Wednesday, 30 September 2009

On the Road to Australia...sort of

You know, it makes me tired just thinking about re-living this trip. I do so hate long haul flights. Never mind, it's done and as my Uncle Pat once said, you shall see the world from the comfort of your computer chair.

I only noticed as the date grew nearer that Bill had booked us to fly on 11 September. I searched my mind and couldn't think of anything Biblical or apocryphal about 8 years; I don't know enough about the Muslim religion to say whether that number has any significance for them. Bill pointed out that we were flying with Emirates who were an Arab airline. With those two ideas, and it being rather late to change, I decided to just go with the flow.

Bill chose Emirates as they fly straight from Newcastle. We avoid Heathrow whenever possible. Also, there was an option to grab almost a night's sleep at a hotel in Dubai, roughly half way, which would make the journey a bit easier. After our friend Bob's experience there, I was a bit leery, but it all went fine.

I would recommend Emirates airline to anyone. Bill booked our seats towards the rear of the plane where it narrows, aiming to get the two seats at one side. This is a great idea as I like the aisle (to get to the loo), Bill likes the window (to see outside) and there are no strangers involved in close quarters. He managed this on 4 of our 5 flights and it helped a lot. Emirates starts out your journey by handing out hot towels, a service that is apparently disappearing from other airlines on this route. I was puzzled as to why one began with a wash instead of having it in the morning, but was pleased with the sentiment nevertheless.

You get a menu card showing what foods will be offered. All beverages are still free, except for champagne (sorry, Jane). The dress and manner of the stewarding staff reminded me of the early days of my flying experience when my mother made me get dressed up to travel and everyone on the plane showed a bit of class.

I have seen airline staff look like they just rolled out of bed, put their hair in a rubber band and pulled on yesterday's clothing. I've had staff bark at me like I was endangering lives; I was waiting for the loo and Bill came up and spoke to me. We were obviously plotting to blow up the plane. I've seen staff whose face would crack if they had to smile.

Nope, Emirates' staff beats them all hands down: very neatly dressed (though I don't care for the scarf thing), polished hair and make-up, pleasant and courteous as well as authoritative, agile and elegant of movement (navigating that aisle is a skill in itself) and extremely multi-lingual. Perhaps not individually but collectively. The announcement listed a stream of different languages that were available if needed. I lost count after 10-12. Considering the part of the map we flew over and the multi-ethnic make up of Britain and Australia, I could imagine a fair few might be useful. I think we were pretty well covered.

End of Emirates (unpaid) endorsement.

The only other thing I have to say here is about Dubai airport. We'd been there for a stop over before, on our first trip over 10 years ago. We were turfed out of the plane at 2am and sent to wander around a vast and empty shopping mall for an hour or so while they refuelled. I mainly remembered that everything was chrome and glass when I wanted a soft surface on which to recline.

It was very different this time. Though still not many soft surfaces, there are shops and people -- all sorts of interesting people -- and it's bigger than I can even imagine. We figured this out on the way back when we walked for quite a while through even more shops before finding the part we recognised. Dubai airport is an impressive place. It screams money.

I wasn't sure about taking photos in an airport -- they get pretty twitched about that some places. I sneaked a few here and there because it reminded me so much of Las Vegas. All the lights and water fountains, I guess.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Returned from Down Under

We arrived home on Saturday after 2 weeks in Australia. We went to help Jane celebrate turning 60. Also stopped in Perth on the way home to meet Sharon, the cousin I've been corresponding with for about 2 years now. We had a great time and of course I have a million pictures to share.

Just as soon as I find the cable thingy to download them from the camera...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Baby Sister's Birthday!

Happy (60th) Birthday and lots of love to Jane -- Bill's 'baby' sister.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Where I Hang Out These Days

I need to update my Blogroll, but that will be very tedious and knowing me I won't get to it for some time. Until then, I wanted to introduce you to my new best friends, well, my new favourite blogs. They barely know I exist though I've stuck my nose in and commented all over the place. I met them through one blog, as one does. (I'm finally understanding what they mean when they say blogs are a social network).

