Monday, August 31

In the Ghetto

Or George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun? I suspect the latter is wishful thinking. An overnight downpour was the final straw, and revellers began drifting away at first light, grey, wet and cold – like the weather. The hardcore are hanging on for a session of Mongolian Overtone Singing, and a Taste of the Didgeridoo. This side of the hedge the air is suffused with the comforting aroma of Mrs G’s Scotch broth, a gallon of which is simmering away in her cauldron. There are lots of things I should be doing, but damn it it’s a holiday – the wireless is playing Elvis v The Beatles, the top fifty.

Pots and kettles

McPlonker rails against dangerous and insidious nationalism.

Sunday, August 30

Singin' in the rain

Damn but it is wet out there – waterproofs all round. Still worth the effort, getting out on the moor this morning. There’ll come a day…as they say. Shame about the festival, although I am sure everyone in the tribe is enjoying themselves. Today’s principal band should get them on their feet.

Saturday, August 29

Saturdays, don’t you love ’em

Over in America brisket is something you barbecue. Hereabouts the joint spells boiled beef and carrots. This afternoon we have been experimenting with different cuts from local farms, everything poached in Mrs G’s patent bouillon. La Gavroche pot au feu eat your heart out. The feast is more than matched by my claret of choice. And the footy…Palace AND West Ham! Bonus. Here we go, here we go…


For five-hundred people equipped with Taiko drums and intent on partying they are a remarkable quiet tribe. Hopefully the braves are having fun. Not that I am complaining – although an occasional Gladys Pugh-like announcement would be a chuckle. Last night’s entertainment included The Inexplicables: love dance music? ‘A visceral journey through reggae, hip-hop and latin to electro-swing drum ’n bass and dubstep.’ This morning I opened the windows and retaliated with a burst of Bert Weedon’s Apache and a couple of tracks from The Barron Nights. Weather’s trying to play ball but it is a close run thing. The devil in me wonders what will happen if the local hunt turns up.

The spectre haunting liberal democracies

Simon Schama pens a good piece in today’s FT – ‘Uncle Bernie spells it out’ – cautioning against the resurgence of populism movements. American Democrats aside, Schama seeks to remind the political establishment closer to home that if they are to defeat the puritans and utopians, Cameron (Cooper/Burnham, et al) have to begin selling the electorate a story worth listening to.

Thursday, August 27

You need to look the part

The Mudfest crowd are streaming in. It’s a young lad’s fantasy: ranks of Penny Lane lookalikes. Unfortunately you too will have to conform to a specific type, most likely in the manner of the weekend’s headline act.

Where did I put my sitar?

The reservation grows exponentially and neighbours are circling the wagons. Gates and doors normally left open are sporting chain and padlock. We wave enthusiastically to each other when passing to imply solidarity and support in face of our new age invasion. In addition to Integral Meditation and five types of Yoga, the tribe is promising to rebalance the Sacred Chakra; advise on Vortex Healing, Vedic Astrology and Sacred Sexuality – Northern Drum Shamanism and Tantric secrets. You can barely breathe for Mystic Gurus, Medicine Men and Snake Oil Salesmen holding court in their luxury tribal yurts.

Wednesday, August 26

Milk is too cheap

It’s counting the pennies that seems more important to Brits – as seven in ten said when trawling the supermarket aisles, they predominantly look at the price. And this is doubtless why our dairy farmers are losing the argument. Farmer-friendly priced milk will be greeted with a similar enthusiasm to that labelled organic.


Sneaked off across the moor this morning to blow the cobwebs away. Greg Rutherford-style run up required for crossing streams. Breezy but at least the rain’s stopped. Rumour has it we may see the sun later today.

Which would be good news for Mudfest. It’s kind of surreal looking out the kitchen window at a five-acre spread dotted with wigwams – like a scene from The Searchers. Camp fires and mustang ponies Volkswagen campervans. Natives swigging fire-water and toking on peace pipes. Mrs G. has a large spurtle tucked into the waistband of her pinafore in case Blue Duck or one of his braves knocks on the door and demands a steer to feed the reservation.

Tuesday, August 25

Line of the day

"You can never help anything, can you? You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another." Jeff Bailey, Build My Gallows High.

Wet Hippie Alert

The final stanza in William Wootten’s Elysium reads:

The best songs are the summer songs
With friends and a guitar,
When choruses are all that is,
And we have travelled far,
It seems we’ve passed all wish to roam
So let the fields become our home.
The best songs are the summer songs
Beneath the evening star.

It is worth repeating because the latest downpour has flooded the yard and there is a 45 kts wind due this afternoon. The lane is a torrent of rainwater draining from the moor. Inexplicably and presumably in a spirit of misguided optimism the neighbour is hosting a four-day festival the other side of the hedge. This morning a road crew arrived and began setting up marquees, tipis and yurts. Billed as a meteoric humdinger of a weekend it is a sell-out. I hope everyone brings their wellies.

