Work trips and substance abuse

My colleagues Tuckett, Stupot and myself are holed up in a Hilton somewhere near Warwick for a few days, for the biennial BSHAA Congress. The hotel is fairly average, and has designed their showers for people of average height. I found a letter on my bed on Thursday evening apologising that the bed linen had not been ironed. It looked fairly ironed to me, at least compared to my bed linen at home. Although all my other washable items are pristinely ironed these days. My washing machine has, sadly, spun its last 30 degree eco wash, and I have been seen traipsing down to my mother’s on a bi-weekly basis, clutching a bin bag of dirty washing. It reminds me of being a student, except that I never did that when I was a student, since home was several hundred miles away. So it reminds of me other peoples’ student experiences, really.

Once cleaned chez maman, I collect the clothes in neat colour-coordinated piles from her house. My clothes have never had it so good. I was tempted to phone John Lewis and ask them to postpone the delivery of the new machine, as this arrangement seems to be working quite well for me. However, I needn’t have bothered, as the washing machine delivery man threw up his hands (and quite possibly gasped “Oh, my!”) at the sight of my old machine, it still being plugged and plumbed, and declared that he couldn’t possibly unplug or unplumb it, in case he flooded my flat, or broke a fingernail. I would have expected someone au fait with washing machines to be able to safely eliminate the flood risk before unplugging an old machine, however, as it stands I am quite happy. The new washing machine is proving an attractive feature in my spare room, it having a largish surface on which to dump things, and mum is still doing my washing.

She hasn’t complained, yet, but then she hasn’t had anything particularly flavoursome to wash yet, since I haven’t been doing any exercise of late. CIA has been avoiding playing me at squash recently, possibly afraid of how hard I will be able to hit the ball with all my new-found weight behind the shot. I am developing a bit of a paunch you see. It is most distressing, and work trips don’t help matters much. Having resolved to put Friday’s large cooked breakfast, twin-dessert lunch, and sumptuous Thai evening meal behind me – despite all evidence of them still being very much in front of me, hanging over my belt in fact – I was enjoying my cereal this morning with milk so anaemic is must have been skimmed, looking forward to some toast. But then Tuckett rather cruelly thwarted my plans my mentioning how nice the sausages were, and indeed they were very nice, I could remember how nice they were from the day before, and in the face of this relentless taunting from my colleague I’m afraid I caved in and headed off to the cooked breakfast counter. Tuckett himself was cutting down in the breakfast department, having decided to forgo the toast this morning, which only left him with bacon, sausages, eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, hash browns, and possibly one or two other items that were buried under all that lot. An ascetic chap, is our Tuckett.

Friday night, after the aforementioned Thai meal in Leamington Spa, we retired back to the hotel bar for a nightcap, and an early-ish night. I found time to watch a DVD which chronicled the making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. Absolutely compelling viewing. Since my recent discovery of the joy of sitting down and deliberately listening to music, brought about by my ‘new’ turntable and amp, Rumours has rarely been off the deck. It’s one of my favourite records, and hearing the full story of the circumstances and atmosphere in which it was recorded only adds to its allure. For those of you who don’t know the background, Fleetwood Mac at the time consisted of five members: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. Mick Fleetwood’s wife was having an affair and he was understandably cut up about this. But his problems paled beside the others – Christine & John McVie’s marriage was breaking up – she was having an affair with the band’s lighting director, and Buckingham and Nicks were also a couple in the middle of splitting up. Christine McVie, Buckingham and Nicks were the main songwriters in the band, and so unavoidably most of the songs on the album were written quite directly about themselves and the other members of the band. And they were all quite heavily on drugs, which was de rigeur for the music industry at the time – even more then than now. What came out was a stunning album, which is still great over 30 years on.

What is it about creative genius that is so stimulated by raw pain and substance abuse? Almost makes me wish I had smoked a few joints when I was splitting with my girlfriends over the years. Who knows what would have come out when I sat down at the piano?

I said “almost”. Relax, mum.

Coffee and my Granny

I’m fed up drinking tea. I finally cracked yesterday morning, while I was in town getting my ski boots attended to. I needed some breakfast, and having still 40 minutes of Edinburgh George St rip-off parking still paid for, decided to go across the street to Cento Tre rather than my usual West End haunt. Regardless of where I ended up, the prospect of having a cup of tea with my breakfast was really too dismal to contemplate. I miss coffee so much, having given it up for the sake of my stomach over a year ago.

Tea is so… featureless. So insipid compared to coffee. At least at breakfast. Tea has its place, but it’s not beside a croissant on a breakfast table. And you can’t get a decent cup of tea in town anyway.

So I marched across the street, full of resolve and determination, with The Guardian clutched under my arm. My sister had texted me earlier this morning.

Get guardian today page 83 of magazine.x

Just like that. No capitalisation. No punctuation to speak of.

