writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

The War on Drugs: Preview

And so, at the end of a challenging week, to see The War on Drugs (don’t forget the ‘The’) at the Usher Hall tonight (Saturday). The band first crossed my and Daughter and Heiress’s radar (as so often these days) with a slot on Jools Holland; since then, their latest album, Lost in the Dream, has come out to universal acclaim, gaining five stars in the Guardian and Uncut, amongst many other places. Any band that invites comparisons with Dylan and Springsteen will invite attention from yours truly: as well as a modicum of suspicion – are they too derivative?

In fact, on listening, the band’s sound is anything but. It’s a subtle wash of ambient guitars and brooding, throbbing synths. The lyrics – principally a meditation on front man Adam Granduciel’s downward spiral into paranoia and depression when he finished touring the last record – do take a bit of a left turn into Springsteen territory at times, particularly on the title track; and the opening song, Under the Pressure, could be renamed A Bit Like Dylan without losing the scan of the chorus line, and would provide a fair summation of Granduciel’s vocal stylings.

However, this is scant criticism coming from someone who, on waking up yesterday morning, scribbled down the lyrics to The Greatest Song Bruce Springsteen Never Wrote.

The portents are promising for tonight’s gig: by all accounts their recent appearance at the Brixton Academy was a success – see, amongst others, the Digital Spy review. For those of you without a ticket, here’s some recent footage taken by one of those annoying types who can’t live in the moment and insist on holding up their iSam. I haven’t watched it: that would feel a bit like skipping to the last page to find out whodunnit.

For what really happened tonight, Daughter and Heiress is writing a review for altmusicbox – her first for them – so stand by…





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Seeing it to the Finnish: How I Built the Kantele

Here in the UK, they used to have a TV programme called Changing Rooms, the basic premise of which was some bozos would turn over their house to the production team in all good faith and see their slightly dated pine furniture and half n’ half wallpaper living room transformed over a weekend into an Arab souk, or something similar. They always acted amazed and pleased.

Anyway, the presenters consisted of the aptly named Carol Smillie, a foppish designer fellow called Laurence Llewellyn Bowen, and the working-class bloke wot got all the work done whose nickname was Handy Andy. A joiner (I think) to trade, it was he who made Laurence’s wildest dreams a reality (no, not in that way – keep your minds out of the gutter) with the aid of nothing more complex than a band saw, a couple of screwdrivers and a lorry load of mdf.

Handy Andy. Wonder where he is now? No, me neither. Anyway, meet Handless Andy. Yes, dear reader, your blog may, like the Liam Neeson character in Taken, have a very particular set of skills, but DIY has never been one of them. Despite being a property owner for some 27-odd years now, the simplest tasks around the house beyond entry-level banging something in with a hammer have eluded me. Only the other day, I installed some splashback tiling in our bathroom more in hope than expectation, and its ability to stay on the wall for more than ten minutes after I stuck it there was virtually a cause for breaking out the cooking champagne on the part of the Redoubtable Mrs F. (It’s still there: two weeks and counting).

Despite my inherent lack of ability, I’ve always retained a particular fascination with wood, and the idea of working with its natural beauty to produce something of value. So recently this led me, finally, to, a US site which supplies all sorts of musical instrument kits, and, more in hope than expectation, I bought the means to construct a kantele, a Finnish folk instrument from the same stable as the zither, or dulcimer. I bought the kantele kit on the following grounds:

– it looked like a cheeseboard with strings, so worst case I’d have a cheeseboard;

– I’ve had a soft spot for things Finnish since spending some time there in 2006 with my friend Hannu, meeting his family and friends Esa and Saana, and being inducted into the mysteries of the Nordic sauna (and let me tell you, till you’ve stood outside a wooden hut in the woods, the sea washing quietly towards you and cold beer in hand  as your heart threatens to burst right out of your chest from the sheer intensity of the heat you’ve just experienced, stark bollock naked, you’ve not fully lived);

– a quick squizz round Youtube revealed the thing had a haunting, ethereal sound which I had stupid levels of confidence I could reproduce if I could only make it all stick together.

Fortunately, for the sticky-together bit I had my secret weapon. My father in law, as well as being a very eminent physician, now retired, is extremely good with his hands, and has a shed of proper old-school drills, vices and other instruments of torture Christian Grey would kill for. The Good Doctor built most of the family home’s storage space himself, for goodness’ sake. So, after a quick chat with him, I sent off for the kit.

