Saturday, 8 April 2017

A Wee Political Domestic

It seems nobody loves me
But you and the SNP
I know you’re quite particular
But I’m not sure about Nicola
Our relationship was full of promise
But in her e-mails she calls me ‘Thomas’
She never uses ‘Tom’ or ‘Tommy’
She's always wanting money from me
Her or that Peter Murrell
I'm not inclined to quarrel
But they don’t seem to remember
It’s six months since I was a member

At least you know how to say my name
And married life is pretty much the same
I cook your breakfast, lunch and tea
Although politically we disagree
About the basics of independence
We both hate the binary nature of referendums
(Although some say the plural’s ‘referenda’)
I detest everything about Eastenders
You never miss a single show
But there’s one thing we both know
One unifying truth we’ve been absorbed in
Neither of us can abide Jeremy Corbyn

That romantic, 1970s pseudo-Marxist
That deluded, arrogant  narcissist 
Who’ll destroy the Labour Party, given time
I don’t know why you’ve not resigned
But where would you go then?
You ask how I can defend
The posturing hypocrisy
Of the governing SNP
Navigating a road to ruin
When there’s so much they could be doing?

Truth is, I'm no starry-eyed student
And I wouldn't.
As for  the Greens and the Lib Dems
No-one gives two Tweets about them
And their fantasies of power and glory
Don’t even mention the Tories
Who - some of my best friends fear -
Could be in power for the next 15 years
Even in a free, but utterly defiled
Caledonia, turned stern, once mild

Oh, it’s a crisis, all right; but let’s not make it a domestic drama
We both like Homes under the Hammer
And though, largely, I favour secession
We need to wait for a proper recession 
When London house prices start falling
And the Trotskyist Hampsteaders start calling
Estate agents in Wick
Saying: 'Buy me a shooting lodge, quick'
And Dion Dublin's advice
Is that Thurso is nice

I know, I know. It's a fantasy
Fuelled by daytime TV
So let's not argue, please
Have some more toast and cheese
Crowdie for me, and  Cheddar for you
Camembert or Rauchkässe would do
Cambozolo, Weisslager, 
Queso Cabrales or Limburger
Manchego, Roquefort, or Mimolette

At least Brexit hasn't happened yet

Friday, 31 March 2017

Good grub in Aberdeen: Seven possibilities to match most budgets, including that Black American Express Card...

The Inversnecky Café 

An institution. On the beach, rocking a Jersey Shore boardwalk (only concrete) vibe, complete with adjacent somewhat grubby fairground and seagulls. Or as I would say, shows. Ideal off-the-boat breakfast, great parking, stern, buffeting beachwalks available. Good coffee, and everything you could ask for in a fry-up. Also pioneered the daft blackboard notice and has great ice cream for the one or two days a year when it's sunny. Actually, that's a cheap shot: Aberdeen is one of the sunniest places in Scotland. And speaking of cheap, the Inversnecky ain't dear. No website! How cool is that?

The Silver Darling

Wonderful quayside setting, with a light, airy cruiseliner dining room which becomes beautifully atmospheric at night. You can watch the ships coming and going while eating very good, very ornate, very expensive dishes, with a leaning towards the city’s excellent seafood. Can be a bit intimidating, perhaps because you're wondering if your Black Amex still works. Be prepared for  £55-£80 a head at night, including wine. Lunch around half that. Only for serious expense accounts, freebies and Big Nights Out. In 30 years of travelling through and staying in Aberdeen, I’ve been there once.

 The Moonfish Café

My top Aberdeen choice. Superb, tiny room, small, mostly seafoody menu but with meat and vegetarian options. Not cheap, but not in same price bracket as The Silver Darling - £40-55 a head including wine at night for three courses and their always excellent cheeseboard, lunch half that or less. But you can eat more abstemiously for less moolah, and because it’s a cheerfully informal joint, without any worries that the staff are being sniffy about your cheapskatedness. Book well in advance. Not a place for intimate conversation - hard surfaces means people with headphone-induced tinnitus can struggle. Still brilliant, though.

Rye and Soda

Hmm...I really like this place, but I have a feeling I’m a bit too elderly to fit in at certain times of the evening, when the cocktails are flowing and that weird Aberdeen combination of hipster beards and diamante glam is a-waggling and a-glinting. For a meaty brunch, though - and it markets itself as ‘an American brunch café by day’, it is unsurpassed (see Food Story below for veggie options). Huevos Rancheros, all the classics of hangover-alleviating breakfast, the astonishingly evil pizza chips, and really good coffee including a decent Aeropress. Great, informed, friendly service, too.


