Sunday, September 30

How quickly it changes

Autumn food: boiled gigot of mutton with caper sauce – a big meaty, brooding savoury wine from Northern Spain…blazing wood fires. Outside the leaves are falling. Wood pigeons predominate, a flock of tinkling goldfinches…squirrels are burying nuts, ponies have begun growing winter coats.

Thursday, September 27

Last of our warm days?

A scorching 26°C in Exeter. Ate lunch on the terrace of a regular venue, soaking up the sunshine ‘while admiring the view’, serenaded by a sax-playing busker. I appreciate you’re not supposed to objectify women in this brave new world of ours, indulge in aesthetic judgements. But it would be like visiting a gallery and not looking at the art on display?

Monday, September 24

Rough Monday

Tote that barge and lift that bale ain’t in it. If only I could sing bass baritone. The homestead is looking good but there’s still a ways to go…place reeks of paint. Thankfully the days of woodchip and artex – the 1970s – are consigned to history.

Saturday, September 22

The storm abates

Unfortunately the rain seems determined to compensate. Neighbours in red coats appear undaunted, in pursuit of baying hounds, astride their formidable hunters. Yours truly is hunkered down beside a blazing stove watching the racing from Ayr. Have grilled a rib of beef for sustenance, Mrs G’s pink fir apple potatoes and my trusty chimichurri sauce, a ‘bon marché’ Hermitage.

Thursday, September 20

Salzburg catastrophe

Throughout the pantomime I’ve reassured myself that Prime Minister May had some sort of cunning plan. Even now I prefer to believe the negotiations are a charade, a cynical dance played out between both sides enabling each to claim a victory when we eventually settle. Experience tells me we should have walked when we had the chance, and truth to tell I’m too far down the line and well enough padded to be concerned about the outcome one way or the other. They say a picture is worth a thousand words...maybe we shouldn't have sent a woman to do a man’s job?

Sea Kings final flypast

Goodbye to one of the familiar sights and sounds above the homestead.

Wednesday, September 19

Changing landscape

Weather – gales and rain – has put a damper on the work schedule, with gates waiting to be painted and outside lighting installed. You can forget climbing ladders. ...Have been clocking up the mileage with runs into town for supplies (dentist, optician, barber, etc.), and jaunts to distant North Devon, west of Braunton. The latter was to see a man about a dog, so to speak, but also afforded an opportunity to revisit old haunts. …Our poor weather has brought on a revival in comfort food, mince and tatties, daube de boeuf, etc. – the rosé season is no more, produce from the allotment a different hue.

Sunday, September 16

Generation Sensible don’t know the half of it

Only half of 18-24-year olds will have had a drink in the past week, compared with 78 per cent in the year 2000. The same goes for smoking, drug-taking and having sex. There are, of course, multiple reasons why this might be so. Somewhere to live is a start: back in 2000, when the average house price was £80,365 and average annual pay £18,848, getting hitched could also be the chance to climb onto the housing ladder. In the interim, average pay may have risen to £27,271, but house prices have ballooned to £226,906, or eight times the average salary. While young adults at the turn of the century were boozing their way into the new millennium, today’s teens are more likely to be found in the gym than the pub. Small wonder they’ve been dubbed “Generation Sensible”. Not sure how living it large is dependent on owning a house, but there you go.

Bummer

Former England and Ipswich Town footballer Kevin Beattie dies of suspected heart attack. His career was dogged by injury and all but ended at the age of 28, when he left Ipswich. Thirty years later he was living in a council-owned bungalow in Wren Avenue in Ipswich, where he cared for his wife who has multiple sclerosis.

Saturday, September 15

Tragic

“Our second-biggest selling product is Pepsi," he said. "Isn’t that sacrilege? We are no longer a nation of piss artists.” Lavazza coffee is Wetherspoon's best-selling drink by volumes.

Friday, September 14

Blind leading the blind?

Longer lives and rapid advances in technology could mean the end of retirement, Mark Carney has warned. The governor of the Bank of England today said the very nature of work is changing with Britain on the cusp of entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution which will be dominated by artificial intelligence, automation, biotechnology and 3D printing. This speed at which this will occur and the shift required from workers to a new and different set of skills will be far greater than previous industrial revolutions, he said, adding that this means workers may not be able to “seamlessly” move to new jobs and many may not be able to afford to retire in response. It comes a day after the cabinet was warned that house prices would fall by 35 per cent over three years after a chaotic no-deal Brexit, according to a stark briefing by Mr Carney. 

