06 August 2005

The calm before the tat storm...

It's quiet in the shop right now. The rides haven't started yet. There's a nintendo "fun house" ride parked in front of us. A sign that says "Fun House Power Unit" sits at eye level when I look out the window. Hmmm... is sabatoge a crime if performed for the benefit of good taste and my sanity? Are the specially trained dinosaurs ready yet?

I should go some way to explain this... Once a year, around traditional Lammas festival time, something called the Lammas Fair arrives in St Andrews. Far from being a traditional mediaeval harvest market, it is a ridiculous carnival they shove not on the outskirts of town, but on two of the three main streets, denying vehicle access, making a racket, causing a severe fire hazard and attracting the scum of humanity to our fine town. We lose business, have to stand guard against potential shop lifters and have to endure bad quality sound effects pumped at obnoxious volumes through terrible speakers. It's allowed to continue this because it claims to be a traditional Lammas Market... I studied mediaeval history at St Andrews and somehow the mention of mechanised rides and candy floss at a 15th century market eluded me. Maybe it's in the Crowland Chronicle...

The good news is that I'm escaping and not once, but twice. Next week I'm at Naughton for 3 days partying, watching polo, drinking beer, drinking wine and getting caught up with the Dining Club.

Then a mere 10 days later is the Festival Cup with its cast of thousands (note to self: appreciate bed at Naughton while you can) and then I'm off to London for 5 days. The latter will be extra cool as I get to see my friend Kate play at the Regent Street Apple Store. That's on 23 August and anyone in London should try to get to see it as it will be brilliant and, best of all, free! So get there early.

I decided to use a lot of links in this post... and to add one more, go check out this. It's brilliant. Bunnies. Heh.

05 August 2005


The dreadful bagpiper that inflicts his talentless tunes upon passers-by at the cathedral is playing Billy Connolly's "Wellies" song. On the bagpipe. It's atrocious. I needed to share that. One more person going on the "specially-trained dinosaurs" list.

Jerez pics 4

This is the old tasting room at Gonzalez Byass. It was roped off when Manuel Maria Gonzalez died in the 1880s and has remained untouched since then. That's Vikki on the right. She's 5th generation Gonzalez and a gracious hostess.

I had to get a picture of the barrel signed by Spielberg because I'm a film geek. I should've got a shot of the one signed by Cole Porter as well, but I'm a fool. Ah well.

I wish I could do this. It's really impressive when you see it done, and I'm pleased this shot came out so well, but it's still nowhere near as cool as seeing it done in person.

This was our last night - amazing light and in the left you can see the Tio Pepe weather vein which is the largest weather vein in the world. Graeme didn't get what the fuss was about.

Graeme having dined hugely on our last night.

Me having dined hugely on our last night.

Jerez part the fourth...

This was our last full day in Jerez and the only day of bad weather.

"Thurs. am Gonzalez Byass
Pouring with rain, main entrance, not visitors entrance. Quite beautiful

Bit nerve-wracking as it seems a bit more formal & imposing than Lustau. We're waiting in the library, surrounded by massive volumes on booze.

Gonzalez Byass tour wonderful - 850 hectares they own directly and another 500 which they control.

Apostoles Bodegas - barrel called "Christ" created for Queen Liz II of Spain as she wanted to see crushing but she visited very late Oct. so few grapes about - all wine went into "Christ." Apostles created to compliment but only 1 Judas - Mateo to replace traitor.

Main bodegas built in the '60s with huge weathervein & 3 levels, each with 1000s of barrels.

"Tio Pepe" Uncle Joe wanted to bring fino to the masses - beforehand most export was oloroso. We saw the original solera celler.

'Solera' from the word for soil. Older sherries topped up in intervals of 5 years.

Palo Cortado universally agreed to be a total mystery. Tio Pepe ave. 5 years though up 50 harvests present in each batch. Crazy.

Vikki really lovely & enthusiastic.

Dude who does the crazy pour was even more impressive than I expected. Cafe reception area built into the giant bodegas. Invited Vikki to Scotland.

Very much a sense that in spite of its size this is still a hands-on family business creating hand crafted products (though Vikki did admit that modernisation was ongoing). The tour was wonderful with Vikki's enthusasm for the family business quite intoxicating.

