Wednesday, July 30, 2008

You know you got soul...

The Church of Scotland must be spinning in its grave...flogging off a kirk as a bar is one thing, surely, but as a casino called 'Soul'?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Weddings and holidays

Neil (nephew on Susan's side) and Liz, were married in the fantastic St Peter's Priory Church in Dunstable, scene of Thomas Cranmer's cowboy court back in the day to railroad through Henry VIII's first divorce. The divorce papers for Catherine of Aragon were apparently nailed to the door, just like Luther's Wittenberg pronouncements. This is where the Church of England took its first formal step towards independence.
Anyway, it's all been knocked about a bit since, notably in the disestablishment of the monasteries and before and during the Civil War, but it's still staggeringly impressive. It's like a giant stone machine for worship.
And despite its antecedents, a wonderful spot for a lovely wedding. Martha and I played Debbie Scott's Eileen's Waltz while the register was being signed, and a couple more rousing Shetland tunes at the reception, which was at Whipsnade Zoo. Hence the train,
which took all the guests on a trip around the animal enclosures. Steaming! Food was great, the band excellent, atmosphere splendid and a good time was had by all. Such a good time, indeed, that Neil and Liz didn't want to leave.
Luton Airport is just along the road from Dunstable, where Susan's sister, Jane (mother of Neil) lives with her husband Kim. A million thanks to them for hospitality before and during the wedding, and on our return from Spain. Where it was hot. My old pal Stewart Cunningham was there (he's the shadowy figure with the cigar)along with a whole bunch of other old friends, so there was much barbecuing. It was funny being on the Costa Brava - scene of so many childhood holidays in San Feliu, just along the coast from where we were. It's phenomenally busy these days. My favoutite bits were breakfast on the balcony and the evenings, when it got a bit cooler. Apart from that, I tend to wrap up in hot sun. One malignant melanoma is enough.

We visited Gala Dali's castle in Pubol (that's her car - an orange Datsun for Mrs Dali) and that's Susan in the archway in the lovely preserved village down from the castle. I couldn't help but be amused by local products Horniman's Tea, which is truly horrible, and Don Limpio floor cleaner.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Back from lovely Spain aboard the revolting Ryanair

I am banned by the friends with whom we were holidaying from saying exactly WHERE we were in Spain but it was VERY NICE! And on the Costa Brava. Hot, though.

Ryanair, however, were horrible to us. Something has got to be done about the excess baggage nonsense: "You can pay £15 per excess kilo or go to the back of the (enormously long) queue." It's about moneygrubing and nothing else. That bag was the same weight it was when we flew out. And did we get any compensation for one cancelled and paid for flight? Nope.
On my way to Aberdeen from Luton so just one quick picture. Oh, and Neil and Liz's wedding went wonderfully well - pictures to follow. A million thanks to Jane and Kim for their hospitality. Speak soon!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

London calling to the faraway towns...

Six hours down the motorway, plus an hour's break, and we were at Susan's sister's house in Dunstable. I hired a gigantic Vauxhall Vectra SRI estate, which was big enough for all the wedding paraphernalia (Susan's nephew Neil is marrying Liz on Saturday)but felt, and I never thought I'd say this, slow and flimsy compared to the wee Citroen C4 diesel.
Yesterday, we took the train from Luton into London to do things I'd never done - go for a boat trip on the Thames and visit the Tower of London. Visiting the Tower was a result of re-reading Neil Stephenson's epic Baroque Trilogy, but proved a bit wearying and disappointing - not enough Mary Queen of Scots (in fact, not ANY Mary Queen of Scots) and the whole thing was rebuilt by the Victorians anyway. It's been a museum rather too long. Crown Jewels were very...glittery.
The South Bank has been beautifully sorted for riverside walking and, well, spending. Hay's Galeria is nice in a Princes Square sort of way (we had bagels there, among table-stalking pigeons).
The Thames Clipper service is more of a water bus than anything else, but impressive. Fast catamarans, and they all have BARS! We bought all-day tickets and I was tempted to just spend the day drinking and wobbling about on the surprisingly rough Thames (hey, come on, it's the holidays), but there was, ahem, shopping to do.
So James and I repaired to the Marlborough Head in North Audley Street for a libation while Susan and Martha Primarked in Oxford Street.
Terrible problems finding anywhere to eat in the evening - everywhere was solid - and the underground was a nightmare - hot, dirty, crammed and with enormous delays on the Central Line. It was a relief to escape back to Dunstable, though the rest of them have headed back into London today. I pleaded exhaustion and Open Golf Coverage.