A recent report implied that, with an average age of 31, staff at HM Treasury are too young and inexperienced, and as a consequence know diddly-squat – are prone to giving dud advice. Although aged 53, am not sure we should take the man at the helm of the Bank of England too literally either. Carney’s pronouncements enter one ear and exit the other – but then maybe I also rely on my heart instead of my head. The most disturbing thing I’ve read recently is that the government has been unable to identify anyone local – a Brit – who is either capable or willing enough to take over as governor when Carney buggers off back to Canada.

Bubbles and echo-chambers

“I think I might sooner live in a society governed by the regulars of a Devon pub than in a world designed by the graduates of Stanford University and MIT.”

The cliché is that French food is better than ours

If there’s a cliché, Mr Rayner, it’s of your own making. “And yet, here I sit on a sun-dappled terrace in south-west France… I have just returned from a run to the local boulangerie with armfuls of croissant baked this morning. In the kitchen, we have baskets of plump, misshapen tomatoes from the fields just below the house we are staying in, a board full of stinky French cheeses making a bid for freedom and slabs of paté that smell of all the best bits of ground animal…I have become the living, breathing embodiment of every damn filthy food cliché of which I claim to be suspicious; I am the heir to snooty Elizabeth David made soft, wobbling, French-cheese-boosted flesh.” …I don’t doubt there are pockets of Britain where fast food outlets predominate; suspect France has its fair share of culinary lavatories too. Even here in the sticks, however, providing you’re prepared to search them out and have deep enough pockets, life has long been enlivened by local producers. We’ve artisan bakers that are more than a match for our Froggy counterparts, an abundance of golden girolles and stinky cheeses, just-picked tomatoes and figs on the turn.

As tradition dictates, Friday features my weekly infusion of Omega 3 – this week including a fair-sized tin of locally sourced caviar. “Locally sourced,” you say, “pull the other one.” And yet Exmoor Caviar is in demand from Michelin starred chefs across the land, is favoured by Brett Graham (The Ledbury), Jonny Lake & Ashley Palmer-Watts (The Fat Duck & Dinner) & Raymond Blanc (Le Manoir). …Of course, there are only two things you can drink with caviar (and vodka is off limits these days), obliging me to concede there are things the French do better. As the big lad is reputed to have said: “In victory I deserve it…In defeat I need it.”

Wednesday, September 12

Just pleased it's over

Opened up the old part of the house this morning. It has been used as a store during the summer maintenance programme and was tres damp – two blazing fires appear to have sorted the problem. You could spend every waking day around the homestead, finding things to repair, paint, rewire…attack with saw or axe. Although it addresses the idle hands conundrum, as an avowed idler, every pint I sink these days comes with a large dose of guilt (should really be back home doing this, that or the other).

The final bill for the programme arrived this morning. Instead of a fixed-price arrangement, on this occasion I took a punt and agreed to pay everyone on an hourly-rate basis. The former hasn’t really worked for me, with contractors turning a blind eye to problems they discover in a rush to get to their next job. Of course there are always discoveries that require attention, and my original 3 week estimate was almost immediately revised to 5-8 weeks. In the end the programme took 10 weeks, including occasional Saturdays and a number of 10 and 12 hour shifts. A total of five lads played their part, three tradesmen and two grunts; albeit no more than three were on duty at any one time. All worked their butts off and did a great job. I can’t fault the result. Five individuals on an hourly rate… With the books now closed, my estimated cost at two weeks in, turns out to be just £140 adrift. Appears I haven’t lost my touch.

Jumping the shark

It seems our 11-year-old children are the fattest in Europe, primarily because they drink an excessive amount of alcohol: Research on 53 countries found Britain rising up the obesity league tables, and among the “world champions” for alcohol consumption – on a par with Poland and Latvia… Dr Claudia Stein, director of the division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation, WHO Regional Office for Europe, said… drinking levels in Europe are the highest in the world. We hold the horrible world record of being the world champions in alcohol consumption… obesity trends are “alarming” – with high levels seen among children as young as 11.      …OK so I’ve quoted somewhat out of context, but that’s what the Steins of the world usually do in an effort to reinforce a point. And of course the Telegraph loves to conflate these things to wind up their audience.

