Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Scents and sensibility...

Fitting, really, that this jpeg should come courtesy of the Jewish Malt Whisky Society (.com) who were clearly trying to describe an aspect of the taste and smell of a particular single malt (turned out to be a Sazerac Rye, 18year old) - pencil shavings, cinammon and vanilla. Jings, sounds bloody marvellous. Anyway, I googled - as one tends to do these days - images for pencil shavings and this was my favourite (on page 1 of about 14squillion).

Why did I google pencil shavings? I'd just been helping the wee man with his homework and he needed the sharpener unjammed. He was having a multi-media experience, researching homework - polar bears - online then writing up his findings in his jotter and I was thinking as I stoked the fire that it was great for him to be able to do this, to have the world's information at his fingertips; when all of a sudden it struck me - though the web has given us many things it has also - so some people lament - led to the demise of some key skills: handwriting, spelling, grammar and punctuation.

What's more, if we keep digitising at the rate we're going, someday, perhaps sooner than I'd like to think, we'll have no need of pencils and their associated shavings and sharpener jammings will be lost forever...

What then for the Kosher quaffers? "Hints of I-phone 4 with top notes of polycarbonate?" "Oy vey! No! I'm getting cinammon bagel and a hint of kevlar..."

Monday, 15 November 2010

Breakfast of champions...

So. For no good reason I was singing away to myself in the shower this morning, it was "Honey Be Good" by The Bible, erstwhile home to singer-songwriter genius, Boo Hewerdine.

It's a fantastic song but I've not heard it in an age so I've no idea why it popped into my head. However, there's always a however, it got me thinking...

Never a good idea.

Inspired by "Get It On" on BBC Radio Scotland, I decided that Honey Be Good would be ideal in a "breakfast" themed show. What else, I wondered to myself, might make it onto the playlist? The shower's never the best place to start writing lists so I had to wait until I came out to write them all down.

Obviously I'd start with Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner just to set the scene, then maybe Breakfast by Eugenius. I could stick Breakfast at Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something in there too. Obviously no good breakfast is complete without Orange Juice, so maybe Rip it Up followed by You're So Vain by Carly Simon, for the "clouds in my coffee" - appropriately enough featuring Sir Mick of Jagger on backing vocals, so we're alright for a little Brown Sugar with our caffeine rush. Oh, and not forgetting The Milkman of Human Kindness from Billy Bragg to pour in too.

At this point the seasoned breakfaster is looking to move up to something a little more substantial. Perhaps a Sally Cinammon-danish courtesy of The Stone Roses or even something from Pastry Cline. Apologies. Maybe anything by Muesli Elliot? Again, sorry.

A lighter option, of course is to head towards the Beastie Boys' Yo-gurt! Bum Rush The Show topped off with something from Lemon Jelly. Tori Amos' Cornflake Girl or perhaps something from Oat-is Redding or Po-rage Argainst the Machine could help pile on the carbs.

If you're still hungry, of course, there's always Sugar Puff Daddy or Damien Rice Krispies, whilst those of you looking for a cooked breakfast could do worse than Smokey Bacon Robinson & The Miracles or something from the Eagles, maybe one of Glen Frey-up's compositions

Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins or Paul Young and his Little Bit of Toast might go well with anything by the Jam or Marmalade...washed down with a mug of Hot Chocolate.

You might want to finish off by paying compliments to the chef on the way out...Sam Cooke.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments...

I've just been outside to collect some wood for the fire...cold day here in the Wild West...the old garden's looking a bit sorry for itself. It's suffering at the moment from what might be called seasonal neglect: i.e. it's cold, damp and dark outside most of the time so I can't be arsed going out and tidying the beds and what not.

Ho hum. This is not the work ethic one requires if one is to, as Jake & Elwood put it "live, thrive and survive..." or even keep up with Giles & Sue as the do the Good Life. Nevertheless, it was lovely the other night to be able to nip out to the onion bed the other night when I realised I'd none in for chilli. The onion sets weren't particularly successful this year - I think the bed needs some manure or something - but I still got a couple of wee ones for the dinner.

The great success that was our greenhouse/polytunnel thing, however, is no more. The stormy weather of the last few days has ripped the plastic and snapped the support poles beyond repair. I'm a tad miffed to say the least - we had loads of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces and wee leaves from there this year, to say nothing of a couple of lovely squashes, green peppers and this magnificent micro melon!

