Saturday 30 August 2014

Gin in the House

Alban, my Seminarian Pretend Son, has come to stay for a week, so naturally I bought a bottle of gin. Should you ever find yourself mentally adopting a young English seminarian, I recommend that you do the same. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple  believed that what a gentleman needed after a journey was a nice stiff scotch-and-soda, but scotch-and-soda is out of fashion. What the young English gentleman of today needs after travelling is a gin-and-tonic. He can have a scotch--single malt, naturally--later in the evening before he goes to bed. 
Baby Gin

I very much like having my Pretend Sons to stay because I grew up in a family of seven, and it seems odd that our big flat is occupied by only B.A. and me, not by parents, children and cats. On the bright side, I am sure it is easier to clean up after two people than after seven-and-a-cat. On the dark side, I have a nagging feeling I ought to be signing permission slips and yelling at recalcitrant children for not eating their lunch apples.  

And thus it is always nice to have twenty-somethings in the house--young enough to inspire maternal sentiment, but not so young as to sneak friends in without permission--especially when they strew their interesting belongings about. Sometimes one leaves an actual trail of intriguing stuff. If I were a real mother, I would probably gather their things up in a wicker basket, but as I am not, I just leave them be and marvel that badger hair shaving brushes still exist, etc. 

As I always thought of gin-and-tonic as a summer drink, and it is summer in Scotland for only eight weeks a year (spring and autumn being rather long), it was a surprise to me to discover that it was the preferred refreshment, balm and solace of my new British friends. When did the gin-and-tonic replace the scotch-and-soda, I wonder. I shall have to consult my U of T classmate Christine Sismondo's charming book Mondo Cocktail to see if she mentions the change. (I bought several copies of her book and gave all but one away as presents to worthy cocktail-drinking men.)

In the meantime, here is an astonishing history of the gin-and-tonic.

It occurs to me, after reading, that the fad for the ice-cold G&T may have something to do with a refusal to apologize for colonialism. Perhaps a G&T is a liquid way of saying, "The sun didn't set on the British Empire until 1997, and I'm damn proud of that"--making it a rather more rebellious and counter-cultural drink than vodka mixed with Red Bull. Punkers are pikers compared to Young Fogeys.

Meanwhile, there is such a thing as a gin-and-tonic perfume. I know because I have some--a tiny tester's tube of the stuff from Penhaglion's on George Street. When I can afford a whole bottle (speed the day!), I will buy it at once.

Penhaglion's on George Street has excellent customer service, by the way. When I went in to see if they had lavender scented drawer liners (part of my perpetual battle against the clothes moth), the saleswoman seemed truly sorry that they didn't. Then she spritzed a few sheets of fine tissue paper with lavender scent and gave them to me, gratis.  Now that's my idea of a posh parfumier.

Friday 29 August 2014

Rape by Political Correctness

WARNING TO SENSITIVE: The following post is about rape, specifically rape of girls and women by a minority of Pakistani men living and working in the United Kingdom.

It may seem like I live a charming and romantic existence in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, and indeed to a large extent I do. This is partly because I work from home and therefore do not have to suffer the hurly-burly of public life to make money and survive. The only crap I have to put up with, personally, is not getting a "kill" fee or not being paid for months on end. My principal editors are very nice guys. My parish priest is reasonable and urbane. The man who most often tells me what to do is my dear husband. Life rocks.

There are times, however, when I leave the house, which is exciting but has its downside. The biggest downside is the possibility of  being attacked by two or more drunken men or women, for Edinburgh abounds in drunken men and women after 5 PM. And there is also the very remote possibility that I will be targeted for rape by some opportunist, say a solitary chap walking his Staffordshire terrier in the woods around the Historical House or the guy driving my cab. It is indeed a remote possibility, but a rather devastating one, and so whenever I leave the safety of home, I do occasional, quick risk assessments. How many dog-walkers are likely to be in the woods at this hour? Is my cab driver a sexist, racist yahoo who thinks all white women are sluts? 

