Friday, 24 July 2009

Santorini Piccies

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


Hullo all.

Fisher and I are back from a wonderfully relaxing week in Santorini, where the sun did shine (a lot) and we did eat (a lot!), and we generally had the sort of holiday we hardly ever enjoy. Ceegar and Meeper where our loyal companions, and joined us in sampling every dish available in Greece. The result, of course, is that on returning I discover myself to be - wait for it - five pounds heavier than when I left.

Five pounds!!

So our first task was to go to Tesco and buy nothing but fruit, veg and healthy stuff, vowing to have one week of nigh-on starvation, followed by a return to sensible food and loads of exercise. I'd go to the gym today, but unfortunately I'm suffering from a migraine. I had one in Santorini, too, which I attributed to the heat. I hope this one is just from the stress and strain of travel, and that they aren't suddenly going to become regular.

Santorini is a honeymoon island. While it's very similar in terrain to Malta, the houses are different. The whole island is thronged with villas in startling white stone, and the village in which we stayed - Firastefani - was made up of a cluster of these, all set into the cliffside. The view over the Aegean and the ring of the volcanic crater, out of which Santorini is formed, was stunning: sparkling sea, pure blue sky, burning sun, darting yachts and glittering cruise ships - all of which ended the day with the backdrop of a glorious sunset.

Our first villa was lovely, with a little private plunge pool, two double beds, a simple kitchen/living room - but only one bathroom. I was slightly disappointed to see all the terrace rooftops of other villas all around, meaning that there was very little privacy. Also, Santorini is more full of beautiful people than any country I've ever seen in my life. They're all the colour of chestnuts, glossy haired and perfect of figure. I felt like a sweating whale in their presence. Seriously, it was like something out of a Jilly Cooper novel - all these unreal thoroughbred couples wandering around looking smoochy. I got the feeling that all they really cared about was making themselves look good in the sun and that they were therefore shallow as puddles. Probably a wildly unfair prejudice on my part, but never have I seen such vanity on show: designer labels, skimpy bikinis, layers of make-up, immaculate tan lines, waxed legs, waxed arms, waxed bikini lines, and that walk. You know the one I mean. The one with the undulating hips and shimmying shoulders that says, with every pace, look at me, look at me, look at beautiful me!

God, I longed for the ability to teleport them all to a Pitlochry Youth Hostel smelling of hiking socks and rancid chip fat, where the rain teemed down and the only flesh on show was blistered feet in foot baths. I wonder how much smooching and lovey-doveyness there'd be then. I get the feeling quite a few of the marriages wouldn't have lasted the week.

We were, however, upgraded to a second hotel, which was even better. This time there were two bathrooms, a mini swimming pool (actually not that much bigger than the plunge pool, but very lovely), a much bigger living area - and a vast increase in privacy. The pool area was, in fact, only visible to those standing directly above us looking down, so I could flobble my flab about in comfort.

I won't go through the holiday day by day, but some of the highlights are as follows:

* The accommodation. It really was divine - especially the breakfast, brought on an enormous tray by Justin the hotel orra man ('do everything chap') and consisting of fresh fruit (watermelon, grapes, nectarines, peaches etc), Greek yoghurt, honey, pastries, cereal, and a mixed sort of omelette with bacon, sausage and peppers through it. Also coffee. Unfortunately, no fresh milk so it was vile UHT stuff throughout - but who cares?
* The weather. Blisteringly hot every day.
* Ancient Thira. I expected very little as Meeper had been on a previous visit and been underwhelmed. Fisher and I went just before returning the hire car, on a bit of a whim because we were on our own and we knew neither Ceegar or Meeper were very interested. Alas, because it was a whim, I hadn't got my camera. It began with an incredible drive up a windy, narrow cliff road without walls or any sort of security at all - which gave me the slight heebie jeebies. You then arrived at the top and had to walk a quarter of a mile or so - almost vertically - to reach Thira itself. Fisher couldn't make it, owing to her fear of heights, so I was on my own - and it was totally worth it! At the top there lay an ancient city, dating to the 9th century BC or so, complete with private houses, temples, basilica, a Roman Bath, and a beautiful theatre with the capacity of 1500 or so.
* The food. Almost all the restaurants were delicious, but not least Oia's 1800, where we splashed out on an 'Anniversarie's Eve' dinner and revelled in some extremely fine cooking.
* Exploring in our hire car, seeing sights - some of which were slightly disappointing (all beaches, the red cliffs) and some of which were surprisingly delightful, mostly because we stumbled across them (the windmill road, the traditional settlement of Megalochori and therefore the Gavalas vineyard).
* Ouzo. An acquired taste. I've acquired it.
* Our last day, when we hired a motor boat and enjoyed a 4 hour cruise around the islands, snorkelling off the stern, and being cooked fresh Mezze by our pilot, washed down with a crisp glass of cold white wine. Idyllic.

