Monday, February 29

And turns agen, from danger never free

Today is our turn to be invaded by feral gun dogs. Most probably because a vixen has decided to stake out the yard, snuffling and barking as soon as the sun goes down, looking for a mate. Likewise the badger – tearing up turf, searching for worms the moles may have missed. And don't get me started on crows.

Sunday, February 28

Emergency care

The neighbour calls complaining of chest pains, a suspected heart attack. As the ambulance is some ways away I administer several aspirin and a large glug of three-star. Given our relative isolation I should really read up on this first aid business.

Our national obsession

Only in Britain ... ‘Yes Michael Gove is great and a good get for the outers. But George Galloway… Nigel Farage…?’ We remain obsessed with class, our background. But then I guess it’s preferable to obsessing about race. I have never met Boris or his sister, nor any other member of the extended Johnson family. However I’m sure they’re good people. What is it then that makes young Nigel such a pariah? I’ve not met Farage either, but I have spent a fair amount of my life either sitting alongside or drinking with lads that were educated at so-called minor public schools and who work in the City. And a Nigel (as a generic designation), at least in my experience, is a decent enough type – is certainly good company. Maybe it’s all down to grammar school/redbrick media types with a chip on their shoulder? I look up to him; but I look down on him. Beyond my ken, as Mrs G. would say.

Saturday, February 27

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

And then there’s the base rate. Although my knowledge of economics is not dissimilar to my experience of bullfighting and hare coursing, I rarely fail to read Tim Harford’s undercover economist column. Whilst suffering the fallout from last night’s party – am thick in the head, his explanation of Bayes’ rule is worth the effort. I’ve pinned a printout to the office wall in advance of the next BMA missive (diktat) on what we can or cannot eat or drink.

Friday, February 26

We all have our uses

Damn but it is cold today, am reduced to sipping cognac in an effort to keep warm – toasting the demise of Mrs G’s head chicken, the Zoe Williams of the hen house. A stalwart of the brood these last four years, I had to wring its neck and put the chicken out of its misery, relieve her suffering. Would that all of life’s problems were so easily solved.

You wouldn’t buy from either man

I note the lads at RBS have announced their eighth successive loss – and still no sign of that once-plausible rogue from Paisley swinging from a gibbet. I guess another two billion is neither here nor there, although thanks in part to an army of ambulance chasers the taxpayers’ bank is still having to put money aside to cover the PPI scandal. I had a lad telephone me last week. A while ago some poor shmuck ran into the back of my motor. It was stop-start traffic, a moment’s loss of concentration, one of those things – and given my vehicle was three times larger than his, no big deal. I could have gone to the parts department and fixed it myself. However, such is the motor insurance business, accidents take on a life of their own. An assessor appeared and the motor was duly spirited away and returned days later having been washed and vacuumed, during which time I was issued with a large luxury SUV. Now, months later, this ‘claims agent’ is on the blower offering me £3k compensation for ‘injuries suffered’? When I accused him of facilitating fraud the lad became scornful: ‘didn’t I know the banks and insurance companies have money put aside for this sort of thing…just sitting there, waiting for my claim.’ He was perplexed then indignant I wouldn’t play ball. Unfortunately for him my instinctive reaction when I picked up the phone and heard his Scouse accent was to glance outside and check the motor was still there and its four wheels were attached.

Thursday, February 25

Filling my face

I heard my first skylark of the year this morning, as iconic a sound as the sight of the first swallow. Home for leftover calves tongue dressed in green sauce, together with the first of our local watercress. Tonight is boar steaks mit sauerkraut; and what sauerkraut, naturally fermented. Morgiel Fresh Raw Organic: highly recommended.

Whilst I associate soda bread with that other place, the loaves produced by Exeter’s Exploding Bakery are spectacular stuff, not least when served as trenchers for the produce from our local butcher.


You can almost taste the reek of buttoned upholstery, following pictures of the Flying Scotsman steaming north to York. I recall standing on Kings Cross Station with my brother when the Deltics took over. Impressive as the diesel locomotives were there wasn’t the same animation. I noticed our local enthusiasts have also been out this week, with the GWR 0-6-0 No 3205 on duty. Similar livery but slightly smaller and a fair bit slower.

