Friday, 30 November 2007


Yes folks! In some manner of miracle I've actually gone for a run, followed by a cycle only 2 days later. It looks like my triathlon training may be back, and back with a vengeance!

If, by 'vengeance' you actually mean 'whimper.'

Cor luvva duck but it was hard work. First of all, I felt awful today - so when Fisher came bouncing down the stairs in her running kit, all ready for her long run which I'd said I'd cycle with her, I said I just couldn't face it.

Then, 5 minutes later I decided I could, and put on my tracksuit.

Then I couldn't face it again, had a mini-strop and went and played PS2 instead. God of War 2 rocks! Fisher headed out into the dreich Scottish weather, I merrily maimed and murdered some beasties, and then I had a sudden rush of blood to the head.

"Are you a woman or a wuss!?" I demanded. I gave myself no reply, but the die was cast. I stomped down into the garage to get my bike out before I could change my mind - and discovered the front tyre was flat as a proverbial pancake. I then attempted to pump it up for 10 minutes without loosening the valve, so exhausted myself before I'd even begun, while the tyre remained flaccid as an empty bladder.

Muppetry aside, I managed to get myself on the poxy contraption and headed off after Fisher. Naturally, she'd chosen to go up Quarry Road and off towards the Craigsanquhar, which meant a hideous, hideous hill. There is nothing more exhausting than riding up a hill on a bike. I was gasping for breath to such an extent that I literally couldn't open my throat enough, and started making alarming snoring sounds. The woman walking her dog down the hill thought this most amusing. Although she was too civilised to laugh in my face, I heard her cackling from around the corner. Downhill-walking old crone.

Just over two miles into the ride, I met Fisher coming back the other way and followed her back home. I attempted to cycle up our hill, but faiiiiiiled and had to get off and push. When I actually dismounted I thought my knees were about to crumble beneath my bulk. Most chastening. Anyway, to make up for this final mini-failure I completed God of War 2. Such a beautiful game. Sadistic and bloodthirsty - but beautiful.

Tonight I'm off to the tennis social - briefly - before driving Fisher in to Edinburgh for her craft fair. Her jewellery is going great guns at the moment and she's run off her feet. I hope the fair is a success. We could do with a little extra mullah coming in!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Yes folks, it's some kind of miracle! I managed to quell my soul-sucking reluctance and accompany Fisher on a run at Tentsmuir with the pooches. It was cold, so I donned trackie bums, my vest top that I have to wear under my bra (get blisters from the straps otherwise), a running t-shirt, and my running jacket.

I then stepped out of the house and found it much milder than anticipated - but did I amend my wardrobe?


I therefore started shedding clothing like a washing machine with its door open after about 5 minutes of my run, having to leave my jacket hanging on a fence post and picking it up on the way back.

But! Without even trying, I managed to complete my fastest ever 5k. 33mins 55seconds. Yes yes, I know there are three legged pigs who can run faster, but I was dead, dead chuffed. I was also utterly knackered all the way round because I'd eaten only 2 bits of toast, some 4 hours previously. Goober.

We then went ot Tesco and picked up the weekly shop before returning home and getting ready to go out for a home-cooked meal with Fonda, who's just got her dining room up and running and wanted to show it off. It's lovely - wooden floors, white walls, a Mediterranean feel - even in the depths of a Scottish winter. She cooked us lamb and cous-cous (she put baby tomatoes, pre-roasted in balsamic vinegar, in the cous-cous which were delicious and which Fisher, cous-cous Queen of our house, is now going to adopt. If she can be arsed) followed by Apple Pie and cream from M&S. We chatted over coffee and biscuits, discussing her boyfriend (whom she never fails but to paint as a complete twong, but I'm sure isn't) who then telephoned, on cue. Fonda said she was busy, so she'd call him later. "Yes, really!" she replied to his disbelief, and put the phone down. Ten seconds later, he rang again.

"You never asked," we heard Fonda say, and correctly interpreted this as a resonse to "you didn't tell me why you're busy!"

Granted, if I phoned Fisher only to be told she was busy, I'd want to know what she was up to, in an interested sort of way. In fact, if she said: "I'm busy right now, can I can I call you back?" I'm pretty sure I'd say: "Sure. What are you up to?" And if, for some reason, I didn't ask straight away I think I could contain myself and wait until she called me back to find out. Not Fonda's fella. He had to know then and there, to the extent of calling her back, further interrupting proceedings. Couple that with Fonda telling us that, when she'd asked what he was doing for Christmas, he claimed he would "decide on Christmas Eve."

Sounds like a selfish, self-centred arse to me. Who actually thinks they can just descend on a family Christmas at the last minute? Someone who's never cooked a Christmas meal, or done anything to prepare for Christmas, or any social gathering that involves feeding, housing and entertaining a large number of people, that's for sure.

Still, Fonda keeps bemoaning the fact she always says the wrong things about him, and I'm trying very hard to reserve judgement until I actually meet him. I'm sure he's a great guy. Fonda's certainly happier since they got back together, so that's good.

Aaanyhoo - enough judgement and crabbishness! I've done far too much looking down the old nose in the past few days, and it makes me feel all curled up inside. Life is good! Next week we go down to York to enjoy a hotel break with Brother and Gaura and belatedly celebrate his birthday. The tennis social is this Friday, and Sunday night we're going out for a meal with Koios and Pro before the trip to York, where I plan on discussing New Year plans. And Christmas is so close! Holy crap ona stick! I must book our Malta flights.

I'm off to do that now.

Urg. Flights.

No! Life is GOOD! Hurrah for flights. Hurrah for Christmas, family and pals. Hurrah, I tell you!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Descent of the Spawn ... again

This weekend has been pretty chaotic, as is always the case when the Spawn comes to town. It's also be terrific fun to see everyone, especially as my mother had flown over from Malta to help out with Wrecker and his burns.

First and foremost, I was dead chuffed to see Wrecker striding up and down the corridor, his usual boisterous self, and although his appetite was a little 'off' he was otherwise in great humour. Gemmill was delighted to be at HC, and the first thing he did was subtly angle for his 'surprise.' He went straight to his bed, where I usually hide a present, and was obviously deeply disappointed not to find anything. In actual fact, I had hidden a PS2 game there, but it obviously didn't register. Anyway, when I told Sister it was there, she asked if we couldn't take it out, as he children were becoming far too used to gifts! So Fisher whisked it away while Gemmill asked if he'd got a 'different bed' this time (translation: "I say, there's appears to be no gift in the bed in my room, ergo I must be sleeping in a different bed this time, where there is surely a big fat present awaiting me.") and demanded to know: "What is there to do here?" I'd clean forgotten to bring any of the toys up from the garage, so it did look dauntingly un-child-friendly. However, the PS2 game was a real hit - Buzz's Junior Monster Rumble - and he whiled away a happy half hour or so before his supper, thrashing his mother, Granu and Auntie Fisher.

Once the kiddies wre in bed, we adults sat down to game pie and a hearty chat, which lasted well into the night. Sister remarked it was the first time in weeks she'd actually relaxed, and considering the strain she's been under, I'm not surprised. She's been relying on the hospitality of her sister-in-law, with whom she's not always on ideal terms, and it all became just a little too much. When she and Ma had to leave the kitchen in a tip because they were running late, The Sister In Law came back from work, unexpectedly, for lunch and found it covered in sugar puffs and breakfast debris. Granted, this is annoying - but The Sister In Law was, and I quote, "beyond devastated." Nor did she mellow in any way when given flowers by way of apology. Instead, she decided it "wasn't working out" so Sister told her they were moving.

