andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: April 2017

Wrong Box: Events News

Now my novel, The Wrong Box, is (virtually at least) a reality, I’ve organised a couple of launch events. There are some others in the pipeline, but in the meantime (the link takes you to the Facebook event, if you’re that way inclined):

Fife Launch: Wednesday, 10th May, 17.30 – 18.45 – a just after work session at the Rothes Halls Library, Glenrothes, with Yvonne Melville of OnFife interviewing me. It’s free, and there’s free wine!

Edinburgh Launch: Thursday, 18th May, 19.45 – 23.00 (ish) Henry’s Cellar Bar, Morrison Street, Edinburgh – in the rather more rock n’ roll surroundings of Henry’s, what I’m calling ‘More Than A Book Launch, since it involves not just me talking to Writers’ Bloc stablemate and long-term WB supporter Gavin Inglis about the book, but spoken word readings from Gavin, Andrew Wilson, and Stuart Wallace, as well as music from both the bands I’m in, namely the troubador americana of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, and the country punk of Isaac Brutal (mein Herr Bandleader pictured below, in mean and moody mode).

Please note: at both events there’ll be only a limited number of books for sale, so order in advance to avoid disappointment! You can get the Kindle edition on Amazon, or the paperback edition from them or, if you prefer, from Waterstone’s.

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage and playing a musical instrument

The merits of a leaky ceiling: how the Wrong Box came to be

Madrid and a cold beer, starting point for most of our Spanish travels

I went to see Jackie recently. It’s good movie, although there’s something a bit odd about it: the Guardian review probably sums it up for me. There’s a dream-like quality to it that got me thinking, because the way that the various forms of the sleeping state influence creative work interests me a lot.

I’m scarcely an original in using dreams to help the creative process: writers and musicians from Robert Louis Stevenson to Prince have talked about how they’ve plundered the stuff clambering out of their night-time subconscious. Stevenson’s classic horror, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, for example, came to him in a dream, although the cocaine he’d been prescribed by a doctor for his ongoing health problems might have had an influence too. According to that particular creation myth, he got as far as the first transformation scene before his wife woke him up. Wives, eh!

Which leads me to the inspiration for my published-at-long-last novel, The Wrong Box.

Most of my creative endeavours, whether musical or writing wise, tend to have shadowy beginnings – a half-heard piece of conversation; an encounter on the express bus to Edinburgh; an earworm of a tune that won’t go away despite it appearing during work time. In the case of novel’s story, however, I can more or less trace the date of its inception to a week in April, 2008, and the Hostal San Bartolome, Almagro.

Anyone that knows me half at all will know that I’m a lover of Spain and all things Spanish, and not even just the wine neither. Every year for the last fifteen or so, we’ve been spending time travelling through that great country, all the time seeking out different regions, different places to visit that are off the tourist trail. Because we rely on train and bus to get about (just never fancied driving a car in Spain, funnily enough) that usually involves reasonably decent-sized towns. However, in 2008 we decided to push the envelope a bit, and explore somewhere that even the more generous Spanish classification of ciudad wouldn’t cover.

First stop, though, after touching down in Madrid and spending a night in the unremarkable but reliable Hotel Mora, was one of the great Spanish northern cities, Valladolid. It was a pleasant three nights there, from what I can remember: the things that stood out were the storks nesting on the roofs of the churches, and the quirky proprietor of the Hostal Los Arces showing the 9-year-old Daughter and Heiress the model house he was building out of sweets (although that now sounds so unlikely, I’m wondering if I dreamed that bit!)

From there, we had to head back south, through Madrid, and change trains at Ciudad Real to get to our second stop, the La Mancha town of Almagro. It was, in retrospect, quite a small place to spend almost a week, (from 5th to 11th April according to the itinerary I’ve unearthed) and I remember wondering, as the tren de media distancia crossed what I was to describe, in a subsequent poem, as a ‘tiny wrinkle on Spain’s great red face,’ whether I’d overcooked the length of our stay there, and undercooked Valladolid.