If you don't live in the UK, you probably don't know this, but we have been rocked by scandals involving Pakistani men running sex crime rings that target white English girls. The two biggest ones involve Rochdale and Rotherham. In both scandals, the rapists got away with their crimes for so long because they were from the British South Asian minority and the white British (presumably mostly of indigenous pre-1200 AD origin) social workers, police and councilors were too afraid of being called racist to do much. Meanwhile, there have also been a number of scandals involving South Asian cabdrivers who rape their customers.

My first introduction to the apparent dangers of British Pakistani men in cars came via the ladies' toilet in some Edinburgh pub. The ladies' toilet in an Edinburgh pub  is as much a locus of public health warnings as it is of anonymous remarks. And one public health warning at the time was against drunken driving. It said something like "Who will be seeing you home tonight?" with the inference that it should be a cab driver.

In response, some anonymous woman wrote on stall wall, "Don't go home with a [derogatory word for Pakistani] in a minicab." And I was shocked because (A) where I come from, we don't use that word, (B) I had no idea what a minicab was, and (C) it had such a euphonious rhythm for such a blunt, eyebrow-raising remark:  Da da da da-da DA-da da da DA-da-da.

I made inquiries, and lo and behold, a mini-cab is a "private hire" taxi, not a proper taxi-cab that you can hail on the street or find at a cab rank. As all women in the UK are taught, you should never, ever, ever, ever get into a stranger's car or cab in the UK that is not a proper taxi cab.

But, alas, sometimes drivers of proper taxi cabs also rape customers. And, lo and behold, a  number of them belong to what is called "an ethnic minority." I myself belong, by British standards, to "an ethnic minority," and I will certainly be ashamed if I find out about any Canadian cab-drivers in the UK raping anyone, especially if racism may be a factor. (I am already ashamed when I hear about really disgusting Canadian tourists.) Where I come from, racism is a major social sin, rendering even rape somehow worse.

Thus I find myself all of a swither when I need to take a cab home because my anti-racist training   tells me that it is BAD to racially profile my cab driver and my sense of self-preservation says that in the northern areas of the UK, at least, it would be SMART to racially profile my cab driver. 

I have gone alone into a car with a South Asian cab driver exactly once in the past five years. He was fine. I was fine. I probably called up my husband on my mobile, which I often do, just in case the native Scottish cab driver thinks my foreign accent means I don't know how long it takes to get the Historical House.

Now that I think about it, I have an equal-opportunity suspicion of cabbies when it comes to ripping me off.  However, I do worry more about being attacked by a South Asian driver than by a native Scottish driver because I watch, hear and read the news about white women and girls being attacked by South Asian men, some of whom drive cabs, in the UK.

I also aware that one way migrants try to feel less helpless about our surroundings, or cope with women who behave or dress differently than women back home (or who, annoyingly, look more confident than we feel) is to try to cut the women "down to size" by deciding that most of them are sluts.

I have been on both sides of this: having to hear that "Canadian girls are whores"  from migrants and myself raising an eyebrow at what young Scottish girls think is acceptable dress in public. (It is startling, especially on cold days when any halfway sensible girl would wear a full-length parka.)

But I don't come from a culture that says such girls are sluts, let alone  "asking for it." And my culture doesn't say that drunk girls are "asking for it", either, although I do know some men, in many cultures and sub-cultures, think drunk women deserve to be raped. Obviously rape has nothing to do with the rapist's skin colour; it is all about his attitudes, which he has most likely to have absorbed from the men he knows and likes. His father and uncles, for example. His brothers. His cousins.

Which leads me to many questions. Is it considered okay by men in Pakistan to rape girls and women? If so, which areas of Pakistan?  What professions or classes of Pakistanis?  And/or is it considered okay in some  British-Pakistani communities to rape girls and women? Or just white girls and women? Or just drunk white girls and women?

 To what extent am I justified in racially profiling my cab drivers?  Does it make a difference that I was trained as a child to never get into a car with a stranger? Is a migrant stranger more a stranger than a born-and-bred Edinburgh man? Do migrants think the local women are sluts? Are steps being taken to stop migrants from deciding that the local women are sluts?