The other point of the tunnel was as a wood store - living in one of the wettest parts of the UK, it can be a bit of a trial keeping the fuel dry: tarpaulins don't cut it as they don't allow air circulation and a well engineered woodshed is outwith my capabilities and free-time at the moment. We'll need to investigate an alternative solution for next year, both for produce and wood storage. In the meantime, the dry wood we do have can come into the house and the glut of green tomatoes will be enjoyed as chutney over the festive season. Farewell polytunnel, you've done us proud...

Thursday, 4 November 2010



Well, with the madness of Hallowe'en behind us, the pumpkin festering gently in the porch needed to be put to some use. A wee visit to the Torlundy Farm shop at the weekend saw the kids tucking into a winter-warmer type bowl of spiced pumpkin soup. The Christmassy smells sold that one to me so a wee Google brought up this gem from Valentine Warner

Assistance from the youngest child in the chopping department (supervised, honest!) helped get from this...

to this...

in little over an hour and a half. We didn't go for the serving it in the pumpkin idea, seeing as we'd already chopped it up and roasted it with cinammon, cloved and nutmeg before even finding the recipe!

It was really, really lovely...and we've got tons left to freeze. The addition of home-made bread added an extra wee warm glow.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Just to watch him die...

(this really should have been posted in the first week of October...)


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, to the loudest acoustic evening of your lives...

The Airborne Toxic Event's Mikel Jollett didn't actually say this in Edinburgh last week but he might just as well have...I think the acoustic guitars maybe lasted until about midway through the second song when they were ditched in favour of the full on post-punk-Jam-Clash-U2-if-they-were-any-good wig-out.

My god (that'll be Billy Connolly or Chic Charnley then) this lot are good. That perhaps drags understatement into a whole new sphere. The Airborne Toxic event are fantastic: energetic, tuneful, melodic, exciting, inspiring, grinning, bouncing, anthemic, clever, funny, mesmerising, throbbing and loud. In short, absolutely everything you could ever want in a band.

Any band, yes, any band who have the sheer cajones to segue from their own "Missy" into Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" then into a rockabilly/punk version of "Folsom Prison Blues" has got to be worth seeing. The energy of the Cash cover in particular reminded us all where Johhny Rotten and co. got their ideas from. In my mind's eye, as I watched Mikel and the gang, all I could see was this:

Really. That good.

Obviously I could go on and on and do a full gig-review and all that kind of thing but really, for a flavour of just how fantastic they were (and are) the other fans who've seen them over the last year or so provide a great variety of positivity here.

One reviewer, though, reminded me of part of the evening which should be adopted by other frontmen at gigs: one particularly talkative punter near the front was chatting all the way through the opening couple of numbers and clearly, in such an intimate setting, was making himself heard by everyone from the drummer to the stewards at the back of the hall. Mr. Jollet proceeded to lob a plectrum and a volley of abuse in his face much to the delight of the crowd - "that's the great thing about Scotland, you either wanna love someone or beat their f***in heads in!"

Yup. The Man In Black would be proud, after all, Johnny shot a man in Reno for less...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

You'll be betrayed by your accent and manners...

Well that was an, albeit brief, education.

Seeing as how we are, in actual fact, in the city (Edinburgh) I thought I'd start this blog with a wee Jam lyric. The musically inclined amongst you will spot that indeed I have...but it's from 'Strange Town' and not 'In The City'. How the memory plays tricks. I'd convinced myself that "they say don't know, don't care and I gotta go mate" - Mr. Paul J Weller's tale of a young man coming to London from the outlying provinces -Woking in his case - and finding the big city a tad unfriendly, was told in 'In The City'.

A quick Google gave me pages of lyrics for the song but not the ones I recognised. What on earth was going on? Searching for the lyric rather than the title brought me to Strange Town...whaddya mean all The Jam's songs sounded the same?!

Anyway, none of this is the point. The point is we're in, what for the kids at any rate, is a strange town. Much uncharacteristically tight hand-holding and country-comes-to-town gazing up at high things and double decker buses as we walked from our hotel to the playpark in Princes Street Gardens.

Posted using

I once wrote, many years ago now, on another blog, about how a trip to Ireland had been measured in playparks on account of the wee man's obsession for a swing and a seesaw. It's easy to see the attraction. You get to run about mad, jump on things, make a racket and bounce up and down without so much as a sideways glance from the parentals.

It's a bit like being a child in a primary school. I josh.

