Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is Variety not Just the Spice but the Growth Factor?

The UK census has been released and shows some fascinating glimpses of the changes in the UK. For example that in London, white Anglo Saxons account for less than half the population, and that immigration is heavily focused on the South East. But I ask isn't this also the area of Britain growing the most and showing the most resilience financially? Is it that the immigrants went there because of the growth or that the immigrants led the growth? That makes me look at where else huge mixed populations exist and once immediately thinks of Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, Sydney, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo all hugely successful vibrant cultures and all in massive sustained growth. Does this actually tell us that stable less miscegenated populations are less likely to grow and succeed? People complain about immigrants and jobs and housing, but the fact seem to indicate that the North of Britain is actually a population of original British with little immigration, and yet this is where there are no jobs and house prices are the lowest in the country. Worse its the area with the least new businesses and opportunity.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


When Tripadvisor started I thought it was a good idea, so started to report on my findings whenever I visited anywhere. Over the years this web sites power and influence have grown enormously. Now if I write a bad review I am invariably contacted by the place I have reviewed, many of whom seem to think its almost illegal for me to write and say they are not up to standards. Restaurants and hotels have never before been the subject of visible proof of their competence and it is very scary for them. Oh they would have customers unhappy, but these would each be isolated and covered up so that the general public had no idea of their problems. Now the good and the bad are revealed and its up to the reader to judge the veracity of comments and make a decision...but at least they now have a place to look.

There is also still a general failing to complain when one purchases food or lodging that is not up to par. When we were in Jersey recently we ate at the Atlantique Seafood restaurant and were presented at one point with a bowl of rice that looked like and wobbled like a blancmange  We sent it back and eventually the owner came over and apologized and said once she realized the rice was so overcooked she stopped the kitchen. But we looked around and there were many customers who had eaten one or two mouthfuls of rice and left it back, but didn't complain. When one is paying top rate for food, one should get perfect food, if one doesn't, then its your right, and in fact a sort of duty to other diners, to complain. By putting both complaints and praise in one place with a rating system, Tripadvisor has provided the perfect vehicle for checking out where one is going before booking and I use it a lot. WEB SITE

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sunday Lunch

48 weeks in the year my wife and I return from church and cook a meal for our family at home. If we cook a Tesco chicken then it costs about 4 pounds and with all the vegetables (a 50kl bag of potatoes costs 5 pounds) I think we probably eat for about 2 pounds a person and eat very well, with tasty gravy made from the chicken, potatoes, two vegetables and apple sauce.

Why then do we risk disappointment by eating out 4 Sundays a year (all we can afford on a pension), food that is usually not as good as our own and costs up to 500% more? Well its a little treat for my wife, an opportunity for my boys to be in a social setting, an opportunity to see how someone else cooks,  and a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves. It is therefore doubly disappointing when the meal does not reach the standards implied by the cost.

What we are discovering is that there are very few places within our geographic reach that exceed our hopes and expectations. In the South, particularly around London the quality and standards of pubs and hotels has reached almost Michelin heights, but that is not true North of the Border.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Best Value Car Service - Serviceline

I think I have tried most of the car places around the Borders and have been disappointed with almost all of them for one thing or another. Rutherfords in Earlston have twice damaged my car as part of a service, the first time one of their mechanics finding removing the cover on the battery annoying ripped it off and damaged all the plastic bolts, the second time they cracked my windscreen and then said it was "chance". Yes chance that I brought it to you that morning ok and that night it was cracked. Volkswagen at St Boswells charge an arm and a leg and I think I am paying for the fancy new showroom and admin office. ATS in Galashiels is good and reasonable but if your car is there for a service what do you do cut off with no transport.
Finally I have been recommended to Service Line in Newtown St Boswells which loans you a car and which I am so far impressed by. For example they found the hand break wasn't working and told me they may have to change the brake pads etc, but on investigation it was the cable that had frayed and stuck so it only cost me 21 pounds rather than 100. They did a good service and MOT at a reasonable price and are friendly people. My neighbors all use them and all speak highly of them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Best Butcher in the Borders

I hesitated to write this one as there are several good butchers. But over 4 years trying them all the list of top five goes to J C Douglas of St Boswells, Learmonts of Jedburgh, Purvis in Duns, Bairds in Melrose and our own butcher Donaldson in Earlston. A honorable mention to Shaws of Lauder who are a bit out of my area, but are a good butcher indeed. Both Kelso are a bit pricey for me, although the one by the bridge is better.

Of these I have to say J C Douglas in St Boswells is the king. They are not the friendliest or the least expensive (that honour goes to Earlston) but their sausages, and the quality of the cuts of meats, and choices of top meat is better than anyone else. Now there pies suck frankly and Learmont in Jedburgh has everyone beat with pies.

LINK TO J C Douglas

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cobbles Inn - Continues to offer fine food

Took the family to Cobbles Inn in Kelso last week for Sunday lunch and was very pleased with the meal indeed. Oh yes there were one or two things that caught our critical eye, the broccoli and cauliflower cheese was overcooked, they served an odd purple cabbage cooked in some Indian spice that didn't work at all. But these minor problems were lost in the finest pork loin I have had for years, the nicest cooked sea bass my wife has had, and our boys superb fresh haddock cooked perfectly with huge hand cut chips. Service was excellent and the atmosphere very nice with the light wood and clean lines. Well done Cobbles!!

Burt Hotel Melrose - A Disappointment

I have popped into Burts for a coffee now and again on a cold winters day and maybe I had over rated them in my mind and over praised them at home based on that experience. But I had been impressed by this old quality hotel in the heart of my favorite Borders town. I took my family their for lunch today and I am sorry to say they went down a few notches indeed!

