Tag Archives: Christmas

Cask & Still not impressed

I don’t think I like Scotch Whisky. There I have said it, the ultimate sacrilege that a Scotsman can commit in his country.  As we speak, torches are being lighted and pitchfork tines sharpened.  My reputation lies in tatters and with the nights fair drawing in, I will have to watch my step lest the whisky police scoop me up and carry me away.

I don’t think its all my fault though.  I mean god knows I’ve tried to fall in love with the water of life on numerous occasions and have failed every time.

I do love the mystique and the excitement that comes with whisky, I see passionate exchanges in every pub and club that stocks a drop of the hard stuff. I have engaged in endless debates about what makes a great single malt and even argued about the rights of the individual when it comes to adding water (you should) or ice (you shouldn’t unless you are very brave or a little bit crazy).  But all the time there is a voice in my head saying “but you don’t really like it do you?”.

There have been one or two sublime moments when a whisky has been just right for the occasion, but they are few and far between.

A lunch with friends, where the hotel graciously rewarded our gluttony with a complimentary drink on the house that turned out to be a Balvenie Portwood, aged 21 years  (If you haven’t tasted it then shame on you). Great dram but a tad expensive for a night in at home.

Or the time that I was introduced to Glenglassaugh and their Chosen Few Mhairi McDonald 1978, a 33 year old whisky. (‘Just like a warm hug’ according to a friend).  Sadly not available in the shops as far as I know, but a real treat if you can find a bottle.

In my desperation to join the ranks of whisky lovers across the globe I even decided to visit The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.  Surely if anyone could help me then they could…

If you haven’t been then go! The journey begins with a fantastic barrel ride through a replica distillery teaching the basics of the whisky making process and finishes with a glimpse of the  Diageo Claive Vidiz collection of over 3500 individual bottles.

Suitably impressed I asked if I could do more to find my goal.  Of course they said, why not sign up to The Scotch Whisky Training School ?  I was intrigued. This one day course supplies you with all the tools you need to become a bit of an ambassador for Whisky in the hospitality trade and it is excellent.  There is even a forty minute exam at the end (no conferring) and a proper mark and certificate  (I got a distinction).

So why don’t I jump for joy every time someone produces a bottle of Scotch? Why does my heart sink if I am asked to try a dram or two? I genuinely don’t know. It is not for the want of trying.

Which is why I am going to make it my goal over the next few months to try and discover my ultimate perfect drink, hopefully it will be Scottish, but I am not going to stop at the border. I will start by sampling from around the world and will aim to have the answers by the 31 December in order to toast the New Year. Please feel free to send me suggestions, samples and anything else that takes your fancy. It can only help!

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Good tidings we bring

Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

Scrooge’s third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love Christmas, there I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. No grumblings of discontent or bah humbug, just a straightforward and enduring love affair between me and the spirit of Christmas, past, present and future.

Of course like all relationships we’ve had our ups and downs…

Such as discovering that my oven didn’t work one Christmas morning and having to cut the turkey into four separate pieces to get it into the (tiny) secondary oven (my how we laughed). Or learning that a freshly unwrapped present needed batteries to make it work.

Then there was the year that my mother in law contracted Norovirus on Christmas Eve, which led to a highly charged hostage situation involving a Christmas dinner and a very grumpy father in law.

Or perhaps my personal favourite, spending New Year’s Eve alone with my wife and consuming so much festive cheer that we ended up getting stuck in our baby’s travel cot just after the bells had chimed. (No child was harmed in the making of this night as she was upstairs in the main cot at the time).

So what will this year bring?  Surely in these austere times our festive frolics will be a little muted and restrained perhaps? Well to be honest no, because I have a secret weapon. I’ve been given the gift of being able to view Christmas afresh through the eyes of a child and that is a present indeed!

You see our toddler will be three in February and this year she REALLY, really gets Christmas for the first time. Cue mass excitement!

