Tuesday, October 31

Is the bar set so low?

That fifteen years ago the Defence Secretary’s hand should have come to rest on Hartley-Brewer’s knee is headline news must be proof enough the country’s lost its collective sense. Our adversaries must be wetting themselves, and not out of fear. I appreciate it’s only the reptiles manufacturing clickbait, but that the once great Telegraph is reduced to this sort of thing is a sad reflection of our times – John Profumo must be shaking his ghostly head. Robert Peston isn’t the only one who feels he’s not living in the same Britain as the rest of the country.

Monday, October 30

Peace reigns

Frost on the ground this morning. Glorious day, however, an opportunity to tidy the yard – fire up a bonfire and break out the brushcutter…put the allotment to bed. Two days short of November and I’m still mowing the grass. Aside from an argument between a jay and green woodpecker the place is eerily quiet – and I’m not complaining.

Wednesday, October 25

We are all on a journey now

It seems that at some stage in the near future everyone will be obliged – perhaps in the manner of Anthony Burgess’s Alex – to embark on one of Owen’s journeys to atone for the impure thoughts we once held. So much rending of garments. The world’s gone fuckin’ crazy.

Calm being the operative word

You don’t get many of these to the pound. A perfect morning, that is. Vaughan Williams playing on the wireless, barely a blemish in the sky – just THE SUN. Plenty of autumn colour to marvel at – a yard littered with the reminder of recent storms, sprouting fungi and extremely vocal robins. What was Einstein’s theory of happiness again?

Tuesday, October 24

With friends like Michael Bloomberg…

Stupidest thing any country has done besides Trump. … Britain doesn’t have an immigration problem and they didn’t need control of their borders. (We didn’t?) They have the English Channel – that gave them control of their borders. (Oh, OK) … Problems with immigration? Britain didn’t take anyone from northern Africa or the Middle East. (Yeah, right!) … But what Britain are doing is not good and there is no easy way to get out of the EU because if they don’t pay a penalty, (irony alert) everyone else would drop out. … Would I have built two big expensive buildings in London if I knew they were going to drop out? I’ve had some thoughts that maybe I wouldn’t have, but we are there, we are going to be very happy (says through gritted teeth). … I can’t be bothered to critique the article properly and only posted this as an example of the total disconnect between the Bloombergs of the world and us mortals – why we voted for Brexit.

Wet and windy

Out on the moor for a couple of hours this afternoon, albeit the weather remains grim. The fog hasn’t lifted, wind is gusting from the south west, and the drizzle ain’t going away anytime soon (I need new waterproofs). If you waited for more congenial weather you’d never leave the homestead, and even idlers like Gudgeon are susceptible cabin fever. Back home to coddled eggs and hog’s pudding.

Leading horses to water

Individuals with the highest risk of suffering heart attack and strokes are not being prescribed statins despite a major NHS drive to put more people on the drug, a major study reveals. The story suggests that when appraised of the side effects most chose not to take the pills – are talked out of it by their GP. I suspect in reality those that do take statins are the conscientious types already on top of their diet and exercise who are unlikely to suffer a heart attack, and the slobs amongst us most likely to succumb are just lazy buggers that can’t be arsed.

Monday, October 23

Pay doesn’t appear to be the problem

An anonymous teacher, 41, from West Yorkshire, wrote: “I’m desperate to get out of teaching. It’s exhausting, stressful and is ruining my life. I’m not a senior leader so can’t go on to be a consultant or inspector. I’ve been teaching for over a decade and most of the jobs I’ve seen that suit my skills and experience could mean taking over a 50% pay cut.” ...So, given were already paying teachers double the going rate, it seems pay isn't the problem we thought?

The language of tolerance

I recall listening to an old crooner years ago as he recounted how, after years of struggle, the Tamla Motown artists thought they’d cracked the mainstream market – had arrived. Unfortunately the very moment he reached what he thought was the pinnacle, in walked The Beatles, The Rolling Stones – white rock music … and blew everyone away. It felt as if Detroit et al were back to square one. There must be a similar feeling these days amongst women: a century spent battling for equality, and just as the prize is within their grasp, ‘womanhood’ is erased from public life.