Dream on

The best time is the summer time
When cow parsley is high,
And daylight hours of field flowers
Are spread beneath a sky
That drops upon them so much light
And unseals blooms that closed with night.
The best time is the summer time
Till cow parsley is dry.

Elysium, William Wootten

Monday, August 24

Swings and roundabouts

It seemed rather apt that Walter Hill’s film Hard Times – depression era drama – was playing on the box this afternoon. I was only thinking to myself last week, it’s swings and roundabouts: my motor insurance renewal premium £60 down; household building and contents, a £100 hike.

Five loaves and two fish later...

To curb migration we need to extinguish wars, expel dictators and calm religious extremism.

Sunday, August 23

How hard can it be?

British curry houses in turmoil because they can't train local people to cook a plate of crap for Friday night drunks.

In a similar vein, albeit this time barbecue...“What we find then as integration becomes reality, many of these black restaurants who were successful are telling their kids to go into other fields, to get an education and out of the hot, dirty work of the kitchen," he says.” 

I’ve sat and listened to children of South Asian immigrants say something similar, that working in the restaurant business is viewed by them and their peers as demeaning work, non-aspirational. (These particular kids were intent on a career in accountancy.) I’ve no problem with aspiration – more power to your elbow. However, importing another generation of low-grade labour to staff Balti House restaurants can’t be the most sustainable solution?

Swallows and bats

I would cut the grass but it’s a quagmire, more rice paddy than back yard. One swallow doesn’t make a summer and, seemingly, neither does a multitude. There must be a dozen swallows in the barn, crapping over everything. They are sitting on nests even now, incubating yet more. I’ll miss them when they’re gone. During the day the birds are aloft almost continually; they provide the backdrop to the homestead. Much later in the day bats and midges predominate.

Saturday, August 22

Jack Regan never ate poncey food

I made myself a bowl of chilli for lunch. The first this year – and as it turned out, one of my best. Chilli doesn’t keep and is a lot of effort if no one else eats the stuff. There was a time chilli con carne was the hottest dish in town. I don’t mean the spices. In provincial Britain during the 70s it was what passed for racy cuisine. Pizza had yet to be invented (we ate cheese on toast). Nowadays there’s a gastropub on every street corner…And if I am served another sausage and mash, fish pie or slow-cooked belly of pork I swear I will convert to vegetarianism. You could almost feel nostalgic for the days of fizzy bitter, pork scratchings and a fist fight. Jack Regan never ate poncey food.

Friday, August 21

Friday Night is Music Night

Friday night and as usual we are glued to the wireless. Mrs G. is big on sing-along music concert hall, always keen to engage. Think Edith Artois and you won't be far wrong.

Current affairs

It must have been part nostalgia and a touch of melancholy that led me, this morning in the bookies, to invest in a Birmingham win over Derby. I sense from looking at my fellow punters the business is in decline. I’m ten years younger than most of my colleagues, given nowadays people bet online/via their smart phone. For me, however, atmosphere plays a significant part of the attraction. I was in town for my monthly visit to the barbers, the oracle, fountain of knowledge and local gossip. At ten quid the boy is a steal, a perfect antidote to those totties that read the news on the box. A quick pint in our local hipster bar before returning home to catch the action from York.

State schools outperforming

There’ll be lots of headlines today about state schools performing better than average private schools. I wonder to what extent my previous post applies, and that private school schools devote greater effort in pursuit of the soft skills Janan Ganesh believes lead to more resilient skills. What good an A* if you can’t reason?

Thursday, August 20

The most resilient skill

The most resilient skill in the modern world is argument. Learn to code, runs the received career advice of today. It is shrewder to learn how to argue. If the sophists were still around, they could charge a fortune.

Talking of philosophers...

This morning on BBC Radio 4, Mary Warnock was invited to curate the festival of her wildest dreams, on Scotland’s Summer Isles. The Baroness is one of those unfortunates who, like Niall Williams’ Swain family, was born into a world of impossibly high standards – where young girls were expected to study the classics, listen to music and ride ponies. The Guardian’s Andrew Brown paints the old girl as a force of nature. She reminds me of one or two of our neighbours. Warnock’s festival is a fantasy and therefore free of midges and rain.

As an antidote to the Baroness’s Romanticism, at lunchtime I disappeared to a recently opened hostelry, for a sausage roll and pint of something called Pistonhead. The beer is Swedish, apparently – according to the barman a favourite of the Death Metal crowd.

Wednesday, August 19

British Fireworks Championship

I might not be able to see the fireworks but I can hear them, 25 miles distant.

Arabian Queen

What a brilliant run. 50-1?