Speaking as a migrant, my answer to that last question is "No.". No government body, not the Living in the UK textbook, no-one and nothing has told me, an adult migrant, that just because the local women don't   dress like women back home and seem to drink  more in public, doesn't mean they are less worthy of respect than women of my country of origin. And I am sorry about that. I certainly was asked often enough if mine was an arranged marriage.

It's a truly terrible moment, that moment at the kerb when I stare into the windshield to assess the hue and facial features of the man into whose car I am proposing to climb. Before I moved here, I never gave it a moment's thought in Toronto, and in Edinburgh I frequent shops and post offices owned or run by South Asians without a qualm. It would never occur to me to worry about whether or not my greengrocer could be a rapist. But when confronting a queue of taxi cabs by myself on a British street late at night, I think I DO have to worry, and that annoys me.

In high school, part of our anti-racism training was to hear of white men in the American South who were paranoid about young black American men, i.e. "they want to rape our women." I agree that it is provincial and nasty to believe any such thing about an entire group, not to mention claiming ownership over women. However, as a white woman, if it turns out that certain men in my community believe, for cultural reasons, that it is okay for them to rape white girls and women, I want to know what is being done to thwart their racism and sexism.

A final note. Various circumstances led me to having a talk with a pretty young Polish girl about the sexist racism of some South Asian men in the UK. I was so embarrassed, I put it off for months. But finally something happened that made me have the talk, and I was vastly relieved when she said she had already been told--by her good South Asian British male friend. He had said he was terribly embarrassed by the behaviour and attitudes he had heard from other [South] Asian men about white girls. I hope he tells them off, too. Men influence other men for good and ill. Rape won't stop until men stop it.

Thursday 28 August 2014


Apropos of yesterday's post, I went hunting for linen clothing today and found a short-sleeved khaki shirt in that fabric: four pounds, eighty-nine pence. It will serve me well in Italia, where B.A. and I are going in two weeks.

Collecting linen clothes is just one form of preparing for Italy. There is also the obligatory Italian language review, which I am doing at Edinburgh University this month. And then there is my brand new challenge: learning how to sketch.

My sketching inspiration is, of course, our friend Hilary, who constantly preaches that almost anyone can learn to draw, and for proof she presents her own drawings and paintings, the fruit not of "talent" but of hard work and endurance. Hilary continued to draw all through her cancer treatment; the woman was drawing in the hospital.  While I was staying with her, I caught the drawing bug long enough to doodle a tube of "dopopuntura" (cream for mosquito bites), a glass of water, a flying elephant and a yellow villa with sky blue shutters.

But that's it. I flip through my travel diaries in vain. Although I have been to many beautiful and/or solemn places since I drew that glamorous villa, I have not attempted to sketch them. This is really too bad, as sketches would most definitely improve my diaries.

So under Hilary's guidance I have begun to sketch. She gives me homework, and I am also reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  So far I have completed two "Hilary homeworks" and one Betty Edwards exercise. The first Hilary homework was to copy a black-and-white photo right side up, and the second was to copy the same photo upside down.  And I copied the first black-and-white photo I found, which was of our central staircase. And I discovered that I SAW more when I copied the photo upside down.
Drawn right side up.
Drawn upside down.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Lessons on Linen

Linen comes from flax.
Last week I was in the big closet, checking for moths. And I wondered why it was that God had made clothes moths anyway. Clothes moths are ugly, so they don't reflect the glory of God.  Moths don't seem to help us in any way. Indeed, they are just a pest. So what was the point? Why moths? What are they good for?

Came the answer: They got you to do regular housework.

Well, that's true. I resisted doing regular housework because I thought I hated doing housework. I did it in dribs and drabs, which occasionally drove my husband crazy. However, one of my better qualities is that I love hospitality, even more than B.A., so when Polish Pretend Son asked if we could store his clothing until the following October, we both said yes. Imagine my horror, then, when I discovered we had moths. I felt like the Lady Macbeth of wardrobes. 

There began a battle royal the the moths, which began mostly with chemical warfare. Moths don't like lavender, but it doesn't actually kill them or their vile eggs or larvae, so I have made several trips to George Street to buy fancy lavender-scented moth poison. B.A. discovered that Tesco has somewhat cheaper nicely-scented moth poison so I have switched to that. Meanwhile, I have bought lavender oil, lavender-infused drawer liners and lavender sachets, all of which make my own dressing room/office/lady's guest room smell rather nice, if grandmotherly. (I prefer not to use insecticide in bedrooms.)