The first thing to say is that the kit, though not cheap, has materials of excellent quality – the wood in this case being walnut and mahogany (African, so a sustainable source – I checked); the metal work being similarly robust, and everything machined to a good finish. The instruction manual which (as we’ll see) we had occasional reference to was clear, in plain English, and easy to follow.

The second thing to say is that the consignment was held up by those pirates at the HMRC, who ransomed it for an extra thirty quid import duty, so remember to factor that in, at least if you’re in the UK.

And so came the glorious day – actually, an evening – when we ventured out into the Shed of Wonders to start the first phase of construction. According to the manual, we were to stick the first long bit of walnut to the big bit of mahogany, clamp it, and wait an hour before sticking the next long bit to that; then, finally, the third bit. However, the Good Doctor had other ideas, and after about forty minutes all four bits were glued and clamped. I left my precious baby, clamps hanging from her like some sort of strange metal leeches, in the Doc’s care, and headed off into the night.

The next time I saw her, with clamps removed, was something of a relief:


although it looked a bit like four weird-shaped bits of wood stuck together, the key thing was they were stuck together the right way. The glue ooze wasn’t too bad, and I approached the next session with a little more confidence. Next steps consisted of gluing the tail piece and the ‘snail’ bit on; in another departure from the manual, I held off gluing in the fancy rosette till much later on, once I’d had a chance to sand the area underneath down and apply a coat of varnish, as I didn’t see how I could possibly do that with the rosette in.

The final, crucial stage that required the Good Doctor’s input was drilling the zither pin holes. This is, I reckon, the part which needs most care and precision, because if you don’t get the holes straight, you’ll end up with zither pins wonky as a row of British dental work, with associated tuning problems. Fortunately, the Shed of Wonders had not one, but two fixed drills, which allowed a much better job than any hand-held drill could have done.

Then came the sanding. Again, I approached this with low levels of confidence, and chickened out of using my electric hand sander (which I suspect had been a purchase of my own Dad’s from one of those Lidl promotions retirees queue  in the snow for on Thursday mornings) and took it on with nothing more than a sanding block and the two recommended grades of paper over a couple of sunny, if Baltic, winter afternoons out on the patio. Somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t manage to dislodge any of the glued together bits: even more to my surprise, edges which looked like they would never disappear melted beneath my frenzied assault. Really quite soon, it looked like this:

055057 058

Ok, so I know that doesn’t look so very different, but you weren’t really there, man! And yes, I did wear a plaid shirt whilst outside in the cold, sanding away at my bit of wood. Even metrosexuals get to be macho sometimes.

A week of applying clear varnish and letting it dry ensued – I got quite OCD about this, and put three coats on most of it, and four on the playing surface. Then, a Thursday night came when, after several weeks of fitting this into all the other stuff that goes on here, I tapped the zither pins in (lightly) with a hammer before finishing with the tuning tool, as directed by the manual, fitted on the strings (the online video was particularly helpful here) … and … it was done!

003 004 005

Isn’t she beautiful? Just like any stringed instrument, the tuning took a couple of days to settle. However, it now holds its tuning just as well as any of my guitars. And you can even listen to my first, stumbling attempts to play it…

I’d thoroughly recommend to anyone fancying a go at making a musical instrument from scratch. Just either be handier than Handless Andy here, or have your own version of the Good Doctor on speed dial.






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… in the meantime …

So I’ve started my review of Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous album, at least in my head, but since it’s been available in all good record shops for 40 years I’m reckoning there’s no pressing hurry.

In the meantime, if you want to hear a rare example of my attempting to sing, rather than speak, over music, my latest Soundcloud release can now be heard…

The Way They Do Things In West Memphis: Lucinda Williams Album Review

So there you are, having a drink in a bar in West Memphis, kind of wishing you’d stuck to the tourist trail rather than going off-piste in search of the ‘real’ experience. The band setting up in the corner look like they might have just finished beating someone up round the back, never mind the punters, one of whom seems to have moved his bar stool uncomfortably close behind you. Key scenes from Deliverance start to project themselves at the back of your imagination.

