Saturday, 12 May 2007


So, then. Here is a blog in which to pour all my nonsensical and un-world changing thoughts. Hm. Seems rather pointless when I put it like that. Perhaps, instead, I should use it as a diary of all the wonderfully interesting things that happen in my life.


All right then. Perhaps I should just bite the bullet, recognise that there's very little that happens in my life that bears relating, and just waffle ad nauseum.

Thinking of ad nauseum, I'm having another bout of what I have dubbed 'Psycho Tummy.' The doctors don't know what it is, I don't know what it is, and it's starting to really get on my tits. It may be digestive. It may be related to stress. What is odd is that over the winter I haven't been troubled by it at all. I remember the first time it really became a problem was in Spring - and now it's Spring, and it's back! There are three reasons I can think of for this strange seasonal aspect.

1. A great many plans get made at the start of Spring. Koios, Phidippida and Blarney all have their birthdays in May, while summer holiday plans begin doing the rounds. This year, Blarney and Spartan are getting married and have asked me to sing at the wedding, which scares the living bejaysus out of me - but which, for some reason, I cannot refuse - while Ma has organised a full family trip to Iceland at the end of July. All of these things are fabulous, and I'm anticipating them with great excitement, but Psycho Tummy does not like it. Bad Psycho Tummy! Naughty!

2. Call me crazy (as the above clearly suggests) - but could it be a form of hay fever? An allergy - or 'sensitivity' - to certain spores being released in their millions by the trees around our house?

3. I've noticed that feeling cold makes me feel nauseous, and this time of year is incredibly changeable in Scotland - especially here on the coast. A few weeks ago it was blazing sunshine, really warm, and all the heating in the house had to be turned right down. Now it feels like an autumn day: cold as a proverbial witch's bazoonga, grey, and rainy. The house is very chilly without the heating - so perhaps that adds to my problems?

The trouble is, none of those three really convince me. If it's stress from thinking about all the plans we've made, why do I wake up with it? I mean, presumably I'm not thinking about these things in my sleep, so I can't be stressed when out for the count. The hay fever thing doesn't strike me as being very likely, and I get Psycho Tummy at other times of the year as well. As for the cold - yeah, well, it's always cold and I'm not always stricken, so that doesn't explain it fully either.

It's most likely stress, to be honest, and that pisses me right off! I'm not a shrinking violet who crumbles at the first signs of pressure, yet here I am, feeling like I'm about to barf from morning to night, and for no good reason but the thought of fun holidays and celebrations with my pals! Fishergirl is very good to me and tries to 'talk me down' but what she doesn't understand is that none of this is conscious! I never mentally feel stress. In fact, my head tells me everything is wonderful, and that I'm set for a summer of larfs a-plenty. It's my body that collapses like a flan in a cupboard.

Sad. Very, very sad.

Enough of my malingering! On to the events of last weekend, for it was the long awaited birthday party of Phidippida. Ages ago, she 'booked' me for a restaurant night, to which she invited all our nearest and dearest. Only Spartan couldn't make it, as he had some Cult thing to attend to (that's the BBs - not really a cult), but that still meant cooking for 11 people - a challenge I was very glad to rise to. I do so love to cook. So, anyway, I started thinking about the menu ages ago. It had to have a cheese theme, seeing as how Phidippida is the Big Cheese of the Cheese Board, but I didn't want it to be too heavy and rich, as it would leave us feeling fat and sick afterwards. I spent ages perusing magazines, the internet and my Good Housekeeping recipe books for inspiration. Then I threw all my ideas in the dustbin and started again. I just came up with my own ideas and tried to see if there were any recipes that could be used as a guideline.

Once I'd settled on the menu, I then tweaked it, poked it with a stick and came up with what I thought would please, not only Phidippida, but everyone else who was attending. By Tuesday, it was all set and ready, so on Wednesday I went and got the shopping needed.

Then I fainted - both at the sight of the receipt, and the weight of the shopping. Once Fishergirl had revived me, we drove home in the Drover (it wouldn't have fitted in Fishergirl's car) and I started making stuff immediately. There were ice creams, sorbets and sauces, all of which could be made ahead of time.

On Thursday, I made more stuff and went to bed at about 2 am. Oh - just before going to bed, I got an email from Blarney (who should, from now on, be known as Cretin, but I am too kind) saying she had "no idea" I'd wanted everyone to come up from Edinburgh "post haste" and that she had "transport problems" but would try to be with us before 7.

