Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hangover express and the dreadful closure of a great greasy spoon...

Up with the...well, not the lark. Starling, maybe, or stray pigeon, as I was in the centre of Glasgow. In a hotel, I might add, not in a shop doorway. Thence to Queen Street Station for the train back to Aberdeen, having hotfooted it last night down to the Dear Green Place for urgent consultations with curry and beer providers.

Sibbo's Delhi Dhabba in Sauchiehall Street is a small, family-owned Indian restaurant, unfashionable, never busy, always great. Best nan bread I've ever tasted. I was still full this morning, so breakfast consisted only of a large mocha from Costa, with the optional three chocolate flakes. That and an Innocent smoothie for my,

Feeling not too bad, actually,despite much Kingfisher lager and a quick tour of three Argyle Street pubs (The 78, the Ben Nevis (which is just like being in a Visit Scotland advert, all bodhrans, fiddles and Gore-tex) and the new Lebowski's, which is a bit groovy for the likes of me but very nice nevertheless. The threatened weather apocalypse never materialised, either, though it's on its way. A snap of snow-dusted hills north of Stirling was the best I could manage.

However...imagine my horror on arriving in Aberdeen, where they're busy converting the old railway goods yard into (yawn) a shopping mall with added cinemas, that one of the really great cafes, the Baker's Pantry in the bus station, was closing at 2.00pm 'for demolition'. Heavens! This is (was) a classic industrial-strength greasy spoon, opening at 6.00am, staffed by a fleet of really abrasive women. It was the Morton family's breakfast joint of choice on getting off the ferry. Great scrambled egg. Very brown tea. No cappuccino. No chance of it reopening in the new bus station, which is part of the planned mall? A curt shake of the head from the lady serving me. With, it should be said, a huge portion of home-made stovies for...a pound. On closing day, everything was a pound.

A tragedy. doubtless there will be a cappuccino bar in the new retail development. But I bet there won't be stovies.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On the Scottish mainland...with a whisky aeroplane

In Aberdeen, after a hectic day which began with a strange train to Keith. It pulled out of Aberdeen station at 08.22, full, and then after Dyce I was the only person on board. Train I ride, goes to God knows where....I don't know and I don't care...or perhaps it was a Mystery Train...anyway. It stopped at Keith, where old acquaintance Jason Rose was waiting for me. Jason is now handling press for Scottish Water, and in my whisky writing capacity we were bound for the water treatment works at Badentinan, which supplies various distilleries. There I was photographed drinking (or pretending to drink) whisky.

The works at Badentinan is currently being massively upgraded to meet new regulations on the microporous filtration of water to prevent any cryptospiridium reaching your dram. This is costing millions, and is being done despite the fact that the water supplying Badentinan, which comes from 36 bore holes beside the Spey, is among the purest in the world. I had a chance to sample this 'raw' water and can vouch for that.

Anyway. Back to Aberdeen, and lunch on the way at Morgan McVeigh's, a cafe evidently owing more than a little to the excellent Brodie Countryfare near Nairn. There I spied the whisky aeroplane. Fifty quid? No, I don't think so.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Slightly stormy...but big congratulations to BT Openreach!

These pictures were taken at the Eshaness cliffs on Friday morning, after a night of sustained 80 mph winds, gusting much higher. The electricity failed sometime overnight and remained off, with one brief respite of an hour, until 21.00 yesterday. The previous day, lightning struck the telephone exchange at Hillswick, frying my ISDN connection, which meant a mad dash to Lerwick to do the show from the BBC Radio Shetland studios. BT really came up trumps, though - their engineer was actually listening to the programme(which for the first half hour, as I drove through snow, hail, ice and a plague of frogs to get to Lerwick, had to be hosted by Pam Tibbets in Glasgow) and drove straight to Hillswick to fix the problem! So by the time I came home on Thursday night, everything was working fine. Until, that is, the power cut...

The weather today (Saturday) is grim and gusty. I'm flying south early on Monday morning, by which time things should have calmed down slightly. Still, I'm glad I haven't booked the boat...

Monday, January 21, 2008


I am very grateful to Carol for forwarding this. Though I have my doubts if these saucissons were ever actually on sale 'in Ireland' as she suggests. And it's only fair to say that Ainsley's instant Cupasoup clones are absolutely brilliant. Well, quite good anyway. If you're very cold.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Apple Macintosh - when high-concept design means built-in obsolescence

Gosh, those new Macs are LOVELY! Macbook Air? FABULOUS. Just like I thought my Macbook was gorgeous when I bought it 18 months ago. Now it is stained, dirty and cracked where the magnetic closure catches rest, subject to major battery problems and I am certain it is meant to be like that. To make me WANT A NEW ONE. To hell with this, I'm going to buy a Panasonic Toughbook, built to withstand nuclear attack! And user-serviceable with a CHISEL!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Illustrating the debt owed by B Springsteen to R Gallagher

It must have been, I don't know, 1972 that Rory Gallagher played in the Caledonian Hotel in Ayr. I was still at school in Troon and, having been bought the Taste album by my Uncle John, was a huge fan. I pined to go to that gig. But at 16 and with my highly religious parents (and conscience), rock music on licensed premises in the den of iniquity 10 miles down the coast was unthinkable.