Eventually the drummer strikes up, big, tattooed forearms bearing down on the skins like they owe him money. It’s a low down, dirty beat, heavy as the hot afternoon, and when the guitars and bass come in, you’re still not sure if it’s going to be blues, country, rock, or a mélange of all three. You try to work out a way of asking your new friend on the bar stool behind you that, without using the word mélange.

Just then the barmaid, who’s done everything to make you feel welcome bar spit in your drink, comes out front, slings on an acoustic and exchanges a few muttered words with the guitarist. Then she fronts up to the mike and stares you dead in the eye, as if to say, ‘What?’

Except if it’s Lucinda Williams it would come out as, ‘Whuuut?’

That’s exactly what Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is like. Musically, it draws from that primordial swamp of country, blues, soul, and all the other truly North American DNA that rock staggered out of, muddy and baying, all those years ago. Except it stays down with one foot firmly in the swamp: though it only occasionally uses lap steel guitar, there’s a country structure to many of the songs; on others, a shimmering Hammond organ reminds you of the gospel influence.

And then there’s Williams’s voice, a remarkable thing that’s three parts Eartha Kitt, two parts Stevie Nicks, if the latter had spent the last thirty years drinking bourbon and smoking Virginia Gold Cut; half ways between a growl and a yowl, like a partially tamed mountain lion that’s been given a guitar.

If this all sounds a bit too, er, rootsy for you, I should say that there’s an intelligence behind the lyrics that takes the material way beyond your average Louisiana bar band. Indeed, the double album kicks off with a poem by Williams’s father set to music, Compassion: ‘Have compassion for everyone you meet/ even if they don’t want it/ what seems conceit/ always a sign…’

Elsewhere, Williams preaches eloquently against the enemy of righteousness, good, kindness and love (‘Protection’) fearmongers and foolishness (‘Foolishness’) and, it seems, Old Nick himself (‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’); evoking that gospel (or maybe that should be Southern Baptist) root.

Elsewhere, my favourite so far (as you might have gathered from the opening sequence) is ‘West Memphis:’ ‘I was framed and sentenced/to a life in prison/for a crime I didn’t commit/wasn’t nobody listened/or rose to my defense/somebody planted the evidence/and he’s been lying ever since/but that’s the way we do things/in West Memphis.’

The other thing that sets this album apart is the musicianship. The drums – and this is a compliment from a guitar player who normally pays little attention to what the bozo at the back’s doing, past keeping the beat – lay down a heavy groove that drives the songs; the guitars themselves sound great, and there’s some scorching work on them from Tony Joe White and Bill Frisell. As well as good stuff on the organ from Ian McLagan, there’s judicious use of backing vocals to sweeten Williams’s lead.

This is a superb double album, which will merit listening to again and again to get the full effect. One thing, though: if you find yourself telling your nearest and dearest that this is how you roll, and if they don’t like it they can get the hell out of the way, you’ve probably had it on repeat one time too many.

Unless you’re actually from West Memphis, of course. In which case that’s absolutely fine.


lucinda williams

A Note To My Followers

Dear Followers,

First of all, a belated Happy New Year! Let’s hope 2015 is a kinder twelve months to the planet than the previous one: without wanting to sound like a beauty contest consultant, world peace would be nice, plus maybe a cure for Ebola. Frankly, I’d settle for an aggregate reduction in people being beastly to each other generally.

I’m not going to tweet or Facebook this post, partly as an experiment to see what difference that makes, but partly because I want to make this a post just for you, my select band of followers, to use as you wish. You’re a small but select bunch of, as I write, 27: you include, of course, Daughter and Heiress, the voice of youth; and my friend and  Edinburgh writer/performer/generally talented type cygnoir. The rest of you, I don’t think, I know personally, but I wanted to thank you for hooking into my world. Blogger followers seem, in general, a bit more faithful than the here today and gone tomorrow world of Twitter: and, frankly, I’d far rather read something longer than 140 characters most of the time.

So here’s what I’m going to do. Firstly, I’m going to follow any of you I’m not actually following already; and then, over the next week or so, I’m going to make a point of reading your blogs, and making some – hopefully not too inane – comment.

You might want to comment on this post. That way, you’re making yourself visible to a whole 26 other faithful souls who follow me, not to mention my thousands of non-following fans in Brazil.

In the meantime, have a good year. I plan to have lots of new things happening for you soon.