That was the Frugal Scholar. I visit her most days to see what she's up to. On her blogroll are some very interesting characters, among which are Fabulously Broke, The Duchesse and Une Femme. From Une Femme I found A Femme and if all you read is the right hand column of her blog, you'll come away thinking you've been hanging out with your French women friends at a Paris cafe.

What I'm enjoying from them is that they like clothes, and most are (a) conscious of money well-spent instead of squandered; and/or (b) interested in French style and culture, which I find fun; and/or (c) of a 'certain' age, which is a nice change from all the 20 and 30-something crafty SAHM (stay at home mom) blogs I was mostly reading before and got sort of burned out on. Also, one or two admit to not being a size 8 and so their discussions on clothing selection are pertinent.

If any of this appeals to you, drop in and visit them. Au revoir.

Saturday, 19 September 2009


I know there are at least 2 or 3 readers of this blog who wouldn't touch beans with a bargepole. However, for the more adventurous, health and economy conscious and, dare I say, grown-up readers, I thought I'd mention some of the ways I've found to incorporate beans into our diet.

  1. There was always Mom's favourite, beans and ham, cooked for hours on top of the stove. Instead, I use the crockpot. Variations are bacon or sausage for the flavouring. Leaving out meat altogether, I sometimes add onions or onions and a tin of tomatoes. This is usually served with rice or put into a rice dish. Very often I just cook the beans themselves and freeze for use in other ways at another time.
  2. I've long known about re-fried beans and the Mexican approach to wrapping up a variety of foods in a tortilla, sprinkling with grated cheese and nuking in the microwave. This is a great use for leftovers, including vegetables, scrambled eggs and potatoes. In my mind, leftovers are another name for convenience food.
  3. Not long after coming here to England, I learned about beans on toast, a delicious snack or lunchtime food. It sounds weird, I know, but it is very nice, belief me.
  4. A variation on this that I only met after coming to England, is hummus and bread sticks. In fact, I think I may have first eaten this on our first trip to Greece (after Italian, Greek food is my favourite). I make my own version without the tahini. I just blend up a tin (or a frozen batch) of chickpeas (AKA as garbanzo beans), mix in a little olive oil and salt to taste. We sometimes have this for dinner with veggie (carrot, celery, bell pepper, cucumber) sticks/slices and toasted bread sliced into wedges (the Brits call these 'soldiers', but that's another post).
  5. Most recently, I've tried recipes from a cookbook called The Bean Book (this is not the vegetarian bean book) and with a a few of those under my belt I discovered the basics: fry a diced onion and a diced clove (or two) of garlic in some olive oil. Then add a couple of cups of diced veggies and stir fry (I find that using the peeler to make carrot 'ribbons' helps them cook faster). When the veggies are about cooked, add a tin of drained beans and heat through. I sometimes experiment with cumin or chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, etc.
...where was I, I went away to see how to spell W. sauce and got caught up in all sorts of other things I'll tell you about later)...Nope, I think that's about it. Eat more beans -- they're delicious and they're good for you!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Nora's Card

While I'm talking about cards, I should show you Nora's card as well. Although I worked with gorgeous fabrics, some purchased in Oklahoma City, some Jane brought me from Sydney, I wasn't very sure about the outcome. It seems every time I go to make a card I have new ideas I want to try out. By the time I know if they worked or not, the card's deadline has arrived...I think it's called procrastination.

Anyhow, this one started out with writing words backwards on the back

and outlining them from the back to show on the front.

Then I wanted to try using strips of fabric and embroidery thread to anchor them into place. This was very fiddly, but fun.

What I found was that the width of the strip was very important and dependent on the type of fabric used; I don't think I always got it quite right.

I didn't really like the finished product as I thought the writing was too busy and difficult to read. However, in showing it to Bill recently, he was less critical of it than I, and he generally has a good eye for things. Still... I might try this technique again sometime, only with thinner strips and perhaps only for capital letters or something.

