Monday, 16 November 2009

Location: Upstairs, listening to the parrot-squawks of Tertius from downstairs
Mood: Headachey
Listening to: Pit of Goodbyes
Reading: The Canon: The Beautiful Basics of Science
Playing: Killzone 2

I am fat I am fat I am fat. This is not news, but it's not something I feel every day. However, after a stonking week previously, where I lost a few pounds and thought myself INVINCIBLE I've promptly stuffed myself more stuffy than Mr Stuffy the stuffed pig. First there was dinner at Blarney's - which we survived! Huzzah! But only just ...

Then Fisher and I went to The Four Seasons with Wheeler and Phid, where they were doing a 6 course meal and wine tasting evening. Yum.

Now sister is here, with Tertius, and we've done nothing but feed her (and neighbours). We had Sunday supper of:

Starter: tomato, goat's cheese, thyme and garlic puff pastry tart.
Main: fruit stuffed lamb (the fruit being figs, prunes and apricots - all dried - with some walnuts), fruity gravy (made with the lamb juices and apple juice, in which I'd marinated the afformentioned fruits), roast potatoes, butter fried carrots and steamed courgettes (in a vain attempt at health ... snort).
Pudding: chocolate ice cream (organic, but not made by me).

Today I told myself I needed to get back on track with a salad for lunch and some chicken noodle soup for supper. Well, I had the salad. A salad Paysane from Breizh in Perth, no less. This is not a salad. This is an excuse to rest chicken, lardons, croutons, and a poached egg on about 3 lettuce leaves. Bah! So my only hopes rest on my having a small bowl of chicken noodle soup for supper and resisting the temptation to say "feck it" and eat everything in the house. You know - to 'get rid of it' and thus remove it from temptation.

But more about our previous fun. Can I gloss over Blarney's first dinner party (cooked by her) in so cavalier a manner? Well, yes, but not if I ever want her to speak to me again. Hmm ... tempting.

No. Obviously, it was a triumph. She sensibly stuck to simple fare and did them very well. First up was a massive shepherd's pie, which I'd predicted (with glee - one of my fave things in the world). This was followed with a delicious and really very well made cheesecake, topped with blueberries. Wait ... I think it was blueberries. It could have been blackcurrants. But how could I have forgotten? Quite easily, actually, as I proceeded to get completely blindsided by alcohol. I thought I was being relatively sensible, but 3am saw me bellowing out tunes with Spartan accompanying on the guitar, whisky sloshing as I waved my tumbler to and fro. I swear, I have no idea how I managed to nurture such a hangover, but nurture it I did. Next day we were supposed to go to North Berwick for a romp on the beach with the pooches, but I sobbed quietly in my bed all morning instead and only managed to drag myself out to meet Fisher and Blar for lunch at Dobbies garden centre. Ugh. I was furious with myself for being so careless, and for being so rude to Blar (who, to be fair, didn't really seem to give a shit as she and Fisher managed to find the best TK Maxx in the world ever - entertainment I could never have bested), and also for potentially destroying the wine tasting that night. My hangovers can last for days - but luckily this one cleared by about 2pm and I was very happy to get stuck into the Four Seasons' offerings.

We arrived at St Fillan's to discover that Wheeler and Phid, to say thanks for the outing, had ordered some champagne to be put in our room. Fabulous! So, when they arrived, we got them to join us and sipped a couple of glasses of fizz to put us in the mood. Funnily enough, I'd asked Brother via text if he knew any good hangover cures, and his suggestion was 'white wine', so I was happy to test it out.

The meal was great fun. 6 good courses, including smoked eel to start with, which is my new favourite thing. The wines were well matched, and we had a little introduction to each one before the course from the bloke from Tanners, who'd provided the wine. He was quite amusing, inadvertently, because every time he kind of bitched about the food, and how hard he'd found it to match the courses up. ("Soup? Who drinks wine with soup? They're both ... well ... wet!") Instead of a great fanfare you ended up just feeling as if he'd had to settle for doing the best he could with such a shit choice. But some of the wines were really lovely. I still maintain that Reisling is unpleasantly sweet, no matter what everyone says nowadays.

After the meal we chatted 'til after midnight with a whisky each, then retired to our rooms. Fisher and I had a chalet, where the dogs were curled up quite happily awaiting us, and we drifted off to sleep to the sound of torrential rain on the wooden roof. Lovely.