You couldn’t make it up

Makes you wonder what they teach kids nowadays. According to one train of thought, Soviet Gulags are just like university – an opportunity to learn something and better yourself. Solzhenitsyn was once compulsory reading for students of a left-wing bent.

Tuesday, September 11

We can but dream

“A curious sympathy for hardcore socialism is taking root among thirty-somethings…Open reliance on the bank of mum and dad has made dependency culture socially acceptable in a way it just wasn't 30 years ago. There is, thus, a serious possibility that we have not reached peak Corbyn, but rather he is slightly ahead of his time.”       ...Let me get this straight, we’re destined to become Sweden at just about the time Sweden hits the buffers. Making predictions about the future is not too dissimilar to dreaming what we’d do if we won the lottery. Had our boomer predictions come true, we’d now be living the life of George and Jane Jetson.

Monday, September 10

Just keep pushing

My weekend visit to the Dog & Duck provided all the confirmation I need that our local Brexit war remains intractable. Both sides are so far dug in, neighbours could be on different planets. The sole argument of Remoaners – one they’re not shy of repeating at every opportunity – is that Brexiteers are uneducated, racist troglodytes who should never have been afforded a vote, that everyone with half a brain and an education is leaving the country to live among civilised people on the continent. All they’ve achieved is to wind up the so-called silent majority who were sitting on the fence. Have no idea how a second vote would pan out, but I wouldn’t discount a significant majority for the hardest of hard Brexits.

Sunday, September 9

’Twas the same when I was a kid

Fell for the same line, and grabbed it with both hands. Enlisted at sixteen…ambition and risk was the point of the exercise. Never regretted a minute.

Sundays…

Out on the moor early morning for my regular trek. A glorious sunny day. Younger runners, beating up the ground. Home to lunch: a medley of black puddings and lambs kidneys, a sun-kissed red from the Languedoc. An afternoon snooze.

Friday, September 7

A case of giving with one hand...

In an effort to meet our deadline the team worked a ten-hour shift yesterday. A final push this morning and we’re finished. For a couple of weeks that is, at which time the next stage begins. Am hoping that part proceeds at a more leisurely pace…features something a little more engaging than Spiced Honey, fashionable colour of the season. ...Much grumbling among the lads regarding Hammond’s stealth tax – reneging on the Class 2 NICs contributions. As it happens they’re married to girls working in the health and education services, the ones who will doubtless benefit from the Chancellor’s (taxpayers’) largess. A case of robbing Peter to pay Paula? You could argue the money stays in the family unit, minus the government’s commission of course.

Wednesday, September 5

The yard resembles a car boot sale

Disassembled scaffolding and buckshee timber, power tools and paint tins…white vans. We’re not there yet but the end is in sight. Yes I know I’ve said that before…fingers crossed this time. While there’s more that needs to be done, everyone is in need of a break. To those fellow citizens who assume property is a one way bet, free money, I would respectfully remind them of the maintenance costs that come with your average home. Even Gudgeon would be prepared to consider a capital gains tax on domestic properties – providing mortgage interest payments and maintenance costs can be deducted from income/property tax liabilities. Think of the boost to the economy, replacing kitchens and bathrooms every alternate year, building countless extensions – pantries and wine cellars, gyms and swimming pools, libraries and cinemas, stables…

Tuesday, September 4

The Grill - a great bar

At least it was till 1973. Haven’t visited for some years. The Fittie had its moments too.

The soaps – a ringside seat

Busy-busy, running here and there, yet still finding time to walk the moor. Guaranteed to aid sleep, you’d think... I was woken from my slumber at four this morning – four o’clock, mind – by a ‘domestic’. A not-so-happy couple decided to air their grievances outside my bedroom window. The lady’s name appeared to be ‘Fat Skag’ and the lad was ‘Paedo C***’. At least that’s how they addressed each other. She tore into him for close to a half-hour without once taking breath. I haven’t tuned into EastEnders since Dirty Den was impregnating school girls, but imagine this is just the type of confrontation (entertainment?) most people sit down to watch on weekday nights.

Sunday, September 2

Wine and food

The late summer weather continues to impress. There may come a time when I’m bored with sunshine, though perhaps not just yet. Still drinking Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne) – this weekend with both fish and Mrs G’s mutton curry. I suppose the curry presages seasonal change, ditto Friday’s braised beef cheek. Red wines begin to intrude. We’ve drunk some fine Beaujolais (Morgon) recently but they were the exception. Been a fun journey, from le Piat d’Or to here.