2015: the Surrealist Year Ahead

As the macadamia air rage case accused, conglomerate heiress Cho Hyun-ah comes to trial, there are surprising outbreaks of sympathy from budget airline travellers, following Cho’s heavy-handed prosecution by the South Korean authorities. Things start quietly with passive-aggressive piss-weak coffee ‘spillages’ on Easyjet, but a Ryanair flight is forced to divert and land at Paris Charles de Gaulle after a flight’s complete crisp quota is used in a flash mob ‘Pringle shower.’
With no one passenger claiming responsibility, the airline is forced to allow the entire plane load off at an airport which is actually in the city it’s meant to be in for once.


Incensed by stand up comedians’ jokes about always having a sale, furniture retailer DFS hosts a’full price weekend.’ Backed by a campaign featuring Shane Whatsit from Series 4 of Celebrity X Jungle Wipeoff, the event is a surprising success, with queues for sofas that really do cost £700 forming from the early hours.

‘It just shows her at number 22 what a cheapskate she really is, buying that leather look five piece for £199.99 the other week,’ says Dolanda Chewit, 34, of Skinflats.


As the immigration debate heats up, a group calling themselves ‘Angle-land for the Anglo-Saxons’ romp home to a surprise by-election win on Hastings Borough Council. The victory speech, by Councillor Harold Godwinson, is taken off air after complaints about the bad language. In a carefully worded press statement, the party apologises for any offence but insists it is ‘time we stopped them bloody Normans coming over here with their posh words and taking all our jobs.’

In a seemingly unrelated development the newly-formed Viking Party, led by a Harald Hardrada, campaigns for an independence referendum for the Danelaw.


Buoyed up by the success of Stephen Hawking film The Theory of Everything, geek chic reaches new levels altogether. Joey Essex is spotted wearing black-framed glasses and carrying a Charlie Stross novel, which he claims to have read; thinking woman’s crumpet and fellow sf author Hannu Rajaniemi takes over from Dara O’Briain as host on the hastily renamed School of Really, Really Hard Sums.

In a definitely related development, sales on Amazon of second-hand copies of Jim Jardine’s seminal textbook, Physics is Fun (Heinemann) skyrocket, although the real value is reserved for any that don’t have the handwritten sub-title added by previous students, ‘is it fuck.’


On the Planet Zenussi, the elections to the Chamber of the Ultimate Overlords of the Lizard People are thrown into confusion, when the three main candidates rip off lizard masks to reveal themselves as none other than David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Enraged, the Lizard People launch a retaliatory strike on Earth.

Unfortunately a glitch in their version of Google Maps indicates that the Houses of Parliament are located in Aberfeldy. Armed only with stout walking sticks and umbrellas and led by their community council office bearers, the locals drive off the entire Imperial Zenussian Assault Force, before going back to whatever the hell they do in Aberfeldy when not under intergalactic attack by saurian life forms.


The legendarily tough world of the South East Yorkshire Cricket League is rocked by the arrival of a new recruit to the ranks of Uppenceworth. Flanked only by a single thick-set bodyguard, the newcomer is at first reticent about his name, before revealing that he is in fact Kim Yong-un, disillusioned with the American imperialist sport basketball, and keen to learn the most quintessentially English game of all.

Quickly nicknamed ‘Yoong Oon’ by his team mates, the First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea turns out to bowl a beguiling mix of leg breaks and googlies, and makes a reliable pair of hands at first slip. He excels, however, as a dashing middle order batsman, and Uppenceworth’s star is soon in the ascendant in the Second Division.

However, a hotly disputed lbw decision during a match with local rivals Nobbut Ornery leads to repercussions far beyond the usual on-pitch fisticuffs. In the pub after the game, Yong-un’s captain manages to persuade him to call off the nuclear strike on the umpire’s house at the last minute.

However, dark forces seem to be at work when the village of Nobbut Ornery literally disappears off Google Maps, to be replaced by a symbol which resembles a cricket box; whilst all reports of the match in question suddenly 모두사라. I mean, 지옥빌어 먹을!


T in the Park, the annual Scottish drinking festival, is deluged with complaints about the music coming from various locations around the new venue.

‘I ken there’s always been bands playin’ somewhere in the background, but there seems tae be a lot mair of them this year,’ storms Shug McLush, 24, of Queenzieburn. ‘I mean, live and let live, but I’ve got a sledge full of lager tae get through here. I need focus.’