Next morning, we took Baffie, Bridie, and Wheeler 'n' Phid's dog Dougal for a walk up the hill behind the hotel. It was delightful, despite the continuing rain. We got really quite wet, but there were streams, little waterfalls, woodland and a pretty view over Loch Earn at the top. Back at the car we dithered over whether to part ways, then decided that we could stop in Comrie for some lunch (for me - I only had some toast and pastries for breakfast, whilst everyone else tucked into cooked brekkie of various sizes) and a cuppa. This we did. I had a vast prawn baguette ... and then everyone else decided they were hungry after their terribly, terribly exhausting walk of 250 metres (or so) and ordered baked potatoes.

This pleasant interlude over, we decided that, instead of parting, Fisher and I would go back to Wheeler & Phid's new pad and help out. Fisher's skills with constructing flat-pack furniture were called upon, while Phid helped her and Wheeler did some other construction elsewhere. Making myself useful entailed going into Dollar, picking up some food, and cooking a beef stew on their aga for W and P to eat that night. Frankly, I just wanted to try cooking on an aga. It was ok, but hotter than I anticipated. I hope the end result was palatable, and not just a small bucket of salt and tough meat. Phid assured me, after I sent a worried text, that it was 'delicious' - but then she would say that, wouldn't she?

We left the new lovely cottage at 4, as Sister was possibly arriving around 5, and made it back just in time to warm up the house a bit before she and Tertius arrived. We cooked steak and baked potato with salad (a light option!) and collapsed into bed. All the carousing had fair taken it out of me. But could I sleep? I could not. The 5 am news came and went before I slipped into unconsciousness.

Sister is here to do housey-type shopping, and Fisher accompanied her to Edinburgh yesterday. We were all up at around 8.30, as I discovered the newsletter I edit was in a bit of a state of disarray and needed my attention. I managed to get it in order by 1.3o, and gave the dogs a bit of a wander up the hill. Then I went to Tesco, bought some provisions for Sunday supper, left a message for Shah and Epona asking them to join us, then got cooking. I prepared and stuffed the lamb, which was a leg and therefore needed boning (I only cut myself once, which is some sort of record for me), then decided I was going to take a break. I played some Uncharted 2 (hugely entertaining game, by the way - best thing since Tomb Raider, and much longer than the original. Naughty Dog rocks!), and as I was just zoning out around 6pm, Sister and Fisher returned, Shah phoned to say yes, he and Epona would be able to come to dinner, and I launched into dinner mode.

Put like that, it all sounds a bit frantic, but it wasn't. It was very pleasant - relaxed and friendly, with only a small amount of alcohol consumed - and I was able to get a reasonably early night (for us), being asleep by 1.30am.

That brings me up to today, when I've finished off the newsletter bumf, gone into Perth for lunch with Sister and Fish, given the dogs a walk up the hill, and written my blog. I've been fighting a headache for the past couple of days, no doubt brought on by alcohol, dodgy sleep, and the weather, but I'm sure it'll be better tomorrow.

Right. I've dribbled on for far too long. Just a note on last blog's book - it's a very good read about an unlikely TV star. She speaks extremely poignantly about alcoholism and her abusive relationship with her father, as well as being quite colourful in her opinions about the countryside. I recommend it if you fancy a quick, entertaining read.

Adios for now tho'.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Swimming with Polar Bears

Location: In bed
Mood: Buoyant
Listening to: Soldier
Reading: Spilling the Beans, Clarissa Dickson-Wright
Playing: Uncharted 2

Ok, so I wasn't actually swimming with polar bears.

On Tuesday I went to the gym but simply couldn't face doing any more sodding running, or cycling, or getting hot and sweaty. Sometimes I just reach an impasse and can't go on. So instead I went for a swim, which I haven't done in yonks. I recognise that 1km front crawl isn't really enough exercise, so I decided to do a bit more. I always divide my swim into sets of four lengths, which not only gives me 'baby steps' to help psychologically, but helps me keep count. Basically, I recommend this practice to anyone who struggles with boredom during exercise. If you divide your workout into manageable sets, it keeps you from giving up. If I start a swim saying "I'm going to swim 60 lengths, it can seem interminable. But saying "fifteen sets of 4" works much better. As for the counting, I find "1 of 1, 2 of 1, 3 of 1 etc" is more likely to keep me from losing count. (The first number is the length, the second is the set number - obviously).