I had. It rained. It wasn’t a warm rain. Although what I described in the same poem as the ‘green and white layer cake’ of buildings forming three sides of the central square had its charms, in the rain those charms were a bit, well, on the soggy side (I’m giving you the absolute best bits of that poem, by the way – you can see why it never made publication). As we huddled in the bars and cafes of the plaza mayor with the locals and very few other tourists, we also came to realise that, given the somewhat niche appeal of the place, we had probably arrived a week or so early, tourist season wise. Not all the cafes and bars were open all the time.

We gravitated initially towards one place in the square which seemed popular with the locals: the food was decent, if a little red-meat heavy, and they had, like most bars in Spain do, a decent Rioja as the house red. We ignored the bullfighting on the telly at first as one of those cultural things that come with the package; but by the time of the second visit, the relentless procession of Hemingwayesque scenes from the plaza de toros started to grate a bit. Then we learned that the son of the establishment was a bullfighter, and took the hint that they probably wouldn’t be changing over to the football any time soon.

The main alternative seemed to be the bar/restaurant on the side road that led to our hostal. It was often virtually empty, and the waiter a youngish bloke who didn’t seem that sure about anything we asked him. The food was ok, though, and the inevitable telly was tuned to a channel that featured lots of what we took at first to be nature programmes. On closer inspection, these turned out to be actually about one of La Mancha’s other obsessions, la caza: the types seen striding about various grassy wetlands weren’t there so much to appreciate the bird life as blast the hell out of it with guns as soon as look at it. Oh well: asi es, as the Spanish say. By way of compensation, the uncertain young waiter decided we merited an end-of-meal taste of the local liqueur: three glasses of the stuff (including one for said 9-year-old D & H) appeared unbidden at our table.

Needless to say even we Scots leave it a couple of years before starting our kids on spirits. The Redoubtable Mrs F, meanwhile, had taken one sip of the yellow liquid and decided it was something I had to deal with, either by drinking or pouring into a handy plant pot. The plants were plastic, so down my neck all three went. I still have no idea what it was, beyond perhaps being the subject of a bet back in the kitchen to see if the crazy extranjeros would drink it. I’ve a vague recollection we even got charged for it.

All of this was nearly offset by the charm of our accommodation, the Hostal San Bartolome, and the young woman who ran it. Built around a central patio, the place was brightly painted, had real plant life in it, and was comfortable, accommodation wise. On the debit side, it was a bit – well, crumbly. I owe the place a debt for forcing me to find the Spanish phrase ‘el techo de nuestra habitacion esta goteando,’ (our room’s ceiling is leaking) as well as one for the handle falling off the door of the room I can’t place exactly now. All good practice, but not particularly great in terms of rest and relaxation (I’m sure they’ve fixed it all up now, of course).

Anyway. There we were, and there was the rain, and after dinner there wasn’t a lot to do except retreat to our room and hope the door handle didn’t fall off the outside while we were inside.

And whether it was because of the weather, the leaky ceiling, the third shot of mysterious yellow liqueur, or the bed which, in common with most Spanish hostal beds, wasn’t designed for those of us north of 6 feet tall, sleep didn’t come easily: which is how I came up to dream part, at least, of the story which was to become the Wrong Box.

I can’t remember specific details now, of course: but the essentials, I think, were there, of an obnoxious commercial property lawyer who wakes up with the hangover shark biting his head and the dead body of a client, naked, dead and with his toe stuck up the tap, staring up at him from the bath. There was always the idea of women having been there but then having disappeared; of there being some wider conspiracy at work that he didn’t appreciate; and of dark forces at his workplace.

Every so often throughout the night I’d wake up, hearing nothing but the sound of the others’ breathing and the downpour outside; then drift back off again, back into this dream that spun on with its story. There was another character, one from one of the housing estates that encrust the far outer ring of Edinburgh’s historic core: a conspiracy theorist who, alone, could help the lawyer find out the truth.

