Posh toilets and a numb septum

I spent the morning of my day off masquerading as someone from another layer of the socio-economic sphere (a layer closer to the crust, I would say), as I made my inaugural visit to Jack Wills on George St and then, acting on a tip-off from the Admin Supremo, I tried out Burr & Co for coffee.

Trying out the toilets first – not because I judge establishments on the quality of their facilities, but because I needed to wash my hands – I found them to be very posh, and the broadness and lushness of the stairs and hallway reminded me of various American hotels of my acquaintance. 

Posh because they had the two liquid-soap-dispensers-per-sink arrangement a proper posh toilet demands. Which requires you to inspect the labelling carefully so as to avoid a premature lotion application. This minefield successfully negotiated, I returned upstairs and opened today’s Guardian. Not to read it, obviously, that would only bring me up to speed with what’s not happening with Brexit. I opened it as far as page 2, which had the table of contents, to find out where the crossword was, for it was not where I would have expected it.

Nina Simone is playing, distantly.

I sit opposite the counter, and watch various people, who look more at home in a George Street establishment than I feel, some of them knee-deep in make-up, enter stage right and order their drinks.

A number of them look like they’re part of the decaf-skinny-cappuccino-no-chocolate-sprinkles-please brigade. The question which I longed to put to these people when I worked in a café was, essentially:

“Why bother?” and

“Would you like a glass of water instead?”

As a coffee-related aside, McDonalds have recently been aggressively marketing their coffee offerings here in the UK. Taking aim at what they see as pretentious purveyors of coffee, they have a series of billboards which target the flowery naming of small/medium/large by the large chains, and other aspects of the hipster coffee culture. 

They also have an excellent, funny and, to be frank, very astute TV ad which debunks the mysticism surrounding the flat white. After a variety of common myths about the flat white are presented, a McDonalds server punctures the superciliousness by explaining 

“It’s just a stronger latte with less milk.”

Which it is. Despite what Costa will try to tell you.

The irony is, I have never known a proper hipster coffee shop to buy into the overblown hype around flat whites. And the thing about hipster coffee is, usually, it really does taste better.

Also, McDonalds include latte art in their targeting of hipster coffee.

“We could draw fancy patterns in our milk and charge more for it. But we don’t.” 

Or something like that. I take exception to this on the grounds that:

  1. No you couldn’t, McDonalds. You don’t have baristas capable of producing latte art. Nor a proper coffee machine which would allow them to do it.
  2. Coffee shops don’t, in my experience, charge more for producing coffee with latte art. A latte/flat white/cappuccino is £2-and-something, pretty much everywhere, whether it has a nice pattern in the milk or not.
  3. Latte art takes real skill and practice to produce, and I appreciate people adding beauty and creativity to things. 

So, McDonalds, I applaud you for your services to flat-white-demystifying, but as regards latte art, wind your neck in.

At the table next to me a lady and her daughter are having coffee. I am guessing at the relationship, but it seems likely. After a time, the daughter departs in the direction of the posh loo. The mother takes time to re-apply her lipstick.

Belatedly I realise that right behind me is a long shoulder-level mirror, which means that the mother could, in fact, have read everything I’ve been writing, provided she was sufficiently interested to make the effort to read backwards. I decide to take the risk, but furtively reduce the brightness on my screen a little.

It’s a long time since I attempted the Guardian crossword. I have recently been re-enthused in my crossword-solving attempts by re-reading Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8), which is one of my favourite books of all-time. Possibly number one, in fact, but definitely in the top five.

Since re-opening it, I have attempted a couple of Telegraphs, one of which was quite successful (only three clues left unsolved) but today is my first foray into Guardian territory.

Typically my attempts at the Guardian involve me managing to solve one or two clues on the first pass, and then maybe another one or two if I come back to it after a day or so. But the incentive to come back to it is not high, if I have been thwarted by 93% of the clues first time round. So today I am risking getting my day off to a bad start. But the sun is shining, so it won’t be all bad.

In other news, two weeks on from my melodramatic ski-in-the-face incident, my septum is still numb. Nicola has been parsimonious in her sympathy on the matter. I am considering changing GP practice out of protest. 

Guardian crossword update: the first pass through yielded ten solutions, and the second pass another six. I am somewhat encouraged, and, fortified by my pain au chocolat and long black from Burr & Co (both of which were excellent) I stride out to meet the day.

