Wednesday, April 30

Italian firewater

In an effort to spice up my sometime pedestrian life I’ve taken to alternating breakfasts between bran flakes and shredded wheat. It may be the most important meal of the day but it doesn’t need to be exciting … A man came to the door early yesterday evening selling upmarket fish fingers from his van. He called them ‘Fish Wellingtons’ and alluded in the conspiratorial manner of a costermonger that he could let me have them for £3.75 each. I duly pointed him in the direction of our neighbour who drives a Bentley barely smaller that a cross channel ferry … Following a supper of Monday’s reheated leftovers I treated myself to a digestive, a minibar-size bottle of grappa – or Dappa, as the locally distilled version is so named. Whilst I’m all for supporting local produce, nine-quid a shot is something of an indulgence. I haven’t drunk grappa since the last time I bumped into fellow reprobate Charlie Lister, the Suffolk Onassis, and rashly swore off Italian firewater for life. That said, and providing someone else is paying, this is really good stuff.

Tuesday, April 29


The neighbours have begun laying out their stall.

Life remains a lottery

Half of patients diagnosed with cancer today will effectively be “cured” according to the authors of new research, which shows survival rates in England and Wales have doubled since the 1970s. I guess this is one of the many reasons to be cheerful in this day and age. When I was a kid it appeared (to me) almost everyone expired of cancer, emaciated skeletons that died writhing in agony. It was the harbinger of our ultimate destination: hell and damnation. I appreciate there’s a long way to go in terms of cancer diagnosis and treatment – and let’s face it: the NHS is just as likely to kill you as cure you – but we seem to be heading in the right direction. It’s the seemingly arbitrary nature of death and disease that continues to frustrate.

Monday, April 28

The Teflon Party?

Labour voters are defecting to UKIP because the party has become too middle class, says policy guru. Given the brickbats Farage receives on an almost daily basis – and by implication the people who intend voting for him, it’s no wonder large sections of England’s so-called working class feel put upon. A year ago these potential voters were loonies and fruitcakes; now, according to the Health Secretary, they are disgusting racists. Yet frustratingly for Westminster and the commentariat the bandwagon continues. Conventional wisdom dictates no one takes Ukip policies seriously and a vote for Farage is merely the disgruntled sticking a finger to the establishment. Few will subsequently vote for Ukip in the real election next year. They say a week’s a long time in politics so who knows what the landscape will look like in May 2015. That caveat aside, however, the next government may well come down to which of the two main parties persuades their traditional voters to return to the fold, on the basis you really don’t want (a) Cameron or (b) Miliband to become the default Prime Minister. My money is still on the Tories, but it’s a very modest wager.

Sunday, April 27

Sundays: don’t you love ’em

You’d have thought today’s low-pressure system, the dark skies and driven rain, would put a damper on Sunday: but spring carries all before. The blossom, budding trees, the chirping budgies. Whilst I enjoy Sunday lunchtimes they have to be earned, and so many people have died prematurely this month. I couldn’t in all conscience sink the regulation pint without donning a cagoule and setting off post breakfast for a morning constitutional across the moor. The Ten Tors teams have finally begun to appear; lots of weekend walkers, too. As long as I returned in time to catch MOTD2 and preview the day’s fixtures. What wouldn’t I give to be at Anfield this afternoon. At the risk of pissing off a mate or two I’ve backed Chelsea to upset the general sentiment. Mrs G’s Korean short-ribs for lunch. Sundays, don’t you…

Friday, April 25

Grow your own: is it worth it?

There’s only so much manure you can inflict on a vegetable patch without being seen to compete with your muck-spreading (farming) neighbours. If nothing emerges from this allotment it won’t be for wont of a favourable foundation – nor for sunshine and showers. We are currently surrounded by lambs being hardened off prior to their release on the moor. Kind of apt considering the kebabs we’ve eaten this week. On Wednesday, for relief, we attended Riverford Field Kitchen’s Veal Night: veal carpacchio, calves’ sweetbread terrine, and braised veal. Then today, the annual Exeter festival of south west food and drink. Lots of local ales and ciders. We returned with the usual selection of cheese and pies. This was our eighth festival, and whilst always worthwhile – trés enjoyable (you can spend the day listening to live music, downing pints and chomping on burgers), the number of producers seems to shrink with the years.

Monday, April 21

Life becomes bog standard

Craig Davidson’s Cataract City proved more entertaining than I expected. We’ve read it all before of course, and nowadays there’s little romance associated with growing up in a dead-end town, be it the Canadian border or English seaside variety. Such locations serve as evolutionary prompts: nature’s way of telling us to get the fuck out of there… Andrew Marr has written this week’s Spectator Diary from the sunny shores of Crete and is struck by the sameness of locations. Increasingly, Greece looks like Spain, looks like Italy, looks like Turkey…etc. It seems globalisation and multiculturalism has its downside: it isn’t only English provincial cities that appear replicas of each other. Which of course leads to Cameron receiving a wrap on the knuckles for his assertion that Britain remains a Christian Country – along with the predictable guff about scaring the horses. Even the narcissism of small differences is deemed too great a threat.