Before 7!!???! The woman is utterly clueless. I have no idea what she expected, but it certainly looked like she just wanted to rock up, change her clothes, have a few drinks and a chat, give her order and get her food put before her at her leisure. I was furious! I wrote her a furious email, then furiously deleted it, then sent her another, calmer but very, very annoyed email with a few jokes chucked in there to keep her from deciding not to come at all. Christ ... 2am on the morning of the party and she tells me she's having "transport problems" and won't be with us until half an hour before I want to serve the starters. I'm not actually a restaurant. I don't have a serving staff and a team of chefs, and therefore it's a tall order to expect me to have eleven dishes cooked, served and ready in half an hour when I also have another 33 dishes to consider after the first 11 are sent out! But that's Blarney, darn her. Clueless. She'd probably have more of an idea of things like this if she'd ever picked up a pot in her life, but Spartan does all the cooking so how the hell is she supposed to know? Chunter, chunter, grumble etc etc ...

Anyway - Friday rolled around and Blarney's latest email reassured me she'd get an appropriate train and be with us around 6.45 - which I just had to accept. After all, they were all coming from work, and while the rest of them managed to get an early departure, Blarney just started a new job and couldn't exactly bugger off early in her first week! Also, she is too cute to be cross with for very long.

I was busy all day, pre-cooking as many things as could be pre-cooked, loving it! I really, really wanted Fishergirl to relax and enjoy the night as well, and was determined to do everything by myself, so I had very little help. Oh - I did send her into St Andrews to get some langoustines ... which we were then informed had not arrived, despite me asking the Perth branch of Kerracher's to send them over. Fishergirl had to wait until 5 pm when the van came with deliveries - and we had to have them live, rather than pre prepared. As well as having an allergic reaction to the shells of all crustaceans, I wasn't entirely happy with the idea of killing langoustines while so much else was going on at the same time - so I asked Fishergirl to do it. Which she did. With aplomb. I thought she might go for the old boiling water job - but noooo ... something dark and primeval in her made her choose the more hands-on approach of stabbing them through the head with a big old knife. It was a little more graphic than she'd expected, and she looked a little grey about the gills afterwards, but she soon shook it off ... and it didn't stop her ordering them later on!

Anyway - I'd written out a schedule of great precision, but I soon realised all that was going to be chucked out of the window because, after all the Blarney nonsense, I'd completely forgotten to ask Lubentina and Silver Arrow to arrive at 6.30 rather than 7. So my rage turned out to be completely uncalled for - although not really, because Lubentina and Silver Arrow only live down the road, so they didn't need to get changed. Which Blarney took 45 minutes to do, while trolling around singing 'la la la' for a good while rather than getting down to it. Fucking people having fun while I'm in a state of mental bewilderment! It's almost as though that's what they were there to do ...

So, anyway, eventually everyone was seated with glasses of chilled champagne, poured by Protagoras, and I could hand out the menus. This is what they looked like:

1. Quail Capricorn - Cold roast quail, with a goat’s cheese, prune and basil stuffing, served on a lettuce nest.
2. Utopian Staff of Life - Pancetta, onions and mature cheddar make this savoury pudding much more than just bread and butter.
3. The Reid Fush - Finest Hebridean smoked salmon, served with Arran oatcakes, and lemon, mustard & dill ice cream.
4. The Optimist - Twice-baked Roquefort soufflé. Light, fluffy and delectable.
5. The Pessimist - Twice-baked Roquefort soufflé. Flat, stodgy and inedible.

1. Bridie Pie - A hearty slice of shortcrust pastry pie, with layers of rabbit, smoked pancetta, leek & potato. Served with mustard mash and fruity, homemade Cumberland sauce.
2. Muttering Duck - Tender duck breast drizzled with a rhubarb, port and redcurrant reduction, served with garlic new potatoes and a chilled rhubarb sauce.
3. Cymbopogon Norway Lobster - Fresh Kerracher’s langoustine, grilled and drizzled with lemongrass butter. Served with toasted ciabatta and roast garlic cloves.
4. Silver Arrow’s Bane - Lamb chops with a cream cheese, fig, cashew nut, ginger and port atuffing, accompanied by homemade spicy apricot sauce.

1. Phidippida’s Special Ice Cream - Apple and Lancashire cheese flavour, served with cinnamon apple rings.
2. Citrus Tartlets - Lemon cream encased in shortbread pastry, drizzled with raspberry coulis.
3. Chocolate Marquise - Devillishly rich chocolate mousse with a chocolate biscuit base, served with creme fraiche.

A selection of Ian Mellis cheeses and oatcakes.