I later found Haggis Pakora in Sainsbury’s, which I suspect may be the most perfect union of national culinary traditions ever.

I shall keep you posted.

Snowmageddon and Bacon Rolls

Tuesday 27 Feb

Went into town to see the movie Lady Bird. With the internet promising apocalyptic weather over the next few days I wasn’t sure when I would next get out of the house. The Beast from the East was on the way, they said. Freezing temperatures and shedloads of snow, they said.

Not likely, I thought. Winter after winter we get these predictions, and they do happen, somewhere in the UK, I’ve seen it on the news, all those drivers stuck on motorways and whatnot. But never in Edinburgh. Too close to the coast. Snow doesn’t really lie here.

I exited the flat into a shallow carpet of tiny hailstones. Drove into town. The Beast, it seemed, had made a preliminary foray into Edinburgh, and the old girl was clad in a thin veil of ghostly white. The wind was gusting a little. I parked up on London Road, and walked/slid up to the cinema.

Lady Bird was a great film. At some stage I experienced the gradually-dawning realisation that I was watching an American teenage girl’s coming-of-age movie. However, it was frequently hilarious, and often touching, and only spoiled a little by the fact that it was subtitled. This is the second Tuesday in a row I have been ambushed by unwanted subtitles at the cinema. Is Tuesday Subtitle Day at Vue?

I left the cinema. Some fresh snow had fallen in the meantime. Scraped the windscreen clear and headed home.

Wednesday 28 Feb

From 3pm today until 10am tomorrow, a red weather warning is in place from the MET Office. I normally drive into the office around lunchtime on a Wednesday, but today it seemed sensible to stay and work from home all day.

Working from home has benefits, some of which are bacon-and-egg-roll-shaped. I followed up that lunchtime benefit with a simpler, more austere second course of bacon-only-roll. One has to take one’s bacon roll opportunities when they present themselves.

Just recently I found myself in town on a Friday morning. A narrow window of bacon-roll-opportunity presented itself, so narrow it was more like one of those windows you get in castles, just wide enough to shoot an arrow through, but it was enough. I marched, expectant, into the New Town Deli.

The barista had tattoos. I was reassured.

“Do you do bacon rolls?”

She looked unsure. I scanned the blackboard. It was all smashed avocado and crushed fennel seeds.

“No, sorry,” she explained, after a short conversation with her supervisor. “That was yesterday.”

That was yesterday? Is Thursday Bacon Roll Day? I’m an Anglican, and thus primed to celebrate feast days on the appropriate occasion, but have now missed Bacon Roll Day AND the memo about Subtitle Day.

Anyway, back to the present. My boss has also decided to work from home today. We communicate via email, with Snowmageddon updates via WhatsApp.

14:17 Definitely worsening here. People are panic buying at the local shop. 

My boss lives in The Sticks. If the local shop gets cleaned out they might need to do food drops by helicopter.

I put it to him that he wouldn’t know they were panic buying there unless he was there panic buying himself. He is unable to effectively deny this. Meantime I am quietly panicking myself, as my coffee beans have almost run out.

14:59 One minute until Snowmageddon.

The wind picks up. Within an hour the snow is coming down hard. I do what work I can from home and eventually stop for tea. In the interests of a balanced diet, I eschew more bacon, and instead have sausages. And potatoes.

Flatmate returned from work with the disturbing news that our local McDonalds had shut.

Thursday 1 Mar

More snow overnight. Car looks like it’s not going anywhere for a while. I pulled back the curtains to see neighbours pulling their kids along the middle of the road in sledges.

No buses running today. Fresh coffee beans now gone. Had to make an emergency raid on the reserve coffee bean jar this morning.

Sky cleared a bit in the morning. My flatmate’s work is closed today, but he was asked to go and put up a sign on the door to say this. He wrapped up and walked into town.

Main roads are ok. Just passed one guy on skis!

He asked if I wanted anything. I realise that I have bacon, but no rolls, so ask him if he could stop off for some at Sainsbury’s. Apparently the panic-buyers have got there first.

Brioche only!

A bacon brioche doesn’t sound terrible, and he agreed to bring the brioches. Meanwhile I decide to revisit Morrison’s to see if it was open today.

