Monday, October 29, 2007

Why the final Sopranos episode is a work of sustained genius (especially the last three minutes) and a weird Highland musical coincidence...

...and if you haven't seen it, and DON'T want to have your perceptions of what happens conditioned, possibly wrongly don't watch this YouTube video. Before dismissing this explanation as the fevered imaginings of geeky obsessives such as myself, remember (1) David Chase wrote and directed the final show himself; (2) The works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell loom large in both the Sopranos and (3)Northern Exposure, the true ancestor of the Sopranos and the series Chase cut his teeth on. Look for the number three...
It may well be rubbish - remember one of the black guys who tried to whack Tony at his mother's behest was actually killed. The 'trucker' may be more relevent for the three tubs of cream on his saucer, and the 'Nikki Leotardo' in the credits is actually Phil's daughter or grandaughter.

My take on it? I agree with the commentators who see the recurring number three and the continual opening of the restaurant door as intimations of threat - we feel that tension - and maybe there are illustrations of past attempts on Tony's life. But the cutting to black (and Bobby and Tony's previous conversation about that)is not necessarily about Tony's actual death, but about the continuing threat of death he, and indeed his entire family, face all the time, and will face in the future.

Without us watching.

The weird Highland coincidence: Last night, as Tony was choosing Journey's Don't Stop Believing over Little Feat's All That You Dream on E4 (and hey, those titles are significant, surely?) Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett from Little Feat were on stage at the Strathpeffar Spa Pavilion. Really.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Terrible pet incidents on the radio

A million thanks to the many people who texted, phoned and emailed their tales of terrible domestic pet damage to the show on Friday. There were so many crackers - the dog that ate the central locking key fob for a hire car, costing the owner (of the dog) £85; the rabbit that ate the spines of Agatha Christie books; and Jo McCutcheon's horrendous tale of her dog's consumption of two boxes of chocolates (complete with ribbon) and the consequent and copious vomiting of dog and owners in front of astonished New Year guests. Followed by the nonchalant micturation on the mess by a visiting Alsatian.
Lovely stuff!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Strange dishes served up in restaurants

On the show today we were talking about odd dishes served up in the name of haute cuisine...I particularly enjoyed this email from Kathleen in Boston:

Hi Tom,
Love the show!
The most bizarre thing I've eaten in a restaurant was in Paris...the restaurant on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. They served a salad there with tongue in it. Not that the tongue was uncommon, but someone had gone to the trouble of heating the tongue . so that when it arrived on the cold salad it smelled and felt like it had just come out of the cow's mouth.
Thanks for asking...have a fantastic day and greetings from Red Sox Country (metro Boston)


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Look what the cat dragged in...

Amazing response on the show today to the question: What has your cat dragged in through the catflap?

This was provoked by one of our two, Hamish or Neville, depositing the head of a crow in the middle of the kitchen floor this morning. Not, not the head of a cow. That would plainly be ridiculous.

Favourite 'presents' provided to listeners included an entire, hot roast chicken, a shaving brush and 'toilet requisites', another cat, bats, seagulls, a barbecued sausage, ells, flounders, mice, rabbits and a completely lively hare, which proceeded to rampage around the living room walls, six feet off the floor, pursued by a dog while the cat slept.

My friend Stewart Cunningham reported that he had once owned a cat that left the heads of birds in his shoes, there were the two crows who entered somebody's house at Halloween (spooky!)and my favourite, a dog who brought home not a piece of Lorne sausage, not a whole Lorne sausage, but an entire 'bar' of Lorne sausagemeat, the yard-long side of Lorne from which sausages are sliced. Mind you, that dog came from Kilmarnock.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Some nostalgically embarrassing memories of Radio Solway, back to the Travelodge, and Idlewild in Aberdeen

It was the Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch) and his excellent blog about the King Creosote Bombshell tour that alerted me to something I should have noticed many years ago: that in all Travelodges, when you first enter your bathroom, one little sliver of soap is balanced atop two plastic glasses. Just like home! Sigh!

Meanwhile, here's a tantalising glimpse of a page from a 1989 magazine produced by the late lamented BBC Radio Solway, back in the days when BBC local radio included all kinds of Scottish locations. (And who knows? Maybe we're heading back in that direction, only with digital knobs on.) I found a big bundle of said publication in the self-operated studio the BBC still has in Stranraer, a real step back in time, and possessing a filing cabinet full of, well, memories. Those haircuts! Gary, those glasses! I think you may recognise some familiar faces in those blurred black and white pictures...on the other hand...oh, and there's more, and more embarrassing where those came from...
Finally, this was the scene in Aberdeen on Friday when Idlewild played an acoustic set for the show and for an assemblage of around 30 listeners. It was great. Catch it on BBC Radio Scotland's Listen Again player.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kurosawa and Coppola sell their spirits

Akira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola advertise Suntory whisky, on the set of Kagemusha....the ad was directed by Kurosawa.

