Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fruit scones sitting on counters covered in attractive glass domes are seldom fresh...

Well, the ones at The Lemon Tree (not the arts centre and venue, the cafe at Aberdeen station) certainly aren't. And I had a most peculiar bacon baguette, which I swear shrank by at least 25 per cent during its sojourn in some form of microwave oven. Still, they do reasonable coffee, which is the only reason I did not breakfast at my beloved Baker's Pantry, in the bus station. The coffee there is the kind that gives dishwater a bad name.
To the Fast-ticket (or is it Fasticket? It certainly shouldn't be) machine to collect my, well, you'll never guess, tickets. This machine always strikes terror into me, for some reason. I hate being beholden to a dumb metal box with the seconds ticking until departure. Still, It spewed out the requisite briefs, along, thank goodness, with a seat reservation. And so to Glasgow.
I eavesdropped for some time on a fascinating conversation between a man and a woman sitting across the passageway. It concerned the difference between systematic and practical theology, how to teach ethics to doctors and much else. What distressed me was that all these interesting subjects seemed, in this number crunching age, to come down to the study of statistics. Presumably theologians can now calculate the number of the beast to five decimal places...
Come Montrose, the train filled up and it was time to hide from conversations rather than try to listen in. So I immersed myself in the rather good new album by JJ Cale and Eric Clapton, thanks to the iPod and my new headphones, which, gadget fans, are Sony MDR-V500 pro closed-back items. They shut you off from your surroundings very nicely indeed, but alas, provide that occupational hazard for BBC types, headphone hair. I feel a number two crop coming on...
In Queen Margaret Drive now for the show, then a flight to Belfast tonight, storms permitting. Hope to post some pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Starbucks crashing down around my ears...

...and quite literally. The Starbucks in Aberdeen's Bon Accord Centre is looking a bit down-at-heel these days, but one surely doesn't expect large, aluminium-framed pictures to come thundering down on top of one's cranberry-and-orange muffin?
It crossed my mind that I could have staged something spectacular - bruising, stained trousers, ruined jumper, blood in the latte - and sued. But this is Scotland, and when it happened, with an enormous crash, not only did I nonchalantly place the picture on the floor and carry on as if nothing had happened, not a single person in the cafe appeared to have noticed anything happening at all.
Another place that seems to be heading rapidly downhill is the Aberdeen City Centre Travelodge. Had to change rooms due to an horrific smell in the first one I was offered. The second one looks like a shipping container, only less aesthetically pleasing. Not that I've spent much time inside shipping containers, but put it this way: my current hotel room makes me nostalgic for the Fiat camper van I used to inhabit during The Inverness Years. Though at least I didn't wake up this morning with my cheek frozen to the wall.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bumpy ride to Aberdeen....and what's your German name?

Phew, had trouble keeping the coffee in the cup on the flight from Sumburgh...then you get to Aberdeen and they make you walk approximately 12 miles from the aeroplane to the baggage carousel...
Meanwhile, what's your German name? I'm Holger Leonhard...
Your German Name is:

Holger Leonhard

Monday, November 27, 2006

Not so secret view

More geocaching, this time to try and find a cache near Weisdale called 'Shetland Overview' James was exceedingly ill-equipped in his uber-trendy Converse All-Stars, but fortunately it was an easy trudge to the site. This is the view, one of Shetland's finest. On the way we released a sheep that had become stuck in a fence (no Billy Connolly jokes, please) and had been there for at least a day, as it had dug a muddy pit trying to get out. At first its back legs seemed paralysed, but it recovered quickly and scampered away.
Second last trip away before Christmas, I hope, begins tomorrow. Two nights in Aberdeen before heading for Glasgow and a flight to Belfast for a special TM show as part of BBC Radio Scotland's Ulster Week. Or BBC Radio Ulster's Scotland Week, depending on how you look at it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

...and another thing

I was appalled by the way Jools Holland was given/provided himself with two spots to shamelessly plug his own new CD on 'Later' the other night. How much power does this man wield? Apparently sufficient to ride roughshod over every BBC producer's guideline I know of.
Allegedly, bands appearing on the show have begun insisting, contractually, that Jools does NOT accompany them on his barroom piano. Which seems to have led to the compulsory, compensatory appearance of the Holland Big Band and sycophantic guests at every conceivable commercial opportunity.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Two questions

Is Jennifer Saunders' Jam and Jerusalem the worst, least funny, most obnoxiously, preeningly self-satisfied TV 'comedy' in the history of broadcasting?

