15 September, 2012

Bowling for a Carvery

We've had an awesome day today. Lovely lie in, followed by breakfast bought by Frazer. Isla had pain au chocolat, Frazer had croissant and jam and I had a cinnamon danish pastry. Lovely!

We went all the way across to Airdrie to go to a bowling alley, because the ones in Edinburgh are ridiculously expensive. It's a good couple of years since we've been bowling. Frazer's really good - he used to play in a league when he lived in Edinburgh, and was meant to when we moved to Peebles, but the last couple of years his back has gone right at the beginning of the season and he's missed out. Isla and I are pretty rubbish, but we do manage to hit the pins most of the time. I even got a strike today - I was ridiculously pleased with myself!

We did a few bits of shopping in Airdrie afterwards, and then came home via Ratho for a carvery. It's a Crown Carvery in Ratho, and it used to be very good, but it seems to have gone downhill a little. The other one we go to is a Toby Carvery in Liberton in Edinburgh that used to be called the Balm Well. It's brilliant, and the quality of the food is excellent.

It's 11.30 now and we've only just sat down. We got in and put the shopping away, then decided to try to dismantly the falling apart armchair in the kitchen. We didn't get very far, so we're going to get it into the boot of the car tomorrow, hold the boot lid down with bungees and drop it at the tip tomorrow morning. The dog was upset because it's his armchair!

Off to a car boot tomorrow - probably will be full of rubbish, but alŵays worth a mooch.

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02 September, 2012

Roman Holiday

I know it's been a long time since I've updated the blog properly. We've had a pretty good summer really. Ok, the weather in Peebles has been less than wonderful, but we did manage to get away on holiday for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the summer.

We flew from Edinburgh to Bordeaux and spent a few days with my mum and dad first of all. The weather was a bit rubbish to start with, but that was fine because it always takes Frazer a few days to acclimatise anyway. We picked up where we left off with the Great Trivial Pursuit competition last year, and carried on thrashing them! Of course! We spent one afternoon in Auch doing a bit of shopping, had friends around for dinner, and it was lovely to catch up with everyone and not have to think about getting out of bed or going to work. We also met my mum and dad's new dog Morgan, who is an enormous 8 month old Pyrenean Mountain Dog!

We then went from Toulouse to Rome and spent five days there. It was like walking into an oven getting off the plane. The heat hit us like a wall. We managed to get an air conditioned mini bus into the city and it dropped us at the main train station. The journey into town was like an assault on the eyes - there was so much to look at you didn't know where to look. In every direction there was a famous tourist site that we had only ever seen on television or in movies! We walked from the station to our hotel, which can only have been about a mile, but seemed so much longer as we weren't sure of where we were going and we we trying to deal with the heat.

We stayed at the hotel Martini, which was on the 4th floor of a building on the Via Nazionale. The room was comfortable, clean and had a very effective air conditioning unit. The only thing that let it down was the lack of a fridge. This is important in hotels, and we had booked because booking.com had said there was one. Not to worry though.

We booked in and dropped our bags off, and took a wander up the street to find somewhere for lunch. We found a nice little restaurant just a couple of blocks up and grabbed a table inside, not brave enough yet to try to eat outside on a main road in the heat! Frazer had a real Italian pizza, and I had Penne Amatriciana - it's a recipe that I make myself, and I want to see if mine was up to scratch compared to the real Italian recipe! All I will say, without sounding big headed, is that it compares quite favourably! Anyway, the meal was lovely, and quite reasonably priced. We decide to just have a wee wander on the first day to see what was what, so we took a walk down the Via Nazionale. We saw the Piazza del Quirinale where the Presidential Palace is, and from there we walked down some steps toward the Trevi Foutnain, which was a must on our list of things to see. It is absolutely beautiful, but the amount of tourists there was unbelievable. We literally had to fight our way through to the front in order to take some photos. We stayed for a little while and then found a café nearby for Frazer to have his first Italian coffee and for me to have a cold coke. All was fine until we got the bill and discovered that the coffee was €7!!

