Thursday 17 November 2022

Padstow and potholes

 At last, in one place again, after three hard weeks on the road, most of which was enjoyable if not a tad tiring, with close to a couple of thousand miles of driving behind us. And tiring was certainly the order of the day at AgriExpo livestock show in Carlisle when myself and a colleague were set the task to speak about cows continually on TV for over 8 hours. Yes, that is a big challenge even for me. I think we coped OK and have already been asked back for next year’s event. Our few quiet days in the Lake District were cosy and mainly confined to indoors due to the weather, but one doesn’t go there for that really. We were highly fortunate to have a great pub, the Tower Arms in Sawrey, only 100 yards away, during which time we definitely became their ‘customer of the week’. We never did get to see Beatrix Potter’s house, although I was made to sit through the film, which was a little too Disney for my tastes.

What followed was the highlight of our time here, a couple of nights in the Feathers Hotel at Ludlow followed by a magnificent wedding of Sam (my eldest son) and Izzy at the ancient and luxurious Brynsop Court near Hereford. This place really did pull out all the stops, from its 13th century banquet rooms to a purpose built barn which its owners had purchased from the BBC and then re-erected it in all its glory in the grounds. Much drinking and dancing was to be had until the early hours when most of the guests were shipped back to Hereford on a bus. I say most, as somehow two of my nieces managed to miss their lift, but got there eventually. With games rooms, music rooms and lit fireplaces everywhere back in the grand building it would have been rude not to sample yet more hospitality as waiters appeared from the shadows with yet more grog until our palatial bedroom eventually called us in around 3am.  It was great to catch up with some of the boys’ old mates, all of whom I remember as bairns; so nice to see them all doing so well and many with bairns of their own.

From there we headed south again although soon realised that the roads in UK are so atrocious, what should have been a four hour trip to Cornwall quite a while longer as I zigzagged around endless potholes that would rattle the fillings out of your teeth, let alone plates out of our cupboards. Having done little or no work in the previous two weeks I had to sacrifice some of my downtime in our next wee cottage to the dreaded computer and microphone. However, we did get to see most of the hostelries in Padstow including a meal in Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant which was splendid. We also took the foot ferry to Rock (the other one) and sampled some of Paul Ainsworth’s food which, I have to say, was a tad ordinary and over-priced, particularly when the waiter persuaded me to have some ‘new Cornish’ potatoes as a side dish – In November? Three tiny ones duly arrived at the cost of seven quid! Even Shell would blush at making that much profit!

Next up was a trip back to Herefordshire, this time to an old school reunion at Lucton. I was hoping to see a classroom full of my old mates that joined me there 50 years ago but sadly only a handful turned up. We were treated to a roast beef dinner not dissimilar to the ones we endured half a century ago and then a speech from an ‘Old Boy’ which purveyed his life in minute detail from his post-war school days to date. I definitely heard snoring from the back benches, particularly during the bit about varying sizes of rivets in 1961. Afterwards I couldn’t resist having a smoke on the prefect’s lawn despite that fact that I am neither a prefect nor a smoker. Some things just have to be done!

Now, as I sit looking out at the North sea, wind and rain are still very much on the agenda, lashing against my window and throwing the waves up with it. Poor Haggis has been nearly swept away a few times although she did manage to catch a rather poorly pigeon which was as much a surprise to her as it was to it.  I believe it may even by raining back home in France this week – sacré bleu!

Tomorrow I have to interview the Minister of Agriculture for Scotland, in Edinburgh, who hasn’t been in the job very long. As my initial list of questions has since been sent back with a red line through most of them, particularly the ones about exports to France, maybe the weather is all we will have to talk about! I doubt she will accept the blame for all of it, though.


One hundred, not out!