An ashen faced festival spokesperson admits he had no idea of the scale of the problem. ‘It’s all very well having background sounds for when you’re rolling around the grass grabbing at legs, but I’ve told Slipknot they’ll have to do an acoustic set if they’re distracting people from their drinking.’

Tinie Tempah really is tinie.


The world of sport is rocked as the World Anti-Doping Agency adds common place stimulants such as coffee, chocolate and bridies to the list of banned substances. Former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff is outraged. ‘They’ll be banning lager next,’ he fumes.

Seeing an opportunity for controversy-fuelled viewing figures, Channel 6 + 99 host a soi-disant ‘experimental Olympics,’ where alleged scientists monitor the effects of common illegal substances on sporting performance. The 100 metres world unassisted record is broken several times over by runners on various cold remedies; the boxing doesn’t go so well when the first two contestants are mistakenly given cannabis resin instead of cocaine.

After a few failed attempts to hit each other and much giggling, one tells the other ‘I love you, man,’ and the two sit in the middle of the ring, asking the increasingly restive audience if they have any toast.


Technological advances continue to drive consumer demand. Amongst them is the Belty, a belt device which monitors the wearer’s waistline and advises when it’s time to lose weight; the Tagg Pet Tracker, which allows pet owners – or significant others – to track the whereabouts of their pet/partner; the Shine Activity Tracker Device, which allows the wearer (or significant other) to track activities such as walking, running, swimming or, indeed, other physical activity via a smartphone; and the Wine Alarm, which sets off a loud beeping sound if blood alcohol levels in the wearer rise above a preset level.

Ok, so I made the last one up. But they could probably do it.


Following the slump in sales of celebrity biographies, The Guild of Ghost Writers publishes a collection of near career death experiences by its members.

‘I had the contract to write Beyonce’s next misery memoir;’ one recalls. ‘I was heading towards a white light of inner peace and a pretty tidy advance cheque. Then the market crashed, and the next thing I knew I was back on Planet Earth, trying to work on my own novel. I mean, I had to just make stuff up. A plot and characters and everything. It was horrible.’


Swedish ‘alternative and experimental music fusion group,’ Goat, are forced to suspend their Twitter feed after cyber assaults by some particularly unpleasant trolls. Only by eating extraordinary amounts of calories and renaming themselves Billy Goat Gruff are they able to drive the trolls away … oh come on, look it up!


The sky is full of strange portents. Herds of Gloucester Old Spot are seen wheeling in formation above Wiltshire. A plague of giant wasps descends on Cowdenbeath. The face of Simon Cowell appears on pizzas all over southern Italy.
Jesus of Nazareth and the Prophet Muhammad descend arm in arm from the clouds, to try to convince jihadist nutters Al-Quaeda they’re getting it wrong.

Then 2016 dawns, and things get a whole lot weirder.

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Happy New Year to all my readers. Especially the Brazilian ones. There seem to be a lot of Brazilian ones.

Next up, the Surrealist Year Ahead, although at the moment I’m struggling to think of anything much more surreal than this year’s reality….

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

12 things I’ve learned (or relearned) this year

It’s been a bumpy 12 months, both for me personally, for many of my friends and colleagues, and perhaps most of all, for my country of origin. Which is not to say there’s not been a few good bits too.

January: Everything people say to you about losing a parent is true.

Statistically, it’s more than likely that your parents will die before you; all the same, you don’t understand how awful the reality is before it happens. Only other people that have experienced it can really know how you feel; however much all the kind words from everyone are a help. Life is never the same, though.

February: Music is a great healer.

I didn’t really know what to expect of a gig at the 02 Academy, Glasgow, featuring Foals and Cage the Elephant, having never been to the venue, and only had a hurried catch up on the main act. I certainly wasn’t expecting what might well have been The Greatest Gig Ever (although a subsequent outing to Temples in December ran it pretty damn close – see Daughter and Heiress’s Liquid Rooms review).

March: Collaboration really is the best policy.

Although I took a step back from Writers’ Bloc this year, there were still some really exciting and fruitful bits of partnership working, to use the cooncil terminology. Step forward, in no particular order, Gavin Inglis, Kelly Brooks, Halsted Bernard, Harky and Kenny Mackay… I hope to do much more of the same in the coming year, as well as with other long term collaborators like Mark Allan and Lara Matthews.