It was a crowded pool. There was a kiddies' swimming lesson going on behind a cordon, which was no problem at all and is always something I'm glad to see. On the other hand, it did mean that any kiddies who just wanted a swim were doing so in the section I was trying to do my lengths in. In actual fact, the kids weren't a problem at all. They tried hard to keep out of my way. The adults, on the other hand ...

First there was a woman who insisted on having a conversation with her friend, who was sitting on a sunbed at the side of the pool. No issue there - but I'd purposely put myself in a corner, out of the way of everyone, right next to the rope that was dividing the pool. So where does she decide to stand? Yep - right at the end, next to the rope. I kept ploughing up and down, figuring that after the first couple of times I'd had to swerve to avoid her before touching the end she'd decide it was courteous to move. But no. She continued to stand right in my path, and this time hung on to the rope. I was damned if I was altering my path, so, as I was approaching, I grabbed the rope myself and gave it a tug. She turned, startled, and apologised. I gave her the ghost of a smile but otherwise ignored her, continuing on my painful way. At last she got the message and moved. But for the love of God - why did she decide to be there in the first place? All she had to do was move a couple of feet to her left. I know, I could have moved too, but the pool was pretty crowded. There were 2 other people doing lengths, and the person nearest me was doing breaststroke, which always takes up more room. Also, for Christ's sake, I was there first! I was plodding up and down the same strip, well out of the way of everyone, trying to make life easy for all - and why she had to stand directly in front of me was anyone's guess.

And that wasn't the only example of poor adult behaviour. I've often found that women are quite unobservant when it comes to someone doing proper exercise, while men are more likely to give you your space ... until it comes to the kiddies. I've never been in a pool with a man in charge of children without him glaring at me like I shouldn't be there. This time a guy got in with two boys, one of whom immediately swam as fast as he could after me, trying to beat me to the end. That was no problem at all, as far as I was concerned. I kept my same steady pace, hoping he'd prove speedy enough to overtake, as I approve highly of children pitting their skills against a target. He didn't, but put up a good show, continuing his determined crawl for a second length before deciding he wasn't going to come off better. His brother, meanwhile, was enjoying a game of splash and wrestle with his father. Again, no problem there - except that the kid was getting perilously close to me. I kept my line. By this time, all the other swimmers had got out and there was a large space to occupy in the 'adult' area. I was still trying to keep to one side. The father and his sons had the whole rest of the pool to play in - so why, I ask you, WHY, was it necessary to thrash about in my path? And each time I passed the father gave me a glare, as if to say "my children, my children, how dare you obstruct my children?" I ignored him for several lengths, but I was getting really fed up with having to keep such a vigilant eye out, and often having to slow or speed up to avoid their little game. So I moved to the other side of the pool, which is annoying because there the corners slope inwards, meaning I have to take a few strokes to the left at each end to ensure I swim the right distance. But, you know, whatever. Pretty soon, two other men got into the pool to do laps, and lo and behold, the man and his sons immediately started playing in a very small area, vigilantly keeping out of their way. Perhaps he thought that, because they were men, their right to exercise was a serious matter, whereas some woman doing lengths was just a silly bint flapping about. I hope I'm being ridiculous.

Anyway, I did my front crawl click in just under half an hour, which is incredibly slow. I was trying to take it steadily, as I've not swum for ages, but it's a pathetic speed. The pool is 17m long, which means I have to turn more often, and I try not to kick off too much, but a decent time for 1k (in a pool) is about half that speed. In the sea, elite women do 1km in 15 minutes or so. But why beat myself up about speed? I know I should swim faster, but at least this time I did another 5 sets - or 20 lengths. 340 metres. I did them breaststroke, in 12 minutes. 36 seconds a length. Again, so slow it's daft - but the distance was an improvement, so I was quite pleased overall. And it's only when you get out of the pool that you realise how tired you are. It's nothing like as immediately satisfying as running, or any of the other out of water activities, but it gives you a slow burn and gets rid of a satisfying amount of calories.