Brewdog-owned these days, Musa offers some great opportunities to pair mainstream and obscure, Brewdog-curated (as well as brewed) beers (tasting measures offered) with high quality Scottish food.  The grub is perhaps just a touch fussier in presentation than it needs to be and not especially cheap. But then, this is Aberdeen, even in an oil price downturn kinda situation. They have live music, often jazz, and changing art exhibitions in what is an unusual and not entirely comfortable space which can get very hot and busy, particularly if there are performers squashed in front of the wine racks. Dinner Around £30-45 for three courses including drinks. Can wind up more expensive than you think it's gonna be. They do a two-course lunch special for £16 excluding booze.

Food Story

I’ve heard rumours of bacon sandwiches being available, but think of this as essentially a vegetarian café and you won’t go far wrong. I’d say it was preposterously post-hippydom-dungaree-trendy if  it weren’t for the blingy Prosecco-quaffing shift that tends to drift in during the evening. No licence, reasonable corkage, so you can bring in your crate from Oddbins and get bubbly at speed, then nip out for replenishments.
Great falafels, chillis and lasagnes, wonderful salads, and probably the best sourdough bread available to eat on-site in Aberdeen. For me it’s somewhere for lunch, late (relatively healthy) breakfast and mid-morning ab-dabs, as the cakes are truly superb. So is the coffee and (if you’re into it) their range of space cadet teas. Hilarious toilets. And very reasonable prices, with nobody making you eat too much. Good atmosphere, gets very, very busy. 

6 Degrees North 

Naughtily opening just down from Brewdog, only for the uber-brewers to open another branch almost alongside, 6 Degrees ( distance north of Brussels; they’re Belgian beer fans) is an offshoot of parent brewpub in Stonehaven and has a phenomenal selection of obscurely drinkable stuff. It is also a really good place for a semi-liquid lunch or early tea, with their sharing charcuterie platters a treat and also a total bargain. Not for teetotallers or Proseccotisti/a.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Twelve not-entirely-unexpected health 'benefits' from drinking whisky. Or Whiskey.

....written in response to this article 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apart from that, it’s great. Slainte!

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

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

Friday, 28 August 2015

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

Italy. Oh, Italy.

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

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

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

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

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

Then I went to Big Italy and hated it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Ballad of Tunnock and Lees: Excerpt from Walking The Doggerel, available now!

New collection of song lyrics and poems from The Malt and Barley Revue, The Fairly Good Show, My Bad Gospel and Scar Quilse's Referendum Songbook. A fiver or so in paperback.

The Ballad of Mr Tunnock and Mr Lee

I’ve lost faith in beer and wine
No nicotine for quite some time
Facebook and Twitter - just boring me
All I want is Tunnocks and Lees
When life seems hard, when things get squalid
Just give me sugar and cocoa solids
The products I know will scratch that itch
They come from Uddingston, they come from Coatbridge

Mr Tunnock, Mr Lee
The pleasure you have given me
I gave you my molars and my wealth
But I would sacrifice my health
Mr Tunnock, Mr Lee

You will always be in my dreams
Teacakes, Snowballs, Wafer Creams
Some swear by Cadbury, by Frys or Mars
No Quaker could create the Macaroon Bar

Sometimes sugar just will not suffice
There are other passports to paradise
You must taste and try before you die
The products of Mr Whyte and Mr Mackay

But tastes expand, you crave variety
Then Elgin City is the place to be
116 years of whisky for sale

At Mr Gordon’s and Mr Macphail’s

Thursday, 4 December 2014

New Scottish drink-driving limit: how not to fall foul

Rules for drinking and driving. Just the one. Just the one rule, that is:

 If you’re driving, do not drink anything alcoholic. At all.

Some doctors of my acquaintance used to talk about ‘New Zealand rules’  - which, incidentally, I’ve never been able to track down - guidelines allegedly aimed at rural doctors who faced constant sobriety while socialising due to public transport being unavailable. The deal was that it takes approximately one hour to metabolise one unit of alcohol. So you gauge your drinking over an evening to leave you under the driving limit by the time you get in the car.

This is bullshit. Here are a couple of reasons. 

First, the notion of ‘a unit’ when you’re drinking delicious craft beers of anything between 5 and  10 per cent alcohol, or malt whiskies ranging from 40 to 57.9 per cent. How do you assess the number of units, especially when you’re being served varying quantities? One small (330ml) bottle of Duvel Golden Ale, 8.5 per cent, contains 2.81 units. But the delivery mechanism (fizzy, delicious, and it’s beer, award-winning ‘World’s best’ beer) means three will put you on your back and deliver the worst hangover in the world, too. Believe me, I know. Not for nothing is it called The Devil. Made by Monks, too, Belgian ones. They’re experts in brewing. And in demonology.

Second, people, and drinking conditions, vary. Different body weights, different degrees of liver capacity/damage, different amounts/types of food consumed, even different times of day - all can change the way alcohol works on your system. I haven’t drunk at lunchtime for years - until a rural Shetland occasion a few months ago when I had a single, small glass of wine with a salad, leaving me well within driving limits but almost comatose.

