Sunday, 31 October 2010

The good tea and beer blog

You might have worked it out by now if you wander through blog comments or are connected up to me on the Dark Side * - I'm at work. As I spend all day travelling on the Wednesday and with the prospect of a squashed up chopper trip the next day, I like to get myself out of the bed and breakfast and enjoy, in a very modest way, the delights of Aberdeen. This month I went to the pictures to see Burke and Hare. You'll go a long way to find a good review of Burke and Hare (either the film or indeed the historical characters) but I enjoyed it. The Guardian (or the Grauniad as they once referred to themselves (apparently)) did say that it was hard to completely dislike a film that had Ronnie Corbett in it, so there. If you're feeling politically correct or historically accurate or even a little bit historically accurate then this isn't the film for you, But as you've guessed from the blog title, this is not the main theme of the blog, so onwards.

It just so happens that the Brentwood hotel is pretty much en route between the picture house and the bed and breakfast, so I thought I would pop in for a couple as they keep up to 10 real ales at a time. Lo and behold ! what do I spot but a tap with Devizes finest on it, Wadsworth 6X. Not having been down that way for some time, I felt that I was overdue a pint.

In a curious connection to the last blog and indeed the last pint I had, they poured it into a Deuchars IPA glass. Notice the patience I have in not diving into it before I've taken a photo and when I did, it was quite gorgeous.

Which is more than I can say for this stuff - made by the Caledonian brewery for the hotel itself. It was pretty awful - I considered sending it back. At least I'd only bought half a pint. I can't believe that the Caledonian brewery, who normally produce many fine beers, let this out in this condition and I suspect that the pub hasn't kept this right somehow.

Another half pint of Adnams bitter just to wash down the Brentwood. It was alright but it gives me another opportunity to mention their quite magnificent Broadsword in the hope that somebody from Adnams will surf this way and realise that they should be making more of it.

Indeed that marks an end to tippling for a fortnight for offshore for we are completey alcohol free (give or take 50000 litres of methanol which wouldn't do any good at all) - I tell a lie, for I believe our medic has a bottle of something or other tucked away in the sick bay - not to help him through the trip but because ethanol (what you get in your drink that makes you fall over) is the cure for methanol poisoning.

What we do have out here is a never ending supply of tea, without which I would have to hand my resignation in. And this trip I have been pleasantly surprised to see we've had our tea supply upgraded to Earl Grey - Twinnings Earl Grey at that. Though perhaps not as severe, Earl Grey can often split a crowd in the same way as Marmite does so we still have plenty ordinary stuff too.

Thanks to Dave Lennon, our chef manager, who posted me this picture up from the galley - and who might have been the person who ordered them as well - Good work Dave.

Just for those moments when I want something just a little.....well......hippier, I keep a wee box of something tucked away in reserve.

I'll be back on dry land on a week on Thursday - put the kettle on.

*the Dark Side = Facebook

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Catching up with the Muckle Toon

After a couple of cups of  leisurely tea last Monday morning, it was time to bid farewell to Duncan, Fiona and crew, and wander off into Langholm for a scout around to see what had changed since I lived there about 25 years ago.

Certainly no difference from this range.

I dropped in on Susan, an old school friend (I say old but she is younger than me so that can't be old can it? ...Can it!!), who's son is at Langholm academy, and she tells me that all the class rooms are in the same places as they were err....emm...a time ago. So no change there either except that black boards are now white boards and they've put a new roof on it all. Thanks for the tea Susan.

 Langholm Police Station, my home for 9 years - my bedroom window was the big window above the two arched ones (which used to be the doors into the building)

When this picture was taken, this street was called Charles Street - not difficult when it written on it.

Now a days, the street is called Thomas Telford Street but apart from the trappings of the modern day - tarmac, cars and satellite dishes - it looks much like it does above.