April: Until they find the lost race of six foot, red-bearded conquistadores, I’m always going to stand out in Spain.

Granada was gorgeous and Malaga, at the end of our Spanish trip this year, a real undiscovered gem of a place – those of you who only experience the airport are missing out on a great, lively place to spend a few days. In between these two cities, we went (at the suggestion of our Spanish cousin, Guillermo) to Ubeda, a smaller town heading up into the sierras and surrounded by olive-clad hills. It was lovely, and well worth a visit, but it was clear they’re not used to Vikings.

May: Exams are just as awful as they always were. Especially Maths.

Daughter & Heiress sat her National 5s in May – that’s O Grades, O Levels, Standard Grades, or something else to the rest of you. Despite being a member of the guinea pig generation for the new exams, she did really well; but although the new curriculum was sold as a clever way to extend the length of time the kids have to take in the Higher course (for non-Scots amongst you, they’re the ones you sit aged 16 or 17 that more or less dictate if you get into University) it looks like they’ll have exactly the same amount of time to struggle through as their parents did.

In other words, a few desultory weeks in June, and then the whole of fifth year when they’re not actually being tested to near-destruction. The difference being D & H is working a lot harder than I ever remember doing.

June: Guitars matter.

My post about the mysterious origins of my semi-acoustic garnered some interesting comments. Mind you, easily the top post in terms of hits I’ve ever done is a review of an acoustic guitar amp, so I’m not sure what that proves.

July: Being a Festival Dad isn’t all bad.

I blogged pretty extensively about our Latitude experience, so I won’t go on about it again; but now, as we approach the longest night of the winter, it’s just a happy blur of sunshine, hot weather, great music, spectacular lightning storms, and polite queues for drinking water. I’m reliably informed we’re going back next year.

August: The Fringe isn’t just for watching.

With one thing and another, I was late booking a couple of slots in the Free Fringe for Tribute to Venus Carmichael; and I confess to being a bit more nervous than usual. This was a good thing, because it made me practice every day for a fortnight. And practice makes much less imperfect.

September: You can breach the EU Working Time Regulations several times over and live to tell the tale.

At the end of a 25 hour shift of work on the administration of the indyref, I lay on the couch at home and watched the results coming in, eating cereal when my body clock didn’t know if it was Tuesday or a biscuit. A strange end to a seismic day.

What made me, as a Scot, proudest, wasn’t the 84% turnout – frankly, what on earth did the other 16% have on that day that was more important? But the fact that, in all the fevered atmosphere, hints, allegations and conspiracy theories, there was not one criticism of the 16 and 17 year olds who, voting for the first time, conducted themselves with every kind of decorum and seriousness at the polls when their elders were, in some cases, doing the opposite.

They and their English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts won’t get a vote in May 2015 for the Westminster election. Can anyone explain to me why not?

October: Kinsale is a nice place to visit.

Fly to Cork, take a bus from the airport, and you’re there. Great food, music, Guinness, and craic. Thoroughly recommended.

November: You can totally book the Old Observatory on Calton Hill to stay in.

I know this because my sister did it for a Big Birthday celebration in November and it was absolutely fab. One of the best cityscape views in the world from every window; all mod cons, done tastefully to blend in with the historic building; it’s even well heated, somewhat to our surprise. The room which used to be the observation chamber has the most amazing acoustics of anywhere I’ve ever been. Some day, I’m going to do a gig there.

December: Edinburgh is the place to be for Xmas

We leave tomorrow. Byee!!

Next week, the Surrealist Year Ahead.






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Wine Review: should you gie it Aldi this Xmas?

There are times when I almost feel sorry for snobby French wine producers. There they were one minute, bowling along in their vintage 70’s Citroen DS, undisputed kings of the vinicultural universe. They could make any old crap and if the customer didn’t like it, pah! it was because they didn’t have a good enough palate.

Then, suddenly, there was a screeching of brakes and the Aussies came roaring round the corner in a Ute, showering them in Shiraz and cheap cabernet sauvignon blends. The Spanish were next, clattering past noisily in an oak-lined lorry and mispronouncing grenache as garnacha. Then a huge cloud of dust heralded the arrival of the South Americans, bragging about their phylloxera free ancient vines and  rediscovering Carmenere and Malbec. The French were, quite literally, run off the road.