If my kitchen had been left like a bomb site, I would have been a bit cheesed, for sure. In fact, my kitchen has, in the past, been left a tip. But I know dealing with two boys of strong personality, neither of whom are easily persuaded into doing that which they do not wish to do, is incredibly difficult. The Sister In Law deals with her children by organising their lives to the extent they literally only see them for about two hours a day. But rather than vanish down a line of disapproval in the way people raise their children, I'll just reserve my disapproval for the fact that The Sister in Law did little to make Sister feel comfortable and, after pretty much booting her out, had the audacity to say, upon farewell:

"Let us know if there's anything we can do to help!"

I said Sister should have turned round and asked to stay for another two weeks.

Aanyway, I wasn't there and have only Sister's spleen venting upon which to go, which isn't entirely fair. After all, The Sister In Law did let her stay for 2 weeks - and that length of time is guaranteed to put everyone on nerves' edge.

Next day, we went into Dundee to satisfy Gemmill's need to see the robot at Sensation, and Sister's desire for lunch at the DCA. Lunch proved to be a mistake. They're always pretty slow, but this time they took an hour to bring us our food. Astonishingly, the boys didn't run ragged and eventually we managed to get food down us and move on to other things.

That evening, Fisher and I were promised to a charity quiz, run by the ex-president of my tennis club who is a bit of a control freak and is NEVER WRONG. On the other hand, she proved a brilliant quiz maker. We rocked up to Age Concern in Cupar (God help me, but that did my ego no good. "How did you spend your Saturday night?" "I had a kickin' time at the Age Concern." I am, officially, mentally ancient) and discovered tables full of keen quiz goers - and the pamphlet of paper provided for our answers.

It was like War and Peace!

We were in for a long night.

Well - long it certainly was, taking some 3 1/2 hours, but it was also entertaining, with rounds like: "Guess what's in the bag" where you had to identify several plastic baggies of ordinary hoursehold powders. Lu and I volunteered to be indentifiers and got 9/10. The one we failed on was ground almonds. I thought it was polenta. I got lightly ribbed over this by Tom, who was there with Debbie. "Polenta? Who d'you think set up this quiz? Heston Blumenthal?"

Obviously a pie man.

The slightly unbelievable result of this epic quiz night was that we four walked away the winners, despite a 20 question round on Scottish football anthems and their corresponding competitions, which was a complete disaster. We won four bottles: one of Glenfiddich, one of red wine (Hardy's), on of Irn Bru, and, even more oddly, one of orange barley water. Fantastic!

Next day, we met up with Arrow and Lu again for Sunday lunch. I roasted a couple of guinea fowl with rosemary, garlic, pancetta and butter under the skin, and they turned out well. We then played a little Monster Rumble with Gemmill, took a walk up the hill to let Gemmill hunt the geocache, and returned to HC to flop. Or so I fondly imagined!

I wanted to play a grown up game or chat with Arrow and Lu while the kiddies watched TV, but Lu and Arrow were happier watching Pepper Pig, so I went through to do some work in my study. After 5 minutes, I was interrupted by Fisher who had just been alerted by my mother to the fact that Ma's flight was not, as thought, at 9.30pm tomorrow night but instead at 9.30am tomorrow.

Mild panic ensued. Flights to London had to be booked, then from Malta to London - but the Malta Airways desk was, of course, shut until 8am on Monday and we didn't want to book online if it was possible to transfer her ticket for £30. As we all rushed around like headless chickens, discussing alternatives (taxi to Glasgow that night/ stay 'til Thursday when another flight leaves from Glasgow/ flights from London on Monday/ flights on Tuesday and stay with Brother and Gaura etc) Lu and Arrow remained watching Pepper Pig, oblivious. I'm delighted to know how easily they can be entertained.

Aside from the flight nonsense, it was my ideal Sunday! A housefull, a Sunday roast, a walk, then flop. Ok - the flop didn't quite work out as I expected, but it was pretty perfect otherwise.

Next day we were up by 7.45 to see off Ma and Sister & Sons, who managed to leave the house only 20 minutes or so late. Some kind of record! Ma managed to get her flight sorted and it much relieved our minds. We waved them off fondly, then returned to a house that seemed to echo with emptiness. Still, it was rather nice to slope about in a dressing gown for the rest of the morning before the cleaners arrived (then left again because they couldn't do the full amount of time and Fisher threw a minor wobbly and demanded they come back when a complete clean could be achieved).

We'd planned on doing some exercise, but lack of sleep quashed that idea and instead we had a lazy day. I helped in the jewellery workshop, putting the hooks on earrings (very proud) then played a lot of God of War 2 (not very proud at all), and before you knew it, it was time for supper. Amazing how a day doing nothing can speed by.

So that was that for the Visiting Spawn. Terrific stuff. I love, love, love a busy weekend.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


I've just had a mini trantrum and had to come and sit down for while. I've been clipping Bridie, who hates it. She started trembling as I washed and shampoo'd her, increased the shaking to a positive vibration during her hair-drying session, and hasn't stopped throughout the clipping. It breaks your heart, especially when she leans against you and whines, as if to say "oh why, why are you doing this to me? Don't you LOVE me any more?"


I managed to do most of her, but I have a slight problem in that when the hair gets in my face it actually hurts. It's not just an aggravating tickle, it's so excrutiatingly acute it's almost like my face is on fire. I don't understand why Fisher doesn't seem to suffer in the same way - or anyone else for that matter. Fisher is now finishing off Bridie, after I swore violently and stormed inside, scrubbing my face with hands which, it turns out, were covered in teeny tiny hairs. Great.

Ok, after my little sit down I went back and clipped half of Baffie before having to run inside and have a shower. My face is now red and blotchy. I have the same reaction to grass. Is this an allergy, or just sensitive skin? Hmm. Also hate my own hair in my face, and flies or sundry flying insects buzzing around the region have been known to drive me to the brink of insanity. Just ask Phid, who remarked, after out Hadrian's Wall walk and with typical Phid sensitivity, I thought: "Yes, you did seem inordinately bothered by the flies. I mean, there were just as many buzzing around me ... and I didn't make such a god-awful whinging fuss!"

Ok, she didn't say the last bit, but it was practiaclly hanging in the air like a frozen turd from a cow's arse.

AN-yway, Bridie is now sleek and pepper black, with little sprinkles of salt. Fisher is just finishing off Baff so she gleams like a gilded lily, and we have 2 black poodles lolling about the house as well. Thank God poodles don't moult.

Im listening to The Clientele as I type. Jolly good. Very mellow. Me likee.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

England Out

Hey ho, that's England out of Euro 2008 then, and no less than they deserve. I have to say, I think I've pretty much stopped caring about Internationals. It's either that or feel sick with sadness for a week after a poor result.

Anyway - I won £65 quid on the game, so all in all England did me a favour.