I’m not usually a Guardian reader, in fact I don’t normally read newspapers at all. When I do buy one, it’s the Telegraph, which is more an indication of my crossword preferences, rather than any political leanings. The Guardian crossword, on the odd occasion that I’ve attempted it, has remained defiantly inscrutable.

I looked up page 83 of the magazine to find the Food section. And did a sharp double-take. It’s not every day you open a national broadsheet’s magazine to find your granny featured in the text. The writer was a chef friend of my sister’s, who was promoting one of his recipes which combined potatoes and pasta. Our granny was name-checked as someone who, being Irish, was unable to eat a meal without potatoes. I’m not entirely sure that gran would have approved of Mr Ottolenghi’s potato lasagne. Might have been a bit new-fangled for her. And despite being born in Co Donegal, she might even have disputed the ‘Irish’ tag, as someone who deliberately chose British citizenship over Irish after the Partition in 1921…! But I daresay she would have held her hands up and acknowledged that no meal is complete without some potatoes.

I sat back with my black coffee and almond croissant and reflected on what our granny would think of my lifestyle today. I can still see her shaking her fist at me, usually when she was baby-sitting us and I wouldn’t shut up and go to sleep. When she wasn’t shaking her fist she was often waving her walking stick in a vaguely threatening manner. When I wasn’t playing golf with it, that is. It was a very nice blackthorn walking stick, and its shape bore a strong resemblance to a driver, at least to me. I have no idea what she would make of me driving into town yesterday when I could have walked, having my ski boots adjusted in preparation for a ski holiday in the French Alps next month, and settling down to a continental breakfast in an Italian eatery while reading the Guardian. And no porridge or potatoes to be seen anywhere.

How times have changed.

Oh, and the coffee? It was AMAZING.

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

In the course of my work, I find myself travelling to see customers from time to time. Sometimes this is because they are old and infirm and unable to travel themselves, and sometimes it’s because they simply never drive into Edinburgh these days, dear. One has some sympathy for those not wishing to drive in Edinburgh these days, given that its streets are liable to be blocked off, made one-way, or simply disappear in a puff of smoke at a moment’s notice. Perhaps tomorrow’s election will finally confine our Labour council to the inadequate recycling facility of history. But somehow I doubt it.

Today I have travelled slightly further than usual to see a customer, and find myself in the land of my birth, dear old Norn Iron. On departing the plane at an unseemly hour this morning, I was momentarily tempted to pay homage by kissing the tarmac, but I refrained from doing so. You just don’t know where that tarmac’s been.

After negotiating a lengthy rush-hour traffic jam and some more roadworks, I find myself in The Original Roast Coffee Co. on The Lisburn Road. As a momentary aside, is it purely a Northern Irish thing to preface almost all the country’s roads with ‘The’? Nobody lives on Malone Road in Belfast, they live on The Malone Road. And don’t you forget it. Anyhow. My original plan was to breakfast at Ruby Tuesday’s, a little further along the Lisburn Road. However, shaking that ass along said Road in my hired Megane, trying to spot Ruby Tuesday’s, having not done sufficient research on t’internet last night, was proving frustrating for the local drivers queued up behind me. I daresay they thought that my mother was in town, such was the plodding pace of the procession. And so I stopped somewhere near the first place I saw, which is here. And a fine place it is too, as any place that has free wireless internet and serves pancakes with bacon and maple syrup for breakfast must surely be. Now, technically, since I have been up since 4am, and had some toast at the airport, this is Second Breakfast, but they didn’t have a Second Breakfast menu, and so I kept very quiet and tried to look malnourished, in the hope that I would qualify for something from the Breakfast menu.

This is the second place I have found recently which provides free wireless internet without even hinting at, never mind advertising the fact. I find the clandestine nature of using the internet thus only enhances the experience, as it gives me the impression that I’ve stumbled across a great secret that nobody else knows about. Especially when someone comes in and has to pay for an internet code at the counter so they can use one of the terminals across from me. Victory to the laptop user.

Later today I will meet up with an old schoolfriend for lunch, last seen five years ago. As it happens, on Friday evening I am reuniting with an old university friend, last seen 11 years ago. He was a regular squash adversary of mine, and since then I haven’t managed to play squash much, never mind regularly. However, in a curious and mostly uninteresting twist of fate, I played a fairly competitive late-night game (of squash) against Colin Eye (currently saving up for a deposit to put down on a Blog Character page) on Monday night. That is to say, I was competitive in the first game, after which he stepped up a few gears and demolished me. Following that up with a very competitive late-night game of football last night, all this after the first cricket outing of the season on Saturday, and it’s no great surprise that all of my muscles, but most especially my buttocks, ache. Makes ‘getting purchase’ a painful experience.

I leave you with the news that a blogging rulebook currently being touted as a Good Idea, contains the suggestion that anonymous comments should not be allowed. Something that some of you, dear valued readers, and most especially my dear valued shy commenters, might like to ponder… 🙂