Worse than that, the punters stopped matching wine with classic French cookery, or whatever was the nearest equivalent in Scunthorpe. Les rosbifs weren’t even eating roast beef any more: instead, they were branching out into Indian, Chinese, Thai, all sorts of cuisine that the vignerons certainly hadn’t had in mind when working up the latest claret. And to cap it all, the power of the supermarkets was such that the sans culottes expected not to have to remortgage their house to get a decent drop to go with the Tuesday night curry.

Sacre Bleu! As the French, almost certainly, never really say.

However, signs are that they’re finally fighting back, and where better to try some of the latest offerings out than Aldi, one of our increasingly-popular discounters. As recommended by Jane MacQuitty in the Times on Saturday, we decided to give a couple of bottles of French red a try. These were: Pinot Noir, Vignobles Roussellet (no vintage specified) £4.39; and Plan de Dieu, Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2012; £6.49.

The food matching wasn’t as hard as it could have been. First night was the Redoubtable Mrs F’s sausage stovies, something of a legend in our household: not exactly the same as cassoulet, maybe, but red meat at least; second night was my Portuguese roast chicken, with potatoes, red onions, garlic, and lashings of lemon in the mix.

The verdict? Fill your boots with both! The pinot noir is one of the easiest drinking wines I’ve ever tasted: on its own, with both dishes, and with the Manchego cheese for afters, it subtly alters its flavours but is never tannic. The Rhone is a bigger, burlier sort of chap, but very drinkable: probably better with a heftier meat dish to be fair.

Now, what wine goes with tonight’s halloumi/prawns/lime juice and chilli combo, I wonder….

vintage citroen



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Cuando el “no” puede incluir al “si:” la esperanza y fe en Escocia

A veces, es difícil creer que hace solo tres meses fue el referéndum. Como las hojas doradas de otoño, las papeletas del voto son colectadas, amontonadas en lugares casí secretos de las autoridades, fondo de muchas teorías de conspiración de los que apoyaban el si.

Poco a poco, otros simbolos del 18 de septiembre se van. El líder independista escoses, Alex Salmond, renunció al próximo dia, aunque se quedó como ministro principal hasta noviembre, cuando la conferencia de su partido, el SNP, ha eligido a otro – su numero dos, Nicola Sturgeon.

En el mismo sentido, las pegatinas desaparecen de las farolas gradualmente, ya que son difícil de quitarlas. En los medios sociales, los que aumentaban a sus fotos un símbolo azul ‘si’ ahora tienen uno que dice ‘45’ en su lugar, significando el porcentaje afirmativo que han votado.

Al mismo tiempo, debe ser fácil – si se vive en Londres, u otras partes del reino unido – creer que la pregunta escosesa tiene una respuesta final. El circo de los medios metropolitanes ha salido. Nuevos temas – la guerra en Irak, el Ebola, el auge popular en el sur para UKIP, el partido contra el EU y los migrantes, dominan ahora las noticias. Con reportajes de las conferencias de los grandes partidos británicos, el arte antiguo de “adivinar el futuro” sobre la elección para Westminster, mayo 2015, ha empezado. Si alguien menciona Escocia, es para vincular los éxitos de UKIP con el referéndum como ejemplos de la perdida de credibilidad de los políticos ‘traditionales.’

Nada más que eso. Escocia está en las noticias del ayer: olvidado, eliminado del panorama de Londres. Pero en Edimburgo, la pregunta persiste: ¿ y ahora, que?

La ultima semana de la campaňa fue dramática, gracias a un sondeo de YouGov que indicaba, por primera vez, en ventaja (51% frente a 49%) el voto a favor de la independencia. Pudo exagerar el efecto de este sondeo, pero no mucho. Con la mirada del mundo sobre el reino unido, hubo un sentido de pánico entre los políticos británicos. El ministro del Tesoro del gobierno conservador, George Osborne, ofreció mas poderes al parlamento Escoses si ganaría el voto no – aunque, como comentaba el periódico madrileño, El Pais, ‘significativamente, de forma genérica, sin ningun detalle.’

Este sentido de pánico parecía compartido por los laboristas, cuando su líder, Ed Miliband, previó guardias a la frontera (¿ y porque no seria guardias fronterizos, como en las fronteras de Francia y Alemania, o Espaňa y Portugal?)

