Friday, March 29

Easter barbeque

It was impossible to ignore the 500% increase in caravan traffic this morning as visitors began arriving in the area. I also passed a large group of teenagers loaded up and heading out across the moor for a tented weekend of bracing walks and campfires. Given the temperature is well below zero (wind chill) and there’s a twenty-knot breeze whistling through the furze I salute the young lads’ determination. Not that I’m easily defeated myself. Not wishing to miss out on the traditional Easter roast I’ve fired up my barbeque in the lee of the barn. I admit in current conditions this isn’t exactly risk free, but then he who dares... It takes a hard heart to stand toasting your hands on a crispy shoulder of lamb whilst engaged in banter with a farming neighbour driving his flock past the homestead ... although that’s what he’s here for. Myself – as he so often chides me – I’m just along for the ride.

Tuesday, March 26

Ye whirring paitrick brood

Monday night’s supper was the last of this season’s partridge. I’ll miss the little suckers, ditto the roast vegetables; although at this time of year – with the impending spring break – I should be brushing off the barbeque. I even acquired a forequarter of hogget and flagon of cider in readiness for the off. However it’s difficult to get into the spirit when you’re knee-deep in icicles and the pipes are frozen. Whilst the southwest appears to have escaped the worst of Britain’s atrocious weather, our immediate environs remain clothed in a pelt of blue ice. I imagine the airlines are gearing up for a mass getaway over the holiday period. Doubtless anywhere but Cyprus.

Friday, March 22

A regular guy

I’ve always presumed the only regular thing about Christopher Walken is that he probably visits the lavatory every morning. You shouldn’t disillusion your audience at this late stage. In an age of conformity Walkenising is the one beacon of hope. If the truth is so mundane, a life of contingency plans and anecdotes, a diet of chicken and vegetables ... Damn, what hope for the rest of us?

Thursday, March 21

Not a lad’s book

My reading material these past weeks has struggled to engage. That said there are times I become bored with food, with eating. I read for distraction, entertainment, inspiration ... and as with the odd duff meal or dish of curdled custard, disappointing books come my way. James Herbert once bemoaned the literary snobs amongst his critics, but a diet of beans can wear on a body – so I’ll try most anything. This week’s bloomer (on my part) is Orkney, written by Amy Sackville, a prize-winning author and lecturer in creative writing. The lady’s prose is described as lyrical, lush in texture ... but the book drowns under the weight of her words. Herbert it ain’t. Though narrated from the perspective of a wet, overly possessive husband, it’s like reading the back of tampon box.

Define native

It’s difficult to sleep when Max Roach is pounding on the roof; another monsoon has arrived. Even so it remains pleasant outside in the rain – our coldest March for fifty years, so they say. I have 400 mixed natives to plant, Quickthorn and Blackthorn, Dogwood and Beech... Perhaps I should try rice or bamboo?

Wednesday, March 20

No wine and roses on the first day of spring

Another budget day, an occasion for the chancellor to demonstrate the limits to State largess. How far he can push the proverbial envelope, take the piss; when he announces how much of your money the government will expropriate in order to buy off their electorate, their client state. It will mostly be in the interest of fairness, of equity ... interesting, how language evolves. It’s no use me whinging, no one can please all the people all of the time ... I listened to the usual suspects on last night’s BBC Newsnight but it was the same old. Growth is all, it seems; all that is needed is for the government to spread more cash around. You’d think people would catch on, given Mervyn’s orgy of quantitative easing, having debased the currency. You don’t have to hang out in the Dog & Duck for long without appreciating there’s been a game changer. People have money but are paying down debt; they’re terrified to spend, not knowing what’s around the corner. Companies also have money to invest, but why bother when no one’s buying. All the State can do is confiscate whatever they can get their hands on and spend it for you. Bastards.

Monday, March 18

Fish pie and storm front in St Ives

For the past two years my screen saver has been Mackerel on a Plate, so it was unlikely I would miss the Tate’s current retrospective on William Scott. Mondays’ are crap anyway: what better than to slope off and eat lunch in St Ives. This time of year the place is relatively pleasant; come Easter I imagine the town will be bedlam. After the exhibition we looked in on several local galleries, although much of what’s for sale is the artistic equivalent of a kiss-me-quick hat ... I had forgotten the pleasures of negotiating Cornish traffic. The M25 it’s not, but everyone appears in such a hurry to go nowhere special. There was sleet on high ground en route home. Two motors in front totalled each other, along with the steel safety barrier. Many thanks to the police for keeping one lane open.

