Bialetti, oh Bialetti

I reconnected with an old squash foe on Tuesday – Colin Eye. Colin and I have had innumerable court-based battles over the years, and he has often emerged victorious, being younger, fitter and faster.

After a long squash-playing hiatus for both of us, however, the disparity in athleticism is less marked, middle-aged portliness being a great leveller, and movement around the court could best be described as lumbering. I found myself wistfully recalling the days when I was able to change direction swiftly and without the assistance of the momentum gained from having crashed heavily into a wall immediately prior.

The result of the contest shall remain forever shrouded in mystery, as it would be churlish and graceless of me to be anything other than magnanimous in victory. Even a victory so crushing as that one.

Afterwards, between gasps and gulps of water, we wondered aloud when the pain would kick in properly. The next day, or the day after that? 

The next day, it turned out. My body, impatiently, decided it couldn’t wait for the day after tomorrow to arrive, and protested loudly regarding my reckless attempts at athleticism every time I tried to stand up, or perform any other routine function.

Wiseman got in touch on Wednesday. Sent me a link to an article he thought I’d appreciate. The article was entitled The Humble Brilliance of Italy’s Moka Coffee Pot. In it the writer regales us with not only the history of Bialetti’s stovetop coffee pot, but the history of coffee, and in particular its brew methods, from the dawn of time. Or the dawn of coffee being discovered, at least.

It was a wonderful and fascinating read, and I did appreciate it. I love my moka pot. I’ve made coffee that way every morning  for more years than I can now remember, even taking it with me on my travels, excepting those mornings when I was staying somewhere with an induction hob. Although I note that Bialetti now make an induction hob-compatible version, which I am considering purchasing purely for the five days in every four years or so that I spend in an induction-hob-equipped house.

I’ve found the moka pot provides a more consistently good, strong cup of coffee than any other home brewing method I’ve used. I have recently become a fan of the Kompresso espresso maker too, especially while travelling, but at home the moka pot remains my default coffee brewing device. 

The article, splendid as it was, was irredeemably spoiled by the news, right at the beginning, that Bialetti – the company that invented the moka pot, and still make the best version – is in serious financial trouble and struggling to compete due to the proliferation of pod machines. Globally, but even in Italy.

*&!!%# pod machines. *&!!%# George Clooney. 

Learning that Italians are choosing to make coffee at home from artificial capsules rather than their trusty moka pots is a hammer blow akin to discovering that Starbucks had successfully opened stores in Paris. And, only last year, in Milan. 

Oh Milano, Milano, how could you let this happen?

Is nowhere and nothing sacred anymore? I am grieved, dear reader, grieved. I feel sure that these events are referenced in the book of Revelation as signs of the end of days.

I could tolerate pod machines while they remained in their place, their place being in the kitchen of the undiscerning coffee drinker who values speed and convenience over taste and quality. But now that they’ve successfully wormed their way into the homes of even discerning coffee aficionados, my own dear sister and the whole of Italy included, I am most grievously vexed. The urge to panic-buy 3-cup Moka Express stovetops is strong.

It’s time to take to the streets. Or at least start an online petition.

Hold tight, Bialetti. I’ll be over here drinking proper coffee and listening to records, while the real world gradually digitises itself and becomes available only through a Virtual Reality headset on a streaming subscription basis.

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think I’ve maybe skipped denial and gone straight to anger. Bear with me, dear reader, while I work through this…

Skiing and the Porcelain Plateau

It’s a dreich day in January. I’m back in my favourite corner seat at Century General, gazing through misted windows at a rainy Montrose Terrace. H has been highly disapproving of my continual weight loss, openly suspecting anorexia on my part. I am some way off the “underweight” classification, shall we say, but am manfully doing my bit to keep her happy by horsing down CG’s chocolate-and-coconut cake.

The last few weeks have been full of highlights to bring you all up to date on, notably dinner chez Wiseman, which was, as ever, excellent, and only enhanced by the Wisemans’ eminently sensible decision to install a toilet with a dangling-chain flush, thus removing the need for post-prandial flush button decision-making. I was grateful.

Christmas in London was full of our usual family Christmas traditions… Panettone for breakfast, Christmas Eve lasagne, a mild case of the lurgy, and Baileys of an evening. On discovering a near-empty bottle of Ireland’s finest export in the kitchen, I, quietly panicking, enquired of my sister if there was any more.

There was. Actually a visit to the cellar made me wonder if she had left any Baileys for the rest of London.

“It was on offer” she protested.

Just before Christmas I attempted to skateboard in the park with my 8-year-old nephew. I sent a photo of this (I did not send a video) to my rad skateboarding friend Gabe. Gabe teaches chess to New York kids for a living. I love that sentence.

Gabe warned me to be careful, and being rad, added a hashtag.

#getrad

I made it back safely, without at any point getting rad.