En la ultima semana, la temperatura crecia, cada dia. Los tres lideres de los partidos británicos – Cameron, Clegg, y Miliband – juraron que darían mas poderes a Holyrood (pero todavía sin detalles). Una centena de diputados del partido Labor llegaron a Glasgow para persuadir al pueblo (esta ciudad siendo una de las pocas regiones que votó si el 18 de septiembre). La libra bajó contra el euro y el dólar; el valor de companias escocesas redujo al mismo tiempo. Hubo amenazas de una nueva crisis económica, para todo el reino unido.

En los ultimos días, para mí lo más sorprendente y, al mismo tiempo lo más significante, fue la intervención del ex-primer ministro, Gordon Brown. Se podría decir que opinaba un poco más que los otros políticos de Londres: hay grandes riesgos en la independencia; si el voto es no, va a ser mas ‘devolucion,’ mas poderes para el parlamento en Edimburgo. Pero la manera de sus dichos y la reputación del locutor, comparado con Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, y Alastair Darling, el supuesto ‘lider’ de la campaňa ‘no,’ significaba mucho.

La reputación de Brown – como su carácter – es mucho mas compleja, dependiendo de que parte del país viene.
En Inglaterra, Gales, o Irlanda del Norte, por ejemplo, Brown es reconocido como el primer ministro que no podía hacer nada contra la crisis económica mundial del 2008 – 9; vencido por los conservadores en la elección de 2010, renunció como líder del partido laborista y, para los periodistas de Londres, es un hombre del ayer, sin puesto en su partido, casí olvidado en el mundo nuevo de Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, y Nigel Farage (de UKIP).

En Escocia, es reconocido como hombre con defectos; pero también como hombre de convicciones, un apasionado, que sucedió al liderazgo solo cuando lo decidió Tony Blair que quería pasar el baton – al mismo momento que apareció la crisis. Pero, por sobre todo, es reconocido como un hombre escoses.

Hay una palabra en ingles, un adjectivo, que usaron los periodistas frecuentemente cuando se hablaba de Brown: ‘dour.’ No es una palabra exclusivamente escosesa, pero es un adjectivo conectado al carácter escoses. Puede traducirlo como adusto, austero, o terco, pero también lleva sentidos de ‘duro,’ de ‘serio,’ también. Los Finlandeses tienen una palabra poco similar: ‘sisu’ – determinación, especialmente si no hay esperanza. Según muchos escoseses, Brown tenia cualidades que no tenia su amigo/enemigo Blair. Tiene, en otras palabras, cualidades típicamente escocesas.

Por esa razón, muchos del pueblo escoses confiaron en Gordon Brown, en los últimos días de la campaňa, especialmente cuando sus dichos parecían venir de una posición tan apasionada. Muchos de los votantes – incluso los indecisos – tenían fe en sus promesas, mucho más del conservador, Cameron, por ejemplo, que lloraba públicamente cuando hablaba de la amenaza de la separación (las lagrimas de cocodrilo, para muchos escoseses).

Volvemos a la pregunta. ¿Y ahora, que? Claro que el referéndum esta acabado, con un resultado de 55% frente a 45%. Un concejal laborista me ha dicho recientemente: ‘Han olvidado el ‘45’ que hay un ’55.’ Sonreí pero no respondí: no es correcto para los oficiales opinar sobre muchas cosas, pero podría decir a este comentario: “si, pero sería bueno no olvidar el ‘45’ casi igualmente.”

El circo se ha ido. Las papeletas del voto son enterradas, pero la pregunta vive. En noviembre, los partidos británicos anunciaron un acuerdo global de poderes nuevos para Edimburgo. Gordon Brown anunció que va a jubilarse, satisfecho que las promesas de la semana antes del referéndum serán cumplidas.

Pero, de momento, parece que el pueblo escoses no tiene fe. Según un sondeo reciente de YouGov, el SNP va a ganar la gran mayoria de asientos en Westminster, en mayo 2015. El número de miembros del partido nationalista ha aumentado mucho desde el referéndum.

Parece que los que perdieron en septiembre van a ganar ahora. Parece también que los escoseses van a volver a creer.



Muchas gracias a mi profesora de español, Ana, para toda su paciencia y ayuda.





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