The outside was more simple and pleasing, in spite of not being able to get a good photograph of it. It was letters from orange cotton velvet that Nora herself had given me on a background of brown silk velvet. Very lush.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Emma's Birthday Card

I never showed you Emma's card, did I? Hers was the one I crafted on the roads between Michigan and Minnesota. This is not an approach I would recommend, as the motion of the car makes placement of stitches a challenge and everything takes much longer. I'd expected to deliver her card on her birthday, the day of our return, except of course we didn't return when we were supposed to. I lost some of my sewing momentum as soon as I realised I wouldn't be able to give it to her as planned

Jet lag hit me in a big way when we got back: not able to go to sleep or stay asleep at night, but not really able to sleep well during daylight hours either. I felt dizzy and nauseated a good part of the day, not to mention exhausted. I dragged myself around this way for over a week. Then we went to Manchester for a few days, so I wasn't at the sewing group. I'd not yet finished Emma's card and it was very late by now. After waffling about what do for age, I finally I decided to finish it, wrap it and take it to her at the sewing group and let her decide whether to accept it late or wait until next year.

I was due to take cakes to the sewing group that next Tuesday. On the Monday I made some spice cake muffins and separated the egg whites for an angel food cake, which is my favourite but always a challenge for me. Tuesday morning, the angel food cake just didn't work out (what a sticky mess!). I solved that problem the old fashioned way -- I 'threw money at it' buying donuts and chocolate cupcakes.

Only when I got there, no one was at at the sewing group. I was panicked that someone else had died and they were at a funeral. After all one of the hazards of attending this group is a closer association with death. In my short acquaintance they've lost a member, a husband, a daughter, a brother and countless acquaintances. I finally pestered the administrator of the centre to find the email where Nora had cancelled the group meeting for two weeks, for no particular reason I could tell.

I was a bit annoyed at having all these sweets, some of which would even tempt me, and still somewhat worried about what was going on. I called a couple of the ladies before reaching one and finding that due to holidays they had just decided to take a break. I could meet them for coffee in the village if I wished. Instead, I rang Emma and found her at home. She lives alone now her husband is gone, which happened before my time. She was pleased to have her card and a spice cake muffin to go with her tea and we had a lovely visit.

I so enjoyed seeing her house and her quilts and she so enjoyed having a visitor I decided the day had turned out very well after all. The sweets got stashed in the freezer. A few weeks later, after I succumbed to thawing and eating two of the apple filled donuts, the remainders went into the trash. I do hate waste, but there is no point in torturing oneself, is there?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Literary Ladies' Room

I told you about the Lit Phil Library months ago and promised to tell more later. Sorry to have left it so long.

I don’t have pictures of all my favourite bits, so will have describe them: Towards the back of the main room there is a large oval table where people are encouraged to bring their lunch; one can eavesdrop on quite learned and heated debates amongst the retired professor-ly looking types.

A square of bookcases encloses a small table and chairs, a perfect little corner for children, though I rarely see any there; I have to admit that the children’s books are fairly intriguing as well.

There is a window through to a kitchen area at which one can purchase a cup of tea (black or herbal) or coffee for 70 or 80 p. Along with the drink comes a choice of biscuits (AKA cookies). I usually chose the ginger snaps, as they were the lowest in fat.

After 2pm, the kitchen is shut. Then there are large thermos flasks of coffee, water, cold and hot milk; also a bowl of instant coffee, sugar, sweetener tablets and a selection of tea bags, not to mention the Tupperware boxes of cookies (with a note asking you to re-seal the box). It’s all on an honour system where one pays at the front desk for their drink. Along with the marvelous architecture, the wonderful books and the amazing furniture, I've always fond that honour system a lovely feature of the library.

There is a grouping of enveloping leather chairs around a coffee table where I often sat drinking my coffee and read Country Living, Vogue or Good Housekeeping. This was quite near the section where cooking, gardening, homemaking, crafts and needlework books could be found as well.

However, my very favourite place to read magazines was in the Ladies’ Room. Not the actual toilets, of course, but an ante-room to the toilet with comfy couches and chairs, tables and lamps, just perfect for a quiet read.

Mind, the toilets themselves are fairly interesting. One goes through a door into a small entry to doors on either side, which each open into an area with hand washing facilities (marble sinks, a cloth towel, an electric hand dryer and marvelous door furniture), and then the actual toilet in another room beyond that. It doesn’t do to leave going to the loo too late, given the obstacles to be overcome.

