Thursday, May 29

LibDems go raging into the night

Bankers’ bonuses, rather than rich foreigners, untrammelled immigration, low interest rates and a rise in single occupancy households is to blame for high property prices, claims LibDem fantasist. Thirty years from now there will be no middle class, says David Boyle, people will be living in a culture-free dystopian society, at the mercy of rapacious landlords and marauding bands of neo-fascists. And of course, it was Margaret Thatcher what done it.

Wednesday, May 28

Wednesday night Céilidh

Reminded by Mrs G. of our next visitors, tonight I’ve been listening to the Orkney Folk Festival on Radio 2 and brushing up on the diktats of Alex Salmon. The more I hear about the lad from Banff and Buchan, the closer the perception of Scotland as a Dan Vyleta novel. Spies and bully boys on each and every tenement landing. But I guess that’s just BBC propaganda. I listened to Danny Alexander this afternoon and thought, don’t you learn? The more the establishment tells voters it would be dumb to do something, the more entrenched they become. Here at the homestead it’s a little fiddle music and a once round the floor with Mrs G. My Cape Breton step dancing is a thing of the past.

Tuesday, May 27

Lesson learned

Drove down to St Ives this morning to catch the current exhibition at the Tate, celebrating the Cornish outpost’s 21st birthday. The show was worth the trip, and it needed to be: St Ives itself is a nightmare. Hidden away at the homestead you forget about things like half-term holidays. The lanes were knee-deep in little people waving ice cream cornets and smelling of vinegar. I was left wondering whether the latter was a flavouring for the chips they were cramming in their mouth or to kill head lice.

Monday, May 26

Break glass and reach for Nigel Farage

Election over and back to normal. If only. Conjoined words such as ‘normal’ and ‘life’ can sometimes appear redundant expressions. In the grand scheme of things Ukip’s success this weekend is hardly groundbreaking or earth-shattering, it merely reminds us that change happens, is inevitable – and that there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Last week Mrs G. and I visited a neighbour whose home has changed hands by sale only twice since the Norman Conquest. This is good. However progressive, society needs such threads of continuity. Unfortunately it is our threads that are usually torn asunder, and instead of accommodating concerns, threats and intimidation are brought to bear. Ukip – however transitory they prove to be – are both necessary and inevitable. Farage may be a consummate politician, but he does it with such élan.

Sunday, May 25

Feet up, holiday weekend

Not the brightest of days, given it’s a bank holiday. Overcast, blustery and chill – everyone lit fires this morning. The swallows are busy vacuuming insects from a metre or so above the red clover. A flycatcher takes up the slack, working from a holly bush outside the window. There is an absence of swifts and house martins this year? Chiffchaffs are nesting in the yard, beneath the great tits and the blackbirds. An owl appears along with the bats at dusk but the light has been too poor for a clear ID. It is still early days with the allotment, although Mrs G’s tattie sacks display lots of potential. This is the first crop the Boss has grown since Forest Park. We are obviously going large on stovies this year. I have my feet up with a book and a bottle of something from the limestone coast of South Australia, listening to the birdsong and the crackle of burning logs.

Saturday, May 24

‘He sang of the past...

...which the occupants of this palace had left behind.’ We decided to take today off. No Saturday morning houseclean, no shopping for supplies or obligatory walk on the moor. As luck would have it – to assuage our guilt – it has pissed down. Is still raining. I drove down for the newspapers but that’s as far as it goes. I enjoy my Saturday morning papers: a glimpse of civilisation, or what passed for civilisation…London, Europe, the world. In her regular FT column Gillian Tett, the attractive ‘columnist of the year’, gives us a personal insight into the evolution of Gloucester Road. Rather poignant given this week’s election results. I could have written something similar about SE10, in that when we first arrived in the neighbourhood there was a smell of the Sweeney and Mk II Jags about the place. The previous owner of our flat was a paroled robber subsequently portrayed in film by Roger Daltrey. When we departed the area many years later the neighbourhood accents had assumed a cosmopolitan hue. Instead of robbing banks the neighbours worked for them. I’m pleased we had the opportunity at that time. I doubt society is as accessible or inclusive as it was back then.

Friday, May 23

Friday fish: scallops with bacon

A dozen apiece. An extravagant lunch to mark the result of yesterday’s election(s). Not that we necessarily backed the winning team: just that it’s good to see the same old complacent faces receive a kicking. The outcome is being sold as a trend towards general voter disillusionment. After listening to the clientele at the Dog & Duck I prefer to read it as a disenfranchised group becoming re-engaged with politics and refusing to go gentle into that good night. It’s still early days of course and the story is ongoing, but by Sunday evening – following the European results – England itself could be as split as the United Kingdom appears to be…And by the time Cameron and Osborne have steered the HS2 line through Home Counties villages, begun fracking on their lawns and built housing estates throughout the green belt, the Conservative vote will probably mirror the LibDems.