Christmas came and went, with my attempts to bribe the kids into getting up a bit later on Christmas morning largely unsuccessful.

Three days after Christmas, I boarded an Oak Hall bus headed for the Austrian Alps. My expectations of a 24 hour bus trip were somewhere south of horrendous, but I am delighted to report that there was an unexpectedly decent amount of sleep achieved. On boarding the bus, I made an attempt to introduce myself to some of my travelling companions. I met a couple of twins from Preston. Transpires they were called Rio and Nakita. I made my way back to my seat, bells furiously going off in the back of my head. It was much later before I plucked up the courage to ask if they had been named after hit songs from the 80s.

They had. What’s more, they loved their songs. They also had an older sister named Simone. After Nina, I presume. I loved their parents already.

On arriving in room 220 at the Hotel Alpenblick in Schlitters (careful how you say that), my room-mates (two of them) and I tossed a coin to see who would get the single bed, and who would be sharing the ‘Austrian Twin’ (two single mattresses in a double frame). I won. Room-mate 1 looked momentarily disconsolate, and then, in a moment of genius, removed the mattress from his side of the bed and planted it on the floor, where it stayed all week. Necessity is the mother of invention.

I inspected the bathroom, and was immediately distracted by the toilet. No confusing flush buttons, just a reassuringly solitary old-fashioned handle.

However.

The bowl was like nothing I’d seen before, and I’ve been going to the toilet for nigh-on 40 years now.

Rather than having the normal sloping sides down into a watery bottom, It had a plateau about halfway up. This plateau took up much of the bowl, leaving a smallish channel at the front leading downwards to the water.

And so it was, after one had, you know, done one’s business… one got to turn around and view the results of one’s efforts, presented as if on a platter, MUCH closer than one is used to. It was, frankly, disconcerting. Especially on the occasions when one turned around and thought

“I did all THAT?”

But the best was yet to come. On pressing the flush handle, jets of water shot out from the rear of the bowl, along the plateau, forcibly sweeping anything that was deposited there into the channel at the front. Mostly into the channel. But it was a very powerful jet of water. One quickly learned to be standing alongside the toilet, rather than directly in front, when pressing the flush handle.

It was a great week’s skiing, only enhanced by getting caught in a blizzard two days in a row and surviving to tell the tale. On the final afternoon, as the weather closed in, and we were still high up the mountain and some way from safety, the visibility worsened to the point where we could see only three chairlift-supporting towers. Then it went down to two, and then one. Filipideedoodaa, at this point, was having goggle-related issues, and was unable to see anything at all.

When the wind’s blowing hard, the snow is sticky (I think it was actually raining at this point), and you can’t see anything, it’s surprisingly hard to know which way is down… it was in these conditions that Filipideedoodaa attempted to exit the piste stage right, but we agreed that this wasn’t the time for off-piste, and called her back. That’s what friends are for.

New Year’s Eve was fairly quiet in the hotel. Roomie 1, having taken a taxi into town with the youngsters, reported that the Austrian NYE street celebrations were a little insane, with everyone bringing their own fireworks and letting them off at random. He spotted an Austrian gent wandering along the street with fireworks draped over his shoulder, smoking a cigar. Splendid. What could possibly go wrong?

The bus back to London was very similar to the outward journey, except we all knew each other, at least a little. Liam, a young fellow-Edinburgher, was pumping out the tunes via his Bluetooth speaker. Classic 80s, mostly, including Billy Joel and Neil Diamond.

There’s hope for the younger generation yet…

Slowing Down to Catch Up

When you walk into a coffee shop for the first time, and they have 3 grinders, a La Marzocco espresso machine, and both baristas have beards, you know everything’s going to be ok.

And it was. I made my first visit to Century General Store this week. I have no idea how long it’s been there, and I may have never even known it was there, if the kindly City of Edinburgh Council hadn’t rearranged the roads again, such that my bus into town is diverted up Montrose Terrace past its characterful front. Thus it was that I spotted it from the top deck last week, and resolved to pay it a visit at the earliest opportunity.

The coffee was outstanding, so I had another. I think I sat there for a couple of hours resting, reading, and journalling. As well as coffee, they sell food and wicker baskets. And other things, but I was particularly taken by the wicker baskets.

There’s a particular joy in discovering something great organically, without having first being recommended to go there by the internet.

My post-coffee bus wended its way into town along London Road and up Leith Walk. Onwards, slowly, onto Leith Street, where a proliferation of signs forewarned the impending closure of the street for a whole year. A whole year. The closure of this main artery into town for 12 months has provoked strong opinions from locals, to the point where someone stood as an independent candidate in the recent Council elections principally to oppose it. I voted for them, too, not because I’m particularly invested in getting along Leith Street easily, but they seemed like they cared about the city and would work hard on behalf of people. They didn’t get in.