We went back to the hotel and had a wee snoozy and then the plan was to go out for dinner. However, when I woke up from our snooze I had the worst migraine I've had in years. I felt like my brain was trying to burst out of my skull. Stupidly, we hadn't brought any painkillers, so Frazer went across the road to the pharmacy to get some paracetamol and ibuprofen. He asked the hotel manager for some ice to cool me down, but they didn't have any, so he spent hours going back and forth to the bathroom to soak a flannel in icy water to bathe my head with. It took hours for the pain to abate, but eventually it did, and I managed to fall asleep which got rid of the rest of it. Luckily, by the time I woke up the next morning, it had gone.

We decided that the best way to do things was to go out sight seeing in the morning, have some lunch, go back to the hotel for a siesta in the afternoon, and then go back out in the early evening. We bought a ticket for the City Sight seeing bus on the second day, and did the whole tour on the top of the bus. We saw the Coliseum, the Vatican, Castello Sant'Angelo and various other amazing things! It was boiling on the bus, and my suntan improved a lot! We stopped at the Piazza Nazionale where we had a Macdonalds. I know, not very Italian, but Frazer has this thing where he wants to have a Macdonalds in every country we go to! Rome has a massive problem with beggars, and we got quite badly harrassed by them at Macdonalds, to the point of being followed to the bathroom. I don't have a problem ignoring beggars, I grew up in Malawi which had lots of beggars, and you have to be aware that if you give to one then you will be surrounded by them and you can't possibly give to them all. However, it's different in Rome. According to the hotel manager, the beggars are all Romanian (much like here in fact, where they have taken over the Big Issue selling by pushing outthe original British sellers of the magazines, by fair means or foul). Apparently the Romanian mafia is in control of all the beggars, thieves, prostitutes and drugs. What the beggars do is drug their babies so that they appear ill and listless, and also don't cry, and they use them to try to tug on gullible tourists' heartstrings and get money from them that way. Sitting outside Macdonalds though, Frazer's guilt was getting the better of him, until I pointed out that one of them was wearing a top that was obviously much newer than the one I had on - it looked brand new in fact - and they certainly looked far from hungry. We decided to try a wee experiment. We couldn't finish the food, so instead of putting it in the bin, as you usually would at Macdonalds, we left it on the table and walked away. Theyre were chips, and most of a drink left. We went and hid around the corner of a building close by to see if the beggars went to get our food, which they certainly would have done if they we as hungry as they claimed. But they completely ignored it, and after a little we gave up and went back to the hotel where the manager gave us the low down on them.

We carried on the non-Italian theme by going back out that night and having a Chinese meal in a restaurant we had noticed not far from the hotel. It was absolutely amazing - cost us €26 in total for a five course dinner!

The third day was Vatican day. We started off at the Piazza di Sagna where the Spanish Steps are. We went really early to beat the crowds, and we got the Metro for the first time too, which was great. Really efficient and really quick. There weren't many people when we arrived so we got to take quite a lot of photos from the bottom and the top of the steps, and got accosted by flower sellers (again Romanian). Frazer gave in and bought me one rose, which was quite romantic really. There were horses and carriages by the Steps, so we thought it would be romantic to get one to take us to the Vatican, but they wanted €200 for the journey! We took the Metro instead! We had some lunch first, and I had my first proper Italian pizza, which was awesome.

After lunch it was Vatican time. The walls are immense, and we had to walk all the way around them to get to the entrance of the museums. Again, the crowds were huge. The first few bits of the museum weree quite interesting, but as time went on, and the more we walked, the hotter it got (the museums have no a/c), and by the time we got to the Sistine Chapel we we too knackered to appreciate it properly. It was quite dark in there, there were about 500 people, and on the altar there were policeman yelling "Silenzio" at us. We tried to get to the exit, but they were bringing in some disable people, and people with buggies, one of whom rammed her buggy into Frazer repeatedly, even though he asked her to stop it. We got out of there as soon as we could. It was extremely claustrophobic. I was really disappointed with the Sistine Chapel - it should have been a thing of wonder, to gaze at and appreciate, but the organisation of it was terrible, and the light was bad. Even the most religious person could not have found it a meaningful experience.