Many years afterwards, of course, Coppola's daughter directs Lost in Translation, the story of an American actor in Japan, advertising Suntory Whisky.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Time slips away waiting for the post while St Bernards ruin furniture and another trip south beckons

Wednesday, and the post is still not back to normal, which means that for bizarre technological reasons I can't access my BBC email (I need a replacement electronic code-token-thingy, which has to be posted to my home address from London).
I really value our local postal service here in Shetland - especially over the past few weeks when I've been posting copies of Spirit of Adventure here, there and everywhere using our local PO. Same price to Plymouth as to Lerwick. And of course, the daily arrival of Andrew (or Peter at the moment) with letters and parcels is a rural highlight. Ebay has taken the place of the 'club book' for many Shetland folk - Andrew The Post told me that up to 70 per cent of his mailbag some days can be eBay related.
Anyway. It would be a tragedy for Shetland and other island communities if the postal service gave way to rampant courier company dominance...having said that, James ordered a new soundcard for his computer in the midst of the strike and it was couriered here within two days, at no extra charge. A loss leader, methinks. Once Royal Mail is broken up and sold off, and probably before, it's inevitable that some sort of distance and remoteness surcharge kicks in. Then life hereabouts will become even more marginal.
There are many good things about living in Shetland, though, and one of them is Burrastow House, in the far west side of the Shetland Mainland. That was Susan's surprise birthday destination on Saturday, and with James and Martha we had a fine time as the only residents - delicious food, roaring fires, four poster beds and the sense that we were in a whole different country. Possibly Belgium, as that's where owner Pierre hails from. And whence he's heading this weekend, as he's closing Burrastow now until April next year.
Meanwhile, we were thrown into an agony of indecision this week when the owner of one of the late Lucy's puppies asked if we could possibly offer a home to said adolescent St Bernard. We are still pondering the possibility. If it wasn't for the arrival of Hamish and Neville the cats...who were at the vet yesterday having their male appendages removed. They seem none the worse. Maybe we should stick with Lulu, Quoyle and the feline mouse-killers, and count our blessings. Adolescent male St Bernards, bigger and bouncier than their female counterparts, can be, errr...somewhat bouncy. Lulu has just managed to dig (she likes to dig) a hole in our relatively new leather sofa. Maybe she's preparing to bury the cats in there...

Anyway, I'm off to Aberdeen tomorrow night to prepare for the show's Idlewild special on Friday, when the band play for the first hour to a small audience at the BBC Aberdeen toast-perfumed bistro. Should be good!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The perfect bacon roll

Sent in to the show by listener David (I Presume) Livingstone. Check that domed roll! West of Scotland industrial baking at its best! Don't know if Hellman's Mayonnaise is really a proper substitute for brown sauce, though.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On the way to Roer Water

Having been bitten by the mountain bike bug, I decided to see what Northmavine had to offer in the way of MTB potential, starting with a track I'd walked several times, the looping, diving and alarmingly rough access route to the reservoir called Roer (Red) Water.

You reach this by driving half way up the access road to the old NATO early warning base at Collafirth Hill, which is where you normally park if you're going to climb Ronas Hill, Shetland's highest. The differences between this kind of mountain biking and the forest trails at Kirroughtree were startling and obvious: no trees, so you have stunning views visible almost all the time.

It's a VERY rough track, rocky and with numerous large, black pools that look bottomless. There are a couple of times you have to ford the Collafirth Burn and various sections simply have to be walked. Still, there's sufficient fast descents and jumps to make it great fun. Tiring, though, especially for one as old and overweight as me: It's a good hour-long round trip to the reservoir itself.

I've posted requests on the Northmavine and Shetlink forums (fora) for info on other local MTB routes. Some great suggestions from Shetlink, including the Culswick Broch road over on the west side and the road to Uyea a bit north of here. Me, I'm just daydreaming of turning the croft into a mountain biking centre, with hire facilities, some fun mini-routes and more...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Books, biking and beautiful autumn Scotland

The Seven Stanes network of Forestry Commission mountain biking sites includes Kirroughtree, right next to where I was staying for the Wigtown book festival. Never having tried off-road biking on one of the purpose built trails, I was keen to have a go. So I hired a bike at the excellent Breakpad shop (just 12 quid for three hours) and set off on the network of blue (intermediate) trails. It was absolutely fantastic - hard but thrilling on the single track descents. And only one mild spill. I could get addicted to it. Oh, and there's a truly fabulous cafe at Kirroughtree too, though I think it's seasonal.

