Sunday, June 30

Things wear out, time moves on...

Although they weren’t Pirellis, yesterday cost me two rear tyres. One punctured; the other seemingly bald as a coot. A punishing medium: rural roads. Given I’ve promised to replace the motor, this time around I opted for a budget brand – discarded barbed wire doesn’t discriminate. Today’s excursion to a plant sale gave me the opportunity to scuff the surfaces, with a run up the M5. Whilst Mrs G. got what she was looking for, I have to admit East Devon gives me the willies. Everyone I meet is in their 80s or older. It’s not the wrinkles and dribbles that cause me concern, more the in-your-face reminder of my own mortality. And while we’re on the subject – and it’s probably sacrilege to say so – what a sad bunch of tossers they looked – the Stones that it, at Glastonbury, – only marginally more ridiculous than the audience of thirty-somethings intent on reliving their teenage years. None of us wants to grow old gracefully but there are some sad sights out there.

Wednesday, June 26

Nature note

I’m pleased to say that – weather wise at least – this year bears little relation to 2012. Hardly the stuff of Mediterranean dreams I know – and I’m probably tempting fate by even talking about it – but a million miles from last summer’s ‘wettest/coldest/ whatever’ on record. The number of insects appears to have increased tenfold, and with it the birds. There’s certainly no shortage of swallows – nor the song thrush, blackbird or robin. An array of wild flowers – buttercups and clover in particular – has also led to large numbers of bees visiting the yard. We have plenty of dragonflies but fewer butterflies than usual. It’s peaceable; the rabbits are complacent enough to ignore me when I pass. The voles however are a different story – our owls and foxes are failing in their duty.

Friday, June 21

Pork ribs and a cold beer

I stopped for a swift one in the Dog & Duck at lunchtime, but a combination of the adjacent byre and a smell of stewed cabbage emanating from the kitchen put a damper on the ale. Like most rural pubs, sans tourists the place is a midday graveyard. Though there are convoys of motors towing caravans and boats passing by, all appear headed for Dartmouth or Salcombe. Back at the homestead Mrs G. is in full pavlova mode, baking mountains of chewy meringues in an effort to reduce her egg mountain. I’ve promised to barbeque a rack of pork ribs for supper. Am still undecided on the Coronation Stakes... How do we get rid of that ghastly Brix Smith?

Lost to me

For someone who has always retained The Godfather and The Godfather Part II in his top ten all time films my never having watched a single episode of The Sopranos would seem an aberration. A question of timing, I guess, television being pretty much absent from those years. Actually now I come to think of it the whole time the first two seasons were running is a blank. Perhaps a box set for future long winter evenings?

Thursday, June 20

The mozzies are biting

Whilst not wishing to be uncharitable, Ascot Ladies Day is not the prettiest of sights. I suspect it’s payback for their allowing middle-aged men to wear denim jeans. Today was one of those all too familiar occasions when my pocket money trailed the field and looked as though it was enjoying itself. I’ve adjourned to the porch with a fruit cordial to commiserate and watch as the Atlantic Ocean dumps on the homestead. Fog and drizzle has replaced yesterday’s scorcher – no two days are ever the same, variety being ... etc. Given the bellowing cattle and our screeching feathered friends the yard resembles a scene from one of Graham Greene’s novels sans the angst. I continue to plod through Daniel Dennett’s latest publication (page 238) but the book is proving less riveting than I’d hoped, think Nigel Mansell’s autobiography with longer words. Today’s papers detail more grief for the NHS: I suspect it’s a cunning plan by the government to encourage everyone to self-medicate in preference to visiting their local A&E.

Wednesday, June 19

Might as well flip a coin

Leading climate scientists warn the UK could be set for a further five to ten years of washout summers ... I sat listening to the Met Office press conference yesterday thinking what a waste of space they were. My only surprise was their spokesman’s failure to dump a cup of tea leaves on the table in front of everyone. Though disenchanted with politicians and medical staff, the public appear to retain a naive belief in proselytizing scientists. Given the Met Office’s track record their staff have as much chance of picking a winner at Ascot as accurately forecasting the weather; snake oil salesmen, the lot of ’em.

Pollination and sexual reproduction

Anyone reading the papers would conclude sex is a wholly miscreant pastime, yet the homestead is alive with bees pollinating whatever it is they pollinate. Neighbours lambs stand bleating alongside. Mrs G. marched me off to a nursery yesterday to look at fruit trees, my complaints about even more grass to be cut and limbs to prune falling on deaf ears. I have outside help at present as the yard is overrun by kittens from our warren. Yes they’re cute, but Mrs G’s lettuce hasn’t a prayer. The voles have also expanded their run to accommodate more offspring – I’ve counted twenty-two access points and sit transfixed as they scurry before me along the maze of rocks. Two swallows in the barn are feeding something in their nest although I haven’t had an opportunity to climb up there and look inside. The blackbird in the shed has yet to move from its nest, whilst a cock pheasant remains permanently camped on the porch. I made the mistake of feeding it some corn weeks ago and now he won’t bugger off and do what he’s supposed to. What with the frogs, newts and grass snakes I’m only amazed there are so many slugs and snails. I managed to return home sans tree but suspect it’s merely a question of time.