Saturday, March 16

A change in more than the weather

It was such a glorious day, Thursday: blue skies and sunshine. Flocks of goldfinches and long-tailed tits descended on the yard. You could almost imagine the swallows readying themselves for their departure from South Africa. Out on the moor it was millionaires’ walking, seemingly the whole place to myself. You’d hardly credit it, given the weekend blizzard. But then there was yesterday ... I returned ten paces ahead of an approaching front that subsequently tore off the chicken-coop roof and laid bare the yard ... Thankfully we managed to fix everything before the off at Cheltenham. It’s been a mixed Festival, my pocket money just about rescued by the last two races, the Gold Cup and Hunters Chase. Exiting stuff non-the-less, and enhanced by some bottles of Moyhill home brew. I was hoping the County Claire tipple would provide a sort of mind-meld with our Irish racing fraternity as television interviews had become increasingly incoherent. These days we often appear separated by a common language ... In the same vein I took a call from my bank earlier this week; he’s a new boy and was introducing himself. There was a time when bank managers spoke in a form of polished Edinburgh brogue that bespoke a level of expertise – nowadays, given most everything’s done on the phone rather than face to face, accent plays an increasingly important part in establishing personal credibility. I guess it’s why I find it so difficult to take financial advice from a guy who sounds more likely to offer you a slug of Buckfast than the usual two-fingers of malt.

Wednesday, March 13

Don’t go there

Simon Jenkins’ tuppence worth to the Home Builders’ Federation kicked off another bout of hand ringing at the Dog & Duck. It remains the current hot topic; social/affordable housing is guaranteed to divide any local community. I haven’t the faintest how you define social/affordable housing: for many it serves as a euphemism for council housing – a single mother on benefits, with eleven dependent children. From my vantage point at the opposite end of the bar the argument appeared less about the individuals seeking a home than the ongoing rivalry between two groups of combatants: certain local residents, disparagingly referred to as nimbies; and the usual assortment of characters on the make (landowners, builders and estate agents). Council officials and planning officers must feel like proverbial Aunt Sallies. The word sustainable was also bandied about, but as with the term social it is difficult for me to understand what this means, it appears to represent different things to different people. As to who wins the lottery when the new homes are completed... Simon Jenkins says children raised in the countryside have no automatic right to live near their parents when they grow up, but this underpins the whole raison d’être for despoiling the countryside. I thought best keep well out of it.

Cheltenham returns

At 0º it seems pleasantly mild outside. The overnight temperature within the homestead has been plunging below 10º recently and a 13 Tog duvet deemed insufficient protection. I am sure we were basking in sunshine during March last year? Thankfully it’s the Cheltenham Festival this week, sufficient excuse to throw another log on the fire, ignore the many burdensome tasks and to switch on the television ... Four winners for the Gudgeon household on day one should ensure we remain glued to the box for the remainder of this week.

Monday, March 11

Another wintery blast

We entertained friends to lunch and dinner over the weekend, consuming ridiculous quantities of food and ale. The pre-lunch stroll on the moor in blizzard-like conditions degenerated into a scene from Scott of the Antarctic. It would have been nice to stop for a pint en route home, but Mother’s Day is a nightmare from hell. If the government is serious about cutting down on alcohol consumption all they have to do is position a mother (granny) at the head of the queue at the bar. The response to “What’s it to be then, Mom?” will inevitably be followed by an excruciating period of prevarication, before opting for the same glass of lemonade. It was minus four degrees this morning and it’s minus four degrees right now. When you factor in the wind chill factor ...