The park diverted the weans for a good forty minutes before a wee grey squirrel had them tearing off in hot pursuit. Their hot pursuit, however, soon had the little rodent tearing off in the opposite direction...

Onwards then towards the bright lights of Lothian Road in search of some child-friendly sustenance. Having gotten over the shock - and major disappointment - of our old BC (before children) haunt, The Traverse Theatre Cafe Bar, being closed...

...I took the munchkins across the road, past the newly funked-up Usher Hall, to the Filmhouse.

Six o'clock on an October Sunday and it was heaving - a real cross-section of folks, all tucking into hearty looking (if a trifle lentil-friendly) fayre...a tad on the pricey side though and none of the spaghetti bolognese that the youngest had been requesting...I don't think the veggie lasagne or chickpea curry would have satisfied her somehow. Och well, across the road once more to cheap & cheerful Dario's for pizza and pasta. Sometimes simple is best.

On the plus side, we returned to the Filmhouse later for ice cream and a pint. Vanilla for me, IPA & Guinness for the wee ones...

Edinburgh. Done.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Is there anybody alive out there?

Radio. Justify the reason behind your style.

So. That's Springsteen and Teenage Fanclub already and I've not even started my story yet. Seems everyone loves a bit of radio.

More to the point, and admirably demonstrated in Fort William on Monday night, everyone (still) loves Auntie Beeb.

In these times of voter apathy and the supposed 'me first' culture, I was truly gratified to hear such a groundswell of opinion in favour of what is, for me, the classic communication medium. It very near brought a tear to the eye.

Before anyone starts to worry, I've not simply been approaching random people and asking whether or not they listen to the radio. No sir. I was the one approached in the street and asked that very question.

How rude!


Various Malarkey...

Hmm. Possibly some of the above to be hosted at tumblr in the near future.

Poems, stories...who only knows what. We shall see.

We all love a bit of malarkey...

Monday, 20 September 2010

Watercolaaar studios...

On International Talk Like A Pirate Day it was fitting that the brilliant Mt. Desolation gig at Nick Harper and Mary Ann Kennedy's Watercolour Studios in Ardgour should be identified by an old dodgem car flying the Jolly Roger.

I love the idea of Captain Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver or Captain Hook thundering around with a pikie on the back trying to ram the Admiralty...

Arr me hearties, walk the plank and avast behind...scream if you wanna go faster!

Wee Edit: Simon Willis has blogged the gig here...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Are Friends Eclectic?

I would just like to point out that, since the last post, I've finished my 'mix tape' : it includes contributions from people covering Madonna, Thin Lizzy and Leonard Cohen.

Don't say you weren't warned...

and I love the PRS cheques that you bring*

image via

I'm currently involved in the setting up and organising of a book festival in the village. On the whole it's been an interesting and rewarding process, though the committee structure and the two-and-a-half-hour meetings are beginning to grate now.

We've got some great stuff happening. The most eagerly anticipated - by me at any rate - is certainly our "Evening of Uisge Beatha" featuring the oft-mentioned (on this blog) Tom Morton presenting his Malt & Barley revue, a whisky tasting with an Islay, Speyside and a Lowland malt and a showing of the 1949 classic "Whisky Galore!"

Having finished all of Ian Rankin's books (obviously those would be the ones he's written, I've not been and ransacked his shelves or anything) some weeks ago now I've recently discovered the joys of a further two Caledonian crime writers: book festival guests Allan Guthrie and Stuart MacBride and they're both appearing at the festival, reading and leading a writers workshop so that's all to the good...

I've landed (albeit at my own suggestion) what - for me - is the plum job: choosing the music to play in the background. Great stuff. Regular visitors to the blog and my Twitter feed will be aware of my fairly catholic tastes but, as a former hospital radio presenter, I know that personal proclivities must oft be subserviant to the tastes of the people. Why else would self respecting DJ's play Michael Buble?

So it is that I'm tasked with setting the mood, creating - if you will - a suitably literary ambience. I'm thinking that The Vaselines "Rory Ride Me Raw" might not quite set the right tone.

Obviously the sweary words are out, which kind of puts half my record collection in the Family Fortunes "uhh uhh" bin. But I'll try to be as obscure as possible.

At hospital radio (and when I'm playing stuff in the house for one of our Deuchars IPA fuelled dancing about sessions) I like to try to get from song to song as subtly as possible - not in a Fatboy Slim mixing style or in an obviously linked way like Maconie&Radcliffe's Chain. Though I do love how the Chain can get you from, say, Fools Gold by the Stone Roses to California Girls by Dave Lee Roth.