Tuesday, June 18

Fat people

...are on a hiding to nothing. One day someone will invent a pill that adjusts our metabolism to compensate. We will eat whatever we want to our heart’s desire and never gain a pound ... on that day everyone will be richer than Croesus and play scratch golf. For now it’s a scratch card and tofu salad.

Monday, June 17

Steady the Buffs

Afternoon duties were suspended for This Happy Breed, the trials and tribulations of South London’s Gibbons family. It comes around about as regularly as most old favourites, albeit less than they used to – the world is moving on. David Lean’s film affords us so-called boomers an opportunity to recall our parents’ generation and appreciate our good fortune. They probably looked back on their parents’ lives and thought the same. Does our relative affluence make us an even happier breed?

At the speed of the team's slowest member

You can’t but love Brian Sewell – anyone with such a ringing aversion to Fiona Bruce gets the thumbs up from me. Whilst an inadequate education and incautious life-style during my early years may have left me slow on the uptake, the BBC really is a patronising piece of shite. I tuned in to Countryfile last night to take a butchers at Adam Henson’s Belted Galloways and had to suffer the indignity of listening to Matt Baker. In concert with his colleagues from Springwatch the lad seemingly labours under the misapprehension he’s a primary school teacher ministering to backward seven-year-olds. You can’t fail to notice how slowly and loudly he speaks, like Brits abroad when they’re communicating with foreigners.

Doctor says we should put down the elderly

I guess that excludes the sainted Mandela – when is the old boy going to turn his toes up? Much is made about the burden of pensioners on society, but less about their contribution. Maybe the NHS should ask Charles Saatchi to tour intensive care wards in the dead of night. Congrats to Justin Rose by the way, winning the US Open. The young lad already seems to have been around long enough to qualify for a pension; a reminder to us all to keep pluggin’ away.

A fond hope

Following a particularly fractious Sunday I collapsed in front of the box with the last of my ’73 Glenlivet – a present to myself for surviving the course. I guess it is back to whatever the Quik-E-Mart has on fire-sale following their disappointing Father’s Day promotion. I always try to follow BBC’s Antiques Roadshow in the fond hope some of the tat from the tea chests stacked in the barn is of value. They look a grim-faced lot in Scarborough.

Saturday, June 15

Jam & Jerusalem

This morning I chauffeured Mrs G. to a much feted food festival in our old neighbourhood across the moor. Ninety-eight miles is a fair jaunt for what is essentially another array of women’s guild jam and dubious home brew. That said it keeps the lady happy. She procured several exotic plants for her allotment along with a half-decent cup of coffee. It was good to see some old faces but I had to drive like the devil to return in time for the coverage from Musselburgh. I haven’t backed a winner since the Derby, Ruler of the World having paid to repair both the motor and the Boss’s oven. There looked to be a fair number of properties for sale in West Devon, lots of people waiting to move on with their lives. I read headlines of soaring house prices but I don’t see it.

A Scotsman with a grievance

The SNP continue to whine about this week’s Question Time. If the BBC hadn’t invited Galloway and Farage the programme would have been a total loss. I accept Galloway speaks shite, but he does it so well – would that Parliament had more orators.

Sauce for the goose

Whilst the yard is rather soggy following a recent storm – the trees having lost most of their blossom – our homestead is looking pleasant this morning. A brief appearance from the sun and two acres of buttercups light my view to the moor. I should probably be ordering wood for winter. There’s never a dull moment, dress alternating between a colourful polo shirt and well-oiled Aran knitwear. I dropped in for my monthly trim yesterday. The barbershop clientele are a rum lot, their conversation spiced with anecdotes of life in the slammer and hastily arranged jaunts to the Iberian Peninsula. From what I read in the papers the lads appear little different to many of our parliamentary representatives. I see the traditional brown envelopes (birthday honours) are being dispensed for services rendered.

Thursday, June 13

Life’s a lottery

In evolutionary terms they say that over 90% of all creatures that have ever lived died without issue. Given one or two of the people I came across in Plymouth yesterday, I find it difficult to accept the concept of intelligent design: it has to be a Darwinian thing? The museum has been spring cleaning their vault and put a bunch of junk on display, a miscellany of domestic artefacts – Bakelite wirelesses and paraffin heaters, early washing machines (boilers) and cooking stoves. The sight of them set off a score of thoughts, few of which you’d think worth pursuing. But then you never know in advance where things lead.

