Sunday, April 28

Best not tempt fate

Call from the old country…another of my teenage sidekicks bites the dust. Two down, one missing, three remain standing. An hour later the phone rings again: a relative I long lost touch with has expired. On the basis everything comes in threes I refuse to answer the phone for the rest of the day.

London Marathon today. When it kicked off in ’81 we were living in a flat not far from the start line in Blackheath. My abiding memory – a reflection of how I view this jamboree – is the sight of Jimmy Saville in a gold lame tracksuit jogging past beneath the window.

Aaargh! Devon tops quality of life study, low inequality and clean air.    Devon outperformed 149 other local authorities on three broad measures: high levels of physical activity, volunteering and good air quality, but researchers also pointed out that the council had lower levels of inequality than comparable authorities.

“If you live here (in Exeter) you can be on a beautiful beach in 20 minutes and you can be hiking on Dartmoor (or canoeing on the Dart) in 20 minutes.”

Friday, April 26

My thoughts exactly

Never forget — in business, in medicine, in agriculture, in politics, perhaps in any complex self-regulating system — the best course of action is often to take no action at all, or to intervene very little. But this is also the hardest course to defend, and (in medicine, certainly) the most likely to get you blamed or sued. By far the best manager I have ever worked with is judiciously idle. If he suggests doing something, you know without question that it is worth doing. All salaried jobs are biased against inaction. Yet, in an age of constant disruption and over-abundance of data, choosing what to ignore is a much more valuable quality than overreaction. Sir John James Cowperthwaite, as financial secretary the architect of Hong Kong’s prosperity, understood this: he banned the collection of economic statistics, since they might encourage people to interfere in the economy.

And this is my problem with Brussels (The House of Lords and our numerous Parliamentary Committees). When you assemble an army of makeweights and pay them extravagant sums of money, their natural instinct is to justify themselves by poking their snouts into things that don't concern them. 

Thursday, April 25

Intergenerational fairness

It’s a conundrum. The younger generation favour an open, global society with no restriction on immigration (or on their travelling to work abroad), only to discover better educated migrants with a driven work ethic take their jobs and homes. And yet while old folks, conversely, wanted to restrict immigration in order to protect their progeny, somehow gramps is still to blame – should be cast out of the country pile he bought for half-a-crown and consigned to a static caravan in Clacton, savings confiscated and pension means tested.

A grey, wet and windy start to the day

Low pressure systems have a lot to answer for – can determine your outlook on life, sets the tone for the day. Still, onwards and upwards…another bank holiday in a week or two’s time. The trick is not to turn on the wireless and listen to the news, the reptiles will always bring you down. I guess bad news sells. ...To the dental surgery this morning.

Wednesday, April 24

I just don’t get it

“Girl inspired Britain to act on climate change.” I don’t understand this infatuation the chattering classes (Ms Thunberg had earlier met Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader; Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader; Caroline Lucas, the Green MP; and the Westminster leaders of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, Ian Blackford and Liz Saville-Roberts) have with a ‘teenage activist’ who, to my eyes, looks and behaves like a 6-y-o? Is this really what we’ve come to – what counts as informed debate? The guests on yesterday’s Daily Politics included a typical Extinction Rebellion rep, an upper middle class plonker who had no doubt been afforded a privileged education. Regretfully none of this had lodged between his ears. The lad’s game plan, to combat climate change, appeared to be textbook Mao Zedong – the populace laid waste in support of the cause.

Tuesday, April 23

It might have been a spectacular weekend but...

I don’t say this often, but am pleased Easter is over and we are back to work. Indulged too much – in danger of developing the waistline of a Sri Lankan rozzer. Supplies are low and Gudgeon is reduced to breakfasting on out-of-date cereal. Need to get off my butt and break out the mower before rain arrives – albeit neighbour’s sheep have infiltrated the yard and appear to be eating everything in sight. 

Monday, April 22

The Bluebells are back

The life of an idler

When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you've always done what you want,
You always get your own way
- A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that's been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I've never done what I don't.
                                                     (Philip Larkin)

Sunday, April 21

One does not a summer make

Out on the moor early morning before it gets too hot (and the hordes arrive). A dream Easter: glorious weather, slow-cooked shoulder of hogget, a glazed ham, lots of great vino… Swallows are here house hunting, checking out the barn, along with our first cuckoo of the year.

Friday, April 19

Can’t complain about the weather

Given this morning’s traffic, the entire country seems bent on spending Easter weekend in the South West. Neighbours anticipated the influx and have buggered off elsewhere. Following departure of our house guests, and bleating livestock aside, the homestead has fallen silent – I have taken refuge in a cold beer and Guns of Navarone on the telly. Life moves on, yet reassuringly, here at least, it stays the same.

Thursday, April 18

The birdsong is deafening this morning

The homestead is alive to the sight and sound of countless nesting residents. We’re not short of foxes or badgers either, roe and red deer too. Voles, rabbits and hares, feral cats from neighbouring barns, a stray lurcher or two…runaway horses that have torn up my grass.

We lunched with a party of German visitors yesterday. The story is an increasingly familiar one: it was their first trip to England, “We wanted to visit before Brexit, as this may be our last chance to see England.” Don’t know what they’ve been feeding them on the continent, but I had to explain yet again, we are not decoupling our island and floating it out into the Atlantic. Everything went well until one smart alec told Mrs G. he believed Germany had remained very patient with us while we made up our mind. Needless to say things went downhill thereafter.

Saturday, April 13


In these crazy times, many liberals are turning to elite media to find their own values expressed. Newspapers never previously knew what readers read but in the digital era we found out: currently, they like articles that reaffirm their identities. 

