Sunday, December 31

Booze makes us more right-wing?

“Personally this jars with my own experience; since conservatism is associated with higher levels of fear – conservatives’ brains perceive threats more than those of liberals – I think I tend to become more liberal as I drink more. Of course in the morning, when I wake up in bed still wearing all my clothes and my mouth tasting like sandpaper, that’s a different matter.”

Hogmanay…

Clean house…tick; settle debts…tick; drink glass of whisky with slice of fruitcake…(at appropriate time); schedule early night.

The traditional four days of goose eventually gave way to smoked eel and veal burgers. Today it’s beef, a rib roast – the last hurrah. Fittingly, an ’89 Ch. Gruaud-Larose.

Saturday, December 30

Cocktails…

An archaic genre? I promised Mrs G. at least one cocktail over the festive period. The finest gin, equal measures of red vermouth and Campari, served in iced glasses. A rash bet at Haydock Park.

Friday, December 29

What a morning…

Dartmoor at its best. Wild and windy it may be but I slept the sleep of the dead. Crawl out of bed in the dark, switch on the kettle, light a fire and you're off and running. In the words of Ike and Tina, providing I get enough kip, ‘There ain’t no mountain high enough.’ Gudgeon can spout cliches with the best of 'em.

Caught in a downpour this morning. Although it’s supposed to be a toasty 4°C, the gales have determined otherwise (rain-hail-sleet-snow). Returned home saturated. Sky has now cleared and the sun is shining.

Wednesday, December 27

Woke to a blizzard … real snow at last

Don’t you just love this time of year. Especially the power cuts. Ban my wood stove on pain of death.

Tuesday, December 26

Grade 1 winner for local girl

Bryony Frost rides and wins her first Grade 1 on Black Corton.

Still feasting

Over the years I’ve tried every commercial brand and have come to the conclusion that, if you are going to drink Buck’s Fizz, you have to buy real oranges and squeeze them yourself. Also reinforced my belief that H. Forman & Son are the only people for smoked salmon. Today sees a repeat of the goose, this time with spiced tangerines and a spectacular Burgundy wine.

Finally got around to finishing Kieran Fallon’s autobiography. A litany of the usual suspects: incompetent medics, dodgy policemen and a corrupt establishment. It’s a decent read and well written for a change. Thanks to Santa the library has been replenished.

Monday, December 25

Seaweed, miso and even kimchi


Millennials are changing what we eat. Like most, I’ve travelled and absorbed influences from around the world, from around Britain; and yes I’m big on pickled stuff (there’s six or more varieties between the store cupboard, fridge and pantry, all homemade)…we eat sauerkraut every week. Giving up dairy products would be a problem, however, given my daily consumption of milk, yogurt, butter and cheese. I increasingly eat less meat and that’s more to do with portion control than frequency. The biggest switch in recent years is the absence of seasonings in the sense of sauces and spices to jazz things up – a ladle of supermarket gloop. The quality of food in this neck of the woods is so good it would be sacrilege, you’d miss the point.

Christmas Day permeates the homestead. Despite my condiment reticence, traditional lunch wouldn’t be the same without bread sauce, apple sauce, and sage and onion stuffing. Millennial food doesn't quite cut it at this time of year.

I’d be even more the grump sans our customary exchange of Xmas presents. It may ‘only’ be the traditional socks and books, a crate of vino and box of chocs, but we’re all just kids at heart. Thanks for the festive texts. Best wishes to everyone.

Sunday, December 24

We live, as we dream – alone

How good to have the house quiet
all to myself again, to be able to walk
towards a room and know
I shall be the only one there
no movement except my movement
no sounds except the sounds I make
(Geoffrey Squires)

Cheap at half the price

The cost of decent meals runs between £3-500/day, excluding the price of the food! By the simple expedient of providing Mrs G. with fresh flowers and a steady supply of Pol Roger, it seems I’m quids in.