All started off well. We arrived and had a bottle of Beaujolais and although I thought that the Brushcetta was really just an ordinary garlic bread, the olives were nice and I was in a good mood.  That was until after 45 minutes we were still there waiting for our meal while EVERY other table in the place, some of whom came in 25 minutes after us were served. Something was clearly wrong as waitresses walked past us with averted eyes, but no one spoke.

Just as I got up to leave extremely angry by now, the food arrived and as I am being critical it needs talking through. My meal was the house roast sirloin with trimmings. The menu urged one to be aware it would be medium was overdone. The gravy came from I know not where but certainly not from the meat, it tasted like burnt syrup and was awful. The potatoes and vegetables (beans and broccoli)  were perfectly cooked but unfortunately covered in dark brown syrup. The meat was not tender, whether this is Baird the butchers fault or the hotel I do not know.

My wife chose duck which came overdone and dry and the sauce was not up to anyone's standards. One son had roast chicken and said it was lovely, but I guess by then he was actually scared I would stand up and make a fuss. The other son chose pork and noodles. Well what a strange meal he got, the pork was tender and tasty but the boodles were overcooked and stuck together and looked frankly disgusting. Strange but I saw someone else with noodles and they were much nicer looking.

So what happened? was it as my wife suspects that Burts prefer locals? The locals next to us clearly felt sorry for us and got their meal in less than 10 minutes....or was it some kitchen catastrophe which they were too embarrassed to admit? I will never know as I certainly will not be going there again and spending 96 pounds of good money on a poor lunch. I mentioned my disappointment to the lady at the bar when I paid and her response was "oh that's too bad".  Oh and by the way they let the fire go out on a chilly day!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Scottish Pepper Sauce

My wife is from Trinidad, and we lived there for many years. She has an old family recipe for hot pepper sauce and we have decided to go beyond family and bottle it for sale at farmers markets etc. The link between Scotland and the Caribbean is strong. Many braw Scottish lads went to serve in the military and manage plantations. In fact it was a military hat (see below) the Tam O'Shanter that inspired the name of the worlds most famous hot pepper the "Scotch Bonnet".
Seen from the side. the large floppy hat with a pompom on top looks just like a scotch bonnet pepper, or at least enough like it to make locals give it the name. Our web site for this new venture is here LINK TO WEB

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Visit to Jersey and secret cows

Took our family to Jersey for a week and thoroughly enjoyed this tiny gem of an island perched off the coast of France. We flew from Glasgow airport of Esyjet and I have to say the whole expoerience was very good from parking to flying. We stayed in the Radisson Blue hotel whoch was all we expected, a good hotel with a super health spa and locate right on the ocean but a walk into St Helier. We loved the island, tiny winding lanes and the smell of flowers everywhere even in October. But we failed to find any of these famous Jersey cows, in fact we looked assiduously and still failed. We began in the family to call them secret cows, maybe the Jersey people hide them from visitors? Anyway here is one.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A World of Walkers

I think many oif us wish we could walk a lot more than we do. What holds us back is our bodies ability and our inability to devote the training time to overcome that inability. In South America Incas and Aztecs would run and walk 50 miles a day for a week to deliver news without thought. The human body can do it evidence the growth of Marathons. But for most of us its a dream. Now along comes robolegs the lates of a series of  bionic develoipments that I think will change humanity. Sophie Morgan shown below has been in a wheelchair for years since a car accident damaged her spine. She can now walk. The legs as show cost about $90,000. Within 5 years that could be $1500 and you could choose between Nike legs and Converse legs.

Once this happens I think dramatic changes are possible, why cars in towns and cities? See the hills and valleys of the world  (incuding mountains and hills) covered in middle aged and elderly people who can now walk 20-30 miles a day without any problem as their robo assist legs do most of the work, translating feeble twitches to giant leaps. My dream has been to walk the Pennine way, its 300+ miles and at 66 I can't do it now, but I could with robolegs. Rock on I say and I'll be buying the Nike thank you.!

Positive step: Sophie in the robotic exoskeleton Rex, with her wheelchair in the background

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Finally an App that I found useful - Marathon

Everyone seems to get so excited that Apple has x thousand apps while google has y thousand. But to be frank I've looked at them and mostly they are all junk. My son likes the one that shoots a gun for example and makes realistic sounds. Not for me.

But this week I found an app called Marathon that really helps. It uses GPS to track your walks and the results are spectacular. Not only does it track miles or kilometers walked but it also tracks the walk in terms of speed at each point and height climbed, which is very interesting and adds to the experience of the walk. You can save walks and compare say the same walk done today with when you did it last week and see if you improved. Now this is all with the free part. if you invest a modest amount you can get actual maps of your walks and send them top your web site or friends.

This is a useful app. The first I've found. WEBSITE OF MARATHON

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Attack on US Embassy in Libya

I may live in a lovely remote part of Scotland, but I still keep up with the news from around the world. The attack in Libya on the US embassy hit the headlines big time. I read a report today that makes me wonder and makes me afraid. The writer interviewed one person who attacked the embassy and he said "we heard about this terrible film insulting Allah". Not I saw it and it upset me, but "we heard". So he attacked the embassy on hearsay. Second the interview with the two heads of Libyan security are reproduced below:-

"There were definitely people from the security forces who let the attack happen because they were themselves offended by the film; they would absolutely put their loyalty to the Prophet over the consulate. The deaths and injuries and attacks are all nothing compared to insulting the Prophet."

Bargathi, of the police command, said the killings had taken the protest too far, but said: "What we saw was a very natural reaction to the insult to the Prophet. We condemn the deaths but the insult to the Prophet made people very angry."

