Monday, 14 December 2009

'Tis the Season to get Trollied, la la la la laaaaaa etc ...

Location: Bed! Huzzah.
Mood: Tranquil, but likely to turn at any minute.
Listening to: Nothing.
Reading: Seven Years in Tibet
Playing: Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time

What a few weeks it has been, my loyal and patient reader. Much has occurred of a jolly nature, involving neighbours, Cheeseboarders and family, and I am now feeling much like a drained sponge (and of similar rotund shape).

After the visit of Sister and Tertius, Fisher and I went down to see Brother and Gaura. First we stopped at their country house in Staffordshire. It's a beautiful part of the world, with rocky ridges like dragons' teeth, dramatic glacial peaks, and pretty country towns dotting the area. We had a great time (mostly eating in pubs) and, after a couple of days, went on down to London. There, I met up with Koios who had kindly included me in a visit to the O2 arena where the world ATP championships were being held. We saw Davydenko beat Soderling in 3 sets, and I was impressed with the O2 as a venue. Koi also stayed at Brother's so we went out for dinner at the Painted Heron in Chelsea. This is one of the nicest modern Indian restaurants I've been to - giving the Cinnamon Club a run for its money - and even if we did have to wait until 10pm for a table, it was a great evening.

London was great, actually. As well as doing some fine dining, seeing the tennis and catching up with everyone, Gaura, Fisher and I also went to an exhibition at the V&A on the Maharajas. Indian history is something I know shamefully little about, so I was delighted with the whole experience. I was particularly interested in the warrior queen Chand Bibi, even though the only information was a single picture of her hunting with her attendants. Basically she acted as regent, and defended her realm against the Mughals. She came to an unpleasant end when her own troops turned on her, following rumours of her treachery with the Mughals. Anyway - she was one of a number of fascinating characters. It was also fascinating to see how times changed under British rule. I should emphasize that this exhibition displayed the treasures of the Maharajas - it didn't go into detailed political history - so the major changes witnessed were in terms of costume and treasure. It was truly fascinating to see the dichotomy that occurred: young Maharajas being educated at Eton and Harrow, dressing in western costume, and then returning to India and adorning themselves in the traditional dress of their home. And the dress itself changed, too - adopting some of the western style, such as trousers for men rather than full skirts, but staying true to itself. On a superficial level it told quite an interesting tale. India clearly never lost itself beneath colonialism; it adopted and learned western ways, but beneath Britain's ruling head beat a powerful Indian heart.

More disappointingly was a visit to Fortnum's for afternoon tea. We turned up at 5, had to wait and age to get a table, and then discovered that the traditional tea spread had been whittled down to the choice of 2 cakes. Not only that, but everything was extortionately expensive, very tourist-minded ... and there was a 12 % optional service charge added that incorporated bank charges and other costs into it. Outrageous! A service charge should be for service! We removed the charge and left a cash tip instead.

So all in all it was a terrific trip.

I'm afraid in my weakened state I'm rather hazy about dates of events, so I'm just going to chuck down all the things we've done in any old order. These include:

A trip out on the Tay with Kai to do a spot of out-of-season fishing. This means you throw back every cock salmon you catch, and take any hens up to the holding tanks to be milked for conservation purposes. Kai was after the hens, and we managed to catch 3 before a very welcome lunch of soup (home cooked by Ina) and a sarnie. By golly it was cold on the river! It started off fine, and with the catching of fish we managed to keep warm enough. Then the ice started to creep into our feet, and by 1 pm we were just about rattling the rivets out of the gunwales. Still we were game enough, once warm, to have another hour on the water. We didn't catch anything else, but floating on the water is so blissfully calm and beautiful it didn't matter. Plus, we weren't out long enough to get really cold again.

To say thanks for the trip we invited Kai and Ina round for Sunday supper, along with Epona and Shah to help make merry. I decided to cook something different - and when we discovered buffalo was on sale at the Perth market we snapped up a hearty rib roast. As a starter I served 3 different types of salmon (in honour of our 3 catches): traditional smoked, hot smoked, and a walnut and lemon paté with oatcakes. I did a horseradish cream to go with the hot smoked, and accompanied the traditionally smoked with a tiny shot of Caol Ila whisky. I recommended people dip a knife into the whisky and spread a little of it onto the salmon. Try it - it's lovely.

The main course was very exciting. As Shah is a cattle expert I was interested to find out whether he could recognise the breed. When I said it was buffalo, the news was greeted with great interest and excitement. Much comment flowed. "It's so fine-grained," said Ina. "It tastes like really well hung beef," I burbled, through an enormous mouthful. "It's like a Highland," Epona judged. Kai just ate. Shah then told me it was water buffalo, which I thought was wrong. I thought the picture had showed a bison, and said so. He politely demurred. I reiterated my belief. Then I thought I was probably being a bit of a tool, arguing with the King of Cattle, and ceded the point. But my curiosity was roused.

For the final course we served cheese and a "mouthful" of apple & prune crumble. The mouthful was because Kai had told us he doesn't have a sweet tooth and will eat only a "mouthful of crumble - nothing more." However, when we explained the egg-cup size servings, Ina promptly choked on her wine.

"So why did he eat two enormous meringues this lunchtime?" she squeaked.