Saturday, December 23

Keep your head down and mind the accent

Mrs G. is still cooking up a storm (late shift). Ever eager to enter into the festive spirit, she’s decorated her toque blanche with tinsel. You think I jest? I never jest. Not so much Swedish Chef as Scottish woman with vast array of sharp implements within reach. And talking of Scottish chefs… ‘Nick Nairn decked on the corner of Union Row.’ Aberdeen nightlife obviously hasn’t changed over the years (Mrs G. lived on Union Row and I worked round the corner). Never a place to loiter at chucking out time.

The ghost of Christmas present

Five days on the trot, up town, – on or before 09:00hrs. By up town I mean Tuesday to Exeter, Wednesday Newton Abbot, Thursday Plymouth, Friday Totnes and this morning to Tavistock. If I haven’t got it by now we’re doing without. Today’s excursion was to collect our goose from the Beaworthy lad. It may be a beaut but by the middle of next week I’ll be sick of the thing. Today is Pie Day – three of my favourites. So little time, so much scoff. There’s a picture of Godrew Smith in today’s Times obits, and by rights I should more resemble the doughty trencherman than the waif I am. …Smith believed that enjoyment was an essential component of editorial life. Thus his fortnightly ideas sessions, held in the office, involved caterers bringing in rare beef, York ham, salads and chilled Chablis; office gossip took precedence over editorial matters; features were conjured up on a wave of exuberance. “He had an utter enveloping joviality,” said one of his reporters, Philip Norman, adding, “He was the ghost of Christmas present.” Reminds me of a place we once knew.

Friday, December 22

Dad dancing...

I’m a sucker for Xmas. As soon as Noddy Holder and Roy Wood hit the airwaves I’m a goner. Not sure about the perennial George Michael (currently playing), who was more a soundtrack to the young lads in the office. The young lads are now in their mid 50s and probably still fantasising about being shacked up in a ski chalet with someone special. A sad bunch the lot of us Abba fans all.

Thursday, December 21

Christmas fare

I collected my portion of a slaughtered steer from the neighbour this morning. Grazed wild on Dartmoor, his beef is always a bit special. Like most things in life we’re continually told are not good for us, the taste of seared saturated fat is a real treat – and not just the half-dozen sirloin steaks, nor the fillet, the three-rib roast and rolls of brisket, the tail and cheeks… There’s a festive crate of Deuxième Cru Classé Bordeaux waiting in readiness.

Wednesday, December 20

Not there yet

To Newton Abbott, chauffeuring Mrs G. to Teasy-Weasy’s salon for her Christmas makeover; then Totnes for groceries and gossip; before returning to a spell of heavy-lifting in the yard. The homestead may be semi-isolated but you wouldn’t think so judging from the number of delivery vans, everyone trying to square things away prior to the fateful day. Too many places to go, things to do, before we are allowed to relax.

Heating the UK's housing stock

Landlords must improve the energy efficiency of F and G rated homes from next April under new regulations designed to protect vulnerable tenants and cut carbon emissions. Good luck with that one. Exhibit A is a copy of the homestead’s energy rating certificate from when we moved in several years ago. I doubt two coats of paint have improved things appreciably. Although Gudgeon goes on a bit about my fondness for ye olde wood stove, life at the homestead would be damn uncomfortable without one. The WHO standard on warmth (room temperature comfort level) is 18°C (64°F) for normal, healthy adults who are appropriately dressed. At this time of year, however, we fluctuate between 9-13°C. Throw a log on the fire and the homestead becomes a magical 21°C, my ideal medium. I could of course improve the energy efficiency, but – as the energy efficiency survey attests – only by razing the place to the ground and rebuilding. ...Truth is the two of us are significantly warmer here than in the barn (our previous home), where we were obliged to decamp to a tiny back bedroom every winter in order to survive. Damn green taxes...George bloody Monbiot.