So the head of the security in Libya, who also hasn't seen the movie is saying he and his men approve of the attack and ANYTHING is justifiable if there is even a hint of an insult......"they would ABSOLUTELY put their loyalty to the Prophet over anything else". "The deaths and injuries are all nothing", says it all.

We should be warned, so many times we have seen that the people involved in these attacks all over the world are ignorant men and women who follow blindly what they are told by their religious leaders, without any thought themselves. This is a danger to the whole world, a world which is attempting albeit slowly, to become more civilized, more discursive, more thoughtful and considerate of others feelings. The attacks were not justified in any way, and never could be under any circumstances. The International law which governs respect for an embassy is clearly meaningless to these fanatics. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Jehovah's Witnesses

In the last few months I have been attending a weekly meeting in Kelso and my observation is that this group are sadly and mistakenly maligned in movies and TV shows. This is a group of very dedicated people who not just read the Bible but research it to a great depth. In fact their meetings unlike most churches are really a  chance to ask questions and share answers on Bible topics. The attendees being encouraged to take part. Their fault from the common perspective is that they take Jesus request that a believer should "spread the good word" very literally so they come around and knock on peoples doors at inconvenient times. It seems a small fault if fault it is. All the people I have met have been decent honest people with a thirst to understand the Bible and to bring up their family with a like thirst. This does not seem to me to be a bad thing in this day and age where my son attends a party (he is 15) and the family and birthday girl have alcohol available and encourage drunkenness. It probably time everyone stopped spurning this well meaning group and listened to their message. We need dedicated caring people in this world, and they certainly are that!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Avoid UK Airport Tax

I am surprised that no company has jumped on the idea of flying to Amsterdam or Paris and then flying to the   Caribbean or any other long distance destination. After all in the UK the tax on a family of four flying to the Caribbean is nearly 500 pounds! When my wife went to the USA to visit her sick mother last year the tax was MORE than the air fare! With a bit of work it could easily happen that London becomes an isolated airport which caters only to local flights. What a shocking state of affairs. I have written to my MP about this and his reply stank of London politicians lack of care for anyone but themselves.

Harvest Time

While the farmers are out in the fields with their huge tractors trying to salvage something from this years rained on disaster, we gather a more modest harvest. Our garden has been a mess this year with the rain so consistent we have hardly had time to weed or clean, so the garden is a total mess with weeds 3 feet high. Despite this disaster we were able to crop this week and got in about 250 onions laid out to dry plus 5 whole supermarket bags of broad beans which are a hardy crop and survived and even thrived on the nasty weather. Broad beans are a big operation and it took my wife and I all day to pod them, then blanch in boiling water and strip off the outer bitter hull, leaving the nugget of wholesome goodness that is the core bean. We managed to freeze about 15 bags with enough in for four of us at a serving each. That will help with the winter bills. Still to come is the runner beans which are just starting with small beans and the potato which died from fungus but we hope to get some crop from when we dig it up and of course the wonderful carrots, still growing strong and looking good. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Scottish Education System

Scotland has its own education system managed by a large number of people near Edinburgh and Glasgow (two locations) called the SQA.
It is VERY hard to understand versus other countries, even England right next door. Much worse its evolviong so one year does not equate readily to the next, a nightmare for HR Managers.  The EU says:-

According to the EU, the Scottish SQA Standard grade General level is equal to level 2, which for England is GCSE grade D and below
Standard Grade Credit is  EU level 3 which in England is GCSE A - C
Scottish Higher is equal to level 4 which for England is GCSE A level
Scottish Advanced Higher is level 5 for which there is no English school equivalent (although its equal to an HNC/D)

Now I am not sure this is even accurate, for example based on the first two, one might surmise that a Scottish Higher grade 1-3 might be an A level grade D, which is why Universities demand Advanced Highers, otherwise why would they? it isn't clear even on the EU site.

There may have been many complaints about GCE, but I have traveled the world and I know that in hundreds of countries it is the standard of education, one knows what it means. More importantly HR managers the world over know what it means.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Coach and Horses - Lubbenham

Their Web Site
Coach & Horses

Had Sunday Lunch here and it was awful. "Daily Roast" that was really catering packs of pre cooked and reheated meats....nasty stuff. I hate places that do this when you looking forward to a nice slice of roast beef. The vegetables were not bad but the total meal was awful. AVOID

Friday, August 17, 2012

Foxton Locks - Leicestershire


Lovely pub and restaurant right by Foston Locks, which according the BBC is one of Britains seven wonders, see below. The food is good quality honest British fayre and reliable. Nothing fancy, good steak, gammon, fish, excellent large chips and salad, a great place with a lovely view.

Foxton Locks
The Foxton Locks on the Midland canal system are a unique example of 19th Century engineering synonymous with the famous British waterways.

Back when the locks were first built there were no roads to speak of, and literally everything had to be moved by water.

With its unique staircase of 10 locks, traversing 75 feet (and two inches) from bottom to top, the Foxton Locks were unique in that they took boats up and over a steep incline, linking the North and South of England by canal.

The Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift was opened in 1900 to widen the canal, speed up river traffic and save on water.

