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A rainy Sunday [Jun. 26th, 2016|09:47 pm]

What do you do on Islay, on Sunday, when it's raining? No, that's a silly question: you can always visit a distillery - there are eight of them, and not all are open on Sunday, but some are. But if you visited a distillery on Saturday, plan to visit more on Monday, and would prefer to take a break from distilleries on Sunday, then what do you do?

Well may you ask...Collapse )
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Saturday on Islay [Jun. 25th, 2016|09:51 pm]

We couldn't buy a Guardian in Port Ellen, where we are staying: the lady at the shop says she thinks she should increase her order, she could have sold another four copies this morning. And we bought a copy easily enough in Bowmore, along with some other odds and ends - though not the Islay Monopoly set that made such a fun display in the Celtic House bookshop. The Tourist Office was a bit of a disappointment, but the round church is impressive:

War Graves at the Round Church

The regular stones in the foreground are Commonwealth War Graves, many of them unidentified sailors, often from the Merchant Navy - though I also spotted a Greek and a Canadian.

From the nineteenth century regularity of Bowmore (a planned town built to replace the earlier village which was spoiling his lordship's view) we drove to Finlaggan, the seat of the Lord of the Isles. If you buy into all the Celtic glamour of Scottish history, this ought to be a major significant site; it isn't managed by a national heritage body, but by a local trust, and you have to be passing pretty close before you see the sign posts. So thankyou, Lonely Planet, for telling us about it: there's a visitor centre, and a walkway down to the loch and through the wetlands to the island dotted with medieval ruins:


with interesting grave slabs glassed over in the chapel, and at the far end of the island traces of a causeway to another island beyond where the lords held council. It's a peaceful place now, surrounded by flowers, orchids and meadowsweet and waterlilies growing among the reeds.

We lunched (late) on cullen skink at the café at Kilchoman, and lingered over the paper until it was time to tour the distillery. It's a good tour, with plenty of opportunities to taste things, starting with the malt:

Malt shovel

I'd thought - I can't remember where I heard this - that no distillery makes its own malt any more, and had been surprised when D. and valydiarosada told us about malting at Springbank in Campbeltown. They were told that this was the sole survival. But it seems that there are six distilleries in Scotland who still malt their own barley, three of them on Islay (including Kilchoman, who are a farm distillery and also grow 20% of their barley). So we were able to handle the grain, and watch the sparrows flying onto the malting floor for their share. Later we got to taste the '100% Islay' whisky, which uses their own barley, and is subtly peaty (and very expensive) and the Machir Bay, which uses barley malted and smoked at Port Ellen, and is less subtle and I didn't like it as much. Was that the stillman I saw in the café afterwards, drinking a can of Irn Bru? (I often wonder what the vintner buys...)

We took the back roads home, and had to wait to let a mother pheasant lead her brood of fluffy chicks across the road.
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Midsummer with midges [Jun. 24th, 2016|05:45 pm]

We are in the Islay Hotel, in Port Ellen, and for the first time in four days I have wi-fi. Ferryman's Cottage, our house on the Kintyre peninsula, is one of a group of Landmark Trust properties strung along a private road round Saddell Bay. It is resolutely without internet access, making an old-fashioned virtue of it, and of its lack of television - we even had to bring our own radio on which to hear - and curse - the result of the referendum this morning. So there is catching up to do, about our four days at Saddell and about the weekend we spent on Arran en route. but first, the important thing, the solstice:

Almost the first thing we did when we arrived at Ferryman's Cottage was to walk back along the bay, past the Antony Gormley figure who stands alone gazing across the sea to Arran, as far as the bridge that crosses the stream by the little beach. Nowhere cried out demanding that we observe the sunrise there, right there, so there seemed no reason to do anything but step out of our front gate and cross the track to the shingle beach.

By the time we went to bed the sunny evening had clouded over, and we had little hope of seeing the sun clear the horizon, but we set the alarm anyway. Here in the very south of Scotland we were south of Lindisfarne, so the day is shorter, and west of just about everywhere, so the day is later - also west of Arran, so the horizon is higher, but you can't calculate for everything. If it comes to that, we may have been a day late, too: we were observing the dawn of the day after the longest day, but it couldn't be helped, and it was at least the dawn nearest to the moment of solstice...


Regardless. We got up, we dressed, we went out into the dawn. The sky was echoing with the shrill whistling of the oystercatchers, the air was still and the midges were malevolent. I walked up and down, but couldn't escape them. The moment of the dawn ticked over, and I could see a few faint streaks of light in the sky opposite the sunrise. My face was stinging with midges. Was I going to wait until the sun had failed to appear above the hills of Arran? I was not. The ritual had been observed, the sun had failed to appear, the days were getting shorter. I went inside, combed the midges out of my hair and went back to bed, leaving the curtains open so I could see across to Arran, and the sun still not rising - Until I fell asleep for several hours and was woken by the sun hot on my feet, ready for another day.
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Why is this Midsummer unlike any other Midsummer? [Jun. 17th, 2016|07:04 pm]

