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’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.