Great Place to stay in South Leicestershire


Victorian Barn holiday cottage near Theddingworth in Leicestershire

While visiting family in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire recently we rented a cottage called the Victoria Barn. It turns out we were the first renters as the lovely couple who own it Sarah and Michael Skinner have just finished it and put it on the market. I can highly recommend the place. It is very private, located in the corner of a wheat field down a private drive. Surrounded by flowers and fields. The cottage itself has been very well done with quality fittings throughout, and is fully equipped, right down to tablets for the dish washer. There is a double bedroom with private wet room downstairs and twin beds with private washroom upstairs. The main lounge/ dining area is open plan so the upstairs is galleried. The location is very convenient being just off the M1 and not far from Market Harborough, a lovely small market town with a weekly antiques market. It pretty, private and comfortable for us, wife and I and two boys 13 and 15. We had a week there and loved it.

Fife Property - East Neuk

We went to see a house today in East Neuk near St Andrews. We like the area. The estate agent told us that the area has not only survived the UK general downturn but house prices are increasing. In the Borders we were told by the leading agency (Rettie) that expectations are still too high and houses are selling at 25% discount on ask. It was interesting but although we like Fife, this time we came home saying we are better in the Borders, the country is prettier. It may not have the tourism and cute gift shops, but its nice quality farming land with good people.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Rural Payments Agency

Their Web Site
I was amazed one day in our little rented barn in South Liecestershire to see a man walking around the fields with a laser measuring stick. I approached him and he told me he was measuring the edges of the field of rape as farmers get PAID by the government through this agency to leave a strip of fallow ground for bees and flowers. They are paid by the square metre.

Now I am one who does not believe in "poor" farmers. I saw one recently being interviewed about his loss of milk revenue and he had his foot on his 2012 Range Rover....tell me about it!  I cannot believe with the country in recession and people suffering that we are still paying farmers NOT to plant fields.

This is a quote from their web site if your not convinced.
The Rural Payments Agency continues to pay out Single Payment Scheme cash to farmers in England at a record rate. As at Wednesday 15thFebruary, payments had been made to more than 99,300 customers. The value of the payout to date was £1.61 billion., 93.1% of the current estimated payment fund.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Piercebridge Farm shop and Cafe

I have written before about this excellent place. We stop there on the way up to Scotland every time from the South. It is about 5 miles from Scotch Corner, off the next exit. They have a lovely clean cafe with all home made organic food from their own shop. For example I had the farmhouse breakfast and what distinguishes it from its peers is the use of home made bread toast, organic baked beans from Suma, organic bacon and sausages and free range eggs. The shop sell a wide range of meat and vegetables and specialty flours. We got a free range chicken yesterday not cheap at 15 pounds but we roasted it today and had the best roast chicken dinner we have ever had, the meat was just so tasty and the gravy hmmmm.


Dour Face of North

Our family spent a week in South Leicestershire, near Market Harborough, visiting family. The towns and villages of the area are so much nicer and prettier than our dour Northern climes. Scottish villages on the average are sour dour places, houses built up to the road, no pretty front gardens, no flowers. Thats is why places like Strathpeffer, Pitlochry and Aviemore stand out as "attractive". For example in my area Greenlaw is such an awful ugly place, and this was once the county town of Berwickshire. Earlston is dour, so Melrose is lovely in contrast as is St Boswells, what a difference a bit of green makes. How much nicer Keso with its outstanding central square over Galashiels with it industrial centre. The country of Scotland is superb of course, but the villages frankly mostly suck.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Saigon Saigon Edinburgh

I really don't know what top say about this Edinburgh hot spot right off Princes St. Its full of Chinese and usually one thinks "Oh it must be good", but frankly I was disappointed. Its not that they can't cook dim sum for example, its that the quality is about what I would call C class its ok but nothing special. The yangchow fried rice was the best dish I ate there, succulent and tasty. The staff were friendly in that limited we can't speak English way and brought us dishes we didn't order and then apologized but put them on the bill anyway. It was 80 pounds for 5 of us and we ate a lot, I think we could have been well fed for 60 as we over ordered, and unlike some restaurants nobody said anything. Steer clear of the prawns with chives, its heavy on chives and tastes like grass. The mixed meat and the prawn dim sum were good. They cannot cook sticky rice in lotus leaf it was awful, the filling is supposed to be like a pow but it was tasteless. Overall I won't go back and would rate them 6 out of 10

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Giacopazzi Eyemouth

This is the first fish and chip shop in the whole of Scotland and England, where I have taken one bite and thrown the whole 6 pounds worth straight in the trash. This is the worst fish and chips in Britain far. The fish was soaked in oil so that as you lifted it up it dripped oil, and the taste was of old oil and awful. The chips were so greasy and oily I could not eat more than one. The mushy peas however was good but how does one make a meal of mushy peas?

We had been here before and we had found it awful about a year ago, but we gave them another try as our friends said they were very good. What a disappointment and Eyemouth is so nice to visit.

Their website

However just a few miles away in Tweedmouth is a lovely fish and chips that continues to deliver first class food, and at a lot less cost 4.30 for fish and chips versus 5.95 at Giacopazzi.
Their website

I did receive an email from Giacopazzi management who were very disappointed to hear of my bad experience and offered to make it up if we came back. You can't say fairer than that and as I told them in my email, maybe the staff were a bit frazzled as their was a lot of customers that day.

Eggs and Scientists

I read with amusement this morning in the newspaper that "scientists" have now discovered that eggs are really very healthy. I am amused because prior to about 1980 everyone knew eggs were good for you, they even had an advert "go to work on an egg". Then some other "scientist" discovered eggs had cholesterol and adverts appeared everywhere telling people to stop eating eggs as they were harmful. Eggs appeared on Doctors list of banned produce and dietitians shook there heads and said no don't eat eggs.

Now a new group of scientists have discovered what our grandmothers knew, eggs are packed full of good cholestorol, vitamins, protiein and other good things and we should eat them up. BUT meanwhile a generation or two has grown up avoiding eggs as a problem food. 

