Since the sad demise of my once morbidly obese three legged cat Oakley late last summer, my two year old son Joshua has not stopped talking about his friend who used to sleep by his cot, keeping watch every night. Our old house in Bristol is “Oakley’s House” and while you and I know that the old boy lies at rest next to the body of Kitosh and across the yard from that of his long time companion Tara who is under the rhubarb, Joshua and his mother and I have agreed that the three legged one has “gone to the jungle” where he is happy. But there is a gap in all of our lives anmd so yesterday we told Joshua we had a treat.
We headed up to the RSPCA facility in Wallasey where we had identified two four year old rescue cats who looked just like “da King” and so when we arrived we told Joshua we were going to see Oakley’s cousins. The RSPCA don’t normally house cats with families with a child under four but Quincey (playing below) and Sian (keeping watch) are very friendly I told a white lie about how Joshua was almost three and by the time we filled in forms the lady had marked him down as actually being three. The staff saw Joshua and the Mrs playing with Oakley’s cousins and there was no doubt that we were well suited.
The Welsh hovel is pretty cold but compared to their cells at RSPCA Wallasey it is balmy and both cats have settled in well. For a week or so they must stay in two rooms then there will be another two weeks roaming the whole house before they are unleashed on the outside world. As I type Sian is nuzzling my keyboardwhile Quincey is rubbing against my leg. Oakley would be delighted to see how friendly his cousins are.
The only moment of sadness was saying goodbye to the other cats at the RSPCA. There were a couple of adorable young cats, one of whom looked just like Mrs Chav’s pussy, who had been there almost since birth last August. Sian and Quincey have passed through RSPCA Wallasey twice in their lives, poor things. If you can spare a home and live in the Grim North….
Thanks to a little confusion on my part, which resulted in me wandering around the area close to Temple Meads for an extra half mile, the half way point on my second training walk for the 33 mile rogue bloggers for Woodlarks trek in May, was what I know as Lucian's breakfast joint.
When Mr Miers and I did a training walk last year along this route, the sun was shining and the cafe at Walmley Junction in the old railway station was packed. Indeed when I trained by walking the Bristol Bath railway path last summer, it was always swarming with other walkers, dogs and cyclists. With the wind blowing hard and the rain pelting down, my walk yesterday was a rather more solitary affair.
You may say that the cycle path is quite easy going but for the first few miles it is steadily uphill, albeit on a gentle slope and depressingly after about five miles you are still in Bristol. But eventually you cross over the ring road and break out into open countryside before heading into Walmley where the cafe was deserted but, to my surprise, open. A warm cup of tea, some banana bread and a chance to use the facilities was my reward as I contemplated the miles that lay ahead.
I cannot say that I was really enjoying the walk, given the weather, but train I must as the 33 miles from Horse Hill to Woodlarks are unforgiving and May 25 looms ever closer on the horizon. I think we may now have a 9th and possibly up to 11 rogue bloggers pledged to do all 33 miles. I know I was not the only one training yesterday. We are raising money for an outstanding cause so please take two minutes to read why we walk and make a donation HERE
I was woken up at 6 AM by the Mrs snoring and peeked out of the window. It was still snowing. Snowballs with Joshua thought I and my heart leapt. This was the scene last night outside our front door here in Bristol with the global warming falling fast. A weekend trip to my father is, I suspect, on hold.
My two year old son Joshua has a tendency, these days, to say that everything belongs to him. So it is "my house", "my car" and pictured below is "my goat." Of course it is not.
It is a goat that lives near the woods about half way between our house in Bristol and where my training walks meet up with the River Avon. The old boy seems much loved by the community and so, invariably, when Joshua and I arrive there is someone else talking to him and handing him food. He must be one of the best fed goats in town.
When we move to the Grim North, we hope to have some land and Joshua and I are lobbying hard for the purchase of both goats and chickens, on the basis that we can find someone to tend for them when we are in Greece. The Mrs is not so sure about this cunning plan.
The house is now on the market as we prepare for a move up to the Grim North. We already have five viewings lined up for Saturday so keep your fingers crossed. Ahead of that day I have been working hard at clearing out six years of accumulated junk in the garage. There have been one or two rather good finds. There was a package marked fragile.
It must have arrived two or three years ago and for some reason I had not opened it. Lo and behold it is a 14 year old ( I guess it is now two or three years older) presentation bottle of Whiskey from my friend, and comrade from the Clontarf veterans rugby team, John Teeling and his sons eponymous distillery in Dublin. How very pleasant. Thank you John.
There is also an awful lot of junk. The Mrs claims that there is an old Bristol tradition of leaving items outside your front door on the street for folks to just take away if they fancy. I rather suspect that this is the sort of Middle class fantasy about the good old days of community spirit and genteel working class poverty that Nick Hornby waffles on about in Fever Pitch. And as with Hornby’s Highbury I sense the working class Bristol of old that the Mrs thinks still might exist, never really did.
But who am I to argue. And so being a good German I have put out on the street a slightly broken pushchair, covered in hair from the neighbour’s cat who often sleeps in our garage. Oddly there have been no takers to date. I can’t think why. The Mrs agrees that if everyone resists this great temptation by tomorrow it will join a lot of complete rubbish making a one way trip to the recycling bins. I will bet the ranch that it will be making that trip.
Meanwhile the garage is 80% cleared and cleaned and now looks almost smart. I hope that those viewing are duly impressed.
I have never seen our local church in this unfashionable bit of Bristol look this way. That is to say full. But it was packed with more than a hundred souls last night for carols by candlelight. It was all rather touching. As I belted out some of the old favourites in my own tone deaf way and as Joshua ran around misbehaving it felt like Christmas had actually begun. The story almost came to life. I did feel a sort of bond with my fellow worshippers – ordinary folk, shepherds not kings.
In part the place was packed as we were joined by the flock from the sister church of St Anne’s. In part as this was a service for children, all far better behaved than Joshua.
Lefty vicar Ian started, as you would expect, with an elf n safey warning about candles. He had ensured that buckets of water were placed by the walls lest an accident occur with one of the candles we were each given. Joshua was a bit disappointed that he was not allowed to hold our candle so headed straight for the nearest bucket of water before the Mrs intervened and led him off to make a complete mess of the child’s play area. Discussions about whether we could go with him to Midnight Mass continue.
Ian was on sparkling form. For once in his life he managed to avoid mentioning the poor Palestinians and their oppression by you know who. I did not have to bite my lip this time. Being the CofE there were the usual ritual mumblings by Priest and Parishioners notably the modern version of the Lord’s Prayer which still sounds all wrong to me. Thine is the Kingdom is right. The Kingdom is Yours sounds wrong. There was also the now traditional message from the Pulpit about how Jesus was a refugee and how we should think about other refugees at this time of year, blah, blah, blah.
But it was mostly readings and carols – the Christmas story in full. I came away feeling as if it really was Christmas and almost able to wish joy to my fellow man. For me that is a major step forward on my normal mood, soured as it is by writing all day about the multiple sins that take place in the world of finance.
In a couple of days time I head back to the Mrs, in Bristol, and so I thought it prudent to start washing my clothes and that it might earn me major brownie points if I washed the bed linen as well. And we now have a washing machine up at the hovel. Prudently I handwashed a pair of underpants and a pair of jeans and put them outside to dry. But all of my socks and much else besides was put into the washing machine with some detergent in the right place. Problemo.
As you can see the washing machine and the instructions are all in Greek. I selected a wash at random and switched it on. The machine started beeping. A timer came on and after two minutes and nineteen seconds it went off to be replaced by a sign saying 4 degrees. The machine carried on beeping. It was locked. My socks are trapped and nothing has happened. After about an hour of beeping I could stand it no more and turned the wretched machine off. No more beeping but it has stayed locked. I am without socks.
Thankfully George the architect is here later today. He can translate and I might just be able to retrieve my socks or maybe even wash them.
After a good lunch of fish and chips Joshua and I started to make our way back from snooty Clifton, where we had been Christmas shopping, to our unfashionable Edwardian suburb at the edge of Bristol. The theory was that it would be a good walk for me and that we might find some more Christmas presents on the way back.
As we wandered down the hill an older man came into view, a good friend of the Mrs. He had been round for supper at least twice and is not a completely barking mad commie like most friends of my wonderful wife. I just could not remember his name. And so as he approached, in a stroke of genius, I said very loudly “Now there’s a familiar face” and stretched out my hand. The man looked a bit confused as we shook hands.
For a moment I wondered if I had made some terrible mistake in greeting a complete stranger as he was clearly rather confused as to who we were. So I doubled down and pointing to my son in his pram said “surely you remember Joshua?” Er yes he said .. how are you? I sensed that he was now bluffing. So I said “Its Tom the husband of R”. At that point he sort of remembered, if only by association, and we chatted briefly; he remarked how Joshua had grown so large as to be unrecognisable; and agreed that he must call my wife for a catch up. He was clearly a bit embarrassed so I strode on.
About ten minutes later I finally remembered his name. E. But my bluff had worked. My own failing memory had been hidden. If I can remember this handy hint and stroke of genius it will come in handy next time I bump into someone whose name I cannot remember.
My father’s sister L was visiting him in Shipston today and I mentioned that Joshua and I were going shopping ahead of making Christmas Puddings. Is it Stir Up Sunday she asked. To be honest I had not given it that much thought but unlike, I suspect, most younger readers I do understand the reference.
As it happens today is not Stir Up Sunday. That is the last Sunday before Advent (November 25 this year) and the origin of the day is in the book of common prayer when the collect for the that Sabbath is: "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” But since Victorian times it has been the day when folks make their Christmas Puddings and each family member stirs the mixture at least once and makes a private wish.
How many folks actually make their own puddings these days rather than buying them in the shops? I suspect not that many. But it was something my mother did and something I do e very year. We still have one 2017 pudding left so I made two today, one for the parents of the Mrs who will be hosting my wife’s sister and her family, the “bubbles” on December 25 and one for my second Christmas when Olaf comes to join us.
The older pudding is for our own Christmas day here in Bristol. As you can see Joshua stirred the mixture but I am not sure he made a wish so I made two. That bottle of brandy was full before today so it should be a fairly “robust” pudding when it is served with brandy butter on the big day.
The puddings are now steaming away, the windows of the kitchen are misted up and I shall be keeping the waters topped up for another five hours. The rituals of another Christmas have started.
George the Architect has been in touch and has sent more photos of the progress being made in turning the Greek Hovel into an eco palace. Boy I wish I was there rather than in Bristol. I bet Joshua does too. All we need is for Priti Patel to sweep to power, shut down the "university" where the Mrs teaches and another 50 odd joke left wing madrassas for future Tesco shelf stackers, and we could all move right away. Pro tem I can just dream.
As you can see below, the ceiling on the big new wing is now in place. This is the master bedroom. You can access it via the Rat Room or from outside via two floor to ceiling door/windows at either end. But what to do if you are upstairs in the huge new living area and do not fancy a wander in the dark? Simple, there is a trap door and beneath it a ladder running along the wall of the bathroom.
Next up the floors on the new wing and then some shelving, the cooker, freezer, wood-burning stove, washing machine, sofa and bunk beds for the Rat Room have all been ordered and should arrive soon. It is all happening out in Kambos.
Penned at Gatwick airport on Saturday as I waited for a train. Some bald Northern prick was blocking the escalator on the walking side. I said “excuse me.” He said “It’s not bloody London.” I suggested that rules about standing/walking up were national. “What’s your hurry you will only get stuck at passport control.” I pointed out it was my choice and rules were rules and as he moved aside I concluded my sentence “and you can fuck off” as I stormed on ahead to passport control where there was almost no queue.
I am not proud of myself for swearing but after four weeks of being left alone and hectored by no-one other than the Mrs exercising her uxorial rights Britain, the British and Britain are getting to me already. It started at Kalamata airport where I sought a seat as I waited to board. I put my bag on an empty seat. “That’s seat’s taken” snapped a sunburned old hag – that one over there is free.
Of course both were empty so neither were taken. The old hag was talking fucking cock. What she means is that she had mentally appropriated the seat for her oafish son. I shuffled off to the “free seat” and a cheap hat was placed on the colonised seat to ward off others until the oafish son lolloped up.
Of course, both incidents are trivial. As is a burning resentment at paying £64 for a one way ticket from Gatwick to Bristol. A London Bristol return is £57. I am being scalped and I know it. The train companies are run by prize bastards. But three encounters with Britain and the Brits in just a few hours has caused more annoyance and blood pressure rises than the entire Greek nation (including the windows man who is now redeeming himself at a rate of knots) managed in four weeks.
The Mrs needs to understand that a failure to emigrate is bad for my health.
By chance I found myself sitting in the quiet coach heading back to Bristol. Natch a few folks were on their phones and no-one kicked up a fuss. I was in the back sat and in the seat in front of me was a man, I guess in his thirties, unshaven drinking and playing, utterly crap, rap music, very loudly, on his tablet.
As we pulled into Bath there was a line of passengers facing me in the aisle waiting to leave. I exchanged glances with a couple of them, younger folks – even they seemed to think the music was either crap or just too loud or both. And so I plucked up courage, leant forward and tapped the chap on the shoulder “Excuse me, this is meant to be a quiet carriage” – I pointed at the sign behind me.
There was a moment’s silence. Would he thump me? No. He apologised sincerely and said he was just preparing for a gig tonight and switched the racket off. As they passed me on their way out, a couple of passengers nodded their approval – it’s clear we had all thought the same way but only I dared put the bell on the cat.
Rather charmingly the unshaven rapper then turned round twice more to apologise. I assured him there is nothing to worry about and wished him the best for his gig later on. I did not ask where I should go to hear more though I do wish him well.
Joshua adored Oakley, He calls the Greek Hovel, where I am staying on for a few days, “Joshua’s House,” The house in Bristol is “Oakleys house”. The “King of cats” he called “Oakley da King” and repeated the phrase endlessly. Da King would go to sleep next to Joshua’s cot to keep him company and would head into his room to listen to bedtime tales. He must have known more about the Gruffalo than any other cat.
I first met Oakley seven years ago when my previous companion, Kitosh, died very suddenly having travelled with me from London via Paris to the isle of Man. Grief stricken I headed to the MSPCA where two older cats were sitting unwanted and unloved. There was the very affectionate Tara, who passed away a couple of years ago, and another one who hid in his hutch but was, I was assured, very friendly, if very fat and lazy. That was Oaks.
They travelled with me after my rather hurried departure from the tax dodgers and for a while stayed with the pizza hardman Darren Atwater in Hackney. I know that Darren and his Mrs are devastated by the news. It was during this time that Oakley developed cancer and had his leg amputated. We were told that the big C would probably return within five years but that he was so fat and old that it would not be an issue.
At one point, even with three legs, Oaks tipped the scales at 6.6 kg. So he went on a diet. But in the past year his weight has plunged from 3.7 kg to just 2.7 kg and it was almost certainly the cancer that got him. There is a guilt in that his final days were spent without us. But he was receiving many visits a day from professional cat sitter Terry the hipster plus numerous visits from admirers such as Mu and Godfather Johnny. Perhaps it was a day spent with a junior doctor (Johnny) and being forced by the cruel Shipman to watch the hammers lose on MOTD that proved the final straw, oaks slept loyally in a West Ham blanket.
When Terry the most excellent hipster cat-sitter found him yesterday he had lost all his energy was not eating or drinking and was rushed to the cat hospital. By the time he arrived his eyes were losing colour, jaundice was setting in and there was only one outcome. The Mrs and I both had tearful final conversations with him, well monologues. He did recognise our voices, he really was fading fast. We told him we loved him and said goodbye. I am glad that Terry rather than the Mrs and Joshua had to go through those final hours. Sorry if that sounds selfish.
We will bury the ashes in the garden with a small ceremony as we did when the ashes of Kitosh were interred. Tara’s body was buried rather hastily underneath a rhubarb plant before Joshua could notice.
I think back to five wonderful cats I have owned. There was Big Puss ( aka Jesus) a gift from Uncle Chris when I was young who earned his blasphemous nickname by sleeping in the straw of our crib back at Byfield. He lived to a ripe old age, fathering many children. Poor babysitter, the great, Neil Masuda had to bury him. His replacement had enormous triangular ears and being born in 1982 was named after the bomber with huge triangular wings sending Easter presents to the Argies at that time. Vulcan lived a long life and died peacefully sparing my father a trip to the vets he could not bear to make even though it was the only option so decrepit was “Vulcs”. Then the much travelled east End lad Kitosh and then Oakley and Tara.
In my worst times they would lie in bed with me as I watched old videos and were a great comfort. Oakley was always keen on jumping into bed even when with three legs it involved taking a long lollop up and launching himself like a missile. Not having him launch himself into our bed to offer up big fishy breathed kisses as a reminder that it was time for his first breakfast, will leave a big hole in the life of myself and the Mrs. As for poor Joshua, I just don’t know what the Mrs will say.
I am not sure I can face another pet death. I have had a cat in my life for almost all of my own existence but Oakley really was the king. There could be no substitute.