Sunday, April 20

Damp squib

Isn’t that always the way with Bank Holidays? It promised so much at five this morning. How quickly the excitement of hearing a cuckoo translates to irritation at its monotonous cry. Conversely our mistle thrush provide endless fun chasing trespassing crows from a wet, chilly yard. At least the food’s good. I barbecued a giant roll of pork yesterday, so Sunday lunch is pork cobs and a nice Cote de Beaune. The ultimate treat as a kid, sans the wine of course. I doubt that café in Digbeth could compete with Mrs G’s porchetta, the artisan rolls and designer salad. But then how can you compare Shankly’s Liverpool to Suarez et al? Our tastes and expectations come from different worlds these days.

Friday, April 18

I heard my first cuckoo this morning

Three swallows are nesting in the shed, our mistle thrush have begun feeding their first brood, and a blackbirds’ nest now adorns the carport. By noon today I had counted twenty different species of bird in the yard, including numerous robins, a chaffinch, one crow and several jackdaws, two magpies, a woodpecker, pheasant, several greenfinches and a pair of goldfinches, sparrows and dunnocks, great and blue tits, a coal tit and a willow tit, a wren, nuthatch, pair of wagtails and a flight of wood pigeons.

 As you can imagine, the holiday roads are nose-to-tail. A good part of the country appears to have decamped to the southwest. Here at the homestead, assuming you discount the cheeping, all is peace and quiet. I have two sea bass waiting for the barbecue to warm up. According to Mr Tonks all I have to do is insert sprigs of rosemary and thyme, rub with olive oil and grill. A Greek salad and bottle of chilled wine makes up the meal.

Would you go back and try to fix things?

If you were afforded the opportunity would you use a time machine to return and fix the things you buggered up? It seems a fair number of people couldn’t be arsed. I guess it would be fun to chat to a number of people – grandparents, for instance – who didn’t make it past my childhood years. Come to that, my parents, too, now I’m no longer a self-obsessed 20/30 something. If I thought about it long enough I am sure I could dredge up an incident from way back that reflects badly on me and in hindsight I should have done differently. But like most men I only recall the good times, everything else is water under the bridge. Adapting to the future is easier than screwing around with the past.

Thursday, April 17

Holiday weekend

Given this weekend is a holiday everyone I met today appeared demob happy. The neighbour’s scaffold crew disappeared at lunchtime when the Dog & Duck opened its doors, to be replaced by a posse of neighbourhood children riding ponies. I’m sitting in the office listening to shit-kicking music, getting into the spirit, watching them jump fences. Although the doors are wide open I’ve taken the precaution of lighting a fire and opening a bottle in readiness for sundown. No barbecue this evening. In an attack on our egg mountain, tonight’s supper is a frittata variant, featuring potatoes, chorizo and green stuff from the yard. All that was required of me was a little manual labour and a 60 mile drive to acquire the right sort of chocolate egg.

Wednesday, April 16

Fresh air can be hard work

I’ve spent a fun day chiseling weeds from between the toes of paving slabs, and spraying noxious chemicals on a year’s growth of algae. It smells like Southend pier rather than Dartmoor. This must be the best spell of weather I can recall during our time at the homestead, but then I’ve said that before. It won’t last: the Easter weekend already looks a doubtful prospect. Thankfully I’ve half of my allotment completed. The six tons of additional soil I bought in didn’t look so much when the truck dumped it at the back door. However, by the time I had carried it from A to B in my trusty wheelbarrow, the mound seemed to have quadrupled in size. I suspect this gardening lark isn’t for the lame and lazy.

And you think our politicians are bad

I’ve witnessed sad sights recently and listened to a fair bit of rubbish, but last night’s Later Live hosted by Jools Holland was a grim half-hour. Guess who won’t be tuning in on Friday. Where do they get these performers, and who writes the lyrics they sing? The content was shite. That old boy Humperdinck is a sad reflection, yet he was the best thing on the show. I appreciate the look is part of the content but I always suspect the worst when the teeth-and-tits brigade hove into view – a mask to cover an act’s deficiencies.