Grey, wet and beautiful

Writer and philosopher Alain de Botton was musing in the weekend papers about one of the greatest challenges facing humans in the developed world: being happy for a few days. On holiday in a sunny climate, he reasoned, was the answer. Sunshine, Alain opined, plays so profound a role as to constitute the single answer for everything from world peace to child poverty. Yes, I know…Philosophers ain’t what they used to be.

No sunshine this morning. The neighbour was fortunate to finish baling, tractors running on headlights. I set off at eight, fortified by leftovers from last night’s supper. When I’m eating beans Mrs G. prefers me out on the moor; a return to mist and rain means I have the place to myself. The colour of spring and early summer has gone save for yellow gorse and the rowans’ vibrant berries, a scattering of purple thistle. Grey and wet it may but but the moor is rarely short on beauty.

As I speak a damp but eye-catching Green Woodpecker lands outside the window and begins spearing ants from the ground. The common alternative name for a Green Woodpecker is that of Rain Bird. The story goes that way back the bird refused to dig a well as God commanded, concerned it would spoil his beautiful plumage. A pissed-off God responded by forbidding the bird ever to drink from pond or pool, condemning it to call instead for rain. Unfortunately for me this particular bird nests in the yard and is continually thirsty.

Tuesday, August 18

There's no hearth...

As our burst of sunshine is due to go west tonight I’ve lit the barbecue. Two charred ribs of a neighbour’s steer should keep us fed all week. In spite of the disappointing weather this staycation business becomes more attractive with each overseas atrocity. Nowhere is safe. Imagine flying all the way around the world only to come face to face with Miliband choking on a bacon sanger.

Monday, August 17

Game of two halves

It may be August – the height of summer, but I can’t sit around of an evening without first lighting a stove and donning my après ski boots. Even with the burning logs I’m barely one degree from a woolly hat and fingerless gloves. On the plus side I lay outside on a bench in the sun all afternoon reading a book.

Saturday, August 15

Proms and tomatoes

Although I missed the original broadcast on Sunday, so pleased we caught Eric Whitace’s Deep Field featured on last night’s televised programme. The most enjoyable/entertaining of the concerts to date. Shame about our cloudy sky, no stars. This morning everything is clear and blue.

Tomatoes of every size, shape and colour this week – with mozzarella, anchovies and boiled eggs…whatever came to hand at lunchtime. A good enough antidote to the rain. Also watched Rick Stein’s Venice to Istanbul, Friday evening. Although Stein has become something of an old woman the lad does come across lots of good food, makes you want to hop a plane to the Adriatic. Will have to make do with the homestead, although I suspect there’s a good chance we’ll be eating goat stew with peas this weekend.

It is one of the highlights of the week, Saturday mornings: Brian Matthew on the wireless. Each week is mapped by a series of similar ‘highlights’. My only problem is the speed these fun moments come around. Seems only yesterday I was last handed the vacuum and given my orders, and yet here I am again.

Friday, August 14

It's still raining

It is still raining. Which kind of took the shine off the Dartmoor Pony Society 2015 International Convention’s visit to our neighbour’s stud this morning. Lots of very wet German, Dutch and American enthusiasts that have spent this past week soaking up everything they can about the Dartmoor Breed. As everyone who reads my blog appreciates, Gudgeon’s knowledge of the equine scene is limited to whatever I’ve gleaned from the lads at Channel 4 Racing. However I like to show willing — turn up and enthuse, even when the sky is pissing down.

Thursday, August 13

At least it's a step

Lemmy has swapped from Jack and Coke to vodka and orange, apparently to help with his diabetes, – though his assistant wonders whether swapping from one 40% spirit topped with sugar to another 40% spirit topped with sugar is really going to help.

Busy old day

In an attempt to walk off the lingering aftermath of Monday’s excess, this morning I donned my trusty cagoule and disappeared into the mist on a kill or cure basis. It has been lashing down since six and shows no sign of abating. Farming folk on quad bikes roared past looking suitably dispirited; if there are holidaying visitors in the area they ain’t out on this stretch of the moor. I lit a second stove on returning two hours later in an effort to dry out, to air the homestead. One of the neighbour’s stallions has arrived on loan to spice up the yard. A plumber also turned up to fix the shower; the water engineer, too, to rectify a fault with the pressure system. Busy old day, with errands yet to run.

Tuesday, August 11

Back to the grindstone...