There are things that are only visible from the top deck of a bus. It’s a marvellous place for people-watching, observing new places, and even new views of the city. Today it afforded me an excellent view of the rubbly concrete-and-rusted-iron remains of the St James Centre, which is partially demolished already. The Centre will soon be rebuilt, and has already been rebranded, as Edinburgh St James. As we passed the mounds of rubble, I found myself wistfully remembering good times at the St James Centre, until it occurred to me that I didn’t have any good times there, apart from getting a few keys successfully cut.

On up onto Princes Street briefly, and then onto the Bridges.

On North Bridge we pass the shop that used to be H Samuel, back when H Samuel was a thriving jewellery chain, before its owner famously explained to a business conference that the reason why their products were so cheap was because they were “total crap”. H Samuel actually survived, but the group lost £500m off its share price, and 300 of the group’s jewellery stores closed within 2 years. So much for the belief that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

More importantly, I got my ear pierced there in Freshers Week 1992, much to the consternation of my parents. I subsequently discovered that the ear one chose to have pierced (presuming only one was pierced) was a way of communicating one’s sexual orientation. Added that to the Things-I-Should-Have-Checked-Before-Acting-On-Impulse list.

Onto South Bridge, past what used to be Ripping Records, which was in existence until surprisingly recently. Ripping was the place to get concert tickets when I was a student. Concert tickets, and overpriced CDs and records. I remember buying a Little Angels CD single there. Can’t remember what its main track was, but it had a decent cover of The Mighty Quinn on the B side. Not that CDs have B sides, but you know what I mean.

Turned right onto Chambers St, and more student-related memories aplenty if I allowed my mind to go there. I decided not to. This part of town has been a hub of the Edinburgh Fringe for the last 3 weeks. Last night was the fireworks concert that marked the end of the Festival and Fringe, and there’s a distinct morning-after-the-nights-before vibe in the air.

Left onto George IV Bridge, up Bristo Place, and then a right turn onto Lauriston Place, past George Heriot’s School (where the BBC set up shop for the duration of the Fringe) and the old Royal Infirmary, where I had a broken wrist put back together in 1996.

I got off the bus, and met Wiseman on the steps of the Edinburgh College of Art.

“Ah, the smell of fireworks and singed squirrel…”

I couldn’t smell anything myself, but you have to doff your cap to his word-pictures.

The ECA café is a great place for a cheap lunch, and at this late summer pre-semester stage, is deserted, and we have the place more or less to ourselves.

We share some thoughts, on a yearning for a simpler life, and the importance of quietening down, finding God in the silence. And slowing down to catch up with God.

“You only see thing things that are moving at the same speed as yourself,” offered Wiseman. You miss those travelling slower, they tend to be the old, weak or those hurting.”

Was reminded of how parents of young children find their walking speed dramatically reduced when trying to get anywhere with the youngsters. Not to mention the time it takes them to get out of the house. Strikes me that, while this must be frustrating at first, there’s something to be said for it. Without these natural braking systems in life, would we continue charging onwards in the pursuit of greater efficiency, and getting More Things Done In The Time Available?

One summer I paid a visit to my sister in London. I flew to Stansted, and got the Stansted Express into Liverpool Street Station. There I found the entrance to the Tube, and joined the throng of London commuters through the turnstiles. It was busy busy busy. After a minute or so I became aware that my walking pace had quickened to match those around me, and realised I was rushing to catch the next train. Even though I was on holiday, and had no need to rush anywhere. I gave myself a good shake, and deliberately slowed down.

A variation, perhaps an extension, on Wiseman’s gem is that you’re inclined to move at the speed others around you are, unless you make a conscious choice not to. Not a fresh revelation I realise, but something I, as a city-dweller, need to actively remind myself of from time to time, as I drive past billboards encouraging me to post all the details of my life on social media.

Technology has dramatically assisted our drive towards greater efficiency. Once, a movie could only be watched by making a trip to the cinema. Then we got VHS rental stores, which still necessitated a physical visit. Now you can download and watch a movie without leaving your seat.

Playing music in your home could once be done only by getting up and putting a record on the turntable. And getting up again to change sides after 20 minutes. Now, again, you don’t need to leave your seat.

Same for switching on and changing channels on the TV. Not to mention not having to watch programmes when they’re aired anymore – they can be squeezed in anytime you have a spare 30 minutes.

Much is made of the inactivity all this technological wizardry promotes, but consider also how the time taken to do the thing is reduced. Much more can be done in an evening. Rather than essentially devoting a whole evening to going out to a movie, it can be watched while eating your dinner, and then you can get on with something else.

Is this helpful? I wonder sometimes. I’m a practiser of most of these things that I’ve described, and I’m not about to sell my car, buy a horse and cart, and move to the hills. And 20mph speed limits are still anathema to me.