What on earth is the appeal of Russell Brand? Brain dead zombie goth versions of Frankie Howerd we can surely live without.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Too old to jump and a double rainbow

Poor old Quoyle. He was once the ultimate levitating black labrador. He would jump over anything, and now, even a low fence like this defeats him.
Another fine day, though, with a spectacular double rainbow over Ronas Voe. Alas, my camera was not equipped with a lens capable of communicating its sheer size. Itwas, take my word for it, your absolutely classic, complete, semi-circular rain...bow. And at the end of it? An old Ford Maverick, the world's worst handling car.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Let's geocache!

A glorious day, so it was off to the Hillswick Ness for a wee (and very soggy underfoot) wander, made specific and a bit high-tech by heading for Another Fine Ness, the geocache I maintain there.
So what's geocaching? Well, it's a kind of slow-paced, techno-orienteering-cum-treasure hunt. Makes walking a bit more interesting for the easily bored. And bearable for computer geek weans. Little boxes full of...stuff, really, bits and pieces you can exchange, take or leave, plus a logbook and pencil, are hidden in various places - and that means everywhere. It's a worldwide thing. The latitude and longitude, as worked out by a portable GPS satellite navigator, are posted on the Geocaching website. Then it's over to the finder. If you're in the vicinity, you enter said latitude and longitude into your GPS, and, guided by a swinging arrow thingy on the GPS screen, set off to find it. Looking about you, in the case of Another Fine Ness, at the stunning scenery. That's the view from the Hillswick Ness geocache, by the way. Those peculiar rocks are The Drongs.

All of this is completely free, once you've paid for the GPS. The one I have (off EvilBay)is a very basic Magellan Sportrak, which cost £25. You can get colour ones with downloadable maps, whereabouts of pubs, brothels, record shops etc, but they're very dear.
What can I tell you? It's walking for gadget freaks.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Puppy video!

...Still one or two for sale if anyone's really keen to have their life taken over by a gigantic slobbering Swiss dog that moults copiously every time the central heating comes on.
Go HERE for moving pictures!

Heartbreak Fridge!

So, to recap...och, no I can't be bothered. The whole gory story can be found on the Samsung and Comet Remote Service blog.
Anyway, they came for our old, broken , 16-month-old fridge today, complete with brand spanking new replacement (all it took was a bit of highly specific blogging and a couple of registered letters. After the dozens of failed phone calls, that is). Hooray! EXCEPT (and I can hardly bear to type this) it's BROKEN. Or, it got broken during installation. Well, to be precise, the water feed pipe sheared off. Meaning that while it works as a fridge and a freezer, you can't get water (chilled) or ice (even more chilled).
Non-essential stuff, I hear you murmuring. Yes, and at least it keeps food fresh. It's supposed to be an upgraded model, actually, but that seems to mean only that it's the Tony and Carmela Soprano MIRRORED/FROSTED version. Hmm...Anyway, we've found someone locally who can fix fridges, and so I'm calling a halt to all this remote negotiation with Samsung. Possibly.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shetland knitwear - is it a dying craft?

