August 19, 2009 § 5 Comments
Alistair Maclean Darling, born 28 November 1953, is a British politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer since 28 June 2007. He is Labour Party Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West in Scotland.
Mr Darling’s mother, Anna, grew up in Stornoway and he still returns to vacation regularly at their croft on Great Bernera. The croft has been in the family for many years, dating back to the Chancellor’s great-great-grandfather in the 1850s. Mr Darling even restored the traditional blackhouse faithfully, although he opted for a more modern covering than the original turf roof. It was from here he gave a rather controversial interview to The Guardian.
His parents met in Stornoway in the 1940s when his father, who was a civil engineer, came to Lewis to work on a Herring Processing Factory and the rest as they say is history. With his father’s work, they moved around a lot and Alistair even attended the Nicolson Institute for a time – an experience his mother believes is the key to his great success.
A spokeswoman for Darling said: “It’s where he’s happiest in the world. When he’s sitting in the Treasury and thinks about the island it gives him solace. Every summer other members of the family will want to go to other places but Alistair will use every means he can to get them there.”
Darling is likely to spend some of his time fishing for mackerel in his dinghy, a pursuit he has enjoyed in the past with his cousin Andy Maciver, who is also the island’s most senior Tory.
Describing his earliest island memories he said: “I probably first came up here in about 1954 – we used to come up every July for a month – we would come up through Mallaig and I remember you could smell the peat smoke as you approached the islands. Coming up here was a really big deal, we were living in England at the time and it would take two or three days to get here.”
In a nostalgic mood, he recalls a perilous moment in his childhood in Stornoway which could have had, depending on your point of view, tragic consequences.
“I remember falling into the pier at Stornoway Harbour when I was fishing for cuddies. It was pretty dirty in those days and I was covered in oil and fish. I remember my friend just watching on and my auntie thought I was a gonner but I managed to get out.”
Still up to his neck in murky business, after the 10p Tax debacle and presiding over the worst financial crises in decades, he is currently dismissing calls to reign in excessive pay and bank bonuses stating it was not the government’s role to interfere in wage negotiations. Currently a worker on minimum wage would have to work for about 226 years to receive the same annual pay as a FTSE 100 boss.
August 6, 2009 § 1 Comment
So you want to be a writer by Charles Bukowski
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
August 6, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Asked whether he felt that the saving of £3.9 million per year as a result of the proposals to close the Benbecula rocket ranges was worthwhile in terms of the negative social impact on the island community, Mr Quintin Davies said:
“When I get back I shall have all kinds of people asking for money and if I said I’ve just given up a saving of £3.9 million a year because I want to do a favour for these charming people who live on the Western side of the Hebrides there’d be a lot of people who would think I’d betrayed the general national interest.”
A favour? OH RLY?
And this from the man who has claimed almost a million pounds in expenses since 2001 and whose department has wasted billions in procurement…
Sounds like it’s a done deal but sign the petition anyway.
August 4, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Four local food producers have won coveted Gold Star awards at this year’s Great Taste Awards.
Stag Bakeries Ltd and Charles MacLeod Ltd both won one star gold awards for their Coconut Biscuits and Stornoway Black Pudding respectively; the Uig Lodge picked up two one star gold awards for their Cold and Hot Smoked Organic Seatrout and finally Salar Smokehouse Ltd won a two star gold award for their Salar Flaky Smoked Salmon for the third year in a row.
The Great Taste Awards are nationally recognised as the ultimate in fine food awards and now in their 16th year the awards have become a well known symbol of excellence in speciality foods.
The meticulous judging regime of the prestigious awards only adds to their respected reputation, with each entry being subjected to blind taste testing by no less than eight high profile food critics, chefs and buyers. This year’s prominent judges included Charles Campion, Anthony Worrall-Thompson, Sarah Jane Evans MW and Amy Lame.
This year alone out of 4,873 entries to the panel of expert judges only 1030 products were chosen for gold standard and 639 were awarded one star and only 308 were honoured with two stars, which is testament to the quality of the submissions from producers in the Western Isles.
August 3, 2009 § Leave a Comment
6 lamb tongues (rinsed in cold water)
1.5l chicken stock
1 whole head garlic, peeled
1 bundle fresh thyme & parsley
6 small, young turnips
Curly kale or rocket
Dollop of butter
16 shallots peeled and whole
600g streaky bacon chopped
Salt & pepper
Red wine vinegar
In a pan cover lambs tongues with stock
Add garlic and herbs
Bring to boil and gently simmer for 2 hours.