Sunday, October 22

The cultural backlash is not easily dissuaded

There is a tendency amongst the political opposition and sections of MSM to prefix every Brexit comment with “People didn’t vote to become poorer”. The economic elite and jobs-focused Remain camp do this to justify their wish to renege on the referendum result by staying in the single market and customs union. These naysayers appear to have forgotten that during the referendum, project fear actually concentrated on the dire economic consequences of voting leave – it was their principal threat. Unfortunately for Cameron and Osborne, although the message got through and there was a tacit understanding we could be poorer, voters determined it was a price worth paying. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a sense of cultural rather than economic threat had by far the largest impact – and it seems we were not alone.

Food your gran would have cooked

As with painting and decorating, cooking has a lot to do with preparation. Have just watched Mrs G. dissect a 4½lb slab of beef (cheek) for the pot: 2lbs 6oz of usable meat; 1lb 14oz excess fat and membrane. The significant waste is one of the reasons these cuts are (were) relatively inexpensive. The relative bit acknowledges that, when celebrity chefs popularise such dishes, demand increases price. Throw in the cost of fuel, not least with long and slow cooking, and what was once considered poor people’s food becomes middle-class extravagance – one of the reasons mothers feed their kids processed crap (instead of encouraging them to keep retesting beetroot and parsnip, cabbage and dark chocolate).

In common with universal credit

“…an advance of £5,000 on your next novel.’ How are they meant to live on that?” The predicament could explain why so many less than successful literary types (90%?) identify with the left. Making a living from writing must be comparable to panhandling for precious stones in the desert, and yet universities continue to milk generations of gullible students with their creative writing courses. As with all dreams, as Boyd says, ‘luck’ and ‘fortune’ play a significant part. A number of old colleagues have published, a mixture of dry text books and Desmond Bagley-style adventure stories. I doubt sales stretched beyond friends and family.

Pots and kettles

Jose Mourinho: players should explain themselves after poor performance. Their manager speculating on his future life with PSG maybe?

Saturday, October 21

Hunkering down

Given the weather our proposed visit to Dartmouth Food Festival was cancelled. Walking 120yds across the yard to the barn is tough enough and I don’t imagine conditions quayside are any better. It’s a pity as we’ve enjoyed some great sessions in the past. Today is a day for sitting beside the stove, following the footy and racing on the box. Our compensation supper is veal bavette steaks with several types of mushroom in a cream sauce and roasted butternut squash. Would like to tell you the meal will be washed down with a nice Cote de Nuits Villages Blanc, but am determined to win the bet.

Making mountains out of molehills

A touch grim outside, having to remove tree limbs from the drive before I could head off for milk and papers, remnants of a rock wall that had collapsed into the road. Conversely… while the girls exercising their steeds look a little fraught, in reality it’s just a typical autumn storm; naming them merely elevates the norm into something seemingly catastrophic, needlessly putting the wind up Joe Public.

Approved and non-approved accents

“I can’t ever remember using words that my parents used: bairn for child, bide for stay, blate for shy, breeks for trousers, brig for bridge (to name a few of the Bs).” The lad’s 72 years of age and has never used these words? “It was like looking at some piece of folk art in a museum, encouraging the notion that the dialect was ill suited to modernity.” Gudgeon is considerably younger than Jack and such words were commonplace when I lived north of the border. I guess, like most Guardianistas, he exists in a more rarefied atmosphere (oh yes, Jack resides in Islington). The article, which could have been an interesting piece of social commentary, descends, inevitably, into petty spite.

Friday, October 20

Merluza en salsa verde

I seem to have spent most of this week dashing around the streets of Plymouth and Exeter. Though the two cities are equidistant from the homestead, there the similarity ends. The former has seen better days and struggles to attract investment, while the latter is a prosperous magnet for white flight from Londonistan. You hear plenty of complaints in the Dog & Duck about the unwelcome expansion of new housing in the area, but I doubt they appreciate just how many will be heading in this direction once Brexit is out of the way and a degree of certainty returns to the economy.

