Friday, October 28

England’s oldest hotel in flames

Guess I’ve eaten my last meal at the Royal Clarence.

Your neck, your decision

Patient choice is bad, writes the Telegraph’s Jane Merrick, and will lead to a fundamental change in the relationship between doctor and patient. Although deference is a thing of the past, she says, when we enter a consulting room there remains a powerful contract between doctor and patient, entwined in the Hippocratic Oath and a mutual trust and respect for medicine, that “doctor knows best”. Dream on, dear lady, dream on. If you’ve been around the block a couple of times it will have dawned on you that GPs are not the magic fountain of knowledge you imagine, and good as many are, you wouldn’t stake your life on an half-arsed consultation any more than you would the reassurances of a politician or climate scientist. Merrick echoes a similar line I heard from a number of women yesterday, the fear of choice – a reluctance to accept the risks that come with personal responsibility.

Thursday, October 27

Crap motors I have known

Outside resembles a miners’ convention, helmet-lights illuminating the track. Our intrepid Search and Rescue Group engaged on a night-time exercise, support vehicles bringing up the rear. As it happens my Land Rover is in dock this week, and the garage has assigned Gudgeon a go-cart as courtesy vehicle. In comparison to the 1275GT I foolishly acquired many years ago the current reincarnation is even less engaging, and like British Rail, proving to be a waste of space on wet leaves – let alone off-road. On the plus side its engine starts first time and doesn’t cut out in the rain.

Wednesday, October 26

It still beats work

Forget the gym and dreams of becoming an older-preneur, raking leaves is more than enough exercise for Gudgeon. I say raking but truth is I’ve shelled out for a leaf blower, a four-stroke model (two-stroke machinery has proved a false economy). The exercise part comes from wheeling a barrow back and forward to/from the composting area thirty or forty times (100yds e/w). At the end of the day the yard looks good for about ten minutes, and then… Sisyphus ain’t in it. That said, thanks to an absence of gales, we have the all too rare opportunity of enjoying the mists and mellow fruitfulness of a wonderful autumn display. Atmospheric, life-affirming stuff.

Sunday, October 23

At least we won’t be bored

Sunday afternoon, post lunch (poached gigot of mutton with caper sauce), listening to the footy on the wireless while reading the papers… Suzanne Evans draws fire from Nigel Farage for vowing to shed Ukip’s ‘toxic’ image. Theresa May also sees these votes worth courting, even if it results in a number of suburban (soccer) moms defecting to the Lib Dems. If May is serious about a hard Brexit it could be a sensible strategy, though I struggle to imagine large swathes of northern England voting for the Tories (or for Suzanne Evans?). Still, what do I know? Most everything appears to be in the mix just now. Although Brexit negotiators will play their cards close to their proverbial chest, our media will ensure passions remain stoked. The migrant crisis will also exercise minds, as will American politics and the advent of a new Cold War. Then there’s the economy, stupid; the potential demise of the City. Throw in those inevitable unknown unknowns and yes, a definite roller coaster.

Mrs G. is in the kitchen baking large quantities of blini in readiness for next month. The reason they’ve become a traditional November staple escapes me. Whatever the motivation, I’m not one to pass up on luxury foodstuffs – the aquavit isn’t too shabby either.

I can almost taste it

Must be the time of year (hibernation mode), given I slept through till half-eight Saturday morning – and it was much the same today. Autumn is well and truly here. Everyone has their winter feed baled, wrapped and stacked, and there’s a characteristic smell of barley that is all too reminiscent of a brewery (nine days and counting).

The ponies are acquiring winter coats and will soon be returned to their owners, moved to lower ground. As with the swallows you miss them when they’re gone.

My best wishes to the big lad currently making his way to Madagascar for the cycle challenge. As long as you’re happy subsisting on a diet of rice and Three Horses Beer am sure it will go well.

Friday, October 21

Wild boar to the sun-dried swamp

Despite a chill 4˚C the Dart’s bank in full sunshine at slack water was the place to be this morning. The weather will eventually turn but for now there is barely a ripple on the surface. All the boats have departed for winter storage, and except for several mallards and our ever present gulls the river is empty. Breakfast, haircut, then on to Exeter for an eye test and supplies. Back home and out on the sun-dried moor… too good to pass up. A loin of what purports to be wild boar for dinner, along with more roast root-vegetables (and pears) than a man can eat. Only one thing missing.

