Wednesday, November 29

A hard frost this morning

We are knee-deep in birds of every description, yours truly being dispatched to Ike Godsey’s for peanuts and seeds to keep our feathered friends happy. Nuthatches dominate the feeders, two song thrush bully everything on the ground. A fox stole into the porch and took a fat ball from the box – he was closely followed by a line of impeccably-dressed riders on large hunters, driving a riotous pack of hounds. An impressive sight whatever your persuasion. Have now lagged pipes and sorted garden machinery, returned to the market and stocked up on provisions, chopped lots of wood and fed multiple stoves. ...Veal olives for supper, washed down with a glass of Pommeroy’s Plonk. Everton v West Ham on the wireless.

Tuesday, November 28

A familiar story

Young people in ‘left-behind Britain’ face worst life chances. I thought Alan Milburn wouldn’t be far away. I wish the lad luck but, having lived in Walsall, Rhyl and Great Yarmouth, I can assure him it’s been this way for the past fifty years. You get an education (or not), leave, and don’t go back. Blair made a stab at moving jobs to the provinces, only to see them privatised, rationalised or outsourced overseas. Not sure there’s anything you can do to change this without inspirational leadership; and local talent, obviously, becomes scarcer with every generation. Finkelstein talks about an inequality of esteem?

Wake up call

Am mentally unprepared for winter. Have yet to lag the outside pipes or doctor my garden machinery with fuel stabiliser; need to check the roof and the drains, change water-filters and flush the system…yada yada yada. Two things strike me as regards my tardiness. The first is that, post-2008 and the subsequent Brexit vote, we’ve become conditioned to a diet of doom and gloom from our cheer-leading reptiles in the MSM. Convinced we are all going to crash and burn – die in a gutter of shit, stony broke and riddled with cancer – part of us has switched off and stopped taking care of the basics. Counter-intuitively, because we’re actually still here and having fun, maybe even prospering, another part of ourselves is persuaded we are now invincible and can afford to give a belligerent finger to the man and his doomsayers, that it’s OK to engage in foolish and risky behaviour – maybe even vote for the nutjobs currently running the Labour Party? …Don’t worry I’m not that far gone. But you can see where this sort of thing leads. I need to get my arse in gear.

Sunday, November 26

Hibernating – it’s turned cold

In my pit at half-nine, out cold soon as head touched pillow – slept through to seven this morning. Catching up on the zzzs. Places to go, things to do.

Friday, November 24

Calves liver for supper

It used to be, still is, a treat – the one-time speciality of three London-based Italian Restaurants we once frequented. Small world that we inhabit, our current neighbour is contracted to supply veal to a fashionable restaurant in the same locale. While the candle-lit atmosphere – a gun taped to the lavatory cistern – is a thing of the past, thanks to the availability of similar produce and Gudgeon’s dexterity with a corkscrew, we continue to enjoy something of the flavour.

Thursday, November 23

It’s the way you tell ’em

“Reacher put his left fist on the table. The size of a supermarket chicken. Long thick fingers with knuckles like walnuts. Old nicks and scars healed white against his summer tan…” I can’t resist this crap – it’s like the compulsion you get every once in a while to order a pint of lager.

Wednesday, November 22

Singing and dancing in the rain

Despite the gales and heavy rain, nothing – not even Nerdy Hammond’s budget – is going to dampen today’s party spirit. Mrs G’s birthday celebrations kick off this morning with champagne and cinnamon rolls. The main event (result of much negotiation) features roast chicken. A decent free-range bird remains the Gudgeon family’s ultimate comfort food, especially when partnered with a dish of skirlie and glass of Meursault.

Remembering the past

On this day in 1869 the Cutty Sark was launched on the Clyde. The world’s sole surviving tea clipper and fastest vessel of her time – a testament to the twin virtues of luck and survival.

Tuesday, November 21

A homestead staple

Bleak morning on the moor – black, wet and windy. Trudging for 2-3 hours through ankle-deep sludge might not sound fun but it beats work. There’ll come a day – hopefully some zillion years from now – when I’m too old or infirm. Returned home to the familiar aroma of Comté cheese souffles fresh from the oven.