Don't always believe what it says on the label

‘Sublime and sophisticated’, Washington Post; ‘The best espionage novel you've ever read’, Huffington Post; ‘On a scale of one to five stars, it's a six’, New York Journal of Books; ‘Shimmers with authenticity’, New York Times; ‘A solid piece of work’, Financial Times. ...Given I had to shell out five quid for the book the least I could do was force myself to complete the first chapter. Has to be the most disappointing thing I've read – and I read some lame stuff.

Wednesday, February 24

Industrial archaeology

What passes for industrial heritage in this neck of the woods.

Veal tongue for supper

To you and me this is just another bunch of rocks. However I’m assured the bit sticking up at the rear is the remains of another medieval cross, cannibalised in the 1840s by men (constructing a shelter and short of a fireplace lintel) who were employed cutting peat for the local naphtha distillery. They slept within the rocks on beds of dried bracken and heather, and dined on poached rabbits. Given my supper this evening is a poached calf’s tongue I sense not everything has moved on.

Cultural mores

Part of me believes the reason we mark trails with a cross, fly the St George’s cross from church towers and paint our pubs in Union Colours, is to piss off those dipsticks amongst us that converse in a Wolverhampton accent.

A surfacing submarine?

It’s actually a Bronze Age burial mound, though I understand the conning tower is a later addition.

What are days for?

Days are where we live. They come, they wake us…time and time over. Just as my skin was acquiring a green hue and moss had begun sprouting from clothing, the sun came out – ladybirds appeared from window frames where they have been overwintering. These two days are a godsend, an opportunity to tidy up outside. Of course instead of working I will spend most of the time with my nose in a book or wandering the moor, dining on calves liver and veal onglet. There’s always tomorrow.

Monday, February 22

Well you would, wouldn't you

Rather link arms with Farage and the appalling Galloway than linking arms with Tim Farron and Anna Soubry (or JFK come to that).

Classic cars

It was never my favourite motor. However in spite of the less than sporty gear change it served me well for over three years. Voted European car of the year in 1966, consigning the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow to second place. Racing driver Stirling Moss exclaimed: “There is no doubt that the Renault 16 is the most intelligently engineered automobile I have ever encountered and I think that each British motorcar manufacturer would do well to purchase one just to see how it is put together”.

It never went away

Nokia comeback: Iconic tech company could release new phone in 2016. Never one to give up on a thing because it falls out of fashion, my trusty Nokia 1680 Classic (purchased 2008) still does the business.

Sunday, February 21

Happy Birthday, Benny

Men are like wine. Some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age. The big Seven-O, first of the Boomers – the advance guard.

Saturday, February 20

UK employment rate hits record high

The paradox of work is that many people hate their jobs, but are considerably more miserable doing nothing. French polymath Blaise Pascal also believed we yearn for rest from our struggle against the vicissitudes of life, and yet when we have overcome them, rest proves unbearable because of the boredom it produces. What makes something boring? Predictability, monotony and confinement are all key: being stuck in a dead-end job, for instance. Buggered either way.

Saturday acquires a medieval theme

There was a time (long ago) when Saturdays meant lunchtime pints prior to a match. If the club was playing away then the bar was as far as you got. Nowadays, especially after a morning hike, BBC Radio 5 Live and glass of cherry and damson flavoured cordial from the Dordogne is about the limit to my enthusiasm. Today’s fellow cup enthusiasts include one of Mrs G’s hens that is feeling poorly and been granted the run of the homestead. Livestock in the house...before you know it it’ll be mead, flax and lutes.

Vegetable of the day: Tripolo potatoes.

Word of the day: Minutiae (the small, precise, or trivial details of something). Used by no less than three SNP politicians this morning, each with their own idiosyncratic pronunciation.

Performance of the day: Silviniaco Conti.

Thursday, February 18

Can’t win ’em all

When it comes to cooking I’m afraid I haven’t Mrs G’s touch. Tonight’s pork and prawn extravaganza a case in point. Hey, I try – am a dab hand at pouring drinks and washing up.