Tuesday, December 19

Keeping calm and carrying on

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the traditional shit happens moments. Our ancient boiler has given up the ghost and the only man in England who can fix the damn thing (has spares) is missing till January. Merely a question of wearing a thicker sweater, throwing more logs on the fire and downing another glass of antifreeze.

To a local Farmers’ Market with the boss yesterday. If there’s one thing guaranteed to spark an explosion it’s when purchasing two-steak packs and the stallholder asks if madam is happy with a boy’s steak and a girl’s steak mix. I always walk away. Mrs G. is a 103lb size 6 who out-eats me by a margin and has a punch to match, a tongue-lashing was the least of his problems.

Sunday, December 17

Sunday morning political shows

Whenever my fealty to the Conservative Party is tested, up pops Richard Burgon. I’ve never claimed to be anything special, but what a shower. Those that know him assure me Corbyn’s a bit of a thicko, has no sense of humour, and is the least likely you’d call to team up with for a pint on the way home from work – not least if he’s accompanied by Diane Abbott or David Lammy (and yes, Liz Kendall makes Abbott appear a polymath). Can you imagine these guys running the country? I’ll concede Emily Thornberry is a formidable old battle axe, in the same sense Nurse Ratched was a metaphor for the corrupting influence of power and authority in mental institutions. But is this really the best we can do?

Even the mighty

Marvellous! First time I’ve seen a nuthatch driven from the feeder, beating a retreat in the face of overwhelming odds – a veritable swarm of long-tailed tits.

Saturday, December 16

Way to go Eagles

Christmas is pure indulgence, and nothing spells extravagance like Seggiano antipasta, bellota ibérico ham, mature Manchego, and the classiest bread (and butter) imaginable.

Wrapping up warm

The traffic warden was quick out the block this morning, ticketing everyone who was slow getting out of bed. Two old girls in front of me at the Kwik-E-Mart admitted they hadn’t gotten up til lunchtime yesterday as it was too cold. It’s a toasty 3°C today, though it doesn’t feel particularly warm – a barefoot young woman wearing nothing but skimpy underwear earned my respect, as she rummaged through the boot of her car presumably looking for a wet suit. Young lad next door is home from boarding school for the holidays, and when not racing past on his pony is careering down the lane in dad’s Massey Ferguson. I’d feel reassured if I thought he could see over the dashboard. Chill it may be, but there’s barely a cloud in the sky.

It’s a thought

From Lynn Barber at the Speccie... Oh really, Dougie, how exactly would you deal with crime? I’d get a big barren island off Scotland somewhere and drop all the criminals on to it from a helicopter at 100 feet. Wouldn’t they get injured? Yes — the ones that survived could eat the others. And then I’d have tour boats cruising round the island and every passenger would be given a rifle and whoever shot the most criminals would win a prize.

The West is becoming dumber

Seems we’re not as smart as we thought. Timothy Bates suggests it may be something to do with the decline in Grammar Schools, failing to stretch our most able. Of course other theories are available.

Deserving charity fights its corner

Legions of writers of literary fiction are waiting to be discovered, just as soon as they actually write something. I could be the next Harper Lee, would-be authors bemoan, if only someone would pay my rent – and bring back the net book agreement, levy a tax on Amazon, stop people reading crime and romance, vegging out on box sets, playing Candy Crush, voting for Brexit-inspired recessions… I blame Thatcher.

Friday, December 15

It’s tough, being a girl

We all went to school with girls like Suzanna Leigh. Unfortunately there weren’t enough routes to accommodate so many ambitions. Have come across a number of old faces in recent years: one or two made it, many more crashed and burned.

Mangers in stables

Friday fish: salmon en croute, washed down with a livener from the Côte-d'Or. An afternoon following horse racing on the box. Reward for a busy morning ... in town for supplies. Too many pavements obstructed by the sort of people Cher used to sing about, the ones that sell lucky heather and mistletoe. Bumped into an old neighbour who has long since returned to the city – the lad was looking for a berth for tonight. Had to explain that, as he hadn’t managed to cross the homestead’s threshold during our five years as neighbours, the chance of his kipping on my sofa was on a par with the Blues achieving promotion.