Monday, November 20

A return to the basics

The Monday morning job I’ve been putting off for an age: emptying cupboards, disassembling the ‘pain to get at’ domestic plumbing system, degunging and flushing out waste pipes – all now (hopefully) serviceable for the next year or so.

Following days of fine dining we have returned to our mundane life in the sticks, the traditional homestead diet of hardtack, aka rib-eye on ciabatta trencher, roast quail and couscous, veal sweetbreads with mushrooms in cream sauce. Further celebratory dishes are planned this coming week.

Sunday, November 19

No way to win an argument

Watching BBC’s Sunday Politics this morning … Gisela Stuart debating with Alastair Campbell. It seems that no matter how reasonable the opposition, Campbell always behaves to type – a belligerent drunk. Whatever the merits of the argument, the public will always take against an arsehole.

Saturday, November 18

There’s no fireside like your own

You couldn’t fault our accommodation in Bath: large suite of rooms in a stunning historic home, the perfect location and sublime cuisine... And yet it’s nice to be back home – feet up in front of a roaring fire, bottle of Château Thénac, racing and footy on the box. Am good for another year.

Friday, November 17

More rabbit than Sainsbury’s

Apart from their natural attributes – the sticky-out bits – there are a number of things separating the sexes. For instance, women fall out of bed every morning with a compulsion to talk – non-stop, all the time, incessantly. We ate breakfast this morning in the company of an Irish couple from Worcester: and there was little you could do, charming as she was, to shut her up. I’m not at my best in the morning. Life looked a lot better after a pint in the Dog & Duck, though there too... Then at lunch – The Ivy Bath Brasserie – with women from Chelsea and Tottenham. Fortunately by this time I was up to speed, into the swing of things so to speak. Can’t say I miss the corporate roundabout, the mass social gatherings, especially at this time of year – but today I enjoyed myself.

Believe the local Ivy has been open barely a month and is bedding in. There’s nothing wrong with the food – but that’s not why you patronise this sort of place. Great buzz, good service, decent booze…highly recommended.

Thursday, November 16

Onwards and upwards

After Wednesday night’s hijinks, today’s lunchtime session featured one of Mrs G’s favourite venues and included an outstanding dish of fresh mussels followed by a half-decent steak chocolate tart and parsnip ice cream (a passable champagne and a non-too-shabby Beaujolais). Managed to swing by Howard Hodgkin’s Indian-themed exhibition at the Victoria, before yet more shopping and a bracing (lengthy) hike back to the hotel for a costume change. Though wedding anniversary numero forty-four has several hours still to run, Gudgeon is beginning to flag.

Stranger things have happened

On the face of it US$450 million for a work of questionable provenance seems a bit rich. But then everything’s relative, especially if you have billions in the bank. Would be nice to think the successful bidder is a philanthropist who will donate Leonardo's masterpiece to his local provincial public gallery.

Wednesday, November 15

Thankfully we've a decent billet

The bogs and mires of Dartmoor are a breeze, it’s the city streets that do for me – my knees that is (an old refrain). Gudgeon has been consigned to bag-carrying duties, press ganged into one of Mrs G’s shopping expeditions. I must have tramped every street in the city of Bath today, adjourning to an occasional hostelry was scant reward.

Tuesday, November 14

Social mobility isn’t necessarily a one way bet.

Generation guilt attracts older voters to Labour. I hate these generalised diatribes by the FT. This morning’s the usual shit about working class lad made good (from slag heap to school teacher), who now laments his kids are stuck in a rut and unable to continue to climb the greasy pole. “The opportunities open to my generation are not open to my children” says ex-grammar school boy Stan. If this is such a ‘generational’ thing, Stan, exactly how many working-class kids from families with four or more children made it into grammar schools back in 1965? As Mrs Webster confirms, “I was (we were) privileged…(the privileged few)” Given the four Webster sprogs’ careers have stalled or are non-existent, what did they study at university, and why – if we are so desperate for teachers – didn’t they follow in their parents’ footsteps? I’m not unsympathetic. But rather than a sub to middle-class slackers (Corbyn voters) who should have been given better career advice, I’d much rather our money went to the hard-up Wigan pensioners and their Millennial grandchildren that never made it out of Dickens Place. Nostalgia for the Welfare State? We lost the argument a long time ago and it ain’t coming back.

