I read the news today; oh boy.

YESTERDAY I decided I wouldn’t time my morning swim. Today I took that strategy one step further; I didn’t swim.

My excuse was that The Daughter Who Left (But Returned) had another of her 6.30 gym sessions, so dad’s taxi was back on the road giving her a lift to work.

After dropping her at the office, I stopped to buy the papers at a petrol filling station. The front pages were dominated by a story about a reporter who was shot dead by a former colleague on live tv: “Terrible,” said the woman behind the counter. We talked briefly about what had happened. I said the radio was reporting that the killer had been sent for anger management by his employer.

“So he needed help,” said the woman. “But you can’t do shit like that.”

Except that shit like this seems to happen with depressing regularity. I’m not the only person in the UK who is baffled by the apparent reluctance in the United States to introduce gun ownership laws.

Down the drain

I got home to sunshine. It’s been a rare sight this summer. So much so that the two water butts on our deck are full to overflowing. What to do? Usually, I use what’s been stored to water the garden plants. With the plants practically rotting in the saturated ground this summer, that’s not an option.

In the end I drained 80 litres from each butt, and poured it down the drain. It felt like a waste, so if anybody has a better idea let me know, because I have a feeling the weather isn’t going to get any better soon.

I read more of The Trigger, Tim Butcher’s book about Gavrilo Princip, this afternoon. It’s part history, part travelogue and part war journalism memoir. Butcher, who is following the journey that led Princip to his date with destiny in June 1914, has reached Sarajevo; on the way, he has something interesting to say about the way Muslim experiences in the Bosnian War in the ’90s played a role in the evolution of jihad now.

Continuing the book theme, I’m also re-reading Pago Pago Tango, by John Enright, for the American Samoa stop on my Kindle World Tour of Crime Fiction. I’ve just discovered that ‘poke’ is a Samoan dish of raw fish and seaweed, hot sauce and sesame oil.

I’m not sure what I’d recommend on The Wine List to wash that down. Cheers everyone!

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Stop the clock

I WENT without my cup of tea and biscuit before this morning’s swim. I thought it may have an effect on my time, and it did: 800 metres in 20 minutes 20 seconds – the slowest since I can’t remember when!

What is going on? Three possibilities come to mind: Either (now or in the past) I miscalculate the distance I’ve swum, or (now or in the past) I misread the pool clock, or I have got five years slower in one week.

I am not sure which option gives me the least discomfort. I have, however, come up with a foolproof method to solve my dilemma. I am going to stop timing my swim. Smart.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the Retired Blokes Swimming Club this morning. I was just catching my breath after my 800 metres when I heard a female voice in the next lane exclaim: “What on earth are you doing?” The retired bloke’s head bobbing alongside her muttered something inaudible. “Oh, just go, go!” said the imperious female. He went. If a man can skulk while executing an inexpert breaststroke, this man skulked.

I recognised him as soon as he walked into the dressing room where I’d just finished showering. I thought I’d enquire as to what had been going on in the pool. The words “stroppy cow” hung about my lips but went unsaid. What I actually said was “Was that woman having a go at you?”

“Woman?” He said. “Woman? Oh, you mean my wife. I tried to overtake her.”

Rash behaviour.

I read some more of The Trigger this afternoon. Tim Butcher and his companion are retracing the steps that led Gavrilo Princip from a Bosnian hamlet to the street corner in Sarajevo where he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand with the pistol shots that signalled the start of World War One.

It is a simple and clever idea; but I must admit I’m looking forward to the book having a bit more Princip and a bit less Butcher.

I’m having a rethink about The Wine List. Until now I’ve been blogging about  whatever we had in the house; it strikes me this is not so much a retirement project as random drinking. So I’ve done what any self-respecting Retired Bloke would do; I’ve Made A List.

Now I’m going to work my way alphabetically through the grapes in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. I’ve listed the first five red and white wine grapes I’m going to sample:

Red = Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Carmenere.

White = Albarino, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Garganega.

If anybody has a particular favourite wine made from any of these grapes, please let me know.

The Daughter Who Left Home (But Returned) has just come in from another fraught day on the phones, eager to let me know that one of today’s callers had come up with a new insult: politician; as in “That is such a Politician’s answer!”

So I poured us both a restorative glass of Primitivo. Cheers everybody!

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The Trigger

I HAVE started reading The Trigger, by former Daily Telegraph journalist Tim Butcher. It is about Gavrilo Princip, the man who shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austria-Hungary empire, in Sarajevo in June 1914.

The assassination precipitated the events that led to World War One.

Butcher also ties in his own experiences as a war reporter covering the conflict in the Balkans after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

I’ve only read the first two chapters, but already the mix of nationalism and radicalisation that Butcher writes about echoes today’s conflict, tension and violence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

It just goes to show that the past is never over, and the First World War is still shaping the modern world that it forged.

Stone me!

I DIDN’T make it to the swimming pool this morning. The Daughter Who Left Home (But Returned) had a gym session at 6.30, which left her with just enough time to have a quick shower (see, you can do it!) but not enough time to drive and park before she was due on the phones at 8.30, so… dad’s taxi was pressed into service.