But chemical warfare is not enough because our big closet is actually a room (indeed, it probably used to be the butler's or the housekeeper's bedroom, the sitting-room being his or her sitting-room) and the various moth-killing devices are meant for enclosed spaces. So one day I simply took absolutely everything out of the closet and hoovered the carpet. I searched suitcases for moth damage, and although they left PPS's stuff alone, they had chewed their way through some McAmbrose stuff, which I tossed, cursing, away. 

I then read in my life-changing tome Home Comforts that moths shouldn't be a problem if you dust and vacuum your home once a week, and doubt assailed me. Could it be that just vacuuming before dinner parties--B.A.'s job--was a seriously bad idea? Apparently housekeeping is not some laughably outré activity for university-educated women, best done by hired help. Apparently housekeeping is absolutely crucial to human comfort and happiness. 

But, to repeat a post of last week, I was not inspired to unparalleled heights of hoovering until I read Home Comforts' warnings about dust mites. And now every room in the flat, save kitchen and bathroom, gets dusted and vacuumed at least once a week. I drag furniture and storage boxes into the hallway. I get down on my knees and wipe the baseboards with a damp cloth. I examine walls for moths, and if I find any, I squash them between my fingers. As a result, the flat looks great, and I take actual pride in my housework. It isn't some lesser-than activity. It's actually important

There are still tasks at which I balk. One is ironing. My mother is a champion ironer, but I don't see the point of standing at an ironing board ironing away watching TV when one's husband buys permanent press shirts and one can be doing something else. However, I do see the point in ironing linen tablecloths and napkins. There is nothing like washed and ironed linen. It is simply one of the nicest substances there is. So the last time I boiled-washed a linen tablecloth and the napkins, I just hung them up to dry and promised B.A. I'd iron them. I even rolled the dried tablecloth around a giant cardboard tube the professional Historical House Housekeeper let me have. 

Then I put off ironing them all for two weeks. Tube and drying frame sat in a corner of the immaculately hoovered sitting-room, except when moved out into the hallway when I was again hoovering the sitting-room. Then yesterday, Tuesday being closet-and-sitting-room day, on the tube of linen I found a moth.

Aaah! It's always the sitting-room! I'm relieved it's not anywhere we keep clothing, but WHY the sitting-room, I ask. It's one of the most used rooms in the flat--in the evenings anyway. But more importantly, did that horrid creature lay eggs on our clean linen tablecloth? 

Lesson learned: time to iron! As I had learned at my mother's knee, if you don't wash your clothes in hot water, you do need to iron them because it is heat that kills unspeakable, soap-resistant bugs. Ironing would definitely kill any random moth egg.

I checked Home Comforts, and it said linen has to be at least a little damp before you iron it, so I thoroughly dampened the napkins and tablecloth in the bathroom sink, heated the iron to hot, clicked on an Italian conversation recording, and got to work. 

And I rather enjoyed it, actually. Ironing flat things is much easier than ironing shirts, which my mother does beautifully, having sent five children to uniform schools and a man to a university for 44.5 years. When she was here at Christmastide, she even ironed a few of B.A.'s shirts, a nice treat for him. 
I found a lost Norseman today. I realized who he was and where he came from as soon as he stopped dead before me in the driveway of the Historical House. He was young, blonde, blue-eyed, confused and clearly looking for something. We see a lot of these people at the Historical House.

"Are you looking for the [Norse] Consulate?" I asked. All modern-day Norsemen  speak at least a little English. 

"Yes," bleated the Norseman. "I have been looking for half an hour, and I cannot find it. I even stood in the place Google maps says it is, and it is not there."

I did my best to explain where it was--I have never seen it myself, although I hear it looks like a shed--and sent him on his way.