But I am also consciously trying to slow down, notably by taking a proper day off each week, and choosing to rest. And discovering great coffee shops, and blogging a bit more, ha…

The Blog is Back

Well, dear reader

A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since I last wrote in these pages.

Brexit… Indyref… Wiseman has MARRIED, for goodness sake. Up, obviously. Actually, Wiseman married a good two years before the blog went into its most recent, and most prolonged (to date) hibernation, and the event went unrecorded because the blog was in a previous hibernation at the time, but really, the failure to chronicle the Wiseman Wedding is an embarrassment. It was so long ago that there’s a mini Wiseman on the go. Wiseboy, perhaps.

DC and Broon have also got married, although not to each other.

Nasty Jen has got engaged, and shall henceforth be called Party Jen on these pages, not because getting engaged has increased her capacity to party, or even reduced her nastiness, and that’s rather the point – she was only ever called Nasty Jen in the most ironic sense. However, perhaps I am going soft in my middle age, but I don’t really want to prepend “Nasty” to anyone’s name.

Lots of other things have happened too. Since returning from Nashville I have started my own business, worked as a piano teacher, and even as a barista.

Some things have stayed reassuringly the same. Not my waistline, sadly. I put most of the blame for this firmly at the door of iColin, who I used to play squash with regularly, along with his cousin-in-law John. Since John’s squash-playing demise, quoting extensive bathroom renovations and a subsequent move to East Lothian (darling) as reasons, iColin and I have only managed one squash meeting. I can’t remember the outcome, but feel sure I must have won heavily. Anyway, the point is, I haven’t been doing any exercise.

I did, of course, play cricket fairly regularly in the summer, but one has to bat quite well (or bowl) to get any useful exercise in a cricket match, and, well, there it is.

Cue Christmas, and a shedload of chocolate consumption, on the back of which I have finally resolved to exercise more in 2017, in fact, each week if I can possibly make it. My preference would be to play some sort of sport which involves winning, or even losing, but in the absence of such competition I have resigned myself to outings to the gym.

I still hate the gym, but having been unhappy with the amount of weight I put on in during my stay in America, and having added to that somewhat with the last year of inactivity, things are in a sorry state.

And so it came to pass, that, only last week, I found myself back at Ainslie Park, seated at some sort of fiendish weights machine, waiting until I was sure no-one was looking, and then in one graceful fluid motion reaching behind me to adjust the weight setting to the minimum, having had a tentative push at the thing and been mortified at my inability to budge it even an inch.

One hour later, sweating, slightly dizzy, and having found my non-custom earbuds completely incapable of blocking out the pumping dance tunes provided, I retired back home for a well-earned Tunnocks Caramel Wafer and possibly a marshmallow or two.

Home these days, at least temporarily, is in a house (a very big house) in the country, courtesy of a house-sitting gig I have scored off my good friend the Finance Director. The Finance Director and her family are in Nepal looking at mountains and spiny babblers for a few months, and have kindly left me to look after their house while they’re away. I have rarely had so much room, indeed so many rooms, to myself that to begin with I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them all.

However, I now have a designated Scalextric Room, and a Music Studio section, and perhaps a Subbuteo Room is on the way.

I have been in touch with Party Jen to discuss the details of a Winter Party, which sounds like a splendid idea, except that I might have to organise it. I’m a little out of practice at party-organisation.

But, as both my parents used to say whenever they wanted to defer saying “no”, we’ll see…

Edinburgh, je t’aimerai toujours

Wiseman attempts to focus on his glass of wine. Varifocals, y’see

Thursday, 27 December, 3.45pm. I emerged (I would like to say blinking into the sunlight, but, seriously) into the cold, damp twilight of Edinburgh’s Waverley Bridge. It was 2012, but it could have been 1992. I was a student, returning from spending Christmas with my family, and gazing across the train tracks to the National Gallery and Edinburgh Castle, I was struck afresh how much I love this town.

The next morning I got up early, and after a visit to work to say hello to the post-Christmas skeleton staff (although no-one looks like a skeleton post-Christmas), I checked off a few favourite haunts – haircut at Kenny’s, coffee at Artisan Roast, brunch at Indigo Yard. Last night saw the continuation of another personal Christmas tradition – the festive Subbuteo match. Note to American readers: Subbuteo is a table-top football game (football, yes football) whose heyday was probably in the 80s, but is kept alive by a few anoraks/”enthusiasts” who may well enjoy a spot of Fifa 13 action on their Xbox or whatever now and then but still retain a fond affection for flicking small plastic figures around a large green mat chasing an oversized ball.