I meant to post about how busy we were getting ready to come away, and where we were going, and why - but in the end I was too busy getting ready to come away, and it didn't happen. So here we are on Arran, on our way to the Mull of Kintyre and beyond:

Across the bay

Midsummer on Holy Island won't be the same without R. Last year was different, in a good way, with Bears and also lots of people who wanted to say goodbye. But this year, we thought it was time to go somewhere else, and D. found a Landmark Trust property on the Mull of Kintyre (so, on Scotland's west coast, but looking east across the sea). That's far enough away - or, more to the point, tricky enough to get to - that we thought we might as well make a virtue of that necessity. So here we are on Arran, with a couple of days to explore, before we take the ferry from the far side of the island to the Mull of Kintyre.

valydiarosada and D. spent last night with us, and if the spare bedroom was not completely ready (it contains many empty bookshelves and no bedside light) it was at least habitable. We set off this morning and drove, in our several vehicles, to Ardrossan ( durham_rambler and I took the scenic route through Wanlockhead, which was very pretty), which feels like a longer drive than it is, on account of other people on the roads, some of them driving tractors. Then a 45 minute ferry across to Brodick, and here we are. I have been for a short walk, just the length of the village,and acquired some tourist information and some postcards, and am thinking about what we might do tomorrow and after. Durham and Northumberland were rainy and cold, but Ayrshire was brighter, and here on Arran we have soft sunshine, which I am taking as a promise of pleasant weather to come.
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For the record [Jun. 13th, 2016|10:23 pm]
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From time to time I have backache; of course I do, I'm a grown-up, who doesn't? By now I know how to handle it: take painkillers, keep moving, wait for it to go away. I have no idea why it struck this last few days...

Three nights ago, I had twinges: lying in bed, a position that ought to be comfortable was - not. But I could find a comfortable position and go back to sleep. Two nights ago, no position wwas really comfortable and some were seriously painful - within definitions of serious pain that are, I know, pretty trivial really. I slept badly, was still stiff when I woke up, spent yesterday treating myself gently: this wasn't all bad. I started the day with a hot bath (because at last we have fixed the bath tap, and it delivers hot water at a reasonable speed). I opted out of the street party (part backache, part general misanthropy), and pottered around at home, making some progress with small tasks. Had an early night, slept carefully. Considered whether we should defer swimming until tomorrow, and decided not to (because then we'd hace to swim on Thursday after a late night Wednesday) - but I'm not sure this was the right decision: I was still short on sleep, and although the back was much better, the cold water didn't help (I know this because the hot shower after was so wonderful). Now, within three days of the first manifestations, I'm almost back to normal and wondering, what was that about?

At the cinema this evening, I was maybe feeling more need to stretch than usual, but nothin worse. The film was Love and Friendship: should that be 'Freindship'? The Guardian gave it a rave review, including an attempt to justify giving an afaptation of one book the title of another. I liked the use of captions to introduce the characters, and I was entirely entertained and amused. It's probably unreasonable to feel that this leaves something lacking.
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Five things make the last ten days [Jun. 9th, 2016|10:31 pm]
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  • The morning after our return from London, with no food in the house and D. arriving that evening, we went to Tesco's. I didn't mean to buy any wine: this was supposed to be an in and out, quick and efficient, kind of shopping. But the French wines are right at the end of the aisle, I wondered what they had from the south-west, and there on the top shelf was a display of Terreforts de Madiran 2003 at £3.25 a bottle. (That's $4.70 at today's rate, and the article I've linked to quotes a price of £11.99 last November.) Madiran ages well, but 2003 is a fair age: perhaps it was past its best? We bought a single bottle, and opened it that evening. At first I thought: agreeable, distinctive Madiran tannins, but fading, worth that ridiculously low price but not as intense as it should be. But as we emptied the bottle it began to fill out, and the last drop of the last glassful was a delight. The next day we went back and bought all they had left, which was only six bottles. We opened another one on Sunday, a bit earlier this time, to let it breathe, and it was wonderful, all liquorice, leather and black fruits, bramble and plum. I wonder if it will last long enough to try on helenraven alongside those Uruguayan tannats?

  • We are approaching completion of this stage of the building and decorating: unfortunately we are approaching it as Achilles approaches the tortoise. The spare bedroom is painted and almost papered, but the paper ran out with one tiny strip (maybe three inches wide, between the wardrobe and the corner) still to do, so we have been waiting for more paper to arrive. Due tomorrow morning (and the carpet is due tomorrow afternoon, so I hope there'll be no delay). When the decorator arrives, we're assuming he will also put a second coat of paint in the kitchen, and bring a long brush to paint behind the radiator. We had a nasty moment when the fridge was pulled out of its corner and revealed an unpleasant damp patch, but that has now been sealed and replastered. The new paint is very red. I thought I was choosing the shade closest to the existing terra cotta, and was puzzled that it was called 'Red Barn', but oh, yes, very red. I am rethinking which pictures go where.