In both cases, Lustau & Gonzalez Byass, vinification was somewhat a mystery, taking place off-site. The impression was very much that it is the process, the nurture during solera & single barrel ageing that produces the defining characteristics & while my inherent curiosity regarding viticultural practices & vinification was unfulfilled, my respect for the peculiarities of these wines, and the huge variation within palomino from fino to oloroso to amontillado to palo cortado has grown considerably. I find myself drawing comparison with Champagne, anotherplace where the process of creation is a great deal more important or is in fact greater than the sum of its parts.

Lunch at Bar Juanitos - eggs & tatties a treat!

We tried the siesta thing before getting car rental sorted. Worked a treat 230-430 out like a light. We packed as well. Took an hour to sort out where to put all the bloody sherry I've bought.

Hotel staff were incredibly helpful with getting car sorted for us. Graeme a total legend with car rental - off to the airport to pick it up now.

Car guy was very helpful as well & we got a free upgrade to a pretty sweet Peugeot 307. It has a stereo too so we mixed some cds and should have some amazing road trip tunes!

A final fino at Nonos was lovely, followed by a walk through the quieter, residential side of town. We're now at the Plaza de la Asuncion, where we had our first decent meal here, to have our last decent meal here. Fitting I think - we've ordered a lot.
Ruevueltos Jerez (wild aparagus, ham, eggs)
Tuna Croquettes
Carrots & Coriander seeds
beet root & onions
Pork sirloin wrapped in ham with an oloroso cream
Albondigas (pork & beef) with tomato sauce
Really lovely meal , sitting in the square.

*Some oddities - loads of construction going on, loads of dog shit, just how fucking long is the siesta anyway?*

Really looking forward to Cadiz tomorrow - somewhat strange to think I'll be in my own bed tomorrow evening.

I'd like to think that, considering the language gap, we've emersed ourselves pretty well, steered clear of other tourists, We've done quite a bit in our brief time here and as such it feels we've been here both longer (but ina nice, familiar way) and shorter (in wondering where the time has gone)"

So there it is. Sorry about all the technical wine stuff.

Jurassic Market...

The gypsies have arrived in St Andrews, with their rides and their candy floss. We don't like them. I certainly don't like them. So I think we should, during the lammas market, unleash specially trained dinosaurs upon them, to rend their flesh and make them go away. Will innocent people be hurt? No, because they'll be specially trained. The dinosaurs, not the innocent people. Mark my words.

Midnight but later

Yesterday first.

I had a good day yesterday, though I wasted the entire morning. I hate that. I wasn't working until 2. That should mean I have up to 1:30 being productive, writing, thinking, dividing by 0... whatever. I should have at least been thinking. I answered my phone twice and went back to sleep. I got up at 1:18 and then had to work from 2 til 10.

I felt better after a few beers. I got caught up with my mate Steve; I don't see him often and he usually has interesting and sometimes great chat. We all were out for a few beers and the nice surprise of the evening came when we decided to go over to Aikmans.

Aikmans is an institution in St Andrews - one of these places that achieves greatness by not trying to achieve anything. Before I become too full of shit, I'll just say I was chuffed that Havana Swing were playing. An awesome 5 guitar (one of which bass), 1 clarinet band that is able to play great music with seemingly very little effort. The first time I saw them I bought their album and have been a fan ever since. It doesn't sound like a big deal but seeing such a great group just chilling for the evening and playing so well in such a low key venue is amazing.

And today was good because I knew that I had tomorrow off. It's been 11 days working since my last day off and while it's not much in the grand scheme of things it makes a big difference. It was Kellie's birthday as well, so I drank a massive amount of beer, ate Thai, ate cake, got caught up with Barry/Tobias, affirmed a friendship, lamented another, wished for stuff, wished for stuff for other people more, spoke to my folks and generally enjoyed myself. I wished the very best on the birthday girl cuz she deserved it.

And so I'm home. Andy's at his lady's this evening and I have this blog only... ah well. Most likely for the best.

04 August 2005

Jerez pics 3

This is the massive cherry wood barrel at Lustau. All of the sherry in this gets sold exclusively in Japan. We really wanted to try it but they said no. We even said "pretty please" but they still said no. It's a sad day when even "pretty please" has no power to sway.