Nanny State Destroys British Institution

I have spent a few days identifying the best caravan for my family to take regular weekend vacations. Unfortunately I then looked at the rules and realized that the LABOUR government in 1997 changed the rules so that after that date anyone who wants to go caravanning has to take a complex manual test. Now in my opinion that means that caravanning is dead, and a great British tradition of taking the family out for inexpensive holidays has died with it. What a shame indeed. It also means that millions of caravans will become virtually valueless as younger drivers decide (as they will) not to bother and older drivers get older and leave the fraternity.

The implications are much bigger. The tipping point of 1997, 15 years ago, means that drivers of about 32 now need a test. 32 is about the age when you have a couple of children maybe about 6-10 years, the ideal age to start camping. You also have enough disposable income to buy a van. Now how many people are employed all over Britain in van sales rooms, van manufacturing plants (Britain is a major caravan maker), van accessory plants and caravan sites.  There is perhaps a 20 year window and no one will caravan at all, other than motorhomes, during this 20 years Britain will kill another industry and put thousands of workers on the streets.

What is so silly is that like me millions will now buy a huge 6 wheel motorhome which cost three times as much and are just like a big lorry on the road....but is legal. Nanny state what a stupid idea.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Golden Dragon Gerrard St, London

There are many good places to eat in Chinatown. This is one of them. The food was top class and the staff were friendly to the point of telling us we had ordered too much food for our lunch!. We had fish in blackbean sauce, charsui pork, egg fried rice and choisum in garlic sauce. The cooking was superb, the choisum perfectly al dente. Can recommend

Sketch Restaurant London

We were recommended to this wierd place by our hotel. Its one of a new wave of "different" London restaurants. Its on Conduit Street just off Regent St. The decor is bizarre, a mix of old London classy (It was originally home to Dior London), and modernist hip. I wanted to use the bathroom and I was presented with two doors both illuminated with lights in glass doors half mirrors like something one might find at the Tate by the leading modernist artist. One was red and the other blue. After some hesitation I chose blue. The pisseur had a wall of water falling into it down a mirrored wall, the place was stunning, the walls like a night sky with stars and worth a visit to the restaurant just to see. I asked the waiter and he said well blue is for boys sir....hmmm.

The food was equally wierd. The chef can cook. The actual food itself was good, a superb piece of pork, the best I have ever eaten. My friends steak perfect. But the starters and the mains were surrounded by frilly stuff, a superb oyster covered in white foam, a tender langoustine surrounded with little blobs of some odd sauce, a wonderful lobster bisque, a not so good crab salsa. I chose a bottle of Costieres des Nimes at 25 pounds as most of the wine list (150 pages I'm sure) was over 100 pounds a bottle! Despite its position near the bottom of the list, it was the best Costieres I have ever drank, estate bottled and just the right gameyness.

 I cannot classify the place, pretentious waiters who when you ask them real questions stutter and don't know the answers, a deft and experienced Maitre'd who is unctous and arrogant at the same time, but who I liked and knew his world very well. They are truly an experience, and on reflection that is what they aim to achieve, and they do it well. I would recommend a visit just so you could see a totally different world at work. Downstairs the young and fast set at play, and upstairs the young and wealthy fast set drinking champagne like there is no tommorrow. For some reason I was reminded of Berlin just before the second world war, frenetic pleasure, people partying like there will be no tomorrow. Scary but nice.

London Trip

I went to London this week to see an old friend from Trinidad passing through. A good trip both ways on East Coast rail from Berwick. London is just so busy and so wealthy I was shocked living now in my lttle Borders village. We went to a bar called Aqua supposedly one of the top new places, just off Regent St. I had a beer and my friend had a short and the bill was 16 pounds. Next to us sat 4 young people, maybe early twenties drinking Dom Perignon at 400 pounds a bottle! I looked around and everyone was drinking champagne. We were the only "po" people there!! The streets were packed with people at 9pm and the restaurants were all full. What a place.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Lovely Local Meal

I bought some halibut in Kelso. It was just so fresh and nice but 25 pounds a kilo. The girl saw my face and weighed it and charged me 15 pounds for the piece which was nearly a kilo. I also bought some Samphire, a sea edge vegetable which has a short season.
We cooked the halibut with a simple seasoned flour and pan fried it until the skin was crisp and served it wioth the Samphire tossed in butter for 1 minute, brocolli and new potatoes with parsley sauce. One of the best meals I have had since we came to Scotland.

Appalling Weather

Since I visited Edinburgh in mid June with friends the weather up here has been awful. Rain every day and cold at nights. We have had fires at night and cannot even get in the garden to cut grass. At night I have had to close my greenhouse to stop the cold (getting down as low as 5 degrees) affecting the plants.

Chip for my Car

This week I bought a chip for my car, a diesel VW Sharan from a local tiny garage called Westend in Charlesfied near St Boswells. It was 50 quid and installed in 2 minutes. Today my wife and I went to Kelso for a drive to get some fish and I was amazed as my gas mileage is normally about 44mpg and it went up to nearly 60mpg. As I spend about 2000 pounds a year on gas I think this investment will save me about 3-400 pounds a year....and it improves acceleration!. The garage man told me install it and if your not happy bring it in any time for a full refund. He says he has installed many and no one ever came back. The unti apparently fools the master computer rather than the expensive reprogramming that is offered for about 300 pounds.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Royal Yacht Brittania

At the back of one of the best small malls in Edinburgh, the Ocean Terminal is the hiding place of the old Royal Yacht Brittania. This is one of the best tourist places in Edinburgh and worth a visit if only to see the bed that Prince Charles put in especially for his honey moon with Diana. Despite all the press about Camilla, a battleaxe if there ever was one, he must have loved Diana then as apparently putting the double bed in broke all the protocols of the Royals at sea where single beds were the norm. They have done a great job of allowing visitors access to every aspect of the ship from the state rooms with a magnificent 66 seat dining area, to the more intimate part of the royal sea journeys where Prince Phillip put his feet up and drank his gin and tonic. The Royal bedrooms (the only place in Britain where one can see where they slept) shows a lovely understated elegance and the whole family area is a joy in showing a "normal" family at play away from the pomp.
For the engineering minds the ships engines and equipment did over 1m sea miles without fault and are scrupulous. Apparently General Macarthur on being shown the engineroom said "OK that pretty now wheres the real engines". 


Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

View of Garden from Palmhouse

What a lovely surprise to find a Botanic Gardens as good as Kew hidden in the heart of Edinburgh. My wife and I lived in the tropics and we were amazed that in the big glass houses one can actually smell the same smell as our back garden at home in Trinidad. We loved it, hours of pleasure, lovely orchids and palms and very nice clean conditions. The plant people have done an excellent job, leafy glades, waterfalls, pools, it is a great day out. They have two tearooms, both with outdoor sections and some pretty walks. Its all free other than the tropical plant areas which must cost a lot anyway to maintain.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Kitchin - Edinburgh

web link to restaurant.

My wife and I and some friends had lunch today at The Kitchin owned by Tom and Michaela Kitchen located by the water in Leith. It was an outstanding lunch and rates as one of the great culinary experiences of my life. I say that as someone who used to be a regular at La Gavroche and Waterside Inn at Bray, when the original Roux brother ran them. Once in a while one come upon an original talent and this restaurant exemplifies all that is right with British cooking.

Starter like a langoustine ravioli, ox tongue with fresh asparagus, main dishes like a two pork special, one piece a slow cooked shoulder that melted in the mouth and the other a crispy belly with wilted lettuce, calves liver, poached trout, tell you something of the dishes but leave out the perfect cooking, the exquisite sauces that matched to perfection, and the delightful juxtaposition of flavors, taking ones palate to a new level.

Its not cheap, but it is the finest quality, and if you want that then don't look at the bill, feel the taste! My wife and I will tell the world about this place and we will become regular patrons.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Restaurant quality

We have tried many restaurants in the Borders and North England and have uniformly been disappointed with the quality of the food offered. Last week we went to the Victoria Hotel in Bamburgh which is two rosettes and had frozen oven chips with our meal. Today I spoke to an old friend who has been doing contract work as a cover chef with several supposedly top class hotels and Restaurants in the area and his feedback is that hotels cut costs, have poor quality staff with little training and that profit has overtaken quality to the point that poor food is served.

Its a shame. For years Britain was the poor food destination of Europe, until the Roux brothers began to change it all in the 1970's. For a while, maybe 20 years, things improved, but I think that quality is again suffering. I am not sure of the reason, is it that customers hesitate to spend, or is it that hotels and restaurants are hurting?

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Today is voting day in Scotland and I went to the polls in Gordon this morning. Two nice old ladies found my voting rights and I did what one must in a democracy. It made me think driving home that we take this voting so lightly that turnouts are often less than 50%. There are I think more people in the world who have no right to vote than that have a right. Amongst those who can many more have their votes fiddled or face brutallity if they don't vote for the "man" who rules. The right to choose the man and policy that rules your life is fundamental to a good democracy and we should not take it lightly.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Berwick Shellfish Depot

Oh my gracious we have been here three years now and we just found the best place for shellfish in the area. Its on the sea road in Tweedmouth outside Berwick and is in fact a commercial fishing depot right across the road from the Lifeboat service. One walks inside and there are ranges of sea water tanks full of fresh shellfish, crabs, lobsters, langoustines, cockles mussels etc. The men are in oilskins and its rough and ready but they will take your money. We got a huge plastic container of fresh lobster meat for 12 pounds, but they had lovely live lobsters for about 10-12 pounds a piece. Now we have several reasons to visit Berwick, best bread at Fords, good beach walks at Spittal and Scremerston, Shellfish in Tweedmouth and Morrisons.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

McChans - Fort Kinneard

Fort Kinneard is a large shopping complex to the South of Edinburgh, some good shops, very crowded. They have an outdoor Chinese eatery in a van staffed by all young Chinese, memories of outdoor food in SIngapore and Malaya. Forget it this brilliant idea is squashed by the very bad cooking. My wife and I ate their today and threw most of the food away. A very heavy hand with the vinegar and ketchup on what should have been Shezuan Chicken and beef made it inedible. A lot of people eat there but is it only once like us? We just can't work out why its such rubbish, Chinese is not that hard.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cycling on Railway in North Aberdeenshire

I don't seem to find much on web sites about this but there is a lovely old disused railway that rund along the whole North coast and looks ideal for cycling quietly, safely and on fairly level ground. I did find this reference ISLA WAY about a part of the track, but from my view its much longer. Our family may do this run in the summer vacation as the railway goes through some lovely scenery and unlike many railway walks is taken care of and looks tarmac'd.

April 10 2012 - Snow Falling

Woke up this am to heavy snow falling. At this point 9am it isn't settling but its quite thick.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Findlays Fish and Chips - Fraserburgh

Findlays is on the High Street and is a well kept clean little fish and chip with its own sit down section. The fish is fresh and lovely and the batter thin and crisp. The chips are good big and solid and well fried. Its a great little fish and chips.