Enough of exercise. Yesterday Fisher decided she wanted to go and see the polar bear from Edinburgh zoo, who's been re-housed near Aviemore. We were both distressed at seeing her when we took Gemmill to the zoo a few years ago. She was walking mindlessly backwards and forwards, obviously distressed by her small enclosure. I was horrified to think such a thing was happening in our country, in a prominent zoo, where the welfare of animals is considered a point of moral pride. It transpired that the zoo was well aware of the animal's distress and that steps were being taken to amend her condition. Those steps led her to the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie, where the colder climate and 'tundra like' environment is more suited to her. She was rescued from Canada where she was scheduled to be shot, after making a nuisance of herself raiding bins and scaring the populace. I think she had a mate in Edinburgh who died, and she pined for him (but this is information from Fisher, so don't quote me on accuracy), which didn't help her mental condition.

So, anyway, off we hopped. We stopped at Bruar for some lunch (disappointing) and arrived at the park about an hour before they closed. It was just enough time to drive round the open park, nervously avoiding herds of wild horses who can damage cars, meeting an enooooormous moose (elk) and various deer-like creatures, before heading to the enclosure where you can follow an on-foot trail and peer at other beasts. A delight for me was red pandas, one of whom climbed up a tall tree, then down again, then across the walkway above our heads, stopping and posing for photos like America's Next Top Panda. Fie-rce! as Ms Banks would annoyingly say. They really are about the cutest things you ever will see, with their fluffy fat faces and rusty red fur. We also saw tigers and their cubs, who are proud and beautiful and not a little terrifying. The mere sight of those massive shoulders and ferocious heads puts you bang splat in your evolutionary place. Meeting a tiger in the wild is not something I have on my wish list.

It was a very pleasant hour or so, and seeing the polar bear made the long(ish) trip worthwhile. Before, she'd been pacing, rocking, shaking her head. Now, our first sight of her was a mound of dirty white fur cuddling a branch as she snoozed contentedly. She continued to nap until the last minutes of our stay when, approaching kicking-out time, we watched a keeper come by to start the slow process of feeding her. Hearing his arrival, Mercedes the bear got langorously to her feet and started padding her way down to the water. She moved slowly, comfortably, and was a totally different bear, obviously content. Unfortunately we didn't get to stay long enough to see her feed, or see if she went for a swim, as the park was closing, but it was great just to reassure ourselves she was better off.

So that was yesterday. Tonight we're off for a Cheeseboard meet, sans Koios, who has a work do. Most excitingly, it's going to be a meal cooked by Blarney. So, if this is my last ever blog, let it be known that I've had a good life.


Thursday, 5 November 2009


Location: Back from the above
Mood: *Gasp* *Splutter* *Groan*
Music: See the World
Reading: One Day, David Nicholls
Playing: Wet

Decided to up my reading - hence the new tag above. Also to keep track of my PS3/2 games, as I have a tendency to forget whether I like them or not. So far, Wet is ok - but quite repetetive. It's the same shoot-em-up acrobatics each time. Not as bad as Assassins Creed, which was so dull I stopped playing it, but pretty same-old. Good story though. As for One Day - I've actually finished it, and I think it's excellent. The plot is uninteresting and relatively predictable, but perfectly readable. Its real strengths comes from the characterisation which, despite it also being slightly clich├ęd, is realistic, amusing and quite warts-and-all without being alienating. It's as good a modern romance as I've read. Then again, I don't really go for romances. The women are almost always pathetic and the men knobs, so I steer clear.

Anyway, this was really only a blog to make not of my first run outside for what seems ages. I did 5k in 33.58. I didn't go up 'our' hill, but instead went towards the village, then right and to the top of the hill there instead. Then back. I was quite happy with it, for a change, and felt like I worked hard. My Garmin said I'd burned just over 400 calories, whilst diet and fitness today claim it's just under. Guess which one I'm going to believe?

So that's me for the mo. Going to have a lovely long, lazy bath and read something new. Probably the Clarissa Dickson-Wright Wheeler gave me for my birthday.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Location: Back from Tesco
Mood: Chipper
Mood: End of the Line

Today, Fisher and I decided that there aren't enough euphamisms for ... y'know ... the old lady garden. The vajayjay. The ... see, now, I've run out. And I mean inoffensive ones - ones that don't make you wince slightly. So, as an experiment, we decided we'd read out every sign we saw and apply it as a euphemism. These are some of the best ... and the worst. Try using each one after the words "Ooyah, me ..." like you've just been struck between the legs by a football.

