Cauld kail het up

I’m back on a few of my familiar themes here but with the odd wee extra bit included.

1 Of porridges and things

I’ve had some good plates of porridge over the last few months, in London and in Glasgow. Loka, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Gloucester Road, had opened since I was last in London in 2019 and walking past on my first afternoon, I’d spotted porridge on their breakfast menu. It was made with oat milk and came with a banana and peanut butter topping; I had to try that and was back early the next morning to avoid any rush. I needn’t have worried about not getting a table but instead began to be concerned about the place’s future as I was the only customer in a lovely bright room, though with maybe a few too many artificial flower hangings for my liking.

The lovely Loka in Gloucester Road, London where somebody knows how to make decent porridge

The plate of porridge was substantial, properly made and artfully decorated. I’d checked about any sweeteners (abominations) in advance and had refused honey; instead I got some blueberries and sliced strawberries as well as the advertised banana and peanut butter. I’ve previously criticised farantoosh toppings for porridge but I thoroughly approved of this one. The consistency of the peanut butter intrigued me and I worked out that it must have come from some form of squeezable tube. This has finally appeared in my local supermarket as peanut butter “drizzler” and I’ve been able to recreate the London porridge experience at home.

More traditional was the porridge I had at Moyra Janes in Kildrostan Street Glasgow a few weeks ago with Cousin Mairi and RMF. There was no mucking about with a classic here. Luckily Mairi had refused the honey, which I hadn’t noticed on the menu not having my glasses with me, and we enjoyed it topping-free. I wish more places would include porridge on their breakfast menu but not incompetently make something very nasty from a packet as I experienced many long years ago in an inner-Hebridean hotel that must remain nameless. The lad responsible had either never eaten porridge or had absolutely no shame. I was shocked into silence.

At Peckhams in Hyndland Road Glasgow, it wasn’t porridge I ordered last year but their fine-sounding Bircher muesli with berry compote and toasted seeds. When the waitress approached with her tray, I very nearly waved her away as I could see lettuce leaves on top and assumed she’d brought the wrong order but no, it was my bircher muesli! By now, I was well into my critical career and asked for an explanation: it was just a garnish, the startled lassie said. Everything else on their breakfast menu was savoury so I gathered they were just following orders – but really, was there nobody involved who had some basic culinary sense?

Doing a similar kind of thing is The Grind House in Glasgow’s Darnley Street where their icing sugar shaker wants confiscating. I first experienced their sprinklings when I ordered a scone and thought it was unnecessary but when it appeared next time on a companion’s French toast with bacon and maple syrup, I knew it was a serious problem they had. When the time came for me to order their French toast with caramelised apples and honey, I made sure to refuse both the honey and the sugar dusting as one element of sweetness is quite enough in my opinion for our teeth and the general health of the nation. When accompanied there by The Loon, I am not allowed to stray outwith my own order when making comments or requests after the terrible time when, from the toilet, he heard me cancelling the icing sugar on his choice of breakfast and he emerged with a distinct frown on his face at my affront to the server.

2 That old rapscallion

I don’t know if Nicky Haslam has divided the UK with his latest list of items that he considers “common”, but once again he has left me conflicted. (See Common Sins) What could he possibly have against hydrangeas, blush wine, coriander, craft gins, flavoured tonic waters or sideplates? However, I’m with him all the way when it comes to cushions on beds, the “See it, say it, sorted” slogan, folk saying “Let’s unpack that …” or “Sadly passed …”. Right in the middle of my judgment scale, as it’s a new one on me, is “Hauser & Wirth” which turns out to be “a vibrant program of art exhibitions, events, learning activities and artists’ residences which connect with the local community and landscape” in Bruton, Somerset. According to one review on tripadvisor.com, the art there while described as challenging, was found to be “ridiculous”: “old undies hanging on washing lines”, “a black tarry mess of mangled gigantic doll parts”, a “screwed-up piece of A4 paper on top of a cardboard box displayed with reverence as a limited edition”. I think Mr Haslam has once again surprised me as I couldn’t thole this kind of stuff myself.