1629 Restaurant, Lossiemouth

North Aberdeenshire is the home of good shellfish, but can you actually eat any? Not that we could find until we happended on this nice little restaurant in Lossiemouth. They do a kind of Tapas and they have fresh giant prawns. Other than this we struggled to taste the local fish.

The Tufted Duck Hotel St Combs

As you drive into the small viallage of St Combs about 10 minutes from Fraserburgh (turn right at Tesco), one sees this ugly flat square building in the distance and sure enough thats the hotel. Gets zero out of ten for looks for sure. It is set in a huge car park one side and a huge sweep of gravel the other. I spoke to the owner about the bleak exterior and was assured that plans were in the works for a major landscaping, including a place for wedding guests, but that the local planning authority instead of encouraging a local employer, was making it very difficult for them. When one invests a lot into something as obviously they have, it must be very upsetting not to be able to complete ones projects. From what I was told the plans include a health spa.

Having said all that its one of the friendliest and nicest hotels inside I have ever stayed in, and the staff and quality of the fittings and food make up for the bleak exterior. The rooms are large and the bathrooms spotless. The restaurant serves good solid fare, breakfast is a feast with black pudding, haggis, bacon, sausages, eggs, beans, tomato and fried bread...whew hard to get through and I am a trencherman. They also offer kippers, smoked haddock, porridge, lots of toast and the usual cereals and a bowl of fresh fruit.I am told they will even cook special requests with no problem such as chuckie eggs and fingers for little ones.

Dinner is a bit upmarket and quite expensive, fish and chips at 12 pounds but excellent fish and lovely chips so cannot complain. They do good steaks and a couple of specials each night although we felt they were not perfect, for example I had roast pork loin and it was obviously cooked and chilled sliced an reheated. But overall very good quality again, but expect to pay 60 to 80 pounds for 4 with a bottle of wine.

Aberdeenshire - The North Coast

Our family took a weeks holiday in North Aberdeenshire, staying at a small hotel in Fraserburgh called the Tufted Duck (see seperate review). We drove along both coasts, the one South to Aberdeen itself and the one West to Lossiemout and Elgin. Their is a nice well marked coastal road.

To the West it passes through Macduff ( abit downtrodden) and Banf (very nice, upmarket and pretty) then Portsoy (nice local pottery), Buckie and some small coves but all with no beaches to speak of until one come to Lossiemouth which is stunning. Lossiemouth has a large airbase but the town is lovely and very nice quality buildings and a super beach long and curving with soft sand.
Elgin was a great disappointment reminding us of Galashiels, not many shops and not very nice. We also visited the Dolphin Centre at Spay Head.

To the South there is not much happening except at Crudden Bay where there is a nice sandy beach accessed over a little bridge.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Getting Planted Out

The weather her has been very good for a number of days, temperatures around 12-15 degrees C. So we have started our planting out with so far 200 onions, radish, lettuce, carrots and broad beans. Its a pleasure to be in the graden on days like this.

Thefts in the Borders

Since we came here we have felt very safe. We hardly lock our doors at night or our garden gate. But today I stopped to get eggs near Melrose at a small farm we frequent on the St Boswells to Selkirk road. The owner was there and he said he was packing up selling eggs, which he does like all small farmers in the Borders based on a honesty box. He told me that last week he lost over 100 pounds and the same the week before, people just coming and taking all his eggs and leaving no money, or worse raiding his box of petty cash. He told me that some Chinese fellas came and robbed him of half his chickens and that just this weekend he stopped a gang of Polish guys from Newcastle trying to steel his feeder troughs for scrap metal. They were caught by police at Carter Bar on the way home. I was totally shocked. I had heard of diesel fuel being stolen from farms who often have the tanks with a simple tap, but the scale of what he told me was shocking and is mostly down he claims to Eastern EWuropean immigrants from the Newscastle area. He said if he leaves his tractor out all night the next morning no diesel.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Its all in the Flour

I bake my own bread but I have never got close to the taste and quality of Fords of Berwick who I rate as the premier breadmaker in The Scottish Borders and North of England. However last time we visited Fords (the Norham branch) I bought a range of flour from them. The bread I have made with this flour is as good as their own bread, both white and brown.  Now I have used a wide range of flours before, from Allinsons strong bread to speciality mills, but nothing has the taste of this flour. I have come to the conclusion that as with baguette its all in the flour.  Fords sell a wide range of their own flours, another reason to visit them in Berwick upon Tweed or Norham

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Shore restaurant Leith

They saw my blog post and they wrote and apologised and have offered my wife and I a free meal next time we are in Edinburgh. Can't say fairer than that!

Netflix doesn't work up here

Seduced by the ads and wanting more choice for movies I tried Netflix. It is a very good experience all round, but the bandwidth provided bt BT for my area just can't cut it. You start a movie and it looks good and after about 4 minutes everything stops for 2-3 minutes while it catches up, then it was ok for another 5 minutes. Made watching a movie a joke. But I must say when I called them and explained they were very nice about it and cancelled my card immediately.

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Shanghai Restaurant - Ballater

While in the Highlands at Glenshee we stopped at this nice litle chinese in Ballater. We were fed up with rubbish Scottish restaurants (see my review on Fern) and decided hey a Chinese would work. We had Chow Mein and ate it in the car and it was all we wanted. Not the best Chinese at all, but wholesome and tasty and hit the spot for a quick lunch on the road.

The Fern Cottage restaurant, Pitlochry

A place to avoid I'm afraid. Lovely physical presence but the food vastly inferior. I had steak pie and it was all from a can or processed including the very poor pie crust. Plain boiled vegetables no flavour. We all tried to order mussels on their "daily special| menu only to be told "oh we didn't get any today" why are they on the daily special menu then???
My wife had ravioli so bad we complained and they took it off the bill, the mushroom filling was awful and we suspect the ravioli and the sauce were from Tesco.
My son had fish and chips which was not so bad as the rest, but they clearly don't cook fresh food and I wouldn't go again.