Wednesday, June 12

Haddock and chips

I don’t eat enough fresh fish these days; the days of Mac Fisheries on every high street are long gone, and the Quik-E-Mart’s fish counter – as with its produce – has seen better days. So when the mood takes... That’s the problem with building more homes in the countryside: a fifty mile run if you fancy a treat for supper.

Sunday, June 9

Linking Environment and Farming

If LEAF’s Open Sunday’s attendance is a reflection of general public interest in the farming industry I can understand the attraction of television programmes such as BBC’s Countryfile – something that bores me senseless. I had no idea today would be so popular. Sponsors like Yeo Valley must be well chuffed, product placement to the fore. There was a series of informative talks about the livestock, the flora and fauna; lots of big lads shearing sheep and a round up session featuring Shep the wonder dog. Of course this was primarily about young families with kiddies, and there were lots of ’em about – little people, that is. Most of the children were too young to understand what was going on, but hopefully the experience was enough of a hook for their parents to repeat the experience and be a little more discriminating about the food they buy. Score one for the farmers.

Tea cakes and cream teas

Purchasing tickets in advance of the Contemporary Craft Festival turned out to be a prudent move, given a fair number of the anticipated 10,000 visitors were already stretched out before us on arrival. The exhibitors are an enthusiastic bunch, keen to engage with everyone, intent on explaining and promoting their wares. Mrs G. is a fan of Celia Smith’s work; anyone that can produce art from telephone wire and Tunnock’s tea cake wrappers can’t be bad.

Thanks primarily to last night’s session and the all night neighbourhood rave we were up early this morning. I can’t say I’m a fan of techno music or drum machines. Today is Open Farm Sunday, the farming industry’s annual open day: an opportunity for neighbours to showcase their farm and produce. Tractor rides, sheep-shearing and milking, barbeque and cream teas. I still can’t believe our good fortune with this weather.

Friday, June 7

Within-class envy

Conventional wisdom and life experience tends to validate the reference group theory, whereby we envy others from the same social group or class, rather than individuals who are significantly richer or poorer. This absence of class solidarity frustrates the shit out of Marxists. When I first began employment many years ago the words of my father echoed in my ears. ‘Watch the lad on the next work bench: he’ll be your biggest threat.’ It was sage advice but a conundrum too. The lad at the next bench most often turns out to be your best friend, a lifelong drinking buddy – someone you grow up with, officiating at each other’s weddings, etc. It goes without saying, however, that because you work (and play) alongside each other, you are best placed to appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses ... and like as not, it will be against each other that you compete – for promotion, for women, for status within the group. How it plays out is one of the oldest stories in the book.

Wednesday, June 5

Summer in the city

Today’s supply trip to Exeter was a little more pleasant than usual. Sunshine brings out the best in people, smiley carefree faces everywhere. If only this weather was the norm. I wouldn’t mind whatever winter dispensed if summer delivered. As it’s a university city you can sit on the pavement drinking house dark-roast and watch the girls go by. Cut off shorts and ethnic prints appear de rigueur – it could be a rerun of the ’60s, Lovin’ Spoonful providing the soundtrack. The homestead is nothing short of paradise with barbeque and chilled Loire on tap. Work can wait ’till next week.

Sunday, June 2

Ten years from now who will care?

There are worse ways to spend Sunday lunchtime than reclining on a bench in the garden with a couple of bottles of Specked Hen (on sale at the Quik-E-Mart, three cases for £21). I’ve never walked through a Brazilian rain forest but the soundtrack can’t be that different. Mrs G. has just been chased across the yard by a hissing snake ... I don’t envy journalists, obliged to fill their column inches with another novel take on the same old. It is to their advantage that most people require little more than a smattering of gossip and some knee-jerk invective. It’s a much quoted maxim that there are only seven basic stories in fiction and that most everything that happens in life is derivative of one or more of these plots. Whatever ... nothing in today’s papers is likely to affect people’s general preoccupation. Life is essentially a rerun of whatever happened last week, last year, decade, century... Last night I pulled a reference book from the shelf, to check a point of order. A page marker buried therein turned out to be a letter from my late father-in-law, informing me Spurs had broken the bank for two Argentine players, Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. It could be next week’s headline. And who’s to say this isn’t as valid an historic marker as anything related to cash for questions, riots in Turkey, or one of Simon Cowell’s wet dreams?

Saturday, June 1

The ugliest town in the world?

CeauČ™escu’s Romania with fast food outlets. I waved goodbye in ’68, but you never lose the accent or a taste for marrowfat peas.