The Ghoulish Week that Was in Edinburgh

Last week was an exhilarating and alarming week in Edinburgh.  Most of the politicos and journos were over in Glasgow for the Scottish Labour Party conference for the second half of it.  This exodus of supposed leftists and vigilant political commentators seems to have left the place unguarded for a number of deleterious developments in Auld Reekie’s cultural life.

No less than three Edinburgh institutions now look set to fall by the wayside in the wake of the bankruptcy of the charity Edinburgh University Settlement.  The charity’s demise has resulted in the forced sale of the premises of The Forest Cafe (pictured), The Roxy Art House and the GRV.  These are surely three venues that will be sorely missed.

The Forest, on Bristo Place, looks set to run for a few more weeks due to a mandatory notice period in their lease, so now’s the time to drop in.  Over the years Forest has provided a multi-function space which houses a café, whole-foods restaurant, venue and the TotalKunst gallery.  I must admit I was never a regular, but it did warm the heart that they were there in the background, staffed only with volunteers, providing free shows, art, and cheap, healthy food.  If you feel strongly about this you should get on to their website, where they’ve launched an earnest campaign to raise a daunting £500K.  If you’re not sure, drop in and have a look at what they do.  This may be your last chance.

The GRV on Guthrie Street was a good old fashioned ‘dive’ in the trendiest sense of the word, and was by no means as idealistic or as well organised as Forest.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this place ended up being opened again along similar lines under different ownership, as I really can’t see many options for the site.  The Roxy, on the other hand, was a fantastic organisation which put on great events in the spirit of supporting new arts and providing cheap nights out.  Sadly, the Roxy’s doors were closed abruptly and permanently last week and there’s no chance of a last hurrah.

On the plus side, I had the pleasure on Halloween night of attending the Wee Folk club, downstairs in the Royal Oak, where Duncan Drever played a wonderful hour and a half of quality music for an audience which seemed to consist of female German students, two old men, and me.  Duncan’s brother is the well-known Scottish folk musician Kris Drever, but Kris shouldn’t rest on his laurels: Duncan is a great up-and-coming act and you can hear a couple of his songs here.

Donate to help the Forest survive here.

Russian wildfires burn British veterans’ cash

What has Hovis got to do with Napoleon and Hitler?

We all know, after several gruelling, abortive episodes, that it’s a terrible idea to send invading troops eastwards into Russia.  ‘Don’t get involved in a land war in Asia’, you may have heard it said, and we’re lucky indeed that neither Hitler nor Napoleon took heed of this advice, otherwise we’d be living in a Nazi or Bonapartist empire.

And yet the climactic vicissitudes of this very same region have today apparently got the potential to pillory British soldiers’ fortunes.  Remember all those wildfires in Russia over the summer?  The images of suffocating smog which settled over Moscow during that lengthy heatwave?  Well, British Baker, the “baking industry’s food bible,” reports that the summer fires’ disruption of grain supply in Russia and eastern Europe has driven the price of grain up by as much as 50%.

What has this to do with British soldiers, you might reasonably enquire?  Tesco, it turns out, would be damned before agreeing to pass on these inflated costs to its customers and have their cheap basket whatever statistic affected.  As a result of this, Tesco has discontinued the baker Hovis’s Seed Sensations bread range, preferring Hovis to bear the full cost of the grain price change themselves or go to another supermarket.  Naturally, the latter seemed inevitable.

Hovis’s Seed Sensations range’s inclusion of poppy seeds has been seen as an appropriate reason to donate 4p from the sale of every loaf to the Royal British Legion.  Today’s Guardian reports that last year this fund amounted to £130,000 of income for the charity, which is now in jeopardy.

So it turns out that there’s no escaping the Russian landscape, even for today’s British soldiers.  It also transpires, unfortunately, that there’s no escaping Tesco.

Preparations for a Stag Weekend

Food and Drink,Main Posts — Tags: , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 3:40 pm

As you can likely gather from the title of this post, I’m going on a stag weekend, this weekend.  And this male bonding vomit-fest is to take place in none other than the capital of capitals of stags, Newcastle upon Tyne.  I’ve been on a stag weekend before and as a result I’ll be making certain preparations, some of which were hard-learned indeed.  So I thought that considering I have some wisdom to empart, I may as well do this on a public forum so that others can gain some inights and (hopefully) add to our collective treasure chest of recovery tinctures, hard liquor avoidance ideas, and didactic anecdotes.  You don’t have to do these things but this is what I’m doing.  In no particular order:

1.  Keep it a TOTAL SECRET that you are BLOGGING about said stag!  I don’t usually believe in unwritten rules.  If a rule is useful enough to be a rule it should be out in the open – ‘Written’ as Omar Sharif would say to Peter O’Toole.  But this may be an exception; it may be reasonable to suppose that blogging on a public forum about the goings on at a stag do is the ULTIMATE BETRAYAL of the stag and hence the contravention of an unwritten rule.  Keep your blog as secret as your hidden camera!

2. Don’t bother chatting to the ladies.  Stag parties are attractive to the wrong kind of girl.  For Ms Right, terrible turn-off!

3. Bring pajama bottoms with pockets.  This is a somewhat girlie pointer but I’ll be bringing a pair of pajama bottoms with me, with pockets which will have strong pain killers ready and waiting within.  This effeminate strategy is a small price to pay for the subsequent satisfaction of scoffing at those of the party who have difficulty holding down their greasy breakfast.  You get to seem macho in the long-run, or just have a clear head (the latter being my priority).

4. Following on from the last point, bring pain killers and leave a bottle of nice water by your bed.  Obvious stuff but it doesn’t hurt to repeat wisdom.