I have a bit of a thing about traditional Shetland knitwear, particularly the old-fashioned Fair Isle patterns. I have to restrict my visits to Jamieson's emporium in Lerwick, otherwise I would end up becoming a gansie addict, overwhelmed by that glorious smell of lanolin you get from native Shetland wool.
But hand-knitting (with needles) is a dying art. It is incredibly time-consuming, highly skilled and poorly rewarded. Its more modern offshoot, hand-frame (hand-operated machine) knitting is nothing like as common as it once was. But still, I was shocked by the few representatives of Shetland knitting (hand or machine) at the Christmas Craft Fair in Lerwick yesterday.
This was partly selfish, as I was keen for Susan to buy me a slip-over Fair Isle for Christmas (found one, actually, in a lovely shade of blue). But also, I truly believe Shetland knitting (particularly the unique, lovely and rare handknits)is one of the community's greatest cultural and artistic assets. Shetland jumpers were worn on the first successful Everest climb. They have traversed the world on board a million ships, become a generic name for a type of pullover. And that really infuriates me, seeing fake Fair Isle or clothing labelled 'Shetland' for sale in chain stores or catalogues, manufactured in the Far East in factories.
Two years ago, I set up a small operation, getting scarves and hats hand-knitted. Shetland Combat Sea and Mountain Knitwear ('Naturally Northern') was born. The idea was to pay knitters a proper fee for the hours spent on each item, and sell them as exclusive, hand-made, geographically specific items.
I sold two hats. They were lovely, warm, and expensive. There was, or didn't appear to bem, any market for them.
And now knitters are outnumbered by photographers by more than two to one at the Christmas Craft Fair.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

These proper pictures just in from Mr Cunningham

My old pal Stewart Cunningham (Safari won't let me add links to Blogger Beta, he's at was present during the three hour Forsyth/Morton Children in Need extravaganza, and you can find more of his snaps (soon) at the BBC Tom Morton Show page (try the link over to the right). Time for the much-promised diet to kick in. Hell's teeth, I look like a blimp. That's the chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, by the way, and in the top picture, you can see three of the Hazy Janes, Andrew, Alice and Matthew. The latter two are offspring of The Great Michael Marra, though they don't like you mentioning it.
Back home, a dreich, slushy (heading for snowy) Sunday. But we have telly, thanks to a brand spanking new satellite dish, the other having blown away. Still got the decaying Samsung fridge, though, which hasn't been exchanged as promised. Looks like some ass may need kicked there. I mean, that cheese I bought from Ian Mellis in Aberdeen will start to stink the entire house out. Vacherel, yum!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Children in Need, Spitfires, and trying to get served in Glasgow restaurants, oh, and Bond, James Bond...

Back in Aberdeen, momentarily, having thrashed the wee Citroen up the road from Glasgow this morning. Yesterday was Children in Need, and that meant that Janice Forsyth and I co-hosted a three-hour special programme in the afternoon, featuring a veritable cornucopia of live guests. We had The Hazy Janes, Colin Macintyre (formerly the Mull Historical Society) Janey Godley, Gerard Kelly and the cast of Aladdin (King's Theatre)Lang Lang (Chinese pianist) and a truly bizarre double act between counter tenor William Purefoy and hip-hop team The Fountainbridge Collective. It all went well, I think, and we auctioned a lime-green leotard, as worn by Borat, for £150. As you do.
Three days in Glasgow meant some interesting food. The Mussel Inn was fantastic on Wednesday Night, Fratelli Sarti was good but, as I fear is usual, excruciatingly slow on Thursday, and that old standby Pizza Express was excellent but, yes, painfully slow (in parts) last night. I hate it when you have waiting staff who behave as if they're in a gang and trade private jokes with each other while appearing to zone out the customers. Very unusual for Pizza Express, too (this was the Queen Street branch)as the staff are usually hot for tips and extremely nice. Sorry about that 50p, folks, but well, the bill took ages...
I stayed in the Thistle Hotel in Cambridge Street which I thought was very good indeed. Nice rooms (irons!) swimming pool, very efficient and pleasant staff and one of the best breakfasts in Glasgow (hot croissants, good coffee). A lot of the waiting staff seemed to be eastern European and they were highly efficient, very friendly and, dare I say it, remarkably good looking. Good, free, car parking too, which is rare in a city centre hotel. Recommended.
Oh, and the Spitfire is the one at the newly-refurbished Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, one of my major haunts as a student. I think there's a lot of utter nonsense been perpetrated in the work that's been done, and an incredible amount of money wasted on uber-trendy, pseudo-interactive bollocks. The shop is a joke, apart from anything else. It's impossible to find old favourites EXCEPT for Christ of St John of the Cross, which appears to be back where it was thirty years ago, shining like some weird beacon at the end of a gallery corridor. Generally, though, this is a shameful shambles. Apart from the Spitfire.I love Spitfires.
Managed to get tickets for the new Bond movie, which succeeds, despite Daniel Craig's protuberant lugs. He's like Plug from the Bash Street Kids. With a waxed chest and weeks on a Bullworker.And doesn't Eva Green look like a young Charlotte Rampling? There's too much poker, which I don't understand, but it has a visceral power none of the Bond movies have had since Dr No. The torture scene, though, is surely a bit much for a 12-certificate movie? Very, very long, but on the whole, good.
To the boat, again. Oh dear.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Annika, Hello Saferide, Bobby Bluebell and a great big huge lump of red sandstone

