Monday, 29 December 2008

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Irish Hill?Breakneck Lane? U2 nearly said, Where the streets have weird names...

Sunday, 28 December 2008

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Flaming Nora! Well, flaming Christmas pudding at any rate. Down visiting family and friends in Lincolnshire enjoying the festivities.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

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.You don't have to e mad to work here but it does help...that's what the shop assistant here at Mainsgill farm shop on the A66 has just said to me. Cannae beat it.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Taking time out from the shopping...

Christmas is...a capuccino and some gingerbread christmas trees. Nice.

Rubber Sole

Another thought on the woolies closure saga...where now will children go for their traditional, uncomfortable, podiatrist challenging plimsolls?

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Gath'ring winter fu-u-u-el

....a sight to gladden the heart and warm any cockles which may be feeling chilly. The woodshed looks in fine fettle for the festive period. Someone once told me that firewood warms you three times: once when you go gathering, once when you chop it and then again when it burns,which is a lovely thought. All that effort though...calls for coffee and a mince pie methinks.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The end of an era

The demise of a high street icon looks rather spooky...Woo!

This just in: some stores may be saved.

Friend or foal?

The brain works in mysterious ways. Why is it that when you're at your most tired, your brain can sometimes decide it wants to stay switched on and run through all your thoughts and anxieties like a toddler rifling through a card-index system?

I woke up about ten past six this morning and put the radio on to see if I could drift off with a bit off background noise...Radio 2 was still tuned in from the God's Jukebox show but early morning Radio 2 has never been a favourite of mine, some bloke I can't even be bothered to Google wittering on about how dreadful the Christmas shopping crowds would be today. Really? Well there's a shocker...

Radio Scotland it was then for the ever-informative and strangely comforting Out of Doors. Always entertaining and, as I said, a great source of "well I never..." type items. Today's scoop: horses 'whinnies' are recognisable by other horses. Aside from the comedy use of the word 'whinnies,' this I suppose, should have been fairly self explanatory; horses - herd animals by nature - recognise their friend's voice. So far, so straightforward.

To the good bit: researchers at Sussex University have discovered, using the most incredibly complex scientific methods (leading horses behind a screen!) that horses expect to see a particular horse when they hear its 'voice'. When the Sussex team played Trigger (for want of a better horse name) a recording of Dobbin (ditto), Trigger's not insubstantial ears would prick up. When the men in white coats then led in - from behind that screen - Mister Ed, Trigger would look decidedly confused and stare, in the way humans do, for just a little bit longer than might be considered polite, before raising the equine equivalent of an eyebrow.

How much would people pay to see that? A confused cuddy, a discombobulated donkey. Brilliant. The researchers didn't say whether if it was a matching voice/horse pairing, the two would greet each other warmly by shaking their manes and scraping their hooves. There must be a paper in that. I think we should be told...

Music you never knew you loved...

Mark Lamarr's Radio2 shows are always, always fantastic and the Friday night "God's Jukebox" is no exception.

The show's tagline gives this post its title and it seems to bear up remarkably well. I may be being selective in my memories but I can't think of anything I've heard on the show I've not at least liked and most of it I've found to be nothing less than brilliant.

As a fan of the Rolling Stones, ther's no shortage of cover versions out there to enjoy - or sometimes not. I've previously heard Mark play Cissy Houston's wonderful cover of the first Stones song I realised I liked - Under My Thumb - and I've just been stopped in my tracks (okay, stopped from Googling for Eddie Izzard videos) by this from Merry Clayton: Gimme Shelter.


Friday, 19 December 2008

Holy water and Jesus discs...

I've just been watching a great old favourite of mine, the wonderful Eddie Izzard, doing his "Circle" stand up show.

The randomness of Eddie's brand of humour's not to everyone's taste but the research alone involved in his biblical gags is incredible. The title of this post is a reference to one particular skit about the Pope - how come only he and Batman travel in a vehicle which is named after them? The Pope, says Mr. Izzard, also has a "Robin" like helper who can take out the bad guys with the aforementioned items...lovely image.

The show also provides the audio for what is clearly a work of Oscar winning potential genius: The Death Star Canteen...

