Sunday, May 31


One of the week’s high spots: Sunday evening – sun sinking below the ridge, Nat King Cole on the wireless and a tumbler of Mr Yamazaki’s finest. A neighbour has left a dozen Guernsey bullock calves to tend the grass, their future more bleak than a band of eunuchs. A tiny goldcrest is busy removing cobwebs from the trickle vent above my head. They tell me it’s going to be hotter than the Mediterranean this coming week. The fridge is suitably stocked.

Thursday, May 28

Roofing for the foolhardy

It’s often said 60 is the new 50 – merely middle aged. What if they’re wrong and 60 turns out to be the new 70?

Sunday, May 24

Hello, my darlings

It’s what we hope for on bank holidays: glorious sunshine. A landscape of green and yellow and violet. That earthy sweetness of wild flowers, a distinctive whiff of coconut. Delicate holly blues. In the Dog & Duck, at lunchtime, the price of everything and the value of nothing. On the television an ageing Mick Hucknall (Simply Red), the spit of Charlie Drake. It happens to us all.

Tuesday, May 19

To town for supplies

Coffee beans and new spectacles. I hate choosing specs. Thanks to the ‘designer’ logo each pair cost a small fortune, yet most are just tat – gaudy coloured plastic held together by bits of wire. Several hundred quid for something that looks like it came from a Christmas cracker. One day I’ll make the effort and track down an optician that stocks proper frames, or better still, ones he makes himself. On the plus side my eyes are in reasonable nick.

Shrimp salad for supper, eaten in front of a roaring fire.

Friday, May 15

Friday fish

In between this week’s onerous duties I managed to fit in a local brewery tasting – several of their bottle-conditioned ales. Regretfully it was piss-poor stuff. The explosion of micro-breweries – craft beer, doesn’t necessarily translate into something you’d choose to drink. Meantime is a hard act to follow. Thankfully a large portion of barbecued ribs more than made up for the disappointment. That and a boiled leg of mutton with caper sauce – some marvellous fish cakes and a half-decent brodetto di pesce. Today it is seared scallops on a bed of samphire, a hangover from the Yarmouth days.

Thursday, May 14

Saddest story of the day

If ever you needed an excuse to abuse the next bunch of chuggers who accost you on the high street.

Moving goal posts

For a mid-week evening, last night at the Dog & Duck was relatively lively. A reminder to the metropolitan metrosexual opinion formers absorbed with party leadership issues: that disputes can sometimes result in facial disfigurement and dislocated limbs. I thought the ‘metrosexual’ label was originally used to libel limp-wristed Southerners who apply moisturiser to their cheeks and drink chilled white wine instead of John Smiths. In today’s Times, however, David Aaronovitch – a man whose dress sense and general demeanour spells hobo rather than effete – appears to indicate metropolitan metrosexual has become a pejorative directed by racists against individuals such a Chuka Umunna. You’d think, having just lost – and in an effort to win people over, Aaronovitch would stop digging. This continual moving of goal posts, of nuanced meaning, plays hell when you are minding your Ps and Qs.

Tuesday, May 12

Back to work

With the contest over, and decisively so, like Arsenal we can return to our usual predictable routine – in my case some long overdue property maintenance and dealing with a backlog of paperwork. Our neighbours have returned to lambing and logging; others are back at their business in the City, or flying to Asia for important meetings; delivering babies, or arresting the infants’ siblings. I bumped into the local Tory MP’s election agent at Ike Godsey’s this morning – a definite spring to his step.

Sunday, May 10


What with this morning’s VE Day tribute on the box and tonight’s Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton playlist on the wireless I am reminded how fortunate my generation has been, and how short-changed that of my parents.

Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.

 Behind them, at intervals,
Stand husbands in skilled trades,
An estateful of washing,
And the albums, lettered
Our Wedding, lying
Near the television:
Before them, the wind
Is ruining their courting-places

That are still courting-places
(But the lovers are all in school),
And their children, so intent on
Finding more unripe acorns,
Expect to be taken home.
Their beauty has thickened.
Something is pushing them
To the side of their own lives.

 Afternoons, Philip Larkin

Never discuss politics and religion

Like many I’ve spent this past 48hrs following the election fallout in the press and on television. Priceless. Large measures of genuine relief, mixed with almost equal portions of bitterness or self-delusion. Whilst I would love to add my two penny’s worth, the extended Gudgeon family includes far too many unreconstructed Marxists and foaming-mouth Nats for a middle ground. At times like these – when I am punching the air and swigging champagne – politics is a subject best avoided.

