Grief, and some Relief in Crieff (although it was pretty dreich)

Drummond Castle Gardens, just outside of Crieff

This review is going to be the most absolutely current, or utterly pointless, review you’ve ever read, depending on how you look at it. We’ve just spent the week in the wee Perthshire town of Crieff, but by the time this review is released into the wild on Sunday (I’m starting on Thursday night, just so you know, on location, to allow a decent run up at the thing) the regulations on what you can do and who you can do it with when will be due to change the very next day.

Which means that, to experience Crieff in the same way as we have, you need to jump in your car RIGHT NOW and get along the A85, leaving the car in one of the many parking areas available in town at affordable prices before exploring the throbbing metropolis that is known in Gaelic as Craoibh. But unless you’re keen, or Nicola’s announced we’re all going back into lockdown because of the Indian Variant, I’d leave it a day, to be honest.

More of Drummond Castle in the dreich

Okay. So some of you may be asking, particularly if you’re a proud burgher of the place itself, what the hell were you doing in Crieff – or anywhere else for that matter – the week before the regulations relax and you can actually ingest food and alcohol indoors at the same time in premises licensed for that purpose. Exactly what kind of idiot do you call yourself, Ferguson?

Fair question. However, there was method in our madness, gentle reader. We’ve been preparing our house for sale (as regular readers will recall) for some time now; and on Monday, it goes on the market. So, in advance of that, we thought a week away from staring at the recently emulsioned walls might be healthful for us. Especially in early to mid May, when the notoriously unpredictable Scottish climate is often at its kindest.

Well, we got that last bit wrong for starters. The weather in Crieff was dreich, with occasional heavy rain and blink or you’ll miss it flashes of sunlight. This meant our plan of having a beer outside in a beer garden – until Monday, the only place you can be served alcohol – became a tad less attractive. We did manage it twice, in the Meadow Inn at the end of the street, and the Tower. The first of these was a pleasant affair, marred only slightly by the actual hailstones bouncing around us. Fortunately parasols in Scottish beer gardens are, with good reason, of stout manufacture.

The second beer garden experience, at the Tower ‘gastropub,’ was climatically better but otherwise much worse. More on this establishment and its failings presently.

Meantime, we stayed in a very cosy little terraced house booked through Sykes Cottages, Faerie Knowe Cottage. It was lovely: definitely for two people only; didn’t quite get the name reference as it was halfway down a knowe (small hill) if anything. Although the Shining Folk may have been responsible for the telly switching itself on at odd times. As long as you’re not freaked by that kind of thing happening and can cope with there not being a back door, I’d recommend it.

I’d also recommend the Meadow Inn. The staff were friendly and welcoming, unlike a certain soi-disant ‘gastropub’ I’ll come to in a minute, and if the locals were a bit rough around the edges, they were also friendly, perhaps encouraged by the hailstorm into a bit of Blitz spirit. I tend to think they’re always that way though.

And so to the Tower. We had scoped this place out previously, and its less than welcoming exterior had put Mrs F, in particular, off venturing further in. I reasoned that there were few other beer gardens to be had, and, as on that particular day there was a period of non-rain (which is about the best that could be said for it) we should give it a go. The food menu looked promising, and there seemed to be a local beer on offer, so we went in.

The hallway was dark and silent. There was a table with some sort of sign in sheet, which we ignored. No one seemed to be about. A door to the left led to a bar – rightly empty of punters, in accordance with regulations, but also absent any bar staff.

A few seconds later, however, a youngish chap materialised. He appeared to have learned his customer service skills from reruns of Fawlty Towers, because when I asked him about the possibility of a drink he frogmarched us back to the sign in table, with the instruction that we had to fill in the sheet with our name, phone number and email address ‘before anything else happened.’

I rolled with this particular punch, although in a minor act of rebellion I gave a false email addy – no one else had asked for that, so I didn’t see why Basil Fawlty on a budget should get it. I briefly considered starting a discussion on the Data Protection Act implications, but a) my knowledge of the legislation is regrettably sketchy and b) the finer points of that sort of conversation can be tricky through a mask.

I was then instructed – somewhat peremptorily, I felt – to use my phone on a QR code, which I presumed was the electronic log in process our Government have put in place so that they can track and, indeed, trace us for public health purposes.

View from the Tower. Very pleasant. The view, I mean.

The barman then showed us down some narrow steps which I doubted were DDA compliant to the beer garden, these preliminaries having been concluded to this satisfaction, at least. On checking my phone, it appeared that the QR code had, in fact, led me to a web-based app by means of which I could order food and drink.

Now. I’m not one of these phobic johnnies that rejects modern-day technology outright. Far from it. In fact, I’m all for it, especially when, for example, it lets me record as many takes as it takes to get a simple guitar part right.