Does yer Granny always tell ya that the old songs are the best?

Jings, crivvens, help ma boab! The royalty collecting society PRS has published a list of the most played Christmas songs of the past five years and it's surprising reading to say the least...

1. Wham! - Last Christmas
2. Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? (Original Version)
3. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York
4. Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
5. Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
6. Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry
7. Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
8. Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody
9. Mud - Lonely This Christmas
10. Bing Crosby - White Christmas

Mind you, being the most played (George & Andrew) doesn't necessarily mean it's any good. If 40 is the new 30, then surely 8 is the new 1?

"It's Chriiiiiiiistmas!"

And relax...

This, now this, is nice...

Sitting down at the kitchen table witha cup of fresh coffee, a warm (home made!) mince pie or two, the fire finally roaring and Tom Morton on the radio.

Yuletide Felicitations!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Online but not on time...

Ah, the joys of internet shopping. Quick, relatively simple, no crowds, no queues...alas, no goods either. It's not been straightforward this year - one retailer simply invoiced for delivery but didn't include goods, another left our stuff - without telling us - in the village shop and another has let us down on two fronts: sending the wrong item in one order and not sending anything at all (yet) in another.

Still, it has to be better than hanging about Argos at this time of year. Right?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

More mince (pies)

Speaking of having nothing better to do (I'm doing this whilst some dishes are "soaking" in the sink, they really need that time for the dirt to come off you know, it's not as if this is displacement activity or anything. The very thought...), I was secretly delighted to get the chance to try making some mince pies. Having watched the wonderful Hairy Bikers doing their "Hairy Bakers" bit the other night on BBC2, I was inspired to try them out.

Of course I then forgot all about it until I realised we needed some for a party on Thursday.

It's a very therapeutic if - somewhat contrarily - rather frustrating process. Not being a pastry chef, I found the mixture a bit too crumbly to get going and as an amateur I was unsure whether I should add anything to it. Perseverance paid off, however, and the scent of Christmas now fills the house...the thought did occur that we could have these all year round but then that would spoil the festive magic, wouldn't it?

It's a bit of a foodie week on telly this week all told. Nigella's doing her bit on BBC2, Jamie will be with us on Ch4 at some point and on the same channel Willie Harcourt Cooze will be on doing his ultra-fine chocolate shtick. I suppose it's the time of year for it and despite the fact that Nigella is still way too over the top, I think she probably can't help least she's not yet turned into a hopeless parody of herself in the same way as Gordon Ramsay. Yes? What is it with his delivery and gesticulation? He seems less like a chef and more and more like a demented roving political reporter on election night...

Cookery programmes on TV have a way of making one feel hungry and inadequate at the same time. A neat trick. I suspect this works best as a clever marketing gimmick for those who have their own range of ready meals..."Look at this lovely lamb tagine with borlotti beans and a bed of brown rice..." their eager smiles seem to say..."I rustled it up in mere moments before your very eyes in my expensive kitchen with my army of (unseen) sous chefs and kitchen porters, doesn't it look great?" It does, it does, you agree..."why not save yourself the hassle and try my ready made microwavable version since you know your attempts to recreate it will be hopelessly futile?"

Well, damn you Ramsay. I've done the mince pies...bring on the chipolatas!

Deck the halls...

...a very festive set of home made mince pies. You'd think I'd nothing better to do...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Step back in time

They say you should never go back, don't they? Reunion gigs and tours are all the rage aren't they?

Normally I'd tut, harumph and snort derisively at this sort of thing but I must confess to being genuinely excited by the tickets I have for the upcoming "one-off for two shows only (sic)" gigs by the great Lost Soul Band.

If you've never heard them - or heard of them - (and there's really no reason why you should have) they're everything you could want in a band. Great tunes, great singer, countrified-soul, feeling of just-stumbled-across-them-in-a-pub...I've never seen them live but have acquired all their bits and bobs over the years and got to know their lead singer a few years back when we were both living in Edinburgh. Not together, mind. That would be weird.

I really can't wait, even if they have remixed my favourite song so that it's still great but just not quite as good as it was way back when. What a strange thing to do.

