunday, July 21

A subject best avoided

President Obama’s recent remarks about taking heart from his daughters’ generation in relation to the Trayvon Martin case reflect a general assumption that young people are less prejudiced than we oldies. Unfortunately young people age and I doubt the polarisation of communities or white flight will be reversed any time soon. Like Obama, however, I remain optimistic. As with most guys of a certain age I tend to relax in the Dog & Duck amongst friends that reflect my race, age and class. Whilst there’s always room for difference, experience teaches when difference extends to more than the odd individual it degenerates into ‘us and them’. What trumps this cynical approach is a realisation that, in the event of a bunch of lads from Papua New Guinea paddling up the River Dart, when stepping from their dugout canoe (grass skirts, bone through the nose, bodies decorated with the scalps of their enemies), I would probably find I have more in common with each of them than with 95% of the women I meet. Yet despite the Mars and Venus conundrum, men and women marry and live together in relative harmony for much of their lives. You’d think, having pulled off this feat of arms, it would not be beyond the wit of man to live alongside Bill Reynolds and his chums without recourse to shooting each other. Of course I’m speaking from the relative isolation of rural Devon, hardly a bedrock of multiculturalism – watching Tiger Woods tee-off at The Open. The last two black guys to actually visit were here to kidnap and murder Joss Stone.

Saturday, July 20

Looking cool

I have so many fans whirring away in the background the homestead sounds like the interior of clapped out Boeing en route to Menorca. The temperature suits the mood. Following a morning at the coal face it’s an afternoon of snacks and sports on the box. Deep-fried squid followed by the remains of yesterday’s barbecued chicken and freshly-cut salad from the garden. Despite the fans and a 15kts breeze in the yard the temperature remains a stubborn 28º. And you won’t hear a word of complaint from this direction. The only jarring note is Lee Westwood’s attire. What’s with this loudest chav on the course look? Damn it the man’s 40, not 14. I suppose today’s ‘Johan Cruyff on vacation’ is a step up from Thursday’s health & safety ensemble, but even so... I was going to make a smart arse comment about Jimenez’s tartan slacks, but then you recall the 70s. Compared to Tom Watson and Johnny Miller et al, it passes as conservative dress.