Thursday, February 28

Salmon for supper

These days an occasional pleasure. Delicious as this evening’s meal may have been, it is impossible to eat salmon without invoking memories of the Granite City. Twenty-plus years of BA flights from/to Heathrow or Gatwick, every one seeming to serve salmon as the inflight meal.

Tuesday, February 26

A treat

It might not be up there with my septic tank exploits but this morning’s crawl around the loft was something I’d spent months avoiding. We had doused the roof space with toxic chemicals a year or so ago, to guard against woodworm and the other usual suspects, and until now (a need for storage space) I hadn’t given much thought to the zillion or so invertebrates that had been colonising the area. As there’s restricted headroom it was literally a crawl, the Henry vacuum following in my wake. Although zilch sign of life, there was a fair bit of inert matter to take care of, a decade or two of gunge to expunge, things to check – and damn it, it’s cold up there at this time of year. Whilst suitably impressed with the depth of insulating material, the stuff’s of little use on the wrong side of the blanket. We also had a couple of lads in today, to trim an overhanging beech; then there was the mole traps to be checked, wood to cut ... So what better, late afternoon,in front of a roaring stove, with Mrs G. roasting quail and simmering beans, than to sit listening to Stan Tracey and his ensemble perform at the QEH – a large glass of Highland Park to warm the insides.

Friday, February 22

Credit when due

Given the negative publicity they received when attempting to open in Totnes, it’s worth mentioning we called in at a Costa in Plymouth yesterday (Exeter’s great for coffee shops, Plymouth less so), and was served an excellent cup of coffee.

On the same subject...we have scoffed a lot of nice food recently, some experimental, some traditional. The former can be fun, be it last week’s Michelin Star fare or Wednesday’s Stuffed Peppers a la Gudgeon. However, though fusion has its place, tradition – grub that’s stood the test of time – usually wins out. Part of the reason for yesterday’s trip to Plymouth was to buy fish. Although there are a number of local fishmongers, when the mood takes you it’s nice to buy something that boasts a recent relationship with the sea. Pot luck for the most part, but occasionally you strike lucky: last night’s supper being the best fish we’ve eaten this past 12 months.

Two bars better than none

...and while we’re on a nostaligia kick, let us hear it for the two-bar electric fire. It’s seasonally cold this morning, and – with due respect to Irving Berlin – I’ve invested in a lot than love to keep me warm. Back when, however, the two-bar was a life saver. Even now its derivative, the ubiquitous fan heater, proves extremely useful for boosting bedrooms and bathrooms during winter. Unfortunately I can’t seem to kick the habit of looking to see how fast the dial is spinning when a heater is switched on.

Thursday, February 21

Pots and Prints

We were down in Plymouth this morning to view an exhibition of Gordon Baldwin’s work. Baldwin is reputed to be one of the world’s leading sculptural potters; Mrs G. likes his sort of thing. Given this week is half-term the gallery was surprisingly quiet. With parents off earning a living the brats tend to be subcontracted to grandparents for the duration...and I suppose it’s just being who they are, but grandparents appear to labour under a misapprehension that children require intellectual stimulation (when all the kids want is another trip to McDonald’s). Damn but they’re irritating little buggers when you’re looking for space to think. If you want to witness real despair, follow granny’s facial expression when the realisation dawns that junior’s brain isn’t matching up, that the family might has bred a wrong ’un. . The exhibition was well worth the effort, however, and Baldwin’s pots are at least matched by Ida Kar’s photographs in an adjacent room. Kar’s portraits, on loan from the NPG, offer a fantastic insight into post-war cultural life, her subjects comprising some of the most celebrated literary and arty figures from Britain and Europe. You can argue all you want about whether black & white bromide prints are art, but – at least for me – if it comes down to Ida Kar’s snaps versus Tracey Emin’s unmade bed there’s little to contest. Some of the photographs are juxtaposed with examples of the subject’s work, giving further food for thought.

Also worth a look is an exhibition of recent paintings by Singapore artists Milenko Provachi and Ian Woo, across at the Peninsula Arts Gallery. Titled ‘Island Vernacular’, the theme addresses the notion that insular island cultures evolve through migrating cultural influences. All good stuff.

