Wednesday, December 31

Tuesday, December 30

Free delivery

My sympathies go out to City Link drivers. Whilst Chukka Umunna and the usual reptiles look for someone to blame, to make capital, I remain shamefaced with regards to what I am prepared to pay for certain services. I’m not talking tax-funded public services. My point relates to the so-called concept of ‘free delivery’. Let’s face it, we accept free delivery as the norm and rarely give thought to the lads that drive the vans, often for minimum wage. I live at the end of the line, and most days the drivers turn up late-afternoon looking as though they should be face down in their pit instead of behind the wheel. Today’s delivery only reinforces my point. A couple of weeks ago, when ordering a new supply of reading material from Amazon, I added a biro refill to the list. I wasn’t looking too close at the time, I rarely do, but although it seemed a bit pricey (it’s a posh pen, snide refills don’t work) the refill was offered free delivery. The order finally turned up this afternoon (in a box), postmarked Toshima Tokyo. Having assumed I had ordered from someone in Reading, it turns out the shop was/is in Japan. The box is covered with customs declarations and tax paid stickers! Japan, though? How do you deliver something free from the other side of the globe? I’d hate to think how many hands the refill has passed through – dare I say, its carbon footprint. This shit can’t be sustainable? City Link must have been a loser from Day One?


Turn you back for five minutes and the work backs up. But then again it fosters an appetite. Our festive season is turning into something of a foodie season, and as the neighbour culled another steer recently, Mrs G. has decided to roast a sizeable portion of its ribs. This meat, grazed on the moor – and I’ve eaten some good stuff over the years – is up there with the best. Having scoured the cupboard and wanting to do it justice, tonight’s wine comes from the unlikely sounding location of Jasper Hill? Must admit my recent Bordeaux selections have been a bit hit and miss, and this is a wild card. Aussies are good with lamb but I’m not sure they have beef down under. 

One of the hits-of-the-season has been those biscuits the Kwik-E-Mart has begun stocking: Torta de aceite, rosemary. Highly recommended. Goes well with Spam.

The self-employed

Supposedly back to work this morning – and I slept in. Yesterday was the ultimate skive. Following Dr No, I read the 3rd John Russell novel, then sat and watched The Ipcress File (for the 20th time). Many suspect Christmas’s sole function is to test the ‘Theory of Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex under Stress’.

Monday, December 29

Play it for laughs

There’s been talk of replacing Daniel Craig with a black lad for the next Bond? I’m surprised they haven’t offered Angelia Jolie the job. As it happens I watched Skyfall a couple of nights ago. Given I rarely make it to the cinema this was my first viewing. And it was fun – I guess what passes for a thriller these day; well worth watching but you probably wouldn’t buy the DVD. Been there…sort of thing. Let’s face it, at her age Judi Dench would struggle to follow a knitting pattern let alone run the British Intelligence Agency. This afternoon that perennial favourite Dr No was also on the box. Although Sean Connery has his shortcomings, as James Bond the guy is par excellence. A psychopathic nut job of the first order: the type of man you’d imagine we actually employ to do this sort of stuff – total disregard for the men he kills or the women he fucks. If I was giving out prizes for the best Bond, Connery would walk it. That said, Roger Moore remains my favourite. Like Connery he was a man of his time – and I’ll plump for humour over violence most days of the week.

The pursuit of knowledge

In an effort to appreciate what passes across my tonsils, and after being taken to task by sommelier brother-in-law, Benny McBacchus, I’ve made more of an effort this past year to serve the homestead’s wine at a correct temperature. And whilst there is no correct temperature per se – some leeway, allowance for taste, is allowed – there are generalities that have stood the test of time. Apparently keen to encourage my enthusiasm for alcoholic beverages, Mrs G. included an assortment of wine accoutrements with her Christmas presents, thermometers included. The Pièce de résistance of this bounty is a set of Riedel varietal specific tasting glasses which are proving enormous fun. In what could loosely be defined as scientific endeavour, I have been obliged to open a succession of bottles from all four corners of the earth in order to validate Riedel’s proposition. My research may take some time.

Learn to love taxes

Zoe Williams looks forward to the time when hell freezes over.

The clock is ticking

Given the life expectancy figures quoted by Aegon, it’s just as well I live in South Hams rather than the Outer Hebrides or Port Talbot. However as we will all be more or less gaga by then, which of us will miss the odd year here or there? Given this area’s demographic you can understand why the coming election looks a straight fight between the Tories and Ukip, albeit the LibDems and Greens have their supporters. I was going to say Miliband is about as popular as a turd in a Totnes teashop, but people hereabouts are much too polite to say that sort of thing.

Health scares…This morning the medical profession warned we are 59% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s if we smoke. However yesterday they assured everyone that smokers would be dead from lung cancer or heart disease long before we were old enough for dementia to set in? It was one of the plus points.

Succour from the past

The goose soup was dispatched post-haste. As with porridge it’s something you grow attached to over the years. A particularly Scottish type of broth that was once served up by working men’s cafes on Holburn Street and in the three-star hotels of Keith and Tomintoul, and which consists of barely coloured, highly-salted boiling water, supported by a centimetre of leek, a sliver of carrot, and the mere suggestion of turnip.

Sunday, December 28

Not his week

In a further blow to Justin Welby’s prestige.

Never happy

Street lamps are bare, overbearing and deliberately hideous, they vomit a cloud of unpleasant light which can be seen from half a mile away. Peter Hitchens makes his point. There was one installed on the pavement outside our bedroom window at South London Mansions which required the installation of certified WWII blackout curtains. Nowadays I moan just as much about the glow from my bedside alarm clock – and as for a full moon…those pesky stars.

Lonely? Britain’s young people have never been less connected. Why not take up smoking: You’re never alone with a Strand.


Have just been outside for firewood. It might be a beautiful day, but what with the relative position of the sun at this time of year, and the height of our trees, the yard’s frost is proving somewhat resilient. I was up on the ridge without a cap this morning…parky would be an apt description. And what the fluck’s going on with the Blues?

The goose bought it

Mozart on the wireless and sunshine streaming through the windows. Sundays, eh? Suppose I’ll have to ruin the moment and switch to Collymore for the match. ...It wasn’t the largest goose on the market, yet today our star of the show manages a fourth outing. Day one was the classic roast, mit bread sauce and sage & onion stuffing; day two, an Angela Hartnett special, featuring red cabbage and apple salad; day three – and it’s a truism that, although Mrs G. maintains a library to rival the most enthusiastic of contemporary cooks, many of her favourite recipes are clipped from newspaper columns – on a bed of Joceline Dimbleby’s red rice; before, inevitably, the goose broth (and a well-chilled Manzanilla).

Saturday, December 27

Feet up

Weather-wise it is either feast or famine. Last night’s storm resulted in a power cut and some fitful sleep; this morning was all clear skies and sunshine. Quad bikes and tractors much in evidence as neighbours return to work, silence giving way to chainsaws, and hounds in pursuit of squirrels and feral cats. As it’s Saturday I am more than happy to settle for Chepstow and Kempton on the box – bacon & egg rolls, and what’s left of the festive fizz. Let’s hear it for Benbens.

Champagne cocktails

The sugar cubes and bitters have been waiting on the shelf throughout Christmas, but that way lies trouble.

Friday, December 26


They have rebranded my tissues from Man Sized to Extra Large, so as not to offend.


I believe we can chalk that down as a success. Everyone who manages to negotiate their way through the typical minefield strewn Christmas Day deserves a pat on the back. The exchange of presents appeared to go well. I ate everything put in front of me, including a pudding that had been languishing on the top shelf of the pantry for two years. Dried my share of the dishes. I didn’t drink to excess or say anything particularly stupid; at least as far as I recall, the Boss has yet to put in an appearance.

Thursday, December 25

Scrooge in a cassock

I see Justin Welby threw his usual bucket of cold sick over today’s festivities, reminding everyone Christmas isn’t just for the children. Party pooper. I reckon the lad should look to his own house. We made an effort to stay up for a carol service last night, only to discover ITV’s version was being hosted by a big girl in a blouse instead of the vicar, and that the BBC were playing for the opposition.

It was a relief to get out for a jog across the moor this morning. If there is a god up there he’s made a decent fist of today’s weather. I returned home and, after lighting stoves at both ends of the homestead, am now dressed in a very loud Hawaiian shirt and flip flops.

Wednesday, December 24

Oscar Wilde and sinking ships

To lose one demographic – the white, working class – may be regarded as misfortune; to lose its supposed replacement…

I guess you had to be there

Christmas Eve: Supper was to be stewed eels and lampreys but we are short on lampreys. Tomorrow’s goose is already roasting in the oven and the champagne is on ice. BBC are broadcasting its first ever Carols from King’s (1954): the black and white film serves to reinforce our prejudicial view of that era. All the adult males look like murderers or child molesters. It seems even I am prone to applying contemporary standards of morality to past actions, institutions, or persons. O Come All Ye Faithful has rarely sounded so uninspiring and bereft of joy. Guess you had to be there.

Tuesday, December 23

Brown ales and mince pies

To Tavistock this morning for a goose, selection of which is part and parcel of the usual Christmas trauma. I kid everyone I’d be more than happy with a turkey sausage and glass of whatever’s going. However I would be hugely disappointed sans Mrs G’s traditional Dickensian splurge – never tire of Bonney M. soundtracks, the inevitable television repeats. As with Joe Cocker, my hedonist days are behind me. Hedonism: Those Party Sevens, eh?

Monday, December 22


Cranberry chutney simmering on the stove…the aroma of hot, spiced wine. Christmas is almost here – and here I’m staying. I was obliged to visit the Kwik-E-Mart this morning to stock up on sprouts and turnips. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Lots of grannies pushing trolleys in excess of their bodyweight, up and down the aisles, pained, already-exhausted expressions, obliged as they are to host the annual family feast. A feat, it seems, beyond their middle-aged daughters’ capability. I wouldn’t care to attempt it myself. How many relationships are destined to hit the skids these coming days? After the weekend’s excess, Monday night supper is Spam. Our renowned local deli labels it as ‘Chicken, Lemon and Basil Terrine’, but I recognise Spam when I see it.