 If you look closely at both pictures above, you'll see a couple of shops on the right hand side. in my day they were a farming goods supply shop but now they are a vets and a tattoo parlour (surely a sign of the times)

The Buck Hotel - recipient of quite a few of the youthful me's pounds.

The town hall - I had requested permission to post an old picture from 1900 of this here, but I was far to impatient to wait for it. Take the cars out of this picture and make it black and white and you've got everything that a century and a bit has done to this scene.

The following series of pictures shows the replacing of Milroy's store with the Thomas Hope hospital's gatehouse in 1890.

The laying of the memorial stone - this was the house of a family friend when we lived there - does she realise how many folk were crowded into her upstairs bedroom.

The same scene as it is today (at least last Monday - it's probably raining now). Balfour's shop in the two pictures above was still going strong in the town in 1985 when I left, but it is impossible for a town to keep that sort of shop now the march of the supermarket has come along, so now it's a deli and cafe (I think - I didn't actually go in)

 The rather dashing chap on the left there is Sir Pulteney Malcolm (1768 -1838). He was a local lad who joined the navy and did alright for himself. He was third in command of a fleet that set fire to many buildings in Washington DC in 1814 including the Whitehouse (apologies to my American readers) but, this being a good long time before British and American leaders swapped bottles of beer, it didn't stop him becoming an Admiral in the Blue. HMS Malcolm was named after him and also Pulteney Street in Adelaide of all places. He has a statue in St Pauls in London but that doesn't mean he can't have one back home (see next pic) which used to be  in front of the town hall but has since shuffled it's way round the back.

Besides having his statue shuffled into more obscure corners, poor Sir Pulteney appears to have been badly upstaged by his little brother Sir John Malcolm, who was the ambassador to Persia, Governor of  Bombay and general writer of history books. Little bro managed to get his statue into Westminster Abbey and has a monument placed on the hill (see first picture of this blog) which hasn't shuffled anywhere and is much loved by Langholm folk.

There must have been something good in the Malcolm genes for a third brother, Charles, also managed to get himself knighted.

 The Douglas Hotel is now owned by Robin Brockley, who I went to school with, and his brother. A most pleasant hour passed here catching up on a bit of local news and he does serve a rather good pint of Deuchars IPA.

Time now to pick up a few sweeties for the bus, but what's this!! that bricked up doorway below used to be the sweetie shop when I was a kid.

Langholm has more than it's fair share of rivers (it's got 3), so I'll leave you with a quick shot of the Esk - at least some things don't change.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Purple Potatoes

Due to some sad circumstances, my old friend Duncan and his family are up in Langholm for the week. For a good lump of the 70s and 80s we knocked about together and had many an adventure and indeed our fair share of misadventures and I've well an truly learned my lesson about mixing my drinks - at least in the same glass. For all we've spoken on the phone from time to time, I don't think we've met each other this century, so I took this opportunity to pop over and see him. Since it was a Sunday, I only public transported myself as far a Lockerbie and got a lift for the last 18 miles over the hill (Kirkcudbright to Lockerbie takes about two and a half hours - to get that extra 18 miles on a Sunday takes about double that).

There was a little afternoon pyrotechnics (1 match of course) and some evening beers and much reminiscing but, for the attention of you lot out there in blog land, there was purple potatoes.

Here in their raw state

And here on a plate, roasted by Fiona (Duncan's better half), keeping some beef and peas company - pregravey. 

Technical bit - the colour in these potatoes is caused by a substance known as anthocyanins - sturdy old stuff that survives twenty minutes in a pot of boiling water or in this case, half the afternoon in the oven. Anthocyanins have antioxidant qualities which means purple potatoes are good for you in much the same way as red wine is - that's not to say eating an entire 5 pound bag of them is going to make you topple over, or talk even more gibberish than usual.

And what do they taste like? Well, without a doubt, I can categorically categorise them as potatoy - they taste just like ordinary potatoes only purple. All very tasty Mrs F-B, thank you.