Now, I'd better hop off and put it on Spurs to get relegated.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


After the filth of yesterday, with its driving rain, windswept beach upon which we walked 3 rather dubious pooches and I mentally ranted and railed at Fisher (I'd suggested a nice woodland walk, only to be shouted down), and general lack of vigour, it was nice to get out and about today. After all, aside from the crazy walk, the only thing I did on Monday was play endless games of Civilization III. I think it was somewhat alarming for our Eastern European cleaners to hear me screeching "Fuck you, you war-mongering German arse-bandits!" as Bismark once again attacked a weakened city.

Still, I now have a 24 city strong nation, and am kicking ARSE (bandits).

So today - it being a Tuesday and therefore Fisher's Day - we went climbing. Without an instructor there, we found ourselves much less inclined to drive ourselves up walls with the vim and vigour of previous occasions. Also, the fact we were now relying on each other and each other alone, put a little psychological block in Fisher's mind. While I have complete faith in her abilities, she is simply not as secure under my aegis. You can see her lack of confidence in me in other walks of life, too - like when I offer to load the dishwasher and she gets a slightly panic-stricken look in her eye because she doesn't think I do it as well as her.

Hey ho.

Anyway, we spent a happy 2 hours clambering at a leisurely pace up and down walls, getting extremely frustrated because we couldn't actually complete a '3', let alone a '4'. To make myself feel better, I got Fisher to time me up the final wall - a '3' we'd done several times before with ease.

It took me 58 seconds.

That's crap!

Never mind - we can only get better. There's no such thing as worse than us at climbing.

My arms now ache and it's fecking cold in here, so I'm off to build a pathetic fire because I can't swing an axe to chop more logs, so will be using the drabs from yesterday.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Good News!

I got a phone call an hour ago from Islander, saying that Wrecker had been for his last general anaesthetic, where the doctors check the progress of his wounds - and it's excellent news. Everyone is amazed at how well he's healed; there will be no need for a skin graft, and fingers crossed he'll be out on Monday! Ma is flying out that day, so Islander is going back home to work while Sister continues with Ma and the boys, staying with her sister and brother-in-law.

A relief! I didn't realise just how concerned I was until I heard that news. I know now that it's been swilling about in the back of my mind pretty permanently. Every time the phone rings I got a nasty little flash of what if ...

So, that news has cheered me up immensely.

As for the second day in Gemmill's company - it was as hectic as the first. We took him to the Science Museum, which is terrific for kiddies and adults alike, and he spent several happy hours there. He was a little more bolshy than the previous day, as we knew he would be, as the novelty of Auntie Fun had worn off. Actually, his devotion to his Auntie Fisher is now in full swing. He's always at pains to show how good she is at things: she gives the best swing-arounds (where he gets swung round by the arms), is the best at running, feeding squirrels, and is the first person he runs to when frightened. If I'm Auntie Fun then she's Auntie Cuddles. He doesn't want to compete with her - he wants to take care of her and make sure her feelings aren't hurt. Mine, on the other hand, are designed to be crushed by the full weight of his competitive spirit. Superb stuff.

After the Science Museum, where we also grabbed lunch, we asked him what he would like to do next. The answer was swift in coming: back to the 'garden' please. Delighted, we took him off to this free attraction and spent a couple more hours revisiting the exotic plants and playing in the play park.

Back at the hospital, Wrecker was looking cheerful, as was Islander whose turn it was for a good night's sleep while Sister took the night shift. We promised to bring her some room service from the Hotel du Vin, and left her to it.

Back at the hotel, we availed ourselves of their gym - which is crap, but who cares? At least they have one - and then took Sister her grilled chicken sandwich, some crisps and a bottle of lemonade. It turned out to be far from exciting, but the box they put it in was very elegant, so that was something.

On our return, we flopped gleefully on the four poster, ordered up some Buccleuch Burgers from room service, and whiled away the astonishingly long wait watching TV.

Room service proved rather ordinary, which is a shame, but no real complaints. Their chips were gorgeous, and we were hungry enough not to care about the boring state of the burger. I imagine the kitchens are too busy concentrating on the magic performed in the Bistro to be overly concerned with room service.

Next day, we took Gemmill and Sister back to - you've guessed it - the Botanic Gardens. Sister then had to return to the hospital because Islander had to go to the airport and deal with the people going to China in his stead, so we played in the playpark until lunch time. Dragging Gemmill away from the roundabout, where he and a little girl were trying very hard to kill themselves by flinging themselves off it while it was still spinning, was quite a challenge. He didn't want lunch, so promises of food - even ice cream! - did no good. Eventually he came because I made him, and then coaxed him away from a tantrum by suggesting we hunt squirrels.

When we eventually got him out of the park, we searched out an Italian place off Byers Road where they had a very child friendly - if deserted - atmosphere. We let him choose lunch (pizza - good man!) and had a very pleasant time helping him write his name, draw pictures and generally be extremely good company. Then it was back to the hospital to drop him off, bid farewell to Sister and Wrecker, and head on home.

This brings me pretty much up to date, save to mention Lu's birthday meal at the Craigsanquhar, which was very chilled, and going for a 4 mile run today. I've discovered I've put on 1/2 a stone since my lightest, so it's back to the grindstone in that respect. Hey ho. Still - I'd rather live beyond 40, if you don't mind, so I'll forego the odd bag of Maltesers.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Back from Wrecker's Bedside ...

Ahhh ... that's better!

There's really nothing more depressing than a hospital - and a children's hospital specialising in burns is particularly foul - so, while the trip was actually very far from painful, Fisher and I are both very glad to be back.

Having said that, I'm afraid a large portion of this blog is going to be devoted to the find of the century, where I had something akin to a 'St Paul on the road to Damascus' moment and was both humbled and inspired. But more of that later.

We arrived at Yorkhill Hospital to see Wrecker drowsily lying in his cot, having his toe held by Islander (something he finds soothing), swathed in bandages. However, he was pink of cheek and calm, seemingly undistressed - which was a relief. As our presence was requested ostensibly to take care or Gemmill, I greeted him by standing in front of the TV and giving hurrah. At which the little foulness shouted: "No!" and struck out at me, furious I would obstruct his viewing pleasure. Not to be thwarted, I decided suitable treatment was to pick him up and drag him into the corridor, threatening dire retribution including throwing him down the stairs. This he thought great fun, and order was restored.

We duly took Gemmill off for a day's entertainment, starting with the Kelvingrove Museum, which cunningly manages to imply a massive dinosaur skeleton on display by showing a close-up picture of its head on its pamphlet. Naturally Gemmill was desperate to see it, so when it turned out to be a small dinosaur - not even as big as a veloceraptor - he was most put out. Luckily he was interested enough in all the other stuffed and fossilised things, including a
stagonolepis fossil which I, too, thought very cool.

We managed to pass several hours here, although I think we were pushing it a bit by the end. He was only mildly interested in the armour displays, and instead of looking, told me a convoluted story about Father Christmas and a dragon, which was rather good until the bloody Power Rangers turned up in it. I hate those things. However, he was quite taken with a hollowed out log canoe and some furs, both used by Scotland's earliest people.

After Kelvingrove we headed out in search of a play park, and found one nearby which he spent about half an hour sampling while Fisher and I struggled to think of what to do next. I half heartedly suggested the Botanic Gardens - and miraculously, Gemmill was very keen to see what I could only think to describe as 'a museum of flowers.' So off we tootled.