Sour grapes and silver spoons

Is the West losing its grip on reality? asks the FT’s Ed Luce – given that nowadays we tend to live longer, are relatively free from war and strife, and blessed with more choices than a kid at the pick and mix counter. The world is our lobster, so to speak…And yet all Luce sees in the rise of miserabilism. Move on a couple of paragraphs and all becomes clear. The West is going to hell in a handcart and it is all the fault of us selfish baby-boomers. Whilst the evils of Western gerontocracy are a godsend for columnists with books to sell, I can’t help noticing the protagonists who worry most about not surpassing their parents’ generation, that want to expropriate our Ford Capri and vinyl collection, are the selfsame scribes that have benefited most from a top-drawer education at private schools and Oxbridge colleges, who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

Sunday, December 21

Another planet

South London Mansions was never the same after her television series, filmed over a two-year period, two doors down. My only claim to fame. Unlike the then neighbour, two doors up, who hasn’t proved to be quite so accomplished at playing Father Xmas. We are surrounded by different stars these days.

The neighbours are increasing their accommodation capacity.

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread

Whilst I eat decent food as a matter of course, today’s lunch was exceptional. We are fortunate with our veal producer and, hungry as I always am, and living in the wilds (today’s weather is abysmal – cold and wet), I find it impossible to walk away from such produce. Mrs G’s stuffed peppers (tomatoes and bulbs of fennel), along with a jar of her pickled plums, were the only accompaniment required. Other, that is, than a bottle of the red stuff to swill it down. Decanting wines was all the rage back in the 70s: nowadays it seems a peculiarity, very John Lewis. However, whilst modern filtered wines are presumed above special treatment, even with £15 vin de pays I find a jug essential.

The cheese and clootie dumpling weren't too shabby either.

Where's the sausages?

Neighbours are gearing up for a sporty festive break: pheasants being marshalled for a shoot, horses put through their paces on the gallops. Even I took a couple of hours out to walk across the moor. We are up to Totnes this morning for the market: Good Food Sunday. I could use some meat. This past week, and not by conscious design, we’ve gorged on fresh cockles, brown shrimp, tuna, halibut, salmon, smoked eel, cod and chorizo fishcakes, and lobster. You can take this good-health shit too far. There have been more neighbours drop by the homestead over the last couple of days than the whole of the previous month. Can’t they read the sign?

Friday, December 19


Mashed broad beans with anchovies, garlic and pecorino, aside a slab of halibut. Salad and boiled potatoes. Chablis.

Days, Philip Larkin

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

 Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Wednesday, December 17

A taste of the Atlantic Ocean

This morning to the dentist for refurbishment of two ancient fillings. A numb jaw and three hours of dribble. Thereafter our final pre-Christmas trip to Exeter for supplies. Other than a couple of pints of milk and bag of vegetables we are more or less fixed. I’ve never known us to be this ahead of the game. Returned home and ate a lobster for supper. A roaring fire, footy on the wireless, and a bottle of Ardbeg.

Monday, December 15

Monday morning ‘To do’ list

Item No.1: Purchase flowers and write contrite apology to neighbour for boorish behaviour at Sunday lunch. Respectfully suggest we should have called a halt after the first half-dozen bottles. I am fast becoming the local florist’s most valued client.

Saturday, December 13

Celine Dion: heavy metal on oestrogen

There I was, yesterday, thundering down the A38, singing along to Status Quo… Back at the homestead I am forbidden to play Vaughan Williams much above the 12 mark, so listening to rock music at DEFCON 5 has the effect of transforming the motor into a vehicle that might once have been driven by Kris Kristofferson. Guilty pleasures and the origin of individual taste in popular music – how we use it to define our social class – is the basis of Richard Beck’s review on Carl Wilson’s book investigating the attraction of Celine Dion. It seems whereas rock is broadly defined as Ukip music (white, male, thin on top), Dion followers tend to be widowed grannies from Kansas (think heavy metal on oestrogen, Wilson writes). Although the book probably won’t make it onto my Christmas wish list (already oversubscribed), Beck’s review is a must read. ‘If nothing else because it makes us realise how many patterns and prejudices we normally live with – and never notice.’ And it just might have induced me to renew my subscription.

Friday, December 12


Two more inches of rain and I could have floated out of here this morning. Not that Totnes market appeared to be suffering, the car parks full as usual. Things normally pick up this time of year, weekly shoppers augmented by increasingly desperate sorts searching for Xmas gifts (yours truly in the vanguard). I’ve acquired the easy stuff – the bling, it’s those little gifts, the bits and pieces that suggest you gave it some thought. …I couldn’t help noticing the hills above town are changing – pastures swallowed one by one. Regimented housing estates spring up on brownfield and greenfield sites alike. Such is life. It must be sixty years since Gypsy Lane Estate was built...then they filled in the gaps. Decades from now similar arguments will doubtless be aired. As long as the blob maintains its distance from the homestead I can live with civilisation. …Another senior moment today in that I was unable to recall my pin number at the checkout. There must be upwards of a dozen passwords that haunt me. …Friday lunchtime at the Dog & Duck remains a pale shadow of the past. I remain a pale shadow of the past.

...And residents from raw estates, brought down/The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys.

It’s a well-known fact

That alcohol makes you feel bulletproof. And if that doesn't work...

Thursday, December 11

No room at the inn

Fraternising with the homestead’s neighbours at this time of year is not unknown, albeit the Dog & Duck is a popular neutral venue. Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, says only one in three Brits regard neighbours as friends; almost half of us know our neighbours by name but can’t be bothered to speak to them. His bad news for politicians includes voter inability to entertain the idea party leaders would be welcome in our homes for Christmas lunch (unless, apparently, they are Boris Johnson or Alex Salmond). Worryingly for Clegg, more LibDem voters would prefer Farage turned up to share the turkey instead of the deputy prime minister. Equally worrying for Labour is their voters’ abhorrence for Harman – not least from Labour’s women voters. And they say Ukip has a problem with the sisterhood.

First things first

Of a morning, light a fire. Henry’s Tudor navy was built with less wood than I burn during winter. And breakfast at this time of year is invariably porridge. Why is there no monument/To Porridge in our land? Spike Milligan. Now there’s a voice from the past; perhaps the only commonality between myself and the heir to the throne.

Wednesday, December 10

Breaks in the storm

The in-laws appear to have made the correct call in exchanging Christmas and Hogmanay in Aberdeen for the sunny delights of Brisbane (although I think it’s a long way to go for a Billy Connolly concert).

A limited amount of sleep last night thanks to the ongoing maelstrom. It let up this morning, briefly – the sun came out, so I took the opportunity to head off across the hills and soak up some vitamin D. The ground was/is a little wet, as you would expect, and the wind-chill certainly brings a tear to the eye. However, at least until this evening when the storm returned, the moor was glorious. Just now I’m dusting off my tweed as we are invited by local aristocracy to dine at the manor house. Given our host’s generosity – not least as far as his wine cellar is concerned – I rarely decline. I enjoy company, on occasion, and have too few acquaintances capable of seating sixteen around the table.

Tuesday, December 9

Hazardous journeys and screaming banshees

Last week I was obliged to traipse around Exeter on a so-called Christmas shopping trip. Today it was Plymouth. The streets are full of dreadful people coughing their lungs up. Many are accompanied by children that harbour sufficient infections and diseases to pollute an entire African republic. The greatest threat to my festive wellbeing remains having to venture out amongst the general public. No one appears to have heard of handkerchiefs or tissues and seem content to hack over whoever they find standing in front of them. If someone had ostentatiously wiped their nose on a sleeve it would not have surprised me. Needless to say the shops are full of overpriced tat, clad in tinsel. It’s little wonder we spend our money on the internet.

I returned to find the homestead battered by hurricane-force winds. The yard is strewn with chimney cowls and guttering. A fir has blown down, demolishing a section of fencing (and the neighbour’s phone line?). I can barely hear the wireless for rattling windows and screaming banshees.

Monday, December 8

The English soul – change, migration and assimilation

Five centuries after Bede, following 250 years of being ruled by Danes, Normans and Frenchmen, the English still seemed to be a recognized group. Foreign observers viewed the community of Engelonde as a rich, open-handed, convivial and rather vulgar people – or as one censorious Frog put it: ‘Above all other peoples, drinkers, gluttons and profligate wasters…’ You can argue little of the national character has changed. Many of the jumbled ingredients of nationhood – beliefs, myths, institutions, customs, loyalties – that were present in the ninth century, were revived or reinvented in the twelfth. Likewise, in the Victorian era, fear of the Industrial Revolution led to a re-imagining of the medieval world that helped shape British society, leaving a legacy in art, architecture, literature, religion, politics and the monarchy. I wonder what price the soul of England circa 2050? My money’s on the continued assimilation of whatever comes our way, role models that we are.

Saturday, December 6

Festive greetings

Although snobs disapprove, at this time of year I feel obliged to include a note inside the Christmas cards of people I’ve ignored this past twelve months. I think everyone agrees photographs are a step too far. Notes include the usual platitudes about getting together in the foreseeable future, even though it’s been ten years since either party could be arsed. Contenting myself with having forked out for the price of a card and a second-class stamp may sound poor stuff, but I’ve learned to live with my apathy.