I take consolation that the King is now at peace with no more suffering. Below he is pictured with his long time companion Tara, with Joshua and alone
I started today at 4.30 AM GMT in Bristol. I did not have the rub of the green with logistics in Athens and thus I did not arrive at my posh Kalamata hotel until 6 PM GMT, 8 PM local time. I have checked my emails , enjoyed a Greek salad and am just about to order an ouzo. But the really good news comes from George the Architect…the Bat Room at the Greek Hovel is wildlife diversity secure, the power and water is still working and so tomorrow I move in….
Of course, three years ago, I used to stay at the hovel in the one room which was then, at least partially, wildlife diversity secured. But it was only partially secure and as I lay there at night I could hear rats running outside the window and I found sleep almost impossible as I pondered what else might be trying to get inside.
George did not relay progress on doors and windows elsewhere at the hovel which is rather important to the Mrs and daughter Olaf who will arrive, with Joshua, over the coming week. All will become clear as I head up to Kambos and the hovel at just after noon.
The Bat Room may indeed be secure but, unlike here in Central Kalamata, all will be quiet outside apart from the screeches, rustling, squawks and other noises of the wildlife diversity community. It will take me a while to adjust to that and I admit that I feel rather nervous. But I have booked only one night at my hotel. The die is cast after four years of hard work it is time to move in. Fingers crossed.
My business at the Greek Consulate in Birmingham was done with all the efficiency you expect of Greece - that is to say with long delays, over-runs and numerous stamps impressed on my piece of paper. I then hurried back to the civilised south of England as fast as I could.
A nice Sikh taxi driver took me to New Street station. On his dashboard he had a Confederate flag with the words "born rebel" on it. In the US the flag of Dixie is seen by many as a sign of past racial oppression and many on the left want it banned. I asked my driver why he flew it. "Because I like it". He also had a big sign up, "born in England and proud of it." I could have been in Tommy Robinson's cab. I did not pursue small talk and was soon on the train back to Bristol braced for paying the bastards at Cross Country Rail £4 for two hours internet access on top of my usurious fare.
But here's an odd thing. I sat in the first seat in second class with the next door carriage being where those on expenses sit. I switched on my laptop and got my credit card ready. But the screen for Cross Country popped up and insisted that I was in First Class and so had nothing to pay. Reader I must admit that I did not protest and just surfed away happily. Is this a crime?
Back in Bristol i got in a cab at the station and we headed back to the Mrs and her house in unfashionable Bristol. The driver half missed a turn and I had to shout as he tried to go the wrong way. He stopped and reversed and then headed the right way but that all added a bit to the fare but we were soon outside the front door of a near neighbour. I never stop outside my own door in case I have a row with the driver. The fare was £6.80 and I handed over a tenner.
The chap handed me £3 but I pointed at the screen and suggested he owed me an additional 20p. He said "sorry i have no change" and then pointed at an unused ashtray crammed with 5ps, 2ps and 1ps. Having been overcharged because of his error I really was not minded to tip and just giving the wrong change is surely theft on his part is it not? Call me a pedant but I said that i'd take the extra 20p in small change and so I now have two 5ps and ten 1p pieces in my pocket and heading for my piggy bank.
Do you think I was being mean or was I right to insist that crime - him short changing me - should not pay?
It is not a complicated journey from Bristol to Birmingham but it is ffing expensive. Had I got up before 6 AM I would have saved £8 but for the sake of a bit of a lie in I caught the 8.30 and my return ticket cost a whopping £117.80. adding insult to injury Cross Country trains is making me pay an extra £2 for an hour’s internet access. To put this in perspective, I can get to London and back from £75 which is about the same distance and the wifi is free.
What with taxis at either end, today will set me back by around £150 for three minutes at the consulate getting a piece of paper stamped. Grrrrr.
I know that British Rail was useless. I can remember, as a child, journeys to and from Kent which took all day in slow and dirty trains. Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas of wasting taxpayers cash on renationalising the railways are bonkers. But on a day like today, as I contemplate my money wasted, I find myself almost thinking “to hell with it, let Corbyn punish the greedy rail companies and see if I care. Feck you, Cross Country rail”
On Saturday myself, Brokerman Dan and Lucian Miers, aka the rogue bloggers, will walk 32 miles from the infamous Horse Hill “Gatwick Gusher” oil well to Woodlarks, aiming to raise £20,000 for that amazing charity. Reminder – Woodlarks needs that cash to up its income from just £126,500 last year, to close its deficit and keep doing its amazing work providing holidays for handicapped folks who would otherwise get none. Yesterday was my last long training walk…
I set off at 5.30 AM from the start of the Bristol bath railway cycle path and in the early morning I made cracking progress. The track passes by a couple of rough looking estates and from one tower block I could hear neighbours having a rather heated exchange and threatening each other. That spurred me to walk a bit faster and I did have a few questions as to whether I should really have departed that early?
As some consolation the early hour meant that I saw both a fox on its own and a mother playing with two cubs. Growing up in the country I know that foxes are smelly , evil, murdering vermin but these urban specimens and their cubs did look rather sweet. Fear not I am not going soft, it is just that I was not “carrying” – I do know that the only good fox is a dead one.
As the light improved the foxes disappeared and were replaced by lycra clad cyclists and fat dogs being walked by even fatter owners. I made cracking progress and before 7.30 was at the converted station turned café where, when Lucian and I had walked this path, we had stopped so that he could have a bacon butty and a fag at 10 AM. Enjoying my first nutri-bar and drink I felt smug and ahead of schedule and was almost tempted to call Lucian and rose him from his slumber by telling him. Instead I pressed on and before eight thirty was at the steam railway station of Bitton for another drink and the rest of the first nutri-bar. Eight and a half miles in three hours – not too bad – with two short breaks.
Before ten I had turned off the path having done c11 miles and was on what was termed the Avon cycle-way to Chew in the Somerset hills. This was meant to be eleven miles too. But the signing was just utterly dreadful and as far as I can see the walk was entirely on roads. Within three miles I had lost the signs, if indeed they exist, and was just navigating village to village by instinct.
At three miles I saw a sign to Chewton. Rather foolishly I hope that the Chews were like Midsomer so that Chewton would be near Chew Magna or Chew lake. A chap said I was about eight miles from the lake. Great. I strode off fortified by another bit of nutri bar and more fluids, confident that I would beat the Mrs to our lunchtime booking at “Salt & Malt” by a good whack. Hmmm.
Two miles after Chewton came a village called something like Susan Dando where I asked about the lake which I was expecting to be just five and a bit miles away. “It’s a long way, at least ten miles” said a lady as she laughed. It was getting very hot and sunny and I was not laughing. The roads were up and down, rather too m any hills for my liking but I strode on, village to village.
The countryside was gorgeous. As my second and final nutri-bar disappeared I picked a few blackberries for comfort and by eleven thirty reached a roundabout which “I knew” was very close to the lake, the turning was just around the corner and in that vein I drank my last water. Natch, the lake was still miles away but I just kept walking and about 400 yards from the lake the Mrs and Joshua pulled up beside m e and gave me a lift for the final stretch.
Bar a bit of dehydration I was fine. Yes. My feet hurt but I coped with the hills fine and know I could easily have done another five or ten miles without collapsing. A few years ago when I was a twenty a day man my lungs would have been burning after just a few miles but today, even on the worst of hills, I am never breathless I might pant a bit as I hit the peak but that is it.
After that walk with Lucian a few weeks ago I was stiff as a board and headed pretty much to bed as soon as I could. Yesterday was just a normal day. Yes I hobbled a bit as my body stiffened up but I made supper, and worked a bit and just got on with it.
So I shall do two more short five mile walks on Tuesday and Thursday with Joshua and then it is the big one. I feel as ready as I will ever be.
The books, tables, wall art and chests of drawers plus four Belfast sinks were transferred from the white van of the wretched Bulgar to my hire car, a jeep and a workman's lorry as you can see in the first photo below.
The sweaty Bulgar did little of the shifting, that was down to myself and two burly Greeks. Up at the hovel we shifted the stuff inside the now completed and secured bat room. The second photo shows a heroic Greek carrying a Belfast sink as if it was a pillow case. The box in which the sink was has strict elf 'n safey wording about how it must be lifted by two men. Maybe it is the overt and shocking sexism of that warning that caused the Greek to ignore it?
And now everything, including a new purpose built mattress for an unusually sized bed, sits in the bat room waiting for my return in a few weeks when I shall be staying up at the hovel awaiting the arrival of the Mrs, Joshua and Olaf.
When I visit my dad, he urges me to take away one or two of the zillions of books in his house. Naturally I want to please him and do as requested but I am equally conscious that the Mrs reckons that our house in Bristol has too many books and that my suggestion that she bin her sociology books to make way for more of mine is not a runner. And now Joshua is collecting book after book as well...
The solution is to take boxes of books to the Greek Hovel. Some I have read some I keep knowing that one day I will read them. Others are there so that guests at the Hovel will have a wide variety of reading material. I have designed the hovel to have plenty of book space as you will see in due course.
Most of the books now sit in boxes but one box broke and thus future guests can see a bit of what is on offer. Uncle Chris Booker on the EU, Dom Frisby on Bitcoin (someone might be interested, surely?), books on oil, a Wilson biography, Gore Vidal, a David Lodge trilogy which now seems oddly dated though it is not that old, my fellow Christ Church reject and Hertford scholar Evelyn Waugh and of course books on the Mani and Greece. plenty to enjoy in the years that lie ahead.
Today was the day that my books, a few pieces of furniture and wall hangings as well as four Belfast sinks were meant to arrive at the Greek Hovel after a van journey from Bristol, via Bulgaria. Much to my surprise the Bulgarian chap in London called yesterday and said to expect delivery this afternoon.
It got better still. At 11.30 AM he called and said that the van would be at the Petrol Station in Kambos to meet me in 45 minutes. I got in my car sped up here and waited. And waited.
Eventually I called to be told that the driver was indeed at the petrol station. I assured the chap in London that this was not the case as I was at the petrol station and was alone. It took a while before it was established that the van was waiting at a petrol station back in Kalamata. I gave instructions and killed time by wandering into the hardware store to buy some snake repellent canisters. The man who knows me well, said “do you have snakes?” He smiled. He knows I do and that I am shit scared. It was his little joke and he fetched two canisters which, at 28 Euro, is the best investment I will ever make.
I killed some more time by heading up to the hovel and explaining, via one worker who speaks English, to a crew working incredibly hard, that I might need a bit of help unloading my van. I headed back to the petrol station.
Eventually the van arrived and I explained to a sweaty little Bulgarian who spoke no English that he should follow me up the road to the hovel. He drove slowly along the first half of the track which ends with the slope down past the deserted convent to the valley floor. I made to turn on to the track up towards the hovel but he stopped. He refused to go on.
He insisted that his van – which is exactly the same size as one used by the builders this very day and smaller than some of the heavy machinery we have taken up to the hovel – could not go on. He tried to insist that he was only meant to take the goods to Kalamata even though the docket clearly stated my house name and Toumbia, the widely scattered group of houses. At this point I really started to think of a four letter word beginning with c to describe this sweaty Bulgar who wanted payment for dumping my goods in a deserted valley floor.
I told him to wait, headed back to the hovel and brought down two Greek labourers one driving a jeep the other a truck with a flat bottom. With little help from the tardy and cowardly Bulgar we loaded my possessions into the jeep, my car and the lorry. One chest of drawers belonging to my grandmother appeared to have become slightly damaged. I repaired it up at the hovel but as it was handed over I looked at the sweaty Bulgar who just shrugged his shoulders, it was not his fault. I thought the c word again.
Up at the hovel we unloaded the goods. The sinks have strict elf ‘n safey instructions in English about how they must be lifted by two men. They are very heavy indeed. Greek workers picked them up, slung them on their shoulders and carried them single handedly to the bat room where everything is now stored. I’ll put up pictures later.
The Greeks were heroic. I did my bit. The Bulgar is a pathetic wretch. Over at Kardamili there is a monument to Greek military successes. Suffice to say that nearly all of them were two thousand years ago. The few in modern times were largely against the Bulgarians in the Balkan wars of the early 20th century.
I suggest that most Bulgars who have anything about them are now gainfully employed driving Ubers or selling the Big issue in London. Those left in Bulgaria are clearly a dishonest, feckless, inbred and pathetic bunch. Perhaps to distract the good folk of the Hellenic Republic from his own treachery and incompetence, our loathsome Prime Minister Mr Alex Tspiras might consider invading Bulgaria as a distraction. Judging by today, it would be a walkover for mighty Greece.
In the build up to my 32 mile charity walk for Woodlarks on July 28, I planned to build on last week’s 15 miler stroll with 19 miles and it all started so well. My pal Lucian Miers drove over from Winchester first thing and at 8 AM we started walking from just near Bristol Temple Meads. According to my calculations the Bath Bristol Railway path was 13 miles and Bath to the Hop Pole Inn on the other side was 6 miles largely along the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Things started well. We talked about a wide range of things including the retirement of Lucian from squash aged 56. He had drawn a woman called Beverley aged 76 in the local ladder and felt that surely he could get a much needed confidence boosting win. Beverley pitched up and was, in fact, a chap. But still Lucian reckoned that the 20 year age gap would be enough. The match lasted less than 30 minutes with a predictable result. Lucian has retired. We laughed and chatted.
We made good time and allowed ourselves a stop after about eight miles for a cup of tea. Lucian had a bacon bun and I removed some insoles I had bought to avoid blisters but which were causing me real pain. I don’t think I really recovered from that pain. But we cracked on reaching Bath after about five hours. 13 miles had somehow become fifteen according to the signposts and Lucian’s GPS tracker.
We headed through the back streets of Bath and by the time we were on the Canal we were somehow at seventeen. My water was running out, my feet were hurting, Lucian says his back was hurting and his GPS said we had another seven miles to go.
The Mrs and Lucian’s god son Joshua waited patiently for us. We finally arrived two hours behind schedule. 19 miles had become 24 and for the last few miles we were struggling, myself more than Lucian. There was some amazing Victorian architecture along the way, notably a wonderful aqueduct and as or nature we caught full sight of what was, I think, a carp. As we peered at it we caught our breath.
At the Hop Tree Inn I collapsed on the grass. Joshua helped me remove my boots and socks, I could hardly move. I feel eve r more stiff. But I made it. If I can do 24 miles and struggle this week, next weekend I target 26 and struggling less. That 32 miles is in reach.
Though he is an on-off smoker and a man not averse to a bottle or three of wine at lunchtime, my friend the bear raider Lucian Miers, the Bard of the Boleyn, is becoming a bit of a health freak these days. “I can’t file Friday as I am on a three day walk across the downs”. That is his catchphrase these days. And to think that it used to be “get another bottle in, I’m just nipping outside for a fag.”
I now feel more confident about my own fitness, brushing off seven and a half miles yesterday as if it was a stroll to the corner store, the thought of keeping pace with a serious born again health Nazi is a bit daunting. But Lucian said he fancied joining me this weekend for my planned 20 mile stroll.
I tried to put him off with an estimated start time of 8 AM in Central Bristol which meant being at my house for 7.30 AM. Given he lives in Winchester surely that would put him off. Not a bit of it so this weekend we walk together. Rather comfortingly, Lucian says he aims to do ten miles in four hours allowing for brief rests. I would look to do ten miles in just over three hours. That is the pace if I am to make my 32 miles for Woodlarks on July 28 before it gets too dark.
But I assured Lucian that our route is fairly flat and it is, I think. I plan to do the Bristol Bath railway walk, much of it close to the Avon along which I walked on Sunday, which is 13 miles. Then heading to the Kennet & Avon towpath until we get to Limpley Stoke and the Hop Pole Inn which I reckon is another five or six miles. I plan to own a fitbit by then so I can report back on the exact damage but I hope that we will arrive for a late lunch with the Mrs and Lucian’s godson Joshua at around 2.30 PM. We shall see.
Already I am starting to plan my next walk for the weekend after. Seventy four year old Coach Basham when not reminding me about post walk stretching exercises says that before I do the real walk I should have built up to 26 miles with comfort the week before. In that vein and aware that travel plans will slightly disrupt July distance training I am starting to think about a 23 mile walk for a week Sunday.
If you are in the vicinity of the Hop Pole Inn on Saturday feel free to pop along and buy Lucian and myself a celebratory drink mid afternoon. Meanwhile the fund raising continues. With gift aid we are now up to £9308.96. We want to raise £20,000 before gift aid. So we are now 39% of the way to target.
Put that in context. Last year Woodlarks survived on an income of £126,650. That is less than the CEO of Oxfam earned. And Woodlarks changed so many lives with that cash. So if we raise £20,000 then with gift aid we will boost what Woodlarks can do by 20% with this one walk.
It started well. I had planned a route from the Conham River Car Park on the outskirts of Bristol, along the Avon to Bath. The signs said it was 14 miles. What could be more pleasant?
The first two and a half miles, to the Chequers Pub at Hanham Lock is my normal training base for my five miles during the week walks. The path is clearly defined and even at 8.30 you meet a constant stream of joggers (often shapely lycra clad young ladies), cyclists (invariably lycra clad men who could do with losing a few pounds) and stacks of folks walking their dogs. There is a rather glamorous older lady on a horse who I meet now and again.
Joy of joys, I saw a Kingfisher for the first time in the wild. What a glorious sight as it took flight. I rather assumed that the whole walk would be like this. It was not.