Thursday, March 7

Foggy days and healthy diets

Foggy reflects the condition of my head some mornings ... The weatherman was correct with his forecast: it’s a real pea-souper. Inside the homestead, humidity is >70%, the highest reading for a while. Our two mallards have disappeared from outside the window, replaced by a brace of pheasants – a dapper cock and an equally resplendent hen. What we haven’t seen much of during the winter is deer. I miss their sudden appearances, their Olympic-style vaults across the hedge. Given news of surging numbers you wonder where the herd has gone. I guess our local farmers are doing their job and culling? Although everyone is urged to eat venison, it isn’t the sort of thing that lends itself to industrial-style production, nor is it viewed as a credible replacement for the standard fare of the proletariat. Yesterday I stopped by one of those burger vans you see on the fringe of industrial estates, for a bacon bap and mug of tea. Welcome as my late breakfast was, given the bacon’s salt content it was difficult to disagree with perceived wisdom. I suppose we eat venison at home once a fortnight. However, despite enthusiastic promotion by its supporters venison remains an acquired taste; persuading junior to scoff a slab of Bambi’s mom can’t be easy. And it costs.

Tuesday, March 5

If I knew I was going to live this long...

Healthy life expectancy is shorter in the UK. It seems Brits enjoy fewer years of good health than residents of most comparable European countries. In spite (or because) of the money we’ve thrown at the NHS this past two decades ‘they say’ our health is little better than when everyone smoked forty Woodbines and breakfasted on stale chip butties. If we moderated our drinking habits and ate more turnips and apples we could all spend lots more years dribbling down our vest in a council care home. I know, I know ... Mickey Mantle said it first.

Crawling about in the dirt

I had a decent result yesterday morning with two moles falling foul of my traps. I’m knee-deep in mice, voles and rabbits – and something has dumped a gallon of frogspawn in the pond, but moles, bless them, are a critter too far. At the outset the yard hosted three seemingly separate groups – labours, and my initial inclination was to leave well alone. Having lived with moles at the barn we appeared to accommodate them well enough. Here at the hacienda, however, they have become a significant problem. The little sods appear intent on decimating neighbour’s paddocks and much of the hillside above. Fingers crossed (those digits that haven’t been harmed setting traps) I’ve now accounted for two of the burrows. The third – an ever expanding commune that opened for business on the site of Mrs G’s proposed cabbage patch – is fixed in my sight.

Monday, March 4

Biting the hand

William Hague hits back at ‘delusional’ Assad; the foreign secretary says if the Syrian leader lived in Britain he would probably vote for UKIP. It seems the Tories strategy with regards to recalcitrant supporters is to keep poking them in the eye with a blunt stick. The government must be very confident about the future direction of the economy.

Sunday, March 3

Dead ringer

Hands up: who thought the terrorist featured in the weekend’s papers was a ringer for Man City’s number 32? I was out on the moor reasonably early this morning. Fresh would best describe the weather. Our neighbours have spent the past week muckspreading and the air is unbelievably ripe. I returned to take refuge inside, sorting what’s left of my looted singles (record) collection – Stax, Pye, Creole, Parlophone... There are still a few memories to be gleaned from the remains of the 60s, the hugely underrated 70s – not least those nostalgic 80s themes, Mike Post et al. I also came across a Cher/Loaf hit from ’81-82 that must have been played on a virtual loop in the Falmouth Pub we used as base for several boozy days spent celebrating a colleague’s wedding. I guess we did those sorts of things back then. If I remember correctly everyone in town was either a biker or farmer or a port agent. Regretfully the marriage didn’t make it...but it was fun at the time.

Friday, March 1

Don’t listen to Eric Idle

Sometimes five layers of clothing aren’t enough. Damn it, it’s chilly this morning. Flurries of snow are with us and Mrs G. is serving large portions of porridge. Though temperature has barely risen above zero this past couple of weeks there’s been little wind to speak of. Accordingly, life has been comfortable. Compared to a diet of southwesterly gales and buckets of rain, cold is bliss. And ducks have returned to forage in the pond, primroses are breaking through: maybe spring is around the corner? ... I try not to encourage this sort of optimistic thinking. My caution is supported by recently published research from the American Psychological Association, confirming the benefits associated with a negative outlook. Their ten year study suggests people with zero expectations thrive, while overly optimistic individuals are doomed to disappointment. Like as not we’re all going to hell in a handcart. Providing you accept this preposition, maybe you can take your own sweet time time in getting there.