Thursday, December 4

You know the weather’s turning

When the glass of water on your bedside table turns to ice ... Our festive campaign kicked off in earnest yesterday: Mrs G. decorated her tree, and I began my traditional yuletide panic attack – acquiring a suitable present for the boss. I’m years past the low-hanging fruit stage, of watches and handbags, baubles from Tiffany’s and bottles of scent. And don’t get me started on cook books, or pots and pans manufactured from parts of the space shuttle. Upstairs there are closets full of cashmere and silk that will never see the light of day. In the past I merely headed off in the general direction of the West End, and then fortified by a succession of pit stops at the usual hostelries, inspiration arrived. A jaunt along the track to Mole Valley Farmers ain’t quite the same.

Wednesday, December 3

Gordon Brown obituary

Daniel Finkelstein, being a gentleman, is far too kind.

Tuesday, December 2

The seasonal smell of pine, and mulled wine

What a glorious day, albeit new boots to break in. The hunt was out. No other walkers, just a neighbour checking on livestock. I subsequently drove up to Haldon Christmas Tree Centre for – yes, you’ve guessed it: a tree. Mrs G. settled for an eight-foot Scandinavian job that just about fitted inside the motor. I’ve got as far as buying two packets of Christmas Cards and beefing up the wine cellar.

A playground for the young

If our nostrils seem snooty to you it’s only because the air outside of Mayfair and Chelsea stinks of fried food, stale beer and body odour… Whilst it’s true this morning’s air at the homestead is also a little ripe, I’m pleased to say this is down to the neighbour’s cattle rather than the lumpen mass. I recognise Bryony Gordon’s rant in the Telegraph. I heard something similar from an old comrade in the Smoke only last week – recall identical frustrations being vented by aunts and uncles during the early 70s as the final remnants of the Gudgeon clan departed Tottenham. I guess we are all obliged to reside in London at some stage of our career: and there are good sides to being part of the metropolitan elite. However I suspect the capital’s delights are best experienced in your 20s and 30s.

Saturday, November 29

It’s a small world

I’m not sure I buy into coincidence, believing it more a chain of thought fulfilment. However, this morning’s post delivered my first Xmas card of the season, from the lad who was standing next to me at the bar of The Barrel Inn, back in ’68. What price that? I haven’t seen my old oppo in thirty-odd years.

Friday, November 28

Jane Austen at sea

Argh, girls are reading Patrick O’Brian novels. Is nothing sacred?

It didn’t sound a vote winner.

Cameron’s immigration speech went down like a lead balloon with the lunchtime contingent in the Dog & Duck. The PM appears to have thrown in the towel as regards influencing our European partners. In truth, if there had been a balloon above Cameron’s head illustrating his actual thoughts, it would probably have read: “Look, UK Plc is doing rather nicely; and whether you like it or not, migrant labour is part of the equation. Our economy has the potential to grow exponentially – likewise the UK’s attraction to migrants seeking a better future. There is little any of us can do to dissuade this tide of people, and truth to tell – speaking as the CEO of UK Plc – we shouldn’t necessarily want to. Yes it puts pressure on services. We will also have to concrete over large swathes of the countryside to build homes, schools, sandwich factories and offices – and yes, all you will have to compete with these incomers, many of whom being better motivated/educated/skilled than you are. Regretfully this is the reality of globalisation. So, word to the wise: shape up; and please, stop whining.”

Wednesday, November 26


You can walk for miles lost in thought, only to be taken aback when quizzed by passing neighbour-farmer for details of the grazing stock disposition on the moor. When you fail to lay it out and are unable to point him in the right direction, it’s like being caught asleep at the back of class.

For reasons known only to the arcane working of my brain, the autumn colours remind me of spittoons? More specifically a pub I drank in long ago – the last I can recall so equipped. I’m sure it was named The Barrel Inn and was located on Wolverhampton Street, along from the already defunct Dun Cow. It was a narrow, grim-looking public bar with hard wooden bench-seats. Although under the management of M&B, we always suspected the landlord manufactured his own brew in a bath in the cellar. The mild couldn’t have been much more than a shilling a pint. Daylight robbery, you say. However they tell me beer’s now £4.50 in London pubs.

Monday, November 24

Back online

Our telecoms engineer must have realised what with Christmas in the offing a little overtime was called for, returning on Sunday afternoon – just as Palace were putting Liverpool to the sword – hard hat and ladder at the ready. I obviously wasn’t destined to follow the footy commentary as a neighbour then called seeking assistance with a plumbing fault. Experience has taught me water and electrics are fraught with danger, however it is difficult to refuse an old boy in distress – especially one that eats his meals out of a tin with the same knife he uses to trim cloven hooves and castrate livestock. …Come night-time I was relaxing in front of a roaring fire, hoping to cement my bond with the good lady.

Saturday, November 22

Today is Mrs G’s birthday

Flowers, chocolates and Krug: you can’t go wrong.

High-speed broadband

They implied it would be fixed within three days. After five days a man clad in mud and hi-vis clothing came to the door. “I’ll come inside and test your line” he says “But, really, what can I do?” (Waving dismissively at the swirling fog behind him. It was late and night had fallen.) …The fault lies 1.3km below, beyond the woods, he suggested. “Near that fork in the stream?” “We (the royal ‘we’) will have to wait on daylight” says he. “Maybe Tuesday…perhaps?”

Friday, November 21

Lemon soles in the mist

The homestead is submerged in fog and resounds to the steady patter of rain – my idea of privacy, wrapped in cotton wool. Although today is wet and chill, the office (snug) is heated by a blazing log stove. Alistair Sim is on the box in black and white, the sound muted; somewhere a wireless is playing Burl Ives’ Christmas ballads. Burl Ives…Christmas ballads? How sad (or comforting) is that. I must be the classic reactionary.

Another poke in the eye

On behalf of my white-van driving friends from the Dog & Duck – the fruitcakes and loonies, good on the people of Rochester & Strood; and though I’ve never met the lad, Dave Whelan has always struck me as one of life’s gentlemen. You can’t help but conflate topical issues.

Thursday, November 20

A fleeting appearance

One of the downsides to rural living is your broadband service going walkabout for days on end. It returned this morning, albeit briefly.

The moor is two-tone grey and black. Flocks of field fares and red wings fill the sky. Except for an occasional band of ponies I roam alone.

Needless to say the food at this time of year is both plentiful and diverse. Last night’s supper at Riverford Field Kitchen featured mutton – or more specifically, rare breed Manx Loaghtan organic mutton, from Langley Chase Farm. In an effort to munch our way through the beast’s constituent parts, we began as you’d expect with Scotch broth. Subsequent courses included crumbed belly (with salad leaves), haggis and swede (and red cabbage), smoked leg (and black kale), Lancashire hotpot (with carrots, leeks, cauliflower and sprouts)…together with the usual selection of puddings. I am back amongst the gorse and granite, attempting to walk it off.

Sunday, November 16

Too much of a good thing

Although I haven’t the deterrent of Keith Richards’ face I do have my moments, and anniversaries (41 years) are a good enough excuse for indulgence. It’s been one of those atmospheric days – the moor, that is. The lane out was shoulder to shoulder rabbit and pheasant – mistle thrush battling with crow. Back home – to the background of Rooster Cogburn’s exploits on the box, and with our neighbours’ guns happily blasting away outside – Mrs G. was busy roasting a haunch of venison (red deer, not the farmed kind) and reheating dumpling. Inevitably the champagne, Gevrey Chambertin and Croft late-bottled vintage did for me. At the time it seemed such fun.

Saturday, November 15

Clootie dumpling

Although today promised sunshine – and it did shine, briefly – once you descend beneath the cloud base (into the mist) the temperature drops below 5˚. It wasn’t quite hail but the rain stings. Clootie dumpling weather said Mrs G. on my return: it’s that time of year. The first steamed pudding in an age, a family recipe. Our weekend-long anniversary celebration has fired the (festive) starting gun.

Friday, November 14

Baked quinces for breakfast

It looks like the Met Office called it correctly yesterday when issuing a severe weather warning. Even by our usual standard, Thursday’s tempest was a belter – certainly not a day for tramping the moor. The ruts in the lane grow ever deeper as each successive deluge passes by... And yet life is so agreeable, given (a) the homestead is not situated on the Somerset levels, nor (b), thankfully, – having watched last night’s Question Time – in Wales. It isn’t a new Cold War or an outbreak of Ebola that wakes me in a sweat, more the thought of devolved government.

Thursday, November 13

Fifa and ethics?

Yes, I know. However the report will prove worthwhile if it encourages us to question our own inherent prejudice. England will continue to fail – whether at Fifa or within Europe – for as long as we refuse to play by the rules. That’s the ‘relevant’ rules – the ones everyone else apply, rather than our own mealy-mouthed interpretation. I fear the continued arrogance of England’s righteous indignation – our boorish moral high-ground, will never endear us to other tribes and cultures. No one likes to be harangued by a reformed alcoholic or non-smoker, let alone a patronising Englishman on his soapbox. If we don’t want to play their game, fair enough: we can go sit in the corner and play by ourselves – discover how much fun that can be.

Wednesday, November 12

Off to the flicks

A radical, revolutionary painter he may have been. Turner’s life, however, – at least according to Mike Leigh’s film – was an almost pedestrian affair. OK our intrepid artist put it about a bit, painted lots of pictures and drank sherry, but he wasn’t exactly Samuel Pepys. If you are a fan of the Cranford genre then Mr Turner is right up your street, albeit Timothy Spall’s diction is a ringer for Marge Simpson rather than Captain Brown. I suspect Leigh’s productions are aimed at a certain demographic, one that buys its gear at M&S. Having said all that I enjoyed the film – it’s easy viewing and certainly worth four stars. Let’s face it, even I have to buy my underwear somewhere.

Tuesday, November 11

Darkness descends

These dark mornings belie an additional hour, not least with the additional cloak of autumn mist. Our yard is already a quagmire, the lanes out beneath water. For the sake of those residents below us, I trust the much touted flood defences are in place. Although chill, the air is filled with clouds of insects that are rising and descending in the manner of Richard Wilbur’s fine pistons of some bright machine. Night owls have given way to a murder of crows and a sleekit fox. Ladybirds and a rogue peacock butterfly (in November?) have snuck into the office, seeking a crevice to while away the winter.