Shortly after Hanham the path rather disappeared and I found myself walking through fields. Sometimes patterns in the grass suggested there was a path somewhere, often there were no patterns. At the edge of each field a metal kissing gate gave me renewed hope that I was on the right track.
I ploughed on, making reasonable time but at the village of Swineford the track stopped altogether and I found myself staring at a road and a not yet open pub, the Swan. I could see no sign so wandered along the road towards Bath for a third of a mile and finding nothing wandered back again. I met a man and asked directions. I retraced my steps heading back along the road towards Bath as instructed. After about a mile there was a footpath market down towards the river.
I took the path but by the time I got to the village of Kelston I had my hands above my head as I pushed through deep nettles. I do not wish to sound like some angry townie rambler but, well, I was an angry townie rambler at that point. Cut back your fecking nettles Kelston. Wandering through Kelston I met other walkers: a young man who, like me. had a back pack and who overtook me and than raced on ahead and then four folks who looked to be about sixty who I overtook! Hooray. That was a first and I had nine miles under my belt already at that point. I paced on, conscious that the skies were darkening.
It was at this point that not looking in more detail at the route proved my downfall, for I should have crossed the river. I did not. As I continued, I noticed that the paths had disappeared altogether, that there were no walkers and that I was walking through fields packed with cows who seemed not entirely familiar with ramblers. The terrain got tougher and tougher. There were no paths. No kissing gates just rusty old farmers gates to mount but I convinced myself that keeping the river to my right would get me to Bath.
Eventually I reached a field with only one exit. I had to jump a stream, clamber over an old rusty gate that cannot have been used in decades and I found myself in field with grass up to my chest. As I wandered through it, I saw big red signs at the end “Private land No Entrance, Ramblers and working Class People will be shot!”. Okay I made the last bit up but I recognised the game was up and seeing an exit at the top of the field I started to climb a track that cannot be used more than once a month.
It was a hard old, very steep, climb of 400 yards or so which left me breathless but at the end I was at a road and I headed right towards Bath. The views overlooking the river valley far below were spectacular and pretty soon I reached the outskirts of Bath. I walked almost to the Centre where the Mrs met me with her motor.
Thanks to getting lost twice and my unusual route I easily managed fifteen miles. I really did worry at one stage that I was completely lost and that there would be no way out other than swimming the river. I have no blisters to report which is good. I know that as an ex smoker a few years ago I’d have been gasping for breath but my lungs seemed fine. In that department I could carry on all day. My feet and legs were fine at the end and I am fairly confident that I could have carried on at my 3mph pace for another couple of hours or so, without collapsing but by the time I got home they were sore and seizing up. So all the articles I planned as I marched past the cows must be postponed. It was straight to bed where I slept like a log.
On balance, I have learned a valuable lesson about reading maps more carefully but I take heart from my stamina and so plan a 20 mile walk this weekend coming up.
This is all in preparation for my 32 mile walk on July 28 with fellow financial journalist Brokerman Dan who, I suspect, is already doing twenty mile walks without breaking a sweat. He is a smug bastard! So far we have raised £7,639.16 ( or just over £9,000 with gift aid). As you laugh at the idea of me scrambling up a steep slopes through grass tall enough to get me panicking about snakes; as you consider the pain of my legs stiffening yesterday and ponder me staring carefully at each cow I approached to make sure that it was not a bull, I am sure you can donate a tenner to a great cause. Please do so HERE.
I see that Brokerman Dan, who will be walking 32 miles for Woodlarks with me on July 28, has tweeted about completing a 15 mile training walk. In the smug looking selfie that accompanied the tweet the old bastard looks fresh as a daisy, as if he had just strolled to and from the local corner store. If only it were that way for me.
On Saturday or Sunday I shall be doing my weekend long walk. Last Saturday I managed ten miles. The target this weekend is 12-14 miles along the River Avon starting at bath and heading West. Do I stop at the Chequers pub ( 11.5 miles) or can I make it to the Conham River car park (14 miles) and get the Mrs to take me back to the pub by car? Decisions, decisions.
Pro tem it is back to five miles every other day – my weekday training. Yesterday saw me do just over 3.5 miles in an hour on a constant uphill gradient of between 4 and 7 ( whatever that means) at the local gym run by Perry the Tory here in Brislington, Bristol. The body builders who are the gym’s other clients did not giggle but at the end I was sweaty and smelly but not actually that breathless and easily able to walk straight to Joshua’s nursery and wheel him home. That involves a couple of steep hills as well so a good five miles in all and lots of hill work.
I worry that the Woodlarks walk has a lot of hills along the way.
I am not sure that the girls who look after Joshua at his nursery were that impressed by his sweaty and smelly dad. I tried to mumble something about training and a 32 mile walk but decided quickly that the best thing to do was to get him out of there as soon as possible with a promise that we could go visit the snakes and rabbits at Pets at Home over the way.
Today is a day off although I shall do the one and a half mile walk to pick Joshua up just to keep my hand in so to speak. Instead I have sent a few emails to encourage folks to make their donations. After about three weeks of fund raising Dan and I have raised £5718.16 ( with gift aid that is £6,815.210). That is 28% of our £20,000 (without gift aid) target so not bad.
But most of you reading this article have not yet pledged. To those that have I am grateful and will not let you – or myself – down. To those that have not, I am sure that you can spare a tenner. Go on, think of me trying to explain away how smelly I was to Joshua’s carers, think of the muscle men laughing at me, think of my humiliation, laugh and donate a tenner HERE
George the Architect sends more photos. You can see that the bat room now has a polished concrete floor and the dividing walls for the eco-loo and the shower are up with a stand waiting for a sink to arrive from Bristol. The door into the rat room is bricked up pro tem to allow me to sleep there in a wildlife free zone when I head over in a few weeks time. Elsewhere progress is rapid with the rat room now appearing to be semi roofed and progress on the upper floor rapid.
George the Architect has been in touch with an update on progress at the Greek Hovel and, as you can below, see there really has been progress. The rat room extension walls are underway and the new wing of the house which will double the floor space is now also starting to take shape. George says the door to the bat room is on its way and it will be habitable within two weeks. The rest of the hovel is still on track to be finished by September, after just 51 months!
The skies over the Hovel and Kambos look dark in these photos but I see that today it is 17 degrees and sunny in Kambos and tomorrow it hits 19 degrees. Later in the week there will be rain and it will dip to 14 degrees but still why on earth am I sitting here in Bristol at my laptop when I could be pruning olive trees in the Mani?
My mother used to bake all of our bread back in those hippy dippy days of self sufficiency in Byfield in the 1970s. As a diabetic it is not perhaps top of the skill set I seek to acquire as I consider my own future after the world of shares but none the less the Little Kitchen is a small local cooking school about 500 yards from where I live and I was delighted when daughter Olaf said she had enrolled me on a course there as a birthday present. I headed off through the snow yesterday to join four other souls who had braved the weather and our teachers.
Obviously this is Bristol so the men had hipster beards and I thought it wise to keep some of my views to myself. I was not wearing my Hillary for Prison T-shirt, on purpose. The very nice chap next to me was a vegan. You get my drift. Anyhow we learned how to make and each made a herb fougasse, a white three seeded bloomer and cinnamon buns. Other than the second photo which shows the efforts of our teacher, all that follows is my own handywork. The three seeded bloomer is something that I am especially proud of.
I popped up to see my father in Shipston on Stour in south Warwickshire last night with a view to heading on to Oxford early this morning for other family business. At 2.30 AM I awoke and looked out of my window and there was nothing to see. By 6.30 AM the global warming was deep, crisp and even and it was still snowing. It is now 9.15 and it is still snowing and the Oxford event has been cancelled. The snow is now at least three inches deep on the roof of my car and the forecast is for snow all day. The best bet, methinks, is to head for the motorway now and go back to Bristol in time to catch West Ham ladies in action at 2PM against Brislington Ladies ( my local team) in the FA Women's Vase 2nd round. Come on You Irons!
The politically correct BBC here in the South West creamed itself as Parson Green Primary here in Bristol picked up an award for its work to promote LGBT equality. Kids at the school are allowed to wear trousers or skirts whatever their gender, toilets are unisex and the school prides itself on teaching the kids from the start that gay is normal.
Head teacher Jamie Barry told a drooling BBC that pupils needed to "grow up in a culture of acceptance". The award was handed out by a body called Educate and Celebrate which gets stacks of wonga from the BBC's Children in Need and which,according to its CEO Dr Elly Barnes, aims "to eradicate sexism, homophobia and transphobia" and "smash stereotypical views of gender".
Stephanie Akinbulumo, a teacher at Parson Street Primary, told Pravda: "We want pupils to leave with a sense of empowerment that you can do anything, no matter who you are."Stephanie s shown on camera teaching five year olds about a family of penguins with two dads. I am prepared to concede that there are gay penguins (I believe homosexuality is part of nature) but, I hate to break it to Stephanie, Elly Barnes and the BBC but gay male penguins do not have kids. They cannot conceive and there are no LGBT adoption services in the penguin community. Teaching kids about the normality of homosexuality by pretending that two gay animals or indeed men can create life is a lie.
Pointing this out to my PC sister N, I was told that it was important to show that homosexuality was normal at an early age as some of the 400 kids at Parson Street will be gay. I accept that statistically 8 of the 400 will in later life be gay. And maybe some of them will protest as some gay adults do that "they have always known." But I find it hard to believe that at 5 any kid knows about sex or has sexual urges at all. Let alone knowing for sure that they want to engage in same sex relationships when - a few years later - they are physically capable.
The BBC was told by Parson Street's head teacher that kids had to know about same sex relationships as o kids at the school might have same sex parents. Really? Data I have seen suggests that gay couples have adopted c3000 kids since 2006. In which case the chances of there being any kids at your average primary school with gay parents is very small indeed.
My sister N thinks I am just not with it in not wanting my son Joshua exposed to this piffle. I will discuss LGBT issues with him as a parent I do not want his five year old mind confused by gay penguin families at 5 or being told that wearing a skirt is, as a 5 year old boy, normal. Because it quite simply is not.
Luckily we live in a working class/lower middle class district. The young mums at our local primary are either good Catholic Polish speakers, wearers of Muslim headscarves or solid working class folk none of whom will tolerate this sort of nonsense. If it is imposed on us I, for one, will opt for home schooling. It is not the job of The State to teach 5 year olds, who really can't understand the complexities of this matter, lies all about the facts of life.
Sing & Sign is not to be confused with politically correct poetry. The latter is on a Wednesday at our local library or will be until, that place is shut down. As the Po faced poetry dominatrix explained this week, Bristol City Council is being forced to make big cuts. Well of course there is no cut in its donation to the Pride festival, the City council can afford a fully staffed press office, to fund Chess Tournaments and to make donations to very rich charities such as the Terence Higgins Trust as well as Womankind Bristol Women's Therapy Centre Ltd, Independent Sex Workers against Violence, the Hype Dance Company, the Bristol Zimbabwe Association and a whole raft of other valuable causes. But it must close down our library here in the white working class district of Brislington because of the wicked Tories. Whatever.
At these meetings the babies are given a paper badge with their name on it. Joshua usually eats his before we are too well advanced. We then sit in a circle and sing PC rhymes. So there is no drunken sailor but we now talk of lazy Katie which seems a bit sexist to me but what do I know?. Natch we are not catching anything by its toes. We mums are meant to make signs now and again to represent stars, or bobbins in a sewing machine or whatever. It is harmless enough even if the library gives us pro foxy woxy propaganda on the rates to take home with and to brainwash our offspring.
Afterwards we mums take our children to the cafe next to the Conservative Club for a coffee. I have been doing this for a few weeks now and with the Mrs back at work I really don't mind this aspect of Primary caring. I am on first name terms with a couple of the other mums but not yet having earnest discussions on mothering woes. That will come.
Joshua enjoys eating his badge and we sing rather less politically correct versions of the songs together as we walk home. The word crocodile in row row row your boat becomes feminist in our private version. Joshua's mother has not banned that and, to her credit, laughs along with us.
Sing and sign is several miles away and I attended ny first session yesterday with the Mrs who has - like the other mums there - enjoyed a whole term. Other than the Mrs, there were six mums who were all at least 15 years younger than me and half of whom really could have been a daughter sired after University. But I was not there to oggle but to decide whether to sign up for another term.
The idea is that babies learn the signs for objects. Joshua now has a certificate saying he has learned 176 signs. Dog, cat, tortoise, fox, toothache, stop! The list goes on and on. The mums sing utterly inane songs making a sign to represent key words in them. The babies sit there not having a scoobie what is going on. They are now crawling around looking, I assume, for a way out while the mums sing along with the dull tunes and make daft signs. The truth is that the Mrs and the others now know 176 signs and the babies know sweet FA.
Afterwards I suggested to one of the mums that by the time our offspring had learned the sign for a dog they might actually be saying dog. Might it not be better to focus in on teaching them , you know, er, English as my mother taught me. Of course I was put firmly in my place. Times have moved on and it has been shown that signing stops tantrums and advances your child's learning. Hmmm. In double blind studies with a statistically large sample? I somehow doubted it but have learned not to argue with the mumbo jumbo of the birthing industry.
So come September will I sign up or will I take Joshua elsewhere on a Thursday?. On the one hand a couple of the mums were really pretty acceptable eye candy but on the other hand, I know - like all of the little babies present - exactly zero signs. Do I really want to sit on a mat, take my shoes off and learn from the beginning to chant this vacuous nonsense and make daft signs?
It is sweet that the mums believe this clap trap and I sense they get a social kick out of it, all heading off for lunch afterwards. But they do not even hand out name labels for Joshua to eat so I think we may be passing on this one, in favour of some quiet father and son reading of Ayn Rand instead.
It is the sort of conversation I only really have with my father. We sit here tonight in Shipston. With the Mrs having taken Joshua back to Bristol, I am with the old man for a couple of days. We are killing time ahead of the BBC news. I write the odd article, he reviews old family papers, something that is the focus of his life these days. Have I discussed the Ightham murder of 1908 on these pages? No? Well, maybe another time.
Of course I knew what my father was fishing for. But I could not resist. "Nottingham" I said. "Where is that?" he asked, assuming that it was an obscure hill station established by the Britishers somewhere in the sub-continent. "Near Derby" I replied, "on the river Trent." "But where in India is she from? He persisted. "Nowhere. She was born in Nottingham, she is as British as you and I"
Alright, alright said he "where are her parents from?" I replied truthfully. "!Nottingham." He laughed. Game over. The in-laws have been in the grim North for 50 years so I reckon they are pretty solid Nottingham-ites but the little game was played out. I told him that they were born in Chennai, what he and I might call Madras.
He headed back to his papers, me to answering dull emails.
At lunch I was reading nine month old Joshua a book which the local library had given us: Everybunny dances. It starts off with all the little rabbits dancing, singing and having a wonderful old time. There is no time off fr going and eating all Mr McGregor's carefully planted vegetables these are just happy little bunnies having fun.
But then a fox appears and they all run and hide. They stay still. Suddenly the fox starts to dance, to sing and finally to play the clarinet but nobody appreciates him and he sheds a tear. Poor sweet old fox. The bunnies emerge and applaud. The fox is happy. They all play happily together. The end.
This is sweet Mr Foxy Woxy, a charming furry creature who must be protected from those toffee nosed Tory rich bastards, that is to say fox hunters. In that great debate the narrative of the left is that all hunters are cruel, rich , nasty Tories and foxy woxy is sweet and gentle. And children's books have for two decades been pushing the cute foxy woxy line as part of this.
Those of us who grew up in the Countryside in those dark days of old know that most everyone joined in the hunt, it was part of the community, not just rick Tory bastards. And we know that foxes killed our chickens, geese, pet rabbits and cats. Not just to eat but for pleasure. When the fox got into our chicken house it are one bird. The other 25 it just slaughtered. Foxes are evil cruel vermin, killers and the only good fox is a dead fox.
But our children have been brain-washed to think otherwise. The story I read to Joshua is pure propaganda and its lies are funded by a local council that claims to be cash strapped.
For a couple of weeks, the Mrs and I were wondering why the widely advertised event in this part of Bristol was called SPRINGfest. After all it is July. Perhaps it is that unfashionable old Brislington is just a bit behind the times? It turns out that this is the festival of the Sandy Park Road Improvement Neighbourhood Group. It is a bit out a mouthful but the main thoroughfare in this part of the world sure does need improving.
It has one uber dodgy pub, one fairly ordinary restaurant but a proliferation of charity shops, fish and chip shops and low grade Estate agents. I suppose there is a new Deli.. it is improving a bit.
At the top of the road is St Cuthberts where Joshua was christened two weeks ago. It was hosting the sort of "producers" Bristol abounds with. that is to say folks who produce home made jewellery, cards and tea towels. We said hello to the vicar who, once again, was on good behaviour, managing not to mention the oppression of the poor Palestinians, for a whole two minutes. We wandered round. £8 for a tea towel. Bargain. Off we headed to the bottom of Sandy Park for the food festival.