Thursday, October 20

Fate, karma, whatever…

Gudgeon is on a health kick this month in readiness for the traditional festive splurge. Lots of green-leaf vegetables and endamame beans, zero alcohol and a reasonable amount of exercise. Boring but sneaky. At the beginning of every November I pay my once-a-year visit to the GP for an MOT. As his questions are always directed towards my behaviour over the previous four weeks I am able to present myself as a model citizen. Of course this lasts for as long as it takes for my blood-test results to be returned, at which point I get the usual nagging telephone call about cholesterol levels. Doubtless something to do with the steaks and the slabs of butter. With a sub-21 BMI and decent blood pressure readings (104/70 - 66rhr) I am reasonably comfortable with my health. However, you and I know the game is something of a lottery, no one has a clue what may be rotting away insides. And no amount of kale or oily fish will save us when falling from the top of a ladder or being trampled underfoot by the neighbour’s bull.

Tuesday, October 18

Return of the seventeen-point turn

Whilst hardly an Indian summer our October weather is proving reasonably benign. Good for visitors/walkers and bad news for the homestead. School teachers are wonderful people, ill-suited to driving a minibus.

Sunday, October 16

Living in interesting times

Totnes Good Food Sunday, to stock up on cabrito, veal, wild boar, venison and game birds. Whatever else Brexit has in store, the homestead won’t go hungry. Although the florist has increased prices by 12%, Marmite aside, he’s the only indication of inflation I’ve seen so far – and while I am sure we’ll be a lot less sanguine in twelve-month’s time, if you lived through the 70s and 80s you will have some idea of what’s coming down the line. I take issue with those who infer we didn’t vote for the UK to become poorer and that parliament should have a veto over Brexit terms: for better or worse we chose to risk the unknown rather than continue with unfettered immigration, voting with our eyes wide open and heart in our mouth.

Saturday, October 15

Idyllic Saturday,

It’s pouring down. Which means I get to spend a guilt-free afternoon in front of the box, following the footy action and the racing from Ascot.

Thursday, October 13

Exploring a sense of place and identity

Looked in on Bovey’s Devon Guild of Craftsmen this morning. The current exhibition is titled ‘Home Ground’, exploring a sense of place and identity* by showcasing the work of contemporary art/craft practitioners that use locally distinct and sourced materials to produce work which reflects and sustains their locality and its culture. Keen to develop new audiences the project focuses on football supporters, more specifically through the fans of Sheffield United, Stoke City, Crystal Palace, Luton Town, Macclesfield Town AND Walsall. The Saddlers primary material being leather, artist Melanie Tomlinson has produced a pair of gilded 1950s style footy boots – the sort of thing we played in as kids. The reason they resemble hobnail boots with steel toecaps was displayed alongside: a replica 1950s leather football made by John Hagger, a Devon-based leather worker who learnt his trade in Walsall. John sourced the pattern from a German Football Museum, fashioning the ball from the hide of a roe deer (road kill). I admired the Walsall children’s collages, particularly their wishful thinking as regards Walsall beating Chelsea 4-0.

*Brexit is about lots of things, but central to all remains the desire for a sense of place and identity.

High on Fellows Park nostalgia, tonight’s supper is a large dish of tripe. With a nod to the modern game, however, less tripe and onions in milk and more Trippa alla Fiorentina.

Poland puts its faith in American cavalry

Seems not everything is sweetness and light across the channel, with Poland walking away from negotiations with their EU partners for replacement helicopters in favour of a deal with the Americans. Local jobs aside, Poland doubtless believes it will be lads driving Black Hawks that will ride to the rescue, rather than the mythical European army we’ve heard so much about.

Wednesday, October 12

NHS, a bottomless pit

The only answer to obesity is to devour less calories. You can’t blame medical conditions or genetic disposition, says Ian McColl, exercise doesn’t help weight loss either – you have to cease stuffing donuts down your throat. If you can’t afford decent food and are obliged to eat crap, then eat less crap. ...I appreciate we consume fewer calories than we did 40 years ago, but it is still far more than our 21st Century sedentary lifestyles require.

Rather belatedly George Monbiot gets on board with Cameron’s ‘big society’.