Saturday, November 8

Early start

As Mondays are disagreeable, so Fridays can be congenial – not least after a trip to the Dog & Duck. Of course Saturday is rarely so bright, not least this morning with buckets of the wet stuff carried in on a brisk south-westerly. Naturally a downpipe was blocked with fallen leaves, and by the time I’d retrieved a ladder from the barn and sorted the damn thing I was soaked through. All good fun, as they say. Breakfast tasted so much better.

On the strength of a chuckle at a remark in this week’s Spectator I renewed my subscription. Anything that raises a laugh in this day and age is worth subscribing to. On and off I have been shelling out for the magazine for three decades or more – before Mark Amory’s time, and am slightly miffed to have never received an invite to one of their office binges.

Thursday, November 6

Enjoy you food

While you can because the future doesn’t bear thinking about. I don’t blame the NHS as much as the bastards in parliament who haven’t the guts to pull the plug on what has become an unsustainable system.


Hard to believe that barely eight years ago this week we were exchanging contracts: seems so long ago; a different planet. After 25 years we were saying goodbye to London, and I hadn’t quite decided whether I was being adventurous or reckless in stepping off the merry-go-round. While no one is entirely comfortable with change, I appreciated our life there had passed its sell-by date. Prior to the smoke we had lived in Houston. Back then Houston was considered a city you chose to work in rather than a place to settle. The city was dynamic and fun – shit anywhere is fun in your twenties. I guess I viewed London in much the same light and didn’t expect to stick around so long – that we did says something about its pulling power. In your twenties you live a nomadic life, hoping to find the right slot, discover where you belong. Rather late in life you realise life is less a mythical goal of the future and more a finite resource that’s fast disappearing.

Wednesday, November 5

Hardly an accomplishment

Given the problems of transportation in my early years flat-pack furniture was a wonder; nowadays, however, it can be a pain in the backside. The instructions suggested forty-five minutes, yet the cupboard took most of yesterday afternoon to assemble. I guess I should be grateful all the parts were enclosed, the screws and dowelling fitted correctly. I am always grateful for small mercies…and can sing better than Wayne Rooney.

Tuesday, November 4

T-shirts and our moral confusion

Ross Clark thunders on in this morning’s Times in response to the fallout from Harperson’s T-shirt debacle – Do workers in poor countries win or lose because of globalisation? As luck would have it I’ve just finished reading Tim Worstall’s entertaining 20 Economic Fallacies (part of this week’s reading list, wedged between W.B. Yeats and Lee Child), and who would doubtless agree with Clark. Whether or not you are sympathetic to the argument of Ross Clark – or come to that, Bill Gates, seems to depend in part on your being a disciple of the Owen Jones/Russell Brand fraternity. A by-product of the poor being lifted out of poverty is the very rich become even wealthier: and that grates on these people, wins sympathetic support from the squeezed middle – causes politicians who should know better to wear suspect T-shirts.

The shame of it

A Japanese whisky is named world’s best in sour dram for Scotland. I must admit my tipple of choice in recent months has either been Yamazaki single malt or Ireland’s Green Spot. Competition is tough these days, more choice and a downturn in the market. Second, third and fourth places in this year’s awards went to three bourbons from the US; the prize for best European whisky went to Chapter 14 Not Peated from the English Whisky Company. Scottish distilleries were warned that reputations counted for little now that other countries were producing their own world-class whiskies. “Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives? Where were the blends which offered bewildering layers of depth?” Jim Murray, author of Whisky Bible, wrote. “It is time for a little dose of humility … to get back to basics. To realise that something is missing.”

Aunt Sally required

Hot on the heels of IPCC’s report, Guardian’s Bibi van der Zee suggests simple steps we can take to combat climate change, citing the obvious solar panels and LED lightbulbs, getting your kids to annoy neighbours by running up and down the street kicking a football, or by turning vegetarian. A more useful suggestion might be to encourage her readers to vote for the Green Party at the next election rather than Labour. We need a half-decent bogey man, and an enhanced Caroline Lucas could serve. It hasn’t been the same since McPlonker stepped down. I guess it’s a sign of the times, given the general disillusionment with politics: we look for something to oppose rather than support.

Monday, November 3

Monday mornings

I always try to begin the week in as optimistic a mood as possible, marshalling whatever dregs of enthusiasm managed to survive the weekend. And after opening up and letting the chickens out, lighting fires and making tea, I set about the basic Monday morning admin tasks, including a brief summary of where I am going this week and what I am doing, before casting a jaundiced eye on the outside world and the weather forecast. Radio 4’s Today programme gets short shrift as there’s nothing more guaranteed to sour the start to a week than BBC’s prophets of doom and a guest appearance from Yvette Cooper. Although he had a hand in bringing the country’s economy to its knees, Ed Balls always retains a degree of sympathy.

 It seems my achieving a target weight and lowering cholesterol to a credible 5.7 counts for naught, and the GP is now to inform me that whilst my louche lifestyle has afforded Gudgeon the body of a thirty-year-old, my brain is well and truly fucked. Let’s face it, life is little more than a lottery.

Sunday, November 2

Cabbages and other stuff

When in doubt, you rarely go wrong with a roast chicken. Or so I once believed. Even from semi-trusted suppliers, consistency in quality – of taste, is a rare commodity. Nowadays it seems the bird has to be free range AND organic to stand a fighting chance. It was also the last of our kale, the final stalks from Mrs G’s allotment – bulked out with the remnants of a savoy cabbage. If there’s a deficiency in my diet it remains that of green-leaf vegetables.

This morning for the first time in months (a year?) I ate a bowl of muesli for breakfast. It took one spoonful to remind me why I gave the stuff up. Dried fruit is even sweeter than refined sugar...and the local café is offering two eggs, two sausages, a double rasher of bacon, with fresh tomatoes, beans, mushrooms and toast, for £6.50.

Dozy drivel. I should not have bothered writing this review, says David Aaronovitch. But you have to, is my response. Given my dismal education, reviews are one of the reasons some of us still buy newspapers: so we don’t waste money on the sort of shite written by the likes of Russell Brand – and who almost certainly doesn’t eat cabbage. It’s impossible to ferment revolution if you don’t eat your greens – where would Lenin have been without his bowl of shchi. Let’s hope parents aren’t tempted to use Brand’s book as a stocking filler this Xmas.

Thursday, October 30

Long may the mild weather continue

Without the need for heating my beer fund is growing exponentially, already swollen courtesy of the Go Sober for October initiative. Sans the alcohol-fuelled calories I have shrunk several pounds, so it’s a win-win all round.

 The concept of winning appears to have slipped further from the reach of young Miliband following today’s polling figures from Scotland. Having lost the support of centrist/right-leaning Labour supporters and half of the shadow cabinet, his Jewish vote, and now the Scots, it will be interesting to see where the lad goes next. That said, this morning I received a letter from our local MP written on very smart House of Commons notepaper, inviting the Gudgeon household to an open meeting at the village hall. If Miliband thinks he’s on a looser he needs to be around when Mrs G. meets Sarah Wollaston. The Conservatives have just as much trouble with their people. Maybe the nippy sweetie girl should open a branch office south of the border.

Wednesday, October 29


Jim Murphy to announce his Scottish Labour leadership campaign… Don’t do it, son; it’s how they got rid of Frank Dobson.


Tax dodgers are like common thieves, says George Osborne. Who exactly we decide qualifies as a thief is a debatable point.


Cameron refuses to wear a big girl's blouse.

We don’t want to talk about it

Given this morning’s headlines you could be forgiven for believing immigration is the only game in town. Andrew Green, founder of MigrationWatch, pitches in with his two pennyworth in the Telegraph – and no surprise the BBC, every libertarian’s bête noir, gets it in the ear. Unless you want to be labelled a racist immigration is not a subject that lends itself to short pithy comment, and I certainly wouldn’t dream of putting my head above the parapet. The subject invariably polarises and, assuming the economy stumbles along reasonably well, will likely dominate the forthcoming general election. Perhaps by then we will have arrived at some sort of consensus.

Tuesday, October 28


Pan fried calves liver, sautéed courgettes, and baked red peppers stuffed with fennel – to conjure summer memories. The dark nights are already getting to me. It will soon be time for oxtail stews and roast game birds.

Everyone is destined to expire of something

To the surgery this morning for my annual blood test (cholesterol, liver/kidney function, blood sugar, etc.). You can’t but notice that male GPs are of an age – one foot in the grave. As it happens I prefer the avuncular old soaks, but you wonder at the future of GP services in rural areas. I guess it will follow a similar path to dentistry: wait until the service collapses, then pillage Eastern Europe. …It’s half-term and there are more kids on the streets. It is heartening the five I came across used words such as thank you, excuse me and sorry. I was tempted to correct them – that’s ‘Sorry, Sir’ – but thought I’d be pushing my luck. ...The neighbours have taken their sprogs away for a break. In the old days we thought ourselves fortunate to have a bucket and spade; this lot go equipped with mountain bikes strapped to the motor’s roof and ponies in a trailer hitched to the rear. …I set off across moor yesterday in yet another pea-souper, a flock of long-tailed tits for company. One of these days the bog will do for me and I won’t come out the other side.

Sunday, October 26

Sporty weekend

A pleasant Saturday, yesterday. Flitting between rugby, racing and the footy. Aside from horses on the box, the hunt came past – blaring horns, baying hounds. Then last night a cracking fight between Randy Caballero and Stuart Hall – at 34 years of age the Rio Ferdinand of the boxing world, albeit Hall earns his money, makes an effort. Like most I don’t follow boxing these days. Fewer heroes I guess, subscription television…and even in Monte Carlo Casino the modern version looks so tacky and dated. It doesn’t need to be private sporting clubs and dinner jackets, but surely the world has moved on from dry ice and sparkly lights. And where did they get the bird that sang the national anthem?