The other notable event this week is how often I’ve been rained on from a great height – literally rather than metaphorically. The yard has returned to its natural state, namely a sea of mud. This morning was the calm before Storm Brian arrives and, as I discovered, you can fill an entire day taking care of mickey mouse jobs: chopping wood, repairing a fence, servicing machinery and clearing soakaways, battening down in advance of Brian, to say nothing of installing new bathroom-fittings, repairing a catch on the stove and programming a new phone. I was able to collapse into my chair this evening with a clear conscience – a roaring fire and Ken Bruce on the wireless, another attempt to make inroads into my ever expanding stack of reading material ... dine on hake and clams in green sauce.

Thursday, October 19

Glad I'm not just starting out

Half of students starting university are now first in their family to do so, new figures reveal. Impressive, you’d think? But that would be to discount the probability too many of these students are attending mediocre establishments and studying bullshit subjects that are unlikely to help improve their chances of social mobility. There are similar articles in the papers almost every week, all of which confirm such students are also unlikely to pay off their loans to we long suffering taxpayers. Aside from helping to fund this Ponzi scheme I don’t really have a dog in the fight. I do, however, make the following observation. Thirty years ago the organisation I worked for was recruiting non-graduates as trainees. In many cases you knew the trainees parents, and on the basis an apple never falls far from the tree, it was qualification enough. In due course a lot more people went to university, so much so there was an assumption (rightly or wrongly) of a direct correlation between increased numbers and declining academic standards. Ergo if someone hadn’t been to university it probably meant they couldn’t read or write and were innumerate: and as these disciplines were basic requirements, a graduate qualification – though not really necessary – became standard. Since that time, such is the qualifications arms race, this has been elevated to include the necessity for a post-graduate qualification. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for this sort of thing – the lad next door needs his PhD to perform as required, and in an earlier life my other neighbour was a Physicist. But a university education to gain employment as a postal clerk, seriously?

Wednesday, October 18

Public shaming is now mainstream

It’s difficult to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without being confronted by Harvey Weinstein’s chubby mush; to hear one-time starlets accuse the old perv of groping them, or worse; listen to industry grandees profess how surprised and shocked they are. And don’t get me started on Me too. There was a time, not long ago, when people pretended sex scandals weren’t suitable entertainment for polite society. I was going through the shelves last weekend and came across an article by Vicki Woods from thirty years ago when she was writing for the Spectator (Yes, I know: must have a clear out). I reference it as a reminder that newspapers once employed talent such as Woods – you really need to read the whole thing rather than this opening extract, as she goes on to lambast voyeuristic editors.

“How many times a night one likes to have sexual intercourse is not a permissible topic at dinner; nor is it a fit subject for a columnist on the Times or the Independent. Sex talk – Doing It, Loving It and Bragging About It – is for the lower classes, isn’t it? and the grimy papers they read. Sex and violence and smut and sleaze: it brightens up their dull lives and keeps them going between Giro cheques. The lower classes bonk away in an uncontrolled manner in their underprivileged housing – ‘I Had Sex at 13 and I’ve Never Stopped’ and grubby men in raincoats write about it for the grubby papers – ‘Are there orgies down your street? Tell us any day 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on 071 782 4498 (News of the World).’ The shoe-wearing classes are assumed to keep this sort of thing well tucked in, like a shirt-tail, and undiscussed, except sotto voce with a close friend …” 

It isn’t so much that men (such as Weinstein) fear being discovered to have bonked, Woods wrote, as the fear of being forever tarred by those shudder-making lower-class headlines and pictures of Karen or Debbie (as it might be) who looked like one’s cleaning-woman or her daughter. No man in public life, no merchant banker, no Harley Street doctor (or film producer), wanted to see his own haunted photograph slammed up alongside that of Ms. A. and Ms. B. posing and smiling in their favourite undies. …Given the Weinstein coverage it seems that nowadays everyone is more comfortable in demanding the salacious details of what was once called ‘mucky things’, and one would like to believe for the right reasons, rather than, as Woods implied, a means of keeping Kevin and Sharon in a permanent state of arousal.