Somerset cider, meat pies from Bath, cheese from the Mendips you get the impression. In among the stands was one selling olive oil from southern Greece, from the Peloponnese to be exact - where the Greek hovel is situated. There was a card with a lot of horse about how the olives head from tree to press within 18 hours making the oil that much better. Horse say I. Pure horse. Olives are harvested and sacked. At the end of the harvest on each piece of land be it one day or several you takes the olives for pressing. It is cool in December in Southern Greece, perhaps a degree below zero at night. There is no rush to get your olives to the press.
For what it is worth, the oil was a pale yellow with no green tinge and utterly bland in taste. So much for all its special qualities. Horse say I and horse again. But what about the price? You could buy 200 ml bottles, 500 mil bottles or - the best value - 2* 500 ml bottles for a mere £20. Twenty fucking quid!!!! In Kambos we sell our oil - which tastes far better - to the co-operative for just under £3 a litre and the local producers make a gross profit margin of around 60%, including labour costs, even at that level! £10 just try and work out the markup on that one? The stand older was avin a giraffe. The sort of margin he is making is right up there with that on heroin importation and his oil is not even that good.
I bit my lip. It does not make me want to go into olive oil in a commercial sense. It just makes me think how silly, pampered and detached from the real world of the soil and the field, the British middle classes have become.
I have two great fears when travelling. The first is that I will miss my train or plane. This is hereditary. My grandmother Lesbia Winnifrith never missed a train in her life apart from once when she arrived so early that she caught the previous one in error. I like to travel with plenty of room for error.
My second fear is of a terror attack. This has been a long running fear.But recent events have only made it worse. I try to offset this by spending as little time as possible in airports. Today it is scylla or chayibdis.
I left it late booking a bus to Gatwick and so found that the late evening coaches were fully booked. Thus the only one avaialble was a 12.40 PM coach arriving at Gatwick at 4.05 AM. Last boarding for the Kalamata flight is 5.05 AM. What if the bus got held up? I tried to do the maths and started to panic.
So what about a train? The last train out of Bristol to get me to Gatwicjk was 9.50 PM Monday. I am writing this on the train bracing myself to arrive at Gatwick at 1 AM. there is no chance of missing the plane but I must somehow endure 4 hours at Gatwick. Right now I suspect the place is crawling with armed cops so I should be reassured.But I am not. And so I prepare for charybdis.
My third fear is of flying. I am a pretty nervous passenger. But, fingers crossed, I shall cross that bridge if and when I come to it.
I loathe flying. The truth is that it frightens me a bit. And so I usually have a drink or two in the hope that it knocks me out on the plane. But taking this type 2 diabetes seriously, there was no alcohol for me at Bristol airport on Friday. The place was crammed, largely with fat people flying Easyjet for stag and hen parties across Europe. The rotund stags and porcine hens were already drinking heavily by noon when the Mrs and I arrived and they were also stuffing their fat faces with processed junk food, aka sugar filled suicide sandwiches. I had a coffee.
A couple of hours later we were flying into Copenhagen looking down at "The Bridge". By around five I was feeling pretty feint having only enjoyed a breakfast of raw oats. And thus I enjoyed a warm goats cheese salad and we all headed to bed. Travelling with a baby is tiring and as a diabetic it is especially hard to dodge the temptations of booze and the ever present processed food. But at the end of the day my blood sugar was just 10.3.
10.3 is nowhere near my target of 5 but given that I started Monday evening at 15.3 it is good going. I don't kid myself. This is largely down to my sugar-busting Gliclazide pills but I am also doing all the right things including switching off my computer. I write to you on Sunday morning having not turned on the wretched machine for almost 48 hours.
In a way that makes life so much better - I really am much calmer. In a way it makes it worse. Last night I tried to call my father. There was no answer. And so I called my little sister N. Again no answer but then a text message. Apparently I had missed a few emails. My father came home from hospital on Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning he was discovered in a pool of blood having had another "complication" post the operation. Back to hospital in an ambulance he went.
Missing out on all the emails I had no idea that there was talk of surgery, of another blood transfusion and of much else. But so far neither has happened and the Shipmans are apparently considering sending him home today. Little step sister F and I chatted at length and we are not so sure that this is wise. But who are we to argue?
This all came as something of a late evening bombshell just before supper. So shocked was I that I let my guard slip and had a glass of wine, a piece of bread and a tiny bit of red meat. This morning my bloods came in at 12.3 which is the worst since the morning of the 5th ( after that bad day in London). I am kicking myself. But this is a minor blip. Today we head to an isolated Swedish island. Limited wifi, no booze, even more walking and relaxing fishing.
The word from little sister N this morning is that my father is in better shape.That is good. I have not yet booked my flight out of Copenhagen next Friday. Greece or back to Shipston? I am not sure. Pro tem a healthy breakfast of oats and now it is off to "The Bridge"
The pizza Hard man Darren Atwater says that my pancakes look all wrong. That is because he is from Canada so wants big fat fluffy pancakes drowning in maple syrup which is how the folks of North America aim to take obesity rates all the way up to 100%. Back in the old world we prefer thin crepes which can be tossed in the pan.
As I nipped out to buy a lemon I saw the local shop was selling ready made pancake mix. FFS some folks are so unbelievably lazy. I bet the pack mixture contains stacks of chemicals and sugars and it is just so easy to make batter yourself. Two eggs, 200 ml milk, 75ml water, 4 oz flour, a pinch of salt and 1 oz melted butter and 10 minutes left a batter with a perfect consistency which made six large pancakes for the Mrs and I - three each. The one below is only at the start of cooking before anyone complains
The first four were savoury - the remains of last night's bolognese, avocado and cheese. Then folded.
For the pudding banana with a touch of maple syrup on one bit and sugar and lemon on the other. I prefer our old world ways but tried a bit of both.
It really is so easy and flipping the pancakes in the pan is fun and a chance to show off to the Mrs. Next year my son Joshua - who will start weaning in a few weeks - will get involved in the day. And his old man is a bit of a Master Chef after all.
And now it is Lent. What shall I give up. My daughter's Godfather Joe Levy always said that as part of his Judaism for passover he gave up bacon. How to trump that devotion I wonder?
The Mrs says that my coat makes me look like a Big Issue seller. Christ these lefties are snobs. But on reflection she has a point and ahead of a trip to Northern Greece where it is minus 7 at night and barely above zero in the day I headed to town on Saturday to find a replacement. Luckily I had my camera to hand as I encountered several hundred poorly dressed folks, most of whom seemed like the sort of under-washed workshy bums who will pitch up to protest against anything. The smell of weed was thick in the air as I wandered along trying to find the most idiotic placard in Bristol's latest Donald Trump hatefest.
Natch, underneath my new coat I was wearing my Hillary for Prison T-shirt. The group chants were predictably inane, led by a man with a microphone. At one point he paused for breath and I shouted "Drain the swamp!" No-one seemed too riled.
The prize for the most ludicrous banner set came from this mother and daughter act below. They smiled sweetly as I asked them to pose together. Do they not see the stupidity of their family contribution. This mother should be reported to social services not only for feeding her daughter a diet of lentils and assorted other organic fairtrade shite but for screwing the kid's head with such logical flaws at such an early age. Maybe it is not her daughter but her son who is being encouraged to dress in girls clothes as part of learning about fluid gender identity. Who knows? But this woman should be locked up.
The rather pretty girl below was my last encounter. I put it to her that Trump had no need to invent an enemy as those fellow at ISIS were jolly bad fellows, chucking gays off tall buildings, butchering folks at the Bataclan etc. "Are they not your enemy too I asked? We meant Muslims said the girl and her pals. But that is not what your banner says is it? Said I. But what is your point said they? Reflecting that I had already made my point, that is to say that their banner was total cock, I ripped open by coat to reveal my T-shirt and shouted loudly "we won, you lost get over it and drain the swamp".At that point I decided it was time to head off. I had work to do - for most of the folks marching that really would be a four letter word.
MB. Isn't the chap in the green beret an ageing Neil from the young ones?
Now enjoy the rest of the assorted band of privileged middle class whingers and professional haters. "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow."
I have noted before how the Guardianista cinema of choice for Bristol's pious liberal middle classes is the Watershed which encourages its devotees to comment on the films being watched by pinning post-its to a board. This brings out the worst in me.
Jackie, the story of JFK's widow, is one film showing right now. And thus one of the so much better than the plebs intellectual elite had posted "How sad that in 50 years the American Presidency goes from Camelot to Spamalot".
You are so fucking funny original and incisive are you not Mr Guardian reading tosser? Thus perhaps the only Donald Trump supporter ever to set foot inside the Watershed grabbed a post it and noted words to the effect of:
The hypocrisy of the liberal Elite. One President sleeps with half the women in DC and is a praised, another just talks about it and is pilloried. One almost starts World War three and is a hero while one tries to bring peace by talking to the Russians and is a zero. Go figure.
Given the commitment of the left to free speech my guess is that mt post it will have been removed within hours.
My father told each of his children and step children that, as he had far too much money, he was gifting us a sum of, I think, £2,000. I was the odd one out in that I was given £1,000 and my father's old motor to sell, an old banger worth, he reckoned, less than a thousand pounds. But at least I could drive it until I sold it although the process of selling was bound to be a pain and was something I dreaded.
So I just carried on driving until the day at the end of November that I was heading to Greece when I, for some reason, found myself slipping into neutral and stopping suddenly on the slipway onto the M32 here in Bristol.
A white van man hit me and a lady teacher hit the white van man. He was very cross with me but she was sweet as pie. My father was just glad that I was alright and accepted that the bad driving gene is my blood and that my mother was not to blame.
The back of dad's car was remodelled but I drove onto Heathrow via Woodlarks and all was well. Finally i have sorted out the car repairs and the bad news was today relayed to me: it is not worth repairing. Oh dear said I, as I prepared to call a recorded line as instructed by text. But then: oh joy of joys, apparently the scrap value after my father - who will now never drive again loses a no claims bonus - is £1600 to me.
Oh happy days. God looks after bad drivers such as myself in the most mysterious of ways.
If you are preparing for a five hour journey to work along snow covered roads or your pipes have just burst you may think that I am talking utter rubbish. But the lack of snow here in Bristol is really starting to annoy me.
Over in Greece there is lots of the white stuff on the mountains above the Greek Hovel and in fact far lower down as well. The Express tells us on a daily basis that Britain is braced for a deluge of global warming. Channel 4 News last night reported - with a straight face - about the threat of global warming ( as in the world getting hotter) but 24 hours earlier was reporting about how unseasonally cold weather ( and snow) across South East Europe and Turkey was hitting poor refugees. That, of course, was climate change.
But while the North is blanketed, here in Bristol we see almost nothing. I realise that I am a bit old to be building a snowman but as I talk to my daughter I share the excitement of what that might entail and exchanging a few snowballs with the Mrs is always fun. Above all I'd love Joshua to see snow for the first time.
So, reverting to childhood: where is the snow? It is so unfair!!!!
My wife is younger than I am and her social set here in Bristol is younger than she is and thus on New Year's Eve I found myself with a group of folks in their mid thirties. I shall be 49 in ten days time. There were a stack of babies and young children there and one adult opined "it is just as if everyone is having babies, is it a Bristol thing?" No, dippy snowflake, it is a function of how old you are.
By way of contrast no-one who I would describe as a friend has had a baby this year other than my wife. My sisters and step siblings have all added to global overpopulation in their time but are well past the nappy changing stage of life. Instead for me 2016 was a year of deaths although the arrival of Joshua was a welcome relief from a list of departures. The year started with great Aunt Eleanor Booker, a 98 year old who was - I think - the last person alive to have witnessed the partition talks in India.
The most notable death was my step mother. Having battled cancer and enjoyed live for far longer than the quacks said she would back in 2012, that awful year in so many ways, her final descent was rapid. She had been given a 50% chance of making it into 2013 but she lasted to the summer of this year. The end was a relief. Cancer is an awful opponent which takes no prisoners.
After Helen the grim reaper moved into first gear. There was Maurice Byrne, an amazing man and a family friend for decades who had become a keen reader of my work and a good friend of late. Then a week after Maurice's service, death visited our old cleaning lady the wonderful Frau Whicker. She was beaten to meeting St Peter by a few weeks by another friend of my father's Anthony Briar, who was a very jolly figure I saw often in childhood.
it is folks of my father's generation who are dying - Eleanor was almost the last of the generation above. But these are also figures who loomed large in my childhood. Whilst my wife's friends think about the next Christening or rather, since they are all Godless liberals, "naming ceremony" I reflect on how the "front row" ahead of me is starting to thin out.
Fifteen years may not seem like a long time but it really does give you a different perspective on life.
Yesterday was Christmas day number one as my daughter came down to Bristol for a Christmas meal. I am rather worried that having scored a perfect ten on this one it will be hard to up my game for Christmas Day itself.
The main course was duck - roasted to perfection with an improvised stuffing of finely chopped almonds, satsumas and the cooked & chopped liver and heart of the duck with some herbs from the garden ( thyme mainly). It was actually rather a good stuffing created in a panic. The bird was accompanied by perfectly roasted potatoes and parsnips (par boiled first then roasted in the tray with the duck), sausages, honey glazed carrots and sprouts boiled then quickly turned in garlic butter. But my real pride, having cocked it up in 2015, was a home-made bread sauce which this time had a perfect consistency as well as taste.
Thereafter the Christmas pudding I made a few weeks ago (pictured) turned out perfectly and tasted superb and I nailed the brandy butter as well - it had a perfect smooth but very slightly grainy consistency. Absolutely spot on. It was one of those days as a cook when everything, right down to timings was perfect. The yellow liquid is rum which we burned off but for some reason the blue flames are not showing.
So how to turn the dial up to 11 on Sunday? I think adding a fifth vegetable (red cabbage cooked with vinegar, brown sugar and sultanas) might be an idea. Going for a plum with a heavy dash of port stuffing is also under consideration, as it is duck again. I have a few days to ponder this matter.
Hell's teeth there are some pathetic folks out there who really do not understand this democracy thing at all. Tonight in my home City we are being urged to head along to a Candlelit vigil to protest against Donald Trump. It is being organised by an American ex-pat, who said she wanted to bring Americans living in Bristol – and indeed the whole community – together... this woman sounds truly appalling.
I quote from the local paper
Sara Finning, from California, said she struggled to tell her children the news that a man who boasted about sexually assaulting women had been voted in to the most powerful job in the world.
"Like most people I was worried because the polls were showing it was going to be close, but I was completely shocked when I got up this morning and having to explain to my kids that Donald Trump won was really, really upsetting for me and them," she said.
"His campaign has very much been based on hatred, and if he can't be responsible for his own Twitter account, then how can he be responsible in the most powerful office in the world?" she added. "If he runs the country like he ran his campaign rallies, where people were beaten up and mocked, then America will be a very, very difficult place to live."
The candlelit vigil will aim to bring together shocked Bristolians, whether they are from America originally or not. "I don't have an agenda, I just had this emotional feeling that I needed to do something, something that can bring people together," added Sara, who has lived in Whitehall, Bristol, for ten years.
"I don't hate anyone, I don't even hate Donald Trump, I just want to show that not all Americans are racists, not all support him," she added.
No all Americans are racists...you don't say?
I have asked the Mrs if we might head along with me wearing my HillaryforPrison T-shirt? But she says that it is quite cold and at my age I need to be careful.
So instead I shall stay in and delight in watching the uber-liberal propagandists at Channel 4 News squirming as they explain why all of their coverage was so utterly wide of the mark.
Bristol is the sort of left leaning City where the patronising middle classes agree with Matt Frei that ALL Trump supporterrs are racists. They agree with Hillary Clinton that anyone voting for the GOP is a "deplorable". Naturally we Brexit voters were also termed ignorant racists by the bien pensants of the South West. Put it this way: I really don't feel as if I am in my ideologocal home here.
I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with my Brexit supporting comrades in Gateshead who do not think that loving your country and wanting it to be free is something to be ashamed of. I want to link arms with God fearing, hard working, tax paying, gun owning patriots in the flyeover states as they seek to take back their country from the coastal liberal elites who have presided over a mass trabnsfer of wealth from the 99% to the 1%. And so I want to wear my Hillary for Prison T-shirt with pride.
Until today, doing so here in Bristol risked a lynching because, if the effete Bristolians looked up from their organic latte's as they read the Guardian, and saw a Trump supporter they could not hide their contempt for a "deplorable."
But as someone who wears the tag deplorable with pride I wonder if on this day, as it now seems just possible that, thanks to the heroic FBI, Hillary will indeed go to prison, is it right to "come out" as a Trumpster? Perhaps the bien pensants will accept that we deplorables were right all along and now join me in a choris of "lock her up! lock her up!"
I doubt it. So distorted are the values of the liberal elite that they would rather vote for a criminal than a conservative.
Okay Nimo is not exactly a neighbour. She lives in Easton a district of Bristol that is a bit more expensive than our own and full of edgy Guardian reading lefties. The Mrs and I both work but don't get to live in such a big house as Nimo because...she's on housing benefits. I pay my taxes so she gets a nicer house than me. Or maybe not as the lazy lardbucket has now, finally, been evicted after two years despite left wing action group Acorn and her sanctimonious neighbours trying to foil bailiffs with a human chain around chez Nimo.