A couple of sociable beers are highly compatible with snoozing and while I was snoozing, all the heat of the day sidled off, so that by the time I was reteaing myself the next morning, the entire outside world was white with frost, but if nothing else it brought the birds to the feeders right outside the kitchen window - I was delighted that they included a pair of nuthatches - a bird I don't see that often, so it counts as a wildlife moment.

Time to bid farewell to Duncan, Fiona, and co (and of course an honorable mention to Stephen, who's trip down from Edinburgh overlapped slightly with mine yesterday) and wander down into the town itself but that is another blog for another day.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Stuffed !

Museums tend not to send expeditions over to Africa any more to bag a few exhibits and I remember from walking around the taxidermy exhibitions in the Chamber Street museum (which is currently closed for a lengthy refit - the stuffed animal section anyway) that most of the exhibits date from the very beginning of the 20th century and before. Kirkcudbright museum has a substantial collection of Taxidermy which I imagine are the same pieces that can be seen in the old picture of the museum I posted on Monday. Perhaps you can see the very butterfly that fluttered past your Granny as a child or the mole that caused your great great grandfather a deal of consternation about his perfect lawn. I like to think these animals were found expired from extreme old age but cannot escape the fact that the curator of the day may have enjoyed nothing more on his Sunday off than going out bagging a few bullfinches with his reliable blunderbuss. Anyway, on with the pictures.

A rather wily looking kingfisher

A bullfinch - bagged or otherwise.

A dipper

A golden eagle - we don't have these down our way - perhaps they did in Victorian times or perhaps they just did a straight swap with a highlander for a bag of sheep.

A herd of ducklings

A 15 and a half pound sea trout caught by M.M.Johnson in 1934

The person who caught this sea horse didn't seem to want to own up to it

Ugly critters

Some peacock butterflies.

A huge beastie

Egg collecting has been illegal for some time and possessing an egg collection is illegal even if it was collected before the law was brought in to protect them. Museums have benefited by this and many surrendered collections are now on public display.

A somewhat faded red squirrel - indeed reflecting the precarious situation of our own native species from the invasion of the grey squirrel.

An finally a very old and dusty look mole.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A few words at lunchtime

I'm sitting in front of the computer (always good to start with the obvious) after a couple of slices of toast and strawberry jam, drinking a cup of tea (check) and browsing through my expanding list of followed blogs, leaving comments and answering my own, for which I'm always grateful. My thanks to Pandora Poikilos, whose blog can be found at for awarding me the following badge

This is a blog with little content, other than to say it's jolly cold. Yesterday morning, we had our first frost, which was still in eveidence in places when I wandered out at nearly lunchtime.

As a small reminder that it was only Summer a few moments ago, I saw a butterfly on the same wanderings. Unfortunately, I think this butterfly's race is about done as it stopped for a rest on the grass twice while trying to get across.

Freshly sheared, glen seems unimpressed by the change in the weather.

I must be off now, I have a dictionary to read. Have a good afternoon all.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

That special beer relationship.

It has been noted in another place that my blog has been lacking in certain commodities. So since this is my 50th blog here on Blogger, it might be a good time to look back and see if this is indeed right. So I have engaged the finest statisticians available to me (that’s me and my O grade arithmetic – quite a good pass if I may say so even if it is 29 years old) to produce the following survey.

What can we learn from this survey? Well, with tea appearing in nearly 1 in 3 blogs, I don't think that I've been negligent at all on that front. I don't myself count pies as wholly necessary to a blog, which may be why they appear least. Cake, hmmm, right, there's definitely not enough cake, but we only just managed to finish Dad's 70th birthday cake last night and I'm just not ready to type about cake again yet. Which leaves beer, also rather lacking, so lets try and rectify things a bit in here.