...after yesterday’s partying. Morning duties included the disposal (incinerator) of dated paperwork in an effort to free up filing space. I thought computers – clouds, were supposed to alleviate this sort of shit. In among yellowing invoices and warranties was the receipt for a bottle of 1974 Clynelish, retailing at £52.99. If you can find a bottle these days I suspect it will set you back closer to £300. It has become something of an annual challenge, invited by Mrs G. to choose my birthday bottle. This year I invested in a little ‘research’, including several tasting sessions. In the final analysis it came down to a bottle from Kirkwall or one from a competitor located outside Kyoto. A coin was all that separated the two, the Orkney Isles winning the toss. Reputedly a whisky drinker’s whisky, in 2013 it was awarded the accolade of ‘World’s Ultimate Spirit’. The perfect accompaniment to a slice of Mrs G’s Dundee Cake.

Monday, August 10

When I'm Sixty-Four

A cheery birthday lunch at a local establishment temple. As the management had screwed up a prior reservation, and I’m a good customer, they insisted both bottles were on the house. It is rare (for me) to see so many infants in public. Something to do with the holidays, down from London. Cute and well fed, their parents appeared to be the sort of people one assumes are employed by the BBC. It is difficult to imagine such children being anything other than a resounding success…social mobility hasn’t a prayer. And who am I to judge.

Sunday, August 9

Turkeys vote for Christmas

The lane and surrounding fields are knee-deep in rabbit and pheasant – what shotguns (and cooks) were invented for. It was worth getting out of bed at half-five to witness the sunrise, a spectacular burst of light that illuminates the slope above the homestead only to disappear minutes later. By the time I’d made it up top, mist and drizzle had descended.

They say you should never give a sucker an even break, so when I came across a sheep caught in a fence – and said fence required my negotiating a difficult slope and stream – you just know to leave it alone. Came away feeling righteous but wet.

I wonder how righteous Labour Party members will feel after electing Jeremy ‘Clause IV’ Corbyn? There must be Conservative MPs chuckling over their breakfast tea and toast from here to Dumfriesshire.

Look, says Mrs G., you could have been twins.

Saturday, August 8

No threat to man or beast

I’m not sure if the rabbits are taking the mick, in that they don’t bother to run away anymore – barely raise their heads, just continue to eat as I wander through. Likewise the young wagtails, sprawled alongside my chair – wings outstretched across the deck, sunning themselves. As for the bank voles… It seems I’m no threat to man or beast. It is a scorcher. The umbrella is up, ice bucket to hand. I have the morning papers, a book, and there’s sport on the wireless.

Friday, August 7

Ancient and Modern

After tramping city streets for five hours yesterday, I returned home, extremely weary, to find a bottle of cask-strength Springbank on my desk. The mistake was opening it. This morning, after picking up milk and papers, I returned to face the music: a backlog of chores, the foremost an overgrown yard. Probably just as well, in that Friday lunchtime at the Dog & Duck would have been another mistake. As luck would have it I finished five-minutes before the rain arrived. Mrs G. assured me today would be sunshine all the way! August, and the stove is still blazing.

A one time colleague emails with details of his new berth, a short stagger from Shadwell. The Gudgeon family has three-generations of history in the area and I’m well pleased to be out of it. It appears the old firm is also consigned to history – a fate that awaits us all.

Our neighbour has decided to host a four-day rave for five-hundred dope smoking new world disciples; or, as Mrs G. refers to them, Gipsies, Tramps and Thieves. Needless to say open warfare has broken out.

My kind of restaurant

I want to fall out of here post-midnight and not remember leaving, reeling from sherry and fine pork. Sounds like my kind of restaurant.

Thursday, August 6

There are worse things in life

Dementia patients are getting younger, says today’s press. Made a note before I forgot. Up town today for the motor’s annual service; a scuffed wheel rim, front nearside, the only aberration. Lots of grandparents walking the streets, most saddled with grandchildren on holiday. Unsurprisingly two out of three grannies I spoke to resent the imposition. Years ago I visited a chicken factory, an abomination; today I put my head inside a waste management facility that was arguably worse.

Wednesday, August 5

Tea in the morning...the supper time!

It appears the Brits are falling out of love with tea. Not here at the homestead, despite the decline in biscuit consumption. Without the daily gallon from Sri Lanka’s Southern highlands the world wouldn’t turn.
We had a kettle; we let it leak: 
Our not repairing made it worse. 
We haven't had any tea for a week... 
The bottom is out of the Universe.

Sunday, August 2

Brilliant walk this morning

The Blue Moon gave way to Saturday’s dramatic red/orange version. No soul about today. Disappeared into rolling banks of mist at seven this morning – and apart from mewing buzzards, hardly a sound. What Sundays are for: a tramp in the wilds, then home for lunch – the smell of roasting beasts and boiled root vegetables. Culinary-wise I’m less adventurous than I used to be. Am reading a Michael Jacobs’ account of dining on iguana eggs and sweetened jelly made from pull penis; grilled guinea pig innards washed down with rodent blood...rotting fish cured in cow’s dung. School dinners: Don’t you miss ’em!