Gold-Aztecs were big on it-Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera brilliantly covered Van Halen's Jump on an early EP-Dave Lee Roth sang the original version, since you asked...

I digress, as is often the way.

Yeah, getting from song to song subtly isn't necessarily of the utmost importance here. No; what I'm looking for is more of a vibe - a sense that all of the songs are right and that it doesn't matter where in the sequence of songs you come in, or indeed zone out.

That philosophy is the kind that might get me from, say Thirteen by Big Star to Nina Simone covering Leonard Cohen's Suzanne: two tracks and artists with, apparently, little in common but on closer inspection both carrying the same languid, leisurely, thoughtful delivery which - I hope - will mark the whole "set" at the book festival.

I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge. Now, how do I segue into NWA's F*** Tha' Police...?

*The Beautiful South, Song for Whoever

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz...

...I wonder where the burdies is? They say the burdz is on the wing, but that's absurd...the wing is on the burd.

I remember my dad and grampa telling me that wee rhyme. It came to mind this morning when I was hanging out the washing; the garden is awash with twittering swallows and blue tits. It might be just about time for the swallows to do their heading 'sarf thing and that means, for us here in the wild west, the nights will soon be 'fair drawing in...'

Aye. It'll be winter soon enough...

Thursday, 2 September 2010

We know he is a whizz of a wiz if ever a wiz there was...

I'll explain later...

Roaming (not very far) in the gloaming...

Originally uploaded by singletrackroads
That's the thing about low-light photography, it's tricky to get any quality to the shot and still capture the essence of what it was you saw that prompted you to get the camera out in the first place.
Or maybe it's just my crappy camera. Or my inherent lack of patience. Or photographic skill.
Anyway, this is the very jolly burst of nasturtiums (the kids call them variously 'nurse-tur-shrooms', 'mastushrooms' and 'nur-star-shums') outside the greenhouse.

There're lemony bits, deep reddy-oranges, golden yellows and some lip-sticky scarlet tones. The bees have been very taken with them and they add a wee splash of colour and a peppery twist to a salad...or, yes, 'tis true, a homemade fishcake.

I love my garden.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I'd say she was his sister but she doesn't have his nose

Since I first heard them on LastFM where they came up as a recommendation, I've been smitten with Frightened Rabbit. Their plaintive vocals and jangly melodies combine in a beautiful bittersweet union which leaves you punching the air and singing along about improbable things... like lepers and being poked in the iris.

Having not yet had a chance to see them live and, having nothing else pressing to do one night last month, I took the chance of a jaunt down to Stereo in Glasgow to catch the Rabbits frontman, Scott Hutchison, play a charity gig.Though slightly shambolic in places, this subterranean sweatfest of a show was an absolute cracker. There's a good review of it here at Spinner Music - though I'd have to question the use of the word 'vitriolic' to describe the crowd's singalong to "Keep Yourself Warm"...the reminder of the segue into Jay-Z's "99 Problems" is a welcome one though, not an encore you expect to hear at an acoustic singer-songwriter's gig.

There were a few real highlights in a night of general excellence, from the singalong stomp of set-opener "Old Old Fashioned" to the mass gathering of "Steves" (below) for the song "Nothing Like You" which, when first played in Ediburgh, apparently, was unnamed, resulting in the audience christening it Steve. Obvious really. Almost as obvious as the fact that some of the "Steves" were women who were almost certainly not called Steve, Steven, Stevie or even Stevo. Steph(anie) at a push....

Jaw-dropping-unable-to-concentrate-on-anything-else-long-enough-to-hold-the-camera moment of the evening went to the gorgeous signed performance of "Poke" (from which the title of this post comes) from the band's second album. A member of the audience, near the front, announced to Scott that she was an interpreted for the deaf and would like to sign her favourite Rabbits song for the audience. And that's just what she did. It was lovely to watch - I'm fairly sure sign-language isn't usually so expansive but her exaggerated, flowing gestures meshed perfectly with the tempo of the song and gave the whole experience a floaty, balletic feel.

Those familiar with the song's lyrics would undoubtedly have been intrigued, as Mr. Hutchison proclaimed himself to be, to see how the young lady handled a particular slang term in the third verse...

