Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Six Conversations I've Had About Devon History With A Small Poodle Called Billy

Me: "The road is beginning to get very steep now, as we get closer to the moor. You'll notice that it's a very acidic environment up there on the highest points, which has made farming impossible on the majority of the terrain for the last eight centuries or so. Can you feel the slight change in the air and altitude already?"
Billy: "Dogs eat sticks!"

Me: "This is the Dart, one of Devon's best-known rivers. The Dart originally flows down from the moor as in two separate strands, before joining at Dartmeet. "Dart" is an ancient word for 'river where the oak trees grow'."
Billy: "I think I've made a huge mistake."

Me: "This is a very beautiful part of the South Hams, but do keep in mind that just down the coast from here is Slapton Ley, where 946 American servicemen died in World War II."
Billy: "Sea gravel is warm!"

Me: "We are now approaching Merrivale's megalithic stone avenue, sometimes known as The Plague Market, due to the habit of local farmers of leaving food here for plague victims from the nearby town of Tavistock."
Billy: "My dogtongue is pink!"


Me: "Devon is an amazing place for folklore legends, such as that of Kitty Jay, which emerges from an area very close to here, near Heatree Common. Kitty Jay was a woman from the parish of Manaton who hanged herself in the late 1700s. It's said that on every day of the year flowers still appear on her grave, but nobody knows who puts them there."
Billy: "Can't talk: riding my invisible dog scooter."


Me: "Today we'll be walking eleven miles to and from the historic Sharpham Estate, famous for its wine and cheese."
Billy: "I am so high right now. ON BEING A DOG."

To read more about Billy, pre-order my new book Close Encounters Of The Furred Kind, the follow-up to The Good, The Bad And The Furry.

Helping drift the ponies of Dartmoor

My February 2015 column for The Guardian's Life And Style section.

On wassailing and the magic of Devon's hills

My January 2015 column for The Guardian's Life And Style section.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

My Ace Records Top Ten

The excellent Ace Records recently invited me to to pick my top ten songs on their label. This is what I wrote about them.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

22 Things I Have Learned About Devon

It will soon be a year since I moved to Devon. I am still a novice Devonian, but I am falling more and more in love with the place, and have learned a few things about it during that time. Here are some of the main ones:

1. No sight gladdens a Devon dweller's heart than that of Devon, viewed from a train window, after being somewhere that isn't Devon - even when there's a bit of seagull shit on the window:

2. The sky in Devon is different to other skies. Even when it looks like it isn't planning anything, it always is.

3. In Devon, you should always live on a hill, unless you want your house to double as a boat. Also, you should make sure it is an actual hill. I used to think I lived on a hill when I lived in Norfolk but have since realised it was in fact just a tussock with ideas above its station.

4. Devon has the best local news stories. Perhaps even better ones than Norfolk:

5. I can tell I live in rural Devon now, not rural north Nottinghamshire where I grew up, because when I hear rustling in a bush I think "Oh, a deer!" and not "People are shagging."

6. People in Devon will use "not liking the water" as a genuine excuse for not visiting another part of the country.

7. If you're in Devon and you can't see Dartmoor, it means it's raining.

8. If you're in Devon and you can see Dartmoor, it means it's about to rain.

9. 24% of all pub conversations in Devon are themed around lichen but a surprising amount of people are unsure about how to pronounce it.

10. Living in rural Devon is a commitment to fucking up your car, although on the bright side it can also sometimes - as in my case - mean you get a personalised registration plate for free:

11. Devon has the most perfect spring nights, although they can sometimes be punctured by the unexpected:

12. Pockets become entirely different things in Devon to what they are elsewhere. In Devon, having a large collection of twigs or a mollusc in your pocket is regarded in pretty much the same way as having some keys in your pocket is in Kent, Berkshire or Leicestershire.

13. Nowhere has more colourful or evocative names for hills than Devon:

14. Between October and May, everything in Devon smells pleasantly of woodsmoke, including the people.

15. The "three degrees of pixielation" rule is very common in Devon. This is the theory that everyone in Devon knows someone who knows someone who has been pixielated - or pixie-led, as it's also called - on Dartmoor.

16. After living in Devon for a while, you find yourself using new, more organic products on your hair. For the last year or so, I, for example, have been using "wind" and "sea" on my hair - both of which are available from all good coastal outlets:

17. Experimental rhymes and cutting edge modern poetry are a bigger problem in rural Devon than many people let on:

18. The way British weather works is that rain is made in Devon and, occasionally, after it's finished its work here, some other regions get it:

19. In Devon, Drunk Pub Guy Who Will Talk To Anyone is, on the whole, a much less intimidating character than he is elsewhere. Once upon a time, I was a bit scared of Drunk Pub Guy Who Will Talk To Anyone. Now I'm in Devon, I'm much more "Pull up a seat, Drunk Pub Guy Who Will Talk To Anyone. Tell me your life story."

20. When people are bored in Devon, they always find ways to amuse themselves, such as by putting gnomes on a remote rural hillside next to a train track:

21. You can dress like a 1970s dandy in Devon for a while, but you will eventually realise it's impractical. The Devon countryside chews up 70s dandies and spits them out.

22. It takes approximately a month of living in Devon to forget that Devon isn't actually a country.

Monday, 2 February 2015

A Wander Around Totnes With My Friend Pete And His Owl

I wrote about the owls of the brilliant Totnes Rare Breeds Farm a few months ago here in my Guardian column. Last Friday I bumped into Wizard, the farm's resident European eagle owl (above), and his handler, Pete, on a walk near Totnes. Pete told me he was going for a wander around into town again the next day, with his own Finnish great grey owl, Lady Jane Grey, and that I was welcome to join him, so I did. I think the photos I took really show how close Pete and Lady Jane Grey are, and how much the people of Totnes love seeing them out and about.