Saturday, May 9

Ten Tors

Good luck to competitors this weekend.

Austerity and popularity reconciled

The FT’s Janan Ganesh “…the right has something more precious and lasting: ideological encouragement. Governments that cut public spending upset voters, which is why they tend not to do it. So when a Tory party led by men of infuriating privilege hacks away at the state for five years and ends up with even more seats than it had to begin with, history will take note. This election is a precedent to be invoked by fiscal hawks and free-marketeers for decades to come. They will overclaim and over-reach, as ideologues tend to, but they are nearer the mark than Mr Miliband, who was sure his country had tilted left after the crash. Austerity and popularity no longer seem so hard to reconcile, at least in liberal Britain. Politics is the art of the possible, but it is also the art of redefining what is possible. Mr Cameron has just done that.”

Friday, May 8

VE Day

Victory in England. What a turn up: a Conservative majority! It’s been a long time. The gulf between the south west of England and the north east of Scotland has never appeared so wide, both geographically and philosophically.

Thursday, May 7

The people have spoken, the bastards

The Lib-Dems are heirs to the 19th century Whigs like Earl Grey who abolished slavery in the British Empire (and brewed a nice cup of tea) and the great Liberal Party reformer (and luggage innovator of Gladstone bag fame) William Gladstone. They are the party that’s fiscally conservative and socially liberal, the way all we Americans say we are before we sneak behind the curtain to vote for Sarah Palin or Bernie Sanders.

In memory of teeming rain…

Rain, Floods. Frost. And after frost, rain.
Dull roof-drumming. Wraith-rain pulsating across purple bare woods
Like light across heaved water. Sleet in it.
And the poor fields, miserable tents of their hedges,
Mist-rain off-world. Hills wallowing
In and out of a grey or silvery dissolution. A farm gleaming,
Then all dull in the near drumming. At field-corners
Brown water backing and brimming in grass.
Toads hop across rain-hammered roads. Every
      mutilated leaf there looks like a frog or a rained-out mouse. Cattle
Wait under blackened backs…

Ted Hughes owned and ran a farm in the vicinity of our previous residence in North Devon, before our time. His point still holds, however, both there and here – is a familiar scene. To think, at South London Mansions we planted olive trees – fourteen years ago.

The smallest of small songs

After forty-eight hours of gales and teeming rain, the frenzied last-ditch electioneering, this morning it is calm and bright. Our Swallows are up, circling the yard. They share the barn with nesting Robins, Wagtails, Sparrows and a Wren. This apparent harmony won’t last, it rarely does. Outside my window, two minute hyperactive Goldcrests (Tidley Goldfinch) flutter and flit from twig to twig, their song ‘the smallest of small songs’.

Don’t expect too much when voting today

The co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown, Britain’s biggest seller of funds to private investors, says most fund managers are complete morons. Alas it is a similar story with our politicians, Britain’s school teachers, doctors and journalists… There are only so many half-bright characters out there, and equity dictates we spread them around.

Wednesday, May 6

Haunted by his ugly reputation?

I will be holding my nose (the candidate) and voting Conservative tomorrow. I suppose voting, like supporting a football club, is essentially tribal – and I have cast my vote the same way in every general election since 1979. However if the voters of South Thanet fail to elect Nigel Farage I will be disappointed. Ignore Sturgeon, the lad has done more to shake up national politics than any of his contemporaries. Other mavericks such as George Galloway can but quail in comparison. Dan Hodges, one of Farage’s many critics, cite an ugly reputation. But what’s not to like? I’ve spent most of my career working alongside lads from Sevenoaks and they’re great company, good people.

No more kebabs and fried chicken

The WHO says we face an obesity crisis of ‘enormous proportions’, with a third of adults being overweight by the end of the next decade. The good news is our European neighbours will be even fatter. Irish men are predicted to be the largest, no doubt a consequence of Guinness and sausages. In defence of stout people, however, the bar has been set relatively low – on a BMI of 25, and you just know that by the end of the next decade the dividing line will have been reduced to 22. Along in Plymouth the Council has taken the radical step of refusing permission for more takeaway restaurants in areas where the residents are fat.

Tuesday, May 5

Back to the ’70s

In an effort to remind myself of why, back in the ’70s, we stopped voting for left-wing Labour governments, I purchased a tin of Heinz cream of tomato soup from the Kwik-E-Mart. I ate it this afternoon while watching an episode of ‘Are You Being Served?’ And although I enjoyed a chuckle or two at Captain Peacock’s expense, tinned soup most certainly remains off the menu. Lets not go back to yesteryear.