Remove tongues and peel.
While tongues cooling, add turnips to stock and cook until tender.
Return peeled tongues to stock and remove from heat.
In ovenproof frying pan melt butter and fry onions until just coloured.
Pop pan in med hot oven to roast for 15 mins.
Remove tongues from stock and slice lengthways.
In another pan melt a little butter and fry bacon until coloured.
Add tongues, turnips and allow to colour.
Add shallots and enought stock to cover halfway.
Bring to boil, add the greens and season.
Cover pan and simmer for 2 minutes.
Using straining spoon remove ingredients to a warmed deep plate.
Add enough to stock to make as dry or brothy as you wish.
Sprinkle a little vinegar on before eating.
Recipe via Nose To Tail Eating.
August 3, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Gnawa or Gnaoua are the descendents of slaves originating from Black Africa who established brotherhoods throughout Morocco.
Gnawa music is a mixture of sub-Saharan African, Berber, and Arabic religious songs and rhythms. They are made up of master musicians (maâlem), metal castanet players, clairvoyants, mediums and their followers.
Despite being Muslims, the Gnawa base their ritual on djinn (spirits) straight from the the African cult of possession. During the celebration the maâlem and his group call on the saints and supernaturel entities to take possession of their followers who fall into a trance.
In a Gnawa song, one phrase or a few lines are repeated over and over throughout a particular song though the song may last a long time. In fact, a song may last several hours non-stop. The norm, though, is that what seems to the unintiniated to be one long song is actually a series of chants, which has to do with describing the various spirits, so what seems to be a 20 minute piece may in fact be a whole series of different pieces.
Here’s the guys we saw in Spain with Randy Weston…
August 1, 2009 § Leave a Comment
There are a few tenuous historical and genetic links between the Gaels of North West Scotland and the Basques and Galicians of Northern Spain. Regardless, their shared emphasis on a defining language and a struggle to maintain an identity within an increasingly homogenised, global society draws obvious parallels. One thing is for certain however, the Basques have a unique and fascinating identity and it is always a pleasure to spend time in their lands.
Returning again this year we visited the industrial, regenerated city of Bilbao (Bilbo) and the political capital San Sebastian (Donostia), the former for a couple of days either side of a week long Jazz festival in the latter.
Bilbao’s Sondica airport is a great place to arrive, designed by Santiago Caltrava, all white concrete and steel and nicknamed La Paloma, The Dove. Our hotel was the Hesperia Bilbao, dubbed The Hotel Of Colours for it’s boxy, tinted Vanceva windows, the rooms are bathed in coloured light. Situated on the banks of the Nervion it looks onto the Zubizuri Bridge (Caltrava again) and the Gehry‘s Guggenheim a little further along where Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang was exhibiting. Typical of a Basque city, the food was exceptional here with Bar Bilbao and Cafe Irrintzi being standouts. Carpaccio of Octopus with Iberico ham and leeks, Croquette of Txipirones in their ink, Morcillo and quails egg, Tripe stuffed onion…
Drinking was good too. As well as the excellent house Riojas and zurritos (small shots of beer) there was the sharp, height-poured Txakoli and the deadly teen-drink Kalimotxo, surprisingly refreshing as the mercury soared past 30C. A cooler breeze blew high over the streets as we took the Ascensor de Begona elevator 45m up above the river and then walked back down the stairs of the Calzadas de Mallona and on to the Plaza Nuevo in time for a txikiteo through the Casco Viejo.
Moving on to San Sebastian (Donostia) for the Jazzaldia festival we stayed at the Hotel Hesperia in the Onderetta area, the room was on the top floor with a terrace and great views over La Concha, Urgall and Igeldo. A two minute walk brings you to the Ondaretta beach and five minutes further on is the huge bay of La Concha. The beaches sit right in the heart of this coastal city, separated by parks and a promenade, and have acres of sun shades and toldos for hire, beach showers, food and bars right on the sands and are packed with the city’s beautiful, healthy sunworshippers. We were by far the whitest people on the beach, sheepishly blending into our white hotel towels until we got our tan on.