Lets start twelve years ago when Nimo arrived here from Holland and moved into this house with her five kids. She is getting benefits but apparently is able to afford trips to Kenya to see her terminally ill dad. So she is a Kenyan, clearly not fleeing persecution, who lives in the UK in a big house paid for by the grateful taxpayer. What's not to like about that as I continue my working day that started God knows how many hours ago?
Nino reckons that her landlord wants to evict her because she complained about the damp. The landlord points out that she blocked workmen who tried to fix that problem and his more pressing reason is that she is more than three grand in arrears with her rent and refuses to pay up. What a bastard he is for demanding that he gets an economic return on his capital. He is just a typical uncaring capitalist pig. No wonder all the edgy left wing twits who live in Easton are on Nimo's side.
Meanwhile Acorn bleats about the cost of rented accomodation. It blames evil capitalist landlords. It does not consider for a second that it is our generous housing benefits system that pushes up rents across this City since the taxpayer will happily pick up a tab of up to £500 a week. If benefits were restricted to a level that would fund accommodation only in the very poorest parts of Bristol then rental prices in areas such as Easton would slide. What's not to like about that? I see no reason why my taxes should boost the profits of private landlords. Do you?
And so lardbucket Nimo has now waddled off into "emergency accommodation" paid for by the Council. I wonder how long that will last? I cannot imagine that private landlords will be lining up to offer her a house given that she may block any workmen who want to make repairs and that she now has well publicised form when it comes to not paying rent? One imagines that the whale like Nimo will thus be housed by the state for a very long time indeed.
How has it come to this? The stupidity of Acorn and the sort of loons who live in Easton is no surprise to me. But why is Nimo in this country at all? She is fleeing nothing. We should welcome with open arms folks who want to work hard who will make this country a better place for all but this fat slob is clearly just a taker not a giver.
It is all very well saying, as the middle class liberal left does constantly, that the UK is a rich country but as it happens we are running a vast deficit. The interest alone on our national debt is £45 billion a year. In the end, taxpayers have to pick up the tab and it is lower income taxpayers and the middle classes who feel that hit the hardest.
Here in Bristol many of the sort of folks who simply cannot afford to live in Easton are those sort of taxpayers. And the liberal elite wonders just why we, the great unwashed, are so pissed off with the way this country is structured. Enough grumbling, back to work for you and me, we have taxes to pay to support Nimo's next holiday back to Kenya or her "need" to live a subsidised existence in a better part of town than where I get by with no expectation that the State should or would upgrade me.
I have on a number of occasions pointed out that the red trousered, car hating lunatic George Ferguson was a quite appalling mayor of my home City of Bristol. I feel, however, that I owe Mr Ferguson an apology.
Mr Ferguson's hatred of the car resulted in Bristol being a place where one was always snagged in roadworks and where parking in the City centre was either impossible or prohibitively expense. This did not effect rich folk living in central areas such as Clifton but hammered poorer folk who can only afford to live further out. It is the sort of regressive poor bashing thought-set that sanctimonious and rich, Guardian reading liberals like Ferguson adore.
I had hitherto suggested that Mr Ferguson's hatred of the car was unsurpassed in Bristol and that made him the worst possible candidate for Mayor. I apologise to Mr Ferguson for that canard. For it appears that his successor, a Labour bore called Marvin, hates the car even more and is now plaguing the City with even more roadworks.
It seems that with Bristol Mayors, as with Archbishops of Canterbury, you think the incumbent is woeful and the worst in history. Then he goes and within weeks of the next chap taking office you look back on the old guy as being some sort of heroic visionary.
Bring back that lunatic Rowan Williams for Archbishop, bring back Red Trousers as Mayor.
I don't often apologise but here goes.
Mr George Ferguson's hatred of the car is almost unsurpassed in Bristol and that makes him, among the 432,000 citizens of Bristol, the second worst possible candidate for Mayor after Marvin "boring" Rees. I apologise for suggesting that Mr Ferguson was the worst possible candidate for Mayor among the 432,000 people of Bristol. that was clearly not quite true.
Dad and I are now into a good routine here in Shipston. He does not say much about my late step mum but he is getting a task done each day, sorting out his papers, her papers, probate, making a few plans, writing stern memos in his semi legible drunken spider handwriting. On Saturday I head back to the Mrs - who is now at 34 weeks - for a Bristol break and he will have his first time trying to cope alone without his cook and companion. We have a few folks popping in to see him during the six days before I return and we shall see how it all goes.
Plans have been made for carers and visitors right up until September but then - as you know - I shall be in Bristol for the birth of my son, something that I am incredibily excited about. Luckily Dad has now booked a cruise for some of that month. We spent ages on various websites and discussing where he wanted to go. New places so he might get an extra country in his six decade battle with his brother C involving who has been to the most sovereign states? Nope it was going to an area he loves. So he will be travelling to Venice and Back. No new countries but places that make him happy.
The lady from Fred Olsen lines said "For £10 a day extra he can get as much drink as he wants." Bloody hell, I think I might book in to go with him. I asked the lady if she was sure? Can Fred Olsen's bank balance handle this offer to my father? She clearly does not know of his reputation and seemed sure so it has all been booked.
Naturally we all worry about how Dad will cope alone on the ship given that he is pretty immobile but my father seems absolutely sure he will be fine and that he will have fun. And so all siblings and step siblings are happy that he heads off to blow a healthy slice of the inheritance with Fred Olsen.
But will Fred Olsen see its balance sheet holed beneath the waterline by that drinks offer for my dad? If so, I can help Fred out. In the old days Dad used to get to go on free cruises lecturing on Hellenic matters. And he'd love to do it again. So much so that if Fred offers a surcharge for the right to give lectures at, say, £500 a pop by the time he is back from Venice, Fred's balance sheet will be greatly strengthened and the inheritance will have taken another beating.
Gosh, the Conservative Club in Brislington is efficient. It was only on Wednesday that my father and I trouped in to complete his application. On Thursday another visit as Dad thinks the Cider is cheap and enjoys a place where the only newspaper is the Sun and with cricket on the TV.
At the funeral of my step mother yesterday among those attending was her old friend Red Trousers. That is to say the car hating mad lefty former Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson. Red Trousers is glad to hear that my father will be spending some time with us in Bristol and says he love to join us for a drink. At my father's club I say? Of course says Ferguson.
Oh joy of joys. In what is becoming something of an annual treat, global warming nutters travelling to the poles to show a lack of ice are being trapped by...ice. And I am delighted that the latest ship of fools set sail from my home City of Bristol which prides itself on being the "Green Capital" of Britain. So there maybe a few red faces in green City today. Let's hope no-one suggests using lots of fossil fuels sending in a rescue plane? Maybe they could borrow St Bono's private jet?
The Polar Ocean Challenge was on a two month trip starting here in the Green Capital heading to Alaska, to Norway, then to Russia through the North East passage, back to Alaska through the North West passage, to Greenland and then finally back to Bristol. The stated goal of the eco-loons was to show “that the Arctic sea ice coverage shrinks back so far now in the summer months that sea that was permanently locked up now can allow passage through.”
Sadly the boat is now trapped in Muirmansk Russia because there is too much ice blocking the North East passage. This was the ice that the eco-loons said did not exist because of global warming. Perhaps that is because current Arctic temperatures are actually below normal. Oh dear, that would be another inconvenient truth then.
It is not as if these global warming nutters are the first to face this problem. In 2013, the Antarctic research ship Akademik Shokalskiy became so trapped by ice that the 52 crew members had to be rescued by plane. Two years later the Canadian ice breaking ship, the CCGS Amundsen, was forced to reroute and help a number of supply ships that had become trapped by ice.
So the computer models were all wrong, Michael Mann fudged his data and the real data shows the arctic getting colder. But after two very hot days in one small group of islands offshore Europe yesterday the BBC was reporting about the global warming crisis all over again. Oddly it has failed to get its pals from Bristol to phone in with their comments. Indeed it appears not to be covering the story at all, I cannot think why.
The Mrs is now 32 weeks pregnant and looks the part. She looks magnificent and I am very excited about September. So yesterday we found ourselves at an antenatal clinic with eight other mothers. Being, as you know, a progressive and feminist sort of chap I attended too as did four other "partners". I came away feeling rather old and as if this world was somehow not the one that I feel entirely comfortable with. Why can't it be 1978 all over again?
I say partners because I could not help but notice that there were few wedding rings in evidence. There is nothing wrong with living in sin but I felt from the start that tradition was not a big thing for my fellow attendees.
I was by a good chalk the oldest person there. The youngest, I guessed, was a pretty young Polish woman who cannot have been much more than twenty. The rest were mostly in their twenties though some might just have been in their thirties. Here am I just eighteen months away from fifty. I also notice that i was the only man present not wearing tattoos.
We were divided into three groups to answer various questions about what happens when your Mrs gives birth. "Don't worry this is not a competition, just a bit of fun" said the midwife. I know that it is politically incorrect to divide folks up into winners and losers, in the modern world all must have prizes so competition is bad. I rather like it. I would not, however, describe guessing how quickly a cervix dilates as a bit of fun. Does that make me a sexist, a reactionary, narrow minded or all three?
If you did not want to guess the rate of cervix dilation, we were told that you are allowed to cheat and check out an "app" provided by our local NHS which has all the answers. On my old Nokia one cannot access an "app" even if one knew what an app was and wanted to. I don't and don't. But the young folks app'd away happily.
Our group was asked to list non NHS ways of relaxing during childbirth. I suggested cannabis. Our group leader did not want to exclude me so helpfully wrote down candles on our flip chart.
After each session the midwife went through our answers and showed us big pictures of what a placenta looked like, the dilation of the cervix and other matters which a scholar and a gentleman really should not be exposed to. Again the young folks lapped it up but I found the graphic displays just not quite my bag. As my father would say "my mind was on higher things."
My father, who is staying here in Bristol,thinks that he attended the birth of one of his three children but is not sure. I rather suspect that in his era that meant pacing about outside and then having a big cigar. One generation on, I am happy to attend the birth. I am actually excited about it and I have done it before. As a progressive fellow I am happy to hold the hand of the Mrs as we attend such ante-natal sessions. But I do come away feeling just very old indeed.
As I mentioned at some stage last week my step mother is keen that fruit from the garden in Shipston does not go to waste. And so I returned home for an all too brief weekend in Bristol with a punnet of gooseberries that I had picked. Oakley's friend Tara was buried beneath the rhubarb earlier this year and, I apologise if you regard this as tasteless but it had come up amazingly.
Hence below are the gooseberries having been par boiled, followed by the rhubarb with plenty of demerara sugar then photo three is the dish with crumble. Photo four is the finished product and photo five a serving with lashings of cream. Photo six a roast chicken stuffed with lemon and parsley with side helpings of roast potato, sweet potato and chorizo. There was also some garlic buttered spinach but that I forgot to photo. The Mrs conceded that I have my purposes. Not a bad effort all round.
Back in the UK I sit at my desk looking out on a quiet surburban road. It is all very different to the view from the rough table at which I write at the Greek Hovel. I see people, cars and neat brick walls rather than olive trees, sheep, the abandoned monastery and the wild of the Mani countryside. Here in Bristol, I also spot in a magazine rack next to my desk a copy of Grazia magazine.
On the front cover is Harry Potter star Emma Watson offering her opinions on things I don't care about plus pictures of other celebs whose names I do not recognise. Grazia is an inane magazine for women.
I ask the Mrs "surely you did not buy this?" because spending cash on such matters is surely grounds for divorce. Last time such a publication entered the house, the Mrs claimed to have found it on a train. This time she claims that her friend Katie brought it with her when she trekked down from the Grim North for a visit the other day.
I detect a pattern here. Surely catching your Mrs reading such piffle, however it came to enter the house, is a valid reason for divorce?
British Airways staff were again brilliant today. On Saturday I arrived at Kalamata airport with a barely mobile father and weak step mother. Within minutes a cute airline lady had helped me get a wheelchair for my father and i was told my job was over. The lady put them at the front of the line and I had nothing more to do. Today it was the turn of the Mrs. We arrived and the small departure lounge was again heaving with lobster pink Northern Europeans forming long lines to check in for flights to London and Paris.
I found a different cute airline lady and said that my wife was heavily pregnant, as she is, and within minutes she was again at the head of the queue leaving dozens of the lobster pink Brits and froggies fuming behind her. Then she was through passport control and was off and I headed back to town to face another three to four weeks at the Greek Hovel with just the snakes and rats for company.
When the Mrs is here I am on holiday so I only work 3-4 hours a day at my PC and I do no manual labour at all. I enjoy three meals a day and more than the odd drink. "After all we are on holiday" say I as I order another ouzo. I get to sleep on clean sheet in an air conditioned hotel and enjoy swims in luxury pools. The Mrs is paying and it is a treat. I enjoy my hols with the Mrs. We talk, we plan, we discuss. Life without the Mrs is very different.
Aware that I will have gained a few pounds while she has been here I want to lose weight badly, as I did do in my first stint here this summer. So it will be down to one or two meals a day and by meal I mean a greek salad. There will be virtually no boozing. And there will be hard labour in the fields every day. Greece with the Mrs is perhaps not very good for my figure but it is a holiday. You may think that I remain on holiday just because I am here and not in the Bristol house. But I made that mental leap two years ago. The Greek Hovel is as much my home as Bristol is and it is where I work hardest and most effectively. I stopped off in Kalamata to watch the footie and made it back to the hovel at six. So guilty was I about my waistline that I abandoned writing work for the day and headed out to the fields. I know that late evening olive pruning risks encounters with the wildlife diversity but I could not wait to work up a good sweat and feel like I'd done something really productive. I thought I'd just do one tree but then I did another and another. All in all I was just into double figures on trees when I cut my finger on something and took that as a sign to call it a day. I wandered in and Nigel Wray called. It turns out that he has two massive olive trees outside a house he owns....maybe I could become a full time itinerant professional olive tree pruner. It is just so relaxing. It is almost addictive.
Sadly in late June I shall not be in Bristol but will instead be working hard to rebuild the Greek Hovel. Even if planning consent is not quite in by then, I am free to start preparatory work such as digging out the stone floor of the bat room and demolishing the illegal construct on top of the rat room, the area known as the snake veranda.
The Mrs was set to join me but is now altering her travel plans. Tom Winnifrith just cannot compete with Deacon Claybourne, Gunner, Scarlett and Will Lexington. Nashville fans will know exactly what I mean. If you are not a fan of this must-watch TV series you do not know what you are missing.
We caught Gunner in action at a Country show last year in London. Rather suprisingly the actor who plays Texan born Gunner is in fact a Brit and is an accomplished singer songwriter as well as an actor. Gunner used to date Scarlett who is the neice of recovering alcoholic Deacon, now back with his sweetheart the star of the show Rayna. Deacon may or may not be dead, that is the cliffhanger at the end of series three. Well actually there was no way that Deacon who is the star of the show could be killed off, and as American viewers who are already well into Series 4 know, Deacon is alive but his ghastly sister Beverley is not doing so well.
At least for British viewers, Will is back as Gunner's housemate following the collapse of his faux marriage because he is in fact a closet homosexual. It all happens in Nashville.
Anyhow, Deacon, Will, Scarlett & Gunner are on tour and the Mrs and her fried Jeanetta managed to get seats to the Bristol leg before they sold out after just a few hours. She has not worked out yet that this means a change to her holiday plans so excited is she about the prospect of seeing Deacon in the flesh. It means that she will have to fly to Greece after the gig which gives me even more time away in the Hellenic Republic. As such I am not complaining but I shall leave it to her to work out what this all means in her own sweet time.
Wait till I tell her that my internet searches show that Deacon is still alive. What a bonus.
My father and step mother spent most of yesterday afternoon at a Midlands Hospital for a routine chat with a consultant and pick up of medication. Late in the day he and my step mother retrned home, drained after a session with the world's third largest employer which left both fuming. I had a similar experience the other week here in Bristol. Say what you like about Harold Shipman but he does appear to have been ruthlessly efficient...he clearly did not fit in well in today's NHS.
My father and step mother who are both seriously ill arrived on time for a noon appointment. The consultant granted them an audience at 12.45. The consultant who was meant to be there was not and the stand in did not have any notes relating to the previous consultation so it was impossible to guage how things are trending. Dad and step mum tried to help him with notes they had made in their diary about doses etc and prompted the consultant ( on £130,000 ayear + private work?) about a new scan and he accepted that was a good idea.
Then it was off to the pharmacy to collect pills which they were assured were there. Mobility is an issue but the old folks struggled along and the folks at the pharamcy knew nothing. My step mother consulted her diary to brief the NHS clowns and was then told there were two lots of pills, those prescribed this week and those prescribed last month which had not actually been there when someone went in to collect them. At this point I would have been making Harold Shipman jokes again but the old folks are made of sterner stuff.
My father says that with heroic restraint (his words) he did not say "I must have words with the station master at Belgrade because I told him if I ever met a more incompetent organisation I would let him know."
That is a good line.
My own experience was with the Mrs in Bristol. There are two related departments with a common waiting room. Lets call them left twix and right twix. I arrived late and since the Mrs was not in the waiting room went to Right twix where there are two reception desks but was told she was not there. I passed a third communal reception desk and headed to left twix where I was assured at one of the two reception desks that she was not there either. I insisted she was there somewhere because I had a text to that effect from the Mrs.