Saturday, October 25

Let’s hear it for the cockroaches

‘Voters apparently feel considerably more positively towards cockroaches…than Congressmen’ writes Gillian Tett in Political apathy: who cares? It seems American voters are deserting traditional parties, 42% describing themselves as unaffiliated. Politicians are hoping the Tea Party lose ground so they can forge a bipartisan compromise. Thanks in part to Ukip and the SNP on this side of the pond, compromise here is a non-starter – many voters  believing the Conservatives and Labour are two sides of the same coin. Simon Kuper’s Confessions of a white Oxbridge male (We didn’t get here on merit but were born to it) only reinforces popular prejudice against the establishment, not least our politicians and journalists. Part of me remains sympathetic to the concept of benefit of doubt, wants to recognise the hard work of many MPs – to cheer on the cockroaches as it were. The feeling passes.

Friday, October 24

Same old, same old

If I read the latest NHS five-year plan correctly, the medical establishment believes us a sorry collection of corpulent, ignorant sloths that can’t be bothered to save ourselves – so why should they? Pay rise for all; job done. Everyone appreciates the NHS as currently constituted is unsustainable but no politician dares tackle the fundamental problem of funding. If you want a decent service you have to put your hand in your pocket, not someone else’s. As with education, there’s only so far the state can take the one size fits all model, and fees of some sort appear inevitable. Of course we defer the confrontation until after the election as it’s a vote loser, and there always seems to be another election. There are things you can’t fix. It’s a truism that old people die and poor old people die sooner, and until we begin shaming the sloths and in some way make them pay for their pleasures in the same way we do smokers and drinkers we are wasting our time.

I’m off the stuff my face at the Dartmouth Food Festival.

Thursday, October 23

To Exeter for supplies

If price reductions are a guide, the economy has further to go; there’s an expectation of 20% off everything. I picked up a bottle of cask-strength Aberlour a’Bunadh (batch 48) for thirty quid. Even our favourite Thai restaurant has swopped the starched tablecloths for straw mats.

Dead leaves desert in thousands

Dreich – as Mrs G. would say – best characterises the morning. Daniel Hannan describes autumn as tragic and transient, the loveliest season; and aside from a storm earlier this week, the yard is a pleasant prospect, the moor above a treat to walk – ponies in ragged coats, raging streams and plunging waterfalls. A glass of malt and life would be complete.

Monday, October 20

A touch of the Rover marque

I had to pick my way through ranks of archdeacons this morning when retrieving Mrs G’s paper from the newsagent. It appears they meet together periodically to reflect on such things as the nature of priestly spirituality and the extortionate cost of decent claret. Given the ubiquitous grey hair it doesn’t appear a young-man’s profession; man being the operative word. Clergy are ageing along with their congregation, the church’s future seemingly not dissimilar from rural pubs. I was passing our local church last Sunday at opening time (Mass) and noted a fair proportion of worshipers climbing the steps were octogenarians – yet most of us believe we live in a Christian country. Whilst the church remains largely a cultural given and its schools are pre-eminent, the rationale struggles to make a case.

Sunday, October 19

Is the Pope a Catholic?

The under-30s are being priced out of the UK, says Alan Milburn. Political hyperbole of course; and whilst there’s an element of truth in his assertion, a look in the mirror might well result in some blushing. I suspect Milburn’s criticism is aimed as much at his old colleagues as the Tories. Labour’s blind faith in meritocracy and globalisation has resulted in average kids with an average education competing against some of the world’s brightest and best, and a migrant labour force with an old-fashioned work ethic. Are we surprised so many of our kids find themselves on the wrong side of the divide? The answers are above my pay grade.

Saturday, October 18

Is that all there is?

Although summer’s not quite a distant memory the autumn weather is making its mark. Last weekend on the box Brian Adams reminded me that while summer once seemed to last forever, back in ’69 there was also a lot of just killin’ time. These days the sand drains so quickly, if you do stand idly on the porch, panic ensues. It’s not just the clock running down, take your foot off the pedal and boredom and fear fill the void. At times you can understand why Peggy Lee chose to keep on dancing – or in my case tramping the moor. An old sparring partner is off to the Himalayas this weekend. I tell him I’m more than content with my idyll:

The south wind blows,and brings wet weather, 
The north gives wet and cold together; 
The west wind comes brimful of rain; 
The east wind drives it back again. 
Then if the sun in red should set, 
We know the morrow must be wet, 
And if the eve is clad in grey 
The next is sure a rainy day.

For me 1969 was Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons, and a move to North Rhine-Westphalia. Adams’ soundtrack also accompanied an ill-fated attempt to replicate Frank Bullitt’s car chase around the streets of San Francisco, the least said about which…

Friday, October 17

Come full circle

In today’s Times Philip Collins claims it was the crash that led to increased public sector spending, rather than – as (he says) the Tories claim – that Labour spending was behind the crash. I suspect it wasn’t so much Gordon Brown who caused the crash, but more the problems his profligate spending caused post 2008, Labour not having fixed the roof, etc. Instead of confronting problems during the preceding years, we tested Brown’s theory that ‘throwing money at whatever needs fixing’ to destruction. I say ‘we’ as, to a limited extent, everyone was complicit. ‘Here’s some money: now fuck off and leave me alone.’ The other reason for the rise of the State, says Collins, was the need to educate post-war baby boomers – building all those schools and employing so many teachers, effectively doubling the education budget. Now, bemoans our intrepid scribe, we have to pay the same boomers their pensions and fund medical cover – money that should be spent on children rather than grandfathers. Paying more people to have more children – I thought this premise was where he began?

Thursday, October 16

Pork chops for supper

We crossed the county line this morning on a speculative trip to Taunton farmers market. It was my first visit, and aside from the sprinkling of characters from a Ken Loach film, the overwhelming impression is that of a town inhabited by prosperous retirees. Accustomed to university cities such as Exeter and Plymouth I found it an uncomfortable experience, surrounded by multiple versions of Howard and Hilda – it’s why I stopped going to the golf club. On the plus side we picked up a haunch of venison and some nice pork chops for supper.

The other reason we were up country was for an exhibition in Watchet. The Lynda Cotton Gallery is running a celebration of Hans Schwarz’ work. Hans, as I’ve previously mentioned, was our neighbour at South London Mansions (pictured above...© Est of HS ). He turned his toes up some time ago but has left more than enough to guarantee he will be remembered for a lot longer than yours truly. Whilst it’s been suggested Hans was disappointed with the recognition he received during his lifetime, fame often arrives retrospectively. The Boss and I were in Modbury earlier this week to catch an exhibition of Anthony Amos’s work. When alive Amos was both prolific and popular. Following his demise, however, the value of his paintings has soared.

Tuesday, October 14

Livornese fish stew

I’ve eaten some great food this past month. It could be argued I mostly eat good food and to some extent take meals for granted. The downside to good food on an everyday basis is that there have been few memorable dishes over the years – and it sounds terribly ungrateful to nominate a bowl of celery soup as the only outstanding dish of recent weeks. Fair’s fair, however. Today we lunched at Mitch Tonks’ Seahorse Restaurant in Dartmouth and ate a superlative Livornese Fish Stew, arguably the best fish stew I have tasted since my last trip to Málaga some ten years ago. Regretfully you can only eat memorable dishes once, as the second is always a disappointment.

It’s that time of year and Mrs G. is baking Christmas cakes. The high point of my day (other than fish stew) has been sniffing the whisky fumes emanating from a bowl of dried fruit. This Sober October lark is a real pain.

Sunday, October 12

Embarrassing parents, dancing at weddings

Young people throughout the land were on maximum cringe mode this morning, as Andrew Marr and guests (Douglas Carswell, Boris Johnson, Trevor Phillips and Amanda Platell) began dancing to a live performance by Brian Adams. I don’t know what is more sad, their dancing, or the suggestion that someone below the age of thirty would be watching Andrew Marr’s show.

Saturday, October 11

There’s no such thing as bad publicity?

I have to chuckle at today’s papers. You’d think the media would learn, and yet Carswell’s much maligned electorate, and the Ukip demographic in general, are still fielding brickbats. Rotherham’s Asian community could doubtless sympathise. Not having the resources to compete with the two main political parties, Ukip must be rubbing its hands (the Greens are wringing theirs). Although the SNP grumbled about a perceived bias with BBC’s referendum coverage, you can’t buy this sort of publicity – as Farage has discovered, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If the denizens of the Dog & Duck are a guide, all the media bile achieves is to fuel a sense of grievance and a desire for retribution at the ballot box.

 One of the criticisms of Ukip’s demographic is their perceived affection for a bygone age and a reluctance to view change in a positive light. On the wall of the office is a painting by maritime artist Anthony Amos that portrays a regular walk from my past, along the towpath between Greenwich and Woolwich, a largely desolate landscape of cement and aggregate yards, rusting hulks and beached Thames barges…disused dry-docks – and there in today’s FT is an advert for a new luxury residential development that has replaced the muddy puddles and abandoned cars. Not before time, you say, homes for the world’s brightest and best that flock to Boris City to fuel our economy and pay for our pensions. And yet those drifting logs, down Greenwich Reach, past Isle of Dogs…

Desert Battle

Friday, October 10

Nobody likes us and we don’t care

Vote Ukip and get Miliband, said Grant Shapps, on this morning’s television. It seems Ukip voters aren’t listening to the Conservative mantra. Miliband or Cameron: they’re both the same, they say – and neither represent our sort of people. Ukip don’t expect to win power as the largest party, but it’s increasingly plausible they could have a significant voice, maybe even hold the balance of power – with Nigel Farage as the new Nick Clegg. At the very least, last night’s two results guarantee a ding-dong battle over the coming months.