Kai promptly turned bright red and fell off his chair laughing. Utterly, totally busted. Epona, who also professes not to have a sweet tooth and also to have been "full to bursting" and unable to eat another mouthful, promptly complained that the only thing wrong with the crumble was that there was "not enough of it." So I had to bring out the rest of the crumble I'd made - and it didn't last long.

As we cleared the dishes, I decided to settle the matter of the water buffalo/bison. So I dived into the 'bin and unearthed the meat wrapper. An interested Shah and Ina watched as I looked at the information. I read it. Gulped. And hid the wrapper behind my back.

It was Angus beef.

The man selling it had clearly got his beef and buffalo joints a bit mingled and just plucked something the right size without looking at it. I'd asked for buffalo, so I just presumed I was getting what I asked for. Alas, I was left looking a bit of a tit. Still - at least none of us went off on a rant about how utterly different it was to beef. That would really have been embarrassing.

Shah and Epona stayed until 11, which was pretty late for them on a school night - but Ina and Kai stayed until 1.30am and made good inroads on the wine. It was a terrific night - very entertaining, and lovely to spend some more time with our neighbours-but-one.

A couple of days later we continued our closer relations with Ina by taking a trip to Reekie for some Christmas shopping. We didn't end up buying much in the way of presents, except for Gemmill's and Wrecker's and some Christmas wine, but it was a very civilised day. We had lunch at Harvey Nick's, wandered the food courts of Jenners' and Harvey Nicks', pootled about the toy departments, checked for some carpets for the hall (no luck) and generally wandered happily. Then home. No fuss, no muss, no stress. Good shopping.

What else? Ah yes ...

Wheeler and Spartan have birthdays that are very close together, so I offered to throw them a join party. I was going to do a murder-mystery for New Year, but because so few people were available we decided to have one for the boys' birthday instead. I got stuck in, writing characters and having fun tangling a multitude of webs. It all got rather confusing, but it was - eventually and somewhat tardily - done. I sent it all off via the wonderful email, including, at the last minute, Wheeler's son Castor.

Briefly, this was the basic plot:

Two rival circuses meet at the behest of a mysterious Italian, who wishes to take the finest circus in Britain back to Rome. Which will it be: Daily's Phenomenal Spectacular, or Knightly's Circus of Stars?

Of course, there were stories within stories, alter egos, evil machinations and - naturally - murders. Each character had a list of tasks to complete by the end of the evening, which they should do by any means possible, and points were awarded for each completed task. In the end, the story itself was less important than the fact everyone just enjoyed getting dressed up and playing a different character for the evening. My favourite couple were definitely Tonta the Clown (Blarney) and Isabella de Barba the bearded lady (Spartan, resplendently repulsive in blue satin and enormous blond beard, complete with naked hairy back). It was great. People were killing, stealing, bribing and lying left right and centre. It was like a night out in Paisley.

The game was complete in an hour and a half or so, with twists and surprises along the way, meaning we could dine at a reasonable hour - then spend the rest of the night playing poker. Fisher was almost entirely to thank for the food. She did a glazed ham, baked potatoes, potato salad, coleslaw, salad ... it was all delicious. She also provided fairground style nibbles - popcorn, mini fajitas, peanuts, that sort of thing. Triffic stuff. This meant that, instead of rushing around like a frantic thing on Friday, I was able to accompany Wheeler on an off-roading jaunt at the Scotting Offroad Centre. This ended badly, with his Land Rover stuck, nose first, in a massive rut with its left back wheel off the ground. We had to call out a rescue tractor ... which couldn't help. So he had to leave it overnight and get it hauled out the next day by a visiting off-road club.

I should mention here that this was very much a joint effort. Yes, Wheeler was driving, but I was guiding him up the red run we were supposed to be going down. He was doing fine, wheels on track - and then the back wheels just slipped and dumped him in the ditch. We've decided that the main problem is that Wheeler and I aren't a good mix. We're both too gung ho. If we'd had either Fisher or Phid with us they would have acted as a tempering agent and stopped us from even attempting it.

Anyway, we both survived, which is a bonus.

On Sunday I had a pretty horrid hangover, although not as bad as Janus's, and was glad that everyone seemed inclined to be lazy. I wanted to take a walk up the hill and was joined by only 2.5 others - Spar and Janus, with Baby Belle making up the .5. Everyone else was happy watching TV or playing cards. They all left by 4pm, at which point my hangover returned with a vengeance in the form of a headache. Shah and Epona were taking us out to dinner at Breizh, which was lovely, but I fear I was in less than sparkling form. Nevertheless, it was most pleasant and ended at an early enough time for me to watch the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards that I'd recorded. Ryan Giggs won. I'd rather hoped Beth Tweddle would at least get into the top 3, seeing as she's a bit of a ground-breaker in the UK, but there we go. Even more outrageous was the fact the England men's cricket team won best team, simply because they won the Ashes. Meanwhile, the England Women's team romped to every victory there is to win. You can't even blame an ignorant public, as this was voted for by a team of 30 sporting 'experts'. The England cricket team is, frankly, pretty frustrating at the best of times and loses as often as it wins. The women had a run of astonishing victory - but no, they're not better than the boys.


And on that note, and despite the fact I'm sure I've not mentioned many occurrences over the last month, I'm stopping. It's time to shift some of the accumulated lard and go to the gym.