At that point, as the women at reception desk two in Left Twix started to give me filthy looks, a nurse approached from Right twix. The Mrs had been found. After one procedure we were sent to a small waiting room where we chatted for fifteen minutes before a nurse came and moved us to the communal waiting room (what a good use of her time that was). There we waited before being summoned to Left twix for another procedure after which we were told to book another appointment at one of the two receoption desks in Left twix.
A fat woman wasted a few minutes clicking her computer before saying we could not have an appointment as no form had arrived from Right twix. She knew when to book and that we should book but she needed that form. She was only following rules and obeying orders. Yes I understood and bit my lip.
Instead I headed back to one of the two reception desks in Right twix where I kicked up a fuss. A few minutes later back in left twix a nurse (good use of her time?) arrived with the form.
Between the five reception desks the NHS is employing at least ten receptionist gauleiters per shift. There were perhaps ten nurses and four doctors on duty at the same time with no more than 15 patients in the communal waiting room at any one time and often far less. Overmanned, incompetent and not always terribly friendly, that is my experience of the NHS as a customer ere in Bristol.
But am I allowed to say that? Should I not be saying "under-resourced by the wicked Tories and staffed by saints who never put a foot wrong?" The reality is that spending on the NHS has never been higher. Doctors are paid obscene wages. And the level of waste and inefficiency is there for all to see. Apart from Doctor Shipman who was, as we now know, the one NHS doctor who was ruthlessly efficient at all times.
It was unfortuanate for my local Chinese takeaway that I discovered that it had been scamming me with bogus delivery charges at a point where I was 52 hours without nicotine. Right. I have now abandoned New Easton Express of Stapleton Road Bristol and am at war as I explain in this short podcast.
The assault on the freedoms and the pockets of the poor by the fascist lefties who run my home City of Bristiol continues. First it was our mad Mayor George Ferguson with his war on cars. Now the Labour run City council that wants to fine me for picking blackberries or mushrooms. Why? And who will be hurt most? the poor once again.
Okay not full time. In fact not even part time. But I am going to give a lecture to the young folks at the University where the Mrs teaches on 21st October. Normally these impressionable young people have their minds filled with left wing nonsense. But they are in for a bit of a change and a bit of a shock
The lecture is titled “Why capitalism is good for all” with the subtitle “Greed is good”. When I told this to a mad lefty friend of my wife at a Birthday party on Sunday – without mentioning the subtitle - he said “presumably with a question mark at the end”.
This was the fellow that went on to state that sociology lecturers across the South West subsidised the City. That is to say the private sector. Whatever. Naturally my reply to this utter lunatic – who spends his working days leading our youth astray in Bristol – was “no question mark – it is a statement of fact”.
My talk, with the students throwing chairs at me, walking out in droves, the Mrs claiming that she does not know who I am, etc. will be captured on video and I shall have it uploaded here as soon as possible.
I have invited Getafix Stacey and his charming wife over for lunch. But have received three stern warnings from the druid.
First up he lives in remote West Wales, drinking at the Punter’s Return, seeking out the Money Tree and looking after “my precious” – his stash of Advanced Oncotherapy share certificates. Malcolm says that he and his Mrs sometimes go to Cardiff but he cannot bare to be away from his precious for too long so rarely heads further east. But he promises that he will make the trek over to Bristol soon.
Second I am warned that Malcolm’s Mrs is even more of a mad lefty than he is. I am used to a Mrs who is a mad lefty and that does not phase me. Maybe Getafix and I can leave the two of them discussing the evils of capitalism and head off to the Conservative Club for a few drinks.
Finally I am warned that neither Getafix nor Mrs Getafix eat meat. Or fish. Now that is a toughie. Veggie food can be terribly dull. I am thinking of a potato, olive and goats cheese pie (please tell me they eat cheese) with peperonata (a stew of peppers, tomatoes, garlic and a bit of chilli – Darina Allen recipe) on the side. Followed by apple crumble and a cheese selection? Can anyone think of anything more exciting?
I cannot remember exactly when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I think it was around six or seven years ago. It was not a surprise. I had eaten and drink too much and the great West Ham supporting Tory blogger Iain Dale had described his symptoms and diagnosis a few months earlier. I knew what was coming.
There have been times since when I have managed it with medication and sometimes just by clean living and taking stacks of exercise. There have been times when I just let myself go. Four years ago I was a 19 stone 6 pounds blob and really all over the shop. But relationship breakdowns, work crises, near bankruptcy and a nervous breakdown did wonders for my (physical) health sending me off to walk around the mountains of Greece and Albania. I may have been a bit of a fruitcake but I sure knocked my body into shape.
Of course marriage and owning a restaurant are not good for the figure but I think I sort of have things in some sort pf check but perhaps I was a tad complacent. I know that Iain has also gone through such phases. However, the Mrs forced me to register with a doctor and last week an eye test showed the first – albeit minimal at this stage – signs of an issue in my right eye. I knew what was coming next.
This afternoon I strolled down to the doctors, a healthy twenty minute walk, for the start of the other tests. Today it was blood pressure and knock me down with a feather I scored my best result in years. Well done said the quack. Well done I said to myself, clearly I should stay on sabbatical forever. This is good news.
Naturally there was the inevitable lecture on smoking. Yes Doc I am aware that it is bad for me and also that the Pope is a Catholic. Do you really get £100,000 a year with long hols and a £65,000 Index linked pension for stating the bleeding obvious?
Next up are the blood tests for blood sugar. I fear these might prove a bit less impressive but have managed to sneak an appointment this week after five days of relative sobriety here in Bristol. I rather sense that if the bloods were taken in two weeks’ time after I spend a week in London where I tend to drink, er… a bit more, the results would be dire.
Either way I rather suspect that I shall be back on medication before long with suggestions that I take a bit more exercise and another few shock revelations about how smoking is bad for me. The obvious answer is of course to get more olive trees and move to Greece to spend more time working the land. What’s wrong with that plan?
Okay my motives for handing over £3 to join Labour might not have been the purest. I have done the decent thing and voted for Comrade Corbyn but today I actually felt a real pride as Labour – notably Harriet Harman – took on this Government on the issue of immigrants and state sponsored executions.
Please do not think that I admire much of what Harman stands for and has stood for in the past. But today she spoke for the conscience that this nation seems to have forgotten it had, as a smug David Cameron announced that a British drone had executed two British born ISIL jihadists in Syria.
The House of Commons voted two years ago not to intervene militarily in Syria. I am sure that the two men killed were plotting bad acts and the world is no worse place for their demise. But the State cannot go around without any mandate simply executing its own citizens. Harman asked some very valid questions of the Government on this matter and was booed down by smug Tory backbenchers.
It appears that David Cameron got clearance from the Attorney General for these executions. Just as a previous Attorney General cleared Tony Blair’s illegal war based on lies in Iraq. Do you trust such a system? Are you sure that a future administration will not use these precedent to rather widen the net of which countries it bombs illegally or who it executes? I am not so sure that I trust the political classes in this way and am delighted that the Labour Party is asking tough questions.
And I am afraid that Labour has also made the running on the migrant crises. It has advocated a policy with which you and I may or may not agree, that we should accept more migrants. The Conservative Party has until this week advocated a policy of just doing nothing. That is no answer to anything.
I am not sure that Labour’s interventions today will win it any votes. But at least it shows that it has a conscience. Tory backbenchers who have spent all summer advocating a policy on the migrants of doing sweet FA and who today heckled anyone who dared question the right of the Executive to engaged in state sponsored executions without any prior Parliamentary approval may be winning tabloid approval. But they act without thought or conscience.
And before anyone says “would you house a migrant from Syria?” The answer is yes. Our Mayor here in Bristol, George Ferguson has said that he will take in a Syrian migrant. The Mrs and I have discussed it and we will be contacting the Mayor to say that we are happy to do the same.
I arrived at Athens airport at 7 PM on the dot and sober as a judge with plenty of time for a 9 PM flight to Gatwick, given that I had already checked in and only have hand luggage. Er..oh. My flight is delayed by 3 hours and 20 minutes.
That means that I am likely to arrive at Gatwick at c2.30-3PM GMT and will then have 150 minutes to kill before the first bus to Bristol departs. A nightmare journey awaits.
I head to the special needs easyjet desk and say that I have a special need, I am thick. What does this all mean? An officious lady says shows me a pack of vouchers which I guess get me a sandwich and a drink and offers me the chance to get behind 140 other sweaty Brits and escaping Greeks to queue to get the voucher of which she has a stack of in her hand. Put another way "fuck off and line up with all the other peasants, I am not even going to use the word sorry since you are only a customer and I view you with complete contempt."
I say ta but no ta and head off to get a frozen yoghurt and to wander to the terribly expensive Sofitel opposite the airport. It has a great internet connection.
As it happens my Euro to ouzo conversion programme of the past eight days has not gone according to plan and I appear to have around 1200 Euro burning a hole in my pocket. I now have four and a half hours to kill. I have no choice. The PC is plugged in. I am writing and a large ouzo with ice has just arrived. This could be a long night and I fear that my only company will be my best friend ouzo. I have eight days of relative sobriety to make amends for.
At 10 AM today I let a debating group into Free Speech & Liberty to start our trading day two hours earlier than normal. At 12.15 I realised our cook (due to start at 11.45) was not here. By 12.20 I’d established he’d crashed his motorbike but I pushed him and he promised me that he’d be with me in half an hour. I switched on his oven and prayed he’d turn up by 12.45 as the debaters wanted food at 1.
He did not, but I played for time and at 1.15 he arrived, we served, they loved the food and had a great day. I took on a pretty young lefty on the subject of aid for the kleptocrats of Africa (she supported it, I said African need capitalism not handouts) but it killed the time while we waited for the cook.
But that period 12.45-1.15 was stressful. It is times like that that I loathe.
It is now 6.30 and we have had folks in all day. We have a big table arriving at 7 but I know that already today we have made a clear profit of several hundred quid. And that is not including the £15 I made flogging a couple of old Real Man coffee cups and saucers to a drunk Manxie who staggered in.
Our quietest day of the week has already covered c 1/15th of our monthly rent, rates etc. It’s a lovely London evening, ahead of folks arriving for supper I am writing a few things for tomorrow. Life is easy…It is at times like this that I think I could contemplate moving back to London and doing this full time. And now I have just a great chat with a bunch of LSE students who spotted my Ron Paul T-shirt. One wa a libertarian, the others er…less enlightened. But it was fun. Yesterday I had a long chat with a Spanish/Portuguese journalist couple who had come in especially because the support free speech. It almost seems like a perfect life.
But, I suspect that when I arrive finally back in Bristol to see the Mrs and the cats at 2 AM on Sunday morning I might feel rather differently about life.
In between treavelling back from the Greek Hovel to Bristol there is always tiime to launch a new free monthly magazine - Uk Investor Show. Issue one leads on Greece and I have a centre spread on why it is kebabbed whatever. There are share tips and bear calls from myself and share tips from Steve Moore and Zak Mir. Columns by Chris Bailey and Thierry Laduguie and comment on why UK house prices must fall and on the election. You can download it for free with no registration needed HERE
The Mrs wants me back in Bristol by tomorrow afternoon and it is nice to be wanted. And so I embark on the journey back from the Greek hovel with a cunning plan given that there are only intermittent flights from Kalamata at this time of year.
First up, I have already booked a seat on the 9.45 bus from Kalamata to Athens. But that gives me four hours to kill and, being on sabbatical, I really do not have any work to do. And so I sit in a bar by the sea in Kalamata knocking back a few ouzos. Certainly enough to ensure that I fall asleep on the bus to Athens.
I arrive at c1.30 in the morning at Athens bus station which is a dump in the worst part of town and so will quickly hop into a cab to the airport where I know that I can access the internet and keep myself occupied from 2.15 AM until I check in at 7.15 AM Greek time.
Once onboard the plane I should be so shattered that I fall asleep at once, waking up at 11.15 AM GMT at Heathrow. If I am still tired then the coach to Bristol will be my next bedroom and by early afternoon I shall be back with the Mrs and the cats.
I finally struggled back home to Bristol at 11 PM last night – 38 hours after leaving for London. I was greeted by two wailing cats, Tata and Oakley who guided me to where there food should have been. Cripes – the auto cat feeder had not worked.
Tara is think as a rake but eats like a horse. Oakley has three legs, is morbidly obese but is less greedy than his companion. He is just lazy. But both clearly felt aggrieved. I unjammed the auto feeder and poured an enormous bowl of food which they devoured greedily. Luckily, feeling guilty about abandoning them for so long, I had bought two cartons of cat milk, the sort of product daft Londoners love to treat their felines with.
I the relented on the ASBO and so far have not been punished with lavatorial naughtiness merely with loud meowing to demand food at 5 AM. I am forgiven. Just as long as the Mrs does not find out as she would almost certainly report me to the RSPCA.
The Mrs and I have put up our Christmas tree. It is a bit small but it is part of some environmentally friendly scheme here in Bristol which I cannot quite get my head around. But to humour the little woman I have played along with the green nonsense.
Anyhow here is the prize competition. To win a bottle of olive oil, made by my own fair hand, from the Greek Hovel all youhave to do is look at the decorations and name which countries they come from. For the avoidance of doubt I count England and Wales as seperate and the angel at the top was made by my daughter many years ago and she counts herself as Welsh. Your clues include that contributions come from four continents and I have bought all the decorations personally.
The leaves are now turning yellow on the fig tree that dominates our garden in Bristol. We have a fig tree in Greece too at the Greek Hovel and it was yielding fruit in the summer that was ripe and wonderful. The UK offering has been a little bit less ripe but I was determined not to get it go to waste and so as a family treat we harvested some of the figs and …hey presto we have a perfect fig chutney.
Three smaller pots have already been handed out as presents and the Mrs and I are working our way through a large pot at home. I reckon it might just last until Christmas.
My only regret is that I did not start this earlier and make more chutney on an industrial scale. The figs start dropping in early September and a good number now lie squashed on the paving. As the leaves fall from the tree I can see another batch of fruit that was hitherto hidden and looks pretty perfect for use.
As ever I shall resolve to be more organised next year and make twice as much. Sadly, with such small volumes produced this year, this product is not available at Real Man Pizza Company although it would be fantastic with our Yarg led cheese board. Maybe in 2015.
When I was kid, autumn was a time for boiling and preserving on an industrial scale. The aspiration of my parents – mainly my mother – was to be as close to self-sufficient as possible. We did not grow wheat so had to buy flour as well as milk, sugar, coffee and meat and corn for the ducks, geese and chickens. But our fields were converted into an extensive garden, we had our own fruit (rhubarb, gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries) and the hedgerows yielded even more.
All fruit was preserved in jars or made into jam. Chutneys were prepared. Vegetables were pickled or storied in sand for we had no freezer. September to November was time for working on often bitterly cold days – or so I remember it – bringing in the harvest and then preserving it ahead of the winter.
My own efforts are trivial in comparison. But, I hope, that it is a start of the journey back.
One of the attractions of the house the Mrs bought in a Bristol suburb last Christmas is its almost Mediterranean – if small – garden. It sits wedged between the house and my office, aka a large abandoned garage which is now starting to get a bit nippy. On that matter, I remind my rentier landlord (aka the Mrs) that she has yet to provide her exploited tenant (me) with the heating she promised. Truly, the deluded lefty has become a wicked capitalist exploiter. I digress.
The garden came with a lovely rhubarb plant, a fig tree but its main produce is grapes from the vines that snakes around the edge and onto anything it can find to climb along. And so the grapes were, some weeks, ago harvested by myself the Mrs and some of her deluded lefty mates.
How many deluded lefties does it take to harvest a vine? Five (plus myself who was let off grape picking as I was chief cook for the evening.). Of the five, that would be one to play the guitar, two to complain about Thatcher and austerity and the other two to pick the grapes.
The grapes were crushed (not with bare feet it is too bloody cold for that) and left to ferment ad then strained and now sit in two demi-johns. You will note that they are marginally different colours. I cannot remember which is which but one is the top liquid, the second was liquid plus a lot of strained grape material. It matters little. The initial tasting was “interesting”. Bottling takes place shortly and Chateau Brislington should – in theory – be drinkable by next spring. In practise…I have my doubts.
I am a man of habit on the travel front. At 4.20 AM on every other morning V cars of Bristol picks me up and I arrive at Temple Meads by 4.30 despite the routine warning from the cab firm that if I miss my 4.47 AM train it is my own fault if I book a cab any time after 4.02 AM. I could walk to the station in 45 minutes, at this time of morning the drive is a breeze.
The station doors open sharply at 4.30 AM and I wander in after the initial mini rush to buy my super off peak return to London. Since my debit card is sufficiently worn that First Great Western auto-reflects it although it works fine in ATMs, I always pay by cash. By 4.41 I am in carriage F ready to order a latte by Bath and tapping away on my laptop. Such is my routine once a fortnight.
But two weeks ago the sign below greeted me as I tried to buy my ticket. I ended up buying on the train but the routine was broken. And lo and behold exactly two weeks later the same sign is there. First Great Western are you sure you have called an engineer? Really?