That's that then. Now, I'm off to nurse my head. It's feckin' sair.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Blind Soc

Not much to report, but I'm feeling bored and not lazy - so instead of switching on the PS3 I've decided to blog instead. Joy for my readership.

I've been volunteering at the Blind Society for a while now, and a few weeks ago they decided to make me the new editor of the newsletter. This apropos of me showing up and saying I can write a bit ... so you can see what sort of standard they set for themselves! Anyway, this is my first edition and it's been a bit of an eye opener. I naively thought that, with blind people, there are enormous amounts of resources out there - and so there are. Up to a point. I mean, the technology is becoming more and more useful, but, truthfully, when it comes to everyday living technology only amounts to a small percentage of personal happiness. Especially when you consider the vast majority of blind people suffer from loss of vision due to age, and therefore technology is a bit alien to them anyway. When it comes to generally making people's lives more interesting and entertaining, there is, quite simply, jack shite. This is presumably because most people, like me, simply presume other people are doing the job we should be doing.

It's bad enough for older people, but when it comes to blind youngsters ... well, frankly, I'm pretty appalled. I've looked on website after website and there's really very little to feel optimistic about. True, a whole lot of stuff can be done regardless of whether you can see or not - but you'd think that places would have a little imagination. Take, for example, something as simple as the Scottish Crannog Centre. They have a Crannog. Don't get me started on how irritating it is to be an intelligent adult who just wants to go and have a look at said Crannog without being patronised by a Polish guy dressed as an Ice Age settler. Of course, the idea of letting adults wander around unsupervised is against health and safety. We might fall over the railings and into the water, and obviously immediately drown.

Frankly, if this happened then it would only be a case of nature weeding out the runts, and good riddance.

I digress. The Scottish Crannog is not really directly in my firing line over this, but they are a good enough example. They have tour guides dressed in Ice Age fancy dress, right? I mentioned this. So why not say "handicapped and visually impaired children welcome." The guides can describe what's in front of them. They could provide things for the kids to handle - even to smell - while they talk them through it. Baskets? Ice Age dishes of food? Fishing lines? Tools? I'm not Ice Age Crannog expert, but I'd think things like this would work. Now, it may well be that the Scottish Crannog centre provides all this and more - but nowhere on its website can I find reference to the disabled. Personally, I think that every public attraction should have its staff wander around with a blindfold on for a day and see how they could make what they do relevant to the visually impaired. There are around 37000 visually impaired people in Scotland, which is hardly a number to be sniffed at. It's the same as the population of Stirling. Plus, it seems that people who are visually impaired are quite likely to go into denial over it, considering only about 30% of those diagnosed as such actually register. Perhaps if there was more of a conscious effort to show that there are good things in life, even if you can't see, more people would register.

I just fell into working with the Blind Soc. I don't really do nearly enough - partly because it's a well run organisation with a very close-knit crew, and I actually seem to do more harm than good if I show up and 'intrude' on their social lives - but I do enough to see that the world is shit for them. There are splendid, heroic, wonderful people out there who look outside their own narrow little lives and try and make this planet a little more palateable for those who suffer from disability - but there aren't enough. Everyone should do it. And I don't mean everyone should volunteer for their local charities - I mean everyone should try and look at the world they inhabit while wearing another's shoes. Do you work in a place where the disabled should, and could, be made more at ease? Can you make it so just by doing something as simple as writing on your website that such people are welcome? Can you tell your staff to be aware of disabilites and amend their style to include them? Take a restaurant as an example: the waiter puts the food before you and gives you a bit of bumf about it. "Here we have a medallion of venison with a primrose jus and catsick mash" for example. Are you visually impaired? In that case, why can't the waiter say: "In the centre of the plate we have a rosy medallion of venison, sitting atop a small hillock of catsick mash and encircled by a thin line of primrose jus. Decorating the white plate is the ubiquitous yellow physallis, and a few primrose petals."

Not exactly hard. And these small courtesies can be extended all over the place with only the tiniest leap of imagination. But then again, in this technological, health-and-safety conscious world, what place has imagination? How many times have I heard words to the effect of "great idea, chuck, but ..."

I'm fed up with nay-sayers and those who see only problems before them. If you want to do something badly enough, there's almost always a way to do it. If there's a valley, build a fecking bridge. We'll cross it when we come to it.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


Just taking a moment to record the veg patch progress, whilst watching the women's Wimbledon final.