Coffee & Petit Fours

There was cooing, so I presumed I'd got something for everyone on there! Anyway, I took the orders and vanished into the kitchen to get everything started. First thing on the schedule was "put bread and butter pudding into oven" (Utopian Staff of Life, that is). Considering it takes around 45 minutes to cook, according to Fishergirl, who is the mistress of bread and butter puddings, I just stood there in a complete daze! Everything had already gone wrong! They would have to wait 45 minutes until the starters came out!! And so, with a wail like a dying banshee, all thoughts of letting Fishergirl have an uninterrupted evening of pleasure went the way of the Dodo and she came scampering through to my aid. In a voice reminiscent of the Horse Whisperer's, she calmed me down and told me everyone was having a lovely time next door, drinking 'poo and catching up, and that they wouldn't give too figs about having to wait for food.

Luckily, it turned out the pudding only took half an hour to cook, so my schedule ended up being only 15 minutes out. Not that bad!

I had the soufflé which, luckily, turned out to be the Optimist rather than the Pessimist, and I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. I cheated a little, 'cos it's a Delia Smith recipe, but damn! I'll cheat like that again. Plus, because it's twice baked, you can actually make it the night before and then just give it its second baking half an hour before serving.

The lamb stuffing, which I'd been so worried about before, turned out to be fine according to Wheeler and Janus. I should have listened to Fishergirl all along. She knows everything.

I have to say, my organisational skills - despite having written everything down - turned out to be extremely dubious. I'd go over and look at what was supposed to happen next, turn away, take three steps across the kitchen ... and then have to go back and look again because during those 3 steps my brain had raced away with all the other things that needed to be done and I'd forgotten what I was doing. I need help. Serious help.

After the main courses were served (the only concern I still have is that the duck wasn't big enough. I gave half a duck breast because it was so rich, but I fear it just wasn't really enough - especially for Protagoras, who could eat the arse out of an elephant in one sitting) I could really relax and just enjoy the night. The wine was free flowing, the conversation merry (I had a moment of jealous rage when I was busy in the kitchen, burning myself quite badly on the oven, when a great gust of laughter came through from the conservatory - where we'd set up the dining table - and I just wanted to be with them having a giggle. But it was only a moment, promise) and Phidippida seemed to be having a very lovely time which was, after all, the whole point.

Once pudding was done, and cheese, we started in on the business of getting drunk and staying up way, wayy too late. I chatted for ages with Protagoras, which was great as I was feeling quite edgy from all the remaining adrenalin and thought a quiet one-on-one would be perfect before becoming part of the rowdy crowd. We started in on the port and never left it, which turned out to be a very bad idea.

The evening ended with Koios falling asleep in the sitting room, and seeing as how she and Protagoras were sharing the floor (on a blow up mattress - we're not that unkind), we all vacated to the kitchen where I took my guitar. We sang, drank, talked, until 3.30am, when we all simply flaked. I really don't know how the rest of them did it. I don't have a job to go to, but they'd all been at work all day (and Wheeler brought his work with him owing to Anitpodean catastrophes of some kind), so respect to them for having such longevity!

The next day dawned ... well, painfully. But after I'd fallen asleep again twice, I managed to look on the pale May light with something other than horror. I had a shower, dressed and went downstairs to see what manner of people my guests were that fine morning. What delight greeted me! A clean kitchen, completely restored to its former beauty by Blarney, Koios and Janus. There was no sign of Protagoras, but considering how much of the port he necked back, that was no surprise. Even less of a surprise was the absence of Wheeler, who'd tried manfully to keep up with Protagoras, who is twice his size and, frankly, much, much harder. I was surprised to hear he was actually alive - but after an hour or so he showed his grey face and could even summon a smile. Bless his cycling socks.

My 30th birthday present from the girls had been a photograph of us all together (just the Cheese Board, that is, not the Cheese Boys as well), and because it was one of those rare occasions when we were all together, Phidippida arranged for the photographer to meet us at our house. I had been slightly concerned that we were all going to be hungover to the hilt and take the worst photos in the world, but luckily we all managed to revive before he turned up.

We had great fun. First we had some shots in the garden, where we all pounced on Fishergirl, then everyone pounced on me. There were also a few of all of us running towards the photographer, which I'm not sure will turn out very well. Boobs flying everywhere ...

Next we walked up the hill, taking a few shots of us dangling off various branches in the Faerie Tree and then a few in amongst the trees, where the sun had the decency to come out and dapple the grassy ground. Lastly we went to the top of the hill and had our photos taken by the old lookout post, and then individually. After that, we went home for lunch and took the photographer with us. So he got to sample all the leftovers from the evening before, which he was quite pleased about.