Sunday, April 13

Even though it is spring

Given the homestead’s location it’s rare we open all doors and windows. Today, however, was the perfect Sunday lunch followed by a succession of match commentaries on the wireless and the final round of the Masters. And so quiet! The Masters is a surprise in that I gave up interest on our move from South London Mansions. Today – and it may be the fallout from the Liverpool v City game – I am hooked. Viewed from the wilds of Dartmoor the game has its peculiarities, not least the dress. Young Rickie Fowler, for instance, looks a clown: but then so do many lads his age. At times I miss the company – the competition, although not enough to dust down my clubs.

A buckshee Sunday

And the sun is shining...Skimming the hedge and flying an erratic course as though a shot-up Spitfire returning to base (I watch too many old films), my first swallow of the season. In concert with today’s London Marathon, the harbinger of spring.

Saturday, April 12

The wages of prejudice

The ride-on was returned following its annual service yesterday morning and I couldn’t resist a spin around the yard. The place looks much neater following a trim. I subsequently decided on a shave myself, fortunately for me arriving at the barbers in Totnes before ten. Half an hour later and there wasn’t a parking space to be had, the town was full. A traditionally busy Friday – market day, boosted by scores of holiday visitors. And for once the weather is playing ball.

 Today’s papers contain an assortment of anti-Salmond propaganda. Superfluous guff in the main, as we generally recognise a bolshie chancer without resort to written instructions. Further irritated by Hazel Irvine’s commentary on the Masters, I decided to back Cockney Sparrow for the Champion Hurdle from Ayr…

Which should just about pay for the rib of beef I’m barbecuing this afternoon. Mr G. has gone all northern on me, wearing my Blues scarf in readiness for the kick-off later this afternoon. I guess Wenger’s not much of a ladies man.

Thursday, April 10

Tragedy and strife at every turn

Having forsaken the Cypriot and Turkish restaurants of old, yours truly can still cauterize a mean kebab. Truth to tell, given the ingredients to hand (a neighbour’s lamb), I suspect my skewers are a major advance on the original. The secret as they say is in the marinade. And although no Efes we don’t want for a drinkable Pilsner. There are times I feel a tad guilty about the solitude of the homestead, our absence of association. Then I read the news and despair at the malcontents. Who amongst us gives a flying fuck for Oscar Pistorius, let alone celebrity infant down under. The world either sees itself as a glass half empty or one that contains a sweet, sticky liquid adorned with tiny umbrellas.

Tuesday, April 8

The rain bird

After the Carpenteresque rainy-day-Monday I guess it was hardly surprising to see a green woodpecker feeding amongst the primroses this morning; we also have our fair share of anthills. I say unsurprising: although you hear their laughing cry about the yard, rain birds are wary types and unlike the great spotted not exactly thick on the ground. Damn but it’s good to see sunshine back on the slopes.

Monday, April 7

Times change

The idea that people are still leaving school illiterate is to me a total disgrace. I went to a slum school in Salford, a secondary modern, but I swear to Christ, nobody left unable to read a book. I appreciate John Cooper Clarke’s point, but what passes for education is relative. Although we were required to read and write at Crap Street Secondary Modern, our kids need a post graduate qualification to serve coffee or preside over a gaggle of infants. The bar is continually raised; and the way education is delivered has changed. Harry Cole, for instance, bemoans the demise of the boozy lunch. What isn’t always appreciated is that the old three-bottler, as Cole describes it, was our post graduate education. Where else would we have learned the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux if it wasn’t for the £70 bottles of Gevrey Chambertin and magnums of Château Latour during now defunct lunchtime sessions. I can’t imagine any of those old boys who took time to impart their experience over a glass of Rémy would ever have deigned to tweet, but then that’s the way of dinosaurs.

Monday mornings...

The neighbours might not be named Seth or Reuben, but what with the ceaseless downpour there’s more than a whiff of CCF. The crucial word in cold: although I’m knee-deep in mud, the parka and woolly hat are history. Mrs G. spent the later part of Friday forking in well-rotted manure, only to see her raised bed sink below the water line. Arsène Wenger would know how she feels.

Sunday, April 6

Seven toads and five newts

That’s the butcher’s bill from the electric fence that surrounds Mrs G’s chickens. I doubt the critters will be missed inasmuch as the moor is awash with humping toads. Then again I’ve a soft spot for newts that dates to a childhood exploring Bentley Common. There are lots of weekend walkers, which is brave of them given the weather. I’ve settled for a roaring fire and the lad from Cannock on the wireless. Who’d be an Arsenal supporter?

Saturday, April 5

Spam fritters and the National

Thanks in part to the Grand National I didn’t stray far from the box this afternoon. Great race. As always I remain in awe of both horses and riders; their courage is up there with my daring to criticise the spice mix in Mrs G’s curry.

