Wednesday, February 28

Fighting the cold

Given the weather, rib-sticking food is a necessity. Mrs G. has her cauldron simmering in the oven: mutton chops, a mixture of Scottish Blackface and Whiteface Dartmoor … barley, carrots, onions and turnips … herb dumplings. A bottle of something from the Northern Rhone sits waiting. 

Tuesday, February 27

Calm before the storm

After completing morning chores, Tenzing treated himself to a two-hour jog across the moor. Thanks to the beast from the east I have the place to myself. Nice day in that you’re as likely to suffer sunburn as frostbite.

Monday, February 26

Maybe I should have barbecued a yak

Mondays are not so much hit and miss as weekend leftovers: oxtail stew mit boudin blanc, a half-bottle of rotgut from the Mediterranean region. Given our current weather the meal was especially tasty. On the homestead’s leeward side today was a fresh –2°C, in the wind it feels seriously cold. Needless to say, Gudgeon is dressed Sherpa Tenzing style.

My life in the sticks

“Well, you start by going to sleep. You get up when you feel like it. You scratch yourself. You fry yourself some eggs. You see what kind of a day it is; throw stones at a can, whistle.” Gay Langland, The Misfits

Do we care?

“Shoppers may be forced to buy inferior milk from America.” In an era of 24hr news it must be tough to fill column inches. Shit – given the plethora of news sites – getting someone to read your stuff is a challenge. So-called click-bait headlines have become the weapon of choice. I doubt our shoppers will be ‘forced’ to buy anything, American or otherwise. What British consumers are partial to, however, is cheap produce. If Aldi or Lidl launched a special promotion selling dog turds at three-a-penny, half the population would rush to join the queue. We remain a nation of two halves: Remain or Brexit, Left or Right, Foodies or Famished, etc. I’ve no doubt half of us would happily live on a diet of pizza and fizzy pop ... remain blissfully unaware that milk comes from cows.

Sunday, February 25

It rarely ends well

I’ve always thought myself the most amenable of characters, ever ready to concede the point in pursuit of a quiet life. But then everyone’s human, and twice this week I’ve allowed myself to be drawn into a Victor Meldrew-like face to face shouting match when outnumbered and outgunned. Can’t decide if it’s an age thing or a death wish?

Saturday, February 24

A zillion below

Freezing it may be but a beautiful day non-the-less. Although a toasty zero-degrees this morning, once up top on the moor and subject to wind chill, the temperature falls to a zillion below. Lots of kids training for the Ten Tors, some seemingly more up for it that others.

Friday, February 23

Worse things than cold weather

A wasted day, spent rectifying software update/conflicts. Thankfully everything is now working satisfactorily. Damn it, it pisses me off – our sloth-like broadband doesn’t help. Computers (and domestic boilers) are the bane of my life. If only everything was as dependable as a washing machine. We’ve owned two over the past 45 years, the second of which runs every other day and is still going strong.

One of the likely lads texted me from the Balearic’s this morning… You can stick it, matey, was my immediate response. Gudgeon is more than happy to be freezing his bollocks off at the homestead – am warmed by the knowledge that I don’t have to return home to Liverpool next week.

Off the #MeToo radar

Vulnerable women are being "extensively" abused across the UK by men that aren’t Tories, Brendan Cox, nor work for Western aid agencies.

Thursday, February 22

On house prices…

Thirty years ago it was reported that more that 50% of men and 89% of women working full-time in London were earning less than the lowest sum needed to buy the cheapest houses in the capital. Economists also warned the house price boom would end the following year, in 1989.

Wednesday, February 21

Discretionary spending

Today we ate lunch at an old favourite, a Thai-themed restaurant in Exeter. When it opened some years ago the attractions included an outstanding chef, starched white linen and mature (professional) staff. Having witness decades of my favourite restaurants crash and burn, however, I could have written its story. They’re hanging in there but their days are numbered; chef, linen and staff are long gone, and the food has reverted to something from the 1970s. Anytime soon the establishment will morph into a sea of Formica, and university students will be eating fried rice with plastic cutlery.

Tuesday, February 20

But I won't hold my breath

Have just received my perennial shocker from HMRC: “Your Annual Tax Summary (How your income tax was spent in 2016-17)”. The amount of Gudgeon’s beer money spent educating other people’s children, subsidising their university fees, is eye-watering. It would also be a shocker if I could be bothered to calculate the additional amount the government extracts via excise duty, VAT and motoring taxes, to say nothing of stamp duty, local authority taxation, capital gains, insurance surcharges, etc. etc. I’d like to believe the countless graduates whose 2.1 in Creative Writing I helped fund and who are currently earning minimum wage in an Amazon warehouse will one day be contributing to my state pension.

Things you don’t mess with

The car wash took a tad longer this morning as my arrival coincided with a raid by the immigration wallahs. Guess it’s part of the fun of being employed in our so-called gig economy – at least they weren’t picking flowers this time. As I waited I read the papers … Theresa May’s latest wheeze on university fees. The girl will never learn. As Thatcher demonstrated with her foray into the poll tax business, there are certain things you don’t mess with – why the NHS will stumble on in perpetuity.

Sunday, February 18

Non-processed food will also kill you – eventually

Visited two local butchers Saturday morning, before settling on ribeye steaks. Both are decent retailers but, while grateful butchers are returning to the high street, their produce remains a lottery. Even from my favourite suppliers; with beasts from the same field. Fortunately life has a way of balancing things out, and for every disappointment, some pleasant surprises. Today’s ‘Good Food Market’ came up trumps, not least the veal sweetbreads and multiple varieties of mushroom. The less said about Miguel’s marinated olives and much of the baking on offer the better.