Towards morning, the periods of wakefulness became longer, as a watery light started to bleed through the curtains of the room. Inevitably, the left brain – the half that likes to impose order and structure on ideas – took over: the lawyer’s name would be Simon English, and his Englishness was a factor in the whole story, making him the stranger in a strange land. I don’t know at what point I came up with the name Karen Clamp for the conspiracy theorist, although I suspect it was then, still half-dozing, when the trapdoor between the two brain halves was still half-open.

As soon as it was light enough to see, I crept to where I kept the notebook I always carry with me on holidays and scribbled some essentials down. There were still long, arduous hours of plotting to come before I could start on the story properly, because I was determined that, if I was going to commit all the spare time it would take to write another novel (the previous two remain, tucked up in a digital drawer on the hard drive, unpublished and unpublishable) I was going to have a story that actually ticked all the story-formation boxes. My fantastic Finnish friend, Hannu Rajaniemi, was to help with all of that. But for now, fresh from the alchemical moment of creation, I knew I had something.

In the movie version of this moment, the rain would have stopped, and my family and I would have walked to our breakfast café through tendrils of steam drawn from the pavement by the rapidly climbing morning sun.

In reality, it just kept on pissing down, of course.

 

The Wrong Box is now available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon and, in Scotland, Waterstone’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Springtime for Red Squirrels: Or, The Art of Poetic Garden Avoidance

To the Scottish Poetry Library on Saturday, for the launch of three new books by Red Squirrel Press: Diana Hendry’s new short story collection ‘My Father as an Ant;’ Stephen Barnaby’s new story pamphlet ‘I never realised it was as bad as that;’ and Kevin Cadwallender’s new poetry collection ‘Polishing Demons.’

There are multiple reasons for not making it to a book launch. In Scotland, for 6 months of the year at least, these are often weather-related: snow, hail, that icy rain that gets into the gap between your collar and the back of your neck, high winds closing the Forth Road Bridge, yada yada. On Saturday, as Sheila Wakefield said, the opposite was true: the unseasonably warm spring weather made it hard to leave the back garden, especially when there’s a lot to be done.

Still, there were firm motivations for me to shoehorn myself into the 11.25 X59, packed as it was with fellow Fifers seeking their poetry, one suspected, in Marks and Spencer; to then, using advanced ruck and maul techniques not learned on the playing fields of Eton, blindside the scrummage of early-season tourists heaving towards a pushover try in the tartan shops of the upper Royal Mile; and then, as the crowds thinned out around the abandoned Avengers film set on the lower reaches of the Mile, to find my way at last to the SPL, reflecting as I did so that it and its sister institution across the road, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, could be the last spasm of Scottish cultural architecture for quite some years, whatever political colour’s in charge at the bottom of the hill in Holyrood, that other modern architectural landmark (remember all that fuss about how much it cost? What was that about, then?)

Image result for scottish poetry libraryScottish Poetry LibraryPublic entrance at the Scottish ParliamentThe Parliament

Image result for scottish storytelling centreScottish Storytelling Centre

One such motivation was Stephen Barnaby, whose speciality on the spoken word scene is mini-epics of 50 word fiction (the last paragraph could fit three of those in, just so you know!). I’d shared a stage (or corner of a pub with a mike) with Stephen on a number of occasions, and I’d always enjoyed his work. This time, though, his short story pamphlet had allowed him to stretch out a bit, and to good effect: the story he read, A Country Walk, concerned a visit to a friend in a psychiatric hospital, whose idea of a country walk was along the side of a motorway. Treading the fine line (literally) between humour and some pretty dark material, it was a perfect example of how Barnaby wraps up serious topics in a layer of charm and wit, and then roasts the two so the juices run into each other. Of course, his considerable performance chops don’t hinder.