There were a couple of occasions when working on technical projects I found it easier to left my shared office a couple of blocks away, take my laptop to the library and sit at the table in the ladies room. Beyond the quiet, I found the whole atmosphere to be soothing.

(Yes, I know it's daft, but I get quite enthusiastic about door furniture.)

So now you know all the secret stuff about the LitPhil – well everything a non-member gets to know.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Grandma's Birthday

We had lots of family birthdays in September, didn't we! Today is Grandma's birthday.

I can't tell you her favourite food because when I visited she always made my favourite at that time, beef stew with carrots and potatoes. She made it in the pressure cooker, even though that contraption seemed to make her very nervous. Grandma also made fruit cakes at Christmas time which were brilliant door stops, they were so hard and dry. I've no idea what they were supposed to taste like but I always managed to avoid them, saying they were too sweet for me.

So, in memory of Grandma, my task will be to produce beef stew in the pressure cooker we never use. Also, to learn to make edible fruit cake -- or enjoy inflicting door stops on everyone in December....I'll have to think about which sounds like more fun!

P.S. This is also Colleen's birthday -- Happy Birthday, Colleen!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Remembering Rita

Today is my Aunt Rita's birthday. She's only been gone for about 2 years and I'm still sad about her passing. I think about her often: when wearing some of her clothes that either she or Jack gave me, when wearing her jewelery, every time I colour my hair (She gave me detailed instructions once, when I didn't ask; I suspect I'd missed a spot or two and she was being diplomatic!), whenever I eat fried eggs and put pepper on them, whenever I sew, particularly when I use her scissors or notions. I know I would have thought of her often even without these things. Rita was a big influence in my early years; I used to call her my No. One Babysitter.

So, I write this with a wet face, but in following along my new tradition of foods to remember my loved ones, I've been meaning to tell you about a cookbook she had.

Jack encouraged me to take whatever of her many cookbooks I wanted. I had to be selective as to what would fit into my suitcase (and a little of Bill's and Bob's), so I didn't manage very many. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed cooking from most of the ones I brought home, particularly
Weight Watchers Meals in Minutes Cookbook.

Although I don't always use the microwave method for cooking that it recommends, I love that it has recipes that use ordinary ingredients, that the recipes are for 2 people which helps with one of my main problems -- cooking for an army (and then eating it), that it has a good selection of budget recipes. Best of all, Rita folded down pages of some of the recipes and I have cooked a number of those, knowing that they appeal to her.

First chance I get, I shall be cooking something from this cookbook -- preferably something with the jalapeno peppers that she loved!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Baking for Grandpa

Today is Grandpa's birthday. I've been thinking about what were his favourite foods. I know he was partial to meatloaf.

Then again, he was known to be a fair baker, mainly of cookies. We'll have to vote on this -- meatloaf or cookies?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Bit of Swash & Buckle

More from Trevelyan’s Social History of England, Chaucer’s England (1340-1400) – yes, folks, we have a long way to go yet…

Just imagine living back then:

"In most of the counties of England the King’s writ ran, though it was often evaded or defied. Murderers and thieves, when not in the service of some great lord, were often obliged to fly to the greenwood, or to take sanctuary and then forswear the realm. Some times they were actually arrested and brought into court. Even then they often slipped through the meshes of law by pleading their ‘clergy’ or by some other lawyer’s trick. But, at worst, a great many thieves and a few murderers were hanged by the King’s justice every year. The engine of law worked in the greater part of England, though cumbrously, corruptly, and at random.

But in the counties bordering on Scotland (that’s up here where we live) the King’s writ can scarcely be said to have run at all. War seldom ceased, and cattle-raiding never. On those roadless fells, society consisted of mounted clans of farmer-warriors, at feud among themselves and at war with the Scots. No man looked to the King’s officers to protect or avenge him. In the land of the Border ballads all men were warriors and most women were heroines." (Oh, yeah, that’s us…).

To Chaucer it was an unknown, distant, barbarous land – much further off than France – ‘far in the North, I cannot tellen where’. There the Percys (you’ve met them before and other border chiefs were building magnificent castles to resist the siege of the King of Scotland’s armies – Alnwick, Warkworth, Dunstanburgh, Chipchase, Belsay, and many more. The lesser gentry had their square ‘peel towers’, smaller copies of the castles of the great; there were no manor-houses, a product of relative peace. The peasants lived in wooden shanties that the raiders burnt as a matter of course, while the inhabitants and their cattle hid in the woods or sheltered in the peels.