Wigtown is a brilliant book festival, excellent in breadth and depth of programme, really well organised, with a relaxed and stimulating atmosphere. And there are, of course, the bookshops in Scotland's booktown. Next year is the tenth anniversary of the festival and BBC Radio Scotland will be there in strength. I'm already looking forward to it.

My three days in Galloway were hallmarked by splendid weather, and I was lucky enough to be staying at a really nice country house hotel, the Kirroughtree. This was the view from my window.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Stranraer-Wigtown-Newton Stewart

Stayed at a place called the Kirroughtree House Hotel, just outside Newton Stewart, last night, which is dead posh - many thanks to the Wigtown bookfest folk for sorting that out! Wigtown this morning to seek out Fin McCreath, festival supremo, and check out the faxing and email situations before heading off to Stranraer, which possesses one of the BBC's tiny 'remote studios'.

Like the one in Oban, this is one smells funny, is redolent of Cold War bunker technology and is little more than a room with a microphone (though this has an old tape machine, a fax machine (disconnected)and a filing cabinet which has in it...(can't help it, I'm hopelessly nosy) good grief! A pile of magazines dated 1990 advertising what was once BBC Radio Solway...with pictures of the staff, including a truly ASTONISHING shot of BBC Radio Scotland's own Gary Robertson, wearing Timmy Mallett glasses and a very 1970s haircut.

In the public interest, this will definitely appear on a future blog.

Off now to explore Stranraer's cafe society. Today's show will feature (I hope) an interview with Michael Gray, author of a new book about the bluesman Blind Willie McTell. Both of us are appearing at the Wigtown book festival tonight, at the Bladnoch Distillery.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The length and breadth of Scotland

So, flew down from Shetland on Monday night, then out to Glenfarclas on Tuesday morning, back to Aberdeen for the show and urgent meetings re pizza and biscuit supply, and an overnight out at the airport (The Speedbird Inn may be an accommodation machine, but at least it works: free wireless internet, flat screen tellies, powershowers, decent beds, restaurant open until 10.00pm).

Today, Wednesday, I just had time to look for a 50th birthday present for Susan (hmmm....nothing to say on that front, except she doesn't look a day over 35)have a DREADFUL breakfast at Costa and then head back to the studios,wherein I type. At 4.00pm it's off to Inverness to address the Highland Businesswomen's Club on the subject of 'whisky and women'. Thursday morning I'll be hotfooting it to Glasgow to do the show from Pacific Quay, then onwards to Wigtown, glorious and wonderful Scottish Booktown. Friday the show comes from the BBC studio in Stranraer, and will feature Michael Gray, who has written a book about the great bluesman Blind Willie McTell. then on Friday night at Bladnoch Distillery, I'm reading, singing and tasting whisky as part of the Wigtown Booktown Festival. Saturday in Glasgow and then Aberdeen on Sunday and home due to an aeroplane, I hope. If you're in any of these vicinities and are (a)a Highland businesswoman or (b) near Wigtown, it'd be good to see you.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Low golden light

Stunning early autumn weather today in Aberdeenshire and Morayshire. That amazing low yellow light you get in Scotland at this time of year. And the leaves just turning.

I left Aberdeen at about 7.30 am, heading for Glenfarclas Distillery near Balindalloch. It would have been a wonderful drive, had it not been for the tractors, elderly folk in Rovers doing 25 in a 60 limit, and overloaded trucks.

The smell as you enter Dufftown begins with warehouse whisky, the evaporating 'Angel's Share'. But in this, the epicentre of Scottish distilling, you can smell every part of the process - mashing, brewing, even the feinty whiff of hot stills. People who live here must have a 'resting' blood alcohol level much higher than normal.

Glenfarclas was a remarkable experience, with my first warehouse tasting (mostly nosing, unfortunately. I knew I shouldn't have driven) for 15 years. What I'm most impressed with, and always have been about Glenfarclas, is the simple and straightforward approach to making whisky. There's no pretence here, no faffing about, and it was refreshing to hear chairman John LS Grant (Glenfarclas is and always has been family owned) be so scathing about artificial finishing of whiskies, and some of the ridiculous descriptions people come up with of tastes and aromas.

The new Glenfarclas 'Family Casks' range is a triumphantly simple idea: Only Glenfarclas have casks of whisky in storage from 43 consecutive years. So if you have a birthday coming, say, I do...52 in December...what have we here? A 1955 cask-strength Glenfarclas for, oh, a mere £750? Very nice. If only!

Back in Aberdeen now, and it has remained a stunning, golden day. As the light dims, the sunset is just the colour of whisky.