"Do you fancy a pint, Sandy", I says to myself last Thursday. "Don't mind if I do, since you ask so nicely", replys me, so off we, err..I went to Masonic Arms which is probably the best pub in town and treated myself to 20 fluid ounces of the guest ale, Three Sisters -  a jolly acceptable concoction from the Atlas Brewery up in the Northern reaches of Argyll. Not only does the Masonic keep a guest real ale on a good old hand pulled tap (a terrible rarity here abouts) but it has a fridge stocked with bottles of beer from around the World and keeps a beer menu. Have a peruse for yourself.

While tippling away at the Tree Sisters, it stuck me that there was a familiarity about the Goose Island 312 beer, and then I remembered, so I though that it was my duty to international relations that I bought a bottle. It honestly tastes much better than it photographs in low light condition in the pub on a camera phone.

Ever since Maggie and Ronnie ran our respective countries, there has been occasional talk on the telly of a special relationship between Britain and America. Personally, international politics tends to be outside my normal concern, and certainly for blogging purposes, and quite frankly these were politicians separated from me by a generation gap (perhaps even 2). But now we have a prime minister who is younger than me and earlier in the year proved his blokey credentials, as well as Mr Obama's, by betting a bottle of his favorite beer on the result of the USA and England football match. As it happens, the match was a draw, so the two premiers decided to swap bottles at the G20 conference. David chose a bottle of Hobgoblin, which is an excellent beer and has been mentioned in blogs before by me. Barack choose a bottle of Goose Islands 312 beer - Well done lads, keep up this standard of diplomacy.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Old Photos and the Stewartry Museum

I don't think I went out at all yesterday and by lunchtime today I could feel my vitimin D bank was particularly low, so I went out for a wee wander. I'd been out wandering for about 10 minutes when the normal West of Scotland weather service was resumed so I popped into the museum for a nosey as I don't think I had been in for months.

They've got a small exhibition of odds and ends from local villages on at the moment and it features a couple of photos which have some connection to my recent blog about Tongland - have a quick look back if you've not been - it was only last week sometime.

The Tongland railway viaduct.

The Galloway engineering works, where Arrol Johnston made cars in the '20s - now very much bricked up. Notice the netting on the top of the building - they had a tennis court up there.

And while we're at black and white pictures, here's one of the museum itself in ..well, a long time ago - I'd say beginning of the 20th century or the very end of the 19th. It has to be after 1893 because that was when the building was built to house the exhibits.

Whizz forward a century to today (sometime round about 3 o'clock in the afternoon today, if you must know) and the Indian elephant has gone (I seem to remember that it is now one of the exhibits in the Museum on Chambers Street in Edinburgh), the stuffed birds have moved upstairs and there's no sign of that crossbow in the whole museum, or at least I've never found it, but over all it remains very similar to what it was like then.

This old figure head sits unlabeled in a corner of the museum that always seems to be a bit of a jumble to me.

Novelty mugs are not new - these pieces of jug were removed during excavations of the castle and are likely from the 14th century.

This is a model of a crannog - a type of lake dwelling from the dim and distant of which several examples are known locally. In Ireland they know of 2000 crannog sites and 600 here in Scotland dating from around 3000BC for one in North Uist to well into the first millenium AD.

A old harpoon end found in the local river - made of red deer antler and carbon dated to about 4500BC

I would say the most important item in the museum is the Sillar Gun, not that it is in a prominent place and it's easily missable on a quick whisk through the building. It is the oldest surviving sporting trophy in Britain having been presented by James the VI for shooting in 1587. It is still used, being competed for on special occasions, not that the holder gets to have it in his mitts any longer than is required for a photo for the local paper. I think it is the oldest sporting trophy in the world still used for it's original purpose, the internet isn't any use for confiming this, as most of it thinks that the Americas cup is the oldest trophy in the world (a mere 264 years later).

And finally in this little batch, a piece of an Ash tree felled in 1912. When the wood was split the following initials were found carved inside - 14 inches and 157 annual rings away from the bark.