Let battle commence

Let’s hope Cameron returns home this weekend and our phoney war – the European Referendum – can finally move forward. I find it strange we’ve had so little input from Europe. There’s been no one of note from Brussels visiting the UK, appearing on our screens and putting the case for why they want us to stay? Let’s face it, Europe receives less coverage on our television (where most of the rank and file absorb their news and culture) than just about anywhere in the world. Most people probably know more about America, Asia and the Middle East than they do the European Continent. Does the average Dutchman or Italian give a flying fuck about whether we stay or go? Nobody knows. Our membership of the EU is like shelling out for a season ticket at Old Trafford and only reading the occasional match report in the Sundays.

Wednesday, February 17

A tragic story

But no reason for the Guardian to be ageist. One of three ‘elderly’ hillwalkers who had been missing overnight … Bobby Thomson, age 64 …

Just as well I'm not a 64-year-old woman.

Polite request

To whoever’s been hovering above my roof for the past hour … please go fly your Chinook elsewhere. The neighbour’s tractor is bad enough.

Cameron concedes again, probably

This could become a habit. “David Cameron is going to have to give the SNP what it wants, says Alex Massie...It is, as it often is with Scotland, about money.” Fair’s fair. If it wasn’t for the arrival of North Sea oil during the 1970’s we could well be dead and buried.

Trident, and the fetishism of commodities

“The current debate about the cost of Trident is a sideshow. The bigger issues that the UK political class needs to confront concern such questions as what does Britain stand for now, and what is its role in the world? The nuclear question is just a symptom of the problem. Yet politicians seem to lack the nerve to face hard facts or awkward questions.” (Mick Hume, Spiked)

Singing from the wrong hymn sheet

“A ‘very stressed’ David Cameron pleaded with European leaders not to water down his renegotiation yesterday as he warned that Britain was in danger of voting to leave the EU.” Am I the only Englishman who finds this circus a major embarrassment? Our so-called Prime Minister skulking about Europe’s capitals glad handing tinpot politicos and begging favours. I do not understand why he believes his brief is about short-changing someone on benefits, our gripe has nothing to do with saving a pathetic twenty or thirty million: it’s about shutting the door and telling Brussels to go fuck themselves. I’m beginning to understand why Russia subjugated Eastern Europe.

Tuesday, February 16

Headache material

Pernod Ricard’s new Sun Craft range of wines will have straight-forward names such as ‘crisp white’, ‘smooth red’ and ‘soft rosé’, and the bottles will carry no mention of grapes so as not to confuse millennials. The mind boggles in that the wine value of a £6 bottle of hooch is probably about 25p – 4p a glass. Something to remember next time you order 125ml in the Dog & Duck. Then again I guess we all began somewhere … Piat d’Or anyone?

Monday, February 15

What a difference a day makes

Back out this morning, taking advantage of a rare sunny spell. This was the view from the top of Ryder’s, the highest hill on Southern Dartmoor at 1,700ft. Wonderful views across South Hams to the coast, from Teignmouth up to Berry Head. The hill served as a prehistoric burial site, and is the location of various boundary and OS points. Looking south west between Petre’s boundary stone and the trig point you can see (in the distance) a spoil tip from what was Red Lake Clayworks.

Sunday, February 14

Hainanese chicken rice

The homestead is cloaked in fog and snow this morning, concealed from the outside world. And given what’s afoot in the wider world who wouldn’t turn their back. There’s coverage from Arsenal v Leicester, Man City v Tottenham and England v Italy: what more could a man ask? Ate great steaks for Saturday night’s supper. Tavistock lad produces excellent meat that has been fed well and hung for a reasonable period before being cut. My principal reason for visiting the market, however, – aside from the cross-moor run being one of the most beautiful scenic drives in England – was to acquire a decent chicken. Mrs G. and I exchange the same gifts each year on this day: yours truly produces a humongous bouquet of flowers and bottle of bubbly; and El Supremo cooks my favourite, Hainanese chicken rice.
Almost Cormac McCarthy bleak. Ok so Annapurna it ain’t, barely a couple of centimetres – but white stuff nonetheless. Not so much the snow as what is hidden. Beneath the surface, several inches of mud. This morning’s constitutional turned into a painful three-hour slog. Thanks to the fog visibility was limited to thirty-forty metres. It cleared a mile from home on the final leg.