It is amusing that a nation of Vikings is now so pacific. It must be less amusing when those Norsemen who mistake the Historical House for their consulate discover that their Edinburgh consulate more closely resembles a shed. At any rate, my imagination stands still at the idea of these sophisticated, pacific people ever sacking the Historical House, as I am now bidding it to do. Bonnie Prince Charlie himself never broke down the Historical House's magnificent oak door.* It would take a really old-fashioned Norseman to do that. Beowulf, or someone. 

*Of course, we are not sure he even noticed it when he came gallumphing past in 1745. The Historical Family had fled before him, however. The Historical Family was incredibly Hanoverian and Protestant--the principal reason why it is so amusing that the Historical Attic is now occupied by Roman Catholics. 

Tuesday 26 August 2014

The Bishop's Challenge

A bishop in Iraq, who knows that thousands of his fellow Iraqi Christians have been dispersed, robbed, murdered and/or raped, has noted the current "ice bucket challenge" sweeping the easily distracted West and come up with a challenge of his own. 

Six o'clock in the evening in Baghdad is four o'clock here in Edinburgh, so Benedict Ambrose and I are going to the Cathedral to take Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna's challenge. It's the least we can do to help our fellow Christians in Iraq, especially the Chaldeans, who are in communion with Rome, and therefore are we ourselves.

Apparently we're supposed to take photos and sent them to the bishop, so I will take along my tablet and wear a nice coat!

Monday 25 August 2014


Benedict Ambrose and I have a new Sunday ritual: waffles! Our American friend Wodka Tonik gave us her round waffle maker when she went back to the USA, but we didn't use it until this summer. Now I zip to the kitchen every Sunday at 9 AM to make a golden, blueberry-studded batch.

Right after I solicited Readers' waffle recipes this June, my mother arrived with a box of Aunt Jemima buttermilk pancake mix. So it was not until that box was empty that I went back to Readers' recipes. In the end, I decided to go with Lauren's  buttermilk waffle recipe, adjusting it to our two-person needs, adding blueberries and beating the egg white for extra fluffiness.

Edinburgh Housewife Waffles

1 scant cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/6 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, separated
handful of blueberries

1. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Add oil, buttermilk and egg yolk and mix until any large lumps are gone.
3. Turn on the waffle iron to preheat.
4. Whisk the egg white in another big bowl until it forms soft peaks.
5. Gently fold the egg white clouds into the batter.
6. Chuck in blueberries.
7. When the iron beeps, pour in about a third of the batter and shut the lid.
8. While waffle is cooking, wash, hull and cut strawberries in half.
9. (Optional)  And put streaky (i.e. strip) bacon under the grill.
10. When iron beeps, open the lid and gently prise out the waffle. You may need a wooden spoon or plastic lifter. Don't use metal because you don't want to scratch the teflon.
11. Put first waffle in oven to keep warm, and pour another third of the batter in the iron.
12. Repeat 10 &11.
13. Top waffles with strawberries (and bacon) and serve with maple or golden syrup.

Naturally maple syrup is better than golden syrup, but not all shops in the UK have maple syrup, and when they do, it costs £ 5.50 a bottle. That said, this at last is a price comparable to what you would pay in Canada, i.e. about $10.  With blueberries in your waffle and strawberries on top, a little maple syrup goes a long way. Meanwhile, maple syrup and streaky bacon go together like Hockey Night and In Canada.

Waffles, bacon and coffee (tea for B.A.) set us up for a long morning and early afternoon of bus travel, liturgy and socializing. We almost never get to our Sunday midday meal until three o'clock in the afternoon, so this heavy breakfast is a welcome innovation in our schedule. It is also very quick to make, which is very important, as we must leave the house in time to catch our bus.

Naturally, cleaning the waffle iron is a bit of a snore. However, it is well worth the extra effort to protect the precious non-stick coating.

Saturday 23 August 2014

My New Addictionary

By the time I met my Polish tutor at Forest on Thursday, I so badly needed a coffee that when my eye fell upon the words "Chai Coffee" I went ahead and ordered it. Sadly, the cardamom did not kill the taste of the horrid brew. The next time I meet my tutor, I am going to suggest The Brew Lab and offer to pay the bill. First, I can't stand paying good money for bad coffee. Second, the young lady does correct my compositions for free. The least I can do is buy her a (good) coffee and a bun.