Approximately 30 minutes before leaving for the “stadium”, I realised I had failed to include “Subbuteo stuff” on the Spreadsheet of Destiny I created when leaving the country, and thus had (and still have) no idea where/in whose basement/attic I packed it away. Accordingly, I was unable to bring my usual team (Northern Ireland) to the game, and my contribution to the atmosphere of this festive fixture (three sections of terracing, complete with approx 23 plastic fans in various stages of apparent undress, depending on how much of them I had painted) was also missing.

Surprisingly, the atmosphere seemed largely similar to previous years, and I got round the lack of a team by borrowing Argentina from my opponent. He went with Brazil, and they got hockeyed 11-7. We used to play games 20 minutes each way, until we realised we had to play a few games to justify the hassle of getting it all out and set up, and so since 2010 or so we’ve just played the full 90 minutes + Fergie-time. Brings on a sore-ish back, mind, bending over a table for that long.

Tonight was a long-awaited reconciliation with Wiseman, at PizzaExpress. We went to the Holyrood venue, possibly the coldest restaurant in the British Isles. I wore one more layer than I typically wear when skiing, and all was well. He warmed himself with several large glasses of red wine. We shared our respective news. He has acquired varifocals since we last met, which provided more ammunition for age-related jokes, not that the ammunition cupboard was exactly bare. I found it amusing to bob up and down in my seat, although whether the resulting blurring effect for Mark was varifocal or grape-related remains unclear.

Tomorrow I get to worship at St Mungo’s again for the first time in several months, and I’m greatly looking forward to it.

Thanks to all of you who have posted ‘welcome back’ type messages on Facebook and the like. And seriously, if anyone is reading this and they think they might have a battered box of Subbuteo stuff in their attic or basement, please do get in touch. There may be a reward.

No upcoming notes

Once people reach a certain stage in life, they start sending out a Christmas Letter to all their friends and acquaintances. I’m not entirely sure what causes one to cross this particular threshold, in the case of some whose festive missives I’ve read, it would appear that having high-performing offspring is the catalyst. Mercifully, the day when I spawn offspring – high performance, high maintenance or otherwise – appears to still be a long way off, and perhaps as a result I have never written a Christmas Letter.
Perhaps the advent and perplexing popularity of social networking sites will put paid to the Christmas Letter. Certainly there should be little need to summarise one’s news annually when those who care have been notified of every status change and toilet visit along the way.
My mother, not being ‘on’ Facebook (yet), sends out a Christmas letter every year. One Christmas a few years back, I was somewhat dismayed to read her letter and discover that, following hard on the heels of a paragraph detailing my sister’s exciting life, my year’s activity was summed up with a single sentence, the precise wording of which I can’t recall, but I know ran along the lines of “Andrew hasn’t done much this year.” It might as well have read “Andrew is a bit dull,” or “Andrew could get out more.”
A little miffed by this dismissal of an entire twelve months of my life, I lodged a complaint with the Christmas Letter Composition Committee. She responded by suggesting that my sister and I write our own sections of the letter in future. Which we did. And every year since, I have struggled to know what to write, or how to fit it in, or how to cope with writing about myself in the third person, which is weird.
This year (well, last year), I pondered a little before writing “Andrew would like a quieter life so he could spend more time watching cricket, frankly.” At the time I was in the midst of the most frenetic run-up to Christmas I can remember. One kind of music practice followed another, followed by a choir practice. I had no time to enjoy what is one of my favourite times of year, I had no time to write Christmas cards to old friends, I had no time to visit close friends in Glasgow who had just received bad news. I got ill, inevitably. I resolved to make 2010 the year I slowed down. “No upcoming notes” is the text that appears on my mobile phone whenever I have no meetings or reminders scheduled for that day. Seeing those three words on the screen makes me happy. I’m looking forward to them appearing more regularly. And watching more cricket.
Wiseman turned 44 today. We celebrated with a milkshake at McDonalds. Or we would have done, if Wiseman hadn’t, within sight of the Golden Arches and blithely ignoring that my car was pointing entirely the wrong way, put forward a proposal involving a burger restaurant at the West End. Several LH turns and a good deal of muttering later, we arrived at Wannaburger, which could be renamed WannabeAmericanburgerjoint, although it’s probably snappier as it is. And once served by any of the staff, you’ll be left in no doubt that you’re in Europe and not the USA.
So, I ordered a milkshake, and I told Wiseman he could have anything from the menu, a dangerous offer in a licensed establishment, given that his alcohol intake alone comprises 40% of our combined restaurant bill on a regular basis. However, he opted for the root beer. And the largest burger on the menu, fries and an ice cream sundae.
Happy Birthday big man.