This state of things outlasted the Tudors who gave such firm peace to the rest of England. Only after the union of the Crowns on the head of James Stuart had made an end of Border War (1603) did peaceful manor-houses begin to rise beside the castles and peel towers of the north.

One result of this long continuance of warlike habits, amid a sparse population, was that a greater familiarity between high and low prevailed in those wild regions and lasted into modern times. The moorland shepherd and the ‘hind’, as the northern farm hand was called, never became as subject to ‘squire and farmer’ as the pauper labourer of the south in days to come. There was always a breath of freedom blowing off the moors."

Because you’ve been good and read all this, I give you Burradon pele tower (no one seems to be able to decide how it's actually spelled).

Back when I was really fit, we did our long runs on Sunday mornings, starting in Killingworth,

where Bob lives. Several times we ran past this tower and it was pointed out to me. This time Bill

and I drove to it, thankfully; I couldn’t have told you where it was otherwise.

(Silly me, I couldn't resist having a post labelled 09/09/09 09:09)

Sunday, 6 September 2009

New Lanark to New Harmony

After the death of his wife and two of her sisters, Robert Owen and his sons headed for the US, where he and another partner bought the land and buildings that constituted the town of Harmony, Indiana and re-named it New Harmony. There he hoped to build another community along the lines of his vision for a better community. I gather it didn't go very well. He eventually returned to England, but his sons remained in America.

In addition to being a socialist, Owen was also sectarian, which would have been even more unusual in his day than it is now. Some of the quotes (and it was noted that he could never have been said to have been a man of few words) posted were:

"What ideas individuals may attach to the term 'Millennium' I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness improved a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.' Robert Owen's 'Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark' New Years Day 1816

"Every child of man should be, from his birth, as well trained and educated, as his original organs, faculties and powers will admit."

"The ever-changing scenes of nature afford not only the most economical, but also the most innocent pleasures which man can enjoy."

"Charity and kindness admit no exception. They extend to every child of man, however he may have been trained. They consider not what country gave him birth, what may be his complexion..."

"Is it not in the interest of the human race that every one should be so taught to promote the well-being, and happiness, of every man, woman, and child, without regard to their class, sect, party, country or colour?"

Robert Owen died in 1858, aged 87, in his hometown of Newtown, Wales. His sons did rather well in the US. Robert Dale Owen served in the House of Representatives of the US Congress where he supported women's rights and opposed slavery. Most notably, he drafted the bill that formed the Smithsonian Institute.

That is a whole other interesting story that I ran across somewhere, how the endowment of the Smithsonian was contested by the British government. Seems that James Smithsonian was an illegitimate son of the 1st Duke of Northumberland, whose family I've mentioned a few times, them being practically neighbours and all. It is said that he left the money to "found an institution that would last longer than his father's dynasty." Having visited the Smithsonian and being vaguely aware of the Percy family, I was thinking it would perhaps be a close call, which will survive the longest.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

New Lanark

After some debate about the weather we drove to New Lanark last Sunday, a place Bill said he has long wanted to visit. We had also debated about what we might find there but decided that a mere tourist trap wouldn't likely be named a World Heritage Site. We were right about that.

You remember our friend G.M. Trevelyan, of English Social History? He mentions this place several times, but in order to appreciate it, I think some context is required. At the end of the 18th century we have the growing industrial revolution. Apprenticeships have disappeared and along with them the personal relationship between a journeyman and his employer. The gulf between a factory owner and a factory worker is vast. This is also just after the French Revolution (about which I must read some time) and all "combinations (I take it to mean joining together) of workmen, whether for political or for purely economic purposes, were regarded as 'seditious'." The law was supposed to apply to both masters and men but in fact masters were allow to combine as freely as they wished. Soon after the Elizabethan statute giving magistrates power to enforce a minimum wage was repealed.