The Bristol vine harvest was completed last weekend. About enough liquid for ten to fifteen bottles now sits fermenting in a bucket. We have added sugar and yeast and must just wait for a week before straining and decanting into a demi-john. I may try to make grappa with what’s left as an experiment.
Our Bristol grapes were red but small and of varying degrees of sweetness. They were not the lush bunches of grapes you’d expect at a Roman orgy. Nor the lush bunches of sweet grapes that hang around the Greek Hovel.
My guest this summer gave me firm instructions as to how I must assist the vine for next year by pissing against it. As a woman she was not able to assist but urine is a great source of nitrogen and so I followed her instructions every day. I am not sure that I saw any immediate response from the gnarled trunk. But I guess we will find out next summer.
It is the end of my first working week back in the UK. Right now my friends in Kambos are gathering at lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna. It is starting to get dark. I would at this point be tapping away for another couple of hours before Vangelis – the man in the pink polo shirt – said in Greek, it is not if you are drinking but what are you drinking. And we’d be off. Back in Bristol I prepare to cook supper for the Mrs instead and to learn more about life in the Grim North by catching up on this week’s episodes of Coronation Street. It is a life of contrasts.
I write this on the train from Reading to Bristol. A journey of bike, car, plane, train, train is almost over. I am back in the UK. I am back in a land of folks with horrible tattoos, of fat people swilling beer in concreted pub gardens, of nasty, smelly and expensive takeaway food. I am back in a land of surveillance cameras where there are far too many people jostling each other to get ahead. I am back in a Country that is just emerging on another illegal war, where jingoism and English or Scottish patriotism combine for a poisonous mix.
On the other hand I cannot wait to see the Mrs who will pick me up at Temple Meads, to give the cats an enormous hug and to catch up on last week’s Downton Abbey. I am really looking forward to a mug of tea, to sitting in my back garden looking at the grapes which we will harvest tomorrow to turn into wine. The Mrs has videod the start of the new season of Dallas and the episode of Corrie when Ken returned to the Street. I am sure the Mrs will cook me a wonderful supper. But I can’t but help think about my friends in Kambos who will be gathering right now at the Korounis taverna, run by lovely Eleni, to chat, watch the football and look out on the stars in a clear sky.
As I rode into Kambos on Friday night it was one of those splendid Greek evenings. The sun was going down but it was warm and as I headed down snake hill the valley opened up before me. The – I think – deserted monastery or convent stood solid in front of me, up the hill above the spring. Further along the valley is a small house where the village baker lives. Why would anyone leave?
To Eleni’s to load videos and upload articles and to enjoy one last portion of her meatballs. Knowing that it was my last night Vangelis (the man in the pink short, not the man from the frigana chopper/snake repellent shop or the Vangelis who will win an Olympic gold in frigana chopping) bought me an ouzo. Naturally I reciprocated and I was soon sitting there with both George’s, Nikos (the football man) and a new pal Dimitris.
I showed a reasonable amount of common sense and left by midnight wishing them all, and Nikos the magician, a fond farewell.
Up at the crack of dawn I readied the Greek hovel for my departure. The eco-loo was emptied one last time, sulphur applied on all doorsteps and window ledges to keep the snakes away and all doors were locked. The gate on the drive/track was closed so that the shepherd can allow his sheep to graze at will on my land and then I somehow managed to drive down to the bottom of the valley on my bike while gripping a rucksack between my feet and with a bag on my back.
John the bike man, of whom more later, was happy to get me to the airport but reluctant to drive past the spring in his car so bad is the road. And so at the spring he took my bags and my helmet which I have kept all summer but never worn. He headed off for Kalamata in his car I headed into Kambos one last time.
I shook hands and said goodbye to the man from the other snake poison/rat poison shop and then to the Kourounis taverna to see lovely Eleni who I had missed on my last night. It was not yet nine but Nikos the football man was on his first coffee of the day and Nikos the Magician, his mother Poppy an Eleni were sitting around. Poppy wished me a safe journey in Greek and I understood. “Catalvemo?” “Ne. Efharisto”.
To Eleni I offered my thanks for all her help this summer and she said thank you for being there smiling and laughing. It was a bit of an awkward how do you say goodbye moment all round. If she was a man I know it would have been acceptable to kiss her on the cheek. But a young woman? I stuck out my hand to break the deadlock and we shook hands. And then scuttled off to my bike quickly. It promptly failed to start. “Okay I am staying” I said to the assembled group and the English speakers among them, Eleni and Nikos (the football man), laughed before I kick-started the bike and headed off not allowing myself to look back.
There are a few more tales from my summer at the Greek Hovel I aim to write them up this week. My time with John the bike man, Charon (my neighbour (not his real name), the three shepherds and the tiny village behind Kambos all deserve a mention.
There is one episode that I have felt unable to write until my return to England, the tale of Kardamili, of how I was dragged to the Police Station by the filth and of the nastiest woman in the Mani. It would have been disloyal to the wonderful folks of my home village to recount that story while living there. But now, as we head towards Chippenham I can begin.
I left England in April with a well behaved herb garden. I returned to Bristol in May to find that all my plants had prospered but that the parsley was completely out of control. What had been a pleasant little plant was now more than 1 yard long and 1 yard wide. The true horror of its expansionism could only be appreciated from above. The poor lavender bush had almost been swamped.
Part one of my solution was to transfer the lavender bush to a patch vacated by a failed attempt to grow a raspberry bush. It had started to sprout but in my absence someone had snapped off its small branches and I feared the game was up. The lavender bush appreciated its move and is now thriving.
But still the parsley grew. By my calculations at current rates of growth it would have covered the entire garden by late August and by 2017 it would have headed off down the A4 and be approaching the outskirts of Bath. And so yesterday afternoon the Mrs was demanding a romantic supper and so I took the scissors to the parsley and put a quarter of it in the pot.
Parsley Soup is a pretty simple recipe. Blanche the parsley (I guess that I had about 50 stems). Heat one onion in butter in the main pot. Add in three quarters of the parsley water post blanching and 1 pint of chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you prefer rabbit food) and 3 large potatoes chopped into bits.
Heat the main soup until the potatoes are soft and then liquidize. Liquidise the parsley (stalks and all with 4 cloves of garlic in that blending) and add that in and stir as you continue heating. Meanwhile fry until crisp a pack of bacon cut into small half inch square bits. Add the bacon to the soup which should be a deep green and add in to taste: ½ teaspoon of salt, a twist or two of cayenne pepper, a splash of white wine vinegar and a twist or two of dill.
I served with brown bread toasted and lightly rubbed down with some olive oil I had infused with garlic. The parsley and bacon soup with the heavy garlic hint should sort of remind you of easting snails in France. The green colouring is pretty amazing, the taste was pretty good (if I say so myself) and with the parsley in for free the cost of a main meal for two (with enough soup left for the Mrs to have lunch tomorrow) was less than £3.50.
At current rates of growth this could well become a regular feature of the diet for the Mrs and I.
I shall miss this country when I finally leave. That is something that I am sure that I will do and I think you all know where I shall head. But as I look out of the train window this morning I am struck by the beauty of the English Countryside.
It is 5.15 AM and I am somewhere between Bristol and Swindon. There is a mist rising gently from the fields which are a lush green. It is just at the point where morning has broken but it it is still dark enough for cars on the roads to be shining their lights.
The temptation to stare at the fields and hedgerows, the little villages with a Chruch spire poking up through the mist is almost irresistible. Luckily train manager Caroline demands my ticket, the spell is broken and it is back to work.
It is that time when I have to hope that I have not lost my passport, boarding pass and other documents. And by a stroke of luck I rummage away in my computer bag and they are all there. I have even been efficient enough to book a ticket for a bus back from Gatwick and all being well I shall be in my bed in Bristol by 3.30 AM on Sunday Morning. But it will not be a long stay in England.
All being well I shall be back in Greece on July 1st preparing to spend three months working both online with my writing (tough luck Bulletin Board Morons if you thought I was retiring) but also on a building site. That is to say, the Mrs appears to have bought a property in the Mani which er..needs a bit of work. In fact it needs a total overhaul.
Taking advice from an Irish pal, working on a building site in the summer heat is a great way to lose weight. And I need a new challenge and learning how to rebuild a house seems like a good one. Greece being Greece nothing is done until it is done but, fingers crossed, the retirement home in the olive groves half way up a mountain has been located. There is a good amount of land with the hovel and a local worker (Albanian natch) and I have done a deal on the numerous olives it produces: He picks and the Mrs gets enough of a cut to pay Greek property taxes and for a few flights.
Anyhow that is all for the future. For now I can think of installing eco-loos ( more on that later) and on grand redesigns, the hard work – I hope – starts in July.
A little bit of a misunderstanding with the Mrs and the alarm clock saw me still soundly asleep as the 4.47 AM pulled out of Bristol today. In the end I had a pleasant lie-in, worked in the morning and just after lunch (an apple) kissed goodbye to the cats and the Mrs and headed off. Now in London I will not see Bristol, or the cats, again for more than a month.
The Mrs is heading up later in the week for her Birthday and the UK Investor Show on Saturday where she will be personfully ( you see dearest, I can be PC if I try) looking after speakers in one of the breakout rooms and then wandering around with her parents who are also attending. Tes, the mother-in-law is coming to the show. Be very afraid. I am. I guess I won’t be swearing all day just in case she hears and gives me a scary and dirty look.
And then a few farewells and it is off to Greece on my own at first as I try to find the grave of my great uncle David. Thereafter the Mrs joins me as we spend a couple of weeks in the Mani where – I warn you – the internet connection can be patchy. It will be early May before I get back to Bristol, the cats, a new kitchen sort of designed by me with a lovely new Range Cooker. It seems like a long time away but I am sure that time will fly.
Anyhow my battered and well-travelled rucksack is packed and with me as we prepare to go hill walking in Greece once again. I really cannot wait.
When I was a child my mother’s wider family used to meet up at a restaurant in Marlborough in December for a meal and to exchange Christmas presents. I remember the hotel served an amazing brown breadcrumb ice cream. My grandparents would travel up from Dorset and my mother’s brother and little sister would drive up separately from London while Dad would drive us down from Northamptonshire.
My father takes after his mother and so we would arrive on the dot at 12.30 as agreed. We would then spend the next two hours enjoying the sweepstake organised by my father on which member of the Booker clan would be the last to arrive. Bookers do not do punctuality and it is correctly said that the only occasion at which they are ever on time is their funeral.
My father’s mother only once ever missed a train in her life. That was when she arrived so early that she caught the one before instead. My father operates on a similar basis and so when dropping me off at Moreton-in-Marsh he always allows plenty of time. Even though he observes a strict 20 mile an hour speed limit on all roads, more or less up to and including Motorways, I inevitably spend a good twenty minutes waiting on the platform at Moreton.
But I am as guilty of this obsession with not missing my train as is he. Regular readers will know that I catch the 4.47 AM from Bristol when travelling up to London as I am doing today. It is empty almost all the way and so I can spread my bags out and work at a table. And unlike every other train until 10 AM you do not need to take out a second mortgage to buy your ticket. And so last night, as is my ritual now, I called the excellent V-Cars in Bristol to book a cab.
What time is your train the nice lady asks? 4.47 say I. “We do advise a pick up 45 minutes before your train and if you miss the train it is on your own risk otherwise” said she. “I know, but let’s call it 4.20 AM shall we?” said I. And as ever that was agreed, it is my own risk, and she said “Nice to speak to you luvvy.”
By 4.20 I am in the cab as V-Cars is always early, texting me to say that it is blocking our street, I mean has arrived outside, at 4.15. And by 4.27, I am at Temple Meads. The journey through empty streets never takes more than eight minutes. I could therefore cut it finer and get up at 4 AM not 3.50 AM and leave at 4.30 AM not 4.20 AM. There would be no panic. There would be no waiting outside Temple Meads in the cold until 4.30 AM when the doors open.
But I am my father’s son. What if there is, for the first time in history, a traffic jam in Bristol at 4.25 AM? What if the cab breaks down? Panic. Panic. I cannot help it.
I look out of my window and next to my newly built herb garden there is a frog or is it a toad? How on earth did it get there? The garden has five foot high walls and we are a good 100 yards above and half a mile away from the nearest wetlands. And what to do?
I have locked the cats away so they cannot get into the garden. I know that Tara would enjoy “playing” with the poor creature. I am worried that my garden is now drying out at a rate of knots as the sun is shining. And I’d rather that the poor little thing did not perish. So call the RSPCA in Bristol?
That I do and am sent on a maze of key #1 or key #2 options none of which seem to complete and leave me none the wiser. I really do not have all day for this and the useless not fit for purpose RSPCA is probably too busy prosecuting a fox hunter or campaigning against global warming to actually care about a poor animal.
Reluctantly I think I must try to scoop the poor fellow up and put him on the grassy lane at the back of the garage and let him take his chances. If he perishes, I blame the RSPCA. But that he has managed to make it this far shows he is a bit of a fighter.
Kitosh came to me as a kitten and had a varied life in Islington, Shoreditch, France and finally in the Isle of Man. I remember well the Paris to Douglas train, taxi, train, train, ferry and taxi journey we made together. His sudden death in Douglas a few years ago was a real blow. His ashes have travelled with me since then but have remained for almost two years in a wooden urn hidden at Real Man Pizza in Clerkenwell. Now his final journey begins.
Born on a council estate in Walthamstow he would not have imagined that he would have been so well travelled. But the travelling is now over.
Now that I have a sense of permanence, the Mrs and I have agreed that Kitosh’s urn can be buried in our garden underneath the fig tree. We are not sentimental enough to contemplate some grand ceremony. It will just be the Mrs watching as I dig a deep hole and in goes the urn. The tree marks the spot.
During some years of upheaval for me Kitosh was the one constant in my life and a portrait of him already hangs in the new house as a reminder of that. I am not sure the Mrs is that impressed but she has let it go. So this weekend it is the final farewell, RIP Kitosh my good friend.
An early birthday present from Carlton Cole and Mark Noble sees West Ham out of the relegation zone but that will not change the fact that I am today 46, closer to 50 than 40.
I did not expect to be spending this Birthday living in Bristol, married to a Guardian reading Sociology Senior Lecturer or less than 18 months into running a new business. Life is full of surprises.
I have now been working for 25 years and in the old days would now be just 19 years from retirement. For the Mrs – who did a Post Grad - the figures are 16 and 26. So Maybe I shall call it a day at 58 and live off the State (via the Mrs). I suspect not, work is too much fun.
My father’s generation expected to retire at 65. My generation? It might be 58 it might be never. The one thing we do know is that it is not an automatic gold watch at 65.
The man on the other side of the aisle on the 4.47 AM from Bristol is drinking a cup of coffee. I lie, he is not drinking, but slurping it down very loudly and in excruciatingly painful small slurps. This torture has lasted from a few minutes before Didcot almost through to Reading. I imagine that an ill-mannered warthog drinking a Great First Western latte would sound similar. I find it very annoying.
We have special “quiet carriages” on this train and there is also an entertainment carriage. Could First Great Western perhaps introduce a couple of “No slurping your drinks like a warthog” carriages? I would be truly grateful.
The cab from V-cars was early and the streets were empty and so I found myself outside Bristol Temple Meads at 4.25 this morning with 22 minutes to kill before the departure of my train. As the other passengers scuttled in I delayed. Once on the train I have no excuse not to sub Zak Mir’s book and so standing awkwardly in the cold seemed a rather attractive idea.
The only chap not to scuttle in slumped and snored on one of those ice cold, terribly uncomfortable metals benches, with lots of little holes designed to leave bumps on your bottom, that Network rail is so keen on. He looked a tad rough and was taller than me and rather muscular but he was wearing a suit of sorts.
On that basis I though he was more likely to be a passenger than a drunk old tramp and so wondered if I should wake him. If I do nothing he might miss his train. He can’t blame me but I know it will piss him off. If there is one thing worse than getting up at 4 AM to catch a train, it is getting up at 4 AM to catch a train and then missing it. But what if he turned out to be a violent drunk who lashed out? The British way is, I suspect, to show polite indifference and walk on.
Hmm, I could always walk on and sub Zak’s book. If he did beat me up and hospitalise me that would be a three day excuse for not subbing Zak’s book. That thought swung it for me. It was a win win.
And so I shook him gently. He snored on. And then a bit more aggressively stating “first train mate”. He awoke. He was indeed thoroughly pissed but seemed grateful as he wheeled in circles, tottering towards the Station.
A good deed to start the day…and now to Zak’s book. Aaaaaaagh
Someone who lives in a big house in Bristol who can afford not only to have a baby but to buy a top of the range fucking buggy is not vulnerable. Someone who can afford to take baby & buggy up to London for a spot of Christmas shopping is not vulnerable. Yes this woman has a baby but that is her choice. It is not my choice but my obligation to pay taxes to give this pampered cow child benefit but I just have to do it.
The point is that this woman and her partner have wealth and income (as she told the whole damn train). She has choices in life. So just because she has opted to pass her bossy and selfish genes onto the next generation that does not make her vulnerable.