Thursday, May 22

The Devon County Show

Voted at opening time this morning, then off to the Devon Show. Our eighth. Time flies. Unfortunately the weather didn’t behave and it lashed down. Whilst I say unfortunately, the rain appeared to have reduced the show’s crowd by 50%, and accordingly it was so much easier to get about without being mowed down by large women in tweed. We did all the usual things: watched the equestrian competition and livestock judging, trawled through the food and the flower exhibits, paid a visit to the beer tent, ate burgers and ice cream, admired the vintage tractors and steam engines. All good stuff. However, each year the show becomes less compelling. The real fun began when people decided it was time to go home. Fortunately the organisers had a fleet of tractors on hand to tow stranded vehicles from the mud patch of a car park.

 Update: Show is cancelled for final day as vehicles sink beneath the mud.

Wednesday, May 21

Purple rain

Invigorated by the recent rain the garden is full of the colour and fragrance of rhododendron in bloom. Purple predominates…piety and faith or vanity and extravagance? Select an interpretation that suits your argument: it’s what people generally do.

Tuesday, May 20

Talk to the hand

In advance of Thursday’s election the newspapers have moved into anti-Ukip overdrive. However, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Mr Nobody or the most seasoned of commentators, because on this occasion no one has a clue who will come out on top of the polls and which of the party leaders will be subsequently judged as winners or losers. Talk is cheap, as they say. It may well depend on the strength of voters’ convictions, who actually bothers to get off their backside and amble along to a polling station. For all the media brouhaha there’s a large slice of the voting public that simply ignores politics, who wouldn’t know a Miliband or a Cameron from Adam. If pushed many would ask “What’s in it for me?” And that is the challenge for all parties: to articulate a message that resonates with those individuals who are not necessarily members of a particular tribe.

Monday, May 19

The cost of organic food

I spent the afternoon installing 50m of rabbit-proof fence. We’ll see how secure it is during the coming days. Whilst it may deter young thumper and his mates, the deer will jump most any obstacle. Mrs G. is sure to let me know the minute her vegetables are tampered with. I did a cursory cost analysis last night, and after factoring in the cost of clearing the ground, constructing the raised beds, buying in six ton of best quality dirt and a truckload of manure, running a 150m water pipe to site, spending time with with River Cottage’s head gardener, etc., etc., I guestimate each courgette will cost something in the order of £7.20. And don’t get me started on the price of our home-produced omelettes.

Sunday, May 18

A rain cloud from Sweden

Winter’s catastrophic floods – thought by some to be divine retribution for our collective misdemeanours – are but a distant memory. Together with a seemingly buoyant economy, the world is all sunshine and cup finals. Our proverbial glass is half-full again, builders’ skips and scaffolders adorn the streets of nearby towns. Even in India the politics of the right is in the ascendancy. Caught up in the euphoria of it all I’ve taken to eating crab bisque instead of pea & ham soup. And then there’s Wallander, back on our screens – ever ready to dampen our spirits. I’ve never been to Sweden, the mythical El Dorado of those with a socialist bent, but what a god-awful depressing place it appears.

Friday, May 16

Surfacing for air

The yard is alive with insects, our resident swallows and bats being the lucky recipients. Nesting birds everywhere: together with marauding foxes, cats and crows. The pigeons being wimps have lost their brood; their neighbours two boughs up, the mistle thrushes, kick the crap out of anything that dares encroach. All is covered in bluebells, the scent masking a prodigious amount of manure from our four ponies. Mrs G. has me lifting rocks and toting bales, sweating under the noonday sun – she is planting fruit bushes of every description. I have a scarlet neck that perfectly matches my current political bent. As I speak, four neighbours – women – ride past the window on their steeds. It is always women as men are thin on the ground in this part of the world. Husbands and fathers tend to work away from home, returning periodically to check their investment. One hopes all are gainfully employed and not at Westminster. Our politicians remain a dire bunch of individuals…but then I suppose it is no more than we deserve. Such is our cynicism we remain at liberty to indulge ourselves at election time. And does it really matter if we fail to take it seriously?

Saturday, May 10

Government thinking: What’s yours is mine

I purchased a pair of bookends yesterday, handed over my piece of plastic, and – after running it through the machine – was told my card had been declined. It was only when she gave me the cancelled slip I noticed the mistake: whilst my credit limit is a reasonable one, I’m confident it doesn’t stretch to £106k. Which brings me to the Inland Revenue. Assuming their operatives’ arithmetic is little better than most other people’s, it seems a tad illiberal for Parliament to sanction their raiding our bank accounts. Cameron’s threat to raise taxes if we don’t agree is the final straw as regards my voting intentions.

Friday, May 9

Friday lunch, dancing in the street

Squat Lobster and salmon, accompanied by an outstanding Chablis. Shit, the recent weather has been so dire, – and given today’s brief spell of sunshine – why not? I relaxed watching the final day at Chester on the box…listening to my prehistoric vinyl collection. I have Leonard Cohen from the first time around and he doesn’t sound any better. Mama Cass, however, has my foot tappin’. Calling out around the world…

Thursday, May 8

Life expectancy of a football fan

Chris Cook has put together a tongue-in-cheek league of life expectancy based on which club you support. It will feature on tonight’s BBC Newsnight. My longevity appears to fluctuate with the clubs I’ve followed. Whilst Birmingham City and Walsall prop up League 2 at little more than 72 years, Palace – and my proximity to Exeter – subsequently elevate me to 78 years. Cook implies the average Chelsea fan could well exceed 80 years. However, I can think of one in particular (who emails as I speak), and the big lad hasn’t a prayer.