Which is why every morning she wakes up greeting the day with cries of “Santa Claus coming to town” or “Santa got stuck up the chimney” before rushing downstairs to gaze at the ‘dancing’ lights on the Christmas Tree.

Her (limited) viewing fare consists of endless cartoons from the likes of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck trimming trees and saving Christmas whilst Rudolf and the boys or the Snowman take flight in the sky above.

She has also started to develop a liking for Stollen Cake and only yesterday we were forced to sit in the living room and share our ‘present’ ideas, shouted in the ear of a cuddly Santa she had sitting on her knee, accompanied by occasional “ho, ho, ho’s” muttered under her breath.

Thankfully it’s not just about Santa though, as she has asked us about the nativity and the birth of Christ, sort of, although it does seem to have translated in her head as being all about getting a pink baby for Christmas, which will no doubt end up being swaddled and laid beneath the tree at some point in the proceedings, thus rather neatly tying together you might say, the twin themes of a modern Christmas.

English: Christmas postcard picture with Santa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing I can say is that despite having already purchased the ‘famed double issue’ of the Radio Times and circled the perennial favourites, the chances of settling down to actually watch any television will be nil.

But in a way that is surely the point. We can watch TV anytime. Christmas should be about fun and toys and games and silly conversations, of family cheer and the knowledge that there really is hope in the world for better things. Which ultimately makes it all worthwhile.

It’s going to be touch and go as to whether my daughter lasts the week or bursts with excitement along the way and frankly I know exactly how she feels.

Merry Christmas!

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Pittencrieff Park in November

I was out walking in our local park yesterday with family in tow.  We were chatting about the lovely decorations on the high street and a huge Christmas tree we had just passed, when all of a sudden we were surrounded by countless grey squirrels on the prowl for easy food.

It was a cold wintry sort of a day and they were everywhere all at once, darting about looking cute and begging for titbits. It didn’t take long for them to work out that we weren’t the best prospects in town and they soon moved on to more promising folk.

But in that short period, my young daughter (“I’m a big girl daddy”) was unbeknown to me creating an entire back story for the squirrel horde and filing it away for our return journey.

Our destination was the revitalised Glen Pavilion in Pittencrieff Park, famous for its connections to Andrew Carnegie but more importantly home to the Peacock Rooms, a notable cake emporium.

We were soon enjoying the bustling confines of this popular café (as one does on a Sunday don’t you know), made even busier than normal by the presence of our local chess club who were on their annual outing (honestly you can’t make this up) and  as the queues died down, we were able to sit back and enjoy the scenery outside as the sky slowly darkened and dusk approached.

Eventually, fortified by steaming hot coffee and a decent slab of homemade lemon drizzle cake and satiated by ‘chess player’ people watching (there is a type you know), we decided to head home, retracing our steps through the darkened park… which is when it happened.

“Daddy” said my daughter in an inquiring tone, pointing at a discarded takeaway lid lying on the path, still bearing the marks of last nights curry, “Daddy, look at the naughty squirrels!”

“Naughty squirrels?” says I, looking slightly confused.

“Yes squirrels, Oh DEAR, making a mess and leaving toast and butter on the floor (in a Scottish accent of unbearably cute proportions), MAKING a MESS daddy.”

I grinned; I may have giggled a little bit, which prompted daughter to continue

“Squirrels leave mess there (pointing) and there and there, oh DEAR!”

Visibly indignant now, she marched off up the path to where we had last seen the thirty strong grey squirrel mob shouting

“SQUIRRELS! Where ARE you? Oh dear, naughty squirrels making mess and hiding!

Stops to look at sky

“AND (very indignantly indeed) putting the lights out to make MORE mess!”

By this time the laughter was deep within my belly, my wife was wiping tears from her eyes and any squirrel’s still in the vicinity were no doubt cowering in shame.

“Squirrels Clean up mess NOW!”