Great time last night at the Hello Saferide gig - The Hold, in the basement of the Admiral Bar in Waterloo Street, Glasgow, is a great wee venue. Civilised. Which at my age is important. Though whether or not it was civilised to drink so much Knob Creek whisky is quite another matter. Splendid seafood meal previously at the Mussel Inn, too. Great Muscadet!
Annika Norlin and her six-piece band were magnificent. Maia Hirasawa was one of the support acts (guess what? Swedish too!) as well as being (sorry, can't help but say this) the Agnetha to Annika's Anna-Frid in the Hello Saferide live manifestation. And Maia was breathtakingly good in a completely solo performance, dressed like some kind of prim Scando-pop schoolteacher.
The Norlin songs - twisted, witty, bittersweet pop classics - work brilliantly live, especially given Annika's quite unexpected facial mugging and actor-ish timing. There's something very knowing about the whole thing in an early Blondie sort of way. I loved it in a way I haven't enjoyed live pop for years.
Took me back decades, in fact. But not as bizarrely as walking in to see support act The Poems (Glaswegian, not Swedish). Was there a Bobby Bluebell revival occurring? That look - the black polo neck, the glasses - could it really be back? Did it ever go away? Closer inspection revealed that this timewarped apparition was in fact the man himself, my old acquaintance Robert Hodgens, apparently unchanged in 20 years. After his set, we nattered away like it was 1986, shouting in each other's lugs in that time-honoured rock-club-deaf-as-a-post manner. 'You look just the same' said Robert. 'Aye, sure' I replied. Unwilling to say that he truly did look just like he did back in the days of, well Young At Heart...the Poems were very good, by the way. See that rock star lifestyle? Must be good for you. Or maybe it's the golf...
(Just done a bit of checking, and it seems Poems lead singer Kerry is the wee sister of Karine Polwart.)
Great too to see Grangemouth Guru of All Things Rocktastic, Lindsay Hutton, just as enthusiastic as I am about Hello Saferide, if not more so. We nod our grey heads sagely and predict great things: folks, make it happen for Annika!
Oh, and that lump of red sandstone? I'm in Beanscene, staring out at the Kelvingrove art gallery. To which I'm awa' the noo.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My dark secret....and a very brief encounter

A combination of rough seas (until we were past Orkney) and two wailing children in an adjacent cabin (ah, I remember those days) kept me awake for chunks of last night. Also the occasional twinge of fear, which I don't normally feel aboard the Zetland ferries. That terrible incident in the Pentland Firth over the weekend, with two tanker crewmen killed by a a huge wave, has given all of us who use ships pause for thought.
Anyway. Safely into Aberdeen and on the road by 7.00 am. Breakfastless, but here's the dark secret coming...there's this McDonalds just north of Dundee...
I know, I know. And this from a man who has just decided he will never buy a Young's fish product again, unless they abandon this crazy notion of shipping Scottish prawns to Thailand for de-shelling, then sending them back to Scotland so we can eat them.
The thing is, McDonalds coffee is now as good as Starbucks, and a lot cheaper. Call it 'ghetto coffee' if you must (which being interpreted is, non-posy, non-frothy coffee at cut-rate prices)but I really like it. And then there's The Big Breakfast. Cheap, cheerful, wholesome (sort of; well, 'We Only Use Free Range Eggs' it says on the, uh, polystyrene box. and did I say cheap? Plus you can get Tropicana orange juice. Or bagels with cream cheese. Hey, supersize me! Oh, the guilt!
Traffic begins to swamp me at Dundee, and then outside Perth, the mobile goes. Into a lay-by to discover Susan (wife) wondering if we can meet up. We reckon there's time for a coffee before she has to get her flight and I have to get to Queen Margaret Drive for broadcasting purposes.
But there isn't. The traffic in Rutherglen moves incrementally (All pelican crossings on Rutherglen High Street seem to be permanently in use, and unfairly, not by pelicans)and by the time I find the right house in Burnside, we are both running late. So we catch up as Susan (years of short-cut doctor-type driving experience) directs me across the south side of Glasgow to the west end. When she's not shouting at me to slow down, that is. I drop her at a taxi rank and she's off back to Shetland. I park, unload the bike, and pretend to be environmentally friendly as I whirr into the BBC bike park. when deep in my heart I know that a few scant minutes ago, I harboured dark, anti-pedestrian thoughts.
Tonight, much familial activity involving literate Swedish popster and HUGE TMS favourite, Annika Norlin. See you at the Admiral Bar, pop pickers! Be there or be cuboid (but not cubist).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the high seas again (and I do mean high)