Those who are vulnerable are folks who cannot afford housing at all. Those, such as immigrants, made ever less welcome and more marginalised in British Society. Those who are diseased or dying. Those who have just lost their jobs and are seeking new work not welfare dependency. Those who work long hours for low wages and yet have the taxman claw too much of that back to subside women like the bitch with the baby via child benefit.
Those who are vulnerable include the small businessman who has risked his or her own capital to try and earn and honest crust and create jobs and wealth for all yet is faced with ever greater burdens of tax, employees’ rights legislation and regulation. Those who are vulnerable are the millions starving in the third world seeing no benefit from misguided and costly Western aid programmes and denied the right to a better life by the kleptocrats who run their Godforsaken nations.
Insisting that a bossy woman living in a big house she owns with her partner who can afford weekend shopping trips to London and top of the range fucking buggies and who seems to think that top of the range fucking buggies have more rights than her fellow man is vulnerable, is an indication of a horribly skewed world view.
Oh well it’s Christmas. No doubt at midnight mass tonight there will be a reading from the Gospel. I am looking forward to the story where Jesus sees a rich young woman holding a baby on her way to Jerusalem for a shopping trip and kicks a tired middle-aged shepherd in the cajones so that the woman can park her buggy where he was sitting. Jesus came into the world to help folks like that didn’t he?
The trains to Bristol is jam packed. I am perched on one of those pop up seats nominally for disabled folks but in fact designed for anorexic eight year olds. I am surrounded by folks standing in the aisles and with luggage all around me. Some bitch with a baby has just got on, forcing her way through. Can you move please as I have a baby? She demanded of me. She is a bitch who is used to getting her way.
Some chap gave her a seat and perched his charming little daughter on his knee. But the bitch persisted. This space (i.e. where I am sitting) is for wheelchairs and buggies she insisted. Actually the sign says it is for wheelchairs, there is no mention of buggies. But heck the bitch has a baby so let’s not bother with the finer details.
I say that I will move some other folk’s luggage. “I don’t want you doing that she insisted – I want YOU to move”. So I must give up my seat for her fucking buggy (empty). I refused. After a 120 hour week I am confident that I feel more tired that her fucking top of the range fucking buggy.
I move some folk’s luggage and am now crammed in surrounded by a top of the range fucking buggy and everyone’s luggage. The bitch with a baby persisted: “I have a baby I take priority.” Hang on love you now have a proper seat I am perched on half of a seat designed for anorexic eight year olds.
Of course what she is saying is that her fucking top of the range buggy takes priority over a human being? Does it have a ticket? No. Do I have one? Yes.
I protest “I have just worked a 120 hour week, don’t I have some rights.” She insisted that she worked harder than me. Presumably as a full time yummy mummy with a top of the range fucking buggy who gets to act like a total bitch because she has a baby.
The bitch now has a seat. To stop her brat screaming she is shaking a noisy rattle. Her top of the range fucking buggy is parked in comfort. I am on a half a seat designed for an anorexic eight year old and the now for the really good news. This bitch and her husband sold their flat in London and bought a great big house in Bristol – as half the carriage now knows. So I have the pleasure of the “in the money” bitch with a baby and her top of the range fucking buggy all the way to Bristol.
Bah humbug and Merry Christmas to one and all.
Postscript: Oh God help me, the Bitch is now loudly singing Old MacDonald to her brat. We are not even at Reading yet. Now she is shaking the rattle again. Now she is singing Jingle bells. I could scream. This is rapidly becoming the journey from hell
I am devoid of ideas and must rush home to feed the cats as I complete my domestic odyssey from Rivington Street to Bristol. As such I offer up a simple picture for you this week and ask for your captions by 9 AM next Friday. Simply post them in the comments section below.
For what it is worth my entry is:
“New management calling the 15% of our passengers who have not already abandoned ship…anyone fancy coming to an investment show in late April?”
Last week I asked you for a caption to this picture in the "robber capitalist" issue.
The winner, from the cultural quarter of Stoke is David Rowley and I have no idea at all to what he is referring:
I told the chef @ RMP that the man on table one wanted MELLON as a starter not that it was MELLON!!
Heading home in a taxi the other night, the driver had to touch his breaks as a quite enormous foxes sprinted, in the same way that Simon Cawkwell might sprint, across the road. This fox was not the sort of beast I remember from my youth in the boonies.
Back then country fox had to live by his wits. Food was either wild game which had to be stalked or our chickens where entry to their housing required some ingenuity and cunning. And so the creatures we encountered were vicious, nervous of humans as we hated the vile killers with a passion and thin. They were lean mean killing machines.
City fox of 2013 is rather different. For a start, all the townies who think that chickens come from Tesco and that foxy woxy is a cuddly endangered species, would not think of harming this “national treasure.” Mr Fox is wily and knows that. City fox has no fear. His country cousin of old would know that if he ran out in a road a driver would swerve in order to hit him. City fox knows that drivers would swerve straight into the Avon Gorge rather than damage cuddly wuddly little Renard.
But it gets even better for City fox. Food is quite simply on tap. There is no need to chase anything at all. In Bristol, under strict diktats from the Stasi at City Hall, we obediently put all our food waste into little brown boxes while other waste goes wither into big green bins or different sorts of green boxes. I am still not quite sure what goes where and so maybe am not saving the planet/stopping global warming quite as much as my neighbours. But I do know to put all food waste into the brown container and Mr Fox knows that he can get breakfast, lunch, supper and a midnight snack every day of the week from the brown boxes we put out to save the planet.
Not surprisingly without the need to chase or flee anything or anyone and with high calorie processed junk food available everywhere in unlimited supplies, Mr City fox is now getting quite large. One might even say fat.
How long, I wonder, before our uber meddling City council and/or red trousered buffoon of a Mayor George Ferguson feel the need to piss away more cash and start a campaign to reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes in the “Bristol fox community”? It is, one fears, only a matter of a time.
I think it was my ex-wife saying that the tash looked trendy that forced my hand. It is not that her judgement is in any way poor it is just that I do not do trendy. Besides which it was itching like hell.
And so, as you can see, as soon as I arrived back in Bristol at 1 AM Sunday morning I scuttled into the bathroom and blunted a razor removing it. Stroking my now silky smooth upper lip as I lay in bed it felt a bit as if something was missing but on balance I was glad to be shot of it.
Thank you to all who sponsored me for Movember. It is much appreciated.
Just like clockwork the exchange happened at midday on Friday. The little men had cleared out the flat in the poshest bit of Bristol which the Mrs had lived in since her postgraduate days and we set off to a rather less fashionable neighbourhood, where the sale proceeds have been re-invested in a lovely Edwardian house.
Okay, we are living out of packing boxes right now. But the space is enormous. The kitchen here is almost the size of the old flat. We have a garden with a vine which produces grapes which make wine – the former owners have left us one bottle from the 2012 harvest warning that it tastes appalling.
I managed to find the place alright driving back by car on my own at 1 AM this morning bringing with me the first six boxes of my books. The rest of my stuff will arrive in ten days time and then two households will be formally merged.
There are frustrations like having no Internet and thus also no TV for another ten days. And so I missed the X-factor last night and also Foyle. And I shall be forced to head off to “Grounded” later to spend the day working on-line drinking lattes (er... Rioja). There are, I suppose, greater hardships in life. For now I tap away producing the content that I shall upload in a splurge later.
The neighbours seem to be a solid enough bunch. It is what is described as an up and coming area. That means that more than half of the houses are now owned by new middle class incomers. The remainder are owned by the old white working classes of Bristol - the sort of folks who delight in displaying an array of flashing lights and the odd masturbating Santa Claus outside their house at this time of year.
But one senses that as each year goes by there will be a touch fewer masturbating Santas and a few more folks who have organic food delivered to their doors.
As I wonder up the street clutching a laptop and lead but wearing a West Ham hoodie I wonder how they view my arrival in terms of the social demographic?
An email just in from the Ewok (the Mrs) conforms she has exchanged on the sale of her flat and purchase of a grown up house in the fairly respectable Bristol district of Brislington.
On Friday the buyers of the flat tried to pull out having discovered a clause in the leasehold agreement (supplied two months ago) which spooked them. Good work by the Ewok and her lawyer dealt with that but one working day before exchange was due it was an unpleasant moment.
Now we are all set to complete and move well before Christmas. Hooray.
PS In case any companies thinking of suing me for libel are reading this, the house is 100% owned by the Ewok, I am merely a tenant with no assets at all.
Ever since the new Star Wars film held auditions for extras here in Bristol the suggestion that my (not very tall) Mrs should have applied to play an Ewok has gathered momentum. The Deluded lefty has been rechristened Ewok.
And at 3.55 PM today ITV finishes the six weeks of gripping Saturday afternoon showing of the Star Wars movies with The Return of the Jedi. As a Star wars/ Princess Leia obsessive I shall naturally be watching. And – for those that remember the plot – the Mrs will also be watching as her people go into battle.
I arrived back in Bristol at 2 AM Saturday morning and very deliberately had a last cigarette of the day. Then I scrunched up the packet and threw it and my lighter away. That is the sort of gesture I have made many times before.
I think my longest without a fag was five years. But then the mother of my daughter Olivia then ran off with her graduate trainee ( naturally not mentioning this when filing for divorce, that was down to my unreasonable behaviour, blah, blah, blah), and just to show the old health Nazi I took up smoking again. Sensible move. That really showed her.
Anyhow I am trying to quit again. I have been smoking far too much. It inhibits my ability to run up stairs and is making my cold last longer than it should. It is an expensive habit and makes me smell.
No doubt I shall fail to quit again. Christmas brings with it many temptations. But I do want to quit. This is not the Mrs bullying me, she never does although she’d like me to stop. And right now, although I feel terrible as I write, I really do want to quit.
The Mrs hates me catching this train as she is woken up by my alarm clock at 4 am. I understand her point and so only take it now and again as a treat, when I have to be in London early. But it is a treat. It is the last train before 9.30 which does not cost a second mortgage to catch, but it is the best train of the day.
The cab speeds through a deserted City in minutes. There is no traffic, no jams which serve simply to annoy. A quick fag and I climb aboard a deserted train. There is just one other person in coach D with me as we prepare to depart. And so I am sitting with a desk to myself, able to stretch my legs and type away.
There are no reserved seats from Chippenham or Swindon to worry about. This is my seat and my desk all the way. Only at Reading will the train start to fill up.
By the time I get to London I shall have completed my first four articles of the day and will get to my desk at Real Man Pizza well before 7 AM ready to load those pieces up, sub two from the Closet Chartist and one from Malcolm Stacey and have a stiff black Americano before starting the working day.
By 8 AM six of the day’s ten articles on shareprophets will therefore be loaded ready for publication, by nine I could plausibly be done, only awaiting Steve Moore’s word perfect copy.
And that leaves the whole of the rest of the day for other things: my experimental Christmas pudding pizzas, lining up more stands for www.ukinvestorshow.com, chatting to more customers and staff from the Empire who wish to move to the rebel alliance, etc.
I have a full day free for making mischief. That is the real joy of the 4.47
Up in London I will be celebrating Hop-tu-Naa on October 30th and 31st at Real Man Pizza. I am working on the exact pizza to celebrate the Celtic New Year – that is a job for next week. More details of the menu here.
But back in Bristol it is a weekend to brush off my two pumpkin recipes. I cannot remember when this became part of my annual ritual but it now is. All went well. Normally this is a kid’s thing but the Mrs. Has never cooked pumpkin before and so, having done it ever year for longer than I can remember, she got to be the kid this time. Take two medium sized pumpkins…
Take the “hat off” and remove all the pips and the stringy orange stuff and throw it away. This being Bristol I made sure they were thrown away in the correct bin (brown – organic matter) to avoid a Halloween fine from the eco-fascist City Council. Then scrape out as much of the “flesh” as you can with a spoon. Make sure that you do not pierce the outer skin but try to get enough flesh out so that you can see your fingers move through the wall. And you get a pumpkin ready to be a lantern…hey presto.
So we now have two lanterns ready for use next weekend.
You will now have a mound of flesh. Separate into two halves.
Half One – a Creamy pumpkin soup.
Chop two onions finely and stock in a pan with a large knob of butter and cook until soft but not brown (say 5 minutes). Add in the pumpkin flesh and leave for another 10 minutes on a good heat until the mixture starts to look sort of golden. At that point add in 700 ml of chicken stock (vegetable stock if you prefer rabbit food) and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer for 30 minutes by which time all the flesh should be very soft. Add in a small pot of single cream and then user a blender to produce a thick creamy soup.
The soup can be stored for up to two weeks in a fridge but when you re-heat add coriander leaves shortly before serving.
We have enough soup to last both of us for two meals and leave the Mrs with enough left over for a couple of days next week the chief cook has returned to London and she is feeling too lazy to make anything else.
Half Two – Pumpkin Pie
Heap the pumpkin flesh (cut into pieces no bigger than half an inch) in a saucepan and turn on the heat full blast. After about twenty minutes it will be soft so use the blender again to turn into a soggy mess. Put it into a large sieve so the water drips out. Leave it dripping for 10 minutes while you move on.
Put two whole eggs and one egg yolk into a bowl and whisk. Put a large pot of single cream in a pan and add 3 oz. of brown sugar, a tablespoon of black treacle, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and ½ teaspoon each of nutmeg and mixed spice. Bring gently to the boil, stirring as you go and adding in the egg mixture before it boils. Stir enough to ensure that the whole lot combines. To this add the pumpkin flesh and stir until combined. To ensure that the pie has the right – really fluffy – texture use the blender again.
Prepare a tart base (the Mrs did this in an expert fashion) and put in the oven (at 180 degrees) for 10 minutes to ensure it is partly cooked. Then pour in the pie mixture and stock back in the oven for another 30 minutes. Take the pie out and leave to go cold. Serve with cream or crème fraiche according to taste
And so it is pumpkin meals for this weekend as we relax watching Wall Street this afternoon ( on DVD) and preparing for Downton Abbey.
My partner is a lifelong deluded lefty. She has always voted for the People’s Party. But I can report a mini triumph of a shift away from the loons here in the Clifton Ward of Bristol.
Naturally my partner would rather drink her own urine than vote for the wicked Tories. The Lib Dem’s murdered a forest of trees in an attempt to win support for their ageing hippy of a candidate. But however many new park benches this old fool has managed to get set up around here my partner cannot forgive the Lib Dems for being in coalition with the wicked Tories so that was a non-starter.
And that left the People’s Party (no leaflet) and a nice young man with a Polish name standing for UKIP. He promised to end political correctness on the Council which I though sounded like a good idea although my partner was not so sure. And he also promised to end immigration from Eastern Europe. I guess he doesn’t like his relatives much. And I am not entirely sure what Bristol City Council under UKIP leadership could do on this matter anyway? Passport controls on the M4?
I tried in vain to suggest to her that it was racist not to vote for the Eastern European candidate but this did not seem to wash. And as such it appeared that she would stick with the People’s Party. But…
A quick internet search revealed that there was an independent candidate who seems like a total loser to me. An accountant for a not-for-profits local Arts charity this old lady seems to stick her nose into everything with a view to ensuring that as much taxpayers cash as possible is pissed away. Bingo. My partner was convinced.
As such in this household I can report a swing of 100% from New Labour to crackpot independent. To lose this household is a disaster for Ed Miliband. No Labour candidate in history has failed to win this household by a landslide. It is game over for Ed.
Before he gets paranoid and I get a snotty letter from Kerman’s this is not a story about the life of Dick Gill. Nor is it about life on this blog where we seem to have more and more readers. Unlike certain places I could mention. But it is a true story from the world of academia and Bristol University.
I spent a happy Sunday afternoon in a Bristol pub last week celebrating West Ham’s triumph over Chelski and met two academics who had been encouraged by the University to write a joint blog article for an in-house blog. That they had done and seemed to have enjoyed the exercise. So, er how many folks will read the piece I asked?
Easy, they replied. We can track it. Our article has been read by one person. Er… well it is behind a secure wall so few can access it and no-one is alerted to it. So there has been exactly one reader. Who knows, by now the readership could have increased by 100% or even 200%. But one is not a bad place to start. Some blog entries there do not even manage to get that many readers. So this blog post is 100% more read than some.
Does it matter? Well you might wonder why your taxes are going on paying academics to write articles which are read by precisely nobody. Or on a good day by one other state sponsored academic. Arguably Bankrupt Britain cannot really afford this. But if we can afford to give £2 billion for African windmills I guess this is minor luxury.
As for the academics? Hell no. In a sense it is good news that these liberal arts folk are writing articles no-one reads rather than polluting the minds of impressionable students with deluded lefty Guardian inspired nonsense. The point about writing is to enjoy yourself. If these folk had done that by writing that is a reward in itself.
I sometimes wonder if, when I write about Oakley or snow falling in Shipston, whether anyone really cares. Occasionally some folk suggest that I should stock to creating pizzas rather than writing. Fine. If it gives them pleasure to write such comments good for them. If it stops folk like Bulletin Board pest Bob Burnard from beating his wife, dialling into Asian porn or whatever else he does with his miserable existence that is fine. No-one pays to read my stuff. I am not asking for a state subsidy to write about Oakley and it gives me pleasure. So more Oakley articles on the way.
— Tom Winnifrith
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