Blind leading the blind

Bereft of any particular talent, at least in relation to my cohort, I’ve always regarded myself as the archetypal Mr Average. This comes with a tendency to defer to the ‘experts’. The older I get, however, the more I realise how shallow their arguments, how flawed the assumptions.

Thursday, December 14

Best laid plans…

Chilly day, rain, sleet and snow. Neighbours out in force, exercising their steeds. We are entertaining at home – corks popping, roast in oven, when the power fails. Trees have to be cut down. Lunch defaults to oat cakes and tinned sardines. You can’t keep a good crowd down, however, not least when they’re suitably oiled and dancing by candle light to the beat of a transistor radio. Reminds me of the 1970s, what life would be like if that little fucker from Islington took over. “I had no idea it was so gloomy,” says Bjorn. You don’t know the half of it matey.

Wednesday, December 13

Snowflakes’ invitation to infirmity

According to Philip Larkin “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” Frank Furedi, however, believes it’s well-intentioned campaigners demanding more health-resources that do the real damage. “What children need from adults is not a diagnosis but inspiration and leadership. Instead of obsessing over children’s vulnerability and fragility, we should be cultivating their resilience, and encouraging them to develop a real sense of independence and selfhood.” Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

Exploring a premise

Nicola Sturgeon has been given a warning by her chief economist that raising income tax for high earners risks losing millions of pounds for the Scottish economy. Tomorrow’s budget is likely to result in anyone who earns more than about £33,000 being asked to pay extra. Those on salaries of £75,000 or £100,000 are expected to pay considerably more than they do now. ...Last night’s national news featured a couple of Glaswegians bemoaning the cost of living, rents, utilities and food, demanding that “Something must be done!” Which we assume is code for someone else must pay. Sturgeon now has the opportunity to test-run Labour’s premise that, in the interest of fairness, anyone earning above the mean should pay higher taxes to support those on low pay; and that the ‘rich’, however much you squeeze them, will stay put rather than move.

Tuesday, December 12

Welcome back Anne Marie

“Why the Tories are wrong to restore the whip to Anne Marie Morris,” writes James Forsyth. “Restoring the whip to Morris less than six months after it was taken away from her suggests that the Tories are not taking this incident as seriously as they should. This is the wrong call both politically and morally. Morally, this kind of casual use of racist language is deplorable bad manners. Politically, it is foolish because it makes the party look tolerant of racist language at a time when the progress it made with ethnic minority voters under David Cameron is being reversed.” …On the face of it who would disagree? And yet I take issue with Forsyth over his assumption that Morris used the phrase deliberately. Newton Abbot is hardly a multicultural community, and avoidance of the archaic term in question would not necessarily be as hardwired as it undoubtedly is in Forsyth’s Islington, not least when you’re married to Robert Peston’s sidekick. Even Gudgeon slips up occasionally. I give myself a slap and move on. I really hope the Spectator doesn’t feel it has to publish this sort of shit as a counterweight to Douglas Murray.

The mind boggles

Jeremy Corbyn, the angry grandpa.

18th Century hospitality

As much as I enjoy my visits to the City of Bath, nothing will induce me to read Jane Austen. Like most young boys at school I stuck to my feral half of the classroom, scrapping with the lad next to me, both of us clutching a football in one hand and our logarithm tables in the other – while the girls sat huddled in their corner reading 18th Century romance novels. A significant number of these girls became school teachers and wreaked their revenge by feminising our classrooms and emasculating our sons. Purely on the strength of Jennifer Ehle’s heaving bosom, I did once watch BBC’s presentation of Pride and Prejudice. There’s a scene where Mrs Bennet’s sister rushes to the Longbourn estate to inform one and all that Mr Bingley is returning to Netherfield. Bingley’s arrival is preceded by zillions of tradesmen and estate workers getting the place in order. It springs to mind because the neighbour has decided to host a traditional ‘family’ Christmas this year and a team of gardeners have been labouring on the grounds for days, a steady supply of workmen engaged in prettying the battlements, a giant festive fir installed in the yard, and convoys of liveried vans delivering victuals and hooch… Methinks it’s time to dust off the dinner jacket and inveigle an invite.