Wheeler had to leave and get back to Edinburgh before lunch, and Protagoras & Koios had to follow soon after they'd eaten (Protagoras might have had some difficulty keeping it down!) because they're in the throws of doing up a flat. Pro was disappointed to leave, I think. He looked like he just wanted to lie down and sleep for a week! But Koios cracked the whip, so off they went, taking Janus and Badger with them. (I have no idea whether Badger had a good time. I have no idea what he makes of us at all. He doesn't speak. However, he does laugh a lot so I think he was happy.)

Blarney, Phidippida, Fishergirl and I had a relaxing afternoon and then followed into Edinburgh in the evening. Fishergirl and I were staying with Blarney and Spartan, so that Fisher could run the 10k next day. Blarney, Janus and Spartan were all doing it as well, and we were there to lend moral support.

It's nice to stay with Blarney and Spartan. Their flat is very comfortable and they have a spare room that actually resembles a spare room, rather than a sofa bed or cushions on the floor - which, frankly, I'm getting too old to enjoy! Although, actually, there's not much wrong with Phid's sofa bed.

Next morning, I joined Phid at her flat near Easter Road and we went together to cheer the runners up Arthur's Seat. We stood at the worst point, just at the brow, and gave it our all. Gosh, it was so tiring, watching these knackered people toiling up the hill. Our arms ached from all the clapping, our jaws got stiff from the shouting ... I really don't know how we coped. I think we should have a big pat on the back for all the effort we put in. SO exhausting!

Oh, yes - Fisher did very well. She didn't break her target of an hour, but she discovered the race is actually longer than 10k by a little bit, and she did run 10k in under 60 minutes. Despite this fact, she was disappointed. But then, she is crazier than a drunk snake and should be nothing but proud. Blarney finished about 20 people ahead of Fisher, while Spartan, the superhuman, came in 150th and did the whole thing in about 40 minutes, if I recall. He did this with no training whatsoever. He is a bastard.

After the run, it was time to celebrate Blarney's birthday. She always does the same thing: runs the 10k, gets everyone to bring party food (and sends Spartan out to Sainsbury's), then takes us all to the park. There we play rounders for a few hours, before coming back for cake and a game of Scattegories - a game I love, but which we play only once a year. This year, I actually managed to get a kickabout with a football as well as rounders! I have no idea how Spartan managed, but after I'd kicked the ball at him two or three times like an irritating brat, he succumbed. We were then joined by Silver Arrow, 'Boarder and Chopper, so we could play 2 v 2 with one in goal.

Jaysus. It's knackering. I nearly died - several times - and I really, really have no idea how Spartan stayed on his feet. We played for about half an hour and there was one - count 'em - one goal! Scored by 'Boarder and set up by me, thangyewverymuch. Chopper got her name from this game. She may be small and slight, but by god that girl is feisty! I still have bruises on my shins.

Anyway, back we went for tea and cake. Spartan kindly offered Fisher and me a bed that night as well, which we gladly accepted. We had the dogs with us, so there was no reason to go home. Also, Spartan was off for the bank holiday next day, so we were able to have a liesurely morning and then go to breakfast at Maxi's. I was dead at 10.30pm - and fighting off a bout of PT, surely brought on by tiredness, hangover and a rubbish, rubbish diet of cake, cake and biscuits - and fell asleep by 11.15.

Next day, Blarney had to go to work but we had a nice brekker with Spartan before heading home. Once at home, I fell asleep in front of the Chelsea v Arsenal game (it was crap anyway) and then remembered I had a tennis match to play. Jeeeeeeesus ...

And could it be a nice, short game? Of course not. In fact, it went on so long it got dark and we had to arrange to come back on Wednesday. Plus, the courts were those bouncy tarmac ones with little hills and divots all over the place. I can't stand that sort of slow, high-bouncing tennis where all you can do is put it back over the net and hope the opposition screws up. My game isn't good enough to put away looping balls.

Anyway ... that was the end of the epic weekend of Phidippida and Blarney's birthdays.

It's now a week later and I'm till feeling the effects! Plus, I'm off to London tomorrow to see an old American friend who's coming to the UK to kick off his traditional European Tour. Why the hell he's staying in London I don't know. Maybe I can persuade him to actually get out and see some of the UK, rather than just the capital. After all, any foreigner visiting this country will get a very poor impression of what its like if they only see London. London is as much like the rest of the UK as a zebra is to a camel.

Enough. When something else of interest happens to me, I may feel the urge to blog again.

So - see you in a decade or so.