It was. I stocked up on bacon, rolls, and other essentials.

Climbed the steep street back towards my flat, and say a cheery “Hi!” to a snowboarder going the other way.

Safely back in the flat, I reestablish WhatsApp communication with the boss.

Local shop is out of milk and bread…

And I used up all our bacon for breakfast

He sends a picture of his back garden, complete with snow ramp, and sledging daughter. It’s all happening in The Sticks.

After lunch the Rector’s Administrator emails. She is working from home in Morningside, and all is well – she has plenty of Prosecco and Waitrose hasn’t yet run out of quinoa.

H texts. H loves the snow, but not the cold. The heating in her flat has two settings: Clay Oven, and Old People’s Home. I suspect it’s on the latter today.

The blizzards continue all day. Looking out on my back “garden”, I realise that if the snow continues, it won’t be long before even the weeds are completely submerged. This is a non-trivial amount of snow.

I put the kettle on, and pop some brioches under the grill. Get momentarily distracted and before you know it, the brioches are smoking.  Who knew brioches toasted so quickly? I flip open the kitchen window, and the Beast makes short work of the smoke in the kitchen, before it even has a chance to reach the nostrils of the Loudest Most Sensitive Smoke Alarm in the world.

I have Blackened Brioche with marmalade. Surprisingly tasty.

Followed that up with a bacon-based tea. One has to keep one’s energy levels up at times like this.

Stay safe out there, Britons.

Adventures in the South

Mum and I spent a very enjoyable Christmas in London this year. Maggie, my mischievous niece, is nearly two. She finds noisy toys a little frightening at this stage, so perhaps a plastic chainsaw, complete with pseudo-realistic sound effects, wasn’t the perfect gift. Never mind, she got approximately one thousand other presents, and won’t have noticed. The chainsaw can remain in the toybox until her little brother arrives in March.

I managed to acquire a cold at the beginning of Christmas week, and so I lived mostly in self-imposed exile on the top floor of my sister’s house, and read books. Part of Christmas Day, however, was spent pram-racing in the back garden. It’s backbreaking work, pushing a tiny pushchair with a snowman passenger through the mud, and after each lap I longed for the blessed words “Dinner’s ready”. But the light would be snuffed out at the end of that particular tunnel with a cry of “Again!”, from about four feet below me and to my left, and off we would trundle.

Now that the festive period has passed, our two week holiday on the French slopes is fast approaching, although it hasn’t felt desperately fast as I’ve been looking forward to it eagerly for some six months. However, now that it’s actually imminent, I have upped my McDonald’s intake accordingly in order to be ready, expanding my usual order to not only include the scientifically-proven-to-be-helpful chocolate milkshake, but actual “food”. I use the term cautiously. I have taken a liking to their Chicken Selects, which, I feel, are a marginally less synthetic version of Chicken McNuggets. And they’re bigger, which is always a bonus. But back to the milkshakes. Why do they always taste of banana, even when you order chocolate or strawberry? And is there really any milk in them? I was reminded recently of an occasion in the mid-nineties when I fetched three milkshakes from McD’s in a friend’s brand new (only recently launched) Audi A4. Not a good moment to spill strawberry milkshake all over the footwell, so that’s what I did, swinging extravagantly into the car-parking space after having been the very model of ultra-cautious driving all the way home. The pink stain remained in the fabric until my friends replaced the car, but curiously, it never smelled… which if there was any milk involved, you would have expected it to.

Anyway. Last Team Gym session this week, and it looks like having a record attendance, as we all strive to become lean mean skiing machines. Even Wiseman has hinted at an appearance. DC has still not darkened the door, but claims to have climbed two mountains last weekend. He may also be spending the time profitably by devising inventive ways of spending as little money as possible in France, what with the Euro pounding us into submission at the moment. Leisurely lunches in mountain restaurants look to be a relic of years gone by. Current proposals include having picnic lunches on the piste, using the snowboards as a windbreak (knew they would come in useful eventually), and taking flasks of espresso onto the hill and adding it to mugs of free hot water from the bar.