…Think I’ll skip the “progressive” trips to Iran and Cuba.

Thursday, April 11

One's salad days

The sort of day you are glad to be alive. Blazing sky and an unseasonably high temperature. Bees and other pollinating insects giving it large among the blossom and flowers – the yard a riot of orange, yellow and blue. Chaffinch dominate…robins, blackbirds and wagtails – voles scuttle here and there. Though only 4°C this morning, afternoon is T-shirt and shorts, and when work finished we lit the barbecue. If blackened carcinogens don’t kill you, the booze (a spectacular Barolo) probably will.

Tuesday, April 9

Damn it, man, we're British

Among old friends and ex-colleagues, I remain famous for my tall tales and gross exaggerations. However, even Gudgeon would be pushed to conflate a breakdown of governance with Britain entering our Weimar period. I wonder which of our political luminaries Max regards as a populist monster, Boris, Jeremy, or both? As disruptive as Brexit may prove, we are unlikely ever to behave in the manner of 1930’s Germans or those pillocks from 18th Century France.

That said, if we are to invoke the spirit of the Weimar Republic… I suppose there’s an argument the Nazis would never have come to power, that the Second World War would never have happened, without the draconian economic reparations imposed on Germany following the Treaty of Versailles. Some will no doubt similarly contend that if the United Kingdom is forced to revoke Article 50 or is obliged to settle for some god-awful May/Corbyn deal, the lingering resentment will come back to bite Europe in years to come. If I was Brussels I’d let us go.

Another icon falls by the wayside

When Rumpole of the Bailey was told that he had to move with the times, he replied: “If I don’t like the way the times are moving, I shall refuse to accompany them.”

Sir John Mortimer’s works are to be “reimagined” as a new TV series, with the next generation of his family writing the scripts. The actress Emily Mortimer, 47, most recently seen in Mary Poppins Returns, will produce the show through her company King Bee and write it with her younger sister and fellow actress Rosie, 35. Their work promises to be very different from the original ITV adaptation, which starred Leo McKern as the criminal lawyer and ran for 43 episodes between 1978 and 1992. “They have written a very modern take on Rumpole,” Polly Williams of eOne, a company co-producing the new shows, said last month at the Banff World Media Festival in London.  

I can already imagine the result.

Monday, April 8

Life outside of Brexit

Glorious day, temperature in double figures. Managed to get out on the moor for a few hours this afternoon. Only Monday and there are already lots of visitors. Everyone has a smile on their face: I assume it’s the sunshine. The ponies look out of place with their winter coats, but then we were hit by snow last week. A shock for the day-old lambs.

Sunday, April 7

Indulgent pleasures

Watched this film on the box this morning. It may well qualify, is reputed to be, the worst film ever made. But amazingly it's not the worst thing I have seen on the telly today.

Saturday, April 6

Reviving communist literature

Not so sure it’s a good idea: every generation should be required to learn the hard way… Unfortunately I am blessed with instant forgetfulness and doomed to cover the same old ground. It drives Mrs G. crazy that I can watch The Dirty Dozen for the fiftieth time and remain uncertain who wins. Some books (Patrick O’Brian’s entire twenty volume saga, for instance) I’ve read five times, always anticipating how the story pans out. Milan Kundera’s stories I reread because I enjoy them and they resonate.

Elsewhere, today, Janan Ganesh speculates on whether too much of a good thing can lead to a lack of appreciation and enjoyment. When ‘just enough’ is sufficient. “There is such a thing as the optimal income for the sensual enjoyment of life, and it is not the very highest. The lucky ones are not the super-rich, however discriminating, but those in the ambiguous economic tier where pleasures are attainable but not yet quotidian.” It begs questions: What is just enough...qualifies as the ambiguous economic tier? Whether the unchecked scandal of our times really is drinking beer with exquisitely slow-cooked meats.

Belatedly, the answer: US$ 300k/year, apparently.

Electric vehicles aside, there will always be steam trains

September last year Mrs G. ordered a kitchen island from a local cabinet maker. At the time we thought delivery by Christmas a bit of an ask, had our fingers crossed it would be completed for the new year. Our unit was finally delivered this morning! A quality product, nevertheless…testament to patience as a virtue. I have to admit the lad’s work is a thing of beauty – in these throwaway days of ours will be treasured by someone a hundred years from now.

Aintree aside (a memorable event, great race), today is the opening of South Devon Railway’s Golden Anniversary Steam Gala. Guess some things do last forever. Am sure today’s FA Cup semi-final will be forgotten by this time next week.

Friday, April 5

Few things last forever

Gudgeon’s wellies are barely ten years old and have developed a leak. A case of shoddy craftsmanship or excessive wear and tear? I hate to give up on things…am still wearing shoes I purchased in the 80s, remain confident they will see me through to the end. Guess you get what you pay for, although an occasional polish helps. My more utilitarian walking boots are changed out every second year, primarily due to neglect. Suspect we view politicians in a similar manner – not worth the dubbin.

After 25 years of faithful service our washing machine is on the blink. Neighbour is aghast that I would consider buying a new model, insists on replacing the motor bearings for me. “Don’t give up on these old machines, you can’t buy this sort of quality nowadays.” I get similar advice from the engineer who services our gas boiler.

The new vehicle has already proved to be a sound investment, if only for its heated steering wheel.

Tuesday, April 2

When all is said and done

when all is said and done
what counts is having someone
you can phone at five to ask

for the immersion heater
to be switched to 'bath'
and the pizza taken from the deepfreeze

      Dennis O'Driscoll (Home)