Check it out. Then tell everyone you know. At once...take my car!

The Lost Soul Band.

The eighth rule of travel...

...states "never pass a pub with your name on it." So, at least, said Pete McCarthy.
I've just re-read the wonderful McCarthy's Bar for the umpteenth time and, as always, it made me want to decamp immediately to West Cork. Any book with the line, "The barman was in his sixties and a cardigan" immediately deserves a prize.

Bill Bryson, in "Notes from a small island" said of Durham "Go! At once! Take my car!" and West Cork fits easily into the same category. Only more so. Durham's fine and dandy and having only visited once I shouldn't really comment but it can't possibly be a patch on West Cork.

Pete manages to make the place come alive to the extent that not only does the reader want to visit but in many ways one feels one already has.

I realise that as a frequent visitor to Ireland over the years that it's a fairly existential concept for me to imagine that I'd not visited somewhere and clear my memory of it in order to imagine - through the book - that I'd somehow glimpsed these people and places through Pete's eyes. But a pint of Guinness certainly helps the process.

The book, essentially, is the story of Pete's quest to find some sense of belonging in a country he knows well through visits and family ties but in which he's never lived. He questions whether it's possible to have a "spiritual ancestry" or whether the Irish just make everyone feel welcome being, as they are, "expert havers of a good-time."

I don't know. I've always felt at home in Ireland, though not - strangely - in the North where, oddly enough, most of the relatives are. What does that say about the diaspora?

What the book mostly throws up is the value of human contact and right across the road from MacCarthy's Bar itself is the source of one of my favourite memories of Ireland...

July, 2001 my good lady and I were sitting down to breakfast in a B&B in a fuzzy-headed-too-much-Guinness-in-MacCarthy's way. The owner of the establishment - a ruddy faced man of indeterminate years - asked us if we'd like tea or coffee and then suggested "you'll have the full Irish?" No, thanks, we're fine. Just bacon and sausage for me please. "Ach sure, you'll manage the full Irish..." No, really. Coffee, bacon, sausage - magic, thanks.

Moments later it duly appeared...including the clearly non-optional eggs, black pudding, white pudding, fried bread and mushrooms that make up the "full Irish" version of bacon and sausage!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

It's a sign!

The double whammy! Web address and blog title in one. Somewhere in Lochaber...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Postgate Postscript

I couldn't let this pass unmentioned...I followed a link to the first (colour) episode of Ivor The Engine on YouTube. My rotten internet connection wasn't quick enough...
"You know what's happening Jones, don't you?" "No Dai, what's that?" "It's only buffering isn't it?"


And when Bagpuss goes to sleep...

The legend that is Oliver Postgate is sadly no longer with us. The creator of iconic children's television shows Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and The Clangers died on Monday evening.

There are literally thousands of sites on the web extolling the virtues of his work with Peter Firmin and decrying the current state of children's television so for me to join in would seem a little pointless.

What's been incredible, though, is the sheer number of (virtual) column inches devoted to the life and times of a man who, I discovered on reading his marvellous autobiography, Seeing Things, a few years ago sort of accidentally fell into making films for television. And hasn't the world been a brighter place for it?

In the four or so years since we've had a solid fuel stove, rarely have I opened the door to fling in another log or scuttle of coal without thinking of "Jones the Steam" from my personal favourite, Ivor the Engine...there he is, look.*

When I clicked "News Results for Oliver Postgate" in Google, I was staggered by the number of entries, particularly the diversity of blogs marking his passing. I think he would have been pleased. to be remembered for the colour and joy he brought to people's lives. The top left hand corner of Wales will be forever in our hearts.
*for the fans

Monday, 8 December 2008

How to be a domestic goddess...

How these things come up in conversation I just don't know.

I don't particularly like Channel 4's Desperate Housewive but I do like the classic BBC sitcom "The Good Life" and the other day it rather upset me that Channel 4's American import has apparently stolen a classic character.

Margo Leadbetter and Bree Van de the difference?

Stupidity killed the radio star...

As someone who used to enjoy listening to Jonathan Ross on Radio 2 (and I'd stopped enjoying it long before he decided to offend the moral sensibilities of the masses), there's been a glaring void in my Saturday morning radio pleasure for a good long while now.