Monday, May 4

Apparently the customer isn’t always right

So says the OECD – even in the great Swedish nirvana. For my generation, education was optional, something we could afford to take or leave; and when our kids arrived and things had changed, private education was still affordable. The future, however, looks a lot more desperate. ‘The report calls for a range of other measures including higher salaries, better training and tougher qualification requirements for teachers; more centralised efforts to integrate immigrants into the education system; and a more active approach by the schools regulator to improving performance.’ I thought this approach – throwing money at the system, regulation, targets – had been tested to destruction during the Blair years? Now the money (and enthusiasm) has run out. Thankfully not my problem, answers above my pay grade – though there are some who suggest that, thanks to the internet, education has had its day?

I don’t know the answer either

The world’s third-richest man says raising the minimum wage is not the answer. Buffett favours reforms to the earned income tax credit paid to low-earning individuals and families. Which kind of contradicts the current Labour Party stance AND contrasts with middle-income sensibilities. It doesn’t matter if you are a union stalwart representing what Philip Larkin referred to as skilled trades, or an aspirational bank clerk: differentials matter – particularly if it is your taxes being used to close the gap. Yes I know that’s not what you mean: ‘We just want to raise low pay and screw rich bastards.’ The reality, however, is often different.

Myth of floating voters

Up on the moor early this morning in an attempt to blow away the cobwebs following an overly indulgent supper. No other soul about. You’d think people would be making the most of the holiday, the spell of sunshine. …I’ve finally finished reading my Christmas presents and been obliged to order more books. Amazon were probably wondering what happened. Would that my crate of festive vino had lasted as long, I am down to my last couple of bottles of mis en bouteille à la propriété*. …Barely three days to make up our mind. Not that I’ve ever met a floating voter: everyone I know bought their season ticket long ago.

*French country wine, bottled in the shed by Mom and Pop producer.

Sunday, May 3

The gift that keeps on giving

There’s not a single part of this stone that doesn’t say brain-dead. And Paul O’Grady promises to fuck off too.

Another old people romance

There’s obviously a market for this sort of thing, but if your granny told you the secret of eternal youth was taking 25lb of something between her legs you’d run screaming from the room. Perspective is everything, however, not least when a woman considers Billy Connolly a toy boy. It was a while ago but I can actually recall watching the good lady in a live show – clad Tiller Girl style (MacLaine, not me), dancing and singing. I can’t remember the year but it was a performance at the London Palladium, when I was entertaining a popular Scandinavian shipping magnate and his wife – both fans. For further context, two weeks later I took my parents to see Keith Harris, a supporting act for The Black & White Minstrels Show. In between, in mitigation, there was a ZZ Top concert – in the company of the Nations’s worst tipster.

Saturday, May 2

Go with the flow

Wiping the rain from my spectacles in the bookies this morning, the rimless lens snapped in my hand. I was so unnerved (an omen?) I left without placing a wager. Instead I crossed to the gallery the other side of the street and blew my pocket money on a picture I’d been admiring. David Shanahan is a local artist of Irish extraction whose work veers between weird and disturbing – reminiscent of both the pagan shrine in County Clare that Linda introduced us to, and the old time regulars at the Fox & Hounds (when multi-cultural London meant Irish and Caribbean).
   And let's face it, who amongst us could forget the annual trip to Kinsale and the black tie dance. Nothing short of unarmed combat – not for the fainthearted.

Not sage advice

A grey, wet morning – enveloped in fog. It’s a Saturday, and the neighbour’s horse box rattled past long ago. Today is the first Classic of the season, one of the world’s great one-mile races. By coincidence the Nation’s worst tipster texted me last night. It would be like accepting financial advice from my bank manager.

Friday, May 1

But then you have to die of something

They (dadbods) don't have that overzealous lust for self-improvement that plagues so many other guys. They have bigger priorities in life. The dadbod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’ 

We all go through our dadbod period before eventually wising up. What’s not to like, taking your foot off the pedal for a couple of years. However these days we are not so much nudged as bludgeoned with healthism propaganda, and maybe it’s easier, less trouble, to tow the party line – eat well and keep fit. So much so I was shocked this week when renewing acquaintance with friends I hadn’t seen in a decade or so. I say shocked because during the past ten years, both physically and mentally, they appear have aged twenty. Instead of tales of recent adventures people talked of the old days and recounted obituaries of people we once shared pizza with. And then news today of another larger than life character who died last week. The key words are ‘larger than life.’ Not that any of this impresses my other friends, in the building industry. They are oblivious to nudges, and destined to crash and burn in spectacular fashion.