The potential reduction in café time may explain why Nasty Jen has elected not to join us this time around. In her absence, it follows that someone will have to take up the mantle of being the sartorial envy of the pistes. I feel I am up for the challenge, what with my sister having knitted me a hat for Christmas and everything. And having taken some ski lessons recently from a pretty dark-haired Austrian ski instructor, I may even be able to ski while looking elegant, something Jen never managed…

Team Gym

In advance of our skiing holiday in the New Year, some of the more dedicated members of the party have been meeting up, weekly, at the gym, in an attempt (perhaps a forlorn one) to get fit. Our current gym of choice is Ainslie Park, which I keep wanting to call Astley Ainslie, for some reason. The Astley Ainslie is a hospital, mostly full of old people recovering from serious conditions. I have no doubt that I will end up in the gym there soon enough, but am in no rush.

For some of us, though, notably Filipideedoodaa, once a week at Ainslie Park is no longer enough, and so she has suggested we start going twice.

“How’s six o’clock at Meadowbank on Monday?” enquired F….

“Do you work near Meadowbank on Mondays?” I asked, wondering about the change of venue.

“Well, it’s on my way home if I go home that way” she replied.

There, in one sentence, the logical genius that is Filipideedoodaa is encapsulated.

The whole gym thing, so far, has been a rewarding, but exhausting experience. Last week, on returning home, I felt so drained that I promptly devoured most of a box of Lindt chocolates. I confessed this to the Admin Supremo the next morning at work, who confidently asserted that this wasn’t a bad thing, since good quality chocolates don’t contain very much milk. Or something.

This week, having confessed my indulgence again, this time to Broon and F…, Broon immediately and confidently backed up the Supremo’s claim, and followed it up by claiming that the best thing after exercise is a chocolate milkshake. WELL, I can tell you, that piece of news went down well in my corner, if not F…’s, as she has renounced all chocolate products since a large chocolate bar fell on her head when she was six years old, and being a bloody-minded Welsh redhead, she isn’t breaking her fast for nobody. On further querying, Broon appeared to be quite genuine in her chocolate milkshake belief, and after all, she is a qualified physio, so off I popped to McDonalds, which is on my home if I go home that way. I have resolved to go home that way after every gym night from now on, in the interests of the quick recovery that chocolate milkshakes provide, according to Broon et al, 2004.

I pulled up at the drive-through.

“Chocolate milkshake please.”

“Regular or large?”

I thought for a moment.

“Large please.” After all, I had done thirty reps on that fiendish leg press thing. This gym malarkey is starting to look up. And the gym at Meadowbank is slap bang opposite…. McDonald’s. Good choice, F…

The ageing process

Now, I know that we all get a little older every day. But whereas on most days this a fairly imperceptible process, today I think I aged 10 years in a matter of hours. Firstly I caught myself listening to Radio Scotland, to some programme where a panel of ‘old’ people were discussing what it was like to be ‘old’ and the things that annoyed them and made them grumpy. Things like people not talking properly and, like, using bad grammar lots. And not being able to remember what they did last week while being able to sing their school song verbatim, in Latin, at the drop of a hat. It was quite an amusing discussion, at least until I realised that I had, for probably the first time ever, deliberately been listening to a radio programme with people TALKING. No music. (Clearly football and cricket commentaries don’t count here). On Radio Scotland. And I was enjoying it. What’s more, I found myself agreeing with a lot of their experiences, especially the being-grumpy ones. These people were, on average, about 70 years old. I am 32. This is worrying.

It got worse. After this trauma I went to see a customer who showed me a photo of her new baby grandson. And I had to agree that he was cute. And then I experienced the sinking realisation that all babies don’t look alike after all. I have definitely seen a lot of babies that were uglier than this little kid. I am not going to mention any names. I have always thought that all babies looked the same. It is almost a defining characteristic of my bachelor-ness. This worries me. I think I may have got married and turned into a sap without realising it. Interestingly I had a dream the other night where I got married. My ‘wife’ started out as one person, and halfway through the dream morphed into someone else entirely. Once again I’m not going to print any names here. I think this was a visionary illustration of how women change dramatically in a relationship from the fun-loving game-for-a-laugh character they are when you first meet them into… well I’d probably better stop there.

My Radio Scotland experience occurred while I was parked in the car park of McDonald’s, having a McFlurry. This, in hindsight, seems like the behaviour of an ageing man desperately trying to cling on to his youth. Perhaps I’m overreacting. Perhaps I need to spend more time in the company of older people, which always makes me feel ‘current’.

Wiseman, where’ve you gone, m8…