Where once the show played the very best of UK singer-songwriters, old school R&B (that's proper Rhythm and Blues like The Who and Chris Farlowe), Northern Soul and a weekly dose of classic Bowie, over the last 18 months or so this has given way to little more than a plugging in of the presenter's I-pod and pressing shuffle...

Radio Scotland's Janice Forsyth show just doesn't quite cut it - she's too pally-pally with people, though admittedly not in the same sickeningly psychophantic fashion as Ross, and the music is generally unimaginative to say the least.

Imagine my delight, then, when a couple of weeks ago, the legendary Danny Baker popped up to fill the void left in the Radio 2 schedule. Not only that, he'd brought along the lovely Zoe "Mrs. Fatboy Slim" Cook to revive the old Baker and Ball format from Radio 1.

It appears - sadly - that it will be a mere four week stint but what a stint it has been so far. From the man who brought us the great "misheard lyrics" features (Paul Young's "Everytime you go away, you take a piece of meat with you" anyone?) we now have the "Does your name appear in a song?" section. This really only works if you can hear it but the premise is that your name must have been heard, by you, in the midst of a song...Danny himself stakes a claim in Crowded House's "Chocolate Cake" where the refrain "dannybaker, dannybaker" can be clearly heard in the chorus.

And of course, who can fail to be impressed by "Birthday Poker" in which two contestants try to trump each other's collection of "here's what important thing happened on my birth-date" stories. Highlights so far including sharing a day with the fall of the Berlin wall, the death of Elvis and Boney M's "Rasputin" hitting number one...

This Saturday will be the last of what has been far too short a return to the mainstream for the great man. He and Zoe perfectly complement the Saturday morning cappucino and croissants.

Pretentious? Moi?

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Seasonal warmth and cheer

...a bucket of kindling and some foraged firewood for the woodburner as the outside temperature plummets. Nice.

Monday, 1 December 2008

"Unless you can find some sort of loyalty you cannot find unity and peace in your active living"

You have to laugh. Well, I had to at any rate.

I was making a wee ferry journey last week on one of the Calmac routes. As is my want, I purchased a hot beverage. "Have ye got one o' these?" asked the chap behind the counter.

Buy 7 get the 8th free urged the Loyalty Card. A great concept, perhaps, on the high street but where, I wondered, could I go onboard ship to be disloyal? The Starbuck's stand on the Starboard side or the Costa concession on the car desk?

The mind boggles.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Poetry in motion

I'm just back from a poetry workshop. No, really. I must confess to feeling a bit like Mike Myers doing his "beat poet" bit in So I Married An Axe Murderer (well worth watching this clip by the way...)

We were asked to come up with a wee poem following a series of prompts from the workshop leader - herself a published poet. Ironically, the event was organised by the John Muir Trust, who (which?) are (is?) all about the outdoors and 'wild places.' Appropriate, then, that I chose to do mine about a coffee shop in the west end of Glasgow.


Spring. Summer.
Could be.
Could not.

A scooter in the window.
Car on the road.

Heavy glass.
Hard wood.
Struggle as I
Push the symmetry.
Breaking the symmetry
Opening just one door.

Burbling, brewing.
Foaming, frothing.

Who used these words before?
Who knew these words before?
But not a lawyer.
Illegal use of the word?

Post lunch.
Pre dinner.
Teenage Fanclub.
A mobile.
Another mobile.

Hot milk.
Warm bread.
Panino, surely.
I only wanted the one.

Here we go again...

Well that's it. I've done it now. A return to blogging after a self-imposed hiatus.

We shall see how this develops and what random nonsense emanates from this here keyboard. The title was meant to be used for a book I'd been planning with the subtitle "What happens when the tourists have gone home" but other commitments prevent me from taking that further any time soon.

What appears here may well be to do with tourism, people, music, books, travelling, Scotland, tea, coffee and curries. Or it may not. Allow me to start with a link to what is quite possibly the funniest short story/article ever (provided you grew up playing football at a school in the West of Scotland).

Playground football.

Drop in again soon.