John Mayer and Costa Coffee

As previously confessed, I’m a big fan of John Mayer. So when a friend said he’d been on Jonathan Ross’ Radio 2 show a few Saturday mornings ago, I fired up the iPlayer with a certain amount of anticipation/apprehension. Meeting your heroes, it’s said, can be a disappointing experience. I find that even listening to your heroes on the radio, or seeing them in concert, has a certain amount of risk attached to it – how can you fail to be disappointed? Your expectations are so high. When I saw JM in Hyde Park a few years back, I was disappointed, because he didn’t set anything alight (I mean metaphorically. Although it’s true to say that he didn’t physically set anything alight either, this didn’t disappoint me). I consoled myself in the knowledge that he only had a 45 minute set, which didn’t allow him to express himself fully. And this was vindicated by his Hammersmith Apollo gig a few weeks ago, when he torched the place. Metaphorically, of course.
Anyway, back to the radio show. I’ve never found Jonathan Ross compelling listening, not because he’s not funny, because he usually is (IMHO), and not because he gets paid ridiculous amounts of money, because I don’t hold that against him. I find his show irritating in the extreme because there’s this bloke who sits in with him every time (possibly his producer) and laughs at everything he says. Everything. In a nauseating, sycophantic kind of way. Drives me crazy. Or at least it would, if I listened more.
I steeled myself for the sycophant, and tuned in. However, it was Ross himself who wound me up early on by first of all introducing the guitarist JM brought along to play live (Robbie McIntosh) as “his (Mayer’s) dad”, and then proceeding to either forget, or pretend to forget his name, and make up new ones for him every time he referred to him. Serious lack of respect for a fine musician. He then confessed that he knew of Mayer only through his appearances in gossip mags and the like, and expressed surprise when it transpired that he really could play guitar. Which is, quite frankly, lazy. Any small amount of research would have revealed that Mayer has played guitar with Buddy Guy, BB King, and Herbie Hancock. Oh, and Eric Clapton. And that he’s done stand-up, and writes well too. And he features heavily on my iPod. But I still don’t like his new album. Only two songs of any worth, I reckon. Neither of which he played at the Apollo, naturally.
I created an ‘evening’ playlist a few years back, containing songs of a more, um, reflective nature. Melancholy, some might say, and I wouldn’t contradict them. It’s my favourite playlist, by some distance. Wiseman’s response to my musical taste is usually a despairing kind of snort when yet another miserable track comes on the car stereo. On one occasion, I was driving Nasty Jen somewhere, and as Bill Withers wailed “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” I realised I was listening to the melancholy stuff. Jen is a teeny-bopper really, and should know better at her age, but I thought I would humour her and switch to my ‘pop’ playlist, which contains songs of a generally more upbeat nature. After a few seconds delay while the iPod found the new playlist, the opening track kicked in.
“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone…” lamented Bill, again. I resolved to get some happier music on my iPod.
On a more recent occasion, Wiseman and I found ourselves listening to some tunes from the 70s on the car radio. Wiseman took great delight in identifying, usually incorrectly, the year of each track from these, his formative years. Sometimes he has even been heard to sing along to seventies tunes. It’s quite a sonic experience.
The car radio has been employed more often of late, since I neglected to remove my iPod from the seat pocket in front on arrival in Geneva last month. The airline was Jet2, and to anyone flying with Jet2 in the future, I would strongly encourage you to follow their advice and take all your personal belongings with you, as contact with said airline afterwards can prove a touch elusive. All “post-flight communication must be in writing” (that’s letters, rather than emails) and so far they have failed to acknowledge either of mine. Which rather stymies my as yet unborn insurance claim, unfortunately.
After lunch today I made the trip to Arbroath to see a client. Having plugged the postcodes into Google maps, China’s least favourite internet company advised me it would take 1hr 50 mins. For some reason I read this as 1hr 30 mins. Tapping the details into my sat nav as I prepared to leave, 90 minutes before the appointment, I was somewhat startled to note that it was predicting a journey time of 2 hrs 13 mins. I made haste for the M90. Once over the bridge, I encountered another problem. My body sometimes thinks it’s somewhere in the south of France, or Spain, and takes an involuntary siesta shortly after lunch. I was falling asleep at the wheel. This is never a good thing, I find, and so I have a couple of strategies to combat it. One is to pull over and close my eyes for forty winks (I find five minutes almost invariably does the trick); the second is to stop for a coffee, or any sort of break. I had time for neither, but having pondered the pros and cons extensively in the past, I have arrived at what I believe is a rather sensible conclusion. No matter how late you end up being for your appointment, and possibly all your appointments for the rest of the day, and whatever you were planning to do in the evening, annoying and stressful though this can be, it’s still better than killing people, possibly including yourself.
So I stopped at the Kinross services, and ordered a double espresso at the Costa outlet. Now, Costa. They’re not quite Starbucks, and their coffee certainly tastes better to me. But I don’t really like them either. They’re “Italian about coffee”, or so they claim. Now, I’ve been to Italy, once. I stayed in Milan for a week with my good friend Slid. It was June, it was hot, and humid. I remember sitting in a park with Slid watching some locals play football. Had it not been so hot, we might well have taken them on and shown them a thing or two. But it was very hot. They were playing in a classically slow, Italian style. It struck me that in these temperatures and humidity, there was no other way to play. And I immediately made a connection between the climate and the style of play: Italy and Spain – slow and languid so as not to get hot and tired too quickly, Scotland – fast and frenetic so as not to get cold by standing around in Baltic temperatures. It all made, possibly perfect sense. In that sense, Costa are very Italian. They are chuffin’ slow. Far too slow when you’re running late for an appointment in Arbroath. I lost eight minutes in the service station, although admittedly I had to take a pee as well.
Apart from the speed of service, I find nothing about Costa remotely Italian. Every time I had a coffee in Italy it was outstanding, and it wasn’t supplied by a chain, in an enormous bowl of a cup whose diameter is so great that the coffee sometimes dribbles down the sides of your chin. But perhaps that’s just me.
I was late for my appointment. And the next one. And my evening ‘appointment’ back in Edinburgh. But nobody seemed to mind too much. And what’s more, I’m still alive!