Thursday, October 9


Normal service, as they say, – gales, thunder storms and flooding – has resumed. Shit, after this past summer, who can complain? This morning we are surrounded by a sea of frenzied firs; whatever leaves remain on the beech and oak will soon be gone. There’s little raking to be done as everything that falls from the trees is already in the next county. I should be out, battening down – consigning barbecue and yard furniture to the barn. You can’t but be exhilarated by the drama, however, the racing clouds and changing light.

Wednesday, October 8

My neighbour, a farmer – the performance artist

“But there’s another movement that’s interesting,” adds Sir Tim. “If you look around the UK it’s largely farmland – some countries have been levelled for large fields, but in other parts of the world people are hanging on to small farms, because they like to have a world in which crops are grown locally by hand, again around Massachusetts for instance. You might start to think of farming more like performance art, where you know the person who has done it.”

From another planet

I didn’t make it out to Jaywick but I know areas like it well. Swanley, in my home district of Sevenoaks, is a similar working-class ghost town… Tim Stanley: man of the world, and a condescending little prick. It’s little wonder the Tories are haemorrhaging conservative voters to Ukip.

Tuesday, October 7

The Ariel is back

Talk about a blast from the past. The Ariel Arrow was never the sexiest bike on the road, and I’d baulk at £20k for the latest version. These days I am more comfortable driving something from Land Rover.

Ditch highbrow novels

Nick Hornby advises readers to junk difficult books if they’re not enjoying them. He’s right, of course, although a lot of what you come up against rewards the effort. Literature is no different from food, and in the same way you progress from beans on toast to oysters and truffles, you find yourself moving from J.T. Edson to Joyce and Dostoyevsky. That said, a Jack Reacher once in a while is as much a treat as the occasional plate of stovies.

I want what men have

Miriam Clegg wants to hang out in a bar, drinking beer, farting and slagging off Alan Pardew. I’m not sure I can be sold on the concept of someone who prioritises the need of a father and carer for her children over that of a lover. Selfish lad that I am, Sandberg’s ‘most important decision’ doesn’t sound the most attractive sales pitch a man can hear.

Monday, October 6

Men and housework

According to Mumsnet/Woman’s Hour surveys ‘Women do twice as much housework as men…’ Only twice as much? I suspect it’s more. ‘Yet two-thirds of women surveyed said they did not want their partner to do more, …because they believed men would not perform tasks “to the requisite standards”.’ The first thing a recently married man learns is to make a half-arsed job of domestic chores: he’ll never be asked again. In my defence, an un-ironed shirt isn’t the end of the world, nor high on my list of priorities – it’s what laundries and dry cleaners are for. Truth to tell, if you live in a child-free relationship, balancing the chores is fairly simple – and what deficit there is can be easily addressed by flowers, chocolates and champagne.

Sunday, October 5

Sunday night with Michael Ball

Be still my beating heart. It doesn’t help I have signed up for Sober October – day five and counting.

I think that’s the end of our runner beans. Maybe just as well, as this past week I’ve eaten the little suckers almost every night, with steak, trout, fish cakes and (tonight’s) venison. It’s not quite the end as there are several jars of Mrs G’s runner bean chutney in the store cupboard. Although something of a learning curve, the allotment has proved a great success. Filling the raised beds with decent soil and a suitable quantity of manure helped, as did the wonderful summer. Given our limited sunlight (tree shade) and local climatic conditions, I wasn’t sure we would be able to grow anything; and whilst the soft fruit was disappointing, now plants are bedded in we can look forward to a successful 2015.

Although I’m partial to smoked fish, I suspect we eat fresh trout but once each year. Part of the reason is the taint that originates from poorly maintained fish farms. What works for beetroot – its earthy odour, isn’t necessarily attractive in a trout.

I have the central heating on this evening, the first time since last winter. It’s a trial run before the weather turns cold.

Inflationary cosmology versus John Motson

Why make telly? Because otherwise you cede the public sphere to people on X Factor, to footballers... I bet Brian Cox wishes he had similar viewing figures to MOTD, but then I doubt even John Motson can compete with X Factor. It’s quite sobering to realise Robbie Savage has a brain the same size as Cox.

Saturday, October 4

Memories need a hard copy

This weekend marks the third anniversary of our move from the barn to the homestead and I have yet to finish unpacking. I must assume whatever’s contained in the remaining boxes is superfluous to life as I now know it. The contents intrigue me, however, and so on my next day off – as soon as I’ve indexed my CD collection, dressed some quills and scrubbed those manky trainers – I will take up my Stanley knife and investigate. Let’s hope they don’t contain perishable foodstuff, as the boxes originate from South London Mansions circa 2006. If the Buddhists prove correct and I do get another shot at the title, acquiring possessions will become a quirk of the past…The one thing I do regret is the advent of digital photography and absence of prints.

Thursday, October 2

Dealing with cracks in the idyll

Autumn may be with us but, what with today’s T-shirt and trainers, it’s proving somewhat benign. I continue to disappear whenever the opportunity affords, making the most of it. The only other person about the moor this afternoon was a neighbour on roundup – ’av you seem my ’eifers?’ Unbelievably, given the cattle run wild, I actually know which are his and which aren’t.

 I sit up top on a lump of granite and survey the world beneath me. Marvellous. There are still plenty of juvenile goldfinches flitting between the stunted hawthorn trees; larks, of course, and the always-strident stonechats.

 It wasn’t a bad morning either. I caught my latest nemesis, a rogue mole that has laid waste to a sizeable patch of ground. Number 13 (I paint Douglas Bader-like notations on the side of the barn). I also filled a series of hairline cracks in the homestead’s render and which have been buggin’ the pants off me. You wouldn’t believe the amount of damp that leaches through once the season begins in earnest. There’s a patch of rotten wood I need to treat and fill, and then (fingers crossed) that’s about it as far as the seasonal maintenance programme is concerned. Whilst not quite the Forth Bridge I alluded to earlier, you do find yourself accumulating new skills and becoming a familiar face at the trade counter of local builders merchants.


A BT infrastructure crew (Openreach) has made an appearance. It must be that time of year: wind and trees, the effect on local internet services. Poor service is a sore point in this part of the world. Whichever provider you choose, it remains the same scabby cable; and as with the NHS, there ain’t enough money in the world to provide for everyone, everywhere. Dissatisfaction dominates traffic on the local grapevine, but I tell them it’s part and parcel of living in the sticks. We have horses and chickens and a King George VI post box; city people get superfast fibre broadband.

Sunday, September 28

Satorial faux pas

What a great Sunday – AND we retained the Ryder Cup. I was up across the moor at seven this morning. Not just pre-sunrise but abroad in an impenetrable and literally visionless world. It wasn’t so much the dense mist and eerie silence, as the cloak of comfort that comes from complete seclusion. Fortunately I am familiar with the path. Welsh Blacks and ghostly corvids appeared and disappeared with the fluctuating density of saturated air. Neighbours in Land Rovers towing trailers passed by, ferrying daughters and ponies to the weekend gymkhana. It’s tempting to say all is right with the world, but only until you open the Sunday papers. I had to chuckle at Andrew Marr interviewing Nick Cave on the box. I guess denim jeans and trainers are what Marr classes as casual hip? You’re not Jeremy Clarkson, you plonker. Cave wore a nice blue pin-stripe suit and a pair of smart-looking shoes.

Saturday, September 27

It keeps you relevant

I appreciate autumn has its moments – Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, etc. – but this morning was a drab start to the weekend. Grey and bleak. Not to be downhearted, however, I hit town for milk and papers at the back of eight (no one about), was up a ladder and painting by nine, vacuuming come the stroke of eleven, and barbecuing – beer in hand – by two…footy on the wireless. They could well be my final kebabs of the year and as such deserved a decent send-off. If only City could have contrived to win their game. Sunday looks even busier; what happened to those lazy weekends of old?

Thursday, September 25

Painting the Forth Bridge

It was only after I’d completed painting the homestead’s woodwork – stood back to admire my effort, that I realised the supposedly high gloss black, so liberally dispensed, was more the shade of canal sludge. A foul grey rather than BLACK. I now have to repeat the exercise, yet another coat – maybe two, only this time with BLACK paint. Gudgeon is not a happy bunny. It’s not as if this operation comes risk-free, given an aggressive south westerly has the habit of sweeping my ladder from the wall. Hitting the ground in a roll and without spilling your paint kettle is an art in itself.

Wednesday, September 24

Kippers and a glass of wine

The mere suggestion of a jaunt to Iraq and our fly boys appear above the homestead, practising their moves – additions to the Cyprus fleet will doubtless be called for. Given how much fuel my motor burns, I wonder at the mpg of these machines? At least the sky is clear. We began today chill, wet and windy, and end in glorious sunshine. The temperature inside the homestead is twenty-five degrees, but as soon as the sun goes down fires are lit. We have kippers for tea, and what’s left of the Chablis. Actually it’s an oaky concoction from the new world but that doesn’t rhyme.

Tuesday, September 23

Don’t do today…

My annual maintenance programme – painting the homestead’s exterior woodwork – has still to get going. I drove to Plymouth this morning and picked up paint and brushes, before returning home to wash down and prepare several window frames and a couple of doors. I might actually get around to painting something during the next 48hrs, although tomorrow I am booked elsewhere. If I try hard I bet I can think up several excuses for delaying further, at least until the rain arrives.

I have set another couple of mouse traps in the loft. I’ll get the bugger yet. Ditto the mole that’s resurrected Tom (or is it Dick or Harry?) at the bottom of the yard.

I bet Labour wish they could exchange Miliband for Alex Salmond. You don’t mind a rogue as long as he’s an accomplished rogue.