This is Graeme chatting to Alex, the very attractive lady from Lustau. We got no pictures of her face, for fear that all would fall for her feminine wiles. And, uh, we were to shy too ask to take a picture. We were pretty pathetic, really.

This is Graeme outside of the Bodega.

This is the Fundador, one of the landmarks of Jerez. There's a restaurant upstairs and a Tapas bar below. The tapas was ok, but not great. Cool building though.

The Cervaceria Gorila had an awesome selection of beer, and did a great job at.. well, giving us lots of beer. And sherry.

We did, in fact, eat ALL of these pastries. The woman behind the counter thought we were loco. We were tempted to order beer with our coffees as well, but thought they might commit us.

This is the dome inside the Cathedral San Salvador. I took quite a few photos inside, but with my flash turned off out of respect. Sadly, the result is a lot of underexposed, slightly blurry shots. I like this one though. Again - Moorish influence with all the geometric symmetry.

This is the fun we had after the dinner of massive steak. We played with exposure times and moving the camera this way and that. After all the wine we had it seemed like a good idea at the time. We took a LOT of these sort of shots. The blurry tower on the right is the main battlement of the Alcazar.

Jerez part the third...

This was when we toured Bodegas Lustau (a sherry house) and I got grumpy... again, none of this has been edited, it's just straight from my notebook.

"Wed 11 May 2005

Lustau - lovely tour. Alex, tour guide was stunning but didn't seem to know much about sherry. ah well.

Anada 1989 Rich Oloroso - soft clean nose & lovely palate - delicious.

The oldest of their Bodegas was built in 1825 - there's very much a sense of craftsmanship throughout. Beautiful grounds. Lunch @ El Gallo Azul. Not the best of Tapas.

Finding stamps has been difficult.

Vince phoned me during the Lustau tour & has cleanly pulled me out of my pleasant holiday state of mind. I don't think he has any idea of how fucking rude it was. I don't get paid enought to be interrupted on holiday.

The large Paulaner at the Cervaceria Gorila is helping to dull my consternation, though a lethargy has set that I hope is merely aclimatising to the concept of siesta rather than losing interest in my holiday. The heat seems more clingy today, my legs seem heavier and the air thicker. The beauty of the city isn't as enchanting as it was. And this is not the fault of the town but my fault and Vince's. I think I'm closing myself off to get the grumpiness done with. I can still smile and quite fancy a Manzanilla. And Graeme's getting me one - Excellent. There is a cleansing aspect of these sherries that is almost medicinal. Either that or I'm an alcoholic. I don't think the latter.

Funny times in this place, but I like - the collection of bottles draws a smile - Fullers Old Winter Ale, Pedigree, Merlin's Alie, Belhaven McCallums, Old Legover.

The wine shop we went into had a lot more interesting sherry, was a lot posher, but didn't have the grumpy old man charm that the one yesterday did.

T.N. Paulaner Salvator - smells like ace dark beer - toasty hops & caramel, brilliant burnt toast palate. Must source this for the shop - very nutty.

More tapas to come... All tapas bars shut. Graeme & I make a terrible decision & got to the Pasteleria Los Reyes and stuff ourselves with pastries. Must walk a great deal this evening.

After a severe sugar low we headed to La Carbona which was brilliant. Pimento & tuna salad, foie gras w/PX raisins, grilled sole, the largest steak chop ever, px ice cream, choc tart.

All followed by fun & games with photos at the Alcazar."

That was the Wednesday... will have some pics up later.

Off the market...

My parents have taken Staithe House off the market. I'm quite pleased about this as it means we can have yet another "last ever" boat race party in 2006. I think that will make 3.

03 August 2005


Here's a question - why does melted cheese always seem more fatty than non-melted cheese? Does goo = fat?

Mmmmm... gooey...

02 August 2005

A few bits and pieces...

The Day's Stuff:
Today was a good day at work. I sorted out all of the things I should have sorted yesterday as well as taking care of quite a few of today's tasks as well, maybe even all of them. I don't really make to-do lists though, so I can't tell. Maybe I should start.