Monday, October 10

Protest songs

England is an old country, whose dotage is portrayed as a crabby resentment, a place where there is a collective wish to lock all the doors, says John Harris in The Guardian. This, he conceedes, is (in part) down to our politicians’ reluctance to recongnise England’s existence, let alone promote its virtues – allowing England or Englishness to repainted in ugly colours. Such an aberration, says Harris, demands the attention of musicians, writers, dramatists, journalists – and the millions of people in England who surely feel a deep dismay about what is happening. We need to fight back by organising rock concerts, like we did in the 1970s. …Given it was followed by the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher am not sure the strategy worked especially well for the left.

Sunday, October 9

Roasting the peasants

Usual Sunday morning, listening to Marr, Peston and Andrew Neil... You’d think we’ve more than enough on our plate without the chattering class fixating on Donald Trump. And Brexit! Give it up for fuck sake. Most of the studio guests are either selling a book or whinging. Whinging is what passes for opposition these days. I agree with Chakrabarti on one thing: that Jeremy Corbyn has been seriously underrated. Where we differ is in acknowledging the lad is living proof our restricting immigration is a good thing, in that it affords more middling plodders such as Corbyn and McDonnell the opportunity to rise to the top. At least Labour can thank their lucky stars Tim Farron isn’t running the show. You could dig up Jeremy Thorpe’s corpse and it would do a better job.

At this time of year Norman Tebbit’s cook book comes into its own. Ate grouse a week or so ago, albeit more out of tradition than enthusiasm. Today’s lunch is an old favourite: roast pheasant on a bed of lentils. Given October is a dry month, the day’s highlight has to be my standing on Mrs G’s shoulder as she douses the bird in flaming brandy.

Saturday, October 8

Moor goats

This morning to Tavistock market for supplies; an afternoon trek in the wilderness; then horse racing and footy on the box. What is classed as a day off.

Passed by a couple of weekend ramblers on the moor but otherwise it’s quiet out there. The Snipe have begun to arrive, exploding from the mire beneath my feet. “Suddenly some scrap of dried fabric rips itself up from the marsh-quake, scattering a soft explosion of twilight in the eyes...” Burns called Snipe “the Blitter frae the boggie”. Here in the Southwest they were once known as Gaverhales (Moor-Goats), which chimes with the Welsh diminutive ‘Goat of the Spring’ (Gafr-wanwyn) and the Celtic ‘She-goat of the Air’ (Gabhar Athair).

Free range meat

Doing my bit for conservation: pony burger for breakfast; bresaola and salami for lunch.

Friday, October 7

Jury is out

In Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s auto-biography, ‘The Boss’ makes clear the need for his total control of musical output, ruling over his band like a benevolent dictator. Unfortunately this appears to extend to the biography as, while a master craftsman when penning adolescent rock anthems, he can’t write that well. He should probably have let someone ghost the story or hired a decent editor. After digging through the office shelves I find my collection includes only two Springsteen albums. The River which I bought when released in 1980 on the recommendation of a friend (pot smoking slacker); and The Rising, some twenty-two years later, as a ‘wonder what he’s doing these days’ kind of purchase. Neither have seem much light of day.

Although what do I know? According to the FT’s Janan Ganesh, Born to Run should be awarded the accolade ‘Political Book of the Year’. “Springsteen loved these communities and hated their stifling monoculture; respected their values and yearned to transcend them… Understood why redundant workers cheered Margaret Thatcher’s defence of the Falklands even as they cursed her neglect of their industries.”

I concede Springsteen’s back story chimes with current events in terms of Trump’s blue-collar support in the States and here in England with the rise of our ‘left behind’. However, truth to tell, Gudgeon is still reeling from the Conservative Party Conference. Have been a Conservative voter all my adult life, and much of what Theresa May said in her speech echoes what I’ve been spouting this past couple of decades. Her words should be music to my ears... and yet? There’s something about the girl and her home secretary that doesn’t sit right. Perhaps my being a contrarian and instinctively opposing consensus cant? When someone tells you it’s the thing to do it usually isn’t, is too late. Am so conflicted I walked out the Kwik-E-Mark this morning and donated my beer money to a forlorn soul who was collecting for Amnesty International.

Thursday, October 6

There’s a song here somewhere

Only a handful of ponies this year so the grass remains lush... One of the mares is looking a bit heavy: appears Trigger has stopped firing blanks. A high pressure system is blocking our usual southwesterly, which is just as well given there’s plenty of work to finish outside. Although the neighbour has decided it’s a perfect day for muck spreading, the sun is shining and all is well in Gudgeon’s world. We’ve a kestrel in the yard hunting voles – flocks of long tailed tits and wagtails too, a ginormous charm of goldfinches… the usual crows and wood pigeons. Thrushes and blackbirds fight it out for the rowan berries. Is even more inspirational out on the moor. On a day like today ya never wanna see the sun go down.