Armistice Day is over

Though Monday’s not my favourite day of the week, yesterday turned out pleasant enough. Arctic air brought snow to parts of England and thankfully the homestead was not one of them. While chill in the yard, accounts and correspondence allowed me to remain warm and snug inside – I have a busy week ahead.

Given the open animosity between rival factions of the Brexit debate, I’ve been steering clear of the Dog & Duck. The arguments have been exhaustively aired and combatants ceased listening to each other long ago. Everyone has adjourned to their respective trenches to glare at the enemy and wait for the whistle to sound. 

Sunday, November 12

Loose talk

Michael Gove says  attractive Iranian woman with photogenic child who managed to get her sweaty mitts on a British passport may well have been up to no good – but it would be unwise to speculate, still less to elaborate.

Saturday, November 11

Local runners and riders

Big win for neighbourhood rider Bryony Frost at Wincanton this afternoon, on the Paul Nicholls-trained Present Man.

Reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated

Woke early this morning to find the sky blackened by a flight of starlings. As if rain clouds aren’t enough. …To Tavistock Farmers’ Market to order the Christmas goose and pick up supplies. Our weather may be bleak but the drive is always a pleasure. Returned with a joint of suitably-aged (native breed) beef to see us through the weekend. Am making the most of things before they ban my diesel-powered work horse and forbid everyone from eating naturally-reared meat. Speaking of Land Rovers … the local dealer recently offered to buy back my neighbour’s Defender for more than it cost when new, three years ago. Maybe we’re not done yet.

Letting bygones be bygones is not in his nature

While I’ll read most anything, Gordon Brown’s life and times is unlikely to make it onto my beside table. Tribal affiliations aside, the lad’s never struck me as someone you’d want to team up with for a pint on the way home from work. That said of course, Philip Hammond is unlikely to lighten your working day and have you rolling in the aisles. Wonder what the plonker has tucked up his sleeve for budget day? I see the usual beggars are already on the street demanding more cash, Barnier and his cronies at the head of the queue.

The girl in front of me in the queue at the Kwik-E-Mart yesterday morning addressed me as ‘Young Man’. Made my day.

Thursday, November 9

The Last Picture Show

Saturday morning minor’s matinees, admission 6D. Gudgeon was a regular, albeit a couple of years after this particular photo was taken. Many thanks to Andy for the Bugle Annual.

Is it me, or…

Disappointed, maybe; but surprised, surely not?

Devon's rural past

Our old neighbours from The Barn days.

Frosty feldefares

… flocking fieldfares, speckled like the thrush, Picking the red haw from the sweeing bush That come and go on winters chilling wing And seem to share no sympathy with Spring. (Clare)

I wondered how long it would be before they appeared – the frosty feldefares (Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules) that is, also known hereabouts as the blue bird. A sizeable flock descended on the hawthorn this morning – at just about the time the neighbour’s guns opened up, though in their case it’s pheasants on the receiving end. A pleasant couple of hours across the hills … returned trés wet.

Wednesday, November 8

Life has its restrictions these days

After Tuesday’s deluge, today we adjourned to Dartmouth. A grilled brill (with chips) for Gudgeon and fried mixed seafood for the Boss. As with cooked breakfasts and pasta, I probably eat chips a dozen times over the course of a year – it seems everything is now an occasional guilty pleasure instead of one time daily fare. Just as soon as I square the booze and gambling, the clergy beckons.

Suppers of old

One of my pride and joys at this time of year – a giant holly bush laden with berries – lives on borrowed time. A softly twittering flock of Wind Thrushes – Redwings, has been congregating in the surrounding woods and making tentative raids on the yard. Any time now there’ll be a mass attack, and the berries – my remaining dab of colour – will be gone.

According to Berwick the birds are delicate eating. Romans held Redwings in such esteem they kept them in giant aviaries, fattening the birds on a paste of bruised figs and flour to improve their flavour. Local delis sold em for three denarii a pop.