Monday, October 16

Ophelia arrives

Out cold till half-eight this morning. Must have needed a kip. Weird light, the sky remains ominously dark – like looking through coloured cellophane. Breezy too, as forecast, swirling columns of autumn leaves and a constant roar. Fingers crossed the power cables hold as I’ve things to do. Fortunately I haven’t time to read the papers, those harbingers of doom and gloom with their increasingly dystopian look on life. If you were incubating inside someone’s womb you’d refuse to leave. Who needs Russians and their fake news when we’ve our own fifth column promulgating dissent and fostering resentment.

Saturday, October 14

Football and curry

This morning’s drive to Tavistock necessitated fog lights fore and aft. Town seems to have doubled its population (half term?), and the traffic – much of which was probably passing through en route to Plymouth (Christmas shopping already?) – nose to tail. Secured a pheasant for tomorrow’s lunch, my primary goal, and stocked up on pork chops. Two-quid for an hour’s parking is a bit rich, not least as there’s nothing in town worth hanging about for – little to buy or see. Returned home in time to catch Football Focus and the start of the racing, before donning boots and setting off again into the mist. Decent walk ... it cleared once we were up on the moor. You can’t waste these afternoons. Returned home in time for the results (way to go, Palace) and a mutton curry.

Friday, October 13

The modern-day Samuel Johnsons and James Boswells

Another coffee shop has opened in town, while elsewhere a pub closes. Changing demographics/ lifestyle … it’s back to the 18th Century and the Age of Enlightenment. Yeah, right! I took my Americano to the river bank and watched as they craned a line of moored vessels across the road to the boat yard and into winter storage. Gudgeon can while away an entire morning watching other folks work. Picked up supplies and came back the long way, calling in at Bovey – then through the mist past Haytor, Widecombe, Ponsworthy, Leusdon, Poundsgate… The 21mpg route. Dartmoor’s looking pretty spectacular just now, albeit a tad breezy. A fair number of visitors about.

Return of the dementia tax

“Buying rather than renting is rooted in our psyche.” Social housing’s principal attribute is to light a fire under its residents, to reinforce the message: that if you’ve any sense of aspiration, you don’t want to be here. “A vital sense of ambition can make the difference,” says Philip Collins. “Too many young people are limited not so much by the range of their talents but by the narrowness of their horizons.” That the sum of your striving should then be summarily confiscated is no way to foster ambition.

Same old, same old...

Autumn has barely begun and the papers are already predicting catastrophe at the NHS: “The NHS is more scared than we have ever been…” They fear the annual flu jab is a waste of time. “An evaluation of last year’s programme, seen by The Daily Telegraph, shows pensioners who had the jab fared no better than those who did not. Protection rates were far higher among children, with 66 per cent protection, the figures show. This year’s vaccine is similar to last year’s, which failed to effectively counter strains like those which have recently proved virulent in Australia.” …I’ve always signed up to annual vaccinations as I assume our local GPs get paid in part on meeting box-ticking targets – to help them out. However my local lad has proved singularly lacking in the service he provides. More of a gatekeeper to someone who knows what he’s talking about that the solid family practitioner of old. The fabled NHS itself is long past its sell-by date and chucking more money at the thing will solve nothing.