When I got back, Arthur the Handy Gardener was just pulling up next door. He was delivering a garden bench. I was giving him a helping hand up the steps when The Current Mrs Feeney called that she wanted to have a chat with him about The Garden Project at my parents’  house.

Turned out that she had decided she wanted to build a stone wall in front of a small bank at the top of dad’s garden, and did A the HG know of any old stone knocking about?

A didn’t, but he had noticed the house two doors down was having work done and there was a promising-looking skip outside. A and I launched a small raiding part on the skip, but were about to come away empty-handed when the man working on the house told us there were some old paving stones stacked around the back. A and I loaded them onto A’s trailer and took them to dad’s house.

While we were there, A and I had a quick look around the garden.

“It’s very open now,” said A. I didn’t need to be told this. Mrs F and I have been aware of little else since the tree surgeons completed Operation Slasher. So we have decided now to erect fencing in front of the rear hedge as well as the length of the garden between dad’s house and the property next door.

We went to the fencing company to choose what sort of fence. Meanwhile, the plumber sent Mrs F a text to say he’d had a job cancelled, so he’d be at dad’s tomorrow bright and early to install the new boiler.

Did I mention the new boiler? Well, we’re having one. It’s not to be confused with the old chimney stack, which we’re having pulled down.

My, don’t we have fun. So by this evening I was more than ready to resume The Wine List project with a brimming glass of Puglian red wine. Cheers everyone!

Slow crawl

BACK in the swimming pool this morning after the weekend’s relaxations. 800 metres front crawl in 19 minutes 55 seconds. That’s a whopping 50 seconds slower than my best time last week. That’s about three seconds for every 50 metre length of the pool. Good grief.

Even allowing for my dutiful efforts to update the beer project and the wine project over the weekend, that’s quite a difference.

It’s this sort of in-and-out form that makes a bloke suspicious. I’ll be up before The Retired Blokes Swimming Club’s anti-doping committee at this rate if I’m not careful.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll forego the pre-swim cup of tea and McVities digestive tomorrow.

The Wine List #3

Cabernet Sauvignon

Zebra View Fairtrade 2014. South Africa. 13.5% alc vol. Marks & Spencer.

IMGP4974THIS is the grape that got me drinking wine. Until the 1980s I was strictly a beer man. Then I discovered Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon. I was not alone. Bulgarian cab sauv at £2 a bottle was the wine everybody brought to a bottle party then.

Ok, so there wasn’t as much choice around in the 80s, and at least I never succumbed to the mysterious appeal of Mateus Rose or Blue Nun.

This cab sauv is from the Swartland region of South Africa. So what does it have to say for itself on the label? “..brightly flavoured” (tick)..“deliciously easy-drinking” (tick)..“full bodied” (tick). “Notes of blackberry, cherry and dark chocolate”: ah, those ‘notes’; every wine has them, apparently, and most of them elude this retired bloke’s unsophisticated palate.

You know the sort of thing: “fruit notes lingering on the air like the scent of a hummingbird that has drunk from the nectar of orange blossom.” Ok, I just made that up. But you get the point.

Zebra View was made by winemakers Sam Snyman and Willie Malan. It must be great to be able to put your name on something you have crafted like this. How many brewers get their names captured for posterity on a flagon of bitter?

M&S recommend drinking this spicily flavoured red with “everyday food like spaghetti Bolognese” (presumably, that’s every day in Bologna; maybe not so much in Swansea) or “richer dishes like Chinese crispy duck.” Quite unusual to have a red wine paired with Asian food like this; we put it to the test and drank it with our Friday night Chinese takeaway. It passed.

One for the wine rack? Definitely.

The Garden Project #4

IMGP4854THE tree surgeons have finished their work on dad’s garden. Two decades of brambles and matted undergrowth have been torn up. Think of it as the scorched earth approach to gardening.

IMGP4849The two hedgerows that run alongside and behind the house have been lowered and thinned. The lady who lives next door came out to have a look.

“You’ve cut it back a lot,” she said.

“Yes,” I said: “the tree surgeons say that will make the hedges grow back thicker. But there’s big hole in one hedge.”

“Oh, that will be where the burning car came through the hedge,” she said.

“Oh. Really? When was that?”

“About fifteen years ago. When the kids were doing things like that.”

Right. Kids, eh? Little rascals.

IMGP4860We have made a start on scraping the ivy off the garage walls and roof: so far, so good; the garage is still standing.

Logs are piled where the cherry tree and the copper beech once stood. Our son’s sycamore tree has been severely pollarded in a treetop chainsaw massacre.

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After three days of action, The Current Mrs Feeney and I stood back and surveyed the scene.

“It’s very bare,” said Mrs F.

“But it will grow back thicker and stronger,” I said. “Hopefully.”

We looked at one another across the expanse that had once been shrubbery. Two minds united in one thought: things will look better in the morning.

When the stump grinder arrives.