Her subsequent rant took up much of the rest of our walk home and was on the agenda again this morning within minutes of waking up to greet the day. A girl on a mission,  absolutely confident, sure of her facts and determined to give the squirrel community a piece of her mind. It’s priceless.

Aged only 2 years and 9 months she has an imagination I envy, conjuring up her very own utterly implausible yet hugely entertaining explanation as to not only why our beautiful park was covered in litter, but why it had gotten so dark too.

Then telling us about it in such great detail that I wondered if we should be writing it down and sending it to a book publisher.

I cannot wait to hear what she will make of Christmas this year; so far she is set on the idea that there is a big Santa (for big people) and a little Santa (especially for people like her). She is also demanding a “pink tree with bubbles “and has been brushing up on her Bruce Springsteen influenced “Santa Claus is coming to town” rendition.

I hope she never loses that creative spark; I hope that she goes on to write great books or become a genius or something, but in the meantime I will always love her for what she is now, a gorgeous, sweet and an incredibly funny wee person.

Messy, me?

This was my weekend highlight, how about yours?

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In praise of watches

My Metal Banded Watches

(Photo credit: alexkerhead)

I’m an affable kind of guy, I don’t want for much and I generally feel quite content. Put me in front of a roaring fire with some decent food, a nice bottle of wine and leave me. I will be more than happy.

At the weekend take me out for a wander along a beach or to grab a coffee and a look around the shops and I feel equally at ease. Which is fortunate as my wife is also very keen on both, perhaps leaning a bit more towards the retail spectrum as the winter approaches. So imagine the scene, there I am poking about in various shops (books and clothing mainly) and just about ready for a visit to Starbucks when I am stopped in my tracks by a window display. I was lost.

You see I am addicted to watches. Big ones, small ones, cheap ones and some not so cheap, I just love them. Which is why you should never leave me alone too long in a shopping environment. (I also love jackets but at least there is a single-minded aim there  – to find the ultimate jacket – something I have come close to on a number of occasions and a vice which is then largely under control for the moment).But watches on the other hand are always there, singing their siren song on web, in stores, brochure, magazines and newspapers.

Men don’t really wear a lot of jewellery and a watch provides us with a bit of individuality. They are also my favourite accessory, I have daily work watches, weekend watches, I even have evening watches. I have straps of rubber and straps of titanium, stainless steel and plain old canvas. Traditional watches, digital affairs, G-shock, diver, military, surfing, chronograph and LCD. All shouting “pick me, pick me”.

I have been known to buy a watch instead of food and go hungry in earlier years, I’ve also found myself hanging around the same jewellery store week after week gaping at a particular prize and desperately fighting the inner voices that want me to get “the preciousss, get it now”.

My favourite watch is probably a Breitling Avenger Seawolf with a yellow face, which at over £2500 is not on my Christmas list. For the smaller budget there is a bit of a look alike called the CX Swiss Military Watch SEAWOLF I Scuba NERO which retails for about £450. But to be honest I enjoy wearing different watches so much that I just can’t bear to spend that level of money on something that doesn’t involve a plane and a passport.

So with feet firmly on the ground my latest object of desire is a Tokyoflash Kisai Maze Watch which disguises the time in the spaces of a LCD maze, making it very difficult to the untrained eye to read, but easy for the end-user. I mean how cool is that? It is also a more palatable £87 and is water-resistant to 3ATM’s (whew).

I’m also quite taken with the Timex Ironman watch, which was on special offer during the Amazon Black Friday sale. An absolute bargain at £20 against the normal £65 price tag. Similar in many ways to the Casio G-Shock but if anything slightly more rugged. Sadly I missed out this time but will keep looking!

I’ve making every effort not to feed my addiction, but I did recently purchase two watches from Avon (long story), one which I love and one which I prefer not to talk about. So with Christmas just around the corner I really don’t know what is going to happen, but if you feel the need to intervene just remember that I want the silver strap and the blue face please.

Watch this space (if you pardon the pun).

Timex Ironman 20th anniversary watch

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)).

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