Unfortunately, the walk proved a hell of a lot longer than I'd anticipated so we recuperated at a café and fed Gemmill a caramel slice and a smoothie, before finishing the trek. The boy is pretty indefatigable! The walk must have been over a mile, but he was still haring around at the end of it.

The Botanic Gardens proved to be a godsend. Gemmill loved the glasshouses, filled with plants, and his prodigious memory stored up all the facts I could muster (which is probably a bad thing, as I know sweet FA about plants and doubtless fed him nothing but misinformation). After at least an hour of exploration we found another play park with a roundabout, which occupied him until darkness fell and it was time to return to Yorkhill. We caught a cab (eventually) and only when we were sitting on its soft seats did Gemmill cheerfully remark that his legs were sore. Considering Fisher's feet were sore too, it's astonishing he wasn't dropping with fatigue - but he still had energy enough to demand a go on the slide outside the hospital when we disembarked.

We delivered Gemmill back to his Mama and Papa, then set about the task of finding ourselves some accommodation. And here, o readers, is where this Glasgow trip changed in nature and became a dichotomy of duty and pleasure.

After trolling up and down Byers and the Great Western Roads, stopping off at the Hilton and waiting 20 minutes to be told there were no rooms (why couldn't they just have a poxy 'no vacancies' sign?), we eventually stopped at a place on the Great Western Road that looked plush and comfy. Fisher went in to make enquiries and came trotting back saying yes, they had rooms, they could 'do' them at a reduced price, and was that ok? Fine by me - so we parked the car, grabbed our skanky hold-alls out the boot and galumphed up the stairs ... where we were were relieved of our bags by a jovial soul in a kilt and invited to have a drink. This we declined, as we actually had to check in, and therefore missed out on the free dram of Glenmorangie each visitor gets on arrival.

We were shown to our reduced rate room, and at the sight of it, something inside me just switched off and all the muscles in my back which, it seems, I'd be holding in a tight little ball of tension, simply relaxed. My soul breathed a great sigh of relief and I gazed in delight at the vast four poster bed, the bathroom with its enormous bath and walk-in shower, and the goodies laid out beside the kettle. Being starving, I immediately wolfed the complimentary 'dunking' biscuit of chocolate chip and a bag of salt and pepper crisps (not complimentary). We changed our clothes, shook off the taint of hospital, and went downstairs to see about supper. The Bistro, the hotel's restaurant, advised booking in order to avoid disppointment, so this we did - getting in at 7.30.

After doing some mundanities like checking email on the free computer access, we made our way to the Bistro. We were supplied with an excellent and generous G&T as we perused the menus. My eye lit on a starter which, at £9, seemed extortionate - considering it was, to all extents and purposes, a soft boiled egg and soldiers. Ok, so it was truffle toast, but even so, I wasn't going to fork out nearly a tenner for a soft boiled bloody egg! I turned away from it, tempted by terrines, veloutés, salads and seafood in equal measure. Fisher decided she wanted the ham hough terrine, so I was foiled in that choice, but my main course was a simple choice. I had to have the hare with turnip 'addressed two ways'. ("Good evening, turnip" and "Hey turnip, what's up?" perhaps? Aha. Ahahahahaha.) Fisher plumped for lobster, obviously, and it only remained for me to choose a starter and we were good to go.

I'd decided on something - I forget what - when my eye lit once more on the soft boiled egg. How can they charge £9 for a soft boiled egg? I marvelled. And so I ordered it, telling the head waiter that I was doing so simply to discover "how the hell you can get away with charging £9 for a boiled egg!" He smiled benignly, telling me I'd made a wise choice, and left us to enjoy our drinks in amongst the plush furnishings, dim lighting and Simon Pegg.

At our table at last, we were first served with an amuse bouche of artichoke velouté, which was a harbinger of things to come. Light, fluffy, melt in the mouth ... utterly divine, with different types of bread to mop up the scraps in a deeply ungenteel fashion. We'd ordered a glass of wine each. Fisher went for a large glass of Chianti - I forget which - but it was crisp, light and fruity. I went for a Pinot Noir, which was stupidly priced even by the glass, but by God it was worth every penny! I had to steel myself not to guzzle its rich, ripe, black berry goodness down in seconds.

On came the starters ... and oh! "Why the hell do you only charge £9 for that boiled egg?" I asked the head waiter, afterwards.

It arrived, lightly fried in something - I still don't know what. It was like a smooth breadcrumb shell - and when I broke into it, the egg flowed gently out like yellow lava. I took a small forkfull, cut a centimetre of truffle toast and combined the two.

Bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Lightly salty, fragrant from the truffle oil, beautifully warm and moist with egg ...

Without question of a doubt, the finest starter I've ever had the privilege of tasting.

Meanwhile, Fisher was chomping her ham hough terrine with pleasure. We tried each others, and I thought the terrine excellent: flaky meat, shot through with green peppercorns for a slight tartness, and beautifully prepared. My egg won the day, but the terrine was splendid.

Next up was the main course. I'd forgotten to order any side dishes with my hare, and was initially a little vexed at my forgetfulness. The hare came in small cylinders, half brown, half white. The brown half was the hare, soft as butter. The white half was turnip, which had been turned into something rather like panacotta, and provided the subtlest, earthy accompaniment to the hare. The hare itself was perfectly hung for my taste - its gaminess potent but not overpowering, and well balanced by the second turnip, which was fried, or sautéed, and caramelised.

It was to die for. Beside me, Fisher was uttering little moans over her lobster, which I couldn't sample but which she tells me was perfection on a plate - pan fried in butter, with a hot, foamy mayonnaise accompaniment. It literally brought tears to her eyes.

We sat in stunned silence. I kept glazing over. I simply couldn't seem to focus my thoughts on anything but the tastes swirling round my mouth. It was as though I'd stumbled out of Plato's cave and seen the true light. Now I know there are two levels of haut cuisine: that which you find in good restaurants across the globe, and thoroughly enjoy - and that which overwhelms your senses, delighting sight, scent, touch and taste - even sound, if you take into consideration the appreciative noises made by yourself and your dining partner.

The only comparison I have is the first time I read Shakespeare on my own, without being compelled to do so for school. As I sank into the words and found myself absorbed, I suddenly 'got' it. I knew why he was a genius. His characters danced about my mind, his words were like music, and without the ponderous analysis enforced upon him, his plays become what they were always intended to be: pure, engrossing entertainment. You're supposed to be swept up in the story, to give yourself over to it in willing suspension of disbelief, whether it make you laugh, give you hope, or break your heart.

Well, this meal did all those things. I laughed with the sheer pleasure of it, at how blown away we were by it; it broke my heart because I recognised how paltry and amateurish my own efforts at the stove are in comparison; it gave me hope because there's the promise of returning - and of learning to cook in such a fashion myself.

Yes, yes, this is all very overblown and silly, I'm sure - but I really don't care. Life is short, and the pursuit of pleasure is a noble one.

But with the search comes responsibility. If it's in your power, you have to share your good fortune with as many people as possible. Keep it all to yourself and you're nothing more than a fat cat hedonist, indulging in selfish gluttony. If you find something spectacular, it's your duty to let those who'd glean as much pleasure from it as yourself know of its existence, and share in it with you.

But I haven't even finished describing the meal!

Out of a responsibility to the Cheese Board, I ordered cheese for pudding. Fisher went a more traditional route and succumbed to a chocolate platter, which I'll let her describe in her own blog, if she wishes, because I can't really remember it. I was too excited by my cheese!