Third, alcohol is not some magic potion that makes you a better driver. Why imagine that it is? Unless you seriously can’t do without it, in which case you have a problem. Nor, for that matter, does it make you a better conversationalist, or even more relaxed and more adept at social interraction. You don’t need a ‘digestif’ to make that meal go down. Lacking one glass of red wine is not going to mean you will have a heart attack. Take a soluble aspirin instead. Yum!

If you work for Network Rail, you're subject to random breath tests at all times. The limit for all employees is not 80 mg, not 50, but 29 mg per 100 millilitres of blood. In Northern Ireland, legislation is pending to bring in a 50 mg limit, like Scotland, but in addition just 20 mg, which basically means nothing, for the recently qualified (up to two years) and professionals such as lorry or taxi drivers. 

I think that lower limit sends a more precise and better message: 

Do not drink and drive. At all.

One more thing. “I think I’ll leave the car.” Fair enough. You have that great sense of relief that you can now get absolutely guttered without worrying about anything but the taxi fare home and remembering where you parked. When you come back to get the car next...when?

Because a full-on binge (and this is Scotland, come on, that’s what we do. We like our moods to be well and truly altered) will not leave you with the ability to count up your units with any accuracy. ‘Proper’, especially wedding, party or seasonal drinking, will leave you over the limit the next day. Definitely. It’s not even a question of when, next day, your blood alcohol dips below the legal limit. It’s when you’re sober, as opposed to thinking you’re sober.

My informal  rule, and take it from One Who Binges, or at least Has Frequently Binged? 

Heavy drinking session, leave a 24 hour gap before driving. Or broadcasting. Or operating a chainsaw.

I mean, this isn’t for a laugh. This isn’t waking up on the couch at noon, gazing out the open door to the car, sitting in the street with the engine running and the driver’s door open, wondering ruefully how on earth you got home.  This isn’t even about health. It’s about not killing yourself and, more important, not killing other people.

So if you’re going to drink, take it seriously. I like that Innes and Gunn advert - ‘make it Innes and None’ . Brave of them. Though not a problem for me, as I’ve always found their beers, far, far too sweet. And strong.

To be honest, I’d much rather have a Duvel...

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Sunset lunch! Frankie's, 2.00PM, and the batter's better

I've kind of lost touch with the mesmerising number of awards Frankie's, our local chip shop, has won, is in for, almost won or is in the process of winning. But there are loads. Despite the fact that I am fairly bamboozled by the variety of 'best fish and chip shop' competitions it would appear you can enter (and I presume there are all sorts of professional bodies to join and entry fees to pay) there is no question that Frankie's is among the best in the UK, and we're very lucky to have it. Well, 10 miles or so away, in Brae. You want carefully-sourced local fish, cooked from fresh? Come to Shetland.

Now, one of my issues with Frankie's is just that: being 10 miles away. So that any carry-out, even transported home at top (safe) speed, is going to be just slightly too cool for ideal consumption. Fish and chips should be eaten  sizzlingly fresh. And therefore, if we can, we 'eat in' at Frankie's, which opens up the possibilities of its 'catch of the day' menu and, err...puddings.

So yesterday, we headed down for a late (2.00pm, the sun just setting over Muckle Roe) lunch (booking a table; this is a very busy place, though as it happens there was plenty of room). The 'specials' menu included home-made fish cakes, langoustine tails in batter, and pan-fried scallops in Cointreau and fennel (£15 with chips). The mussels menu has been up and running for a while (Blueshell locally-farmed mussels, same as in London chain Belgo, recipes from Mussel Inn, Glasgow) but we were in the mood for frying. Susan had the langoustines, I had the 'Muckle Haddock' In batter. Chips, of course.

Now, we have eaten in Frankie's a lot. It's always been good. If I've ever had a slight quibble, it was that an occasional heaviness crept into the fish and the chips, which I put down to batter recipe and possibly the new-fangled oil-recycling super-efficient ecotastic fryers. I'm an industrial west of Scotland guy with a taste for lard that's been superheated all weekend and used for deep frying pizzas and black puddings. Whatever has happened, if anything, yesterday's food seemed on a different level. Everything, chips, prawns, fish, appeared lighter, crispier (and not brown and over-fried either). There was an almost tempura-like texture to the batter.

Maybe we were just very hungry. But for the first time at Frankie's I had a sweet - sharing a sticky toffee pudding and ice cream with Susan. Home made and delicious. Hey, half each! Moderation!

The coffee has always been a slight letdown at F's. It's pre-programmed 'Cappuccino' and in a Brae of scallops in Cointreau, we should really be talking just-roasted beans and a barrister-made espresso. Or is it barista? Or if Cappuccino's too tricky, maybe a V60, Clever or Aeropress.

So, that's Frankie's. Never mind the awards. It's really very good. And that view...