With more Michelin starred restaurants per head of population than anywhere in the world, the food was always going to be good. The Arzaks were too expensive to consider this time around but it was impossible not to eat well. La Mejillonera provided fresh mussels on the shell with a shallot and vinegar dressing and awesome deep fried, breaded baby squid. La Cuchera De San Telmo had the finest Foie with a streak of apple sauce. La Cepa had plates of freshly carved pata negro and Jabugo ham. Bar Alustiza had divine Gavilla. It just went on and on. The pintxos were inexpensive as was the wine, maybe two euros each at most. After four or five bar hops through the Parte Viejo you were fixed for some music.
The Jazzaldia fest had loads on but we managed to catch a beautifully shambolic gig by Micah P. Hinson at the newly restored Teatro Victoria Eugenia, a wonderfully wigged out Animal Collective performance at Moneo’s Kursaal Palace, Esperanza Spalding & Randy Weston’s African Rhythm Quintet with the Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco in the open air of Trinidad Square and also saw a bunch of random Spanish and free-form stuff on the Green stage of Zurriola beach and the little tents nearby. Our last night of the festival was rounded off with a seriously packed out open-air gig with Jamie Cullum. Not usually my cup of tea but he turned out to be pretty damn good with fine reworks of old jazz standards and he gave a really full-on show so kudos to the wee man.
When not imbibing or gigging, we soaked up the sun on the beach and terrace, took siestas, grabbed a cortado to wake up and in the evening walked along the long beaches and promenades that line the town’s sea edge. At one end Eduardo Chillida‘s three steel Comb Of The Wind sculpture’s cling to the rocks, defying sea and spray. Further round, past La Concha and the Port you circle the foot of Mount Urgall where Christ looks over the city. Here hundreds of people walk, taking in the sea air and views, many fishing as the sun goes down. Another steel sculpture, this time by Chillida’s predecessor Jorge Oteiza, dominates the path before it loops back towards the river Urumea with it’s Parisian deco bridges, the Gros area of the city and Zurriola beach where surfers surf and the town runs out of room…
After a week we headed back to Bilbao for a night and then flew to London.
In the big smoke we stayed in Hackney at the Hoxton Hotel. It was cheap and very cheerful. Rainhead shower, supersoft beds, down duvet and pillows, flatscreen TV and try-hard decor. They’d leave a paper bag full of Pret OJ, yogurts and fruit at your door for breakfast in the morning too. Spotless and great staff to boot.
We killed an afternoon in the Tate Modern and went to eat out at St John Restaurant Smithfield. Renowned for it’s head to tail eating of stout British seasonal produce, I’d been looking forward to this for a long time. I can’t be arsed with fancy restaurant food and fusions. Good, honest, authentic, seasonal produce cooked well is all that is required. And St John epitomises this. To start I had Lambs Tongues, Green beans and Anchovy. I can’t put into words how good this was. Easily the best thing I have ever eaten. I’m guessing the tongues had been poached in a chicken and vegetable stock and then sliced and sauteed and cooled before being mixed with cooked green beans and a thick anchovy and parsley butter paste. Whatever, it was outstanding. J had a light crab soup and looked a bit jealous. Main course was a thick slice of Middlewhite pork, beautifully marbled with fat and a crispy, crunchy crackled skin alongside a pool of earthy brown lentils. J had saddle of rabbit and mustard which was grand too. To accompany it all were earthy, fresh from the ground tasting buttered Jersey potatoes and cabbage. Dessert was a slice of gooey, malt custard tart and fresh raspberries. All incredible.
On the last night we headed out to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Trattoria in a part pilgrimage to the guy who started me off cooking back in 1999. To be honest I was expecting to be disappointed. TV celebrity chefs must surely be style over substance and his Fifteen project just a long running gimmick, the restaurant a cash-in tourist trap. Totally wrong. A perfect evening of very, very good food in a very vibey and atmospheric place surrounded by relaxed punters and great staff. Seafood linguine (handmade pasta, clams, mussels, crab, scallops) was excellent. J’s gnocchi with lamb was melt in the mouth. The hearty cod and sea trout mains were perfect and a shared chocolate brownie and cream pushed the old belt buckle to the limit.
Sunshine, food, drink, music for two weeks. And books. I read The Basque History Of The World, Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia, Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises and Obama’s The Audacity Of Hope. Bliss.
And then it was home the next day.
Glasgow was 14C and it was pissing down.
Back to it then.