5. When you pack spare clothing, this is your second outfit.  Now choose your spare outfit.  You wouldn’t believe the amount of things that can disrupt the normal lifecycle of a wardrobe in this environment.

6. Don’t share a room with the most fun person.  This might seem like a great idea at first, but when you wake up in the morning the sound of their voice will make you want to vomit.

7. Double your budget.  If you can’t do this, don’t go!

8. Make an agreement with your partner that you won’t be texting or phoning each other.   Really, there’s no need.  They don’t want to know, you don’t want to tell them, and you’re just making yourself a target for mockery.

9. Don’t hang around needlessly on the last day.  Being there will make you want to vomit.  Being at home will be paradise.

10. Bring a brick wall, against which you may choose to beat your head.  This may make it easier.

The Obama Westminster Election Drink Off

Between the Scottish National Party‘s minimum pricing and Labour’s possibly more canny/sleazy, but now dropped tax plans for strong, cheap booze, alcohol policy has been bandied about a lot recently.  While this area will not match in prominance economic and military issues in the upcoming Westminster elections, the debate will surely continue nevertheless.

So to celebrate the ongoing Cameron/Brown rivalry (with a bit of Salmond and Clegg thrown in), I give you the Election Drink Off!!

The game

The rules are simple and flexible.  Teams are formed and each must represent a political party.  The easiest choice is to have three teams: Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems.  Maybe for Scotland you could do SNP, Labour and Lib Dems, it’s up to you, but a good choice depends on the next feature of the game.  

You must choose a medium through which all parties will represent themselves in real time – the obvious choice is the leaders’ TV Debate on this Thursday, 15th April.  Offcom and the Electoral Commission will ensure that the game is fair: political parties will be allowed equal exposure time.  A referee is required.

And now the twist: once you have your disgusting, strong beverage of choice laid out for armageddon/the debate, all teams will listen attentively for political utterances plucked from the vine of Obama spin!  So, for example, drink when you hear any of the following:

change, hope, audacity, audicious.

This blog strongly recommends that your own, no-rules political debate be held in the immediate aftermath of the drinking.  The best bit about the game is that whoever is on David Cameron’s team will end up sh*t faced.

St. Patrick’s Day plus Five: Some Reflections

The annual dilemma: where to drink on St. Patrick's Day

Almost a week has passed since Paddy’s Day.  I’ve had time to reflect on my choices.  Let’s face it, the final choice was likely to be a bad one on that particular night, but a choice it was. 

What does one do in Edinburgh on Paddy’s Day?  Go to work!  Alright, but in the evening?  If you’re a type who likes watching sports in the Grassmarket and Cowgate area, especially on one of those really intense weekends when, say, Scotland and/or Ireland are playing rugby, and you’d like to grab that atmosphere, impose it upon an otherwise peaceful Wednesday night in Spring and go to work the next day, then the Grassmarket’s your man. 

If you’ve ever been to Temple Bar in Dublin, it’s a very similar deal.  Both of these districts in their respective cities have the role of ‘guest room’ and for many carry a strict ‘one visit only’ condition, especially those on longer stays.

What would Nesbitt do?

Maybe I’m being a little snobby here, so I’ll admit that the Grassmarket option, as intense as it is, provides by far the most accurate reconstruction of the event as it happens in contemporary Ireland (for better or worse).  So it’s an understandable choice.  What’s more I have indeed done it myself, and while doing so did run into one Jimmy Nesbitt, and had the privilege of shaking his hand in the lavatory of the Last Drop (oh, we were awash with that Paddy’s Day dignity – I waited until he’d washed his hands, honestly).  This is an option with celebrity endorsement, is what I’m getting at.


So needless to say, being a little seasoned in this city, my drinking companion and I decided to go elsewhere, and settled on the plan to slouch around in sleepy Stockbridge instead.  We didn’t realise it at the time, but we might as well have stuck our middle fingers up at the whole event by making this choice. 

Actually, that’s not true: the Stockbridge choice had more of an effect of ignoring St. Patrick altogether.  Our livers probably didn’t notice, but our sense of all things Oirish certainly did.  That’s not to say that there was anything wrong, per se, with the Stockbridge choice.  A night in the pub is a night in the pub.

The Crawl

We started out in Avoca on Dean Street.  Admittedly, this is an Irish pub of sorts (but not in the decorative ceramic bed-pan, rip-off prices way), so this pub was the exception to the rule.  It was pleasant, quiet, and a couple of pints of Guinness were inevitable – and tasted good if you like that sort of thing.  The staff here had green T-shirts, perhaps with Guinness logos and something relating to the day in question, so it was a Paddy’s Day observed here, at least for us and the barman.

My companion and I proceeded to discuss how we’d both noticed an intriguing, purplish pub-looking place further up Dean Street, and had in fact both intended to try it out, but had been prevented by some fear of the unknown, so we decided to use our combined forces to rid ourselves of this fear and ended up moments later at the delightfully surprising Raconteur (previously the old Dean, I’m assured by a friend).

Really, this is where I should have started, because the Raconteur is possibly the one place on our Stockbridge Paddy’s Day crawl someone from Edinburgh out there might not have already been to.  You’d better do this place justice by reading about it elsewhere for a more carefully researched account of their excellent cocktail menu and the enticing food menu, but take it from me that the atmosphere was great – very friendly and relaxed, with table service and pub prices!  A very cool place altogether, and some complimentary pretzels never go amiss. (Ignoring Paddy’s Day)

The rest of our night we spent in the Antiquary, where we stumbled upon their weekly pub quiz (ignoring Paddy’s Day) and the Baillie, which was dead (ignoring Paddy’s Day), and then Hectors, which unashamedly ignored Paddy’s Day, my companion, and me.

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