Saturday, August 29, 2015

Twelve not-entirely-unsurprising health 'benefits' of drinking whisky. Or whiskey.

....written in response to this article 

(1) Injury to the consumer and to others. Motor function, hand-eye co-ordination, impaired vision, hearing and inability to assess distance and/or speed can all contribute. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(2) Memory loss and brain damage. Alcohol’s effect on brain function is well-researched and anecdotally familiar to all users. Damage to the brain can be permanent and severe. Any so-called improvement in memory function due to ‘antioxidants’ is insignificant in comparison. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(3) Cancer. Sustained consumption irritates mouth, gullet, oesophagus, gut and indeed nasal passages should you become a profligate dram-sniffer, and has been proven to provoke the growth of malignant cells, particularly combined with highly toxic burnt or burning carboniferous compounds, for example tobacco smoke. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(4) Emotional disturbance and consequent violent altercation, often resulting in injury (see (3) above and/or court appearances and/or imprisonment. See ‘effect on brain function’ in (2) above. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(5) Loss of creative abilities in the fields of music, art, literature etc. This may be accompanied by an initial euphoria that one’s creativity has actually been improved, but the toxic physical effects attested to above and the drink’s essentially deceptive qualities, tend to breed overconfidence in one’s abilities. In the medium to long term this always leads to an objective diminution of skill and insight, due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(6) Depression. Whisky is a  noted depressive. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in it. Alcohol, despite the initial sense of euphoric happiness it may imbue, is a depressive drug. Whisky, though, is thought to be particularly mood-lowering due to the presence of... 

(7)... toxic compounds produced during the traditionally crude distillation process (congeners and phenols such as Furfural and Ortho-Cresol) and also during ageing in wood (lactones). Furfural is lethal in large quantities and also found in beer, as it is a product of malting barley. Ortho-Cresol is corrosive and poisonous, and is used as a disinfectant and solvent. It is most apparent in Islay single malts. These also contain high levels of alcohol.

(8) Diminution of intellectual ability/increase in dogmatism. Whisky (see (2) and (5) above has an effect on mental processes which combines an increased certainty of rectitude with a slowing of function and decrease in ability to argue effectively. Flexibility of thought is hardened and may cease altogether due to the high levels of alcohol. Also...

(9)...control over bias, bigotry, dislike and deep-seated hatreds, normally moderated by logic and manners, often disappears. This can result in, at the very least, social discomfort and sometimes assault, injury or even violent death depending on how much alcohol (and whisky contains high levels of it) has actually been consumed.

(10) Hangovers. A whisky’s taste and character essentially comes from variations in its impurities (see (7) above age, and the quality of the distillation process (not all distilleries are the same, are well run or operated with a punctilious attitude towards, err...cleanliness and precision). While the hangover or ‘morning after’ syndrome may simply be caused by the high levels of alcohol, the toxins in whisky can exacerbate the situation severely. 

(11) Cost. An enthusiasm for single malt whisky may, simply because quality malts are expensive, restrict consumption on economic grounds or - and this is more common - lead to  over-expenditure and financial difficulties or even bankruptcy. This is not due to the high levels of alcohol but the greed and malevolent, grasping market manipulation of many companies who trade in the stuff.

(12) Ill-advised sexual and/or emotional attachment, coupled with short-and-long-term performance inadequacy. This is due largely to the high levels of alcohol contained in whisky.

Apart from that, it’s great. Slainte!

(Please note; there is no functional health difference between drinking whisky and whiskey (with an ‘e’). But spelling ability is also an historical problem related to high alcohol consumption.)

Share as you like on the non-commercial web. For other purposes: Copyright Tom Morton 2015. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pseudo-lasagne and why I had a terrible time in Italy. Twice.

Italy. Oh, Italy.

My two experiences of actually being there were both awful, throbbing loudly in my memory as:

(1) Being flown out to a five star hotel near Rome for the launch of an incredibly tedious Volvo cabriolet of some description, missing the car-hack freebie outing to dinner at a vineyard (whence Jeremy Clarkson returned, braying, with a complimentary six-pack of vino) and being served tinned fruit in a cold and deserted dining room. Not even with custard. Next day we sweated a lump of crop-topped Swedish steel to the Coliseum, endlessly circling what is essentially, a large and very ruined roundabout. Give me the Whirlies in East Kilbride. 

