Monday, December 31

Should auld acquaintances...

While usually so reliable, yesterday’s boiled gigot of mutton was a tad chewy – think wind-dried alligator. Tonight we reheated the remains and served it with large portions of haggis. Even accompanied by a 21 year old Balvenie the ageing woolly remained dire. Obliged to do auld lang syne thing this evening I try to get into character, albeit my enthusiasm’s not what it used to be.

Saturday, December 29

Pretty certain I wasn’t as generous

Howling wind this morning…hills and valleys fogbound. Though requiring a degree of effort we completed our four days of Christmas: goose with traditional roast veg, goose accompanied by red cabbage, goose with red rice (heavy on the garlic and sage), and the inevitable goose soup. Waste not…as they say. Neighbours have begun drifting back from wherever they spent the festive period, presumably with distant family (like goose: an annual requirement/necessity treat). Have made a start on the many books I received from Santa; am also working on the wine, some of which is new to me.

I know I witter on about food but, as with so many people, it remains an integral part of life. By integral I mean up there with sex and drugs and rock and roll. Though currently wilting under the weight of our annual festive bingeathron, today’s veal and spaghetti (such tomato sauce, damn it!) resonates big time. Is there any other national cuisine that catalogues life so completely, the zillion family restaurants, the multitude of faces. First mouthful and you’re back in Louis’ in the Bronx.

Tuesday, December 25

Christmas cheer

Christmas morning: what’s not to like. Can almost smell the bread sauce. Unbelievably quiet, an occasional body checking in at the stables is all. My own duties are limited to chilling champagne and decanting Barolo. That the off-licence encased our festive wine in straw-filled boxes was no surprise, that the wooden cases came with brass hinges and clasps was perhaps over-egging it.

Monday, December 24

Festive fare

Carols from King’s, Alistair Sim’s Ebenezer Scrooge and Kelly’s Heroes are the annual staple, along with fresh crab for lunch and Salad Nicoise for Christmas Eve supper. Mrs G. is precooking a goose the size of an ostrich in readiness for tomorrow’s festivities. Bring me flesh and bring me wine. Bring me pine logs hither.

Sunday, December 23

Christmas armistice

The Kwik-E-Mart was queued out the door. So much effort for a plate of sprouts. Wives shopped while husbands circled outside looking for somewhere to park. Everyone on their best behaviour: “After you; no, after you. Merry Christmas!”

Saturday, December 22

To Tavistock Farmers’ Market,

Foodie highlight of the year (our Christmas goose). Of course it was hard to leave without a sizable slab of Saddleback, a chicken and Guinea fowl, one or two hog’s puddings… If Brexit is to become a crash and burn exercise the homestead won’t starve. Just a personal observation but, while the High Street continues to stumble and restaurants of all shape and size close, plenty of people appear to be splashing out on decent produce to cook at home. Dame Sally Davies, the country’s top doctor and self-described chief nanny, says more taxes on unhealthy food is the way to combat obesity and ill-health. I fail to believe making food more expensive will solve the problem: subsidising fruit and vegetables is a waste of time if people can’t be arsed peeling potatoes or are unable to afford the green taxes that come with cooking them. Kids growing up in the 50s and 60s were fed an unrelenting diet of muck and stodge and still looked like whippets. Ergo there must be another component to the conundrum. That said of course, we shared a single bottle of Corona pop as a once a week treat.

Friday, December 21

Festive nosh

Today’s festive culinary adventure features rogan josh. Not sure how Christmas curry became tradition but it has. …To the Kwik-E-Mart this morning for bread and milk. Geese are retailing at £85 a pop, turkeys £95. Not for the faint-hearted. Am reminded that back in the good old days food banks were called Luncheon Vouchers.