It would be easy to take cheap shots, following Angela Rainer’s appearance on Marr. Fair’s fair, however, am always willing to listen. I draw the line at Jeremy Irons and Leslie Manville. To describe them as mincing luvvies would be far too kind. And don’t get me started on Guy Verhofstadt.

Saturday, February 17

Black Cordon

Another win for Bryony Frost.

Chipper’s definitely out

Another load of firewood this morning. Amazingly, less than 15% moisture content. As long as it burns I’m happy.

Following last weekend’s pig fest (saddleback), this past week we’ve focused on fish – working our way through an array of smoked or cured salmon, mackerel and herring; a variant on tempura prawns, salt & pepper squid and gurnard goujons. Friday night’s king scallop carbonara was arguably the best … but also enough. ’Twas the end. Today has to be anything other than.

Stunned, when your dinner waves at you. I seem to recall an exceptionally fresh seafood dinner in Nice that legged it off the table.

Friday, February 16

Bah humbug!

To clear my head following our Valentine’s Day party I took off across the hills. Bad luck that hail and sleet arrived at just about the time I reached the furthest point on my route. Returned home knackered, to find the boiler engineer presiding over its component parts. One day we’ll replace the damn thing, but it will be swapping the DB5 for a Nissan Leaf. Up to Totnes this morning for supplies. A nightmare (half-term). Gudgeon grows grumpier by the day.

Wednesday, February 14

Needs must

If it wasn’t for a shortage of supplies I wouldn’t have ventured further than the back door this morning. The grim weather doesn’t appear to have dissuaded our intrepid cyclists and canoeists … and horses need to be exercised, dogs walked. Local roads are a nightmare. If Gudgeon had been around 100 years ago I’d like to think I would have been an enthusiastic supporter of extending the franchise. Allowing women to acquire a driving licence was probably a step too far.

Tuesday, February 13

Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday?

No contest. Would be foolish to ignore Valentine’s Day and find myself worrying where my next meal is coming from. As investments go, two dozen roses and a bottle of bubbly seems cheap at the price. Ditto the chocolates and pastries, the gravlax and caviar. Lent will have to wait until Thursday.

Monday, February 12

Life on Dartmoor’s never dull

Could have used a pair of crampons this morning, our traditional ocean of mud is encased in ice. That said it was beautiful early on, barely a cloud in the sky – up top you can see all the way out past Berry Head, sun reflecting back off the sea. Sky larks in the air! ...Now snow is falling and gales are heading our way.

Thursday, February 8

Fruktkakas and loonies

Linda Staaf, a police chief, has pointed out that grenade-throwing is dangerous because those who pull out the pin ‘expose themselves to a huge risk’.

The sort of thing your grandad ate

Today’s lunch was a Mrs King’s pork pie and bottle of Samuel Smith Pale Ale. While neither are now deemed beneficial to good physical health, they’re exceedingly good for morale.

Too young to learn to kill

There has always been criticism of junior soldiers. My left-leaning youth club leaders did their best to dissuade me from enlisting, while my headmaster wrote an enthusiastic endorsement. For many the junior army was an ideal way out of their one-horse town. I loved every minute and can’t recall any bullying, was probably better treated than the pupils of most public schools back then. We certainly never regarded ourselves as ‘some of society’s most vulnerable young people’.

Wednesday, February 7

Annual medical

“Morning Bernie, any problems?” Nope. Takes blood pressure. “OK you’re good to go.” My GP practice drags me in once a year, presumably so they can tick a box. Nothing wrong with that. And yet given all those taxes we pay, you’d expect a little more? Perhaps I shouldn’t tempt fate. The last thing I want is to be lectured about my lifestyle or have someone looking too closely beneath the bonnet.

Tuesday, February 6

Neighbourhood is changing, evolving

Circle of life sort of thing. When we first arrived it was to join an older crowd who’d lived here for decades, had raised their share of kids, only to watch as adult offspring relocated to distant cities in pursuit of a career. In later years, sometimes for medical reasons, they too sought safety in towns and cities. Younger families have since moved in to replace them, children – lots of em – are reappearing. As with urban communities they’re a diverse bunch: from the Corbynistas that run bijou restaurants or work at something in the arts, to the skilled tradesmen with rapidly expanding businesses, high-end hippies in medicine and IT, and the establishment crowd that hunt and shoot. Everyone gets on famously, while also adhering to their respective tribal groups. This is no more apparent as when comparing the different styles of parenting and the schools the children attend, be they State, Steiner or Prep. I make no judgement, just the observation that as everyone appears content with their tribal fit, where exactly does the social mobility thingy come in?

Sunday, February 4

Sunday lunch: our deferred Burns supper

As luck would have it, today is a glorious (non-Scottish) Sunday – i.e. the sun is shining and in spite of the 2°C temperature all is right with the world. The homestead smells less of heather than freesias, hyacinth, daffodils and anemones. This year’s haggis is a novelty item from The farmer’s son. Not great. Maybe it has to do with haggis being derived from sheep’s bits rather than pork and beef. Why mess with tradition? Whatever … at least the whisky’s a Balvenie. Been a while since I visited Dufftown (there was a baker there that produced decent mutton pies). Today’s hooch is dispensed in attractive crystal tumblers bearing the ‘Farstad 1991’ logo. Assume we were working together at that time? Scandinavian shipowners were nothing if not generous.