Saturday, February 13

Scrambled eggs for breakfast; hold the truffle.

Across the moor to Tavistock for supplies; a chilly two-degrees, sleeting. Kayaks were negotiating a fast-running West Dart at Hexworthy: rather you than me, I thought. Returned home to discover the hunt was in situ, boosting our usual posse of Saturday morning runners and riders. Declined the neighbour’s offer of ‘refreshments’ in favour of Sunderland v Man Utd on the wireless.

Am told free-range egg farms are cramming up to 16,000 birds on to multiple tiers under one roof to cut costs. To qualify as free-range, hens must have 4.0sqm per bird of outside space. I calculate Mrs G’s birds enjoy in excess of 200sqm per bird. According to my back-of-the-fag packet-reckoning, each of the Homestead’s eggs cost around £16.50 to produce – marginally less expensive than the Valentine’s Day flowers on sale at Tavistock’s florists.

If a thing 'excludes' it must be bad

Bah humbug! Valentine's Day is divisive because ‘romance’ excludes people with ravaged faces, says Tim Lott.

Anyone so lacking in taste and discernment as to eat Jaffa Cakes deserves all that comes his way – or doesn't. Then again...

when all is said and done 
what counts is someone 
you can phone at five to ask 

for the immersion heater 
to be switched to ‘bath’ 
and the pizza taken from the deepfreeze 

(Dennis O’Driscoll)

Friday, February 12

Friday supper

That traditional Jewish dish: Yom Kippers. Kwik-E-Mart supplies excellent smoked fish, given our rural location, though little in the way of Bloaters or Smokies.

Thursday, February 11

I'd want my money back

He was alleged to have been drinking heavily on a flight back from Thailand, where he had spent a month receiving treatment at in a rehabilitation clinic.

The biggest scientific breakthrough of the century

Like, maybe, curing cancer, the thing that is killing everyone on a day to day basis.

I thought it was because no one liked me

Dining, yesterday, at Mrs G’s favourite Thai (they made me pay for mocking their so-called ‘spicy’ appellation), I was asked to step up to the counter and help ‘interpret’ the restaurant’s recorded phone messages. The girls were struggling with their Pidgin English, or so I thought. Truth is our messages are pure gobbledegook to most recipients. We bark a reservation request at breakneck speed, oblivious to how it’s received. Then this morning at the florist – a Dutch lad, naturally. “Ah, a native! Can you interpret…” Of course I couldn’t make sense of the message on his machine. And finally I understand why no one calls me back.

But we mean well

I suspect it’s a skill most men – particularly married men, acquire very early in life. The ability to exclude background noise. All women know at least one. Usually they are pretty decent to their female colleagues and acquaintances; buying drinks down the pub, smiling when they speak and nodding furiously in agreement. Except they aren’t listening. Not really. And never will. Am trying to be polite, but not really listening.

Wednesday, February 10

Usual whinge

I am reluctant to mention the weather (again) for fear of infringing on Daily Express territory. However, in common with most regions on this great island of ours, climate remains a principal component of daily life. And although loath to exchange Britain’s seasonal variation – am too lazy to board a plane to Costa Rica or suffer the indignities of 21st Century air travel, a little less rain and fewer grey skies would be welcome. On the plus side, there are daffodils and frogspawn this morning; before we know it, primrose and bluebells; and then summer will be with us.

Yesterday I read a marvellous short story by Thomas Hardy, in which he describes a familiar homestead, of a type that sits isolated on ‘high, grassy, and furzy downs, coombs, or ewe-leases’, and is ‘subject to sleets, snows, rains, and mists’, where ‘the level rainstorm smote walls, slopes, and hedges like the clothyard shafts of Senlac and Crecy’; where ‘the tails of little birds trying to roost on some scraggy thorn were blown inside-out like umbrellas’. Hardy believed there was a degree of misanthropy and/or insanity among the residents that chose to live in such a lonely, unguarded spot.

Tuesday, February 9

Just when you think it safe to venture out

Woke this morning to sunshine and flat calm. Cranked up new hedge cutter, donned hard hat and away I went. It took just eight minutes for a storm to materialise. No rain; just hail, sleet – and now snow.