Since I went to this, now almost eight weeks ago, I've had the Rabbits on near-constant repeat in the car. The live album, "Quietly Now!" and debut long-player "Sing The Greys" are particular favourites. I'm really, really looking forward to seeing them at the Barrowlands in December; more perhaps than I've looked forward to a gig in a long time, which is saying something.

When a band, or in the case of the charity gig, a musician gets things this right, this charming, this lovely, it's really hard to see how people could fail to be won over by them. Frightened Rabbit - catch them before they're bigger than Jesus...which, as Scott and the boys know, is "just a Spanish boy's name"

GraveMaurice's Flickr set from the gig.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Tank, fly, bus, walk, jam, nitty gritty...

For those of you wondering - and I know you're out there - "hey, just what exactly did happen to those delicious looking blackcurrants harvested just a few weeks ago?" I can exclusively reveal that they gave their all to join with their friends from the worlds of sugar and water to provide us with a glorious, gloopy coulis/jammy/compote type thing...

"All well and good," you might say as you try to stop the drool from ruining your best shirt, "but what are we supposed to do with that?"

How about dolloping a load of it on top of a delightful homemade cheesecake? Oh yes.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Song Remains Inane (sic)

Cover of "Knee Deep in the Hoopla"Funny how the human brain works, isn't it? Well, mine at any rate...

My wee boy, who shall be eight in just over a week, was asking tonight about knowledge, I must ashamedly confess, of the man is limited. My brain, however, did its usual Rorschach's/mind map thing and - as I suspect most people's would - told him that "at Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender."

Childish I know, and I've promised to help him find out a bit more but it got me thinking. What on earth were Agnetha and Anni-Frid (albeit directed by Benny and Bjorn) playing at with those lyrics? Not only, it transpires, did Napoleon in fact surrender at Rochefort some four weeks after the battle of Waterloo, but how does a lovestruck female "meet her (sic) destiny in quite a similar way"? At what point does a Swedish maiden give in to the combined might of an Anglo-Allied army...or should we not ask?

Silly, poor or just plain stupid lyrics have always been present in music: see Joe Dolce's "Shaddap You Face" or anything by Black Lace for evidence of this; but I wondered just how much 'pop' music contains such inaccuracies?

Take, for example, the undoubted song-writing genius that is Paul Simon. His 1973 hit "Kodachrome" (1973, eh? The same year Waterloo was written...hmm) contains the line "everything looks worse in black and white." Really Paul? Can I just ask you for your thoughts on, say, the zebra?

Then of course there's the late, great Sam Cooke. A favourite of mine, for sure but even Sam wasn't averse to the odd idiosynchrasy in his lyrics; 1960's Chain Gang springing quickly to mind. This, let's not forget, is a song about a prison gang out working on, presumably, the railroad or enduring some equally arduous task. "All day long they're singing hooh! ahh!" Are they now? Really? That sounds a tad on the jolly side to me, Sammy. "Hooh ahh!" is Al Pacino's excited battle cry in Scent of A Woman - hardly indicative of hard labour...

Lastly - for now - it's the turn of Starship. 1985 saw the release of the (admittedly Bernie Taupin-penned) single "We Built This City". Here we get examples of both inaccuracy and inanity: witness "Marconi plays the mamba" or "Knee deep in the hoopla sinking in your fight" for the silly side of things. It's not until the chorus, though, that the band start to really test our patience: "We built this city on Rock and Roll" they gleefully proclaim.

Oh, really? Did you learn nothing from the tale of the Three Little Pigs Mister Bernie Taupin? We all know the dangers of building with not only straw but sticks as well! Are we really to believe that your 80's hair rock proteges thought double-four time would be a more suitable construction material for a whole city, never mind a house for a pig? Somehow I doubt it...

I'll remove my tongue from my cheek now...night night.

So come on, come on, do the growth-promotion with me...

It's about that time when the blackcurrants have fallen (or been gently plucked) from their branches and thoughts are turning, as with the strawberries, to how to make them even more productive next year.

The BBC said this about pruning the blackcurrants on their gardening site:

Pruning blackcurrants

  • Blackcurrant bushes need constant renewal to ensure heavy crops. Older branches will bear fruit, but quantity and quality decline with age.
  • For this reason new bushes are planted deeply so that the plant produces vigorous young branches annually from below ground.
  • These are then used to replace older ones cut out after harvest.
  • Each year remove about one third of the oldest stems - the bark is very dark to the point of being black - and any that are weak or very low.
  • Always cut back to ground level or to a strong new shoot.
  • You can combine pruning with picking the fruit, or wait until winter.