Thursday, December 20

Nearly there

I think (hope) we’re ahead of the game. Festive cards have been mailed, there’s more than enough food (and booze) in store, a good supply of firewood and full tank of diesel in the motor, post man and other regulars handed their Christmas box. Two more days of buggering about then feet up. My feet at least. As is common in most households Mrs G. faces days and days of roasting and baking, while I pour drinks and keep the fires blazing – police the wireless for prohibited recordings (by the Pogues & Kirsty MacColl). While I’m grudgingly allowed tonight’s Bob Harris Country Christmas Special, anything that smacks of Noddy Holder leads to trouble.

Wednesday, December 19

Celebrated haunts

The celebrated Seafood restaurant on the quay, favoured by Sir Henry Cecil and leading lights of the turf. Enjoyed many memorable meals over past decades – lobster, scallops, Dover sole, turbot, moules, you name it. A quality restaurant of the old school.

Cocking a deaf ’un

Out early morning to Bovey Tracey, Newton Abbott and Totnes (necessary supplies). We’ve enough in the cupboards and freezers to withstand a nuclear winter let along the worst case Brexit scenario. Lots of nice food emanating from the kitchen, the ham and brisket having given way to soups and seafood, a vast array of cheese and charcuterie. Am in danger of running out of steam before Christmas arrives. The homestead resounds to music, wireless and TV being banned for fear of spoiling our festive season (whining Parliamentarians). Although I usually enjoy watching the great and good get their knickers in a twist, enough is enough. Come back January when everyone is in more of a mood to listen.

Tuesday, December 18

Losers' Vote

"If we are forced to do this thing we shouldn’t have to do, then let’s embrace it as an opportunity to rebalance politics in the people’s favour; in favour of those who refuse to defer rather than those who expect deference. The first vote for Brexit was a devastating blow to an establishment that had forgotten about vast swathes of the public; a second vote could be the fatal blow. Let’s create a situation where they will bitterly regret asking us to vote again."  ...Street Fighting Man or Sympathy For The Devil? One of those rare occasions you wish you were young again, looking for a cobbled street to dig up.

Saturday, December 15

Normal service resumed

Weather’s atrocious, I count it an achievement to have made it back home this morning. The neighbours who are out there on horseback are crazy. On the plus side it’s a Saturday and there are no cyclists on the road. Don’t envy Team Sky’s search for new sponsors, given the tainted nature of both its brand and the sport in general. At least cyclists know the score.

How can you take storms seriously when named after the Corrie woman with giant bins. That said, conditions have worsened since this morning – you really don’t want to be out there. Spent most of the afternoon hunkered down, watching the racing and footy. A large joint of brisket has been poaching on the stove. Ingredients are all, not least the free-ranging beef fed only on grass and decent feed from local crops. The difference between our uniformly excellent neighbourhood beef and the Beaworthy lad is that he matures his stuff in the chiller for a minimum of 28 days before being cut up. The refrigerated maturation process results in a hugely improved flavour and tenderness. I know I’ve banged on about this guy before but, aside from a girl that farms in North Devon, during the last ten years I haven’t found anyone who comes close. To wash everything down I’ve opened a bottle of peppery hooch from a top parcel of Syrah vines northwest of Béziers, on the hills of Hérault.

Friday, December 14

To Totnes for supplies

I bagged the last slot in a rear overspill of the overspill car park. Even then it took some deft manoeuvring and having to climb over another vehicle. If you turned up after ten you’d missed the boat. A decade from now, given the pace of new build housing, everything we buy will be purchased on line. Visits to town centres, like church services, will be an annual affair. Back home to a twice-baked souffle and glass of Toscana’s finest.

Thursday, December 13

Rock and hard place

“Hardly anybody is saying what they believe to be true. Almost all of the people who professed fidelity and devotion to Theresa May yesterday think that she is hopeless as a leader, a negotiator and a Prime Minister … They may have a degree of human sympathy for her but they really believe that she is utterly out of her depth. Unfortunately they hate the candidates who would be most likely to replace her even more.”