One of those full-on days when there's barely time to draw breath, let alone repair to Blogger. However, I am now breathing and repairing.
I should say, by the way, to anyone disappointed with the lack of video and audio hereabouts of late, that I stupidly allowed myself to be huckled into using Beta Blogger, which is incompatible with Hipcast (formerly Audioblogger)as well as being clumsy, erratic and non-intuitive. Yeah, but it's free, someone might say. To which I reply: owned by Google, who take advertising revenues off this very blog and much else. And can I go back to 'old' Blogger? Nope. I've been looking at switching this blog elsewhere, but as i said at the start, I'm kinda busy.
Shetland is not at its most appealling. The never-ending storms are like having a nagging illness. Calm days are like reprieves. You wake up, groggily realising you CAN go outside, you CAN cycle without being blown halfway to Norway. This is not just a Soothmoother syndrome. Everyone's affected (well, unless you live in Lerwick, which is pretty much like living in any Scottish small town).
Transport off the isles becomes a nightmare. Tonight I have to get the boat south (with car and attached bicycle)for a four day sojourn in Glasgow (Children in Need on Friday, Hello Saferide at the Admiral Bar tomorrow night). Unexpectedly, Susan has a funeral she must go to, in Glasgow. But for work reasons, she's flying down today, coming back tomorrow. We won't meet. And that's a cool £350 return, by the way.
All of this is complicated by the need to arrange child-and-dog care, the fact that the satellite dish man comes tomorrow, the imminent arrival of an exchange fridge freezer and the necessity of unplumbing the old one (that means doors off, screwdrivers, much swearing), sorting out crofting land sale problems, buying food for the next three days, packing and...did I mention that I have a radio show to do?
Gotta go. Oh, and the forecast for tonight is terrible. Again. Though looking out of the iwndow, it does seem a bit calmer...
My final community council meeting last night. There's no doubt, I've been a terrible community councillor, missing far too many meetings and cracking too many jokes. Another attempt at being responsible and mature fails...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Forfar bridie versus Cornish Pastie

This burning issue of meat-stuffed pastry will be discussed, probably to destruction, on today's Tom Morton Show, provoked by the battle between Devon and Cornwall over the origin of Devonian, sorry Cornish pasties.
Both pasties and bridies were invented, it seems, so that workers (farm labourers and tin miners)could have handy, portable foodstuffs they could eat with dirty hands, In both cases, the crimped crust was thrown away uneaten, used simply as a handle. But what's the connection with Johnny Depp? Aha!
Well, it's the movie Finding Neverland, in which Depp starred as Peter Pan author JM Barrie. It seems JM Barrie was responsible for a brief national and international cult of the bridie, due to his book Sentimental Tommy (!) in which it is fulsomely praised.
Just think: If things had gone slightly differently, we might not have Ginsters pasties as the personification of garage food, but Barrie's Bridies. In fact, it may not be too late...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Puppy at 10 weeks - resistable, just...