Monday, July 14, 2008

T in the Park, Amy W and back to Glasgow

Three days at T, and now it's Monday and I'm back in Glasgow, wondering how my face got so burnt...Amy W turned up, barely spoke, sang relatively well and managed not to totter off her high heels. The rest of Sunday? Counting Crows were magnificently out of place. The Kings of Leon were, again, a complete mystery to me: Why do people think they're any good?It's like a scratchy, tuneless version of Skynyrd. Paul Heaton needs to learn his words, which seem, as ever, excellent. What was that Eddie Jordan thing all about? Does any multi-millionaire with a vanity pub band get to play at T? Though the way The Robbers were treated with studious contempt at their Hospitality gig may have taught him a lesson. Next minute, though, they're on the Pet Sounds stage. Bizarre.

Dreadful news about the death (natural causes, apparently) of a 32-year-old and the stabbing of someone else. Don't think I'd like to camp at T again (it's four years since I did so), and frankly, age was telling against me by the close of play yesterday; all I wanted was a quiet place to sit down and have...a cup of tea.

It seems obvious to me that the festival will eventually have to try and distance itself from Tennents. Surely the days of alcohol sponsorship on this level are numbered? I'd expect the Scottish Government to move on the issue within the next couple of years, and it was evident from this year's attempts to promote 'safe drinking' and the 'Healthy T' initiative that the organisers can see the writing on the wall. The wall-to-wall BBC coverage of what is at the moment a major promotional vehicle for booze, raises issues that Auntie will have to deal with too.

As for the toilets (Pee in the Park, indeed)'s hard to see what else can be done. Female urinals? Women were using the men's troughs by mid-afternoon yesterday. Feminism or desperation?

Boozing will always be part of what has become a rite of passage for Scottish young folk, but the brutal commercialism of the Tennents presence sits uncomfortably with Scotland's new 'moderation message'. More changes next year, I suspect. How long does the Tennents sponsorship deal have to run?

Anyway, some real highlights: Alabama 3 tore King Tuts apart - Paolo was, I thought, stunningly good and the new material is fantastic. The aforementioned Counting Crows made an old muso very happy. Rage Against the Machine were enormously impressive, in a jaggy steamroller sort of way. Reverend and the Makers were the junior A3, but dear goodness, the Rev's voice is a bit wobbly. Hot smoked salmon pasta from Loch Fyne seafoods was exceptional. The Relentless bike stunt show was a treat. And the man with the ladder (£4 for three shots at climbing it without falling off, £20 if you succeeded) must have made enough to buy a house. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

So, roll on, err...Belladrum, Wizard and Connect!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Snake Derrick and the Vipers

...or possibly Paolo Nutini and band

Friday, July 11, 2008

KT at T in the sun


Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Hold Steady and Mother India's astonishing Gulab Jamin

I've been listening, initially with the religious fervour of a disciple, to the new CD by The Hold Steady, Stay Positive, and have come to the conclusion that it marks the end of the road for the band. With sadness and some anger at the critics who are boosting Craig Finn and the boys as some kind of rock'n'roll saviours, I have to admit that this is a band - and probably a concept - that is running on empty.

My first reaction was to force myself into a state of ardour and enthusiasm. Surely Constructive Summer and Sequestered in Memphis were fine, jagged lumps of paving stones ripped from E Street? But, like The Boss's own disastrous pile of viciously mastered crap, Magic (if only Bruce had just ONCE had a decent producer, he could have made A REALLY GREAT RECORD)Stay Positive is, first and foremost, badly made.

Bruce, as you might expect from such an obsessive-compulsive moralist, has never released a record with bad playing on it. The Hold Steady, though, are a pub band with hard-touring habits, and so this not just badly made, but badly played. Full of bluster that doesn't pass muster, the sax squeaks, the piano sounds plinky and clinky, and, biggest problem of all, Craig Finn cannot sing. Somehow it's never mattered on the previous releases (try The Swish on YouTube). But here it does. He is a vocalist without tunefulness.
Then there is the little difficulty with the songs. For a literate middle-aged man to write so one-dimensionally about teenagers and their partying habits is not, after all these records, just boring, it's getting downright creepy. Will Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys be writing about his alcopop-swigging youth when he's 40? I doubt it. And the obfuscatory wallowing in references to movies (notably those of John Cassavetes), Minneapolis and past Hold Steady records is just intellectual camouflage. There's something heartless here.
I wonder about Craig Finn's agenda. This is a band that plays high school assemblies. Something he was none too keen to talk about when we met for an interview last year. The 'stay positive' message (despite the counterpoint chorus of 'get hammered' in Constructive Summer) has a rockin' vicar rankle about it. There's a preachiness disguised as 'down with the kids' rock'n'roll lifestylism. I fear a missionary motivation is lurking beneath the onstage boozing and the continual religious metaphors.