So I never saw the great man play live. And until YouTube, my only glimpse on telly was (I think)a brief clip from the OGWT. But I've owned three copies of Live in Europe, the third greatest live album ever made (after Get Yer Ya-Yas Out and It's Too Late To Stop Now. The two songs that open the second side - Going To My Home Town/Back In Your town, still send shivers up and down my spine.

Now there's loads of bits and pieces of Rory on the net, and I'm off in a minute to see if I can find an 'Irish Tour' DVD on eBay. The clip here is just unbelievable - no security, no stage, some mad climbing on amps, and suddenly, you see where Springsteen (who certainly knew about Taste and Gallagher, especially during his power trio days with Steel Mill) got some of his stage moves. The same sense of utter commitment, too.

Rory died in 1995, aged 47, of MRSA contracted in hospital after a liver transplant. He had been unwell for a long time, the result of long-term alcohol abuse and, it's said, the use of prescription drugs to combat a fear of flying.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sigur Ros will break your heart...

Two of the best videos ever made, to some of the most astonishing music...

Monday, January 14, 2008

A weather eye

Two pictures from a few days of exquisite winter weather...the first at 4.15pm on Friday, preparing to cycle home from The Radiocroft. The second taken from the new museum in Lerwick on Saturday.
It all ended, meteorologically, on Sunday, with a truly horrible day of vicious wind, darkness and icy rain, during which I did nothing but eat, light and tend the peat-fired Rayburn, drink some fair-trade red wine and read, in its entirety, Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, which is very like an episode of that old TV series A Bit of a Do. Alas, not in the same league as his stunning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, but entertaining enough for a dreich Shetland day.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fantastic news - Hazel, Vincent and Simon get to stay!

Thrilled to hear last night that our neighbour and friend Hazel Minn will not be deported to Burma...she and her adopted sons Simon and Vincent have been given permission for permanent residence in this country. It has been a five year battle, and all tribute to Shetland and Orkney MP Alistair Carmichael for his unstinting commitment to the cause. And everyone else involved, from the Church of Scotland to the 6000 Shetlanders who signed a petition supporting the Minns.

More info and pictures on almost every news site, but especially here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Friday, January 04, 2008

Orchestral manoeuvres in the (cold and) dark while Shetland (sort of) starves!

Well, Susan and Martha flew home yesterday without difficulty, but transport to, from and within the Shetland Isles is in disarray this evening, thanks to easterly gales. No boats north or south last night or tonight, no freight, no 'sooth bread' in the shops and the wind is still howling, so the possibility of power cuts later.

All that and the rest of Scotland is being deluged with snow. Though not Glasgow, where I sit and contemplate a night of classical music, courtesy of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. Walton! Rachmaninov! Rock, and if you will, roll! James is one of the bassists, and though I don't expect to speak to him tonight, tomorrow I'll collect him, and his bass, after the Perth Concert Hall gig, prior to the ferry trip home on Sunday night. As long as the wind changes.

Presumably by then there will be Warburtons back in the Lerwick supermarkets, and all will be right in the Northern Isles. How DID the vikings manage without sliced white bread?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Attack of the mutant monster feral Kelvingrove squirrels (and a Dalek)

There we were, permabulating through Kelvingrove Park along with many other groggy ne'erday humans, when I was approached by a squirrel. A grey squirrel, the nasty interloping diseased creature which is in the process of wiping out our wondrous native red squirrel. Well, there's more than one, obviously. I'm talking species here. Or specieses.
Anyway, this thing sat like some cartoon character and obviously expected to be fed. I had no weapon, otherwise I would have done my bit for red squirreldom. Soon three more grey beasts approached. Someone, perhaps with a superficial resemblance to myself, regularly fed these evil creatures. When the boldest of the furry freaks tried to climb up my trouser leg (really) we left, hurriedly, pursued by equally tame but less obnoxious blue tits. I felt like Dr Doolittle.
Later, I met a real monster, a Dalek without its metal casing. But the squirrel was really terrifying.

Glasgow and Troon for New Year...

...and a very happy 2008!
A trip on the 30th to my old stamping grounds in Troon for a highly unusual event - curry with my two sisters, father and nearly all associated family. Fifteen of us at the Maharani in Troon. Dad's normally in Ayr, Shiona's in Brixham, Ruthie's in Strasbourg and we're in Shetland. So that's a picture to treasure.
Then it was Glasgow for Hogmanay, my 52nd birthday. Last show of the year from Pacific Quay, which looked like something out of Blade Runner as dusk fell. Some more family visitations, then it was off with Magnus and Martha to George Square to see the View and for the bells and fireworks. Rock'n'roll! The View have taken scratchy youth club urchin pop as far as it can possibly go, surely.
To friends in the west end until, good grief, 5.00am. It's Ne'erday, and we were going to go ice skating. On the other hand...