Great British Railway Journeys

CJ Sansom’s latest novel was uppermost in my mind yesterday morning. The train I took to Totnes as part of my mini-Portillo adventure had distinct echoes of the 1950s AND was full of German tourists. Although the current national rail system is less than perfect, you have to admit we’ve come a long way since pre-privatisation days. Unfortunately much of what constitutes contemporary Britain, though well designed and functional, can often lack charm. Yesterday’s auto-trailer was reminiscent of Gudgeon’s early commuter days; carriage door windows were lowered by means of a leather belt, the upholstery smelling of smog and damp woollen drawers. Our locomotive was an ex-GWR 4575 Class, built in 1928. Along with the rolling stock it had been withdrawn from BR service in the sixties and subsequently restored by railway enthusiasts.

Tuesday, February 19

Smoke and mirrors ...

... and the light that blinds (our local sidings). I appreciate newspapers serve a purpose but they’re hardly the stuff of inspiration. If there’s bad news to be uncovered or faux outrage to dispense, you can read it each morning for a quid or less. I suppose we get the press we deserve; misery lit, the rank and file seem to lap it up ... This morning our fabled Dartmoor mist returned, saddling the homestead with the cloak of invisibility. On such occasions, life – at least what passes for life – has something of a wireless about it. Although your ears provide a sense of what’s taking place, perceptions are the gift of our imagination. What constitutes reality tends to be fashioned by past experience and formed expectations, an occasional dash of wishful thinking. You hear what you want to hear. In truth the yard ain’t a bad world ... although crows screech, sheep bleat and cattle bellow, life remains what you want it to be.

Monday, February 18

Nostalgic trip to the pub

The lengths they go to, getting us to the pub in style. Yes, we do have trains, even here in the sticks. Our local line is currently supplementing its rolling stock with a 1903 GWR steam railmotor. Ah the smell of burning coal...the bittersweet taste of oil on your tongue.

Sunday, February 17

Race day

It’s Totnes Good Food Sunday and not a horse in sight. Truth to tell if horse meat was for sale I’d be tempted to buy some and give it a try. As I’m one of the few hereabouts that doesn’t ride, this would probably be viewed as sacrilegious, but then little do we know what lurks beneath the glass of the local deli charcuterie counter ... As it happens, after stocking up on supplies, we are off to a South Pool Harriers meet at our local track. I watch the neighbourhood point-to-pointers exercise every morning – spectacularly large horses – so we might as well go along and cheer them on.

Friday, February 15

Tonight’s supper is cheese on toast

The breaking news that Whitbread have discovered horsemeat in their lasagne validated my decision to pull out of the Dog & Duck’s Valentine Day supper. Rather than incur the wrath of Mrs G, however, I booked us in for an evening at one of our local country-house hostelries. I’ve a soft spot for draughty piles that serve hearty fare and large measures at the bar; they account for many of our more memorable excursions. Last night was a classic, in the form of a seven-course dinner designed by one of the country’s top chefs. These days I find it difficult to work up sufficient appetite to tackle such gastronomic delights, to keep up with the good lady, but a man’s gotta do... Truth to tell it wasn’t so much the tuna tartare and Oscietra caviar, the truffle and vegetable terrine or venison salad that pushed me to the limit, still less the Brixham turbot – the clams, cockles and mussels in basil butter sauce – nor the partridge and quince, the wild Dartmoor beef, the cheeses, sorbets and exotic fruit salads, still less the apple mouse and ice cream ... it was the seven wines that accompanied the meal, the session in the cocktail bar before we sat down. It was all too reminiscent of the bad old days.

Thursday, February 14

Valentine’s Day

Play it again, Sam. Which way to jump: to the Quik-E-Mart for a dozen roses and dinner-for-two from the chill cabinet; or a table by the window at the Dog & Duck?

Tuesday, February 12

Don’t believe what it says on the label

The horsemeat scandal stumbles along with everyone now encouraged to shop locally, on the high street. I don’t understand this, as the constituent parts of a Findus meal remain the same whether you purchase it from the Asian corner shop at the end of the road or an out-of-town superstore in the next county? As it happens I was visiting the big city for supplies yesterday, and spurning the delights on offer at the grocers, elected to take Mrs G. to lunch at Gary Rhodes’ new place on the Hoe. Rhodes at the Dome is our latest celebrity-chef offering, and one I’m loathed to criticise as it brings more choice and boosts the status of Plymouth as a foodie/tourist venue. Suffice to say the experience was pretty poor stuff and you are well advised to give the restaurant a wide berth until they get on their feet. More fancy burger joint than Michelin Star, and not very good ones at that. It doesn’t matter if the name is written on the front of a packet or above the door, reputations are easily lost.