"Your grammar is pretty good," she said on this occasion. "But we're going to have to work on your style."

I was highly amused. Style can be taught--I once took a university night course in English prose--but one really needs to be able to speak, hear and read fluently for such lessons to be of any help at all. And one absorbs style from the style of one's favourite authors.

I suppose I should pick up  Sienkiewicz's W pustyni i w puszcy (1912) again. This is a novel all Polish children read in school.  While reading it, one must suspend one's disbelief  and accept  that all the Europeans in  Sienkiewicz's British colonial Africa speak Polish. One must also believe that a little English girl would put up with being patronized by a Polish boy instead of asking him whose imperial colony this is anyway. It was, after all, 1912, when English girls were still proud to be English and knew how to keep foreigners in their place.

But first I will dip into my very newest acquisition, the two volume Oxford University English-Polish/Polish-English dictionary. It arrived on Wednesday by post, and I have my Reader Sunny Saefer to thank, for she gave me an Amazon gift certificate to mark my retirement from the Seraphic Singles blog.  There is no way I could have afforded this glorious dictionary otherwise. It is the best in the market.

My husband referred to it as my "addictionary" because he loves puns but also because I do spend at least an hour a day studying Polish. He doesn't think this is very practical, but I certainly do. Polish is the second most popular language in England and Scotland. (In Wales, where people speak English and Welsh, it is third.) And whereas the Catholic publishing world in the UK is tiny and poor, the Catholic publishing world in Poland is enormous and rich. Rich as it is, however, it probably would prefer not to have to pay a translator when I give lectures. Also, Poland is very beautiful, and it would be nice to be able to ask questions (and understand the answers) while travelling there  Meanwhile, Polish is a beautiful language and also very challenging, and I need both beauty and mental challenges.

But my husband may be right in that I have an inordinate attachment to Polish-English/English-Polish dictionaries. I have bought four in the past three years. Still, the more I have improved, the more pressing the need for a better dictionary.

The weather, by the way, has been mixed sun and showers for the past three days. This is typical for Edinburgh in the spring and autumn, I believe.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

The Art of Coffee

Another chilly but productive day! My alarm went off at 7 and I rolled out of bed. I made coffee and settled down for an hour with Polish in Four Weeks: Intermediate. Then I took up my pencil and tried to draw our 17th century main staircase. Hilary told me to skip all the baby stuff like drawing squares and just copy a black-and-white photo. So I did that for an hour and a half.

At ten o'clock I felt that I had made a good start on a beginner's rendition of the staircase and put on my housewife uniform. Wednesday's housework is devoted to the bathroom. Scrubbing the bathroom doesn't take a long time now, so first I went into the kitchen and washed the dishes while listening to an Italian conversation tape.

(I know it seems like I am obsessed with languages, but one of my sisters and my sister-in-law are trilingual, and one of my brothers is bilingual, and my youngest sister has a strong grasp of Spanish, and my parents both speak good German and adequate French, so I am merely trying to keep up. Besides, I love to go both Italy and Poland and can afford to, now that I live in Scotland.)

This afternoon I met a Reader for coffee in the Old Town. Yesterday I met a parish pal for coffee in the New Town. And because I got to pick them, I picked cafés that take a very scientific approach to coffee. As much as I love Blackwell's Bookshop on the South Bridge, sometimes I want coffee that tastes like... Well.. Like something that has notes and depths and can be described in the same way wine tasters describe wine.

So yesterday I met my friend at Artisan Roast on Broughton Street, and today I led the Reader from Blackwell's to Brew Lab on South College Street.

Artisan Roast is tiny, and  I worried that there would be a big after-work crowd, but when I arrived after five, I discovered that my friend had already snagged a table in the front room. She was right across from the noisy coffee grinder, though, so we moved to the back room. There was space there, too, on the benches along the burlap coffee sack-lined walls. I stuffed a handy cushion behind my back for comfort. It was a hip if spartan place, with hanging lamps fashioned from small French presses and coffee mugs. And I needn't have worried about well-heeled New Town lawyers bankers crowding the place: the denizens looked decidedly like students, creatives and hipsters.