After the museums we walked around to St Peter's Basilica. We were hot, tired and grumpy so we stopped off at a restaurant to get a cold drink and an ice cream. The ice creams were enormous and delicious and we really enjoyed them. Just as well, because the bill came to €35!!

St Peter's Basilica was truly awe inspiring. It was huge and beautiful. We even saw the Pope window! No Pope there though. We saw a few of the Swiss Guards in their silly uniforms!

We got a taxi back to the hotel and had a wee siesta. After that, we decided to go out for dinner down by the Trevi Fountain because I wanted to get some night time photos of it. It was surprisingly still chock a block with tourists, but we found and small, intimate restaurant - all candle lit - and had a lovely dinner. Frazer had the biggest steak you've ever seen, and I had a lasagne. It was gorgeous!

We got up really early the next day, as it wasout last full day, and we went to the Coliseum. We wanted to be there as early as possible to beat the massively long queues, and it worked. There was already a queue, but it wasn't too bad and we got in quite early.

I would say that this was the highlight of our holiday. We were out so early that the heat wasn't too bad, and the Coliseum is truly wonderful. We walked all the way around it, and you can really feel the history of the place, and imagine the Romans sitting watching gladiator fights and things! The was also a certain amount of imagining Monty Python as well!

We saw a pussy cat who obviously lives in the tunnels underneath too. We spent ages just wandering around in there and taking pictures. I even switched on the 3g on my phone so that I could zoom in on where we were and took a sceenshot of it. I just couldn't helieve that we were actually walking around in the Coliseum - it is one of the most recognisable places on the planet and it felt a bit like it was a dream!

We went back to the hotel again for the afternoon, and once it had cooled down a bit, we headed out to buy souvenirs and have some dinner. We went back to the same restaurant we had lunch at on the first day. Frazer had steak again, and I had Saltimbocca, which is veal with bacon and marsala sauce. It was gorgeous!

We then went to a gelateria for some ice cream for pudding, and it was a lovely wee restaurant. Looked perfectly normal on the outside, but when we went in, it was obviously really old, because the ceiling was carved wood, and just beautiful.

We left the following morning in a taxi that the hotel had arranged for us. We headed out of town towards the airport, but when we turned down what looked like a scrubby dead end road, I suddenly had this feeling that we were being taken to an out of the way place to be robbed and murdered. It turned out that it was just a slip road onto the motorway!! It didn't look like it at all!

My conclusion is that Rome is a fascinating city, and I would love to go back to see the things we didn't manage to fit in, but I would go back in early spring or late autumn to miss the intense heat of the summer!

The flight was fascinating, because the airport is right on the coast, so the plane took off over the Mediterranean, and we saw all the little islands. It was amazing!

We got back to France and spent another few days with my mum and dad. We got back in time for Bastille Day, so I went up to the village with my mum and dad and Isla. I had a wee catch up with everyone I knew, and then left them to the meal, and went back to the house where Frazer and I enjoyed a lovely quiet afternoon. We played trivia against each other, and after hours neither of us had won because we are so evenly matched! We ended up getting my mum and dad and Matthew involved later on when they had come back, and the one game lasted all night!

We spent the last few days doing absolutely nothing but sitting by the pool sunbathing, and then having a dip to cool down when it got too hot. It was a fabulous holiday, we spent a lot of money, but it was worth every penny. We got to spend some time with my family, and also go to a country that neither of us had ever been to before.

We got back on the Thursday, and still had a few days to relax before going back to work on the Monday. Fabulous holiday, just a shame it was over too quickly.

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TV Detectives

Ok, so you may have noticed that TV these days seems to be awash with detective and police dramas. I personally think it’s to keep old people out of trouble because:

a) they have nothing better to do and it reminds them that turning to crime is not a good option
b) they love all things police-y – there’s nothing better than a good who-dunnit apparently! Even if it’s one they’ve seen before!