The best:
1. Fun Junction (name of a joke shop in Perth)
2. Flower House
3. Cake Topping (?!?)
4. Original Source (bath foam - doesn't sound quite so earth-mothery if you add that, though).

The worst:
1. Turkish Kebab House
2. Seriously Farmy Cheddar
3. Redroom (restaurant in Perth)
4. Ex-Servicemen's Club (quite appropriate, though!)

This is all I have to share with you today. Should I feel ashamed?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

She's Dead, Gym

Location: Struggling to sit upright
Mood: Somewhat crotchety
Music: Beatus Vir I a 6 Voci Concertato

Just back from the gym, hence the o-so-clever pun (come back Richard Whitely, all is forgiven). It's been the first bit of exercise for what feels like an awfully long time and has left me feeling wrung out like an ole sponge.

I ran from the gate to the gym in 11.28 seconds, which isn't bad for me. I don't know what it is about that stretch of road, but it just wipes me out. There's quite a long uphill stretch, but it's not that uphill - it just seems like running through porridge. Hmm. I'm getting the feeling of deja-vu. Have I written this before? Probably. I think I bitch about it to Fisher every single time, so it wouldn't exactly be a towering surprise if I let my bore-fest spill over to the written word.

Having arrived at the gym, I walked to catch up with Fisher who was walking the dogs along the Tay. I only just managed to avoid one of my killingly painful tum-craps ... tum-cramps, CRAMPS, dear God! Bloody speed-typing ... and managed to walk it off before returning to the gym. Once there I hopped on the static bike (if, by 'hop' I mean 'clamber like a groaning old crone') and did 30 minutes on cross-country setting. I managed to push it at the end and squeeze 6.5 miles out of my flaccid muscles. I then warmed down to the 7 mile point and did some core work. I managed 25 girlie press-ups this time, which suggests to me that I should start trying to do one or two full press ups at the start of each session. I also did 20 tricep dips, 12 Bastarding Sore Stomach Stretches (see post 23/10) - six each side, 5 horizontal jacks, and then lay on my back and tried to pretend that the agonising burn in my abdominals was enjoyable.

And that was that. Only an average work-out, being about 45 minutes of pure exercise (not counting the extra 5-10 mins walk), but by all that is holy, I feel quite pooped. Must be the tum-craps. Hah! My sense of humour is, as always, razor-sharp.

Now then - my next project is to find some upbeat music to play at the end of drunken evenings. Trouble is, my taste in music isn't exactly mainstream - at least, not in this country. I tend to hear things on TV shows that I like, then look them up and buy the albums. This means I have quite a lot of American, not-very-well-known artists in my collection, which is fine for general background music, but if you want people to start whoopin' and a-singin', it's a bit of a let down. So anyone with any suggestions for party, singalong music, please comment.



Sunday, 1 November 2009

Whirl of Gaity

Location: Home alone at last
Mood: Exhausted but happy
Music: Take Me By the Hand

Gracious. I feel like someone's taken me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me backwards through a funfair. It's been a terrific week, but by God am I knackered!

After the Jedburgh half, Fisher and I had Monday to relax and try and throw off the last of our lurgis. I felt much better, but poor Fisher is still hacking away with an irritating little cough. She didn't feel great on Tuesday, but she stuck her chin in the air and insisted on soldiering on. I'm glad she did. It was time for her to give me my birthday surprise.

First stop was Gleneagles, where she'd arranged a day of activity. The day was filthy - teeming down with rain, but not cold, and, luckily, not windy. We drove straight to the fishing school, where she'd booked me a 'taster' lesson in fly fishing. It was only an hour long, so I didn't really have time to get the hang of it, but it was enough time to get me totally hooked (no pun intended). It's hard. Trying to get a rhythm going whilst also remembering to feed the line with your left hand is not particularly intuitive - but I did get a few casts going. Just as I thought I was getting the hang of it, the lesson was over - which left us just enough time to grab a coffee and pastry at Deseo before moving on to the next thing. This was ...

Falconry! Totally cool. We got to handle Harris Hawks - just the most amazing creatures - and seeing them head towards you in a beautiful, swooping glide before alighting on your wrist to gobble up a piece of rabbit is just astounding. Not only are they beautiful to behold, but they're also pack animals, so as we walked around the grounds they followed us, alighting on treetops, tennis court fences, and anything that gave them a good perch. It was incredible.