Thursday, October 12

Mundane stuff

Up town for supplies and a visit to the dentist, optician and barber, a tank of diesel, to collect a case of wine on special offer – 25% off. I may not be drinking but you have to plan ahead: Christmas is coming. Sales and promotions appear less plentiful these days, probably because everyone’s already operating on low margins. We had a new floor laid this week and the lad required money up front for materials. Cash flow: the bane of every small businessman. …Out on the moor after lunch (jambon persillé – brawn to you and me). Some days I can almost fly through the bogs and mires; some days it’s a real challenge and I return home well and truly fucked. …With the hunt season beginning next month, neighbours are exercising hounds – quad bikes, hunting horns and baying mutts. …The neighbourhood has become younger, the production of infants is on the rise. Young mothers dressed like Sherpas carry the mites in metal-framed packs on their shoulders. Let’s hope the kids are afforded the opportunity to enjoy this place as much as I do before it’s concreted over.

Wednesday, October 11

Voters may balk at the higher taxes required

You think? ...Free housing, food, transport and access to the internet should be given to British citizens in a massive expansion of the welfare state … Former senior government official Jonathan Portes and academics from University College London make the call for a raft of new “universal basic services” using the same principles as the NHS. They estimate it would cost about £42bn, which could be funded by changes to the tax system. The recommendations include doubling Britain’s existing social housing stock with funding to build 1.5m new homes, which would be offered for free to those in most need. A food service would provide one third of meals for 2.2m households deemed to experience food insecurity each year, while free bus passes would be made available to everyone, rather than just the over-60s. The proposals also include access to basic phone services, the internet, and the cost of the BBC licence fee being paid for by the state. 

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said the recommendations would “help inform Labour’s thinking”. ...Britain is in debt to the tune of £2tn and all I hear is spend, spend, spent. Give it a week and Theresa May will be spouting something similar to McDonnell. New Tories: like Old Labour, but with expensive suits.

Tuesday, October 10

Long shots, conjecture and ancient rivalries

Two goals up at half-time (I’m watching Holland v Sweden). Can’t see the cloggies pulling it off – but where there’s hope, as they say. Have also dusted off my Ecuador scarf in anticipation of a win later this evening for Los Amarillos.

Britain is fucked, says the IMF. …It’s a wolf, a wolf I tell you.

Dropped in on the BP Portrait Award at the Royal Albert this morning. As someone who never got beyond drawing stick figures in art class, am always blown away by portrait painting. I can understand why the judges selected the winners, although Jorge Abbad-Jaime de Aragón’s portrait of Antonio López García is a bit tasty. …I know it’s wrong of me, but charging £5 entry fee (£3 for the kiddies) appears to have reduced the gallery footfall by (I reckon) 75%. Absolute bliss for the remaining 25% of us.

Our dystopian capital city

“Otherwise known as the world of Blade Runner – a lonely place without home or humanity.” Tim Stanley, sticking it to the capital. “Personally, I hate London. Despise it. How could you ever love a city where the poor pay astronomical rents to live four to a damp-filled room, a stone’s throw from the glass palaces of the rich? They have torn down the old capital and rebuilt it in the image of Dubai, a place where no matter what the purpose of a building – library, school, florist – it looks like an airport lounge.” ...Oh for the good old days. When we paid astronomical rents to live two to a damp-filled room.

Monday, October 9

Genetics

“A good big ’un will always beat a good little ’un,” says Gordon Strachan. I suspect Scotland’s chance of breeding an exception to the rule – a Messi, Xavi or Iniesta – is on a par with England’s – and once you’ve conquered technique, exhausted the limits of tactical advantage, strength and height is all.

Sunday, October 8

Autumn fare

Flushed a snipe this morning, the first I’ve seen this autumn. As a taster for the changing season (and to clear space in the freezer) Mrs G. has cut up a number of veal tails and cheeks, and lit a fire under the cauldron. Melt in the mouth stuff that should see us through the next couple of days. Goes well with a nice Rhone, or would do if I hadn’t been conned into joining the Sober for October bandwagon.

And why not

A wonderful Sunday morning with hardly a breath of wind. Wispy pink clouds and what’s left of the harvest moon. If you ignore running water from a distant brook and those pesky crows, silence reigns. Autumn is writ large amongst the trees as for once we’ve retained some colour, the moor glows like antique-gold. Mrs G. insists we put don our boots and head off into the wilderness.