We drove out into the countryside where we lunched at a roadside caff on what I assumed was a local delicacy - blue bread. But no, it was just a mouldy loaf served by staff ingrained with laziness or malevolence.  I did get a Volvo pen. Launching a Swedish car in Italy - presumably an attempt to absorb some Latin glamour - only resulted in my falling out with my TV crew, falling out with Italy, and falling out of bed while trying to get into it, drunk. A typical motoring press launch in other words.

(2) Going on holiday with wife and daughter to ‘Tuscany’. We were a day too late. It was October, and everything was shut. The holiday complex swimming pool was empty, which was probably wise as  the weather was dreadful. It was plumb in the middle of stubbled fields and mad hunters with shotguns tried to annihilate sparrows in the fields below our windows. The supermarkets were hideously expensive, the restaurants were closed, closing or wished they were closed, and most of ‘Tuscany’ consisted of industrial estates connected by motorways which were, admittedly, lined with nice trees. And then there was Florence - The city of expensive queues; Pisa - the City of rip-off car parking and tippy tower tat, and Lucca. Lucca, walled town of surpassing quaintness where I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to escape its winding lanes in a rented VW Golf.  A year after the event, I was pursued through the courts by the Lucca council which claimed I’d committed a traffic offence (driving in a Luccals-only area). And yes, to grind a cliché into the red Tuscan earth,  the traffic was universally psychotic and the inhabitants ridiculously rude. The coffee was average and the cakes only bearable.

The thing is, I love Italian food. Or the kind you don't get in Italy. My favourite eating-out experiences are Glescatalian: La Lanterna, about as traditional a checked-tablecloth establishment as you could hope for, even if it doesn’t actually have checked tablecloths. Fast, careful, honest, generous food. My first pizza ever was in O Solo Mio. I lament the passing of super-rude, occasionally sloppy Dino’s, wish Fratelli Sarti had waiters who respected their customers, love late night espresso in Byres Road’s Little Italy.

Then I went to Big Italy and hated it.

At home, I cook basic Bolognese, and that’s it. Of late I’ve been avoiding Lerwick and shopping at our local community store, and consequently ingredients have been limited. Today, though, there was fresh beef mince, but I couldn’t be bothered cooking properly and bought a jar of what I thought was Dolmio creamy stove-top fakery sauce. Which I promptly smashed on the floor next to the counter. There was another one on the shelf, though, and I headed home, there to find that it was actually Dolmio  cartoon pasta bake treatment splodge. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pasta bake, which is to Italian food what The Velvet Underground is to Good Rock.

So I thought: thin this out, add some red wine, maybe an Oxo cube, tin of carrots, chopped, bit of finger (human; I’ve grown clumsy of late. It’s the heart drugs I think) But it didn’t look right. What about lasagne, which is pasta bake only done properly? Except I’d never made it before, having gone off lasagne since destroying a tooth on something of that name served up superheated (by microwave) in Lerwick’s Islesburgh Centre. It was like biting Araldite, only more destructive. Molars splintered. Dentists rejoiced. 

Back in the present, something had to be done to encase, or at least disguise this dull opaque brown mincey stuff bobbling stickily in a wok. I’m no pot bigot.

Quick net surf: Avoid Jamie -  the site’s rubbish, stop this wide boy joking, matey, I’m in the middle of a food emergency. BBC - bechamel sauce. OK. Call it cheese. Flour, butter, milk, cheese (whatever’s handy) half a Knorr veggie cube. More cheese. No net recipe explains how you layer this stuff up. Whatever, I found a packet of old ‘oven ready’ lasagne sheets (somebody in this house has made lasagne in the past; not me), and then just tiled a dish, added the mince, more tiles, white stuff, tiles, white stuff on top. 

Oven at 180, half an hour, waiting for Susan to come home, thinking: I have absolutely no idea how this will taste.