National Poetry Day

Seamus Heaney, for Paul Muldoon

It had been badly shot.
While he was plucking it he found, he says, the voice box –

like a flute stop in the broken windpipe –

and blew upon it
his own small widgeon cries.

Wednesday, October 5

Big speech from scary woman

I don’t know about you but she scares the shit out of me. Not so much one nation politics as jack boots and whip. Hadn’t realised I was such a libertarian until listening to Theresa May’s speech. Interventionist government a la May usually means someone poking their nose into my business and/or picking my pocket.

Dianne James

Shades of Steve Coppell?

Standing by remains our watchword

Con Coughlin writes in today’s Telegraph bemoaning the West’s inaction in Syria, reminding everyone of our foot-dragging in Bosnia. Every night television screens are filled with the fallout from Aleppo and camps in Lebanon, though to what purpose I’m not sure as no one appears prepared to sanction much of anything. The two obvious gambits, presumably, are that we engage in military action against Russia or open our homes to refugees… I don’t see the public voting for either, and without public support our political leaders won’t act. It’s easy to point the finger at Obama’s lack of leadership. However, the Americans have been carrying the West for too long; the UN are impotent; and talk of a European army is fantasy. Truth to tell, too many people wish Saddam and Gaddafi had been left in place to torture and brutalise their respective populations, and in the deeper recesses of their heart probably think the sooner Assad and Putin finish things off the better. Talk of war crime retribution is hardly a deterrent.

Tuesday, October 4


Standing in line at the builders’ trade counter this morning... have leaking water pipe, so need to cut holes in internal wall, locate and fix leak. Two women are queuing in front of me. It’s great to see girls walking the walk – paint-splattered overalls, work boots and body art, nipped ciggie behind the ear. Unfortunately each spent as much time at the till humming and harring over rawplugs and masking tape as they probably would when selecting a lipstick.

Conversely... Woman engineer arrives at homestead, portable air compressor in one hand and wrench in the other. Takes twenty minutes to fix problem that has confounded two men, and at a fraction of the price.

Sunday, October 2

Returning home

To sunshine and clouds of buzzing insects. Files of high school students heading out to the moor; mountain rescue deployed in force. We enjoyed the break but it’s great to return to your own bed, to decent potable water and simple fare. There’s a limit to how much foie gras and truffle I can stomach. That said, am sure we’ll back before long.

With no football on terrestrial television, today is given over to the American version. Preceding the live Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars game, I’m watching Reggie Yates presenting a look at America as seen through the eyes of the NFL small town teams, as he travels to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to meet the Green Bay Packers. Cheesy people, apparently – or is it canned meat. I’m confused.

Beer of the day.

Are perverse convictions worth a flutter?

“…to my astonishment, some of my oldest Republican friends who are among the most civilised, enlightened people I know, were contemplating voting for Donald Trump, as were some newer acquaintances who did not remotely resemble the uneducated bigots who are generally thought to constitute his following.”

I haven’t visited the States and sat across a table from anyone over there for more than a decade, and have learnt not to trust what I glean secondhand from the media. But let’s take the Telegraph’s Janet Daley at her word. What is going on in the American Presidential election, she says, is not precisely what it seems. That the rise of Trump has more to do with Clinton’s threat to the self-determination of the individual, a principle considered so sacred that the risk of losing it makes any act of opposition acceptable – and that this irrepressible strain of perverse conviction will be what wins it for Trump and saves America in the end... I can’t decide whether to risk my pocket money on the outcome or to buy another Premium Bond.

Saturday, October 1

The Hordes

Given how much I enjoy myself when visiting Bath it seems churlish to moan. But damn it, the crowd! Takes me three days to acclimatise. I find it easier to navigate a bumper to bumper three-lane highway at 85mph in pissing rain than to walk along a pavement when everyone’s attention is directed at their smart phone instead of where they are heading. On the plus side there’s a pleasing absence of pushbikes. “The only thing that could spoil a day was people …People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as the season itself.” Yes, yes, I know, he was speaking of spring. However it works just as well for autumn. Don’t mean to sound misanthropic… just a little grumpy.