There's something pantomimic about the band's Skynyrdisms. I don't think they mean it. Man. A toast to Saint Joe Strummer indeed! Only an idiot could write that line without irony. Or a careful constructor of second-guessed crowd-pleasing hackwork.
Enough. It's been my album of the week, basically so that some kind of dialogue about it could be carried on with listeners (equal parts dislike and enthusiasm)and I'll see them play this Saturday at T. But I think The Hold Steady have lost their grip. Compared to James McMurtry's magnificent new CD and Elbow's astonishing Seldom Seen Kid, it's minor league.

UNLIKE THE CHEFS AT MOTHER INDIA! (ridiculous link I know). Just back from a stunning meal at the new Mother India's Cellar, which featured a gulab jamin so divine I almost wept with delight. Though Magnus was right - it is basically syrup sponge. And what could possibly be wrong with that? The dosa was magnificent, the green chili fish pakora unbelievable. The Mother India expansion via the Wee Curry Shop (try the one in Byres Road) and now a deli in Bearsden continues to astonish and delight.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The West Highland Way - conquered! But not by me...

Susan completed the West Highland Way last weekend (her second time), and has asked me to encourage you to contribute to The Sandpiper Trust in celebration. All is explained:

"I have just finished walking the West Highland Way with my practice nurse Caroline Garrick. I was able to do this( luckily still) courtesy of 'Sandpiper bag' and a GP who knew how to use it, as, some of you may know , I was involved in a very high speed collision and was lucky to survive in 2005.

The Sandpiper Trust, a Scottish charity, provides GPs and nurses living and working in rural Scotland with appropriate emergency medical equipment known as The Sandpiper Bag. The Sandpiper Bag enables lifesaving “pre-hospital“ procedures to be carried out during that critical period known as the “Golden Hour”. Sandpiper Bags with their standardised layout and contents have now become widely recognised as an international standard for immediate care.

I have also had to use my own Blue Sandpiper bag to help my own patients in life- threatening emergencies over the last few years.

I would like to ask for donations towards Sandpiper from my friends, acquaintances, and contacts. I wasn't sure if I'd make it to the end of the WHW due to balance problems post the head injury and feet injuries, and so didn't like to ask for sponsors beforehand.
But we did it! I staggered along with poles as crutches.

Dr Susan Bowie

If you feel you can help this very worthwhile cause please make any donations to

'The Sandpiper Trust'. "

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Strange notices in the west end of Glasgow and some monstrous moments on the rails

I pass this on without comment as part of my avowed purpose - to inform, entertain and speculate about what the hell is actually going on's like some sort of abstruse code...

A great Chinese meal last night at Chow in Byres Road (unreservedly recommended) and I'm now in Aberdeen, after a truly monstrous journey which involved tripping (not in a chemical sense)at Hillhead Underground station and falling right into the arms of an unsuspecting five-foot-three-inch man who was trying to get off the train; then, despite arriving in plenty of time at Queen Street for the Aberdeen train, Scotrail waited until three minutes before departure before announcing the platform. Mayhem ensued. Once on the train, I found myself squashed amongst the gargantuan quantity of luggage belonging to two American couples heading for Inverness. All of it had to be packed away, and then unpacked at Perth so they could get off and change trains. All this while the Grumpiest Conductor On Earth made increasingly fraught announcements, the trolley woman ran over my feet (I was in one of those side-facing seats) and fights broke out over reserved seating.

Finally I fell asleep (in Dundee) and didn't wake up again until Stonehaven. I had been, you will be delighted to know, open-mouthed, dribbling and very probably snoring. But did I care? Do I care? Nope.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bear necessities, and a hot day in Edinburgh

Fantastic story from Florida about a black bear being rescued from drowning...just as long as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wasn't required.

I'm in Edinburgh, broadcasting from the BBC's studios just across from The Scotsman. It's hot and muggy, which serves me right for complaining yesterday on air that Edinburgh was always the city I felt most discombobulated by in the summer. Remarkably quiet though, considering. But then, the festival has yet to kick off.
Glasgow tonight, then Aberdeen tomorrow.

That bear tale: