Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hardiesmill Butcher revisited

Tried them again (despite the prices) and got three lovely sirloin steaks and some of the best minced meat I ever tasted all for about 20 pounds so much more reasobale than I thought. The steaks were really tasty and the mince was just the best I ever used. I made my famous curry pies (see my recipe blog) using it and they tasted better than ever before.
link to my recipe blog

Since then used the mince in Spaghetti and in pies again. The quality and taste are very good indeed, but the lack of fat is a problem with certain traditional mince dishes as its too dry. 96% lean is just too lean for say burgers which need 20% fat. But did try their beef sausages which are very good as well, as good as St Boswells who has the best sausages in the Borders.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jedburgh Brass Band Concert




We were invited by friends to go to a brass band concert in Jedburgh town hall last night. It was a blast. The main band is quite good, but they also showcased their juniors and that was very nice, children as young as 5 and 6. We had a great night out and enjoyed it immensely, carols singing and good tunes. The town Hall is right next to the famous old Abbey. These local social evenings are very nice and there was a good turnout to support the band all of whom are volunteers and work hard all year.

18th December Snow and ice

Well the original snow fall melted away but we had more snow two days ago and its sticking around this time due to the very cold weather. Last night was -2.5 and my boys have been out sledging in the neighborhood. Bitterly cold.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 10th Big Snow Fall in Borders



This morning got up to 4 inches of snow and still falling. No hint on BBC weather or Met office that this was coming. Above pictures my back yard, not been out yet but wanted to get something in the blog. It is very cold here right now, hovering about -1. Last night had a roaring fire and was still feeling chilly. I am not seeing a lot of traffic on the road by us, a couple fo land rovers and a bus passed, but not the normal amount.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hurricanes in Scotland

I never thought I would see a hurricane in Scotland. But today we have apparently had winds as high as 165mph and certainly over 100 most places. Many trees down and roads closed and we are advised to stay indoors. I lived in Bermuda for many years and actually had a tree crash on the roof (they make good roofs in Bermuda) so I know how it feels, like a train running through you area shaking everything. The wind is howling around the house. Went out and got some more bags of coal and kindling in case we lose power.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oats and Scotland

Oats are part of Scottish life, from porridge to oatcakes to haggis. I have a theory that oats created the great Scottish character. From the 1700's onwards Scots became a race that travelled and worked all over the world and are reknowned for their hardiness in all climates.
My chiropractor was telling me to stop eating wheat products as the human body just doesn't work well with wheat, our digestive system cannot easily absorb it. This led me to think maybe thats why Scots have a reputaiton for being hardy, mostly they didn't eat wheat until the last 50 years or so. I know that oats are good for reducing cholesterol and are very healthy.
We eat old fashioned rolled oats and we love it the taste is just very good.

A Good Printer in the Borders

Yesterday I spent running around Galashiels trying to find "legal" paper for an insurance. No one had any and then one shop recommended Bordersprint  in Selkirk. They are just off the main sq and can be contacted at 01750 723200. What a nice little company that understands customer service and is willing to go the extra mile. What I wanted was not available but they used larger paper, printed my stuff and cut it to size all the same day as I had to have it ready for today for a meeting. I would recomend them wholeheartedly. This is just the type of small friendly business that a place like the Borders has and makes it a special place.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

plain breid

We went to Berwick yesterday to find a man selling a rabbit hutch. Long story really but we want to try raising quail as we like the eggs and the meat. Apparently they can be reared in rabbit hutches. We found the man who made it himself and his main interest is making authentic gypsy caravans which he has 3 in his yard. Memories of wind in the willows and toady, the open road and a life of freedom.

He does sell them so anyone interested mail me and I will put you in touch. He started making rabbit hutches for Christmas as a way to make a little money. The hutches are very nice and only 30 pounds very reasonable, but would not suit our purpose as you cannot lock the rabbit (or bird) in one side while you clean the other, an essential for quail as they fly.

Went to get bread from Fords and found a loaf style they pronouce "plenbraid". It is apparently a traditional Scottish loaf where the top and bottom are very dark and brown and crusty and the sides are soft with no crust at all. This is done by panning them so close together that they touch and then pulling them apart after baking. I must say the bread was delicious, it brough back memories of childhood with the thick crust so crunchy and tasty and the very soft white inside. Fords remains the premium bread maker in the Borders and maybe even the Northeast of England.

December 4th - First snow

Well I got up today to our first snow, not a lot but enough to make everywhere white. The met is predicting more today later on. Its amazing how that first fall changes the landscape and enhances many things so you see the world differently. Walls stand out with their white topping and trees look a lot starker against a while carpet. The grounbd becomes a carpet with small uneveness smoothing out into a unifrom whiteness. Nice to get the first snow but I am sure we will soon feel very differently when deep snow arrives and disrupts our lives.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hardiesmill Aberdeen Angus Beef Butchery

On the Gordon to Kelso road, just after the right turn to Mellerstain is a left turn to Hume. Along that road less than 250 yards is Hardiesmill Farm which has its own onsite butchery. They are very good and the meat looks exceptional. Their website hardiesmill.co.uk does not work but one can call them at 01573-410797 or 410375 and order and they will cut to order.

I bought some shin beef from them (2lbs for 10 pounds) which I will trial kitchen against my own very good butcher in Earlston (2lbs for 6 pounds!) and see if the Aberdeen Angus name means anything. They also say they have a smokery and do smoked guinea fowl, lamb and chicken as well as some cheese and hams. But I saw no evidence of it and no one mentioned smoked products to me so this might be a dream at this point. We find many of these farm shops a bit dear frankly, its like you drive into the middle of nowhere and then they want to charge you more than Edinburgh prices. We have found the same for many stalls at "farmers markets" which I find baffling as the prices clearly put people off. Whay do they want to gouge the public so?

LATER
We tested the meat against my butchers own. It is better and tastier but I am not sure it justifies the huge price difference. 2lbs of meat cost 10 pounds from Hardiesmill and 6 pounds from my butcher, thats 60% dearer, an awful lot.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stanley Baynes - Baker in Musselburgh

A friendly bakery that sells good pies and snacks and quite good bread. On the right hand side after the bridge. Certainly worth a visit.

Lanna Thai - Musselburgh Updated)

I have never been in a Thai restaurant where you can eat Pad Thai and follow with beans on toast. But that is Lanna Thai on the High Street in Musselburgh (before the bridge). My wife and I went there for lunch and found it full of pensioners eating egg and chips. Having said that we had two good Thai dishes that while not outstanding were good quyality food at exceptional prices. We had two main courses and drinks for 12 pounds, almost unheard of nowadays even in a fish and chip shop.

Revisited Lanna this week and found again very good food at reasonable prices, not gourmet Thai but decent home cooking.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Crieff - Drovers Festival

One of the events listed was a minibus tour of stags fighting and deer in the mountains so we booked and went. Imagine our surprise on seeing the gilly, properly dressed in tweeds, beside Lock Earn with a huge telescope. We were all then encourage to look as stags stood on a hillside about 3 miles away not visible to the naked eye. The bus then went through an estate while the gilly kept saying "last night this was full of deer" as we passed empty field after empty field. Finally on the way home in the dark he said well there are a lot in that field....it was almost pitch black and all we could see were blurs...total waste of time and money 45 pounds for 4 of us. Even the Gilly said we should get our money back!
Link to Festival web site

Sainsbury - Kelso

Sainsbury Kelso opened last week. A nice design that fits well into the environment and not the usual boxy shop. Not very big, but it will be very much used as I think most shoppers in and around Kelso will use it rather than driving to Galashiels. Not the choices or the deals of Tesco, but I liked it, and the food is better quality I think. Its located over the river on an old industrial estate.

Dundee

Enjoyed our visit to this small city on the ocean. The place was nicer than I thought it would be, it has a reputation for being dour. But we visited the Mall Overgate which exits onto the high street and the other big mall Westgate is only a short walk so a compact town centre with a huge Desperate Dan statue from the Beano days. As a child Beano and Dandy were my two favourite comics after Dan Dare and they were both born in Dundee. Had a poor quality Chinese at a Buffet restaurant on the waterfront. Also went to Cineworld, wouldn't buy their shares, empty and expensive 7 pounds for a popcorn and coke?

Avanti - Crieff

Had dinner at this very nice little Italian restaurant in Crieff on the high street. We had ravioli which was nicely done if small portions. The bruschetta was good and the whole meal for 4 was only 50 pounds.

Fingask Castle

took the family away for the October break at this lovely spot between Dundee and Perth near Rait. The castle belongs to the Thriepwood family and they have converted the stables into a few nice cottages to rent. The cottages are lovely and fully equipped. The one we stayed in was two bedrooms lovely bathroom upstairs and downstairs and open plan kitchen dining and lounge with big log burner. The lounge done out in red plaid and very cosy. I have two boys 12 and 15 and they appreciated the games room with table tennis, football and a good snooker table. The grounds are lovely with winding walks down the glen with hidden caves, springs dating back to pilgrim times and old wooden bridges lost in the reads. Very weel priced at 195 pounds for the cottage Monday to Friday.
This is a link to the castle website

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Our High Streets

I went to Musselburgh yesterday and took a good walk up and down the high street of this lovely small town, set on the ocean near Edinburgh. But I have to despair about the deterioration of the high street. I would think at least 40% of the shops are charity, the full range from Oxfam to SPCA. This is followed closely by discount stores such as Poundland, a few banks and finally a scattering of what I would call real stores, a local butcher a fishmonger a good local bakery. Being a wealthy sort of seaside town there was also a fair number of coffee shops and restaurants. Musselburgh is fanmous for its racing, having a track that is internationally known for the quality of the horses and the delightful venue right on the ocean.

The Loyal Mouse

Robert Burns reportedely saw a field mouse nest destroyed by plowing and wrote the famous ode to a mouse which starts:
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

Until today I was sure he was correct. But the plowing is going on all around us of course as the season closes.This has driven field mice to try to enter the house for the winter. We set some traps and this morning my wife went into the utility room to wash clothes and saw a strange sight. A mouse had been caught by its paw in one of the traps, and another mouse spent the whole night gnawing the trap to free his friend or mate. The free mouse was so loyal and so brave that even when I moved the chair the trap was behind he refused to flee, looking me in the eye as if to say "do your worst, I will not abandon my friend!". My heart was touched so I contrived to catch them both in a plasic box and put them gently outside to run free again.
of course they will be back inside as soon as wink, but I couldna kill the poor wee things as Robbie may have said.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mont Blanc - Don't Buy

The fraying caused strings of material to hang off the wallet, I cut most off but they can still be seen

When I retired my company gave me a Mont Blanc wallet. I was very proud of it. But over the less than 4 years I have owned it, the material on the cover a sort of curduroy has frayed alarmingly. The wallet can no longer be used as the material deteriorated into strings hanging off the wallet and looking unsightly. I wrote to Mont Blanc and explained and they asked me to send the wallet which I did.
I got a letter from Mont Blanc today which basically says " we are not able to help at all, but we will sell you another one for 92 pounds"
My advice to anyone thinking of buying a Mont Blanc pen or any other equipment is ...DON'T. This is the worse customer service I have encountered ever, there was not even an apology or an admission that the material was faulty.
I went out and bought a lovely Wenger wallet which is so obviously of better quality than the mont blanc, and half the cost, that I wonder why anyone ever buys their stuff.

Friday, September 9, 2011

2011 and our garden

It has been an odd year, starting out with much promise in those sunny early days of April and May through a rough cold and wet summer. Our runner beans which we had in abundance last year have only just started to crop, potatoes were good and broad beans spectacular. Peas were all eaten by rabbits which I refuse to shoot but they ate every one. We had good strawberries but awful bluberry and soft fruits such as raspberry. I tried brocollini but those shot off to flower, cabbages have not headed much and carrots are only just getting above 3 inches. We had very good onions and garlic, I have bunches hanging in the greenhosue, I succeeded with cucumbers this year and have a lot of tomotoes in the greenhouse but they are not ripening through lack of sun. Tomatoes in the garden were a disaster. I tried pak choy but it was eaten by slugs. Peppers were poor.

Beijing Beijing - Part 3

Today I received a nice letter from the restaurant who apparently give all customers a card and accrue their purchases to provide rewards paid in food....a great idea, you enjoy your food and you get more free if you return. I think this plus the overall quality of the food served must put Beijing Beijing in first place in the Borders for Chjinese food and in fact make them a contender for Edinburgh. Compared to any other Chinese restaurant within 20 miles they are outstanding.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beijing Beijing part 2

link to restaurant

We tried Beijing again today as we really would like to find a good Chinese we can a) recommend and b) use regularly in the area. We can recommend Beijing and have listed it in our favourites on side bar.

We had fried rice, noodles, salt and pepper king prawns, BBQ pork, Chicken chop suey.

I can confirm that they can't cook fried rice, again its not bad but its not right.
The noodles were fine.
The salt and pepper prawns done schezuan style were tasty and moist. Not enough heat for us but we added their own chilli sauce which we bought last time.
Chicken chop suey was actually very tasty and the chicken moist and a good gravy.
The BBQ pork confirmed my fear that they don't really cook char sui. Now my idea of char sui is that you cut the pork in such a way that it hangs like a flower with pieces held together by a thin piece a bit like the picture.

it is then seasoned and roasted hung over coals.... when taken down and cut one gets very small pieces....whereas the Beijing one is like a piece of roast meat, so the char sui flavour does not penetrate.

However I am nit picking. Overall the food was tasty and we ate it all up. Although even my small son said , this is not egg fried rice, so its not just me. We will be back to sample their duck with pancakes! They are the best we have found so far.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beijing Beijing - Galashiels

Biejing home cook range of sauces and condiments

Well a pleasant surprise, a reasonable Chinese restaurant in the Borders at last.
I had a takeaway from this Galashiels restaurant tonight. They specialise in an inexpensive buffet model and from the crowds seem popular. We had chicken with black bean sauce, egg fried rice, speciality chilli prawns with garlic and mixed vegetables.

They can't really cook fried rice. I really don't understand why its so difficult for Borders chinese restaurants. You steam your best quality rice, let it dry, then take a wok and heat it. Swirl a beaten egg or two in the bottom and throw in your rice, add some soy and a handful of chopped spring onions and thats it. The fried rice that Beijing serves is not bad, but I couldn't find any egg or spring onions.....having said that better by far than many others.

The chicken in Black bean sauce was really quite good, moist tender chicken and a rich tasty gravy of black beans.

The chilli prawns were not good. For some reason prawns and chinese don't go in the Borders. The taste was not chilli and the sauce was not good.

The mixed vegetables were above average, a good range of veg and a tasty sauce.

Having said all the above, the food was the best I've had from a Chinese restaurant in the Borders and is to be commended. I spoke to one of the family and they have recently launched a range of cook at home products which I purchased. See the image. I tasted them and they are very good.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Borders Railway Walks

I have spoken about them on this blog but have decided to have another blog that just explores this subject. its at
bordersrailwaywalks

Monday, August 1, 2011

Old Railway near Gordon


Going towards Greenlaw from Gordon one comes in about 1.5 miles to a row of cottages on the left. Just before them is an unmarked road if one takes this it brings you to the back of the Gordon Communal Woods. But it also brings you to a part of the railway line that runs from Gordon to Greenlaw and from there one can easily poark and walk the line. Its a nice piece of country with views to the lammermuir hills, There is a funny sign (see pic) that must have been there to deter travellers as just before this is a bridge....but now it looks very odd.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Garden

The early wetness gave me a different garden this year. My runner beans are useless, but my broad beans are huge. Also I have lovely lettuce but virtually no heads on the cabbages. I had a glut of strawberry but no soft fruit to speak of. Everything is late because of the early cold weather, so now in August just getting broad beans galore. Even the flower garden is odd with some lovely flowers I have not seen before who have been attracted by the particular weather this year and flowered profusely.
Apples look like they will be good, although I have one tree whose leaves are brownish in patches and is hardly fruiting, cannot tell if this is a disease or a nutrient lack.
Last year I had a lot of outdoor tomatoes, this year nothing, they are grey and sickly looking I think from the cold.

Musings on bacon fat

I was cleaning a pan of bacon fat the other day and it was hard work even with lots of soap it just clung to the pan. It made me remember that in my childhood we used to eat bread fried in that with breakfast. The French do not suffer with cholesterol or heart failure and yet they eat more bread than we do, but once you go to France you realise why...they eat it raw without butter. Essentially butter or any solidified fat is just the same as my bacon fat. British people slather bread with it, cover potatoes with it. But my parents lived to be 90. So is it really that we just don't work like they did so we suffer. That if your an eskimo who lives at minus 40 and works outdoors everyday you can eat blubber which is high in cholesterol and get away with it as your body is just burning it all the time from work?
My neighbour Don is 74 and works hard every day on his land. He recently bought an expensive sit on mower but hes never used it and I asked him why his response "i jist dinna want to get soft", he's right.
We either have to stop eating fat or work its a simple as that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

France - Antibes and Royan

Our family trip to these two areas was one of contrasts. Royan is in the South West and is clearly a place where the French holiday. It is very nice, sophisticated and French. We thourouighyl enjoyed our trip to a place that specialises in mussels and oysters. Our take away was sunflowers and grapes, as these are what you see in all the fields.
Antibes is one of the best of the Cote D'Azur towns. Its got all the big yachts, its got crowds and its got people until midnight. But its also got Picasso, and ancient streets cobbled and nice with a good market and in the evening lovely views across to Nice.

Wet with flies

We had a two week vacation in France and came back to wet days with surprisingly lots of aggressive flies in the garden. Last year we did not get bothered as the East coast of Scotland does not suffer from midges. But these flies are very aggressive, trying to get in your eyes and up your nose, its horrible. I had to wear a hoat and scarf as insect repellant does not bother them. Garden is growing well, but weeds are going rampant due to our absence. More work.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Railway Tracks

There are hundreds of miles of disused railways in the Scottish Borders but very little of it is available to the public. In Canada ALL disused railways are turned into atrractive cycle and walking routes, some of them hundreds of miles long and even have dedicated guest houses. It is a shame that much of the old Borders Railway is so heavily covbered in bush that one cannot walk it. There are small stretches, one recently opened in Gordon, and outside of Melrose, but these are a tiny fraction of what could be done. The land is public owned, but large landowners use it as their own and do nothing to encourage walkers. People use it to dump rubbish and its a shame.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why We Left Trinidad

I have not spoken on the site about why we left Trinidad and moved our family and children 3000 miles to Scotland. This is what the BBC says about Trinidad -

"Trinidad and Tobago - a major trans-shipment point for cocaine - has become ridden with drug and gang-related violence. This has clogged up the courts and has fuelled a high murder rate and much of the corruption that is reputedly endemic in the police. It also threatens the tourism industry".

We reached the point where we never felt safe and it began to wear us down. My wifes family was held up and robbed at gunpoint on a trip to the beach, we were burgled, and we had incidents that led us to believe we were being targeted. We lived a very nice lifestyle, much better than now, but we learned that personal safety is a bigger thing than anything else. We feel safe and happy here.

Borders Food Network

There is a web site that gives reviews and details of eating local food in the Borders. It has some good places and is worth a browse. I am not sure about the places listed, for example the one in St Boswells, as I lived there and never found a place called "The Whitehouse", also they seem very out of date. But it does have some good places Like Burts in Melrose. My take on it is that its self promotional, i.e. not very accurate as who would say about themselves that they are rubbish? So some are good such as Oblo in Eyemouth, but some are not so good such as Giacopazzi in Eyemouth who tells everyone he is the best and has managed to convince some people until they eat at Fords in Berwick and then one sees Giacopazzi is second rate. But there is not much about Borders food so this is worth a look.

website of the borders foodnetwork

Brunton Theatre Cafe, Musselburgh

Musselburgh seems to have a lot of dentists if you drive through. My wife was attending one and I took the opportunity to stop at the Theatre Cafe for a coffee and roll as there is few places to do that in Musselburgh. It has an upmarket "town ladies" feel to it, clean and nice. However the food and service is not up to the place itself. They go to a lot of trouble to tell you on entry "waitress service only" like as if you may be looking for a cheap self service and wandered into the wrong place. But the food is not very good I'm afraid. Coffee is OK and its obviously full of housewives with kids out for a stroll. I would not recommend eating there. Just have a coffee and stroll on..,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bread Shops

Innerliethen - Well I have to say Innerliethen is a lucky little village. A good Cafe in Whistle Stop and a proper bread shop whose brown loaf is the best I have had in the Borders outside of Berwick. Its a strange light loaf and the one I bought was kind of holey but the taste is very good.

Dalgetty - This bakery serves Galshiels and Melrose with reasonable but not outstanding bread. The shops are nicely done, particularly in Melrose where they have a cafe as well. The bread is second quality in my opinion, I don't buy there unless forced to do so.

Trotters - This bakery is based in Coldstream and serves Duns and several small shops such as Gordon. The bread is good quality and I rate them second to Fords of Berwick.

Fords of Berwick - This bakery has shops in Wooler, Berwick and Norham and severs the finest bread in the Borders bar none. Their crusty brown is outstanding, their white almost as good and on weekends they do a good Scottish "Plain" bread (baked close so no side crust)

Fords of Edinburgh - In a confusing move an Edinburgh bakery called Fords serves bread and rolls to many shops and restaurants in the Borders including the COOP. Their bread is poor quality.

Baxters Selkirk - Has a good hand made bread but no slicer.

Floors Castle Shop - Sevres excellent home made bread, the best crusty white I have had yet. No slicer though.

Whistle Stop Cafe - Innerliethen

A very nice clean place with good cafe food all well prepared and served from fresh ingredients. They do breakfasts, rolls and light lunches plus a range of coffees and teas. It an eclectic kind of place that also sell paintings by local artists and odd knick knacks like silk flowers but it has a charm. Staff are very friendly and its not expensive. A good place if your in the area, and a cut above most.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Farm Shop - Piercebridge

It is quite natural if going South to drop down the A68 until almost Scotch Corner and then pick up the A1. On the way back we exit immediately after Scotch Corner and go through Piercebriudge where there is an excellent farm shop and cafe. The cafe serves a lovely fresh homemade selection of cakes and light food. The shop sells genuine organic produce. Last trip we got some steaks from them and the flavour was better than the local butcher, top class meat. They are not cheap, a chicken might be 15 pounds, but the quality is superb.

Weather June

Despite the odd good day its been coldish and miserable. Such a contrast with April. Today for example is wet and rainy.

Huntlywood

Not far from Gordon is the small hamlet of Huntlywood. I just learned that in this hamlet was the castle tower of Robert Gordon who owned Gordon village and was a mercenary in the area and supported Robert the Bruce. He later moved his family and army North and that is how the name Gordon Highlanders arose, despite the fact that Gordon is in the lowlands.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chop Chop Edinburgh

This unusual restaurant is billed and reviewed as a "real" Chinese restaurant, i.e. unlike others this is real Chinese food. The food like the owners is from Northern China where it appears dumplings and noodles are the thing. My wife and I went their for our 16th anniversary lunch. The restaurant is light and airy, in Leith on the back side of Commercial street in a modern restaurant row, very pleasant and easy to park. We ordered beef, chicken and prawn dumplings, spicy noodles, chicken wings and aubergine which is the house speciality.
I like the dumplings which are served with a dish for mixing a dip of soy and vinegar. The prawn ones were not up to scratch, couldn't taste prawns at all, but the beef with chilli and chicken were very good. The noodles were good served plain but with a topping of fried roasted schezuan pepper (I think). The chicken wings were very nice simply friend with cracked salt and cracked schezuan peppers. The aubergines were good, a bit oily but a valid take.
Overall it was a good meal and not expensive at about 40 pounds.
I am not sure how authentic, and I would doubt the clain to the best Edinburgh chines, , but it is certainly different to the normal fried rice and chicken in a sauce of cornflour and soy. The menu does not offer a lot of choices so if you go, eat dumplings!

web site

Sewage

This week our sewage backed up and what a long mucky job it was. Townies with council sewage have no idea. At one stage up to my elbows in muck I wondered what had happened to two days of my life as my neighbour and I sweated over a 50 metre length of rods pushing and pulling to get it clear. What caused it? Pamper wet ones baby wipes! They do not disintegrate, we pulled up I think about 5 packs all clogged into the drains...phewww stinky work.

Swallows Back

Well we are happy to see the swallows back. They are rebuilding their nest and I think have eggs again.

one day of summer

well we had summer last week, 25 degrees and hot sun all day. It then went back to wind and cold and wet. Today we have all three and its 10 degrees...in June! In the garden the plants are growing but slowly as the temperature deters that thrust of growth one usually sees. So for example my beans are still 6 inches not far off when I planted them.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pavillion Cinema Galashiels

Went to see Pirates of the Caribbean in 3D last night at "our local". Its not a nice Cinema but its all we've got. Its not very clean and unlike US cinemas a limited range of food. Its hard to see why the Amercian good ideas have not translated. In a US cinema one gets a huge trtay that sits in a hole in the arm of the chair. On it one can pile chicken or shrimp and chips, chinese, popcorn, ribs, wraps, Chilli all kinds of food. Going out to the cinema is going out to eat and watch a movie, its an experience.

Two Swallows

They say two swallows does not a summer make, but in our house this weekend they made for a great deal of unhappiness and sadness. Our neighbour gave us an old shed and dropped it off with his tractor. It had been used as a dog kennel and was dirty and filled with old straw and bird mess, even a wasp nest. My boys and I cleaned it out and pressure washed the outside.

While cleaning we found a swallows nest with 5 tiny babies. We took the nest outside and placed it on a high hedge. While we were having our lunch the parents were frantic. It was just like we would be if we had lost our children. Eventually after swooping all over the neighborhood they found the shed.... but no children. They were so distressed we took the babies back but I don't think it will work.

We all feel so bad, except my wife who says "well they were squatters werent' they, I wouldn't make my bed in someone elses house". We thought her hard hearted. My sons tried to console themselves with "school learning", "oh Dad they have small brains and cannot think". But all of this was just to cover everyone's distress...now our shed is tatinted with the loss.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Scotland and Europe

The Scottish nationalists won big time in the elections and will have a referendum on setting Scotland back up as an independent country within the EU. I think it makes sense. But I think that the Eurozone itself is about to experience the biggest upheaval in its history. Today Greek debt went above 25% which is ludicrous and totally unsustainable. It is either the biggest oppotunity to make money in the world today, or as more likely, the Greek debt will be restructured or even default. That would bring down the EU crashing like a house of cards. To avoid this the members may well have to accept that local soveraingty must fall and the EU become like the US a country with member states rather than individual countries. So Scotland may be only independent for a little while and then get swept up in political integration again.

80mph winds and rain

Well this weekend and yesterday we encountered the worse weather we have had since coming here. The winds literally howled around our house and we had to take down anyhting in the garden that could blow away otherwise it would. From what I hear on the news this has brought down trees and even blew the roof off the Edinburgh bus station.

Monday, May 16, 2011

16th May 2011 - windy and wet

After a glorious start to the year we have deteriorated again. The weather has turned cold and wet and we even had fires the last two nights as it got chilly. I am worried about vegetables and flowers we have planted in case of frost. Luckily in another sense I got almost all our vegentables planted and the garden neatened up while the good weather lasted. Unusual plantings this year include asparagus peas, yard long beans and brocollini, will they thrive in this cold Northern clime?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Update - Alandda Fish and Chips Prestonpans

Visited recently and it seems they have changed owners. I am not sure but the quality has suffered, our fish was still good but the chips were not up to the old standards and the staff certainly is different.

Borders Suppliers 2

I really try hard to shop in the Borders and support local business, but I am constantly reminded of their deficiencies. I wanted a shower head and as we use well water and have quite low pressure I wanted a low pressure shower head. I went to The largest suppliers in Galashiels, Plumbing World and the bathroom shop attached to Jewsons and in both cases was told "there is no such thing as a low pressure shower head". Reluctantly giving up I ordered one online where there is truly a good range of shower heads. qssupplies.co.uk is one example bathrooms 4you another.

Disney Paris - Don't Bother

Took the boys to Disneyland Paris at Easter. We were universally disappointed. The park is smaller than Disney Florida and is much more interested in your money than you. From an eye watering UKP50 to get in for each person through the restauarants through to the shops. Almost 30% of the rides were closed and on complaining we got an email saying basically, thats the way it is. The prinicple is make as much money as we can, so the park is open 365 days, so that maintenance is done during open days which means at any one time 30%+ of rides are closed. I would advise against it, try Parc Asterix which is really French rather than quasi American. One would think in France the food would be good....but no its awful and expensive. On writing to them about this I got a message back saying "we employ dieticians and food experts" well whoopsie doo but whoever they are they obviously don't actually eat at Disney where the food is extremely poor quality GIVE IT A MISS!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Best Fruit and Vegetables - Williamson Melrose

Fruit and Vegetable shops are in decline throughout Britain as the supermarkets coax us with tasteless imported products from around the world. But Williamsons in Melrose and their sister shop in Lauder maintain the tradition of a good high quality local shop. Their produce is excellent and they go to Glasgow market daily to bring the best produce to the area. I have heard that once Mr Williamson retires their will be no more stores in the Borders and I beleive it. My wife and I were thinking of opening one in Kelso and were told by many astute business people that several had tried but the proximity of Lidl with its very cheap (and poor) produce killed all efforts. Enjoy Williamsons while you can!

Best Kitchen Shop - Countryside Kelso

The best kitchen shop in the Borders is in Kelso on Bridge st. They have a really wide range of products although they are very expensive so watch out for costs. But the shop is delightful and full of the cutest stuff as well as practical kitchen items and baking goods.
Countryside web site link

David Thompson - A Proper Mens outfitter

In Jedburgh on the high street sits David Thompsons, the best gents outfitter in the Borders. This is a treasure of a shop with a wide range of coutnry clothes all of good quality and the staff to match, knowledgable people. I met people their from even Northumblerland who says they come here for quality.

Best Sausages in Borders

There is no doubt that the butcher in St Boswells makes the best sausages in the Borders. We regularly go their to get their big fat tasty beef sausages but all their sasuages are very good. Its also a good butcher with top class meats who even sells vegetables due to local demand for quality not supplied by the Coop.

Fords of Berwick - Best Bread

There is no doubt in my mind that Fords of Berwick is one of the best bakers in Britain and certainly the best in the Borders. Their brown bread is just outstanding in taste and condition, but the shop excells in the quality of all its bread and cakes. I had some hot croiss buns yesterday and they were superb. We go there every two weeks and buy 6 loaves and freeze them.

Good Food Chinese Restaurant - Earlston

Its not that they don't try, but the quality is overall poor. When a Chinese restaurant cannot make fried rice properly then one has to ask, is this the right business for the owners. Our manu was
* Chicken Fried Rice - very poor and an odd interpretation to put five slices of chicken on top of plain rice soaked in soy....
* Chilli Chicken Thai style - Bottled sweet chilli sauce
* Prawns in chilli - similar, prawns were overcooked and batter hard
* Chicken in soy and ginger - a disaster a container of sauce with a lot of onions and some bits of chicken slimy and tasteless
* Hot chicken wings - tasteless

Monday, April 18, 2011

Butchers Pies

With one or two notable exceptions such as Learmounth in Jedburgh, Borders butchers just don't understand the role of seasoning. Thier pies have no salt and pepper and its a shame, the lack spoils the pies. Just had one from melrose, the butcher at the bottom fo the hill and it looked superb. Pasrty wasn't cooked through and the filling had no salt and pepper and actually had uncooked carrots. We threw it away.,

Ripon

A beautiful North of England town with an impressive cathedral and clean streets and lovely old houses. We were forced off the A1 at Junction 49 and chose to go through North Yorkshire, Ripon through to Richmond. All very nice old thatched villages and good pubs, lovely views and nice antique stores. Worth a diversion

Cuckoo Inn Alwalton nr Peterborough

This is a lovely classic inn in a thatched village a few miles outside Peterborough. We had a great meal, good steaks everything fresh and hot, super desserts and a good pint in a lovely garden with large trees providing shade. Highly recommend, only just off A1 exit 17 and so very good compared to other options.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spittal Beach Berwickshire

video
A Lovely spring day at Spittal Beach near Berwick upon Tweed. Had a really super fish and chips from our Borders Star Smiths. Crispy light batter and big square chips, what good fish and chips is all about. When I peeled the batter off, moist tender cod, big flakes. Tasty mushy peas that complemented the fish.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Pleasure of the Borders

In a world of earthquakes and nuclear disaster, with air strikes over Libya it was nice to wake up this morning (22 March 2011) and on Radio Borders the news was, two horses straying on the road by Etal would the owners find them, and a poor deer hit by a car, could a vet help please.
The weather has turned from winter to summer overnight and we are basking in warm sunny days and can finally get out into the garden and clear up the winter mess. Hurray.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gullane Fish and Chips

A very nice clean fish and chips and quite good food. Not by any means as good as Berwick or Prestonpans but its a good meal and they are clean and friendly with a place to sit.

Pentlands Fry - Curry

This is my main upset with Fish and Chips. Here is this lovely looking fish and chips all bright and modern and the food is awful. Greasy nasty chips with no flavor (we threw them away), and yet nice staff and its so easy to get caught. One expects this from a back of town chippy all dirty. but this lovely state of the art place.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Best Meal in Jedburgh

Learmounth the butcher makes excellent and superior steak pies (Best puff pastry and nicest beef steak pieces in gravy) and fat juicy bridies (lamb mince with onions in pastry). Buy a couple to your choice, and go to the fish and chip shop and buy just chips, which are quite acceptable and generous portions(the rest of his food is not). Now you have a nice little lunch. There are plenty of car parks and benches to sit and look at the very lovely old ruined Abbey while you eat. There are even cheeky balckbirds to eat your left overs and squabble. Jedburgh has a good hardware store with a lot more variety than most, the best gents outfitters in the Borders and a good little antique store recently opened. Overall its one of the better Borders towns as just on the outskirts is a couple of touristy but good scottish woollen shops.

Very Mixed Weather - 11 March 2011

The last week has gone between 12 degrees and sunny to 1 degree, windy, with sleet and snow and thats all in one day! Talk about confusing. Wife and I did some gardening last week and now have not been able to go outside for a week. Snow yesterday and today although its not sticking. Right now at noon full sun but still cold and windy. Tomorrow due more snow according to the weatherman.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bookstore hidden in Melrose

If you stand at the triangle in the centre of Melrose and look up the hill next to the library you will see a bookstore on the left half way up. Do try it, its a very good bookstore, the best for miles. The proprietor is knowledgable and interesting to talk to and has a good collection of sceond hand books well catalogued. This place is a real find and satys open until nearly 6pm unlike everywhere else in Melrose.

Selkirk revisited

Its a while since I wrote about this Borders town. My wife and I went there today and I remain unimpressed. Yes historically, Scott and Mungo Park two legendary figures. But the town has very little to offer. Poor stores, no bakery (there is one but they don't bake bread!), the lady in the store said "theres no call for bread anymore" yes right madam. The pavements are not well kept and there is a lack of stores of interest. There is a deli and they do sell bread but it seems they are really more of a cafe....in fact there seems to be a lot of stores that claim to one thing but are really another, there are two bookstores one in St Boswells and one in Kelso that are really cafes in disguise. We were surprised that this little place had 3 butchers and two pharmacy, how do they make a living, or is everyone sick because they eat too much meat? Baxters have a loively superstorte on the outskirts that is worth the drive, lots of nice gift items and the quality food. They also sell bread but unfortunately don't slice it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23 - Wet and Miserable

I am afraid its not nice weather in the Borders right now. The ground just doesn't get a chance to dry out with daily rain and cold. Tried to do a bit of cleanup today but it was hard going with mud on the boots and everywhere soaked.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blair, Bush and Cheney vindicated

The uprisings in the middle east this week and last may actually make historians revise their picture of Bush and Cheney and ultimately Tony Blair. Maybe they were right to see an underlying desire for democracy in Iraq. It certainly seems so, as one after another dictatorship plunges into flames.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oban - piazza

This is a sleazy kind of town, no good shops and nothing much to do, one wonders why its always rated so highly. The exception is the Pizza restaurant on the ocean front. This exceptional place serves high quality Italian food and excellent service without any fuss and very well priced, we had lunch for 4 for 35 pounds. The pizzas are odd more like sweet pasrty pies I thought but they work as the toppings are very good and fresh. Salads well dressed and crisp and good garlic bread. Unpretentious but excellent.

Restaurant web site

Monarch of the Glen

This is one of the best British TV series and is VERY much watched and admired in the USA and encourages visitors. Imagine then our surprise on trying to find Glenbogle. It a trek up from Fort William but not too bad a drive past a lovely old dam built in the 1800's. Unfortunately when one gets there is NOTHING to encourage toursim. One cannot see the Castke except from the other side of the Loch and indistinctly due to trees, the viallge does not make a fuss and basically one has a very frustrating experience. Come on Scotland get your act together. This is a great chance to develop a whole area for tourism sadly going to waste.

BBC web site for Monarch

Mallaig

The train ride from Fort William to Mallaig is wonderful and inexpensive, they had a family pass for 25 pounds for 4 of us. The scenery is stunning and don't miss this one its great. Unfortnuately Mallaig is a disaster, only one pub open who struggled but clearly did not expect tourists. The train was full and all the people wandered around a town full of closed shops (even the tourist office) looking for something to do for the 2 hours until the next train. The exception was Andy Race the fish merchant who was open and we got 30 beautifull still alive langoustines for 6 pounds, which we had that night with pasta. Very nice, but is it worth the trip for one good shop?