I go to choose it from a selection, and a French waitress talked me through my choices and advised me to eat them in a certain order. I could go through each and every one, but I won't (I think it would be a bit tedious, even for the most devoted foodie). Suffice it to say, even the cheese was spectacular - and the order they were eaten definitely made a difference.

Christ, I'm getting hungry just thinking about them.

After this feast of delights was done, we retired to the whisky room where over 300 whiskies are on display - including the Edradour Chateau d'Yqueme we have at home courtesy of Arrow. I plumped for port instead, while Fisher had a white sherry, and we slowly digested. Decaf coffee rounded everything off, along with several divine, hand-made petit fours. And once all this was consumed, the vast four poster bed awaited us in all its glory.

Thus ended the finest meal I have ever eaten - and thus ends this part of the blog.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Catch Up

Just a quickie, just because I feel like writing something.

A few days ago, poor little Wrecker upended a full cafetiere of just-boiled coffee onto himself and was flown off the Hebridean Isle and to Glasgow, where he's now in bandages and awaiting a potential skin graft. Understandably, this has rather put our lives on hold as we await a summons to Glasgow for aid. Naturally, this all comes at a time when Islander was due to fly to China - so we're waiting to see whether he needs to postpone the trip or not. While it seems a no-brainer on the surface, it may actually prove more problematic, in the long run, if he does postpone, so it's all up in the air. We were due to go down on Thursday, after Islander left, but if he doesn't go ...

Well, anyway, after dithering and loitering by the phone for several days, wondering whether we shouldn't just up sticks and go anyway, Fisher and I got a call from Sister asking if we couldn't come on down this afternoon. As it happens, we really couldn't. Fisher had shedloads of jewellery to make for a gallery in the Borders, and we had to arrange dogs and stuff. The best we could do was this evening - so we duly begged Lu and Arrow (again! We are so very much in their debt for so many occasions) to play house and dog sitters, to which they readily agreed, bless their cotton, wool, nylon and sundry man-made fibre socks.

Then we got a call from Sister saying that wee Wrecker has undergone a general anaesthetic to assess his wounds, and been deemed ok enough - so far - to not have a graft. He may need a smaller one than originally thought later in the week, but fingers crossed it's looking pretty good. We're still going down, but have decided it's best to leave tomorrow morning, crack of sparrows, rather than pay for an extra night in town when all we'll do is twiddle our thumbs.

So that's what's happening. Tomorrow we go down to Glasgow to meet up with Islander and Gemmill, in order to take Gemmill to the Kelvingrove Museum and generally entertain him. I don't know how long we're going to be in Glasgow, but we're at Sister's disposal, so until she's fed up with us I suppose.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

CBT Continued

Where was I?

Ah yes - driving in circles and stopping. Well, I got the hang of that pretty quickly so we moved on to doing figures of eight and slalem through cones, which I found very hard! Moving slowly with control is incredibly wobble-making, and I'm pretty sure there were only a few occasions I managed to do it without putting my foot down, and even fewer where I didn't miss out a slalem cone. I was starting to feel a tiny bit like a 'girlie', which irritated me no end - until I realised my partner in motorbike education was having equal trouble, plus he was still struggling to pull out without stalling - so I felt a little better.

Once 'Tache-man was content we'd managed to grasp some semblance of control, we moved on to the gears - building speed, changing up to second and even third if we had time, then down again to stop. I'm afraid I found this incredibly frustrating - partly because my big-toed walking boots were the least tactile things in the world, but mostly because my brain was now starting to overload with information: right hand accelerate, right foot brake, left hand clutch, left foot gears - down for first, gentle tap up for neutral, firm tap up for second, then up for third, fourth and fifth (not that we got anywhere near 4th or 5th) and down again. I found myself slightly flustered by the whole process and wasn't all that comfortable that I'd grasped it properly before we moved on again. This time, Shaz was far ahead of me, changing gears smoothly, coming to a stop ... then stalling as he drew out again! Ha ha ...

Having 'mastered' the gears, we were then giving a brief rundown of the front and back brakes. Unlike on a bicycle you're supposed to use your front brakes a lot, applying them just a fraction of a second before the back brake in order to come to a smooth and efficient stop. We were drilled on this, then sent off in circles in preparation for an emergency stop - which involved braking, then checking over both shoulders before wheeling safely to the side of the 'road'. This I found relatively straightforward, and after a couple of goes I was pretty confident that, if I were to run over any small children, it would be through choice and not lack of ability.

We also practiced applying the brake at the right time in order to come to a stop at the right place, rather than ten feet away from the junction or, worse, ten feet after it and under the wheels of an oncoming HGV.

Next up - indicators and observation. We learned to check our mirrors, over our right shoulders, click the indicator on with our left thumb, do a 'life saver' check over the turning shoulder, and turn, cancelling the indicator. Again, I was pretty comfortable with this, but Shaz kept hitting the poxy horn, making me think he was about to go into the back of me which had my nerves in rags. By this stage I was also starving hungry having not had any breakfast, and my brain was starting to jellify. But we had one more discipline left to learn before stopping for a quick lunch.

Because the training ground is on both a hideously busy road and a hill, we had to learn hill starts. I wasn't particularly worried. When I learned a hill start in a car I got it first time and, to my knowledge, have never stalled on a hill, ever. As I didn't have any real problems pulling out on a bike, I didn't see why I couldn't grasp the hill start with flair and panache.

Poor Shaz, I thought to myself, he's going to have real problems here.

Off we went, with Shaz first up to try the hill start. We found the biting point, and while I waited, Shaz pulled smoothly out and headed off, neat as you like. Superb, I thought, well done Shaz!

Confidently I set off after him - and stalled. I quickly started up again, found the biting point, pulled out - and stalled.

Yes, to my chagrin, the hill start utterly screwed me over. I was embarrassingly bad at it, and a disgrace to my sex. By the time I'd managed it a couple of times I was swearing and spitting into my helmet, frustrated and flustered. I knew that, after lunch, we'd be doing our on-road driving, and it was now looming like a threat rather than a pleasure. Hiccupping on the very first hill and getting hit by some Dundonian wifie in a Volvo seemed a very possibly fate. When we at last broke for lunch I was very uncomfortable, and hoped very much we'd have a bit more practice at it before leaving the centre.

Lunch was a very unpleasant affair. Fisher had sweetly made me a lovely picnic, but I was now too tense to do anything other than wolf my egg sarnie while fetching forgotten cash to actually pay for my lesson. At least the car was warm! I'd not noticed how very cold it was while on the bike, but the moment we stopped I felt the chill to the roots of my boots.

After picking up the cash, I took my apple and coke into the 'office' - which is an old shipping container with a camping loo and a couple of chairs in it. There, waiting to go through Element D (Practical on Road Training) with us, was Crazy H - a chatty, funny, short and stocky Dundonian lassie with plum-coloured hair. Element D is classroom (or 'unheated shipping container') based and lasts about 45 minutes. Half an hour into it, Shaz and I were sitting side by side in identical attitudes of frozen misery - at which Crazy H broke off her morale boosting story of 'How I Got A Metal Pin In My Leg And How It Could Easily Happen To You' to ask if we wouldn't like the heater on.