A little part of me is coming round to the idea of a second referendum as the only way forward. Unfortunately a far larger part of me believes all a ‘people’s vote’ will achieve is to afford the necessary time for everyone to climb out of our trenches and to begin building concrete bunkers. I suspect it would be impossible to assemble a deputation of elders that could agree on the revised referendum questions. Our local MP, Sarah Wollaston, has been pushing for a people’s vote on the understanding the franchise should now include primary-school children, all of the international ‘Anywhere’ diaspora currently resident in Britain, and any ageing soaks long since retired to Peter Mayle’s Provence or Bongo Bongo Land.

No one voted to make themselves poorer… Harvard Business Review recently published the results of a large survey of American workers that found not only that “nine out of ten people were willing to earn less money to do more-meaningful work”, but that they would, on average, be willing to forgo “23 per cent of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was always meaningful”.   ... Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 12

Let's have some perspective

What with the black sky, grey mist and absence of electricity, the homestead has been plunged into darkness. There is so much Parliamentary drama today, and yet the electricity company has decided to carry out essential maintenance – no wireless or television, telephone or broadband. Mrs G. is at her writing desk completing Christmas cards, surrounded by candles. Even our ponies are deserting the sinking ship, rounded up and driven to lower ground for winter. With a (cold) ham salad in prospect I know how they feel.

Call me a cynical sod but, knowing this leadership challenge was in the offing, yesterday’s trip to Europe looks suspiciously like a photo opportunity to promote herself as the proven statesman rather than a serious attempt to secure further concessions. Never thought to see a worse Prime Minister than Gordon Brown.

 “A quarter of those who voted Remain think Brexit is at least as serious as the Cuban missile crisis, which could have resulted in the obliteration of life on earth.”

People, please, get a grip. Talk about Project Fear. Brexit is just a game – think of it as entertainment, like binge-watching a box set. This is not the Cuban missile crisis!

Tuesday, December 11

Christmas treats

Thanks to our recent inclement weather, today was my first jaunt across the moor in a while. Bit on the wet side as you can imagine, though worthwhile if only to work up an appetite. December features a series of culinary themes, and this week’s is Christmas roast ham – a traditional honey and mustard glaze, heavy on the studded cloves.

Restores your faith in humanity

Two nuns admit embezzling $500,000 for Las Vegas gambling trips. I was beginning to despair this newfound Victorian-values age of ours was gaining traction.

Not a lot of people know that

Tres mild this morning, enveloped in fog. A respite from the wind and rain. Neighbours heading to the office drift past on the dot at half-six; the more fortunate light our fires and brew tea, commune with the resident tawny owls – “Then nightly sings the staring owl…a merry note.” People in Shropshire call them Jenny Hooters, in Somerset Hollering Owls.

Sunday, December 9

Well out of it

Our front doorstep for more than two decades, literally – the photographer is almost standing on it. Writing was on the wall long before we departed, about the time it switched from being a South London village to a South London town. Although we’re not immune to a bit of agro in this neck of the woods, for most men (as with this incident), violence remains a feature of your teenage years.

Taking pleasures where you find them

You fret about declining powers, your sense of smell, of taste, not least when when it comes to food and wine. Back when I had access to some of the finest, Gudgeon was a heavy smoker and much of it went over my head. Though shadow of my former self I now better appreciate this side of life – differentiating, for instance, between yesterday’s 1er Cru Chassagne Montrachet and today’s Grand Cru Riesling. My days of drinking £5/bottle wine are long behind me.

It was Science Fiction

The NHS have been told to ditch ‘absurd’ fax machines. People aged under 50 have no idea how revolutionary facsimile machines were in the 1970s. Instead of jumping into your motor, driving across town and hand-delivering a sheet of paper several times/day, you just inserted the document into a magic machine on you desk. A decade later the fax was joined by an Amstrad computer. 

More resignations...the closing down sale

Half of all voters think British politics is “broken” and only one in seven thinks the Tories and Labour represent the views of the public...the Brexit crisis has fractured public trust in the political class, with 44% of voters saying the response of MPs has damaged their view of politicians.  