It also needs to be remembered that most people didn't have a vote at that time. One source states that less than 3% of the people in England and Wales had the vote in 1780. It gives numbers rather than percentages for Scotland and I did the math: fewer than 2/10th of 1% of the population could vote then. A moderate move was made in 1832 which gave the vote to men occupying property with an annual value of £10 or more; this still excluded 6 out of 7 men from voting. I still find this staggering.

Trevelyan writes about the contrasts between village, rural life and that in the towns and cities. He says that their food, lodging, clothing and wages were possibly less bad than they had been in the farms and country cottages and they had more independence in some ways. However, the beauty of the country, the village green and the games, the feasts and sports and rural customs were gone. In the farming community man and master lived side by side and unmarried hands boarded with the farmer and ate food cooked by the farmer's wife. The farm hands were also a few at each farm. This contrasted with "The mass of unregarded humanity in the factories and mines were as yet without any social services or amusements of a modern kind to compensate for the lost amenities and traditions of country life. They were wholly uncared for by Church or State; no Lady Bountiful visited them with blankets and advice; no one but the Nonconformist minister was their friend; they had no luxury but drink, no one to talk to but one another, hardly any subject but their grievances." I don't think I can even properly imagine what housing conditions will have been like.

Enter Robert Owen, a completely remarkable Welshman with reasonably humble beginnings but quite a lot of ambition and more than a fair amount of success. By 1799 he was able to buy (with partners) the cotton mill factory at New Lanark from David Dale and marry his daughter. The mill employed about 2 - 2 1/2 thousand men, women and children. About 500 of the latter were brought in from poorhouses in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The conditions were unsanitary, the hours long, the drunkenness and crime rates high; local country people wouldn't work the hours or tolerate the environment.

Owen improved the sanitation facilities by providing bathhouses (mind a family, no matter how large, still lived in two rooms), he provided nursery facilities and sent children under 10 to school to be educated. He built the Institute for the Formation of Character, a community facility aimed at education and recreation. He took 1/60th of each person's wages and put this towards providing free medical care for workers and families. He reduced the working hours down to 10 hours a day and 6 days a week. He bought in wholesome quality food and sold it to workers at little profit; any income went back into benefitting the workforce. This represents the beginnings of the Cooperative movement, aimed not just at ending the exploitation of the consumer by the retailer, but also to teach the working classes self-government and business management.

Owen believed that a person's character was shaped by their environment and his aim was to raise the character of his workforce through improving their environment. One exhibit outlined a view of what components a community should have for its population. I was struck by how many of those ideals we all now take completely for granted. Also, I noted that one definition of wealth for that time was to live in a place that had more rooms than people.

New Lanark was internationally famous and was visited by many politicians, royalty and religious leaders. However, it remained a unique experiment in his time.

Friday, 4 September 2009

14 Years Already?

Hard to believe it, but I moved to the UK 14 years ago on this date.

I remember working my last day in Utah on Friday, packing my bags and handing over keys on Saturday. I flew on Sunday, arrived at Newcastle about 10 am on the Monday. My boss kindly picked me up at the airport and brought me to my first day at work! I think I may have stayed awake until about 4 or so and then found my way to my new home. For 10 months I lived in one grim room of a 3-bed roomed flat across the road, in a block of flats for hospital employees.

Sharing an apartment with a string of complete strangers (a Greek neurosurgeon - ?38? male; an English medical physicist just returned from 2 years in Germany - ?27? male; an English trainee A&E (UK version of ER) internist - ?26? female; a Scottish trainee nurse - ?23? female) -- what an adventure that was! I discovered right away that the women were horrible flat mates (not just sloppy but filthy, inconsiderate and noisy); whilst the men were very neat and polite.

I don't think I realised what a big step I'd taken, moving to another country, until a few months had passed. The days got shorter; I learned I had no control over the heating in my room; the laundry facility across the road was always full of abandoned clothing stuffed into washers and dryers so I took up washing clothes in the bathtub and hanging them around my room to drip on the carpet. It rained all the time, there were litter and graffiti everywhere, I discovered I might speak a form of English but they spoke Geordie around here. Come to that, there were probably hundreds of different accents from around the UK, just as in the US, and I worked hard to hear and understand pretty much everyone.