After this, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Deseo, then set off for our final activity: carriage driving. I've wanted to do this for ages - but, in honesty, it was a bit of a disappointment. I've really always wanted to do proper sporting carriage racing, Ben Hur style, with blades spinning out of chariot wheels ... that kind of thing. I wasn't that fussed about being wheeled along behind a 13 hand pony called Sugar. But hey - it was fun.

Our day of Doing Stuff completed, I was then whisked away to a mystery location, which turned out to be Monachyle Mhor. It's a lovely hotel in the middle of a Glen, beside a loch - very remote, very beautiful. We had a splendid supper, with the only downsides being overcooked halibut for Fisher, and a tepid main course for me. Boozy and tired, we then shared an enooooormous bath before collapsing into bed.

The next day, we'd planned on going for an epic walk with the pooches. Unfortunately, I was overcome by tiredness and general lethargy so we only managed an hour's walk. We saw Rob Roy's grave (whaddever), enjoyed the damp beauty of our surroundings, then headed off to Loch Lomond. In truth, the best part of the day was just spent enjoying driving through spectacular scenery, which I really like doing. Not very active, but very good for the soul. We did manage to get out of the car and find a beautiful waterfall just off the road, but other than that it was an inactive day.

Back at Monachle Mohr we had an even better meal than the previous night, with some seriously spectacular starters, but encountered some rough types in the bar. I'm not averse to rough types, and, in fact, they were quite good fun as we joined their conversation after the meal - but when you're trying to have an elegant meal in the adjoining dining room, listening to ribald chat rather spoils the mood. Anyway, we did have a moment of fun with them. One of them, a chatty, laddish sort, exchanged a few words with us and then asked, in a direct sort of way, whether we had husbands.

"No," I said, "we're together."

"Are ye??" he said, with that sort of surprised, just-seen-a-bearded-lady excitement we Sapphics so often encounter. He then launched into this:

"Are ye? Well, I suppose that means that, if ye roll over in the middle o' the night, ye'll not be mistaking ..."

And then he stopped. The entire bar stared at him, agog as to how he was going to finish this sentence. I racked my brains. What could the end of this joke be? I was agog. I can usually spot a joke coming - but this one was totally elusive.

Unfortunately, so it proved to the laddie as well. Instead of making any attempt at finishing the sentence, he simply swivelled on his stool and buried his face in his beer. Fisher and I had a fit of the giggles, as did the other lads in the bar (several of them shaking their heads in amazement), and the conversation moved on. I'd still love to know what the hell we'd not mistake in the middle of the night.

Following my wonderful treat, we returned home on Thursday afternoon and began to prepare for the following few days. Y'see - I had another mystery treat coming, this time courtesy of Phid, which would take up all of Saturday. And, on Saturday evening, we were having a Hallowe'en party, which needed a lot of preparation. So, on Friday, we spent the day shopping for the festivities. We emptied every joke shop in Perth, bought wheelbarrow loads of pumpkins, bucked under armfulls of booze - and then returned home to decorate.

By the time Phid arrived on Saturday morning, to pick us up for the mystery trip, we had:

* Placed scary baby-dolls, decorated with pentagrams and bloody lips, on doors
* Scattered rubber spiders strategically about
* Mounted a severed hand on a door, so it peeked around the side
* Draped a slanket over a coat stand, with a white face mask glaring out - a ghoulish, death-like figure that greeted you as you came through the door. Strategic lighting illuminated only the face. It was freaky!
* Dangled spiders-webs and hair from door frames in the hopes they'd get in people's faces and freak them out.
* Built a coffin out of cardboard and arranged skeleton bones so it looked like a skeleton was crawling out.
* Arranged a vampire-head mask on a white sheet on the table, with fake blood all round the neck and a garlic clove in its mouth, so it looked like a severed head.
* Dangled a zip-mouth mask upside down from the chimney in the library, complete with freaky white eyes.
* Poked a disembodied, bloody-bandaged arm from out of a cupboard.
* Placed a cauldron full of bones and blood on a little altar, with further 'ingredients' scattered around - severed fingers and eyeballs, to be exact.
* Set a CD of spooky sound effects and music ready to play at the touch of a button.

With all this set up, we were ready to head off with Phid. And where did she take me?

