Tag Archive | Scotland

Train travel

Travelling up to Scotland on the East Coast line is a treat on a beautiful sunny day like yesterday. The scenery past Newcastle up to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and beyond is breathtaking at times and when the sky is a deep blue peppered finely with a few clouds here and there and the mellow autumn sun is still low in the sky with its silver-gold rays reflecting off the water it is simply stunning. But whilst the scenery itself is enough to attract my attention, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the conversations going on around me.

We were joined at York by a troupe of tourists travelling to Edinburgh and their first task once settled was to read the menu. When they found that breakfast was included in their trip it was bacon butties all round. This in turn stimulated a debate about the traditional English delicacy, fish & chips. It seems to all of us who were listening (compulsory for all those without ear plugs) that all they have eaten since arriving on our shores is fish & chips and thanks to them I now know many of the best, and worst places dotted around the UK serving our “favourite” dish.

Bacon butties finished we travelled along the coastline as the scenery gradually became more dramatic. I could hear people behind me scrabbling for their cameras but rather than the usual “oohs” ,“aahs” and gasping at the beauty of the cliffs and fishing boats we heard “get the sheep! get the sheep!” Silly me. I never knew that sheep, the stalwart of the English countryside, are a tourist attraction in their own right. Goodness knows what they’d make of the pink/orange sheep on the M8- They’d probably pull the emergency cord.

Bacon butties digested, and faced with all sorts of strange and wonderful dishes on the East Coast train menu it was clearly proving difficult to choose their next meal. Beetroot risotto was the vegetarian option and I had to snigger to myself when one of the gang asked their tour guide “What is beetroot?” The question however was nothing compared to the answer “red cabbage”. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any funnier, the guide was asked, “What’s risotto?”…..she replied “ Pasta”.

Pasta? Silly me again. I’ve been trying to make risotto with Arborio rice and all the time I needed pasta. Well, I certainly learned a few things on my journey yesterday.

I’m looking forward to the return journey already.

Uncharted territory indeed

My readers will be aware that I use the online do-it-yourself mood monitoring tool Moodscope which I find invaluable in helping manage my mood swings and lifestyle.  Another welcome feature for subscribers to Moodscope is the daily inspiring email from Jon (Cousins) the founder of Moodscope and diagnosed bi-polar depressive. I always read his email and often wonder how he manages to come up with something different each day. Respect. The trick to these emails however is not just to read them, but to take his comments on board and try to act on them. It’s all to do with being proactive and positive and in taking the initiative, you will reap the benefits of your efforts. Like me today.

Yesterday (21 September), Jon’s email was entitled “Uncharted territory” .  I read this Blog post and it dawned on me that, unusually, I haven’t spoken to anyone new for quite a while. As someone who does a lot of travelling on the train and has responsibility for several different offices across the UK, I realised that I had settled into a “comfort zone” which accompanied my recent downturn in mood and desire to withdraw from the world.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I am always happy to make positive connections where I think they exist. Today, I was presented with lots of opportunities to speak with and work with “new” people and found it amazingly refreshing, exciting and I learnt a lot. Hurrah! Change, development, initiative, ideas, learning and creativity is what I thrive on and I feel that I have emerged from my self-imposed cocoon at last. At work I have “new” colleagues to work with over the next few months and I’m looking forward to it. The change is good and has inspired me to focus on what I do best with renewed energy.

This attitude and positivity also spilled over into my train journey home when I met a delightful young Somalian girl dressed in hijab and abaya who was travelling from Glasgow to  Leicester to help her Doctor husband pack his case and move up to Scotland. All she did was ask me, in broken english but with an endearing smile, which train she needed to catch from Birmingham New Street to Leicester. I explained that I was going that way myself and I would help her.

Over the next hour, we found the right train, some seats and found out a lot about each other. She told me that she has been in the UK (Glasgow) for 4 years and is learning how to speak English at Glasgow College. She also happened to mention that she was struggling to understand her tutor this year (a Glaswegian) whereas last year she had no such problems when she had a tutor from London.  At this I started to laugh and explained that if she can learn to speak English in Glasgow she’s brilliant! Although her English was broken, she made every effort to speak with me and made use of the vocabulary she had. No, it wasn’t perfect but she made herself understood and we “chatted” for an hour between Birmingham and Leicester.

She told me that she misses Somalia because she could go out in the warm weather with no shoes on whereas in Scotland it is cold all the time and shoes are always needed. She asked me if it ever stops raining and what is Buckingham Palace like? She wanted to know about my gold jewellery (obviously not European) and asked whether I had been to Africa. She will never go back to Somalia because “They are killing each other” and she will always look after her mum. She is the youngest of seven children and when someone gets married she does the beautiful henna hand paintings. All this and more with limited vocabulary.