Monday, December 11

Learning to love Beck’s Blue

At this time of year we’re hit with the traditional drink-driving warnings, today’s Telegraph pointing the finger at poor public transport provision, not least in rural areas. Unfortunately public transport doesn’t exist in this neck of the woods, let along at closing time, so you can assume most everyone leaving the Dog & Duck and climbing into their motor is at risk. If you’ve had a skinfull you’ll bum a lift or call for a taxi, obviously. But after just two pints…? Our one and only restaurant also poses a problem, in that a drink with your meal costs £50 – £25 for the bottle of wine and £25 for a taxi. Can’t say I’ll ever grow to love Beck’s Blue, but you reach an accommodation of sorts.

Sunday, December 10

Back online

A pleasant, sunny morning … assuming you discount the 60mph wind, the resulting power cut and zero services. On the plus side, I didn’t have to listen to that pious ingratiate Andrew Marr.

Saturday, December 9

Different universe

As a plebeian stalwart, I must take issue with Max Hastings: “…scarcely anyone active in British politics dares to tell voters important truths, foremost among these that Brexit will make them poorer. Moderate Tory MPs remain imprisoned by the party’s right, masquerading as tribunes of the plebs…” The vote to LEAVE was taken despite the best efforts of project fear and with an appreciation of the downside. A reduction of GDP in support of me and mine was understood and accepted. The unpredictable and frightening part will come when we take the hit and our expectations remain unfulfilled.

Minor inconvenience

As there’s no wind it’s a toasty 1°C this morning, a mere four layers of clothing. I’ve a couple of things to take care off, but that chair by the stove already beckons. Mistimed my run into town for papers and milk, cut off by a neighbour returning his herd to pasture after milking, another deciding to match twenty bullocks in a show of strength against the motor, then the stables exercising steeds… Trust me, these minor inconveniences beats shivering on Charing Cross concourse at this time of year, a chirpy voice from the tannoy informing me my train is cancelled. I wouldn’t like to calculate the amount of hard-earned pocket money that’s crossed the station bars at Charing Cross and Cannon Street while waiting on a ride home – as a number of you have reminded me this week.

Friday, December 8

Rest and Recreation

Training exercise descends into mass brawl.

Traditional festive panic

Leftover ducks’ legs with lots of cabbage this evening … a lesser spotted Burgundy (the Puligny Montrachet was exceptional, tonight’s Chassagne Montrachet less so). Up town shopping today, panic time in the Christmas present stakes. What do you buy the woman who has everything? There are racks of designer gear that has never seen the light of day. Am sure every other guy is in the same quandary – doubtless a lack of imagination on my part. But then you can get a bit bonkers about Christmas.

Thursday, December 7

Ducks' legs again

Tough walk today: having to wade through the mire, contend with fast running water (longer run-up) and a strong headwind. Bumped into a couple of likely sorts with very large packs and one serious runner, otherwise it’s pretty quiet. Nice to see the sun for five minutes, snow and ice is due this evening. Am on kitchen duty (my repertoire shrinks as Mrs G’s grows). Ducks’ legs and carrots, an old favourite – find something you can handle with a degree competence and keep banging it out. I’ve a fresh and cheery Pinot Noir from Puligny Montrachet that will suit fine.

The Christmas Markets to come

Ed West saying the unsayable.

All good fun

The utility room is full of wet clothing after I was dragged from my pit during the night (Storm Caroline arrived). No way Neil Diamond’s going on the turntable today. Stumbling about in the dark with a ladder while pissed on from a great height is not my idea of fun – the yard is flooded this morning. What doesn’t kill you, as they say.