It was fantastic. Better than anything I ate in Italy. But then, that's no surprise. And according to Susan: “probably your best tea ever”. Huh. Bet she says that to all the cooks.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Volume Nine of The Beatcroft Social: Crunchy guitars and general loudness

Here's Volume Nine of my weekly Mixcloud music show - call it radio, call it a 'cloudcast' call it self-indulgence, here it is - featuring an incredibly raucous opener from Frank Turner, a discussion of Old Etonian tattoos, some mackerel, Vintage Trouble, a look back to the vintage days of Edinburgh's Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, and something from James McMurtry's wonderful new album. A compact and bijou 49 minutes. Oh, and Little Feat of course.

The Beatcroft Social Volume 9: Fat Man in the Bathtub by Tom Morton's Beatcroft Social on Mixcloud

Monday, August 17, 2015

Beatcroft Social Volume 8: whisky, Oor Wullie off the rails, crunchy guitars and sweet melancholy piano...

Here's Volume 8 of the weekly Beatcroft Social Cloudcast on Mixcloud. Remember you can listen not only on your computer but on your phone or tablet by installing the excellent Mixcloud app (good buffering!).

And if you want to support the show, why not buy a T-shirt, bag, hoodie or sweatshirt? Only available for the next 10 days or so here at Fabrily. All sizes! Well, most.

This week there's a tasting of the final two releases by Shetland Reel, the Unst gin company now ventuing into whisky bottling. It's Glenglassaugh, by the way, young but aged in very week casks. A poem about the dark future of Oor Wullie and his dissolute chums. And music from Bryan Ferry, Maria Muldaur, The Primevals, The Hives, Clifford T Ward and Sister Sledge. Among others.

Oh, and the opening Bryan Ferry Track, a cover of Dylan's All Along the Watchtower, is not only of the best cover versions ever, it has some truly phenomenal drumming from the great Andy Newmark. And it's a song which, in this current political and economic climate, is still steeped in pertinence and power.

Here we go!

The Beatcroft Social, Volume 8 by Tom Morton's Beatcroft Social on Mixcloud

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A GP job with a view (and a pub, shop, excellent house for rent)

Right, if you're a GP, or know someone who is, there is a part-time, salaried associate doctor job going in Hillswick, working with my wife and her excellent practice team, in one of the world's most scenic areas. Namely, Northmavine in Shetland. Which, in case you're not sure, is an island group beyond Orkney, on the way to the Faroe islands or, if you turn right, Norway. Technically and governmentally, Shetland is part of Scotland, at least for the moment. Northmavine is the northernmost part of the main Shetland island. Which, for some reason, is called 'Mainland'.

Now, here's Hillswick...the surgery house - available for the associate to rent - is nearest on the right. Immediately beyond it is the Hillswick Health Centre. Short commute. The white wooden building on the left is the St Magnus Bay Hotel, restaurant and bar. The community shop is at the bottom of the road next to the sea.

I have just finished cutting the grass around the four-bedroom house which is available for rental, and is next door to (a) the health centre and (b) the pub - part of an excellent establishment which does phenomenal chips as well as having West Beers on draught. Oh yes. For when you're not on call. Also, there's a great carvery every Sunday. The local shop is over the crossroads and has fresh Voe bannocks every Tuesday. Worth moving for those alone. 

This picture (note cut grass) shows the view from the living room window. You can't see the idyllic golden sand of the West Ayre, the beach at the end of the field. But it's there, a good seven-iron away. That field used to be a golf course.
View towards Eshaness from the surgery house. Quite nice.

So, this job. You have to be a real doctor, obviously, properly trained, qualified and everything. Only 17-26 weeks a year, and between £40K and £60K, depending on the number of weeks. Which means you can spend the rest of the time birdwatching, going for long walks, sailing, fishing (Shetland has possibly the best undeveloped trout loch fishing in Europe, and the best sea anging) taking photographs, lazing about in the endless balmy sunshine, or going on long holidays to the Caribbean. Or you can do those ludicrously lucrative medical locum things.

Full details of the job on the Hillswick Health Centre website here.

And this is a wee video of my wife's daily walk to work. When she isn't driving.