The Food Stuff:
I made myself carbonara tonight. This is my ultimate comfort food and I love making it. I don't use any cream; just the best eggs you can get, the best bacon you can get, fresh garlic, fresh parsley, LOTS of parmesan and really good pasta. It took me a long time to get it right so I'm pleased with it.

One time I made it with goose eggs. They're amazing but not easy to come by - I'm lucky in that one of my bosses keeps geese, and an occasional bonus at the beginning of Spring is a couple of goose eggs. The yolk is massive and it is by far the richest, uh, well, poultry product I've ever had. And it made great carbonara. I served it to 3 beautiful women who all seemed to like it, so it must have been good, right?

The Other Stuff:
My friend Alicia pointed out one of the coolest blogs I've ever seen, called fafblog. It's kind of loopy but definitely my sort of satire. You really have to see for yourself. Like Nono's, I cannot do it justice.

Another winner is this. Some hit and miss, but certainly worth checking out every once in awhile.

Debated with myself about taking off the poison head rant. It's pretty personal. I'll leave it for now.

The early evening light in St Andrews is just incredible. Just rich, bright, gold and it seems to intensify once it hits the stone of the town. Remarkable. Will try to get a pic and post it. Will have to rely on my digital for it as I'm not good enough with the SLR yet. The pic below was a bit after sunrise in April, taken from the front balcony of my flat.

Jerez pics 2

Tried to upload some of these yesterday but technical difficulties arose. Go figure.
This is me at the Alcazar, the ancient Moorish fortress in the centre of Jerez.

This is the bell tower of the cathedral. It's a seperate structure from the main building. I'd never seen that in a church or a cathedral before.

This is our first, proper Jerez meal. No mouldy chorizo here! It was the harbinger of gastronomic glory to come.

This is the bell tower of Iglesias Santiago, complete with pigeon nest.

This is the best bar in the world. Really.

This is Graeme looking up how to say "this is the best bar in the world" in Spanish. Honest.

Poison Head explained...

I can't sleep. The notes didn't help. I feel awful.

Poison head is my name for depression. I mentioned it with an amusing seagull post in April. I didn't really explain it.

Replay the most dreadful moments in your life. But not the moments of happenstance, the accidental twists of fate that have brought anguish and tears. The ones that are your fault. The moments that you made a desision and it wasn't just wrong, it was stupid, hurtful, rude and embarassing. Replay them over and over, making them worse in your mind, making yourself worse in your mind until you're pacing, unable to sit still, mentally berating yourself and then letting your imagination run wild, creating scenarios of catastrophic events that are due to your idiocy, malice, whatever. Creating conflict and unpleasantness in your head, roll-playing in your misery, attempting to take the wrongs of the world and take responsibility for them all, burden upon burden.

Knowing that wanting any second chance, wanting to go back and change it all is a sign of failure in the first place.

Knowing that you have, really, a privileged life, with people that love you and friends and family that you love dearly, that you've wanted for little and never known hunger or true fear. These things should be a comfort but instead serve to increase the self-abuse. What are complaining about when you have all of this going for you? What're you bitching about, getting so wrapped up in fantasy misery when there are people throughout the world that know real pain, and in some cases nothing else? Who the fuck do you think you are, whining about the cell you're building around yourself when there are people in real cells?

But you can't stop. That's poison head.

And it's not me. I am a nice, happy, enthusiastic person. I love the world around me. I stand in awe of the people that genuinely make a difference in this world and have the courage and determination to sacrifice comfort for their sense of duty, be it charity, aid, the environment, human rights or medicine. I stand in awe of the beauty I see every day. I have a sense of adventure that, dormant for years, is returning and I'm embracing. I truly feel that the way to make the world a better place is to be kind and generous with whatever skills or resources you have, as it will come back and be passed on to others. I am not a miserable, vicious, grumpy bugger.

But then I get poison head. I was a basketcase today. I saw it coming and kept away from civilised folk as much as I could but still managed, I think, to petrify a new member of staff, be rude to customers, rude to staff, rude about someone I hadn't met regarding a situation I wasn't really aware of to someone I care a great deal about. I managed to make my flatmate/bestmate think I'm off my fucking rocker. When it happens I feel like I'm in someone else's body and want to shed my skin.