  • Ushaw College is a former Catholic seminary, now busy reinventing itself as a welcoming events venue. This is disconcerting. But it has some fabulous architecture, and if it wants to fill that space with folk music, that's fine by me. We couldn't make all of the folk festival last weekend, but we were there on Saturday evening for Alistair Anderson's new band, Northlands. So new that their only web presence is on Alistair Anderson's news page: for the record, then, singer and flute player Sarah Hayes, Sophy Ball on fiddle and Ian Stephenson on guitar. Great fun, a mixture of solo spots and ensemble pieces, maybe not entirely settled in as a band but giving every sign of enjoying playing together. Long may they do so. The concert was in the Exhibition Hall, a chapel letting its hair down observed by bishops and other clergy in the roof beams:


  • Quotation of the week - but which week? We were watching the extended version of Have I Got News for You on the iPlayer. Paul Merton, intervening before Gyles Brandreth could lure Ian Hislop into a grammatical debate, announced "The gerund is a three-wheeled vehicle which was very popular before the invention of the horse."

  • Last night our dear friend F. celebrated a dignificant birthday by inviting a group of friends to an Elizabethan banquet at Lumley Castle. Don't be misled by the description, this is not about authentic re-enactment and historic recipes, this is the banquet as pantomime. It was extremely well done, and we even managed a certain amount of conversation in between the entertainment.
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The home beautiful [Jun. 5th, 2016|09:00 pm]

I hoped that we would return from London to discover that the builders and decorators had profited from our absence to make great progress; I feared that we would return from London to discover that the builders and decorators had profited from our absence to make a terrible mess. Oddly enough, neither of these things happened.

It turns out that they hadn't been able to move on to tiling the kitchen, as the tiles had not arrived (they turned up on Friday); and they hadn't been able to wallpaper the spare bedroom as the wallpaper had not arrived (due tomorrow). I believe the builder when he tells me that the tiles should have arrived earlier (he hasn't said anything about the wallpaper) and if I suspect that he was caught out by a bit of just-in-time ordering, well, that could have happened to any of us. I am profoundly grateful that I put my foot down and said that work was not to start in our bedroom until the two rooms already in progress were complete, and I am very inclined to ask the builders to take a break while we are in Scotland later this month. After all, if by then they have finished the kitchen and spare bedroom, it will make a natural break - and if they haven't, something will have to be done about it!

On the plus side, those walls of the spare bedroom which are to be painted have been painted, and I am very pleased with how the colour looks; and the tiler arrived early yesterday, and has used intelligence a good sense of balance in combining plain and patterned tiles. I have no confidence in my visual sense, and am relieved to discover that I'm still happy with the choices I made. The mixer tap which supplies the kitchen sink has been replaced, and no longer drips, which is good - and though I'm still inclined to turn the cold tap the wrong way, surely it won't take me long to get used to doing it right (the old tap functioned correctly for very much longer than we had the bodge which caused it to turn backwards). The tap itself is an extraordinary steampunk design, and I can't imagine where they found it, but it makes me laugh, so that's fine.

The only real down side is the fan which we were advised to fit in the kitchen, to reduce humidity. However good an idea this is, if I had known that it would run audibly all the time, and that when it goes into full action it is so loud that I don't hear the doorbell - I would surely have said no. There is what appears to be an off switch up near the ceiling, and I shall look into making that accessible...

I wonder what tomorrow will bring? Wallpaper, I hope, but what else?
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A week in London [Jun. 4th, 2016|06:18 pm]
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This post has been a Work in Progress for the last week, and meanwhile stuff keeps happening. Nonetheless, here it is at last. We were in London for a week, for reasons I explained on our way south. It was a busy week, and now it is over and we are returned to our regular programming, whatever that may be. Here's the compressed version of the last week: Further compressed by the cut!Collapse )

And then we came home. But that's another story.
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Farewell to Music [Jun. 4th, 2016|11:41 am]

I would have told you that the last time I saw Dave Swarbrick was with Martin Carthy at a Musicians' Benevolent Fund benefit at Cecil Sharp House, which LJ tells me was in 2012 - or maybe at his solo gig at the Waiting Room in Eaglescliff. But no, in fact it was just over a year ago, in concert at the Sage, once again with Carthy. But then, for over twenty years every time you saw Swarb could have been the last time.

There's a very good obituary in The Telegraph ("Well, they've had practice," says durham_rambler).

I was looking for some suitably solemn or melancholy piece to embed here - O'Carolan's Farewell to Music, say - and was tempted by Fairport's Farewell, farewell, which is thematically apt, but not really a showcase for the man's talent. But I couldn't resist this (and not just because I've been listening to Dorten Yonder rehearsing their own 'Chickens!' set:

And, just for durham_rambler, a bonus track from the archives:

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More public-spirited pigs [May. 30th, 2016|05:26 pm]
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From the British Library website, the rejection letter sent to George Orwell by Faber & Faber, declining to publish Animal Farm (with thanks to the Guardian for the transcription:
I think my own dissatisfaction with this apologue is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing... And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm - in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.
Signed: T.S. Eliot
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