This morning I planted a row of carrots, and a few courgettes. The courgettes finished the 2nd row of purple sprouting broccoli and started the far end of another row. The carrots are at the far left end of the patch. So, this is what the veg patch now looks like:

R1: carrots R2 (end): Courgettes R3: Courgettes & broccoli R4: Broccoli R5: Onions

The carrots are seed, and should be thinned as they develop. They should do well, as the soil hasn't been manured - although the stones aren't going to help. We should have our first harvest in October.

The courgettes are also seed, planted in groups of 3. Only the strongest seedlings should be left to grow, so I need to keep an eye out and thin them. I think we should get our harvest in September/October time.

The purple sprouting broccoli, I think, will be harvested in March. I'm not sure though, so will have to check. I planted it already germinated back in mid June. If you plant it from seed it takes an entire year to grow. Who has that kind of time? I'm definitely of the MTV generation when it comes to vegetable patches. Grow now, now, NOW damn you!! A year?? Fuggedabahdid. They're looking good, though.

Lastly, the white onions will probably be ready in October. I'm not so sure about them, frankly. The stems are looking a little yellow around the tips, and haven't grown the way the broccoli has. I mean - obviously it hasn't grown like the broccoli as it's a totally different plant, and if I harvested an onion and got a broccoli dangling at the end I'd be seriously surprised and not a little annoyed - but you know what I mean. It's not got the same healthy look to it. But I guess it's what goes on underneath the soil that matters, so I have to bite my knuckles and not pull one up - just to have a teeny, tiny peek. It's like baking bread. Don't open the oven door.

It's astonishingly hot at the moment, so I'll have to keep the seeds moist. Who'da thunk Scotland could be so Mediterraneanesque? The garden smells like herbs and sunshine, and I got such joy out of wandering out and picking my own thyme for the salad dressing on Wednesday night.

Oh - thinking of that, I ought to remind myself of this dressing, as I thought it rocked. It was to accompany the pigeon breast salad (courtesy of Jimmy the Post's gun), with black pudding and goat's cheese. I had to improvise as I went along as I wanted to use rich, sweet balsamic vinegar but we didn't have any, so I used red wine vinegar instead and it was ... shall we say, a leeetle sharp. Basically, this is what I did:

Reduced some port, burning off all the alcohol by setting fire to it, for flamey flamey fun.
Added red wine vinegar - but would have preferred good balsamic.
Added honey.
Added olive oil
Added fresh thyme.
Added some more honey. Ack! Still a little tart for my liking. Added brown sugar until my tongue stopped shrivelling.

Also - cooking pigeon is a piece of piss. We marinated ours because we were serving it cold (although not, I hasten to add, in a piece of piss). I wouldn't have done so if we were eating it hot, as I don't think hot meat should taste of anything except itself, with a little simple seasoning. But that's just me. I marinated it in port, thyme and olive oil (hence the dressing) for 3 hours or so, then pan fried it for about 2 1/2 minutes each side. It was too rare on 2 minutes, and, if I'm honest, some of the breasts were just a tiny bit overdone on 2 1/2 - but nothing to really be disappointed over. And it's delicious! So dark and rich - a little bit like liver, but sweeter, without the dryness.

God, this Wimbledon final is a bit of all right! Them Williamses can play, eh? I'm going to give it the attention it deserves. Adios.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Drunkenness and Dog Fights

The only thing of note to report over the last week or so is that my diet has failed utterly to produce results - probably, in part, because our neighbours completely countered any reduction in consumption by force-feeding me alcohol on Friday night. And I don't mean a little alcohol. Between 7 of us, we got through 5 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of champagne, a large jug of mint julep (containing a bottle of whisky), a bottle of port and a couple of drams of a delicious blended malt called The Dimple. Not surprisingly, I felt pretty horrid the next day - although not as horrid as I'd expected.

It was a great evening, actually. Ku'ula-kai, our neighbour but one (he of the venison) had caught this mighty salmon and proffered it to us at the barbecue. Unfortunately we hadn't got a freezer big enough to store the 7lb 3oz beast, so he took it home again - and his wife, Ina, offered to cook it for us. This she did, on Friday night, and we consumed it with the help of Epona, Shah, and our hosts' daughter in law. Hina made a fab job of cooking the salmon - all pink and succulent. Chat flowed free - to the point that, next morning, I had to frantically try and remember whether I'd got all mouthy and said anything stupid. Fisher assured me I hadn't, but the doubt still lurks. I do remember responding to Ku telling his wife she could only have a 'small' glass of wine by saying:

"We're going to have to give a 'just girls' dinner party, away from all these oppressive men!"

As it came out of my mouth I thought ... crap! I don't know these people well enough to make such ludicrous statements and have them taken as jokes. What if they take me seriously?

