What Are You Doing Darling?

Ambling through middle age with a curious approach to life and living leads me to asking many questions every day, a bit like toddlers are apt do. For example, on Sunday I was standing in the kitchen at home reading a text from son no 1 who had just illuminated the world of summer cocktails for me by forwarding the mix for something called a Pearl Harbour. Concurrent with this son no 2 was outside undoing a padlock, for which we’d lost the key, with his lock picking kit. Does that make me a good or a bad father?

And this morning, having read that the head of Pret A Manger has told his staff to give free drinks to people they like, I was perturbed when Tony from Latvia gave me a free green tea. Delicious Monika from Poland has never done that. What does it mean?

But the thing that has baffled me most is the report in the Telegraph that a chef flambéing a  beef stroganoff at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford was responsible for starting a major fire when flames were sucked up through vents. “It was a flambé which was the problem,” said Mr Grange, the manager. Accidents happen but what on earth would possess the Telegraph to then helpfully publish the recipe in some sort of Arsonists Cookbook manner thus arming over enthusiastic Dad’s up and down the land to self-immolate themselves after watching the Master Chef final? Picture the scene in the leafy environs of middle England,

 “What are you doing darling?”

“Oh, just knocking up a recipe I read in the Telegraph on the train dear”

 “hmmmm…. Why are you drinking cognac, bad day darling?”

“No dearest, I’m not drinking it, that’s to set the stroganoff on fire, just like they did at the Randolph Hotel; you never told me cooking could be fun. This is man’s work”

 “Right darling, I’ll just call 999 now before you get started….. just to be safe.”

 60% of house fires incidentally,  start in the kitchen



Well I Never

Seriously?

I learned a few things over the weekend, none of which I really wanted to hear but by way of introduction I'll mention them anyway. First, it was good news following bad when I learned that my dear loyal friend Gurkha, (Black Lab), had suffered a mini stroke but nothing worse. Although a bit lopsided on his pins, (bit like his owner), he ought to be with us for another couple of months at least.

Second and obviously unconnected, a friend told me over dinner that he popped into the  lavatory in the Shangri-La Hotel in the Shard and chanced upon the shocking scene of two men engaged in what the broadsheet court reporters euphemistically term, "a sexual act." Apparently, that sort of thing is not uncommon in what is apparently an architectural gay icon. Mostly won't be going there then.

Third, in a "well I never," moment of disbelief I learned that all manner of drugs are now more freely available than ever and one of the common conduits for transactions are apparently car washes. The patron drives in with fifty quid under the seat and drives out with his cash replaced by the Eastern European car washers with a sachet of Columbian Marching Powder or whatever the required high of the day is. I'll be using the pressure washer at home then.

The Thug Life vid's make the news. Hilarious if Pretty lightweight compared to Spitting Image or Alison Jackson stuff.

You live and learn. Light relief cascaded down then when one of the kids introduced me to a Facebook page called Political Bible. Politicians as a breed have had rather an easy time of it from satirists in recent years, especially since the death of John Fortune in 2013 bringing an end to the Bremner, Bird & Fortune sketches and we haven't seen anything to match Spitting Image in years. Until now.

Pub scene from Bremner, Bird and Fortune's "Last Show before the Recovery". Two old blokes chatting about media trends.

The BBC report that the "Thug Life," videos of political put downs started life in the United States and were first published here on a Facebook page called Lad Bible. All I can tell you is that the thought of carefully orchestrated election spin campaigns careering off their axis and party media advisor's being driven to apoplexy because of some smart kids with a galloping sense of humour and total lack of deference cheers me up no end. Where there is despair, let there be hope.

 

Craigellachie Hotel

Craigellachie Hotel

Craigellachie Hotel

I recently stayed at the newly refurbished Craigellachie Hotel on Speyside. Under the new ownership of London based private club owner Piers Adams the hotel, which had reached the sad and forlorn stage with an indifferent reputation, is enjoying a fresh rush of investment and enthusiasm. That manifests itself throughout the operation, for it is a drilled operation, in a designer-evident interior rebuild, menu’s and service. All though, is not yet perfect.