To the SECC, for the Good Food Show. And it was grand! I'm not one for crowds, or hot, jostling, confined spaces - but I didn't even notice. There were around 80 stalls, and not only that but Phid had booked us into a taste session where we got to sample some crowdie, hot and cold smoked salmon, bread, and two whiskies from Balvenie while each producer talked us through.

Looking round the whole place took until 4pm, and not once did I flag. It was brilliant - truly wonderful to see so many national producers, all of whom seem so dedicated to home grown foodstuffs. We sampled a hell of a lot of cheese - that I can assure you. And I bought 3 chef knives for £60, which was a great deal. We also bought a lot of chocolate from the Chocolate Tree, and got a hell of a lot of info about foodie stuff around Scotland. I really hope the Cheese Board & Boys would like to do the Martin Wishart Cookery School, as it sounds fab.

Happy and inspired, we barrelled back home - and then it was all hands to the pump! I had a venison stew to make, the brazier had to be lit, and the lighting had to be arranged before we were ready for guests. It was touch and go for a while, but in the end it was all up and running, looking wonderful, for the first arrivals. Phid, Fisher and I all huddled in the sitting room at the far end of the house while the first guests found their way through the spooky rooms to the 'sanctuary'. There, they were greeted with cheers and glasses of Orc Blood (black wild berry vodka and orange juice). First up was Wheeler, with a very freaked out Dougal-dog in tow. He seemed entertained. Then came Pro, Koi, Janus and Badger, all of whom had driven up together. A considerable time later and Blarney, Baby Belle and The Doc managed to find their way to the house, after Blar managed to get lost. Getting out of Edinburgh. Where she's lived for the last 8 years. Blar's first job was to tell me how much she didn't appreciate plastic babies nailed to doors. But I ignored her, as Baby Belle was dressed in a with outfit, with a teeny tiny witch's hat, and nobody can get irritated with that in front of you.

Last of all was the arrival of The Neighbours. Epona was feeling a bit under the weather so she couldn't make it, but Shah, Ka'ula Kai and Ina all rocked up in good form. In fact, Kai was already pretty wasted from a day's shooting (and drinking), but it was all very entertaining. We ate, drank, went out and chatted beside the brazier, and had a very convivial time. The neighbours departed at around 11, while quite a lot of the Cheese Board called it quits around midnight. In fact, after midnight it was just me, Fisher, Wheeler, Badger and The Doc still up for a party. So we bobbed for apples. The Doc was by far the best, with her dainty teeth picking each apple up by the stalk. Fisher was the boldest, being the only one to properly dunk - and Wheeler was totally shite, and couldn't even get one. I, on the other hand, was damned if I was putting my face in that water after Wheeler had gurgled, spat and gargled in it, so I was not only a failure but a gutless failure. Poor show.

We finished the night, inevitably, with some poker. Well, there was a newbie there in the shape of The Doc, so we had to teach her. At 3.30am I was left chipless, Doc had waltzed off at 3 with a fat profit, and Wheeler was cackling on top of a vast pile of loot. The only consolation is that, in the morning, he was even later rising than I was. And when he did stumble blearily into the kitchen his first words, accompanied by a bloodshot glare in my direction, were:

"I blame YOU!"

Like I forced him to drink that cask strength Caol Isla! Through a straw ...

Yeh, I felt pretty ropy this morning, but shook it off enough to enjoy lunch at Breizh with Pro, Koi, Badge, Janus, Doc, Blar, Baby Belle and Fisher. After that, we went to Waterstones for some book browsing ... and then went our separate ways.

And that, my dears, is that. I feel like I've been On The Go since the beginning of this month, and now there's a little reprieve. Not that it hasn't been brilliant - it really has - but it does wipe you out a bit. I'm ready to get back into a routine of exercise, light food, work, and gentle play. I've got some events on the horizon to look forward to (murder mystery party on the 12th December, which I have to write ... and which, goddammit, may also coincide with a shoot with the neighbours where Fisher and I might act as stuffers. Also a trip to London to celebrate Brother's birthday, and stay for the ATP championships in November with Koi). I've also got a mystery surprise trip with Phid and Wheeler lined up in November, to help Phid keep her SADness at bay - so it's not a long, bleak winter of boredom by any means. But, just for the moment, we're Not Engaged!

And that's wonderful.

For the moment ...