Summer of Hope

“What’s the time?” asked Wiseman, nibbling the last morsel on his plate.

“Seven thirty” I replied, and grimaced. “Could totally have made the 7.30 showing.”

He nodded.

“Shops shut at eight, though,” I said. “Could go for a browse?”

We were having dinner in Ocean Terminal, last Saturday evening. Cricket had been cancelled due to the inclement Scottish weather, and Wiseman and I had landed upon a film that both of us would conceivably enjoy (Star Trek). We had bought tickets for the 8.30 showing to allow us plenty of time to eat, but the eating hadn’t taken us as long as we thought it might. We paid the bill and headed off for a mosey around the shops. They were all shut, obviously. Apart from Starbucks. We decided to do laps of the shopping centre instead. Is it not about time Starbucks went bust? Do people not forgo their overpriced cups of bitter-tasting ridiculously-named coffee in a recession? Apparently not.

I found myself at the doctor’s last week. Rushing in, slightly late, I made use of their hi-tech touchscreen self-check-in system, and took a seat in the waiting room. I resisted the seductive delights of Trout & Salmon magazine, and pondered instead on who thought it would be a good idea to install a touchscreen in a GP practice. Probably got swine flu now.

Today is Saturday again, and I would be playing cricket, but am en route to London for a week’s holiday. Have had an utterly seamless journey so far, no doubt due at least in part to having chosen to fly BA rather than easyjet. No queues at check-in, no mad scrum to get on the plane, no paying for your food on the flight (puréed breakfast comes as part of the package). Love it.

Sitting on the plane, looking out at England’s green and pleasant land bathed in sunshine, the summer is stretching out in front of me, full of optimism. Buoyed by a decent batting performance for the Holy Cross 3rd XI in my opening game, I’m actually looking forward to the forthcoming season. That’s if I can get my availability and a sunny day to coincide. The British and Irish Lions are about to depart for an eagerly-anticipated tour to South Africa, and the Aussies arrive soon for the Ashes. It’s beginning to bug me (now, four years on) that Sky have the exclusive rights to England’s home Test matches. Scandalous. With this kind of summer ahead, it would almost be worth getting Sky myself. Oh, and a TV.