My second motivation came next. Again, I’ve known Kevin Cadwallender as a fellow member of the Edinburgh spoken word scene for many years now. A much-garlanded performance poet and slam champion, he opened his account by telling us his new collection didn’t have any funny poems in it. He then proceeded to read a succession of funny poems – not laugh out loud, exactly, but full of that wry Geordie humour that we’ve come to expect from him. A poem like A Cynic’s Guide to Proverbs, with lines like ‘The wicked seem to rest quite a lot,’ clearly aren’t meant to be served up po-faced.

His closer, Ishtar on the No. 35 Bus, showed Cadwallender’s depth of vision, however. A much longer poem, it documents life on Easter Road, one of Edinburgh’s more mixed areas (and I say that as a life long fan of its most well-known occupant, Hibernian FC). The lines are grittily realistic, and yet uniquely beautiful: the Road’s ‘elephant hide’ a recurring theme throughout. Again, Cadwallender’s performance skills came into play: in the relatively douce surroundings of the SPL, he didn’t need to ramp it up as he would at a poetry slam, but, instead, peeled away the layers of meaning in this brilliant piece of work subtly and expertly until, at the end, there was that moment, that electricity in the room, you get at the end of any performance, spoken word or musical, when the collective breath is taken away. Then the applause.

I wasn’t so familiar with Diana Hendry’s work. However, she shared with the others that northern English sense of humour that, like those of the Scots, always has a dark edge to it (if we do go for independence, we totally need to move that border down a bit. Just saying). Her story, about a lady of mature years being ‘rescued,’ was more conventional than the others, perhaps, but no less enjoyable for that.

All of that, and then time enough when I got home to get the grass cut anyway.

You can buy all these fine volumes from Red Squirrel Press. And if your appetite’s whetted for literary events, my own novel launches are coming up next month: follow me here, on Twitter (@andrewferguso4) or sign up to the novel’s Facebook page for more details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Karen Clamp Speaks: a second extract from the Wrong Box

Extract from Chapter 2: My Name Is Karen Clamp

Second extract from my forthcoming novel, The Wrong Box, available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon or, if you prefer a ‘proper’ bookshop, Waterstone’s. In this extract from Chapter 2, Karen Clamp introduces herself, and hears something interesting not entirely by accident.

I must finish up and get the bairn in from the green. I have to
get some of this down though. There’s somethin really, really
no right about those lassies down the stairs from me.

My name, for the record, is Karen Clamp. Age: 40. Dress size:
20. Means of support: zero. I live in a third floor maisonette in
Ivanhoe Court, on the Auchendrossan Estate. No exactly your
Edinburgh tourist destination, by the way. Unless you’re a fan
of Trainspottin.

Oh aye. I read that filth. Makes us all out to be druggies and
scumbags. Full of swear words. I heard that that Irvine Welsh
used to work down the housin department in Leith, and blagged
all their best stories. Don’t see him down there much now though.
Well that’s no me. Don’t drink, don’t take drugs, don’t swear.
You can ask anyone that kens me about that, even the people in
the Cooncil. ‘In many ways, Ms Clamp, you’re the perfect
example of community empowerment,’ one of them says to me
recently. In many ways. Sarky cow.

Anyway, that’s another story. Those two lassies down the stairs
from me are involved in somethin and they’re in it up to their
filthy wee necks. I heard them talkin this mornin on the baby
monitor.

Aye, that’s right. The baby monitor. I ken how that sounds,
but hear me out. I have my reasons, believe you me.

The folk the Cooncil have had in that flat below me over the
last few years would make Trainspottin look like A Room With A
View
. Convicted paedophile, at one point, before the locals
nearly lynched the guy. Then a couple of chancers who ran it as
a party flat. Raves every other night. Then, of course, a cannabis
farm. That was actually ok, because they were keepin a low
profile until they’d got the crop fully grown. The worst thing
about it was the police raid, burstin our door down by mistake.