This has been an exorcism of sorts. I'd worry that you'd think I was genuinely nuts if I thought anyone actually read this. I think I should finish this off by saying that I have the absolute best friends and family anyone could hope for, and if I needed or wanted help from any of them, I'd get it. But I have to face this on my own. I think I know how to beat it.

I can only apologise to anyone on the receiving end of this today. Just because I was miserable didn't mean everyone else had to be. There's never any excuse to inflict my bad mood onto other people. I'm so sorry.

Lotsa love,


01 August 2005

Jerez part the second...

I have a vicious case of poison head today. So instead of falling deeper into it I'm going to attempt to transcribe some of my notes from May. I'm not editing these at all, so mis-spellings, grammatical failures et al are straight from the notes. Except for the typos.

"Tues 10 May 05
Meson El Alcazar -
Amazing coffee
Amazing ham sandwich
Lovely Manzanilla
Shame about the mouldy chorizo in Graeme's sandwich
We preceded this by a walk around the Cathedral (18th, quite impressive & very cool bell tower)
- Discussed Cadiz & Sanlucar on the coast. Thurs?

Town seems to work @ a slow pace, with the exception of the mopeds.

Alcazar - orginally Muslim fortress circa 12C, then palace of the governors of Jerez. Gardens are stunning, though still under refurbishment - geometric symmetry harkens very much to Muslim influence. Mosque and Baths still intact.

Incredibly peaceful, in spite of the mighty ramparts, or perhaps the enclosure gives security = peace?

Camera Oscura - Amazing panarama - made in Edinburgh

Lunch Tuesday:
Manchego - deliscious
Tio Pepé Casserole - John Dory, shrimp, jamon, garlic, mushrooms, chilli - great 'peasant food' fit for a king.
Graeme - scrambled eggs with wild asparagus, jamon again, incrediblefino towards the end complimented and cleansed.

Patron saint San Dionisio - very amusing.

Time to wander

Wandered into the Barrio. Iglesia (church) Santiago is lovely - pigeon nest on bell tower & brilliant gargoyles are amusingly hideous & the beer at the bar "Meson Bar La Venencia de Santiago" is well chilled. Beggars - 3 so far. Off to Flamenco Centre & (hopefully) Archeology Museum.

Sadly closed (San Mateo district)
We did go by 2 potential Iglesias de San Juan and then through the back streets of Bodegas Domecq which brings us back to the cathedral. Punctuated by a quick fino in the no-mans-land between Domecq & Gonzalez Byass at El Moulino.

Then Bus tour

After bus tour we traced our steps back from last night to fins the sherry shop & Lustau. Bought an Old Amontillado from Don José Maria for 27€ then went to the bar we were scared of last night. Con leche, Tapas Jamon & oloroso consumed & loved! Lustau found, though unsure of the entrance.

*aside - give Graeme credit, far more daring with language than I am*

On the way back we looked through the window of the most amazing deli ever! a hundred pig legs hanging from the ceiling! We didn't go in for fear of never leaving.
*Plaza Silos*
Then, having been tempted last night, Bar Nono on Plaza Arenal. This may be the greatest bar I have ever been in. The bar itself looks like a relic, the floorspace is smaller thean my sitting room & the sherry served is bottled unceremoniously on premises! Massive barrels behind the bar are NOT for decoration. They are haphazardly stacked behind the bar and will be bottled for you on request. A pure distillation of the spirit behind the Ox in Edinurgh, Aikmans in St Andrews, the Wheatsheaf in Brigsteer and any other spit & sawdust in the world. You bring your own food, the owner is helpful and seemingly totally unaware of what a truly spectacular establishment he has, much in the same way those friends of yours whose sweetness & innocence hit your heart at the merest thought of them. It is no more than what it is. And because of that, in my mind, it is greater than the greatest. This is me. While I do love the pretense of the style bars, the luxury of fine dining, the back straightening feel of black tie, it is this that I love the most. A great thing stripped down to its most basic and essential purity. It is elemental. Hydrogen. w/o it the complex compounds would be an impossible thing, as such you rarely see it in its pure form.