Penny, from the Vikingstar St Bernard kennel in Yell, arrived today with several of Lucy's pups, fresh from the vet, where they had all been microchipped. Sort of like what happened to Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, only without the Swiss bank account.
Here's Martha with Bubbles. No, we're not keeping one. How many times do I have to say so?
If, on the other hand, you are interested in a St Bernard (for life, remember, and they grow to the size of a small horse) there are a couple still available...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mad dash home

The run-up to Christmas is set to be hectic, with trips to Glasgow next week, then Belfast and at least one more to Aberdeen before the festivities. Yesterday, with the boat booked for the 14 hour (via Orkney on a Thursday)voyage home, I cracked at the prospect of yet another 'severe force nine' gale, and switched at the last minute to the plane. You can do this because NorthLink Ferries let you cancel right up to sailing time, and give full refunds too.
It was financially viable because of the ADC (Air Discount Scheme) dreamt up by our (currently, and yet again, beleaguered by the media) MSP Tavish Scott. Whose current attempted beard is a result of looming Up Helly Aa cavorting, I fear. This (the ADC, not the beard or Up Helly Aa) provides Scottish island residents with reduced fares depending on the largesse of the airlines involved, and how busy the flights are. So last night I was able to get on the (peak demand) 18.30 flight home for £100 one way. A lot considering the cost of a Greasyjet return to Palma from Glasgow, admittedly, but almost the same as a premium cabin one-way tumble-dry-fast-spin jaunt on the ferry. You can sometimes get the redeye from Aberdeen to Shetland for £20.
A smooth, pleasant flight, but infuriatingly, the bus that's supposed to meet the plane and take you from the airport to Lerwick had left literally minutes before anyone could get their luggage from the carousel. This happens all the time and is an unforgivable piece of nonsense. Fortunately our pal Veronica was at Sumburgh to pick up her daughter and ran me to Lerwick where the Maverick was sitting at the docks, caked in salt from seaspray. The Maverick's a car, not a horse.
As it turns out, the storm didn't hit until this morning, and the boat trip was probably pretty smooth. Still, I'm here, Phenergan-free and relatively awake.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doing that 'Third Place' wi-fi thing...

Hats off to Beans coffee house in Union Street, aberdeen, where you get FREE wi-fi access, instead of having to pay an arm and a leg as in Starbucks! So I'm enjoying my latte and here's a wee photie of one of my favourite Aberdeen streets, Albert Terrace, on a fine autumn night....

The Leaf Blowers of Aberdeen Attack Innocent Pedestrians!

Only now, a good 48 hours after arriving in Castle Greyskull off the Hrossey (Northlink ferry from Lerwick) am I in a fit state to blog. I knew the voyage south would be a stormy one, but nothing prepares you for a Severe Gale Nine hammering in a flat-bottomed boat. Stuff (smoothie cartons, milk, water, a half-eaten muffin)flew about the cabin, and only lying prone for the entire trip, drugged to the gills with Phenergan, saved me from the kind of nausea which, at the time, seems worse than death. As I often say, on the 'plane you think you're going to die; on the boat you wish you were dead.
Mix Phenergan with booze and you can write off half the subsequent week. Even mixed with Innocent smoothies and Flora cholestorol-lowering milk, Monday passed in an ugly chemical haze. And that includes a stumble through the show. I felt like Keith Richards after falling out of his tree. I went back to the hotel with a 12-inch chicken terriyaki Subway and was sound asleep by 6.00pm. That was me until 8.00 next morning.
Tuesday, I was bit more sentient, though attacked by a man with a Stihl petrol-driven leaf-blower who seemed determined to blow all the fallen leaves off the pavement and into the path of motorcycles, cyclists and others who can suffer fatalities from slipping and sliding on them. Oh, and into my face. What a pointless item a motorised leaf-blower is. If you have to shift leaves, surely a rake and a brush would do fine? Far less environmentally damaging, too. Apparently the fans of leaf blowers can shatter into thousands of bits of shrapnel, which are sometimes propelled at a million mph out of the nozzle. I could have been killed.
But I wasn't. And survived a busy and bouncy wee show to go out for dinner with my boss and fellow blogger Jeff Zycinski. Musa, scene of the great Tom Morton 2/Joe West gig (and a return visit due next year)was fantastic. I loved the deconstructed venison shepherd's pie. Talking to Jeff has revitalised my commitment to this blog, by the way, and I'm determined to update it daily from now on. Or at least more frequently. To the blogface!