Even during autumn the grass grows

If he’d have lived, the old boy would be celebrating his 100th birthday today. When he was born the world was at war. Much like today, you say – albeit our battles are now being fought by others. Despite these chilly autumn mornings I burnt my face yesterday, working outside in the sunshine. Summer pleasures they are (not quite) gone.

Sunday, September 21

Changing diet, and demeanour

Despite today’s blazing sunshine, autumn means game. Earlier this week partridge; today it is grouse. Grilled peppers and aubergines give way to roasted squash and bread sauce. Hair shirts instead of polo shirts.

Friday, September 19

Thank god for the referendum result

Bacon rolls and champagne for breakfast. I knew Aberdeen wouldn’t let us down. Repatriating bank accounts and investments would have been a pain in the backside. Unfortunately the promises made to Scotland has opened a can of worms elsewhere in the country. Wales could doubtless benefit from a bung. But if you give the Welsh Assembly increased power (and money), what do you do for Greater Manchester, for instance, whose economy dwarfs that of Wales? And would Wales want it, given the inadequacy of their administration? What we can agree on is the lack of appetite for an English Parliament or more regional devolution in England. The last thing we need is another costly layer of bureaucracy – a bunch of second-rate troughers intent on spending our money and fucking with our lives. Although we despise Westminster (I don’t: it’s just rhetoric), most of our MPs can read and write.

Thursday, September 18

A momentous day for the union

Or not, as the case may be. Thanks in part to financial independence, women now escape unhappy marriages. Damn! I promised myself today would be metaphor-free. I guess it’s difficult for Westminster to promote self-determination around the world, then deny it at home. The No camp has made a poor show of it, and the Yes campaign has made the most of a favourable position. No sour grapes, however, ‘You make your bed…’ as the old girl would say. Mrs G. has planned a curry night referendum special but I won’t be drinking Tennent’s.

Wednesday, September 17

The only game in town

Even here in the sticks, reporting on the Scottish independence referendum has reached blanket proportions. While I’d prefer the result was No, it seems a growing number south of the border won’t be greatly upset by the alternative. The infamous Sunday Times poll that put the Yes camp ahead was a real shocker, realising the Scots don’t want to be part of our gang anymore. Thereafter hearts hardened – have hardened further as politicians of every stripe line up to debase themselves and offer further inducements. Signing off on these ambiguous assurances – which may well fall short of what Scotland thinks it has been promised – will be problematic in itself, let alone a divorce which would take years and involve internecine strife throughout the land. I blame Roy Hodgson: it happed on his watch. The Scotland v England game at Celtic Park this November should be a right doozy.

Sunday, September 14

How did Harold Macmillan pull it off?

Sunday morning was enlivened by the appearance of George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan on BBC’s Daily Politics show. Every word the two speak is pure bollocks, but both are hugely entertaining. Sheridan always looks as though he’s about to smack whichever unfortunate is at the other end of the microphone. Eat your heart out, Miliband, you boring arse. Not that Cameron comes across as the sort of guy you’d choose to share a pint with. Let’s face it, our elected leader – whoever that may be – is never going to be Lemmy Kilmister meets Dave Allen.

Saturday, September 13

Squirrel pie

A richly-coloured flock of goldfinches are foraging in the yard. They’ve been here for a couple of days. Whilst their group lacks the grandeur of a murmuration exaltation, the birds in flight are an impressive sight – a wanton freak, as Keats would say. And a dramatic backdrop to today’s racing from Doncaster – the St Leger, Britain’s oldest classic. Having visited the Ashburton Food & Drink Festival this morning, we returned, prior to kick-off, to lunch on our regular game dealer’s squirrel pie and a fine claret. It’s what Saturdays are made for.

Friday, September 12


Have you any idea of the damage a couple of the neighbour’s steers can do, practising their Appalachian step dancing on your lawn – particularly on ground that’s been undermined by voles.
…I thought the swallows had pushed off but there’s still a pair in the barn. Seems not everyone’s enthusiastic about leaving.
…What with the low temperature and grey mist of a morning you wouldn’t think I’d been barbecuing this week. At some stage our extended summer holiday has to end; paintbrushes are waiting in the shed.
…I’m taking a couple of hours off this morning to visit a medieval farmhouse.

Our guide to this morning’s visit painted a colourful picture of life in the 1350s when the house was originally constructed, and did his best to shock with hoary tales of rudimentary medieval domesticity. Given the downturn in various residents’ fortunes over the years, living standards at Uppacott appear to have barely improved by the early 20th Century. As late as the 1950s the house still had no running water or a WC. In truth I suspect the gap between post-war Britain and 2014 is as large as that between the 14th and early 20th Centuries. It’s fashionable to say that little changes over the years, but you have to admit life has become far more comfortable.

Thursday, September 11

Deeply divided means opportunities for some

Grief, what a circus, in Exeter. The Tour of Britain turned up today. Lots of lads in Lycra. In addition to the party atmosphere – bands and buskers, there were convoys of neat-looking team coaches, countless continental accents (together with roadies chomping on meat pies and pasties), and too many closed roads. Fortunately for me – given most others had striven to avoid the potential disruption – access routes were clear. …That’s unlike the streets of Glasgow where it appears Labour have mobilised the entire party in support of Corporal Miliband. Let’s face it, if the Sweaties do vote for independence, Labour will shoulder much of the blame. Whilst I’m reassured my bank is registering in England, foreign ownership hasn’t harmed the local job prospects for those employed by Jaguar and Land Rover. If Scotland does vote Yes, however, I imagine the backlash will insist on a transfer of employment opportunities. Who amongst us doesn’t believe that England will pour everything it has into developing the north of England as a competitive bulwark to Scotland. There’ll be opportunities for some but we will all be losers. Scrapping amongst ourselves while others take advantage.

Wednesday, September 10

Let’s hope the mythical silent majority in Scotland uses its vote

At today’s lunchtime session in the Dog & Duck I experienced a taste of what many suspect is behind much of the Scottish Yes vote: a hatred of Cameron and his class. Local sabs, as they like to style themselves, were discussing resumption of the badger cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset. I say discussing but it was essentially spit and bile, directed less at neighbourhood farmers whose cattle are contracting TB, than towards local landowners that hunt. Protesters, unbelievably, view the cull as some sort of sneaky payback, thought up by the hated Tories following Labour’s anti-hunt legislation. We toffs can’t kill our fluffy animals anymore, so we’ll kill yours instead? I don’t imagine you can debate with these characters. As in Scotland – from what people tell me, discussion merely invites confrontation.

Tuesday, September 9

That was better

More like the promise England displayed in the opening World Cup game against Italy, only this time with a result in our favour. England are not just passing the ball but also completing their passes, something I suspect we can attribute to the new breed of Premier League coaches. Pace, too, thanks to the team’s average age of <24. Confidence is key and this match will certainly have helped. One up for Roy. If only Team GB could exhibit a similar sort of verve. Imagine! The clock is ticking down, five minutes to go and the score remains 0–0. What’s this I see? A stirring on the substitute’s bench…and on comes Gordon fuckin’ Brown. God but I miss him. Everyone needs an Aunt Sally.

Monday, September 8

What am I missing?

Following the shock of the YouGov poll (What! They don’t like us?), and now we’ve had a day or so to mull it over, do we really believe – as George Osborne implied this morning, that we need to improve the offer? If we assume Scotland is fiscally neutral, that – given the rate of immigration and England’s current baby boom – we can replace their number over the next ten years, why are we not wishing our cousins well and helping them on their way. What am I missing? As Scotland’s departure would alleviate the need to worry about Miliband and his merry men, what – other than a few month’s argy-bargy with the markets, and having to reposition our banks and submarines – is the downside?

Sunday, September 7

I wasn't even fucking trying

“It's a think-tank situation, 95% of it is scientists. Me and Cormac [McCarthy] are the only two writers. Everybody else is a nuclear physicist. Which is cool, you know.” I know it sounds precious, but he’s always had a good line in laconic one-liners.

The Nora Batty effect

Men by contrast take a more “silent approach”. Duh! Learning to keep your head down ain’t exactly rocket science.


Thanks in part to health scare stories, unless you’re either a lard-arse or an epicurean, cheese has fallen out of fashion in recent years. When was the last time you were invited to the once ubiquitous Cheese & Wine Party? Today’s lunch was a selection from Whalesborough – the sort of cheese that bears little relationship to the crap that graces the average burger. This Sancerre Rouge ain’t bad either.

You miss ’em when they’re gone

Rats! Chattering swallows are marshalled all along the telephone lines. It must be that time of year. The sky above the homestead is blue and the forecast set fair. Why go? you ask. Yet in spite of the dangers they face on the journey, the birds still want away. Ah it looks good now, they say, but in a couple of month’s times you’ll be freezing your balls off and we will be sunning ourselves in South Africa. It’s a good point

Goodnight Vienna, or maybe Edinburgh

It is squeaky-bum time, as the latest poll threatens an end to the Union. Cue panic in the ranks, promises of more beads and shiny mirrors, recrimination and bloodletting across the realm...In the meantime, Farage breaks bread with Murdock, and the City remains on war footing, fearing a repeat of 2008. It seems our differences outweigh the similarities - Ukraine and Iraq without the guns.

Saturday, September 6

Saturday sans football

Thankfully there’s a local festival to fill the gap: a Nourishing day out in Bovey. It was fairly quiet when we arrived at the back of ten, however, the place soon warmed up. Plenty of local craft beers, tasty bites, and musical entertainment. Though I recently decided to take a break from dairy products, sucker that I am, I returned home with eight cheeses (and a chocolate cake). It was fun, full of local people, the sort that Matthew Parris so obviously despises – little queen that he is. For whatever reason The Times appears intent on offending its subscribers.

Friday, September 5

Warm bodies

Sathnam Sanghera confirms the adage ‘Crap in, Crap out.’ And while we’re discussing verbal diarrhoea, who are those two ghastly women discussing Iraq and Ukraine on the Daily Politics?