Into the stunned silence I asked how much longer there was to go, and was told 'about 20 minutes.' As politely as we could, Shaz and I said yes, we would very much like the heater on.

"I wouldae axed sooner, ainly I didnae want yiz fallin' asleep on me," Crazy H laughed, and it was all I could do not to warm myself by leaping for her throat and giving her a good going over.

20 minutes later, only slightly warmed by the ancient gas heater, we were back outside and 'ready' to embark on our On Road Riding - but not before, thank God, we tried some more hill starts. These I managed ok, only stalling once (maybe twice?) but feeling much more confident by the time I actually had to pull out onto the main road of hideous traffic. And when it came to it, I did it without stalling and we were off!

I'd been terrified that we were going to go up and challenge the evil roundabout onto the Kingsway, but luckily Crazy H reassured me we wouldn't. Considering it's a mess of traffic snarling from every direction, with four exits, two lanes - and all perched on a hill I was considerably relieved, and the world seemed immediately rosier.

Instead we took an earlier, much smaller roundabout and went to a quiet-ish residential area. It was just in time for the school run, but on the whole we were undisturbed by much traffic, and were able to practice U-turns, emergency stops, junctions, signalling, observation, pulling in and everything we'd learned on the training ground.

Naturally, it all went out of the window for me the more we did it. I started ok, but soon was getting flustered as junction after junction approached, gear changes were needed, braking applied, signals remembered ... all with the threat of cars sending you to happy hunting grounds. (Crazy H's parting words were "just remember - all drivers are morons!" I had to calm myself down by remembering the words my mother used when she taught me to drive: "Always be vigilant, always be ready for an idiot - but remember, people don't actually want to hit you." I find this better advice than scaring the bejaysus out of you by all but convincing you of imminent death). Anyway, we did loads of junctions because both Shaz and I were shit at them. I'm pretty sure it would be easier if you knew where you were going and could prepare mentally without having to wait for instruction - no matter how efficiently applied. I seem to need a lot of time to think at the moment - something that will change with practice, but is quite nerve wracking at the time.

My clutch and throttle control were a bit suspect, as were Shaz's, but my gear changing was bad and I was quite slow in comparison to Shaz. I I found leading much easier than following, and it was interesting that, when I led, I remembered to switch off signals while Shaz forgot. Then, when Shaz led, I started forgetting. Forgetting signals is an instant test failure, so it was a big deal.

Eventually, 'Tache-man was content enough with our progress to lead us out into suburbia. And this is where the fun really started!

We headed out onto the A92 towards Arbroath, taking in a couple of nasty roundabouts, and I was starting to relax into it and enjoy myself. When we went off onto quieter, country roads and picked up some speed, I actually gave a brief 'woo hooooo!' I gunned the engine and set off to reach 50mph for the first time - and encountered the Biker's Friend: the wind. It buffetted me head on, not only challenging my confidence in my balance but chilling me to the bones of my bones. I dropped back to the 40mph mark where I was less assaulted, but by God it was cold! Nevertheless, it was all starting to become incredibly enjoyable.

We pootled through some suburbs of Dundee in the gathering darkness, and headed into Broughty Ferry to do more junctions. By the time we actually got there it was full-on night driving, and full-on rush hour, so it was definitely good practice! After touring the streets of BF, getting the full Tayside wind broadside and checking out the new High Street (very posh) we headed for home.

I managed to miss the centre's turning first time round, which was a bit embarrassing as I was leading, so took Shaz with me, but second time was a charm - and we were back, alive, well, and with the body temperature of Greenland. As I hopped off my lovely bike, the first thing I noticed was that I was seriously aching, like I'd done a proper workout in the gym, or, more accurately, like I'd gone for a long hack for the first time in years. Then I thought about it, and realised that, yes, on many occasions I'd instinctively gripped the bike's body with my thighs as if it were, indeed, a horse. Aside from this novelty, my hands were aching from holding the handlbars with nervous tension. It felt like I'd been on the climbing wall. My back and shoulders also ached a little, probably both from the riding position and the cold, which reminded me of swimming.

So, in conclsion, riding a motorcycle leaves you feeling like you've ridden a horse to a climbing centre, scaled a couple of walls, then gone for a swim in a glacial lake.

There was just one more thing to do: get assessed. Shaz and I were similar, in that 'Tache-man said we both of us 'struggled' a bit. That's probably fair enough. I wouldn't say I took to it like a duck to water. Still, on the final assessment, there were 19 points of assessment, from throttle control to overall ability, and I got ticks in the A column for 14 of them, and 5 ticks in the B. Unfortunately, I don't really know what the A and B columns mean (anyone reading this who does, please drop me a line), so I'm presuming 'A' means you'd pass in test conditions, and 'B' means you wouldn't. I got Bs in throttle and clutch control, use of gears, moving off/pulling in, and use of signals. (Sorry readers - this is dull, but I want to keep a record here in case I lose the bit of paper and forget what I need to practice).

So, did I enjoy my CBT?

To be honest - not really. It was a long, 9 1/2 hour day, full of anxiety, frustration, and occasional bouts of extraordinary tedium. Add a cold, blustery wind into the mix and you're talking proper discomfort. But am I glad I did it?

You betcha!

For half an hour or so I really relaxed into the ride, and then it was fantastic. The sensation of speed, even at 30mph, is exhilarating. Yes, the city is tricky and feels unsafe, but riding a motorbike is fun. I'm going to take a day or two and let everything sink in, then go bike shopping. I can't wait to get myself a little 125cc and start practicing all the things I was shit at.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


So, I've done it.

"'It'?" you cry, in a veritable orgy of apostrophes, "what 'it'?"

Only my blimmin' CBT, I tells ya! And before anyone asks - no, I wasn't particularly good at it, and covered myself in no glory whatsoever. I was about as good as the guy I was paired with - a local lad called Shaz - and we seemed to pick up on each others' faults with astonishing regularity. For example, I was remembering to switch my indicator off without any trouble whatsoever, until I took the second rider position behind Shaz - and then I took up his habit of forgetting.

But I leap ahead.

First things first - the lesson began at the unGODly hour of 8am. It needed to be that early to get the requisite number of hours in during daylight. Thus, I attempted to turn in at 11pm - a good 3 hours before my usual bedtime - and inevitably just ended up daydreaming, wide-eyed, about (for some reason) camping and climbing on Skye with Phid - and getting utterly pissed on whisky in a tent. Strange what the brain will do when kicked into neutral (tap left foot up from 1st).

I fell asleep at 1am, then woke thanks to my marvellous body-clock alarm. Rising, grimacing at the still-dark sky, I washed my face, stared in horror at myself in the mirror, and tried hard to shake sleep from the corners of my brain. Then I checked my watch, uttered a small scream, and went back to bed.

It was 3am.

Luckily I got back to sleep with ease, and woke again around 10 to 7. Strangely, while I'd been rather nervous the night before, I was now quite calm. I was also extremely reluctant to get out of my warm bed and into the freezing cold morning air. Eventually I hauled myself out and into my clothes, scurried downstairs leaving Fisher a-snorin', and set off.

It was Baltic. Never again will I bitch about Helga's (Fisher's German shot-putter of a car) over-efficient heating system - but even so, I'd only just warmed myself through by the time I arrived at Scot Riders' training ground .