What with neighbours slaughtering beasts and the local farmers markets, we have eaten some exceptional meals this past couple of weeks. Always on the lookout for something different, during yesterday’s trip to the Quik-E-Mart I picked up a tin of Spam. Despite the memories there’s no way I could have dared return home with Hormel Foods’ pride and joy. Along with Fray Bentos corned beef, Spam remains forbidden food in the Gudgeon household. So when perusing the foodie articles in this morning’s papers I was surprised to read of Hawaii’s Spam festival. It seems Spam is hugely popular in that State, residents consuming seven million cans each year. This month an estimated 25,000 people will turn up on Waikiki’s main drag to consume truffle Spam ramen, Span pad Thai, and candied Spam with pineapple sorbet – exotic dishes, far removed from the traditional fritter, chips and peas.

Horse racing and spam fritters were part of my first break in the business. Having negotiated an initial interview, I was flown to Yarmouth to meet the big man. As the port was busy and there was a meeting at the track, I found myself booked into a local knocking shop for the evening. For dinner – the special – the restaurant served Spam, chips and peas. Whilst the evening’s a story in itself, the first question I was asked during my second interview the following day was how I’d spent that morning. Instead of bullshitting about familiarising myself with the port facilities, I admitted to visiting the bookies to place a series of bets. Fortunately for me the boss was an owner of both racehorses and dogs, and the particular horses I’d backed was all the confirmation he needed to establish my credentials. It’s something they don’t teach you at school.

Head above the parapet

Hats off to the lad for daring to put his work on display and then shoulder the inevitable brickbats. As Daniel Rolnik said, Bush has made himself strangely vulnerable. Naïve and skew-whiff the paintings may be, but their being thought reminiscent of the American Pop artist Alex Katz isn’t too bad a put down. I’ve attended several exhibitions this past month and seen worse. At the very least it’s a step up from selfies. And not that I’m attempting to validate the man's talent, but ahead of a major exhibition of Matisse’s last works it’s worth recalling art historian Christian Zervos once dismissed the cut-outs as embarrassing schoolroom hobbyism that no one would have taken seriously had they not come from the palsied hand of the master.

Friday, April 4

Nigel Farage ate my goldfish

My god they must be scared. Archer, Hodges and now Blair. I’d have thought these people would have wised up after the fruitcakes and loons business. And conversely they continue to undermine Cameron with attacks on Miller, etc. What or who is the Telegraph pitching for?

Money in the bank

No wonder the neighbours have a spring to their step: British farmland prices rising faster than prime London property.

Thursday, April 3

The Red Road Flats

Whilst homosexuals have become gay and Barack Obama refashioned as a person of colour, we have yet to arrive at a modern-day euphemism for affordable/social housing.

Four decades in pictures

Don’t let the photos fool you. When BA acquired British Caledonian, the Houston flights went from engaging young ladies in tartan, to squat, frumpy matrons in blue serge.

Accents, pretentious or otherwise

How do I dumb down a Black Country accent?

Ladies Day

Even Aintree suspects egalitarianism may have gone too far.

Solid fare

While London is hit by smog, here at the homestead we have fog. London has Saharan dust and air pollution, we have good healthy muck. As soon as I walked outside and took my first breath, I guessed our neighbour, a farmer, was flinging it about. After having the motor waxed yesterday there is no way I was venturing along the lane as  it’s  a sea of slurry. Instead I took off on foot across the moor – although wet (rain all day), the temperature is reasonably mild. I saw my first lamb of the season up top, always an indication the bad weather is over. Walked a fair few miles before becoming lost when descending into the mist. Drifting to the left instead of the right put another half-hour on the walk. Isn’t that always the way. Tonight is boiled ham hocks and Spanish rice, together with a flowery Italian wine. I may not be the most accomplished of cooks but it tends to be filling.

Tuesday, April 1

Seven portions a day?

I acknowledge I’m not the healthiest of eaters; a diet of boiled offal, beans and barbecue leaves a lot to be desired. However I do eat fruit. Usually, three or more portions, five days out of seven. Throw in a couple of tomatoes and a cabbage or two and I’m on message, so to speak. At least I was: it transpires we are now expected to eat between seven and ten portions of healthy stuff every day. Seriously? How does the average punter consume ten portions of fruit and veg, and still find room for a kebab or burger? If Osborne wants a vote winner and wishes to provide an incentive to reduce the cost of the NHS, he could do worse than allowing us to write off our grocery bills – the healthy produce that is – against our individual tax liability. Forget the stick, a penal tax on sugar and lard: give us a carrot – a bonus for the righteous.

Artist rooms on tour

In accordance with the spirit of our times – a week that’s witnessed the birth of same-sex marriage and the reappearance of Tory rent boys – this morning we dropped in at the Gilbert & George show. The cunt and the shit as they were once so quaintly described. Nice suits, but I’m not so sure about the turds.