 She lives in a completely different house (from the one in the pictures, not from the one I inhabit). You'll have the one next to the surgery all to yourself. Unless the sheep break through the fence again. By the way, the weather, as portrayed in the photographs and the video, is always like this, winter and summer.

Or maybe it rains occasionally. And gets a bit windy and dark. And cold. But there's central heating and everything.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Tory Midge

The Tory Midge

The Scottish summer
Comes with an itch
Courtesy of
The Biting Midge
Ubiquitous, the thing 
With that is
You can’t escape
Your blood gets sucked
Even vampires
Are out of luck
Especially at Loch Awe
Or Oban
Where every drop 
Of haemoglobin
Has already been
By the horrid
Midgey tribe
Indeed, the whole
Argyllshire area
May be infected with
In which case, you could well
Be stuffed
It might be time
To say: Enough!
No gin and tonic
Or Mojito
Can guard against
The Scots mosquito
You can’t eat scenery
When it eats you
It’s time to move
To somewhere new
The Pyrenees 
That mountain air!
And nothing to fear
But snakes and bears
Or England, which has 
In power, and that’s
No way to live
Remember, come autumn
Midges disappear.
Tories remain
Throughout the year.

Keepers (Sumburgh Light, 2015)


Sumburgh Light, 2015

Out of the wind

Where the world falls

Away, away

The shore wears
Waves to nothing
Vanishing into sand
By black rock

And time
Time stops here
Halted by clouds

Shift, shimmer
Scour, paint and prime
Slaves to the light

Forever watching


Monday, August 10, 2015

New Beatcroft Social (Volume 7, back to Unst, mystery whisky, some great tunes)

Volume 7 of The Beatcroft Social features music from Bryan Ferry, Richard and Linda Thompson, Tom Waits, The Creepin' Ivies, The Ramones and a preview of the Shetland Reel Festival on the Shetland island of Unst.  Oh, and a poem about trampolining...

Quite good, on the whole.

The Beatcroft Social, Volume 7: Mysterious Unst whisky edition (pt1) by Tom Morton's Beatcroft Social on Mixcloud

Friday, August 07, 2015

Poem: The Trampoline Instructor

The Trampoline Instructor

(For Jake and Annie)

Tell me, have you ever been
Bouncing on a trampoline?
Have you flown way up high
Until you’re floating in the sky
Like Superman or an acrobat?
There’s nothing better than that
On a trampoline.

Bounce, bounce, 
Bounce bounce bounce bounce!
You feel like you don’t weigh an ounce
Or a milligramme.
Send a telegram to say
You want to bounce today,
And if telegrams are out of date 
Then text
It’s your turn next!
Bounce, bounce
Bounce, bounce 
Bounce bounce bounce!

Be careful, you might get a shock -
Take off your shoes, bounce in your socks,
And watch that you don’t hit the edge.
You must always mind your head
It has so  many thoughts inside
So do not bounce over the side
Stay on the trampoline.

And if your tummy’s full of chips
Do not perform those double flips.
Wait a while after you’ve munched
Maybe an hour after your lunch
For if you’re sick I fear
Your lunch may reappear

On the trampoline.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Chasing the sunset tonight, Eshaness

Au Revoir to Unst

Here's a wee video which compiles some of the snapshots I took of Unst during my four months as Tourism Development Officer. The music is a performance of the Unst Bridal March, by Chris Duncan, Catherine Strutt and Julian Thompson from their album The Red House - The Heritage of the Scottish Fiddle.

Enormous thanks to the people of Unst for helping me get to grips with the job and welcoming me into the community. I'm only sorry I couldn't have spent more time on the island and stayed longer in post.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Beatcroft Social Volume Six: non-alcoholic edition

Just because I was in a bit of a rush and didn't get the chance to choose some whisky! I'll make up for that next week, with some really special drams.

Meanwhile, some particularly fine music I think, some of it old, some of it very new, ranging from Dundee and Lochgoilhead to the deepest reaches of the American south. Nick Drake, Pictish Trail, Chiara Berardelli, Sadé, Little Junior Parker, Sam Baker and more.

The Beatcroft Social, Volume Six by Tom Morton's Beatcroft Social on Mixcloud