Monday, February 8

Supper...haute cuisine

Reheated haggis and HP Sauce.

A slur on people driving white vans

Government advisor urges scrapping of £50 notes to combat tax evasion. I think Mr Sands would discover plumbers and builders stopped using £50 notes back in the 1980s, not just because their use was likely to flag you up, but by virtue of the large number of counterfeit fifties then in circulation (no one would accept them).

Down tools

Must have needed a kip, given I slept through the arrival of Storm Imogen. Our latest breeze has been bludgeoning the homestead for most of the night, the window trickle-vents an array of shrieking aerodynamic whistles. A traditional severe weather warning has been issued, not least because of the flooding. Thankfully we still have our electricity supply…and the blow gets me off of hedge-cutting duty.

Saturday, February 6

Strangely familiar

"Old Testament prophets battered by life, weather and the struggles of the land." Rams, Grímur Hákonarson. (Aka Meet the Neighbours.)

Chieftain o the puddin’-race!

Two to three inches of rain forecast for Dartmoor today. Flooding and severe gales – all the way through to Tuesday. Spent yesterday battening down the chicken coop in readiness. Lots of muddy sport on the box to entertain us, not least the game from Murrayfield. Mrs G. has acquired a large Macsween haggis for supper (deferred Burns Night).

The A38 (dual carriageway) has flooded, so imagine what our local lanes are like. Wouldn’t dream of launching a kayak on the torrent that is the River Dart. Out at breakfast time, nailing down stray boards and propping up the field shelter, then to town for supplies. Returned and handed the vacuum. Having completed my duties and been dismissed it is now Miller Time … Football Focus.

Friday, February 5

Male models

Are what seafarers become after they quit the sea.

Eating and assembling

Last night’s supper was bubble and squeak. Today we have Octopus for lunch and fish cakes for tea – Palo Cortado, and a premier cru from Saône-et-Loire (nod to Houellebecq). Following which I hope to assemble a new petrol driven machine for demolishing hedges.

Thursday, February 4

Welcome boost?

The pretty boy dumb guy from Friends teams up with the red-headed git from Radio 2. And now Eddie Jordan ... What price Diane Abbott as the final member of the team?

A cry of anguish

The Times Philip Collins attempts to breathe life into the in/out referendum. I suspect few are listening – are exercised, as Collins says. He is right in the sense that the vote, if it is to capture the public imagination, will likely come down to an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ confrontation. The odds are stacked in ‘their’ favour; I don’t doubt ‘they’ will win. And yet despite my European credentials, the seeming inevitability of it all, for what it’s worth I vote to quit. Not so much a cry of anguish as a guarantee of perpetual ingrained belligerence.

Bring it on, says EU leaders, we’ve had enough of you.

Wednesday, February 3

As good as it gets?

As far as Gudgeon is concerned this next decade is as good as life gets. Though I am doubtful David Bowie would have agreed.

Monday, February 1

Why won’t the sisterhood help Hillary?

Most probably because they choose to vote for their father, brother, husband or son.

Monday treat

Olive oil cake with lemon and rosemary. And Mrs G. wonders why I am only three pounds down on the festive blowout. It’s not just the cake: a glass of “one of Sauternes greatest vintages, laden with honey and glycerine, barley sugar and saffron…” (half bottle left over from Christmas).

Fingers crossed

Tow wire re-connected at 10:30hrs this morning.

Hanging in there...just.

Pass the parcel

A lad at the Dog & Duck runs supplies to a migrant camp in northern France. I admire his altruism. A number of locals also appear keen to adopt a migrant, preferably (I suspect) a cute infant. Given the cost and shortage of local housing, however, I would imagine South Hams is the last place the government will dump resettle our quota.

Last night I caught up on news from the area where I grew up. Old ladies burgled the minute they set foot outside the house, neighbours settling disputes with claw hammers, boarded up homes and school in special measures with 50% of kids on FSM. Having quit that place as a teenager I can appreciate the motivation of Iraqi Kurds and the like seeking a better life, they have a far stronger incentive than I did. But heaping more grief on a failing community struggling to make a life for itself is hardly the answer.