Wednesday, December 6

Older women more likely to be poor

“Older women are more likely to be poor, socially isolated, badly housed, unhealthy and die sooner because of a lifetime of lower pay and unequal working conditions than older men, according to a new report … cumulative poverty and disadvantage throughout life mean that many will suffer poor health, financial insecurity, weak social connections and ultimately a shorter life.”

And yet the thing that always struck me, at Kings Cross Station, when anticipating the arrival of Mother-in-law on one of her royal visits from sunny Aberdeen, was how, when the carriage doors opened, it was five elderly men and five hundred grey-haired grannies that stepped onto the platform.

Clock is ticking on the shopping stakes

Pollution wipes out the benefits of walking, a new study suggests. To determine the impact of pollution on exercise, researchers asked 119 people to take a two-hour stroll along Oxford Street, a busy shopping area that regularly breaches dangerous pollution levels. …It’s easy to poo-poo this sort of academic garbage, but even I would be dumb not to recognise the difference in air quality between the homestead and South London Mansions, let alone my old stomping ground Oxford Street. The danger to my health at this time of year, however, has less to do with pollution, as the stress invoked battling ten zillion other Oxford Street shoppers, everyone desperate to find presents for our nearest and dearest

Tuesday, December 5

Festive excess

Mugged in the yard by a flock of long-tailed tits. They always travel mob-handed, moving in rapid surges through trees and over hedges, descending en masse to snaffle the feed. Cute little characters. In Devon, for whatever reason, they call them Bum Towels?

To Newton Abbot and Exeter for supplies – just think how tough it was in the old days before Amazon and white-van-man. Picked up a second Christmas tree for Mrs G. That’s two Fraser Fir non-drop trees…two sets of flashing lights…more baubles than Aladdin’s cave.

Dotting the i's and crossing the t's

Hopefully the kerfuffle in Brussels is a fuss about nothing and an agreement is close. Not being party to discussions, I’d bet a large part of the current hiccup is down to Theresa May’s well publicised ineptitude as regards her inability to relate to other human beings, those boasts about not being clubbable rebounding on the girl. Arlene Foster suggested May has made zero attempt to crack open a bottle and get to know her; Nicola Sturgeon made a similar remark.

Monday, December 4

Out on the hills today...

When you come back, 
Your hands smell 
Of walking gloveless.
                   Aidan Mathews

Sunday, December 3

Style

Am listening to Mourinho on the box (MOTD)… Having watched ‘Bullitt’ this weekend for the 54th time, had decided that has to be Jose’s natural environment (1968 San Francisco). Mrs G, however, assures me the boy’s a natural Tony Curtis type ‘Persuaders’ man?

Sunday lunch: baked ham with lashings of parsley sauce, washed down with an obvious nutty, creamy oaky thing ... an overlaying citrus and apple, with a nice sour, cabbage nuance, adding to a complex, savoury note – zesty fruit, but with a cashew and Brazil nut character and a burst of refreshing, almost tangerine/lime acidity... Jesus, it’s a bottle of wine!

Saturday, December 2

Weekend warriors

A couple of degrees up this morning. Not that I fancied following the kayak stalwarts onto the Dart. Weekend warriors on horses, bicycles and in canoes; a fair few walkers, too.

A rare visitor to the homestead: the last dunnock I saw here was back in the spring, and it was promptly killed by sparrows, sans bows and arrows.

Old friends – good friends from the ’80s – appear out of the blue, behaving as though there has been no gap. When do ‘old friends’ become vague memories – someone I once knew – as opposed to the mi casa es tu casa sort?

Friday, December 1

It’s all go…

First day of winter, the yuletide season – and it’s bloody cold. To market this morning, the fishmonger and baker, the barber’s (gossip and jokes) and florist. Home for lunch (caldo verde), then off to Haldon to acquire a Christmas tree, before rushing back for the World Cup Draw.