Tuesday, November 7

English happier since Brexit vote

Another ‘Despite Brexit’. Average ratings for quality of life in England now stand at the highest since the ONS began measuring personal well-being in 2011. Apparently more than a third of us rate our happiness 9 or 10 out of 10. In spite of evidence to the contrary, however, the ONS believes it will end in tears.

Thought for the day

“Of all the testimonies I hear from people in management, one is consistent across industries: the gap between their best workers and their next best is orders of magnitude. Getting more from the merely good, through inducements, cajolery and measurable targets, is excruciating work.” (Janan Ganesh, FT)

Sunday, November 5

Disreputable smears

It comes to something when you have to choose between politicians and the plod. Am forced to give Green the benefit of the doubt.

It beats the gym

Bracing probably best describes this morning’s walk. The strength of the northerly headwind when coupled with that slope is a perfect workout for the heart, and a sure fire way of firing up your appetite. A flock of golden plovers, rising and dipping above the pony herd … neighbours on quad bikes checking stock, much of which will be coming down past the homestead the next couple of days.

Behold virtue-applauding

‘This audience is very bougie’, Mangu-Ward said at one point, and I’m sure I felt the entire room shift as 900 people defensively clutched the arms of their seats in fleeting, painful recognition of just what a posh pursuit anti-capitalism has become ... anti-capitalism has become a fatalistic pursuit, a comforting exercise in complaint, a self-aggrandising knowingness about the lameness of life, the pastime, almost exclusively, of the time-rich and well-off, of the kind of people who have gentrified Williamsburg and annoyed their parents by becoming cultural-studies lecturers rather than corporate lawyers.

A cold snap arrives


Embrace the cold, you say. Not likely. In the deeper recesses of the yard my log pile continues to grow. Worth its weight in gold. Order of today is comfort food: beef short ribs, braised over several hours in red wine and stock...lots of root vegetables. Truly, truly, unctuous … and with very elegant fruit on the nose, dark raspberries on the palate and beautifully integrated tannins, the accompanying Burgundy ain’t bad either.

Saturday, November 4

Seasonal food

Anchovies on toast, roast partridge with rainbow chard, Cropwell Bishop – a bottle of Syrah from the Languedoc. My only problem with wine from a region bordering the Mediterranean is its 14.5% ABV rating. In a year or two we’ll be drinking something more akin to sherry than quaffable vino.

Friday, November 3

Mediocre books … derivative me-tooism

Like panning for gold in the middle of rapids … Then there is the brute fact that shelf space is limited. Every new book evicts an old, probably better one. Pity that writer. Here’s a figure to chill the blood: every literary-fiction title written in English sold an average of 263 copies in 2015. There are more virgins in parliament than that.

Wednesday, November 1

Back in the saddle


Hurrah! November has arrived and gosoberforoctober is history. A bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Gudgeon is ready to face the festive season (6.0lbs lighter). The loss of October’s beer money to charity was prudently laid off on a wager with Mrs G., and a case of Gevrey-Chambertin from a highly-rated domaine is now parked beneath my desk. A large part of the fun is planning suitable meals to match the different vintages.

I know it’s fashionable to blame the boomers for everything, but maybe we really are a privileged generation. Let’s face it, we had a far better time in the old days than the current crop of candy-arsed ‘You touched my knee’ tosspots have now.

Local democracy in action

News release from local overlords…

Last night, South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council voted on the proposal to create one new council. The results are as follows: 

• In South Hams 19 councillors voted to submit a proposal to the secretary of state, 8 voted against and 3 councillors abstained 
• In West Devon 13 councillors voted to submit a proposal to the secretary of state and 18 voted against the proposal 

This means that the proposal to create one new council for South Hams and West Devon will not be submitted to the Secretary of State. Councillors from both authorities now need some time to regroup and talk to their members before making any further statements about what this outcome means. 

Chortle, chortle, chortle… South Hams consulted the ratepayers on said proposal and then disregarded our 90% negative response, only to be thwarted by the bride.