 OK, so it’s off down the rabbit hole we go, as winter beckons with twisted claw and the media preaches more doom. I will admit that I do see a recession heading our way with its headlights on and have acted accordingly by down-sizing our property business. The irony of just how the UK managed to replace ‘Boris the Party-Animal’ with someone called Miss Trus(t) appears to have been lost on most people until next thing they know mortgage rates are in double figure and the banks are repossessing their new conservatories.  Just how Kwasi (wouldn’t ‘Spitting Image’ have had so much fun with these names?) thinks he can cut everyone’s taxes, give them money for winter fuel and still have some coffers in his already depleted piggy bank is way beyond my comprehension, let alone that of the world ‘s financial business. But, hey, I am not in power so I’ll just take the hand-outs alongside my fellow man and be grateful, my lord.

Strangely, the word Lord is very much on my agenda this month, as I once again trawl through the Scottish record books researching some of the Lairds of yesteryear. Recently I have agreed to collaborate on yet another giant tome of a history book about yet more cows and this time, to quote my American co-author, ‘we really are getting down into the weeds!’ I have no idea how many pages we will end up with but it certainly won’t fit in a Christmas stocking, that’s for darn sure! To be fair, there will be a lot of pictures, thousands in fact. Every time I so much as mention someone regal in my text, my pal provides us with at least a dozen ancient photos to back it up, many of them borrowed from national galleries around the world. For example, I am just discussing James Carnegie, the 9th Earl of Southesk from Kinnaird Castle who, as well as being a top cattle breeder happened to have spent some years tracking big cats in the Rocky Mountains and next thing, here is a photo of him looking like Wild Bill Hickok, draped in furs. I really have no idea where he gets this stuff from as when I Google the words ‘Hunting Cougars’ my inbox soon fills up with requests that would make a beetroot blush! Incidentally, I note you can actually stay at the beautiful Kinnaird Castle, so Mrs F and I have booked in for a couple of nights in spring. You can even, says their website, book out the entire place, all 20 bedrooms, if you so wish, complete with hot and cold running servants. Now there’s an idea for a non-party birthday party, Boris?

On the subject of books, I am about to unleash my first crime novel to the market. Based around a distillery on Scotland’s west coast, ‘The Master’s Spirit’ tells a tale of murder and mystery and unveils a trail of corruption within the whisky industry which may possibly get me into hot water with its authorities. With a couple of pals in that business, I am hoping that I can utilise their contacts to promote it through the amber nectar channels and, who knows, a few samples may even come my way. The novel will be available on Amazon soon (plug, plug!). With that and the above mentioned history book, coupled with another novel, a sheep history book and my biannual nonsense publication, that makes five books I have my hands into at this moment in time. I would also like to mention that this week see my 100th podcast hit the airwaves. Who could believe one tiny idea would have gathered such momentum, as well as a happy band of followers that keep it motivated and me busy a couple of days per week.

So, it is just as well I cannot walk at present. Yes, once again I am incapacitated, this time with my right foot swollen up like a boxer’s jockstrap, while I hobble about the house on a pair of crutches painfully muttering to myself and avoiding the puppy who has become number one trip hazard. The doctor says I should not spend my time sitting on my arse, a view reflected by Mrs F, as I will succumb to blood clots which may cause said leg to fall off. I’ll take my chance on that one, while I fill the void with yet more words and edits rather than working in the garden or fixing the roof.

In a couple of weeks we will once again be crossing the channel for our winter in the North, potentially with Mrs F at the wheel. En route I have picked up another commentators job, this time at a large Ag show in Carlisle where I will be discussing the rear ends of cattle in intimate detail on live TV broadcast across the world.  I even had to do a video-trailer for this one, saying how exited I am to be involved in such a monumental bovine occasion! While we are in that neck of the woods, my wife has booked us in to a quaint little cottage for a week in the village where Beatrix Potter was lived, perhaps to inspire me to write yet more novels.

 From there it is back to Herefordshire for my eldest son’s wedding at a rather lavish rural venue where I will be squeezed back into a morning suit which I may well have outgrown during my time of seatedness. Hopefully I will have discarded the crutches by that point, so I can hit the dance floor running, or wobbling at the very least. Finally, a trip to my old school for a celebration of 50 years since I first set foot in its draughty dormitory. Fifty bloody years?  Oh my, where on earth did that go? I wonder if my old English teacher will still be there with his red marker pen, shaking his head in horror at my appalling grammar? I bet he never knew there was such a word as seatedness!