I have seen all of these as my gran really likes to watch them. I consider myself an expert, as I think I must have seen them all!

I have my theories on these programmes. Obviously, people like Morse and Lewis, and Tom Barnaby and his trusty Troy (oh how I miss Troy!) are exempt, being police officers, it’s obviously their job to hunt and track down vicious killers. But, it’s the people like Poirot and Miss Marple, and especially Tommy and Tuppence (also Agatha Christie) who make me particularly suspicious.

I mean how suspicious is it that they just happen to be there, or turn up very quickly after a murder takes place? Wouldn’t it make you thing “Hmm, where did they come from?” And, why is a little old busybody making it her business to solve this crime when the police are perfectly capable of doing it for themselves?

Because she wants to throw them off the scent – that’s why! Obviously, she is the guilty one. This goes for Poirot and Tommy & Tuppence as well. They are present at or after every murder – therefore, they are the common factors.

I know why Poirot does it – he is torn up with jealousy over the rampant (although never actually seen on screen) affair between Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon. Next time it’s on, you watch it – there is definitely chemistry sizzling between these two and, I think, a tacit understanding that there is more than meets the eye. Poirot is consumed with jealousy, and goes on a killing rampage across the country, making sure he becomes good friends with the hapless Inspector Japp, who never suspects for one moment that his good chum Poirot is actually framing all these good people of England for crimes that they didn’t commit, but that he did! Poor Japp! Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon don’t even notice as they are so wrapped up in each other. And the “leetle grey cells”? They are just working overtime, planning is next vicious murder.
Jessica Fletcher is another matter entirely. She sneakily commits murder, frames someone so the police can close the case, and then writes a story about, thereby cunningly disguising the fact that she was the perpetrator all along! And who is going to argue with a renowned murder mystery author? That would be like saying Agatha Christie was the murderer all along. Oh, hang on...nah, that's blasphemy!

The police shows, on the other hand, do tend to show the police in a bit more of a favourable light. They are not the bumbling idiots who have to rely on outside help to solve their crimes. Oh no – they are super efficient and never leave crimes unsolved. Have you ever seen a Midsomer murder where Tom Barnaby (who obviously has amnesia and seems to have forgotten he’s Jim Bergerac and actually comes from Jersey) doesn’t solve the crime.

“Three people (it’s always three) are dead, and I don’t know who did it. Oh well, never mind, can’t be arsed now, off to see Cully’s (a liability if ever I saw one) new play.”

No, the police are fabulous. Wouldn’t you like to walk around in those spiffy outfits they get in The Bill – a sure turn on for any man or woman! Although, they don’t make as much use of their truncheons as I’d like!

Now, onto Taggart – this is a bit grim and depressing, but only fit to watch for the ability to giggle uncontrollably every time there’s a new “murrrrrderrrrrrr”!

Morse and Lewis barely get a mention, because they’re such smarty pants they always get it right, and within the space of only a couple of hours too!

So, as I said, I have seen them all, and consider myself an expert on the genre, without actually having to like them!

Having said all that, I watched Charlie Brooker's A Touch Of Cloth last week and enjoyed every minute of it. The show was wall to wall gags with tongue firmly in cheek every step of the way! It was done as though it was a serious crime drama, ripping the piss out of all the others that have come before. I urge you to watch it if you get a chance - it's on Sky Anytime at the moment. Give it a go - but make sure that you watch everything going on in the background - even down to the posters on the walls and signs in the hospital. Brilliant - Charlie Brooker may well be my new hero!

Beef Stroganoff

On Wednesday this week it will be exactly 9 years since Frazer's kidney transplant from his dad.  They celebrate this anniversary every year, and this year his parent's came to our house for it.  I cooked Beef Stroganoff which is one of Frazer's favourite meals, and one that I used to cook a lot of years ago, but had forgotten about.

The above recipe is the one that I use, but to make it slightly healthier I use half fat crème fraiche.  Serve with long grain white rice and some garlic bread and salad on the side and it's delicious!