("Creative" is a new noun I discovered recently.  It denotes a person who may have a good education but cares more about making or promoting art than making money. I acknowledge some creatives do actually make money, by which I mean more money than B.A. and me.)

I had a cappuccino, and whatever they used for espresso, it was fantastic: rich, dark, a bit heavy and smooth. The next time I meet someone for coffee, I will go there again. I am not sure it is comfortable enough for a solitary writing or language study session, but for conversation, it is fine.

Brew Lab is somewhere I have been twice before, and I don't remember it being that crowded. Of course, everywhere in the Old Town is crowded during the Edinburgh Festival. There was an older middle-aged couple there who looked decidedly Foreign Festivaler. But most of the patrons looked young and hipster, so I fear Brew Lab may be just as crowded once the Festival is done. I hope not because Brew Lab's coffee is really very good, and they have a supply of pastries and cakes rather better than those one finds at the big coffee chains.

(That said, I still have not found a proper French croissant in this town-- and definitely not at Patisserie Valerie. The only place in the UK I have found a croissant to rival those of Montréal--the pastry of Paris being but a dim memory--is Aux Pains de Papy in London.)

I've had straight coffee at Brew Lab, but today I had a double espresso macchiato. Again it was delightful to taste a rich, dark (but not burnt-tasting, as at St*rb*cks), thick coffee.  Brew Lab can be pricey, but you get what you pay for, and a macchiato, perhaps because it is small, is only 2.60 or so.

As for ambiance, it's much bigger than Broughton Street's Artisan Roast, so I think I would feel comfortable writing, sketching or studying there. But not during the Festival, I think. And I would definitely order more than one coffee an hour.

Tomorrow I am meeting my latest Polish tutor at the Forest Café in its new location on Lauriston Place. What can I say about  Forest? Well, it is cheap. It has vegan options and a youthful, student vibe, and this time I will be drinking tea. Or hot chocolate. But not its coffee. Maybe it was just bad luck last time but ... bleah!

In  times past, my Polish tutor frequented Peter's Yard at the University of Edinburgh. It has good coffee and absolutely delicious breads and pastries. Being mad about ground almonds, I can never resist the mazarin tarts.  The ambiance is good too--lots of glass, pale woods, natural light: very Nordic-northern. It's a great place to write or study. Peter's Yard also has vegan and (I believe) gluten-free options. It is a little on the expensive side, though.

Speaking of Blackwell's Bookshop, I dropped in with my Reader to admire the piles of featured books on the table by the door.

"One of these books is not like the other," I said smugly. (My visiting Reader is American, so I thought she might pick up the Sesame Street reference.)

Eventually she spotted the pertinent pile---Blackwell's has sponsored many writers this month--and I tried not to bounce up and down clapping my hands like a three-year-old. It is just so nice to have Ceremony of Innocence at Blackwell's--or a book of mine so prominently featured anywhere in Scotland!

Tuesday 19 August 2014


This morning was most productive. Not only did I get in an hour or so of Polish study, I did half an hour of sketching practice. My inspiration is Hilary White, who insists that anyone can learn how to draw, it just takes effort. Hilary has advanced from sketching to charcoal to paint, but I think I would be happy just sketching scenes into my travel journals.

At ten I arose and put on my housewife uniform. There followed two hours of vigorous dusting, wiping, carrying furniture into the hallway and hoovering the carpets. I did a moth inspection of the storeroom and was relieved not to find any new trace of them. However, there was one little brown critter sitting very, very still on the bright white wall of the sitting-room. I slew him with my bare fingers and hoovered up his corpse.

I cannot put into words just how much I hate Tinea bisselliella.  When I saw an enormous house spider in the library last week, I rejoiced, for I imagined she had grown fat from munching moths. My hatred is a bitter hatred, for I fear their coming  was my fault and moreover they have eaten B.A.'s purple pullover. Ironically, I became fully aware of the strength of their invasion only when I arrived in Canada this February and discovered growing holes in A) my beloved argyle cashmere sweater , B) my cable knit zippered wool cardigan from Barbour and C) my green silk blouse. There followed frantic washings and freezings and buyings of cedar blocks and lavender oils. I telephoned home to beg B.A. to inspect my silk wedding dress and send clouds of insecticide into every wardrobe. So far they have left my wedding dress alone. They really seem to prefer B.A.'s wool pullovers to any other food.