As far as phones go, I have a reasonably smart Honor 10 Lite (regular readers may recall the heroic Quest that was needed to capture it) which, while not able to launch its own deep space probe, is perfectly capable of handling various forms of apps.

Indeed, only the other day I was reflecting on the movie Robocop, and thinking that we have all, effectively, become cyborgs, with the ability to access knowledge about anyone and anything we encounter, whilst scanning the landscape ahead of us for dangerous hazards such as hairdressers and pizza joints, all via our mobiles. When I contend that the central premise of the Terminator franchise – that AI-based machinery will shortly rise up against us and try to eliminate us as the weakest link – is not so much harmless entertainment as a prophetic vision, I’m mainly kidding.

However, there is one aspect of tech that I’m still struggling to accept, and that’s having financial details on too many devices.

Nice staff, if uninspired choice of beer, at the Crieff Food Company. My choice I mean. Other beers were also available.

This leads to a polite argument every time I go into my bank as to why I don’t want to bank online. I know that it’s a futile argument, and that soon bank cards will go the way of banknotes and bison and we’ll all be waiving our black rectangles of phones at things to pay for them. In the meantime, I like going into the branch and speaking to the nice people there. Apart from the increasingly formalised dance about online banking at the start.

Anyhoo. It’s these little quirks of personality that make us human, I contend. On consulting the Tower app, it seemed to me it failed to even exude the digital equivalent of bonhomie: the bare minimum of words were used to describe the food and drink on offer. The local beer was described only by reference to its brewery, with no clue as to whether it might be lager, IPA, or stout, for that matter. There was no one to ask.

Having already seen a punter – presumably a local – finish his pint and take it up the steps for a refill, I didn’t really think it would be a problem if I asked to pay by card, sans app.

What a mistake that was.

Firstly, your man and I had an argument as to why I didn’t want to pay using my phone. I explained, twice, patiently albeit through a mask, my antipathy to having financial details on my phone.

I didn’t go into this level of detail, but quite apart from the banks and the hackers being constantly locked in conflict, circling each other watchfully like sumo wrestlers trying to find each others’ flabby bits, there’s the human element.

Highland cattle at Gloagburn. I’m getting to that.

I don’t know about you, but bank cards are for me a much harder thing to mislay. They’re either in your wallet or purse, and you pretty much definitely know where that is about your person, or you’ve left them at home. More recently, I’ve taken to taking my debit card only, tucked safely into a jeans hip pocket.

My point really is, you know where the bank card is, and you don’t consult it about tomorrow’s weather. It has one function, to pay for stuff, and it does that function well. Except when the machine doesn’t work or you have no money, obviously.

Your mobile, on the other hand, is multi-functional, even leaving to one side the deep-space probe thing. It’s in and out of wherever you stash it like a bipolar jack-in-the-box, as you respond to its constant attention-seeking WhatsApp messages, push notifications, text alerts, and all that palaver. For me, the risk level of leaving it somewhere is raised from treatable to critical, if I were the kind of person that constructs a Risk Register for their everyday life.

That’s why I’m not keen on having access to my money on the phone. I may not be the type to have an actual Risk Register for my everyday life, but I’m exactly the sort of idiot that would leave the phone somewhere. Just ask Mrs F.

Anyway, back at the Tower, I didn’t go into this level of detail with Laughing Boy. Our argument having ground to a standstill, he flounced off to the bar to get the machine. I made the mistake of following him in, thinking sparing him the extra walk might please him, only to be cast out again and told that paying for beer in the bar was illegal. I must admit this was an aspect of the Regulations I wasn’t familiar with, and which I’m pretty sure every other bar we patronised was flouting, but I had time to ruminate on this as the barman practically pinned me to the part of the hall nearest the exit while I dealt with a new arrival.

A Crieff sheep. Still dreich.

This punter, clearly another local, knew the drill and was signing in. I did note that the barman offered to get said punter, sans app, a pint of his usual ‘on his tab,’ but decided not to raise this point of seeming inequity with him.

To sum up then, I’m not recommending the Tower.

Compare and contrast however Delivino, where both food and staff were excellent. Charming, helpful, nothing too much trouble for them. Ditto Cafe Rhubarb, in the main drag.

Also recommended: the Crieff Food Company, although their zero-alcohol beer isn’t so good; and Gloagburn, a farm shop and restaurant affair between Perth and Crieff just off the main road. It’s the kind of place stuffed full of ladies who lunch, but don’t let that put you off. These ladies are onto something.

None of these make as good a story, though.

2 comments

  1. I’m not a fan of having to scan QR codes. It’s a whole lot easier to look at printed versions of things, such as menus.

    Hi. Glad you were able to have a vacation, though it was a mixed bag. Good luck with the house sale.

    • Thanks, Neil. Yes, there are some things where customer service is best left to human interaction. Depending on the humans and the interaction, of course!

      Thanks for your good wishes. I will of course report back on any amusing aspects of house sales.

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