Maybe not. My Sky Sports-subscribed friends have been warned…

When Nasty Jen lost her Mr Darcy

“Is he safe and well?” read the text from Nasty Jen.
I didn’t know, actually.  I’d left Jen’s new prized possession, her Mr Darcy keyring, in a plant pot at The Orchard, our local establishment just down the road from the church.  For all I know he might have taken root and been well on his way to germinating into a Mr-Darcy-keyring-tree.
I decided not to reply.
A bunch of us, including Nasty Jen and Kenny D, had popped in to the Orchard the night before , to plan our Easter Monday St Andrews trip.  Jen was showing off her Mr Darcy keyring, so when she passed it round, I thought it would be hilarious to remove it from her keys when she wasn’t looking.
The next day after work, feeling the guilt, and mentally branding the word IDIOT on my forehead, I entered the Orchard and headed straight for the plant pot.  I sidled awkwardly up to it, embarrassingly close to a sofa containing two women deep in conversation.  When are two women on a sofa not deep in conversation?
“Um, I left something in here last night… nope it’s not here now” I explained, eloquently, as one of the ladies looked askance at me.  I shot out of the room without looking back, feeling a little like Mr Bean.
Confounded cleaners.  Which meant I had to ask at the bar.  I approached it sheepishly, and asked the genial curly-haired barman if anyone had removed a keyring from the plantpot in the corner.  He didn’t think so, but he asked the manager, who disappeared down the hatch behind the bar.  He reappeared a few minutes later, looking pleased with himself.
“Just to be sure it’s yours, can you tell me what’s on it?” he asked loudly, and somewhat triumphantly.
“Errr. Mister Darcy” I muttered quickly, hoping the regulars propped up along the bar wouldn’t hear.
“Yeah!” he laughed, and handed it over.  I mumbled my gratitude and tripped out onto the pavement as fast as I could.  Am hoping we don’t find ourselves back in the Orchard too soon.
The sun shone all Easter weekend, perhaps an unprecedented occurrence, which gave Jen at least three opportunities to claim sunstroke, none of which she passed up.  I destroyed DC over 18 holes at St Andrews on Easter Monday, albeit it was the ‘Himalayas’ ladies putting course.
Kenny D has undergone something of a transformation since I last wrote.  After a few exploratory runs at the turn of the year, he has turned into a fully-fledged card-carrying fitness-obsessed Action Man, scoffing at those of us who use motorised transport for distances under ten miles.  Ken now prefers to hike instead, making light of such obstacles as rivers (he just goes through them) when they get in his way.
F… has been in Ghana for the last six weeks, and blogging furiously.  Should one look away from her blog for more than a minute one is likely to look back to find it has been updated at least once in the meantime.  She has now likely made more posts to her blog than she has made decisions, and as a result has out-blogged me 25 to 1 since the beginning of March.
Wiseman has been strangely quiet, nursing his coccyx perhaps, although that has never been a quiet occupation in the past.  Perhaps he’s been taking time out to read F…’s blog, or possibly he’s just been ashamed to show his face recently, having forgotten my birthday again this year, and then snubbed my party.  Pfffff.
I apologise for this lengthy hiatus in my blogging effort, and am grateful to those of you kind enough to have encouraged me to write again.  I am currently en route to visiting my sister in London, to admire my new nephew Sebastian, who, in joining myself and Hamish the cat, evens up the gender imbalance in the household somewhat.
The lady currently beside me in the departure lounge has been talking non-stop on her mobile phone for 45 minutes now.  It appears that a sofa is not a pre-requisite to inane female chatter…

Back to work…

A week after returning from Les Arcs, the dust is settling on another fine holiday. There are remarkably few injuries to report, with Kirsty’s faceplant on the halfpipe remaining the most serious (witnessed) accident. She had a shiner for a while to show for her efforts, and I feel this made it all worthwhile for her.

In the first week, I came down a large percentage of the Refuge black run upside down gathering snow and ice in my nice new Christmas hat. Going back up to try again was born of stubbornness, but I was doubly rewarded by completing it successfully AND witnessing Tom falling on the moguls and sliding down on his belly, legs and skis up in the air behind him, rising and falling over the bumps in a manner vaguely reminiscent of someone floating on the ocean on a choppy day.

Not content with this crash, Tom then headed up the Aiguille Rouge in a cable car. With him were a group of doctors from Edinburgh, who regaled him with tales of two professional skiers who died skiing down some off-piste on the Aiguille Rouge. Unwittingly (he says), Tom headed straight down into the same area, had a fall, lost a ski, and slid for 150m. Somehow he retained his life, his limbs, and even had his ski recovered by the same Edinburgh doctors, who were following.

Mandy has been loudly pointing out to anyone who would listen, that I kept falling over. I keep protesting that I only fell over while attempting silly things, which is mostly true, but doesn’t shut her up. I did nearly clock a tree at one point, but managed to divert just in time. One of my skis came off in the avoidance manoeuvre and carried on to hit the poor tree.

Carol, our newbie snowboarder in the group, flounced out of her lesson with a petulant toss of her head only a few days after F… had done the same. *&?@#* snowboarders. I presume the instructors weren’t winsome enough for them.

The return to Edinburgh proved relatively uneventful, despite checking in only 15 minutes before the flight was due to take off. There were, inevitably, delays, although thankfully not due to Kirsty this time. She elected not to bring a penknife in her hand luggage on the return trip, perhaps because she no longer had one after it was confiscated by the nice security people in Edinburgh on the way out.

Back at our favourite harbour haunt on Friday night, Wiseman confided that he had been welcomed back to work with a six month ban on him even mentioning his coccyx.

“Apparently I went on about it a bit last year,” he explained ruefully.

While we were away, the gang have been in good form. Kenny D has been spotted going for a run, sometimes more than once a week. The times they are a-changing.

Nasty Jen was playing hockey when a girl in the opposing team swung her stick into Jen’s head, whereupon she crumpled to the ground in pain. She then realised that the stick had actually connected with the head of the girl beside her, and quickly scrambled back to her feet, hoping no-one had noticed.

DC was at an old friend’s for lunch today. His friend had just had a brand new bathroom fitted. For some reason DC decided to sit down on the toilet lid while putting some eyedrops in, and went straight through it. He has confirmed that he wasn’t even trying to get purchase at the time.

Plus ça change…