At noon, I washed and worked on my other trade which, naturally, is writing. And then I got up and seared a 900 g brisket on all sides before chucking it in the oven at 140 degrees Celsius. This brisket had spent twenty hours marinating in garlic and red wine,so it had better be tender when it comes out of the oven, or I will weep. It is the first cut of beef I have bought since.... Hmm. Actually, I almost never buy beef. Occasionally I will buy B.A. a steak when I know I won't want any supper myself. But I think that is it... Oh, well, naturally I buy beef mince for Spaghetti Bolognese, the only contender with Chicken Tikka Masala for English National Dish status.  (The Scottish National Dish is. of course, haggis, neeps and tatties, which we really do eat--at least once a year.)

I used to think I hated beef, but it turns out that I just hate beef cooked well done, which is the only way my father will eat it. I like meat to fall off the bone in juicy flesh splinters.( Apologies to vegetarians. We do, as a matter of fact, have at least one meatless day a week--and rather more in Lent.) The best beef brisket B.A. and I have ever had was at Schwartz's Deli in Montréal.

Ah.... Schwartz's....

For the first five years of married life, I ignored large pieces of meat except when it was our turn for Sunday Lunch for Fourteen. I simply assumed joints were too expensive, and I hate chops. But then B.A. brought home a cookbook with such excellent recipes for leftovers  that I bought a huge pork roast on sale for seven quid. It had great crackling potential, too. I love crackling.

It took us a week to eat that roast, and it was absolutely delicious the first night, the third night, the fourth night, the fifth night and the sixth day for lunch. On the second night we had it cold, so I was depressed. But on the third night we had pork crepes and on the fourth we had pork puff pastry pie and on the fifth we had pork chop suey. We had a break for Friday, and ate the leftover suey on Saturday. That's a lot of meals for seven quid. In contrast, two fillets of salmon cost 4 quid.

So this week, we are eating beef. Normally one has the Sunday Roast on Sunday, but on Sunday we were at a party, and yesterday B.A. produced a quiche he had in the office. I haven't yet worked out why.

Monday 18 August 2014

Autumn Already?

It is strangely cold in Edinburgh. Last week was rainy, and today, though fine, is chilly. Two weeks ago I noticed with sorrow that the dog roses which burst cheerfully over the Historical Walls across from the supermarkets had blown, but I didn't think summer would be over so soon. Surely not. The last hurrah of summer comes in September, when B.A. and I go to Lazio and absorb Italian sun. I was shocked to discover that the school term has begun.

This morning began at 8 when I rolled out of bed, delighted that I didn't have a hangover from yesterday's Sunday Lunch in Corstorphine. I drank coffee while I listened to my Polish lesson. The dialogue was about the Polish economy and terribly optimistic. 

After I did some grammar exercises, I tackled the housework. Monday mornings are dedicated to cleaning the master bedroom and the library B.A. fashioned out of the old linen closet. And of course I did the laundry. As my last act of tidying in the library, I strung up the laundry cables. 

At noon, I wrote a column about the Middle Eastern Christians.

When that was finished, I sent a postcard in thanks for Sunday Lunch and shopped at the economical supermarkets. A friend once told me that only "students and immigrants" shop at Aldi and Lidl. I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. 

Snobbery about supermarkets is one aspect of British life I cannot take seriously. If a brand of beer costs 1.49 a bottle at Aldi, I am certainly not going to buy it for 2.15 a bottle at Sainsbury's. Of course,  the economy supermarkets might not have everything one is looking for, but one learns in time who is most likely to have what. Meanwhile, I am grateful that there are still proper butchers, fishmongers and cheesemongers in Edinburgh. And of course there is White Eagle for my Polish cookery needs.

On the way home I noticed a new crop of fuchsia-coloured dog roses in bloom. It is on the Aldi side of the roundabout, facing the Historical Wall. They have a delicious scent, heavy and rich. Perhaps summer is not quite over yet.