If Parliament was a business on the High Street it would have to close.

Saturday, December 8

Hunkered down

Given the weather and the Brexit debacle, comfort food remains the mainstay of our diet. Yesterday’s beef and mushroom stew is one of my more reliable efforts. For today’s deferred Works Do, however, I’ve been forced to up the ante with a salmon coulibiac, bought in from those reliable lads in London’s East End. If project fear is to be believed it’ll be hardtack and small beer till climate change finally does for us.

With Brexit to the fore I’ve been rereading Jeremy Black’s pithy take on English Nationalism. We’re told we voted for Brexit across a range of issues, not least those related to culture. Unfortunately the Establishment/MSM seem prepared to talk about any subject other than the ‘English’ question. I thought we’d cracked the multicultural thing years ago, but then ‘identity politics’ reared its Hydra-like heads and multiple derivatives of ‘the other’ emerged to throw stones at us. Aside from the appearance of some sort of messiah or demagogue to capture the imagination I see no way out of our predicament. I suppose there’s always the great British art of compromise.

Friday, December 7

Death of the high street – bring it on

Wednesday was a tad fraught – top of a ladder, torrential rain, flooded yard, etc. – and yet daily life at the homestead is a breeze compared to runs into town. Please god yesterday was the last of our trips to Exeter till next year. I don’t believe I could face another street full of Christmas shoppers.

Thursday, December 6

Fear rarely works, be it climate change or Brexit

"Gore urged Rosling to use his statistical models to show a worst-case global-warming scenario, ‘to create fear’. But Rosling refused, saying that spreading fear tends to generate reactionary and ill-considered responses, and erodes trust in those who spread such fear."

Wednesday, December 5

Piss-ups and breweries

I still think myself youngish – late-middle aged? Yet can recall when £1 was equivalent to three US dollars, when threepence bought me a substantial slice of bread pudding, a bottle of pop AND a packet of Beechnut Gum. Accordingly I struggle to believe that it costs £1 billion to build a short stretch of tarmac!

Today looks somewhat bleak

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; 
It rains, and the wind is never weary; 
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall, 
But at every gust the dead leaves fall, 
And the day is dark and dreary...

Tuesday, December 4

Playing catch up

On the plus side there’s no wind today, even the rain stopped for a couple of hours. A backlog of fallen tree-limbs and windblown debris to clear. While relatively quiet, the hunt made an appearance. I’m told hunting has become more egalitarian, but our local contingent appear very much old school, impeccable dress and manners. Not so much officer class as Blues and Royals. Classy hounds too.

Monday, December 3

Custom and practise

To Haldon Forest Park this morning, so that Mrs G. could select her principal Christmas tree – now marinating in a water-filled tub prior to installation. Festivities commence as soon as the pointy bit gets stuck up the fairy’s jacksie. This week’s high points include Friday’s pretendy Works’ Christmas Lunch, where we get to reminisce over the highs and lows of obligatory work-related parties we attended during the course of our respective careers. Far simpler times, maybe?

Sunday, December 2

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

Poached brisket and seasonal vegetables, parsnips and carrots, turnip and swede, what more could you ask of Sunday lunch? Christmas spirit is beginning to surface, can almost smell the pine and oranges. Knowing Mrs G. I suspect the homestead is only days away from its traditional festive makeover, not one but two decorated trees, frosty the bloody snowman on continuous loop.

Saturday, December 1

A fun Saturday in prospect

White-van man arrived at 7:30hrs this morning, with several flat-pack storage cupboards that need assembling.

Vicarious travel

A while back I loaned a book to the lad that sits on an adjacent bar stool in the Dog & Duck, a military historian who is perpetually on the move. He returned the well-thumbed tome several days ago. In the four weeks it took him to finish the book our intrepid traveller flew approximately forty-thousand miles, attested in part by the collection of (first class) boarding passes used to annotate the text. This weekend he can be found somewhere in the Himalayas.