I found it quite comical while I watched the “insights” graph on my Fish Facebook page plunge in the last week after the lofty heights surrounding the “Script” anniversary. I’d decided to back off from everything while my girlfriend and her 3 kids joined me in Scotland. It was the first time Simone’s family had come over with her and the first time they would be meeting my daughter and family. I must admit to being both excited and nervous at the prospect. The fridge was well stocked and the cave as presentable as it could possible be. The only negative was the weather. At least the paw had healed enough to enable me to drive so the airport pick up was not an impersonal taxi and we had wheels to duck and dive while they were here. The woodburning stove was stoked from the dwindling log pile (I’d been burning LPG all week to maintain the stocks to ensure that traditional effect) and the studio was nicely warmed for their arrival. I’d made a conscious decision to unplug myself after the hectic weeks of creativity and organisation leading up to their visit.I needed to defrag myself.
Having 2 teenage girls and a 10 year old boy around the house was a real buzz and cooking for 5 a challenge.During the week we ran through the Scottish delicacies! Flat Lorne sausage, black pudding, venison sausages, the introduction on arrival followed later by a roast leg of lamb. I can’t remember eating so much in a week and the tightening boot cut jeans,recently purchased to cover the studio lack of fitness regime, were testimony to the gastronomic excesses normally associated with Christmas pig outs. This wasn’t helped by my mothers contribution of home made chocolate praline biscuits, date cake, fruit loaf and shortbread. I normally avoid buying sweet things as I tend to binge on them and having a “model” daughter with the same predilections there’s an unspoken ban on anything with high sugar content to avoid temptation.This week the calorie count went through the roof! The fridge needed restocked by Tuesday. Litres of orange juice, stacks of yogurts, sacks of crisps ( salt and vinegar, cheese and onion), bananas, apples, tablet, fudge. Simone couldn’t keep up with the home made bread! It was a bit like the opening scenes to The Hobbit! Kippers were viewed suspiciously and after advising that the idea of eating them cold was not a good idea a few minutes of grill blasting had the kids poking at them as if they were IED’s. (the 10 year old makes a mean scrambled eggs btw) Pies from Anderson’s Butchers in North Berwick got high marks as did the Madras lamb curry on Easter Sunday. A Thai meal with my parents and Tara last Wednesday tipped the taste buds as did a first time attempt at a hearty fish pie made up of ingredients picked up from Dunbar on a rare foray outside! A slab of fish and chips from Dino’s in Haddington our only take away with everything else cooked in the kitchen with lots of little helpers scurrying around poking fingers in dishes.The culinary side of the visit ended with Simone serving up kale soup in ham stock followed by boiled beef in horseradish sauce with new potatoes rounded off with Lucas ice cream to my parents and daughter and her kids in a lovely family gathering last night before they left this morning to return to Karlsruhe. I feel fat just typing this!!!
The weather mostly drove us indoors but we did manage beach combing expeditions to Coldingham bay at the John Muir park and another to Yellowcraigs beach on the rare instances the temperature reached 3 degrees! There was something quite comical as we all trudged around like Emperor penguins, crunching banks of old mussel shells searching for treasure and peeking in rock pools for abandoned crabs wrapped up to the neck and beyond, huddling in circles at the edge of the water.
A day trip to Edinburgh made me aware of the cost of family entertainment which we were thankfully saved as the kids elected to go shopping after a diddly bop around the National Museum in Chamber Street. It was the first time I’d been there for years and had ended up visiting by accident as Liam, the 10 year old, and I had been caught in a snow blizzard in the Royal Mile en route to the castle.We’d holed up in a pub for a bowl of Cullen Skink, missed the 1 o clock gun and he had declined a visit to “The Edinburgh Dungeons” as a welcoming scream from the bowels of the venue just as we reached the ticket office put him right off!The girls had been at the hairdressers and we agreed to meet at the museum before the castle. The free entrance made it an easy choice and I have to admit I was severely impressed at what was on display. I could have wandered all afternoon but my lack of German and all info in English on the exhibits cued eventual boredom in the youngsters.With the kids off to Princes Street Simone and I headed up the Mile to the windswept castle esplanade. Arthur’s Seat was a blur of snow and the city views somewhat limited in the grey murk. We had a couple of hours to kill before meeting my Tara for a train to North Berwick but as we stood in the queue at the ticket booth the entrance fee of over 15 pounds dissuaded us from venturing further and we decided to leave it for another visit on a blue sky day. Back down the esplanade, past the war memorials that seem to have more resonance these days, wheeling round and down the Disney like Ramsay gardens and back up the Mound to the Mile we came across the entrance to “The Real- Mary King’s Close”.