When the Cooncil gutted the flat downstairs, after they finally
threw out the last set of druggies, I took the chance to nip down
when the Cooncil workies were away havin their two hour lunch
break, and install some handy wee devices. Never too early to
ken what the neighbours are up to. Never too early to ken what
the Cooncil are up to either, for that matter. I may be the size of
a number eight to Muirhouse, but I’m no stupid.

See, I kent the lassies had been out on the randan on Friday
night and came in late. Woke me up as usual with all the doors
bangin and that. Luckily, the bairn would sleep through a
thermonuclear strike on her toy cupboard.

Then, this mornin, just when I’m on my second coffee of the
day, I hear them through the baby monitor talkin to each other,
almost whisperin like, except the East European lassie can’t keep
her voice down ever and that other one, wee Debi Murray, it’s
never long before she starts pumpin up the volume too.

‘So, what happen to him?’ The East European one, Elena I
think her name is, says.

‘Never you mind, hen,’ says Debi. ‘The less we ken about what
went on after we left that flat, the better.’

By now, I’m mildly interested, although I’m still thinkin it’s
some kind of low level drug deal. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than
that, especially all that corruption that’s goin on in the Cooncil
that I’m just one step away from blowin the lid on. Then the
other one says somethin that makes me sit up and pay attention.
‘But it’s on the radio, Debi,’ she says. ‘Top businessman found
dead in Stockbridge lawyer’s flat.’

That nearly sends me scamperin for the laptop, to check the
news websites, but I’m no wantin to miss any of this. I’m wishin
now I’d put in recordin devices that are compatible with
Windows. That way I could be recordin all this. Course they
didn’t have them when I needed them. They’re releasin bits of
technology one bit at a time, just to make us buy more. Plain as
anythin.

‘It isn’t our problem, Elena,’ says Debi. ‘We did what we were
told to do. We weren’t to ken he would react that way.’
Just then, the ice-cream van starts up below the deck access
again. If I could get down the stairs fast enough, and if it weren’t
for my confidence issues, I’d stick that guy’s head down his
freezer with the Vanilla Flake. Either he’s got one of these ham
radios, or it’s signals given off by his chimes, but whatever it is,
it throws the baby monitor out of whack every time he comes
round here with them on. Ice-cream van, eh? What a joke. Fags’ll
be the least of what he’s sellin to the kids.

I take the chance to check on Candice again. She’s eight, now,
so you can’t keep them wrapped up in cotton wool forever. She’s
a good wee lassie though, always plays down on the common
bit drying green where I can see her. She gives me a wee wave
and I wave back. It’s the McLatchie lassie with her, from the
looks of it. Low risk.

Anyway, by the time heid-the-baw in the van has gone off
again, the lassies have been out to him for fags and come back
to a different part of the flat where I can’t pick up what they’re
sayin. It’s only in the livin room, you see, that the listenin device
still works. One out of three isn’t a very good success rate but,
given I ordered it off the internet and it’s installed semi-legally
in the flat downstairs, I don’t suppose I can do much about the
guarantee. Probably the batteries come to think of it.

So I go onto the internet and, sure enough, down a wee bit
from the top stories, a wee piece sayin:

BUSINESSMAN FOUND DEAD
IN CITY SOLICITOR’S FLAT.
A prominent Liverpool businessman has
been found dead in a flat in the city in
unusual circumstances. The flat’s tenant, a
solicitor with prominent city firm Benzini,
Lambe and Lockhart, is said to be helping
police with their enquiries. No charges
have been brought and police investigations continue.

It is understood, however,
that the body was found naked in the bath.

They couldn’t resist that last bit, could they, eh? All sex, sex,
sex. It gets my mind racin though, for a different reason. How
do those lassies ken about it? Solicitors and businessmen –
sounds like it might be the Freemasonic thing again, although it
could be somethin to do with the Cooncil and their Black Ops
Division. I just can’t tell at this stage. No enough to go on…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simon English speaks – an extract from The Wrong Box

First extract from my forthcoming novel, The Wrong Box, available in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon, or from Waterstone’s. Warning: this extract contains swearing and sexual references – over 18s only.