So the boy-child and I have been out doing just that. The stems hadn't gone too dark but were certainly much darker than the newer growth so we'll see how it goes. One of our bushes was, literally, fruitless this year so we can't do any worse regardless of how cavalier we've been with the secateurs.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Disappointing Tatties

That's going to be the name of my new folk group. It's certainly looking like a better use of time than planting the scabby leftover potatoes from the shop and seeing what return they give.

A fairly poor yield from some of our shaws suggests we might be better off with seed potatoes next year. Having said that, we splashed out on onion sets this year and so far they look as if they're going to be fairly rubbishy. What a lottery it all is. Still, much more fun - and satisfying - than a trip to the produce department of one's local supermarket!

Death By Chocolate... one thing, but these sleepy, slightly stoner-esque wasps are trying to do themselves in by overindulging on sticky end of season strawberries. Before I came out with the camera there were about six in there!

The berries are past their best now, so it's time to take the BBC's advice and get deadheading and runner-chopping in preparation for next year when it starts all over again.

Absence makes the harvest grow faster...

Housesitting in various 'airts and pairts' over the last three weeks or so has meant that, other than watering, our own garden has been somewhat neglected.

So it is that we've come back to a bumper crop of peas, the beginnings of a tomato fest, one or two tatties and the odd mutant nettle.

Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the craziness of the courgettes. Look at the Bonne Maman jar to the top right of the photo for some idea of scale here...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Ill communication

Mobile phones, eh? Ubiquitous technology, ever advancing, ever increasing in number and, consequently, edging out the old ways be they proper grammar and punctuation, speaking face to face or - heinously? - the vanquishment of the Red Telephone Box.

The attempts by BT - for surely it is they - to sideline the iconic edifices range from the downright bizarre, "Sorry, this phone box no longer accepts coins", to the economically driven: "If you DO have coins and you're lucky enough to be in a box which accepts them then, please, put in at least 60pence to make a call"! Okay, so your sixty pee gets you a thirty minute UK call but, for goodness sakes, most of the time the public telephone would have been used in the same banal way we now use the mobile: to let people know we're running late or that there's been a change of plans. Even the most rambling of us would struggle to stretch that out to half an hour.

This particular Local Hero style kiosk is on the tiny Hebridean island of Muck. Needless to say, as the knot of blue rope tied around the upside down door testifies, this chap's out of action. I've no doubt this will probably be a permanent measure. This is sad for all manner of reasons, not least because it represents the end of an era in terms of improving the island's links to the outside world.

At a storytelling session earlier this week, the island's previous laird - Lawrence MacEwan - told us how up until as recently as the mid 1950's Muck was phoneless and relied on the post office on the neighbouring island of Eigg to light a bonfire to let the Muckites know when an important telegram had arrived! Far more exciting than checking for messages on your Blackberry.

Perhaps this box can be saved for purposes of posterity and practicality, if not, and if the current patchy mobile coverage doesn't improve, it may well be time for the Eigg postmistress to break out the firelighters once more...

Monday, 19 July 2010

Rules are there for a reason...

In his book, McCarthy's Bar, the late, great Pete McCarthy lists one of the rules of travel as being: never pass a pub with your name on it. Clearly a man with his priorities in the right place. Today though it's another of his maxims which has come to haunt me: never go anywhere without something to read.

Admittedly this takes on far more significance if, like Pete, you're trapped on a tiny island accessible only by irregular cable car. It's also worth bearing in mind when you turn up to a National Trust for Scotland visitor centre in torrential rain for a children's event only to have the kids wheeched away and be told you're not needed.

Since reading McCarthy's Bar I've taken smug delight in always having a book or two with me. That'll teach me. With heavy heart I hit the gift shop only to be confronted with the usual Highland array of tourist tat. I was half hoping to find The True Story Of Whisky Galore by Roger Hutchison who wrote the excellent Calum's Road. Alas the closest I came was a book on what's worn under the kilt (nothing, it's all in perfect working order! Barum tish) and a selection of volumes detailing how best to match a tartan to whatever tenuous clan connection you may have. Ach well, I suppose they know their market.

Here, this one looks's by A. Local, 'Extraction and Digging Deep: A Century of Milking The Tourist Dollar'

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Britain's got talons...

The other week I was outside a well-known supermarket in Dumbarton. Also outside were a selection of birds of prey, I thought initially they'd been attracted by the two for one offers on fresh melons but it turned out they were there to promote the work of the Loch Lomond Birds of Prey Centre.