Luckily, they didn't. Howls of mirth followed. Less oppressed women than Ina and Epona you will not meet - nor could Shah and Ku ever, ever be considered oppressive. Especially as they were outnumbered 5 to 2.

Anyway, there were a couple of moments where I felt myself getting strident and rambling, but I think - think - I reined myself in enough.

We rolled home (actually, we were given a lift by Epona, who'd been the only sensible one of the whole evening) at around 1.30am, and were just about sober enough to consume dry muffins to help soak up the alcohol, and neck back pints of water. I'm pretty sure this helped. At least, we weren't found stumbling around the garden shouting in a confused manner for our spouse - who'd been inside for the past 30 minutes. This was the state Shah was in. And he had to get up and go to the Highland Show in a work capacity early the next day! (He was in no fit state to drive in the a.m and had to get a neighbour to give him a lift.)

We spent Saturday in a fug of hangover. God bless Wimbledon, that's all I can say. Wonderful way of taking your mind off feeling sick and shaking from the DTs. We were actually phoned by Epona to make sure we were alive! Bless. Nice to know she might notice if we died from alcohol poisoning - although it would probably be more useful if she prevented us from getting that far!

We had Dougal dog staying with us, and it was unfortunately due to his natural exuberance that we had our second dog fight of the Garry regime. Not his fault, of course - but as we let them all out together he started bouncing and jostling, knocking Baffie into Bridie. I was watching from the doorway, and I could see Baff and Bri starting to get a little tetchy. Then they started sniffing each other. God, no, I thought.

"Good dogs! Goooood dogs!" I cried, heading towards them ... but to no avail. They were locked in battle before I took more than 2 paces - and they simply would NOT be separated. I'm afraid we didn't help matters. It's very hard not to panic in this situation, but, actually, I think that trying to pull them apart only serves to make their injuries worse. This time, Bridie had Baffie's foreleg in her jaws and ripped a massive gash across the muscle. In the process, Fisher managed to get bitten by Baffie - not badly, but enough to give her a shock. I was calm, trying to sort everything out, and eventually both dogs were separated and quiet. Then I looked at Baffie's leg. It was horrendous, flapping open like a pocket. That's when I started freaking out. Fisher called the emergency vet, but I felt so shaky I wasn't willing to drive in. With Fisher bitten and panicky, she didn't want to drive either - so we called on Epona for aid.

She was brilliant - round in moments, bearing with her a full first aid kit, including ice packs and gauze to pack the wound. We were at the vet's in about 15 minutes, and he cleaned her up, gave her the usual injections - but didn't stitch her. He said stitching her wound run the risk of closing the infection in, which would only make things infinitely worse. Instead, we have an anti-bacterial gel we have to put in her wound, which keeps it clean and helps it all heal naturally.

Poor Baff. She always loses the fights. But it's not like she isn't equally to blame for starting them, so it's a bit of pisser that she always ends up with loads of attention, cuddles and 'quality time' with her peeps. Ideally, both dogs should be ostracized and taught that such behaviour is unacceptable - but it's kind of hard to do that when there's blood everywhere and holes to patch up.

The nub and gist is that I'm furious with myself for letting it happen again. After the first fight we should have known better than to risk another - and when it actually, inevitably, happened, we should have dealt with it better than we did. We should know by now not to drag them apart. The damage they do to each other is bad enough without helping tear flesh. From now on, they don't go out in the garden together, no matter how well they seem to be getting on. If they do need to be out together, they get muzzled - both of them, not just Bri. I know the muzzle makes Bridie worse, so it's not really a viable option on a regular basis, but as insurance it's a good idea.

'Nough about depressing dogs. Baffie is fine, despite the horribleness of her wound, and life ticks on. It's hot here, and quite unpleasant outside in a muggy, midgie way - but the garden is looking fabulous thanks to Fisher's weeding efforts, and I'm inspired to go out and plant the carrots, at last. The broccoli and onions are doing ok ... I think. To be honest, I don't really know what they're supposed to look like at this point - but at least they're not brown and dying, so I'll take that as a positive. Wish I knew how Spartan and Blarney are getting on with the Baby Belle, but they've been silent on the text front and we don't want to badger them, so we're just leaving them to get in touch when they can. To be honest, I don't really care about the baby so much. I mean - I do, obviously - but my concerns are for them, and their mental wellbeing. So, Blar, if you're reading this with bleary eyes and exhaustion in your heart - just remember, we can help. It only takes 10 seconds to send a text. Hell, you can send a blank one and we'll be down to take BB off your hands for an hour's perambulate, while you get some kip.

We're down in Edinburgh tomorrow to meet The Doctor for Dim Sum, which'll be luvverly. Maybe do some shopping, too.

More anon. Off to Tesco now.