Extract from Chapter 1: Jimmy Takes a Bath

Simon English, posted north after an unfortunate misunderstanding involving the trainee and the London office’s boardroom table, finds himself waking up after a night looking after his client, Jimmy Ahmed, to find him naked, dead and with his toe stuck up the tap in the bathroom of English’s flat swap. Simon summons the authorities.

There are two of them, of course. They always hunt in pairs:
they’ve seen it on the telly. There’s an older one, with cropped
hair, a whisky-sour complexion, and bags under his eyes he
could take his Farmfoods shopping home in. The younger one
is dark-haired, whippet-thin, and in a suit so nasty you could
probably get a cream for it.

‘Mr English? DS Martin, and this is DS Futret. You have a
body,’ the first plod says, looking tired out already. I’m
rehearsing a line about saying fuck all till my brief arrives, when
the buzzer goes again. As I go to answer it, the two cops barge
in, and head for the bathroom without so much as a by-your-leave.
‘I’m from Gordon Drummond & Co.,’ a metallic female voice
says. I press the buzzer, and hear the door clunk open in the
stairwell.

The two cops are standing in the bathroom doorway,
muttering to each other, and I’m trying to act casual whilst
standing close enough to overhear them, when the flat door
opens and a whiff of Chanel announces my lawyer’s arrival.

The voice had warned me not to expect the old soak
Drummond himself. I’ve seen him preening himself in front of
a set of Session Cases on the news often enough to know he
wouldn’t pull himself out of bed on a Saturday morning, not
even for a thousand of Tony Hand’s favours.

I’m still not prepared for the sight that I turn to see. She’s in
her late twenties, I reckon, although she looks younger. Pert,
upturned nose, brown eyes, masses of chestnut curls.

‘I’m Sylvia McMonagle,’ she says, putting out a china-white
hand. I blurt out something while I take in the rest of her. The
neat dark suit isn’t this year’s, but it’s crisp enough. She’s
obviously dressed in a hurry, because she’s left the top two
buttons of her white (my favourite) blouse undone, as well as
(first real bit of luck this morning) the bottom one.

Thereby showing a little fold of tummy above the skirt line
that, with appropriate guidance, could develop nicely into a
Buddha belly. I take to her right away.

As soon as she’s shaken my hand, though, she goes straight
past me to DS Martin, standing in the bathroom doorway.
‘This him, then?’ she says to him. Martin smiles in recognition.
‘Well, Sylvia, it’s the only one we’ve found so far.’ He leans
towards her casually, his grin getting ever more ugly. The
younger one has disappeared into the bathroom, presumably
getting a closer look at Jimmy. I’ve opened the window since my
last contribution to the world of fishes: don’t want them to think
I’ve gassed the poor bastard to death.

‘We’ll have to treat it as a suspicious death, Sylvia,’ Martin says.
She hasn’t moved away since he came in close, despite the fact
the man stinks of fags. ‘It’s no normal for a man to die in a dry
bath with his toe stuck up the tap. We’ll get SOCOs in.’

I clear my throat. ‘Ehhmm. I was wondering when I’d be able
to use the bathroom again?’ It’s a stupid thing to say, I know,
but I kind of feel left out of things here. Bit of a spare prick at
the party. Martin deigns to look in my direction.

‘Can’t say sir. That’ll be SOCO’s call.’

I should just stay schtum, of course. My mouth won’t flap shut
now, though. ‘Oh I see, yeah, Scene Of Crime. Of course. Only,
would I be able to use the toilet before they…’

Martin’s looking at me like I’ve suggested doing a dump on
the deceased himself. He shakes his head. ‘No.’