Fish and feta

The silence early morning is wonderful. Before the chatter starts, the whining and threats, the atrocities, the lies – 24hr news has a lot to answer for. In that pristine stillness after the clock tower chimes six you can just about catch the sound of a distant cockerel and the burn as it exits the moor and snakes down through the yellow gorse. Although the bats have returned to their lair, the swallows have yet to appear – it is more a half-hearted twitter than a dawn chorus. …The homestead seems a lot emptier since the ponies left us. It’s said the grass is always greener and in their case it was, having stripped the yard clean. Never mind, today is a Friday. Fridays are always Greek Salad and Fish.

Thursday, September 4

Those were the days

I switched off last night’s match half way through. Life’s too short. They’re a desperate bunch, and like most I was ready to write ’em off before kick-off. It’s not just England’s abject performance in Brazil. Let’s face it, who amongst us wouldn’t rather watch or listen to a league programme. Who’d have thought – given Gudgeon was a teenager back in ’66 – that it would come to this. I was going to add that at least I’m not a German, given their result against Argentina, but then Germany has a World Cup in the cupboard – they’re allowed an off night. For England it’s been all downhill since the day Mary Hopkin broke into song.

Wednesday, September 3

The challenge of idleness

Keynes worried that it might be ‘a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself’ when there is no drudgery at hand.

 And this is why god invented the internet.

All downhill from here

In this morning’s Times, Finkelstein reminds us that turkeys never vote for Xmas, and that – despite the current engagement of the Scottish electorate – politics of the future (carefully assembled coalitions, pragmatism, concessions, taking one step backwards to take two steps forward) will become increasingly frustrating and far less fun.

Tuesday, September 2

Heads you win, tails I lose

Given YouGov’s latest poll it seems the separatists are winning the argument. And after listening to this morning’s debate on the box, the argument appears to be about realising the dream of a socialist nirvana. Given Mrs G’s ethnicity, I’m always minded to listen to her opinion – even though she doesn’t get a vote. It’s been interesting to watch the lady morph from her original No position, to tentatively supporting the Yes camp. I still think the electorate will give it the old pollice verso…but you never know. Imagine that the Scots go their own way, and in the 2015 General Election, Ukip splits the Tories – with the left-leaning conservative vote deserting to the LibDems (stranger things have happened). And Miliband still wins! Argh.

Two for joy? I don’t think so

Magpies can be irritating buggers – there’s two outside my window just now. In Somerset they’re called chatternags, and for good reason. Never marry a woman named Meg. Eating a mixture of ground-up magpie used to be thought to cure epilepsy, on the basis that consuming a chatterer could neutralize the chattering disease. … The female cones on our Chilean pine continue to explode, scattering shrapnel across the yard. I’ll leave its tasty seeds to the indigenous people of Arauco. They play havoc with the mower (the seeds not the indigenous people of Arauco). … Mince has been kicked into touch in favour of our every growing surplus of eggs, beetroot and courgettes. There’s also a frightening amount of celery and marrows waiting in the wings.

Monday, September 1

Autumn optimism

Although early hopes for an Indian summer were raised by the forecasters, it has yet to arrive at the homestead. Visibility out on the moor this afternoon was 30yds at best, and I returned soaked to the skin. The first day of autumn and on cue leaves rain down from the trees. No complaints from Gudgeon, however: given this past four months it would be churlish. And wasn’t it Fitzgerald who wrote ‘Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.’

Sunday, August 31

The Homestead Fringe

Little wonder my jokes fall flat: I can’t do impersonations. Mrs G. wonders why my Arsene Wenger always sounds like a lisping Pakistani, and Alex Salmond has seemingly morphed into Ole Gunnar Solskjær. …In an effort to trump yesterday’s melt-in-your-mouth braised beef cheek, the Boss is serving up veal steaks, yoghurt smothered home-grown beetroot, guacamole, and tomato and onion salad. The sun is shining and footy commentary is on the wireless: what more could you ask. Turteen t’tu. That’s what the bookies are offering on Mario Balotelli scoring the first goal. See what I mean.

Friday, August 29

Mince, my head's...

It turned into a mince week – and not the grey, viscous stuff of John Lanchester’s school days. Minced beef with cabbages, mince with mashed carrot and swede…lots of runner beans, too. So today by way of relief, an extended lunch at Riverford Field Kitchen, the homestead’s local noshery of choice. I don’t believe we’ve eaten a poor meal there, and the company is usually good – you share a table of eight with whoever walks through the door. The food is a no-choice dish of the day. Today’s fellow diners were a typical draft of old British hands that served in the colonies. It’s easy to default to stereotypes, however, experience has taught me to curb my tongue until verifying the lie of the land. We swopped travel stories, the various homes, sights and sounds of distant continents, and agreed our memories and preferences were people orientated rather than place and time. The rather chic lady seated next to me had seemingly travelled everywhere and lived a colourful life but was so softly spoken (and my hearing so damaged) that I missed most of her punch lines. One smiles and nods enthusiastically, batting back vacuous responses you hope suit. Mercifully, politics and religion remain verboten in polite company. An opinionated Gudgeon and a bottle of wine are boorish in the extreme.

Too sentimental about our armed forces?

In today’s Times Richard Vinen disparages the armed forces’ totemic status, comparing it to the left’s mawkish adoration of mineworkers. I guess he’s taking a contrarian view in an attempt to get a rise out of his readership following the profusion of WW1 Centenary events? He implies our current sentimentality is somehow related to how few of our soldiers have died in recent years (in comparison to Korea), and which is due in part to our reluctance to sacrifice them? Dare I suggest that contemporary respect for Britain’s armed forces has a lot to do with the fact that whilst our grandfathers fought in the trenches and our parents’ generation on the beaches, we now ask other peoples’ sons and daughters to do our fighting for us – and there’s an understandable reluctance to sacrifice these people every time Johnny Foreigner brandishes a spear.

Thursday, August 28

Will the future be kinder and fairer?

Probably not in my lifetime. But good on Douglas Carswell. There aren’t many people in Westminster – and let’s give him the benefit of doubt – with both principles and testicles (Austin Mitchell says we can disregard the rest). His move certainly adds to muddy the water. Whilst I can’t see our local MP Sarah Wollaston quaking in her boots, the odds on Cameron leading a majority government after the next election must have lengthened. As far as Ukip is concerned, although Carswell is only one man, momentum is a wonderful thing – especially following on from today’s immigration figures, and Labour on the ropes over Rotherham. In September’s Prospect magazine Andrew Marr writes that power is up for grabs, suggesting we are entering an extraordinary new age of politics. I originally thought the lad was over-egging the story, however, as he says, what with the Scottish referendum preceding the general election, chaos in the Middle East, the worldwide rise of Islamism, a mischievous Putin, stagnation and political lassitude in the EU, and an uncertain and less-decisive United States, all of our futures look a lot less certain.

Wednesday, August 27

Wasting my money

Up town this morning for the motor’s annual service (and a skive). I declined the offer of a courtesy car in favour of my bus pass, but couldn’t leave without sticking my head in at the adjacent Ferrari dealership. They have a promotion on the Maserati Ghibli – the vehicle supposed to take Maserati mainstream, and are knocking them out for £48k. Unfortunately next to a Ferrari the Ghibli looks a tad boring, and its diesel engine doesn’t exactly say sexy performance car.

 Breakfast in the usual coffee shop, which, like most university cities, has a fair share of student customers. Give me students any day of the week: a lively enough bunch, and they don’t have prams. Forty passengers on a bus and all it take to make our lives a misery is one screaming brat.

 Nipped into RAMM to take a second look at the Detached and Timeless exhibition, featuring twenty-five contemporary artists inspired by nature and spirit of place. They’ve beefed up the local collection with works on loan from Plymouth, London’s Southbank, and the national loan collection of modern and contemporary British art. I’m sure I will return again.

Lizzard or Toad? says Matthew Parris in today’s Times, musing on what it means once you turn sixty. He’s not been the same lad since shacking up with a toy boy.

 Back at the homestead it continues to rain. As a treat for the motor I blew seventy-quid on a top of the range valet job. It lasted as far as the final four-hundred yards of my return journey, a fetid slurry of mud, manure and dead badger.

Tuesday, August 26

Rising prices

Never mind Angel di Maria, I paid £2.25 for a sausage roll from a deli in Ashburton this morning. Greggs it ain’t, but even so…

Talk is cheap and on the day I suspect…

Salmond won. But then all Darling had to do was avoid a catastrophe – the lad did well. I don’t think any of us believe the Scots will vote yes. Too much uncertainty, risk. It’s why the UK will never vote to leave Europe.

You should never wish your life away

Nevertheless I’m pleased yesterday is over. Although a Monday – Bank Holiday Monday, it felt like one of those Sundays of old: sitting around, staring out of the window, desperate to get back to work the following day. Not that you necessarily enjoyed the treadmill, but at least it was something that engaged your mind, validated whatever it was you thought you were. …Early this morning a beam of sunlight broke through the cloud, and immediately thought better of it. The rain continues even now, however I have places to go, things to do.

Monday, August 25

Evening entertainment

The Man City v Liverpool match commentary or Darling v Salmond?

Valid opinions, and personalities

Fkn Chink, as Malky might say. I’d be lost without my weekend reading material – and it more than makes up for those missed opportunities at the Dog & Duck. At three-quid the FT Weekend is good value; and whilst irritated by the plethora of young Jock scribblers and nancy boys, I will renew my Spectator subscription. Taki remains my aspirin against the urge to political correctness. In this week’s instalment he muses on such diverse subjects as Peter Sarstedt lyrics and the Battle of the Bulge. As a Birmingham City follower, Robbie Savage is hardly my favourite Welsh nerk. However I would be remiss if I didn’t afford the lad as much attention as I do A.N. Wilson, Susie Boyt or Irwin Stelzer.