Naturally, the first aspect of training was standing around in the cold talking about helmets, clothing, and taking an eye test. This went on until every bone in my body was aching and my jaw had permanently welded itself together. This biking malarky wasn't really melting my butter. Or, for that matter, freezing it. It just wasn't ... buttery. It was dull. And cold. How could anyone talk for that long about helmets? All he really needed to say was:

"This is a helmet. Wear a good one every time you get on a bike and it may stop you dying. If it gets damaged, even if you just drop it, throw it away." But no - he had to show us a helmet cut in half, point out the difference between a scratch and, ye ken, a bad scratch, and tell us several horror stories about brain damaged biker friends - all of whom, it transpired, were wearing helmets - so that really cheered me up.

At last - at last - we were allowed onto our bikes! They were jolly nice. Chinese. Something like this (possibly they were this, but I wasn't really paying attention. I think they were grey):

The first thing we were taught was PIGS - Petrol switch (down), Ignition (switch it on) Gear (make sure it's in neutral by rolling forward and back) Start - er, off you go.

Yes. Off I went indeed, wobbling all over the place. I didn't find the actual process of getting clutch (left hand lever, like a brake on a bicycle) and throttle (right handlebar handle) in synch difficult, and was soon pulling out ok - but the balance was much harder than I'd anticipated. The faster I went the better it was, but being a cowardy custard I only wanted to go as fast as my feet could stop! We drove in circles, coming to a stop, pulling out and driving in circles again, until our instructor thought we'd got the hang of it.

A word about our instructor: he was lovely, and looked perfect for the part. He even had a handlebar moustache and two earrings! I couldn't have asked for more. More importantly, he was clear, reassuring and friendly - except for the brain damage stories.

Argle. It's 1.20am and my eyes are sticky. I'll have to pick this up tomorrow.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Cheeseboard Weekend

It's been a long time since we had a Cheeseboard weekend, with our nearest and dearest buddies descending, partners in tow, for food, wine and song.

First to arrive was Koios, availing herself of GNERs finest service and picked up from the station by Fisher. We had barely a few moments of chatting and chopping food before the entrance of Janus, Badger, Phid and Wheeler, all of whom had come up from Edinburgh in Wheeler's new VW van (Norman). We ate Normandy chicken fricassé and got down to the serious business of consuming vats of wine - something I have been telling myself for some time now that I simply can't do. Alas, my brain switched off for the night, I glugged a bottle of white wine followed by a couple of A'bunadhs from Aberlour's distillery (60.5%) and retired to bed with spinning head.

Unfortunately, at around 3am I awoke in excruciating pain. The mild wry neck I'd been suffering had completely engulfed what felt like my entire back, making any kind of movement breathtakingly painful. I slept fitfully, woken every time I moved by sword-thrusts in my neck, shoulders and back - and was not, in any way, helped by the deeply unpleasant hangover hitting in the early hours of the morning.

I'd planned on getting up to make breakfast of bacon and eggs for everyone, but considering I was totally bed-bound, Fisher willingly took over the task and from the merry laughter drifting up the stairs I was pretty sure everyone else was hale and hearty. Spartan and Blarney arrived in time to share the bacon and eggs. Hearing them, I attempted to get up, which would have been amusing to viewers as my legs flailed and my body refused to lift.

Further plans for the day involved heading up to Lunan Bay to check out the surf, walk the dogs and play on the beach. Naturally this was now out of the question as far as I was concerned, but everyone else set off with a will. I suppose I could have gone along and sat in the car, or even found a place to perch on a sand dune - but there's really nothing worse than the spectre at the feast. I was reminded of that scene in The Beach where two of the men are attacked by a shark. One of them dies, and they have a funeral and mourn. The other one is inconsiderate enough to go on living, in excruciating pain - and because his distress upsets the colony so much, they move him into the jungle so they can't hear him any more. Once this is done, life returns to normal and they go back to playing volley ball on the beach.

Obviously this case wasn't quite so severe, but nothing is more likely to put a dampener on a party than a morose, sickly figure moping in the background - so I merrily stayed at home with Arsenal v Man U and made supper of game pie.

For those interested in my recipe, this is what I did:

Game Pie for 1o
2 x whole partridge (deboned),
250g diced pheasant breast
500g diced venison
250g diced pork belly
3x smoked bacon rashers
400g mushrooms
3-4 tbsp flour, seasoned
1 tbsp honey
1/2 pint chicken stock
3/4 pint red wine
4-5 sprigs rosemary
Juniper berries
Salt & pepper
Puff pastry

First I preheated the oven to 150ºC. Then I fried up the onions and pork belly in a casserole dish and set them aside. I tossed the meat in the seasoned flour, then browned it in the casserole dish before adding the onions and pork. Then I added the stock and red wine, honey, rosemary, juniper berries and seasoned to taste. The stock should cover the meat but not drown it.
Then I popped it in the oven and let it cook for 4 hours.
To make it a pie, I just put a rolled layer of packet puff pastry in the oven and cut it into requisite chunks - but if you wanted to make it a proper pie, I'd recommend thickening the sauce a little, with cornflour. You could do a shortcrust pastry bottom and puff pastry top, or just go shortcrust all the way. Whatever. Your choice.

During this time, Arsenal and Man U drew 2-2, Protagoras arrived and helped me watch Top Gear on Dave - a new channel that shows repeats of pretty much every show I watch, the wanderers returned with pink cheeks from beach fun - and we headed out to Ceres to watch the fireworks.

Being raised on Maltese fireworks, which light the sky for miles around and culminate in a desperately unsafe Catherine Wheel display of visual splendour, I was prepared to be uninspired and mocked for dragging us all out on a cold night to watch a literal damp squib.

Not so.

While the fireworks lacked the power and glory of their Maltese cousins, they were much better than I'd anticipated, and while my cricked neck wasn't all that pleased to be forced into an upwardly tilted position I couldn't care less. They were very pretty, while the beacon fires glowed merrily in braziers at the edge of the green. Blarney had to be bought a luminous spinning wheel to wave, which made Fisher jealous, while the smell of frying burgers 'n' onions made me very glad there was pie waiting at home.

Back at HC, I got supper ready - ably and willingly assisted by helpers. Phid and Blarney peeled spuds, Wheeler and Spartan flirted over the pastry in a very homoerotic fashion (flicky-flicky went the flour, giggle giggle went the boys - it was heart warming), Janus helped set the table, Pro chopped tomatoes and poured wine - it was a cosy hive of activity.

Pro being a lovely, lovely man, he'd bought me some delicious salami from Luvians - so I whacked up a quick salad with lemon mayonnaise, doled out two slices each, and we had a starter! Marvellous! Well done Pro.

Supper was jovial - if a little squashed with 10 people around the kitchen table (my buttocks were half on half off the bench, but that's my own lardy fault), and we went through to the sitting room for the only real reason people were up. Namely:

GIVING ME PRESENTS!!!! Ha haaaa ha ha ...

Not really. Seeing as I'd fled the country in order to avoid making a big deal of my 31st (I felt it was a bit rich to do so, considering I'd forced everyone to pay to go to Spain last year!), I was astonished and touched that people went to such effort. Koios gave me a beautiful pair of silver buttoned, deerskin gloves - hopefully the skin of the deer we'd just eaten for supper! Janus gave me a lovely red running top and some much needed blister-proof socks. Badger - bless - remembered I'd been intrigued by his Book of Surrealist Games and bought me my own copy. Pro yet again managed to provide me with cracking books just as I'd run out of decent material: The Lodger - Shakespeare on Silver Street, by Charles Nicholl, and The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker. I'm already dipping into both, but I think Pinker has my attention more securely at present.