Saturday, February 9

Greasy spoon breakfast

As I was low on diesel, and the neighbours’ were muckspreading this week, I called in for a wash and brush up at the local superstore. Having bunkered and cleaned the motor it seemed reasonable to take on fuel myself, ordering a cooked breakfast from the cafeteria. You may think it sacrilegious, given our access to fresh eggs and locally produced organic foodstuffs, but then forbidden fruit can taste just as sweet – particularly when it comes with the added frisson of horsemeat fritters. I reckon 80% of the customers were close to or past their 60th birthday, and many had a parent in tow. Most would position themselves in the vanguard of the boomer generation, and though all had a smile on their face and were engaged in lively banter with their fellow diners, it would be difficult to equate them with the ‘privileged generation’ tag too often bestowed by their progeny. I suspect the number of individuals who’d received a ‘free’ university education and are in line for a meaningful pension could be counted on one hand.

Thursday, February 7

Joe Cocker ... another age

Latest industry figures indicate almost one in five music buyers have left the high street for good, with a quarter of the population using digital products. I’m not ashamed to admit Luddite tendencies. Having owned an iPod from its inception, it remains hidden at the back of a drawer. And I really did think Spotify was something for teenage acne. I am one of the declining number who still collect CDs, albeit not as enthusiastically as ten years ago. Although vinyl appears to be making a comeback, with an expanding catalogue on display at the local record shop, this morning I realised the writing was well and truly on the wall when Chris Evans introduced Joe Cocker’s rendition of With a little help... by suggesting there could be some in the audience who hadn’t heard the track before. It’s Radio 2 for god’s sake: who does the lad think he’s broadcasting too? Danny Baker’s Great Album Showdown has been taking a stab at the golden age of analogue. Criticized for being too polite, the programme is tailor-made for white blokes in their fifties and sixties, and consists of a trio of sad sorts (and obligatory girl) reminiscing about the good old days. The shows end with Baker inviting each guest to choose three iconic albums. It set me thinking, so much so I’ve dug out my collection of scuffed vinyl from the barn. The choice is less about musical merit than the memories albums are wrapped in. I’d like to impress everyone with how cool I was back then, but that would be to exclude such classics as Make your move, by Captain and Tennille, the ’68 smash Best of the Seekers, and Barry Manilow’s original release of Even Now. I guess if I had to sum up the vinyl era – other than Joe Cocker – it would have to include.

Sunday, February 3

Ethnic food

What with the Six Nations and the usual footy it has been a sporty weekend. To show willing I’ve been out tramping the moor. The northern wind is making itself felt, so as a winter warmer and part concession to yesterday’s result, Mrs G. produced a batch of stovies for Sunday lunch (the remnants of our deferred Burns supper). Stovies are a favourite (mit oatcakes and beetroot); and as luck would have it, I had a couple of bottles of Innes & Gunn on the shelf. Top notch beer, recently on sale at the Quik-E-Mart. I’ll drink most anything on special, which is how I came up with the bottle of Laphroig’s Quarter Cask. As with I&G’s beer there’s a distinct toffee nose, but that’s where the similarity ends. The whisky is said to be reminiscent of a crofter’s hearth, tasting of burnt peat, heather and gorse. They’re not wrong, it could have been bottled at the homestead. Hardly the most subtle malt I’ve tasted, the stuff fair brings a tear to the eye. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 2

Back in the saddle

On occasion I can almost envisage becoming a vegetarian, though the urge rarely lasts beyond my next plate of barbeque. Today's lunch at the Dog & Duck featured an outstanding array of legumes, including celeriac and potato mash, fennel braised in orange juice, marmalade glazed beetroot, baked butternut squash, all manner of spiced red and green cabbages, roasted parsnips and carrots, and lots of exotic salad leaves, beautifully dressed. The glistening slabs of pork appeared almost superfluous. Conversation, too, came in many shapes and styles, with diners from such far flung townships as Cardiff and Hitchin, Grimsby and Nottingham.