I’d been aware of the existence of the underground vaults below the City Chambers for some time but had never visited them.They date back to the 16th Century and were originally the Closes (narrow streets) that ran like ribs from the spine of the Royal Mile. In the 18th Century the “Old Town ” was renovated and the “Royal Exchange ” built on the site of Mary King’s Close utilising the old buildings of the close in the foundations. The old walls were capped and had barrel vaults constructed which became the basement of the Exchange that extended out and back from the Royal Mile . The Closes under the Exchange were preserved and over the years became famous in folklore as this magical mysterious other world that you could only visit by special permission from the city council. In 2001 the underground space was taken over by a private firm and opened to the public. I decided that this was the perfect time to finally visit the legendary site which by now has all the associated corporate marketing tactics arrayed at the entrance and promised something quite spectacular.The “walks” were scheduled every 30 mins or so and with advertising advising to book well in advance I thought we were lucky to get on the 4.30 for the 1 hour experience.Simone and I retired to “Deacon Brodie’s”, a well known pub on the Mile just up from the courts where the clientèle used to be “colourful” in days gone by as witnesses, defendants and “friends of the accused” used to mingle between sessions.In the past a delightfully grubby authentic wee drinking hole it was now obviously a tourist haunt and prices were racked accordingly. The “efficient” bartender delivered me a pint of Deuchars at £3.54 (£3.10 in Haddington) and I drank slowly taking in the sanitised surroundings reeking of corporate pub chain vibe! Deacon Brodie wouldn’t have been seen dead in there!
Our alloted time arrived and we joined the group for our visit to Mary King’s Close in the reception doubling as a kack shop with the usual suspects of tourist paraphernalia on offer. The program was £2.95 on top of the £12.90 (?) each for entrance to the Close. I was glad the kids were shopping! There were about 15 at least of us in the gaggle heading into the darkness down the stairs led by our “guide”, a well spoken young man putting on a plummy accent straight out of Blackadder’s “The Actors” as he tried to convince us he was a 17th Century shop owner from the close. It wasn’t exactly Scottish, more Fettes public school, the Shakespearean overtones irritating even Simone. He ran through the hammy script as we were herded through endless whitewashed barrel vaulted, wooden floor boarded rooms and asked to imagine what it was like back then. It wasn’t what I expected and after 20 minutes began to recognise my involuntary show shuffling. I wasn’t engaging and wanted it over and done with.There were a couple of interesting stories but a lot of fluff. The few Madame Tussuad like tableau’s for me added to the “Disney” vibe and distracted from the vibe. I won’t mention the squeaky “talking” rubber rat prop in the Black Death section! It wasn’t until the end after we had negotiated the warren of mostly bland rooms (the byre being an exception – I was glad there were no stuffed Highland coos!) that we entered the close itself and I admit to being blown away standing in a dense overwhelming tight space that reached above us to the City Chambers, the rooms, windows, doorways easily recognisable as a place where people had lived centuries before. On the second and third floors dusty washing hung across the close and the supporting arches and stonework caught my imagination. At last this what I had been waiting for ( a wait slightly extended as those of us who didn’t want our photo taken on infra red camera for the obligatory £8 souvenir had to hold back in an adjacent room for those that did!) and then 10 mins later we were herded back into the sunlight up a stairwell atop which was a sack cloth covered window at the entrance where we’d descended an hour ago. I pulled the cloth back and there below us was the full view of the Close! A great reveal and one I could have done with an hour before!
Yes it was interesting but at £12.90 a pop and an hour to deliver it was in my opinion well overpriced and not enough “meat” for my liking. I could have done without the hammy actor but respect we all need work and don’t think it was out of choice, more necessity. With the company that runs the “Close” advertising on their web site for a similar position at one of their other “experiences” for just over £6 an hour and punters at over £12.90 a head with 15 on a run every half an hour it’s a tidy profit I’d imagine.Maybe I am old fashioned but I would have preferred an old Edinburgh head with more history and less Disneyesque razzmatazz.Anyway It’s ticked off now and I didn’t buy the t shirt! I won’t be back!
The point that was driven home by the cost of the aforesaid attractions was the expense to a family. It was Easter, kids on holidays and weather driving people inside.When you start looking at the prices of entertaining kids it’s quite startling! I took Simone, her youngest daughter and son to Easter Road for the Hibs v Caley Thistle match (more cruelty akin to Yellowcraigs beach you may think!). Even with concessions it came to £68 for tickets for 4 of us, over £9 for 4 drinks and more squids for pizza slices! I’d forgotten about those kind of costs with Tara having moved into different zones in her life! With the cost of food, fuel, services etc climbing like knotweed in our budgets these days carving those kinds of “entertainment” figures into the ever decreasing pie cranks up the pressure on a wage packet. It’s no wonder football clubs are falling into administration, piracy abounds, illegal downloads are rife and pubs and venues are closing. I was just lucky that this last week I was dealing with kids happy to go beachcombing in a snowstorm or go walking in the woods and climbing trees!
Despite the weather and the closing of the great intrepid outdoors for most of the week we all had a great time together and the meeting of our respective “kids” did put a lump in our throats as we took on the mantle of the Brady bunch for a couple of special nights.The last night with my parents was especially touching and we were all sad to hug farewells.
And so now it’s back to being the bear in the cave. I did manage to work on the Leamington Spa Sunday night DVD with Russell Cherrington and Paul Gordon who came up to go through the final edit together. It looks stunning! The CD’s are ready to go to production and Mark Wilkinson has wrapped the artwork and sleeve designs. It will be here by the second week of May and available for pre sale next week. I’ll post more info on this on the news section of the web site.
This week is tidying up business issues and getting back into lyric writing mode before Robin and Steve arrive on the 16th April for what will be the last writing sessions before the tour rehearsals.
There’s still some food left in the fridge and a sliver of my Mum’s fruit loaf that may make the weekend!
That should keep me going as I force the graph back up on the Facebook pages, hope you didn’t miss me too much 🙂