There were around a dozen birds there, by far the most impressive of which was a very chilled looking eagle owl. I was thinking what a shame it was that the wee folk weren't there to see when a wonderful idea occurred - why not take them there? Sheesh. Who knew?

So that's just what we did...albeit about a week later. A meander down through Strathyre forest and Callander brought us in the back way, avoiding all the traffic we'd been hearing about heading for the golf at Loch Lomond. The centre itself is in the back of a garden centre of all things, there must be a good reason for that but I'm damned if I can think of it.

We were shown round by a group of teenage volunteers, led by a girl of about seventeen who, she told us midway through, hadn't done the tour for over a year but with her relaxed manner and informative delivery it seemed to us as if she did it several times a day. She managed to get across loads of great information and wee asides without ever doing the whole patronising-know-it-all thing.

The children were amazed to learn that the European Eagle Owl (the one I'd seen at the shops) has a grip strength in its claws over three times that of a Rotteweilers jaws whilst my own personal favourite tale was that of another owl, Cargottow, the African Spotted Eagle Owl. Apparently, some time ago, he -yes, he - had looked after a rock for about 18months thinking it was an egg and that in nurturing it he would impress the ladies he hoped to woo (to wit, to woo even). He eventually gave the rock to a prospective mate as a gift...we weren't told if she was impressed or if she just thought he was a bit of a twit (to woo).*

*Owl Fact from the visit: Tawny Owls are the ones which do the comedy twit twoo call, the males twit, the ladies twoo.

After the owls it was on to the raptors, including Orla the Golden Eagle who captivated the kids just by sitting there - both of them decided she was the best thing in the place. My other half and I were more keen on taking Brodie, the seven week old Tawny Owl fluffball home with us. I don't think that until that point I'd ever seen an animal with eyes bigger that its head but Brodie had a darned good go!

All four of us were thrilled to have the chance to stroke Smudge, a Little Owl by name and stature. He came out on one of the guides gloves and sat nicely while we all gave him a was easy to see why he's such a popular bird with the sponsors.

A venture like this can stand or fall on the quality of its dealings with the public. We left with the impression that the staff and volunteers are committed, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Most of all they're keen and happy to share what they know and bring some of their passion to visitors young and not so young.

Open seven days, 10-5.30 (5 on Sundays)at the incredibly reasonable price of £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for kids, it's well worth a visit and the chance to see these incredible animals.

Nature's bounty

That just never fails to be an entirely satisfactory experien... on Twitpic

That just never fails to be an entirely satisfactory experience: picking strawberries for immediate breakfast consumption. Throw in the waffles, yoghurt and freshly made coffee and Saturdays just don't start any better.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Economies of scale

I'm no businessman but even I can see that if you're using 'leftover' pots, homemade compost and a packet of seeds which cost 39pence, then if you get only one courgette with a normal retail price of over 70pence then you're onto a good thing.

I worte a few weeks ago about the wee ones' courgette planting and the other day we harvested ten of the lovely things...

As they say Stateside, you do the math.

Imagine my delight in the greenhouse last night then when I saw the cucumber plant...

The plant itself was bought for £1.50 and the last time I bought a cucumber it was seventy nine pee, so even if we only get those two you can see there, we've broken even. Like the Mastercard ad, though, the satisfaction gained from watching them grow, and helping to be a small part of that process, is priceless.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

Some people know just how to win over a punter. Even if the musical content turns out to be duff (which I'm certain it won't), Erland & The Carnival have triumphed with this brilliant packaging wheeze - a mish-mash of letters from those old stencils everyone used to use at school.

It won me over, as did their live session on the Janice Forsyth show the other week. Catch up with them on Twitter...

Monday, 12 July 2010

You gave up on easter for your vegan chums...

The next line of this song, Not One Bit Ashamed by the mighty King Creosote, goes "It's not good enough, not good enough." The very opposite is always, in my experience, true of a live gig by the man himself.

This photo's from a recent outing to Oran Mor as part of the West End Festival, which I'd not got round to posting due to excessive gardening activity (see rest of blog).

I've written lots about Kenny (Anderson, aka KC) in the past and this must have been about the tenth time I'd been to see him live. This was billed as a solo-show, just Kenny and his guitar and accordion - though clearly not simultaneously; that really would be a heck of a show.