Now Sylvia, my lawyer who stands too close to cops, is
looking at me. ‘I suppose you’ll want to interview my client, Jim?
Can we arrange a time now that suits everyone?’

Martin blinks his baggy eyes slowly and glances over at his
colleague, who has poked his rat-like head out of the bathroom
doorway at that moment.

‘How about now? Down at the station, since we’re all up and
aboot on a Saturday? I was hopin to get to Tynecastle later, as it
happens.’

Sylvia smiles, and flutters her eyelashes at him. ‘Yes, okay.’
Shouldn’t she ask me? ‘Can you give me ten minutes with him,
first?’

‘Sure.’ Him now, is it? Mister Fucking Third Person Suspect?
The two cops tramp out, Martin giving me a look like he wishes
he could just lock me up now and save the paperwork, the cunt.

As the door bangs shut behind them, I go into the kitchen to
rescue the coffee, which is getting petulant.

‘Want a cup?’ I say over my shoulder to Sylvia.

‘No thanks.’ The way she says it makes it sound like even
thinking about coffee at a time like this is another character
defect. My head’s pounding like a fucking construction site and
anyway it’s my flat, sort of, so I pour myself one and take it
through to the living room where Sylvia has planted herself, legs
crossed, and notepad at the ready.

After some preliminaries like name, age and so on, she asks
me to describe the previous night. ‘I’d had a bit to drink,’ I say,
doing my guilty schoolboy look. She peers at me intensely. ‘Any
charlie?’

‘Since you ask, once we’re clear of the cops I’d be glad to – ’
her look makes clear she’s not amused. ‘Ehm, yeah, we did a line
in Jimmy’s hotel room before we got going. That was all for the
night, though. Just good old fashioned booze from there on in.’

She says nothing to that, scribbling in her notepad, so I
blunder on with the story of the evening, the Oyster Bar, the
Thai restaurant, Indigo’s even though it was rammed,
then…then a club, that was it, Rum-Ti-Tum-Tums in the
Cowgate. And then…

‘…and then it all gets a bit blurred, I’m afraid.’ I give her my
best smile. ‘But I’m fairly sure I left Jimmy at his hotel.’ I was
fairly sure, wasn’t I? But weren’t there women…?

I looked at Sylvia, who looks as if she’d been given a lemon to
suck. ‘I’m going to ask Jim Martin to give you a blood test, see
what’s still in your system,’ she says, tapping her pen on her
notepad.

‘What? Why?’ I’m starting to get really pissed off with her now,
the way she’s looking at me like I’m some kind of a criminal. I
mean, I’m a fellow lawyer, after all.

‘Just a sort of intuition,’ she says, shifting in her seat, and
re-crossing her legs. She puts her head to one side. ‘Tell me.
When you first woke up, did you feel anything out of the
ordinary? Disoriented, maybe?’

I think back to the moments before I stumbled into the
bathroom. ‘Sort of, yeah. Yeah, when I first got my eyes open I
didn’t really know for a minute where I was. But then, I’ve only
just been transferred from the London office, so I’ve just been
in this flat for a few days. Why?’

Sylvia’s smiling slightly now, in a way I find incredibly
annoying. ‘Just wondered. Call it woman’s intuition.’

I open my mouth to question her again. I’m not at all keen to
open up my bloodstream to the inquisitive snout of the Lothian
and Borders Crime Lab.

Then I notice that, in shifting position, Sylvia’s blouse has
ridden up a bit to reveal her belly button. I look up, to see
Sylvia’s smile has gone, to be replaced by her what-the-fuck-is-this-I’ve stepped-in look.

‘Why are you looking at my stomach all the time?’ she said. ‘Is
there something wrong?’

‘No, not at all,’ I murmur. ‘Rare eye condition. Look, if you
recommend I take a blood test, I’ll take a blood test. You’re the
expert in this field.’