2012 - What Grows in the Borders

Well its the planning your vegetable garden time again. We have now had 2 years here and have a good idea what works and what doesn't. First potatoes, they grow but we have been disappointed with the potatoes bursting while cooking. Besides Fawside farm around the corner sells huge bags 25kl of lovely potatoes for 5 pounds, two last all winter.

Broad beans and onions are very good here as is garlic. They are all crops that require little attention too, so we will be putting these in a lot. Also carrots are good (no fly), and runner beans but only one row of each. Last year we planted asparagus so may get a little this year. We also will plant asparagus peas to see what they are like.

On the fruit side we have plenty of good apples plus raspberries, gooseberry and strawberry. We did try blueberry but not too successful and expensive to buy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Eddies Seafood fish shop Edinburgh

Again a Rick Stein recommendation but this time a good one. Eddies is in Roseneath st and not easy to find but well worth the effort as they have very fresh fish and are most helpful. We bought some lovely fresh sea bass, ling and monkfish. The have the fish in boxes and you can choose your fish and they will clean. Prices good too.

The Shore restaurant, Leith

Came highly recommended by Rick Stein, must have changed since he went. Went for lunch yesterday and was disappointed. We had mussels and scallops for a starter and the scallops were nicely done in butter and with panchetta, the mussels were Ok but my wife said the sauce (white wine and cream) had very little wine and was just milky. As a main course we both had the fish special, mine lemon sole whole and hers john dory. The plate was awash with butter and oil so everything was swimming and oily. The fish was a bit overcooked but not much and overall ok although the John Dory was dry. The sauce was a lot of chopped fresh herbs with concasse of tomato and it totally overpowered the fish. The vegetables were French carrots oand sauteed potato. Again carrots a bit strong for fish, and the problem with the excessive oil was that everything was wet and not nice. The bread and butter was lovely and the staff tried hard, but we went home wishing we had spent 60+ pounds for lunch at some other restaurant.
The other thing we notice about supposed "classy" restaurants is the inordinate amount of time everything takes. We got our starter quickly but then the main took ages and even after when we asked for the bill it took a long time to come. There was no snap in the place, it wasn't a "leisured time" thing it was a can't be bothered thing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Glenshee, Breamar and Ballater

Our family took a 4 day trip to Glenshee and stayed in a nice little cottage on an estate (Dalmunzie) at Spittal of Glenshee. We had a great time although it was quite warm at 4 degrees. The Glenshee ski resort is not at all like Ben Nevis or Aviemore which are much more tourist oriented. Glenshee is just for skiers and I think if you are a skier a much better experience as right from the road both sides there are ski lifts going straight to the slopes. We had a great time sledging right off the road on nice 50-100ft slopes of good snow.
We visited Breamar and Ballater and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. It is apptly named Royal Deeside as the high quality is evident everywhere. The cottage was a bit rough and ready, but cozy and quaint with log fires so we had nice evenings. We can highly recommend Dalmunzie and the friendly staff, I have put a link below to their web site),  We also saw a good 50 stags and deer on the hills a wonderful sight.

Link to Dalmunzie

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Heavy Snow February 4th

Snow started falling this morning around 9.30 and it has thickened and increased from there. We now have snow covering the ground and still falling heavily at 11.40am.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Metrocentre - Gateshead

Our family spent all day yesterday at this amazing Mall in the North of England about 2 hours drive from here. Its supposedly the biggest Mall in Europe and I think the people up there are very proud of it and justifiably so. It has in fact 4 malls within one with a central exchange area, plus over 50 restaurants and a Imax movie theatre with 12 screens. Its huge and there are some excellent restaurants unlike most Malls.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blairgowrie, Perthshire

My wife and I visited this lovely little town yesterday in glorious sunshine. What a lovely place and at a critical place as one must pass through it to get to Glenshee for skiing. A nice old fashioned town with a good centre, and plenty of local shops. We were very impressed. If you are planning a vist stay away from Rattray over the river as its not as nice and a long walk to the shops. They have a good range of restaurants, we had lunch in a tea shop on the high street and it was pleasant but not spectacular. But overal one of the nicest little places.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

China Palace, Duns

Tried this little restaurant on the square in Duns for the first time this week. Mixed results unfortunately. The salt and pepper king prawns were quite good, but the salt and pepper chicken wings were awful and we had to throw them away. They used a light batter on the prawns but on the chicken a heavy batter with raw cornstarch in evidence in the skin and the chicken tasted old and tired and not fresh. The prawns were juiy and very large so they get an A for these.

Like most small Chinese restaurants in the Borders they have a over ambitious menu with 60+ dishes, obviously they cannot cook them all well so one plays roulette when one orders, some OK some awful. Why they don't stick to a dozen dishes they have perfected. They also claim to do Japanese and Thai dishes which is patently silly as Japanese requires a level of chef work far above their capability, and Thai relies on fresh ingredients carefull balanced for heat, again well beyond their ability. They close Tuesday all day but otherwise open 11-2 and 4.30 -11.
If the opportunity arises we may try them again and see if they can at least cook rice, a capability well beyond most Chinese restaurants in the Borders in our opinion.

Early January 2012

The weather has been astonishing, not only well above norms at 8-10 degrees but a lot of lovely sunshine. We have had some high winds on and off but this is just not the winter weather we have become used to, this is actually good touring weather.