Phid and Wheeler are both going to treat me to days of climbing - Phid at Ratho, with its scary death slide or whatever it's called, Wheeler at an outdoor place in ... er ... Aberlour? Aberfeldy? Aberration? Somewhere Aberish, anyway. And as if that weren't enough, Phid also got me the new Countdown game - luxury edition - with a clock that makes the noise the real clock makes! Squeeeeeeeal!

Last, but by no earthly means least, in a fit of naughty extravagance, Spartan and Blarney have decided to pay for my motorbike lesson (tomorrow ... gaaaaaaaaahhh!) and also bought me the much-coveted but always discarded due to unjustifiable extravagance, Larousse's Gastronomique! Fabulous! It's just the best cookery encyclopaedia out there - and now I have it! I can cook anything! The world is my oyster stew!

After this orgy of attention, feeling no small amount of affection for my chosen family, I was able to turn attention to the serious business of playing games. Alas, Countdown was out because the maximum number of players is six - and so was Who's In The Bag because Spar would have slapped me in the face if I'd chosen it (he's a bully like that). We decided instead on Pass the Bomb, followed by Articulate - and I won both! Ha haaaaaa ha ha! Am a genius. Clearly the best games player that ever lived.

Also, the bomb never went off anywhere near me, which is pure luck - and for Articulate I was on a team with Phid and Wheeler, and Phid and I think in similar ways so I can generally get what she's describing pretty quickly and vice versa. Also we were losing all the way round and only the fact that Blarney managed to screw up by reading the wrong clues to Pro, Fisher and Koios. They were on Object (piss easy) and for reasons best known only to Blarney she decided to read clues for World (piss hard), thus giving them only 2 points. They then landed at the end, Janus pinched the all-play they had to get to win, and moved them back 2 places. This enabled us to grab a sneaky 7 from the piss easy Object category, finish - and get the all play to finish victorious and extraordinarily smug!

What was most amusing was Blarney's furious:

"I'm not happy about that at all!" and bright pink cheeks. And the girl has the audacity to consider herself the least competitive member of the Cheeseboard! But more on that later ...

With games exhausted, we watched QI on telly and then - oh shame - went to bed. Pro was first to succumb to exhaustion, falling asleep on the floor before sensibly hitting the hay, and I was next. I imagined that the others might stay up into the wee hours, but they let me down as well.

Next day we had a light breakfast and I started preparing the Sunday roast with help from contract whist players Janus, Koios, Blarney and Badger. Fisher, Spartan and Wheeler went for a run with the dogs, and as I stuffed the leg of lamb with leeks, mushrooms, garlic and rosemary, we struck up a conversation about who was the most competitive member of the Cheeseboard.

Now, I think there's some misguided attitudes to our desire to grade this. When Pro found himself almost roped into the conversation, he turned and fled the room like a frightened rabbit. Phid, on the other hand, was very keen to stress that "I just don't care."

The thing is, naturally, we none of us really care. What's fun is the conversation - and it's the sort of chat Koios and I used to bind ourselves unbreakably together at Uni. It's not about the conclusions we reach, it's about the analysis along the way. We like talking about people, about what makes them tick and why, and we're equally - if not more - self analytical. It's not about judgement, it's about a fascination with character. Who cares who's the most competitive? But figuring it out raising truly fascinating insights into not only that aspect of personality, but a great many others - like how your friends see you, how you see yourself, how introspective you are and how self aware - or self-deluded - you might be. The beauty is that nobody can be sure who's right or wrong, as there really isn't any definitive answer. If Blarney thinks she's the least competetive member of the Cheeseboard then, despite the fact we all think she's deeply deluded and a lunatic at that, she might be right from a different perspective.

Like the perspective of a deeply deluded lunatic.

Anyway, if anyone's interested we all (apart from Blarney) came to similar conclusions.

1) On a scale of 1-10, with an ordinary person being a 5 and a professional athlete being a 10, we all sit somewhere around 8 or 9.
2) The three most competitive Cheeseboarders are: Fisher, Blarney and Janus. The three least are: Koios, Phid and me.

The fact I'm in the bottom 3 should go some way to proving just how competitive we all are. Marvellous.

Anway, we sat down to roast lamb at a little after 2, and had a long, leisurely lunch with a few choice bottles of red and much interesting chat. If anyone wants the recipe for the roast lamb, this is what I did:

Roast Lamb for 10 +
1 x leg of lamb, approx 6 1/2 lbs (3.5kg), boned and rolled
2-3 leeks, finely chopped
400g (?ish) mushrooms, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Medium sherry, reduced to approx. 3 tbsp
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
splash vodka

Easy as pie. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Reduce the sherry, cook the leeks, mushrooms and garlic and add the sherry. If you want it to be less wet, drain the mushrooms before adding the sherry, but you might lose some of the flavour.
Stuff the lamb leg with this mixture, tie it securely, and pop it in the oven.
Roughly 20 minutes before it's due to come out, burn off the alcohol in the vodka and add the redcurrant jelly. Stir to a sauce and thoroughly baste the lamb with it.
Serve with roast spuds, honeyed carrots, parnsips, and a bunch of hungry mates - who will also willingly help you prepare it all!
Tip top tastic.

After our long lunch, we all went outside for apple and berry picking or footie (quite a difficult game when played on a massive slope). Wheeler climbed the tree and shook as many apples down as the gannets beneath desired, while Janus headed into the raspberry patch to gather some astonishingly ripe fruits that really have no business being there in November. Spartan and Pro attempted to knock more apples down by throwing apples into the tree, but Wheeler remarked at how astonishing it was how many apples appeared to be hanging on his arse. Luckily he remained in the tree and survived to play some kickabout footie until we decided enough was enough and returned inside - where a hive of baking activity had begun. Pastry was being rolled, flour thrown around, fruit chopped, juiced, and mixed, and delicious smells wafting from everywhere. Having had enough cooking for one weekend, I retired to the sitting room to watch Match of the Day.

The pies were baked just in time. As the timer pinged, it was time for us all to head out to the Craigsanquhar Hotel, where I'd booked us in for a late afternoon tea. All the cars were loaded with pies, fruit and bags, and off we went for our final hurrah.

The Craigsanquhar's bargain tea is now not quite so bargainous, being a tenner where it was once £6.50 - but it's still pretty good value. For your money you get all the tea and coffee you can drink, shortbread biscuits, a selection of little sandwiches, cake (black bun in this case) and little scones, cream and jam.


Couple this with a large sitting room, open fire in the next room, squashy armchairs, and tranquility, and you couldn't ask for more.

It was a lovely way to wind up the weekend, and once we'd all eaten and drunk our fill, prized Koios's arse from the lovely sofa ("I could sit here all night" she sighed) and paid up, it was time to go our separate ways. Fond farewells were made, future plans promised, and off we went, waving each other off into the darkness.

If everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I, then it was a fabulous weekend all round.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to drool, Smaug-like over my pile of loot ... and read the new Highway Code from cover to cover in preparation for my ... shudder ... 8am CBT tomorrow.

Ooh. Feel sick.