Little does she know it’s the jewel in her navel that’s convinced
me. Terrible curse, male hormones. Especially the hangover
horn. That’s the worst of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gie it a bit more Aldi? A wine (p)review

There are some things in which the Redoubtable Mrs F and I are right up to the minute (no,really!); in others, I’m afraid, we remain defiantly old school. In the latter basket is our continuing refusal to embrace the digital age as regards our daily newspaper, which we still have delivered in pulped-wood format by a half-asleep teenager at some indeterminate time in the morning. (One motivation – or excuse – now is our own half-asleep teenager, Daughter and Heiress, studying journalism).

But which newspaper, I’m sure you’re agog to know? Well, during the week, we subscribe to that bastion of bleeding-heart liberalism, the Guardian. However, on a Saturday, we take a lurch to the right in newspaper-buying terms and take the Times. What? Donate our hard-earned shekels to that hard-to-like family, the Murdochs? I like to tell colleagues that it’s because, after a week at the day job, I’ve lurched so far to the right I’m just about ready to invade Poland: but actually, it’s all about the columnists – Caitlin Moran, Giles Coren, and Jane MacQuitty, more specifically.

The last of these is probably of most use to us in a practical sense: even the legendary Coren family wit is unlikely to persuade us to travel 500 miles to eat in a London restaurant, whilst MacQuitty’s wine recommendations have often stood us in good stead. However, last weekend, she let me down, she let the Redoubtable Mrs F down but, of course, most of all, she let herself down.

It all started so promisingly: an article about wines our heroine had been tasting from the two German discounter supermarkets, Lidl and Aldi. I’ve previously waxed lyrical about some of Aldi’s bottles, in particular, so was looking forward to what Jane had to say.

Unfortunately, she focused on the very wines we’d be least likely to buy: whites, mainly, as well as a couple of clarets. Now, I know Bordeaux’s meant to be the best wine region in the world for red wine, but I suppose I’ve never shelled for an expensive enough bottle to really get a taste for it. So, unfortunately, it was a case of reading between the lines in MacQuitty’s article: she liked the Lidl Spanish and Italian ranges as well as the Bordeaux, she said, but didn’t specify which ones. Similarly, whilst mentioning fizzys and clarets aplenty, she only hinted at what else was good: Aldi’s Exquisite Collection ‘continues to please,’ she opined, as well as ‘its finest, beefed-up limited edition Lot series,’ before citing a Chardonnay as an example.

We decided to try Aldi first, given that we had a bit more to go on. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of the Lot series to be seen. In fact, not a jot. Fortunately, there was some of the Exquisite Collection, namely: the Aussie Shiraz (£5.79); Argentinian Malbec (£5.99); and a New Zealand Pinot Noir (£6.99).

First up was the Shiraz: Exquisite Australian Shirazinitially tasted last night with one of my chicken curries – no chilli heat, but lots of spice to cope with, in a creamy, yoghurty sauce. We generally find an Aussie Shiraz pretty good to go with this dish, and the Aldi version was up against a strong rival, in that there was a glassful left of Yellow Tail, a Ferguson house favourite in the same vein.

It stood up well – plenty of flavour, hefty amount of alcohol but carrying it fairly easily, good, long finish and as good a match to Chicken Panch Phuran as you could ask for, really. Great value, too.

 

 

 

Exquisite Argentinian Malbec

 

Next came the Malbec. Unfortunately, not up to the same standard as its Aussie stablemate: nothing wrong with it, really, but just a bit dry, a bit flavourless, a bit meh.

 

Exquisite New Zealand Pinot Noir

The New Zealand Pinot Noir was a bit more like it. We tasted it with my roasted salmon, lemon tomato and garlic dish (recipe: slice lemons and put at the bottom of a flattish casserole dish; ditto tomatoes and garlic; put salmon fillets on top; lob on salt, olive oil and a bit of paella spice, and stick in the oven till the salmon’s done) and it wnet well with that. A lighter red than we usually drink, but good for fish dishes.

So there you are – the Shiraz is the star!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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