Still, many people went out of their way to be helpful, I finally discovered the Georgian architecture of Grey Street, I had my first adventures in exploring Europe and I had a lot of knowledge to contribute at the office, so it wasn't all bad.

Funny enough, I see Ebay was also launched on this day 14 years ago.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Flower House

When I knew we would be staying over night in Glasgow, my mind turned immediately to the B&B I'd stayed in about 9 years ago. I remembered it as an unusually pretty terraced Georgian house, within walking distance to my meeting with my Scottish counterparts at the University of Glasgow.

I couldn't remember if I'd been in a room upstairs or down, but I did remember the blue bathroom.

Mind the other bathroom is fairly memorable as well.

I was thinking I'd sat in a living area with lots of sewing baskets and have the impression that the host had lived and worked in India for a while, but I could be mistaken.

I did enjoy the over the top decor again, but it turned out that we were served breakfast in our room, not in a dining room, which is usual practice in a B&B. Though the food was plentiful and healthy and served on lovely Royal Doulton china,

Bill grumbled that there wasn't any fried pig on offer and he's not a big fan of scrambled eggs. In fact he was clear that he prefers staying at hotels where one doesn't have to state a given time for breakfast, one just shows up within the time span for which breakfast is on offer.

I have to admit this is the first I ever recall not being asked what I wanted for breakfast; it's certainly the first time I've ever been served breakfast by a woman in bare feet. I'm sorry to say we probably won't return. Still, it is a very pretty place.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Ayrshire via Glasgow

At Bill's suggestion we spent this past bank holiday weekend in southeastwest (!Frank just kindly pointed out my error!) Scotland. I spent all day Saturday and part of Monday in the Family History Library at Irvine. Bill got in a couple of dampish bike rides, owing to the usual wet weather. We spent Sunday at New Lanark, which I'll tell you about shortly.

On the way over, we spent Friday night in Glasgow, where we met Frank and his wife Jackie for dinner. Actually, let's be right about this, they picked us up and took us to dinner, which was completely unnecessary and incredibly generous. Frank is yet another distant relative (his maternal grandfather was the youngest brother of my mother's paternal grandmother) found through our genealogical research on the Internet. Like with the cousins in Michigan, we were put in contact with one another by Sharon in Australia.

We had an excellent meal at The Bothy, which Frank said was 'very Scottish'. So, naturally we had to have the haggis, neeps and tatties and of course it was very artfully presented. By the way, the word bothy is Scottish but is used all over Britain to refer to a kind of basic accommodation.

Haggis, neeps and tatties isn't as strange as one might think. Neeps is just a Scots word for turnip (tur-NEEP) or swede. We often have this in the winter, steamed until it's soft enough to mash and eat alone, or with mashed carrots or mashed potatoes. Cooked neeps/swede/rutabaga are a pale orange colour and have a rather bland, slightly sweet flavour, much like a milder form of carrot. 'Tatties' refers to potatoes, nothing more or less.

Haggis, admittedly, is a bit more exotic, being a sausage made with lamb. OK, made with lamb's innards like lungs, liver and heart; also oatmeal and onion and spices. I'm not an enormous fan of lamb or mutton to start with, but haggis is quite pleasant, really. The closest I can come to describing it is that it reminds me a bit of corned beef hash both in flavour and texture.

Sharon commented that I was quite adventurous in eating haggis, but I did watch several other people eat it with pleasure a few years ago before having a taste of Bill's and later ordering my own. The occasion to have haggis doesn't come up often so it's not like I'm eating offal all the time. In any case, have you ever considered what goes into baloney, which I loved as a child and ate at every opportunity?

One meal time is too short to know people well, but I felt easily at home with both Frank and Jackie. Frank and I have corresponded a fair bit via email for several months. Jackie and I had to start from scratch. Turns out she runs at least 3 times a week; wish I could say that gave us more in common than it does, but I haven't given up entirely.

Anyhow, I am looking forward to keeping in touch with Frank and Jackie and to visiting Glasgow again so we can return the favour; they were good company and I would like to know them better. Frank has a sister that he wants us to meet as well. We might even manage to persuade them to come down to our neck of the woods one day.