Saturday, October 7

We live in hope

This morning’s FT leads with a story about Germany rejecting May’s transition hopes. Seems that while Barnier isn’t averse, Merkel (and Macron) will block any attempt to fast-track trade talks. This could be the Prime Minister’s salvation, Germany and France affording May her ‘Falklands’ opportunity: the country rallying behind what would be viewed as an attack on the UK. A couple of Churchillian ‘Fight them on the beaches’ from Boris, and everyone will be on the streets waving pitchforks – Thatcher-style landslide for the Conservatives. The girl’s luck has to change some time.

Friday, October 6

Today's visitors

There are still plenty of insects in the yard, which is just as well as the trees are full of Long-tailed Tits. Skulking beneath them in the hedge, tiny Goldcrests. A Green Woodpecker is on the deck feasting on ants.

Gudgeon's supper: pork belly and black pudding, with eight types of mushrooms.

Thursday, October 5

Cavemen and Cowboys

You don’t need to read Roland Barthes to understand why tough-man getup appeals. It’s timeless. Whether it’s cavemen, cowboys or Crimean war Hussars, leather and militaristic attire has always come with a massive dollop of machismo and who doesn’t like that? Well, lots of men, it turns out. Indeed, modern masculinity spans feminist lads to “ultra-dads” and recent YouGov research found only two per cent of 18-24-year-olds describe themselves as “completely masculine”. 

Probably best not to comment ... But a bright pink parka! Seriously?

You learn to love moss

Wet and windy this morning; just as well I got off my backside yesterday. Please tell me that was the last time I have to mow the lawn till spring 2018 (at which time I will definitely shell out for a new ride-on). The place is looking half-decent, though I have to concede the moss has won. A score draw on the mole front, and two dead badgers along the lane. The traffic’s increased this past couple of years and motor vehicles rather than culling appears the brocks’ biggest threat. Ditto with livestock on the moor.

Wednesday, October 4

This isn’t exactly a rallying cry

For god’s sake put the girl out of her misery.

Leaky footwear

It’s darker and chillier these mornings, the birds remain quiet till half-six. Buzzards and crows lead the chorus. We need a couple of dry days … I was out walking on the moor yesterday (no shortage of frogs). The livestock have left their mark – as though bogs and mires aren’t enough. I need new boots.

Tuesday, October 3

Existential fears

Not quite two sides of the same coin.

My latest read seems prescient?

An extract from the introduction. Unbelievably, it’s a novel.

The mid-seventies saw the culmination of an apparent spiritual awakening in Europe and America … a shift away from the dominant patriarchal-reductive-consumerist model … to a real engagement with principles such as mercy, compassion and right action. It was, looking back a far more hopeful time than might be imagined, and as we entered the Regan/Thatcher years, hope seemed more essential than ever to the fabric of decent life … (to) combat the existence of that soul sickness which lies, almost necessarily, at the heart of a competitive, poisoned, overcrowded society … the public realm, the political and social, corrupted beyond redemption.

Doesn’t sound as though it’s going to be a page-turner, nor an era to which, as Corbyn urges, we should return. ‘A far more hopeful time’ my arse. A plague of boils more like.

Monday, October 2

Another critter bites the dust

OK, so it’s not exactly big-game hunting – and I do cut them slack; but when my carrots are threatened, the mole gets it.

The 21st Century and we’re reinventing the wheel

Yes, I know – juvenile crap and I shouldn’t give it house room. However… “We could also start thinking seriously about redistributive measures: from a cap on wages, a high inheritance tax, to a more progressive taxation system.”    While I’m sure big Len and the lads at Unite would warm to the bit about capping wages, in ‘fairness’ to The Guardian, it isn’t easy to fill all those column inches each and every day; and it also serves as a reminder to the Conservatives about the need to repeat simple truths. I guess the government could reinvigorate the Sure Start scheme with a view to indoctrinating the mites and their mothers from the outset. Unfortunately Labour got there first.