 When we got to Leicester, I showed her the exit and where her husband would be waiting. Giving me a hug she said “Thank you so much. You have been very kind and it has been nice meeting you”.

Who needs Reddybrek for a warm glow? Not me.

Her name?

No idea 😦

Edinburgh Iranian Festival 2011

I’m not sure how I managed it, but the week that I was working in Scotland was the week of the Edinburgh Iranian Festival. Being as my husband is Iranian I wanted to partake in some way but time was very limited.

So after work on a wet and wild windy evening, I made my way to Blackwell’s bookstore in the University part of town, feeling very old, to a book reading by Dr. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones on Ctesias at the Court of the Great King. Dr Jones (unfortunately(!)  not the original Indiana) was an interesting and engaging speaker and held my attention on a subject I knew nothing about for a full 45 minutes.

What I hadn’t appreciated is that the ancient Persians do not have a tradition for writing narrative histories to document their progress instead preferring an oral tradition of communicating by song, muse, epic tales, story-telling and poetry. This means that our knowledge of Persian history is provided mainly by arch-enemy Greek sources which is deemed to be unreliable at worst and biased at the very least.

Ctesias, a Dr, was born a Greek but was commissioned to the Persian Court and spent two decades in Iran in the service of the King. Whilst he is known for being more of a story-teller than a narrator, Ctesias probably provides the most illuminating stories of intrigue that are known about the Persian court and I’m sure that Dr Jones’ book makes fascinating reading for enthusiasts.

Overall, a very nice way to spend a spare 60 minutes in Edinburgh but I will plan better next time, visit more events and connect with my Iranian tribe!

Edinburgh Iranian Festival 2011

Amber nectar-Balvenie

What are friends for if not to pass on their recommendations for quality whisky and whisky from the Speyside region at that-my favourite. So when my brother-across-the-water Phoenix commented on my amber nectar post and mentioned a single malt called Balvenie what’s a girl to do?

This girl calls in to the Whisky Shop on her way to Edinburgh Waverley Station and purchases a bottle that’s what. So armed with a bottle of new whisky to try and a special Talisker Whisky glass given to me by the wonderful Anne on Tuesday evening I was perfectly kitted out for a testing session on my return home.

There is nothing quite like getting home after a long week away and pouring out a glass of honeyed malt. Heaven in a glass.

Even the words used to describe the nosing and tasting of whisky are wonderfully evocative; fragrant, pungent, malty, smoky, mellow, honey, balanced, mature, well-rounded. In fact, perhaps I should start distilling my very own malt. I know which characteristics would identify it as mine; mature and well-rounded with a sharp smoothness, a fruity complexity, pale and interesting!

The 12 year old Balvenie Signature which I selected is described as follows;

Nose: Rich and complex with honey and citrus fruits and vanilla oak notes.

Taste: Rich and honeyed with a hint of sherry fruitiness. A spiciness of cinnamon and nutmeg and a subtle oakiness develop with time.

The finish is warm and lingering.

Thank you Phoenix-a perfect choice. You know me well.

Amber nectar

The combination of working in Scotland and my McGregor Scottish roots leads me instinctively to seek out a wee dram of the “ould” amber nectar every time I travel north of the border. It is most noticeable when in Edinburgh where I sniff out the whisky shops and spend hours looking at the wonderful different shaped bottles and coloured labels which evoke a sense of highland mystery and intrigue. I don’t know a lot about whisky, but I know enough and have certainly sampled sufficient varieties to know what I do and do not like. At first I worried that by being so selective it would limit my experience of this warm and comforting spirit but each type of whisky has so many different labels in its collection that I need not fear that I am missing out. I still have plenty of Lowland and Speyside whiskies to go at but I leave the harsher and more peaty Highland and Island varieties to those with more discerning tastes.

Drinking whisky is a very personal experience and you should treat it with respect. For me, whisky needs to be unadulterated by water, ice or mixers of any kind. I also prefer mine served at room temperature in a glass I can hold in my hands until warm. The smooth liquor always slides down effortlessly and generates a warm and cosy feeling. Lovely!

The gentleman in the Whisky Shop (we are not quite on first name terms yet) always has a new whisky for me to try and he is a mine of information. He also makes sure that I travel back home on the train at the end of the week with a bottle under each arm; the only slight embarrassment is boarding the train at lunchtime smelling of whisky but needs must.

In addition to enjoying the drinking experience, whisky is also the topic of my all time favourite joke. “The White Horse”. I’m sure you know it already but here it is anyway. It never ever fails to make me laugh I hope it at least raises a smile for you too.

 A white horse goes into a bar, leans up against the counter and asks for a tot of whisky. The barman says “Of course Sir, we have several varieties of whisky available. Which whisky would you like? We have Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Highland Park, Talisker, Bells and, Famous Grouse. We even have one named after you”

The white horse says “What Eric?”

Ha! Ha!