Andy Race website

Ben Nevis Ski

This was the best part of our trip by far. Ben Nevis is a great place, good skiing and we enjoyed the whole experience, from the gondola rides to the crisp white snow and the experienced instructors (our first time). Forget Fort William and the whole area, just go skiing. The only let down was the restaurant which served basically poor school dinners. Avoid this part and carry sandwiches.
Ben Nevis website

Crannog Seafood Restaurant - Fort William

What a disappointment. We had read glowing reviews and went anticipating a great evening. Lets start at the beginning, when one says seafood restaurant one assumes seafood, not three fish dishes and a steak as choices. The service was appallingly slow ans seemed unconcerned. The food we had was not bad, I had a halibut which was cooked ok, skin lacking in crispness but at least not overcooked. But they have strayed into "fancy" rather than tasty. The plate looked better than it tasted. Our boys had fish cakes which were just awful. Made with salmon and smoked haddock, the haddock overwhelming the dish so they really didn't need to add salmon. A very poor but veryu expensive meal, over 120 pounds for two plus two children, disgracefull.


Crannog website

Fort William

Fort William is a disappointing and dreary place. No good restaurants, no good shops, and overrated. Best thing we could say is it has a Morrisons and a Macdonalds. The town is pedestrian free, so you park and walk and find....nothing of interest at all. Don't bother.

Glencoe - Accomodation

Our family went to Glencoe during the Whit break. We stayed at a cottage owned by the Clachan Inn and it was a good overall experience. The cottages (they have several) are equipped to a high standard with everything you could need and are very warm and cozy. We felt they were let down a little bit by lack of maintenance, ie one or two lights not working, toilet seat broken in one bathroom, but these are just niggles really as the rtest of the place is very nice indeed. Can recommend.

Clachain inn website

Sunday, January 16, 2011

16th January warm and windy

The weather has changed these last few days to warm but very windy. Temerature around 50 but wild winds. The snow has all gone. Lots of rain.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Clark Brothers Musselburgh

The best Fish merchants we have found anywhere in the Borders area. A huge range of fresh fish and shellfish, live lobsters, superb (in fact the best I have ever eaten) home smoked kippers, in a class by themselves, pink luscious flesh...hmmmm. This is a remarkable store as most Borders fish merchants sell a limited number of fish and mostly haddock. They also sell good soy sauce and japanese condiments for those who wish to eat their fish raw.

Barter bookstore Alnwick

This is worth a trip "south o' the Border". Its the largest bookstore in the North I think and has a huge range of first editions ranging up to the hundreds of pounds. The sort of place with a roaring fire to spend a whole day browsing and reading. Nice tea shop too, so one does not need to leave at all. The sort of shop Dickens would have appreciated, set in an old railway station. Take a child as there is a O gauge railway running along the tops of the book shelves which gives a nice feel to the place, although the noise made me think it was raining. Maybe this is deliberate to keep you indoors. They have a big range of paperbacks and hardbacks but they are pricey. I am an avid buyer and reader and didn't buy anything as everything I picked up was more than I expected. Still a great visit. Has a lot of lovely old childrens books, perhaps their best collection. But they cover a wide brief, very good on the North and Scotland history as well.
Link to their website

Carlo's Fish and Chips Alnwick

This excellent fish and chip shop is out of the Borders, but really only a short ride away and if the '45 had succeeded would be in Scotland anyway. Very good fish nice crisp batter. Chips good but not the best by far. Mushy peas were very good indeed. Steak Pie very unusual in that the pastry is suet based, but I enjoyed it although nothing to match Jedburgh butcher. They have a nice cosy restaurant as well.

Education and Knox

I am not sure if the Borders education department has supporters of the SNP or John Knox or maybe thats the same thing? But I do know that they seem to delight in doing things a) different from England and b) almost anti religious. As an example is the vacations schedule for 2011 where children have their "Easter" holiday on March 4th to 15th when Easter is actually the weekend of the 20th. The result is that parents who work will be at home on their holiday when their children are back at school. So any idea of planning an Easter vacation is out of the window. Unless its a cunning plan as Baldrick would say in that a wily Scot said "yu see how the English raise prices at school holidays....well we'll fool them by having our different and getting cheaper holidays..d'ye ken". As far as Knox who is most famous for destroying almost as many lovely churches as Henry v111 and creating a religious environment in Scotland where proctors would actually go out on Sunday and fine you for not attending Kirk, he might appreciate making a mandatory holiday on a different day to Rome for Easter!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remedy for chest colds

In our house as a child there were two regular recipes for fixing problems of health. One was lemon and barley and the other was linseed, licorice. Linseed and licorice was the solution to any chest colds, catarrh etc. Take 3 tablespoons of linseed and boil in two quarts of water with two licorice roots for 30 minutes. The result will be a bit slippy like okra. Strain and add lemon juice and honey to taste and drink a cup at night.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 arrives

More with a whimper than a bang. The snow is slowly melting, the temperature is above freezing but its still bitterly cold. Went down to Scremerston Beach on New years day for a walk to blow the cobwebs away and the wind was cutting. Many people out though, I guess walking off the drink. As it was a quiet day drove around Berwick Upon Tweed, a place usually snarled with traffic. It has some lovely old regency buildings and quiet streets, its actually a gem of a small town and I like it more each time I visit.