All of this waxing lyrical does it a disservice. It is a bar, nothing more & nothing less. The best bar I have found yet. The woman I take here & understands why I love it will marry me. The woman I take here & loves it as I do will stay with me forever or kill me.
Dinner: Bar Juanitos - reputed to be the best tapas in town, it certainly lived up to its rep!
Meat, black pudding & broad bean soom
Chocos Fritos (fried cuttlefish)
Pork loin sausage *
Artichokes in sauce *
Spiny dogfish
Jamon *
Meat Jerez style
Potatos de Jerez
Totally amazing!"

- Well... that was our first day. We were a bit far gone in Nono's while I was writing that. I still feel that way though. Even if I was talking a load of shit.

31 July 2005

Jerez pics 1

This is me standing in front of a statue of Manuel Maria Gonzalez, founder of Gonzalez Byass and inventor of Tio Pepe.

This is San Salvador Cathedral at night. Stunning. I took a LOT of photos of the Cathdral.

Graeme and a massive chunk of meat. It was priced in the menu by the kilo. He asked for a 1/4 kilo. He got 3/4 of a Kilo. That's almost 2 pounds. Wonderful restaurant though. The fit bird from Lustau was having dinner there that night as well.

Photo size

I'm beginning to worry my photo size is too big. Is anyone having speed issues? I can resize if you like...

Is there anyone out there?

And I still need a new name for this blog. Suggestions welcome... within reason.

Jerez part the first...

In May of this year I travelled to Jerez in southern Spain with my mate Graeme. I had intended to keep this blog updated with our adventures as they occured. That plan fell by the wayside.

I did, however, keep a notebook journal. And since Graeme has left for Australia I thought I'd put a few pics and transcribe some of those silly scribbles on to the blog so that he can check it out from afar. All 3 of the rest of you, lunatic right-wing commenters aside, are welcome to look as well.

This is from my first entry (which is the only entry I typed into my iBook)...

"Many journeys start with a taxi. It may be apt that this journey started with the taxi driver confessing that he was nursing a severe hangover. There are those reading that will say it was my duty to refuse to continue with the voyage as this was the case, but I had a plane to catch, was half asleep and my holiday had begun. So, slightly wary that my driver wasn’t entirely sober due to the previous evening’s revelry, I was on my way.

The queue at the airport was long but moved. The flight was late but I got there. With all of my luggage.

There is something very temporary about the open-plan nature of London-Stansted. Something about it reminds me of the Spielberg movie, The Terminal. Just a bit dirtier. It is also a great deal more crowded than I was lead to believe. It is tempting to attribute this entirely to the success of Ryanair as their checkin desks seem to be the only ones with any punters about them.

As usual, I head for food and beverage, a Pret club sandwich and then to O’Neill’s to get some Guinness into my system. A lot of continentals kicking about. Far more used to Heathrow.

Graeme’s late. Git. Been sitting in an airport for 3 ½ hours waiting and it seems the geography of South-East England has escaped him, as Kent is fucking miles away from Stansted. Fortunately O’Neill’s is not running out of Guinness and there is a pretty girl sitting opposite to occasionally lock eyes with. I might be better off having a look at my book on Andalucia, but to be honest I’d rather take advantage of my battery while I still can at the moment. Besides, there is a certain amount of joy at going to a place totally blind."

This is Graeme standing in front of one of the largest Sherry houses in all of Jerez...


Drinking whisky until 4am will give you a hangover, no matter how good the whisky is. To precede the whisky with several pints of fine Czech lager will not help the situation.

Working the following day is not recommended. Should this be unavoidable, ensure pursuing tasks that require minimum co-ordination.

In the event of an emergency drink bloody mary's.

A comment on comments...

I deleted a comment yesterday. Someone named Myron posted a link to his blog and a call to the extreme right. That is not on. If you want to comment on what I've written, even if it's disparaging my taste in Paul Simon, that's fine. On my blog, that's your right. That's protected in the 1st Amendment of the Singular State of My Fucking Blog. You want to pimp your own lunatic views, without even bothering to read my nonsense or comment on it, then stick to Your Fucking Blog. That goes for the extreme right, extreme left, extreme centrists and extreme Buddhists.

I don't think I'll have to worry about the last two. I don't think extreme centrists can actually exist by definition and extreme Buddhists will have achieved total enlightenment, and have no need to pimp their views.

Here's a pretty picture of the view outside my window.