Without wanting to be trite or sour one or two pretty fundamental issues quickly came to light on arrival. No television in the room, (“awaiting delivery” although a small one was later found),  only one bathrobe in the bedroom, sketchy and intermittent WiFi, ("persistent BT problem, we’re using a dongle,”) nowhere for guests to relax before dinner, (“the refurbished whisky bar will be opening soon), a fine 2 metre view of a skip from the “garden bedroom,” and a radio with Chris bloody Evans blaring away every morning at breakfast, (although the staff did kindly turn it off when I objected to listening to the traffic report from Uxbridge while enjoying my bangers & bacon.

The staff seem to have been almost entirely recruited from Glasgow. No doubt some hospitality consultant has stuck his oar in about the highlander and the highlander’s approach to service. They may or may not have a fair point but it’s a bit of a central belt cliché and it would be good to have more local staff to inculcate a local feel. Nonetheless, the well rehearsed staff are trained, hard working and anxious to please if somewhat uncertain when hit with something non standard but issues are dealt with very quickly and efficiently so. In fact, the guest ends up hoping for them that quick resolutions are found to small problems and that’s good because it creates a “can do, will please,” atmosphere from both sides.

There was no fine dining room when I stayed and I understand that options for that remain under consideration. Eating then was in the ground floor “Copper Dog,” which is best described as “gastro pub,” dining. Nothing wrong with that when done well and its done very well here. The menu is simple, fair value and in their words, (locally sourced, sustainable etc etc). The wine list mirrors the food and is perfectly acceptable. The average table is goiing to do far more damage to their credit card with over effusive ordering of obscure whiskies than they will with the wine. Dining there is very casual and very busy, (160 covers one night we were there which is pretty extraordinary locally). Indeed, the Copper Dog is so popular with locals that guests would be advised to book before arrival. Inviting the ghillies from the river can’t have harmed the cause and echo’s the inviting London cabbies to new clubs and restaurants thing to jack up referrals. On one evening a live country singer started belting out some songs of the seventies and initially I contemplated stabbing myself with my fork or applying for an emergency ASBO. Actually, a couple of hours later I’d made some new best friends with some bearded Austrians and was well on the way to drinking too much Aberlour and starting a new chapter of the Dead Country & Western Singers Appreciation Society.

Despite a few odds and ends of fishing paraphernalia on the walls, the hotel isn’t really a fisherman’s hotel in the style of Burt’s and the Townhouse in Melrose or the Ednam House in Kelso; at least not yet. Its somewhat understandable given many, if not the majority, of rods on the Spey rent houses or lodges, (many having done so in the same spot for generations), although they frequently eat out. The hotel’s real economic market is the Whisky Trail market. That is the earnest American, Japanese and European tourists tramping up and down Speyside visiting the distilleries, which are quite flash these days and fully geared up for the sector, and tasting. I could tell them that many of those distilleries add caramel colouring to the whisky to make it more appealing to what their eyes think a good whisky should look like but why spoil their fun.

Fiddichside Inn

Rods looking for a fisherman’s rest to repair to for a blether and dram really need go no further than the  Fiddichside Inn at the other end of the village. Run by Joe, an ex ghillie on the river, the place has been in his family for about 100 years. It’s small, with no music, no machines well actually, not much at all apart from the booze, Joe and a wealth of dubious tales of fish, fishing and fisherman. The Fiddich is easily, one of the top ten pubs in Britain and if you happen to have caught a salmon that day, probably the best pub in the world. Unfortunately, some dullard has added the Fiddich to a Whisky Trail app so you are actually just as likely to see the bearded Austrians there as you are at the Craig.

Back to the hotel and all in all, there is little significant criticism  and one can see they have the will and drive to iron out teething problems, “it’s not the problem, it’s how you react to it.” There is a lingering thought though that by booking over the web without knowing these niggly things one is somewhat oversold the value proposition. Mr Adams is no Mrs Carmichael (previous legendary proprietor of old), and they haven’t got it quite spot on but they will do and I expect in twelve months’ time, if not before, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get rooms there. It’s professionally managed and run, the Craigellachie now just needs to discover it’s own charm and soul and that only comes with time. There you go, who needs TripAdvisor?