Admiral Fallow opened proceedings with an excellent set and were not shy to show their influences. Echoes of King Creosote himself mixed with another Fence star, James Yorkston though the most striking resemblance, particularly on the vocals, was to the sublime Frightened Rabbit. Some heavy duty talent to live up to then. They have an album out just now with the worrying title, "Boots Met My Face" - hopefully a reference to a trip to the cosmetics counter in a well known high street pharmacy chain rather than a late night encounter in a dark lane with a group of neds. The singer was a wee bit mumbly on the night so I couldn't make out the song titles but this one, Squealing Pigs, rings a bell and is a lovely, jangly song which starts in that almost sound-of-the-sea way that James Yorkston's best stuff does. Highly recommended.

Mr. Anderson was in typically charming mood. Shorn of beard, he looks even more cheeky and elfin than usual and kicked off in contrarily quiet and almost downbeat fashion with the beautiful "And The Racket They Made". Such quiet contemplation is normally the stuff of mid-set slow downs but KC used it to grab attention in the way a good teacher does: speak quietly and they just have to listen. A reverential hush gave way to rapturous applause as the last chords were plucked.

Never playing a song the same way twice and often delving deep into a back catalogue of over forty (!) albums, a King Creosote gig is always an entertaining experience where one learns to expect the unexpected. Tonight we were treated to the use of a rattling toy elephant as percussion, a new song written in collaboration on which the ink was still so wet Kenny had to read the lyrics from a big "This Is Your Life" style red book in front of him and a blistering guest appearance on moothie from legendary man-about-the-west-end, Kenny McCluskey. So talented is the former Bluebell that you actually want to take up the harmonica because he makes it look so easy and sound so damn good.

Throughout the evening there had been occasional references to Kenny's Fence Records right-hand man and long time collaborator, Johhny "Pictish Trail" Lynch so it was no great surprise and no small delight when he was persuaded to join KC on stage for a couple of encores. It's always a delight - tinged with awe and envy - to watch talented musos just slip into comfortably matching each other's playing and harmonising as if they were a well rehearsed act; this was no exception and a reprise of "Not One Bit Ashamed" brought the sweaty subterranean proceedings to a close. trail

Friday, 9 July 2010

No pop, no style: all strictly roots

This is better. Much better. I wrote recently about my abortive strawberry runner potting up. My other half suggested I should have waited until there were roots coming out of the pot before severing the new plant's ties with the main crop.

Yesterday was that day.

Into the damp garden between downpours with the youngest who wielded an Opinel under parental supervision to slice through the - tougher than expected - runners to leave us with three new plants.

And, as it turned out, a rather nice way to tie up a wee flower bundle from her own bed in the garden...

Hey, I never claimed to be a flower arranger.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Cordial relations...

Into the midge-ridden garden again this afternoon with the wee folk to take on one of the summer's lovelier tasks: the gathering of the blackcurrants!

A much healthier haul today than the sour, hard spheres harvested for the freezer at the t
ail end of last week. As the soft inky globes dropped into the colander we could all smell the essence of Ribena and we can't wait to use them in a nice sorbet or (middle-class spoiler alert) a coulis type thing to put on our waffles.

Next up is to find out how best to promote growth for next year - hard pruning or leaving well alone? The advice on the web is a veritable tangled bramble bush of contradictions...

Eggshell a bunny rabbit's eyes

It's easy, all too easy, to grumble about the paucity of today's television, particularly when it comes to comedy. All too often we lament the passing of great shows like Only Fools and Horses whilst managing to forget the aberration that was Sorry. For every Good Life there's a Joey.

Thankfully, albeit surprisingly, the BBC's Children's Department is addressing the issue. Like a funnier Little Britain, "Sorry, I've Got No Head" is, according to The British Comedy Guide, "a fast-paced and irreverent "grown-up" sketch show for children, in which all the roles are played by adults." Their glowing review continues:

You'd have thought a sketch show made for children's TV would be a bit simple and patronising - this comedy is neither of those things. It's just like a normal sketch show, but without any rude words. In fact, it is better that a lot of the sketch shows that are aimed at adults!

As an added bonus, Sorry, I've Got No Head isn't written or performed by obscure unknowns - far from it - British comedy fans should recognise nearly all of the cast (James Bachman and Marcus Brigstocke in drag in the Little Britain-esque Jasmine and Prudith sketches are a particular joy).

The aforementioned dragged-up Bachman and Brigstocke are indeed a joy; here they are in glorious action...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010