Labelling of halal meat

When I was back at South London Mansions our local Tesco sold three versions of what looked like the same product in the same packaging but with different labels. One said Meat, the second Organic Meat, and the third Halal Meat. Even when the first two sold out, the latter sat languishing in the cabinet. It was the stuff foreign people ate? At least that was my take on why customers steered clear of the product. Tesco caught on pretty quick.

Basic sums

Up with the larks this morning…What with the chores it takes an hour before I manage to snatch a tea. Damn but it’s wet; blowing a gale. The blackberry bushes I planted are underwater, and something left me an eviscerated rabbit on the doorstep. I either disturbed a fox at breakfast or it is message from the local underworld. Not so much sleeps with the fishes as stop moaning about our short-changing you – our pathetic arithmetic. I’d originally assumed they were all crooks: however, it transpires no one can add or subtract, let alone multiply or divide. It appears 70% of the country are found wanting when it comes to basic sums, and from personal experience I find a fair number work behind the counter of our high street banks. The BBC’s intrepid Steph McGovern did a piece the other day, explaining a typical utilities bill. Even her fellow presenters had blank expressions, although it could have been the girl’s accent. Not that they can’t play football in the north east. There’s no way I would have put money on Sunderland surviving the drop and yet here they are. As great a transformation as the lads at Selhurst Park. It used to be the West Beck Conservative Club for pre-match drinks: alas we’ve all moved on.

Monday, May 5

It’s a lottery, says 20th Century Boy

If not the badger grubbing for worms in the yard – vandals the lot of ’em, then it was the fox (at five this morning) dragging the remains of a recently-born lamb back to its lair. Raw in tooth and claw. I spent the morning strimming undergrowth and mowing the lawn. I use the word (lawn) loosely as moss comprises 40% of our little oasis. Mrs G. has borrowed three ponies from a neighbour to help manage the spring growth. She’ll regret it when they muscle their way onto her veg patch. Having finished our chores we retired to the office for a well-earned pint, soundtrack courtesy of T-Rex, Thin Lizzie and the Eagles. Life ain’t bad, although, given my laissez-faire lifestyle, the GP assures me I won’t live to regret it. But what about Elena Baltacha? I say.

Sunday, May 4


Such is the airborne traffic – insects and birds alike – the yard resembles a scene from Blade Runner. All is sunshine and demi-silence: the perfect bank holiday, except for the wood pigeon building a nest above my office. It’s craning in RSJs. As if the woodpecker wasn’t irritating enough. I am currently flitting between coverage from Newmarket and Highbury, roasting a rib of beef on the barbeque (Mrs G. has a tray of veg in the oven). Earlier this morning I watched the the Andrew Neil Show and listened to cretin Miliband spouting his usual shite. The lad sounds like a 1970s union activist...One suspects the general election will be a no brainer.

Great escapes

The moles and voles are on the march again, tunnels proliferate throughout the yard. The barn is a free for all with swallows and wagtails colonising the rafters. I haven’t seen swifts yet but most everything else appears to have arrived and is constructing a nest and mating. Lots of walkers on the moor, a number of which have greyhounds. More fine weather today, barbecue at the ready…I am celebrating the Blues miraculous escape.

Friday, May 2

Old acquaintances

Many years ago I attended a meet of the Thibodaux Head Suckers Club, a college fraternity-type clan that spent the weekend consuming  eye-watering amounts of alcohol and dope, playing basketball and chomping on boiled, steamed and baked crawfish. Crawfish have always conspired to embarrass me: picture pristine white shirts and silk ties decorated with a copious amount of orange gunge: the critters have a habit of exploding in my face. Langoustine, however, are better behaved, remaining a staple of Mediterranean cuisine (much of which originates from Scottish waters). Thankfully we have a fishmonger from Brixham Market that delivers: today’s lunch being a kilo or so of boiled langoustine and a bottle from the slopes of the Loire. Playing in the background on television was Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Memories tend to stay with you, allegiances are far more flexible.

Heavy on the deep meaning and irony

Cultural misunderstandings and a willingness to embrace our innate prejudice fuel Osborne’s book, The Forgiven. Heavy on the deep meaning and irony. The two characters at its heart are a weary misanthrope – the traditional grumpy old man fossil, and the sort of evil young bastard you meet on most of our high streets at chucking-out time. The story includes three of my favourite themes: the primacy of chance on the direction of our lives, the ridiculous notion of fairness, and that everyone gets their just deserts. Although Osborne relies heavily on caricature, telling rather than showing, the alternative would be a 900 page tome. The Forgiven is not so much a ‘life is hard and then you die’ premise – that’s for the men from Tafal’aalt, but more to remind us of what accrues from our little neglects, when we can’t be arsed.