Hauser & Wirth also have quite a number of “international contemporary and modern art” galleries around the world so this might well be some kind of artistic beef he has with them, unless it’s their American spelling of programme – which would be enough for me to condemn them too. Or does he have something against the hospitality side of their business? I see it includes a restaurant in Los Angeles and also The Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar where no doubt they’re cleaning up from the well-heeled monarchy groupies. £504 a night is a current offer.

As a postscript to the above, I was browsing in a Waterstones bookshop when I spotted in their “Scottish” section a big fancy book called The Fife Arms; it was wrapped up in cellophane so it couldn’t be opened. A note on the cover called it a “visually stunning guided tour” and “perfect for readers fascinated by luxury interiors”. It’s published by phaidon.com and priced at £90! You could get 3 and a bit of Mr Haslam’s tea towels for that.

3 Talking of King Charles

Having stood up for him in The Queen is Dead, I’m now going to praise him for his ban on foie gras being served in any royal residence; he’s described as a “longstanding opponent” of the cruel forcefeeding of geese and ducks to fatten their livers. You could have a look for Sean Coughlan’s article on the BBC website on 18 November – King Charles: Foie gras banned at royal residences. Also to his credit, I understand he’s planning to only allow fake fur at his coronation though it would be a few steps too far for him I suppose to ban the coronation. However, I believe there’s unlikely to be any kind of investiture for the new ‘Prince of Wales’.

4 Back in Edinburgh

It’s a while since I had anything to say about visiting our capital city (See Jaunt to Edinburgh and At the back end), but in late September I went to the City Art Centre to have a look at their Will Maclean exhibition – Points of Departure. I don’t know what Nicky Haslam would have made of it, but I thought it was great and I learned so much about a living Scottish artist of whom I was only vaguely aware.

I’d already spoken to one of the attendants about how the height of some of the exhibits were giving me a sore neck when, on my way downstairs, I happened to look into the narrow space between the sides of one set of steps and the upright glass panels; then after checking all of them, I had to about-turn and go straight back up to find her again. The oose that had gathered in these spaces was absolutely appalling: thick and almost black from what must have been years of neglect. The design of the stairs had clearly contributed to this accumulation as only the very narrowest nozzle could have been fitted to a vacuum to get in there and sook it up. My new friend the attendant was suitably horrified, though she did not agree with my line that the oose had been gathering since the gallery opened there in 1980. We were of one mind however that the designer of the staircase was at fault and he’d obviously never thought about its cleaning. Which reminds me: who goes up to dust those wooden beams high up in the Scottish Parliament debating chamber, and how often is it done? Maybe all planning committees for new or refurbished buildings should include a cleaner to rein in some of the dafter impractical designs.

5 And finally – “The English”

I gave a squeal of surprise and delight when I heard a mention of our old enemy The Countess of Sutherland in episode 5 of this most excellent drama serial which has been described as a “revisionist western”. (See “If I go there will be trouble And if I stay it will be double”, not to mention Highland and Island connections with slavery) The reference came from one of the many villains in the story, the owner of a cable company in Wyoming, boasting of his prowess with a buffalo rifle. He’d set out to slaughter as many as possible in order to starve out the native Americans; bullets weren’t working he said, but he knew that starvation would succeed. He claimed that he’d got his inspiration from the aforementioned countess who’d cleared his family from Scotland in 1819: what he’d learned from “that old bitch” as he called her was that you didn’t win by fighting fair, you needed to burn and starve your enemy.

His family had to start again in the USA and he’d used his fortune from the sale of the buffalo tongues (leaving the rest of their bodies to rot) to build what he called an “Indian school”; “Indians” entered it he said but only “Americans” left it. In spite of his tartan waistcoat and his “slainte mhath”, he said he wasn’t Scottish anymore so the native people had also to lose their identity. This reminded me straightaway of Sir John A Macdonald and what he got up to in Canada – see A mixter-maxter point 4. It’s also a salient reminder of how some of the persecuted can turn into the persecutors.

The young native boy, White Moon, briefly captured by this character and destined to be Americanised is rescued and re-appears at the end of the final episode as one of the stars of a Wild West show which is visiting London. He understands that he is in a “zoo” but believes this is preferable to any life he’d have back in the USA and he proudly recites his lineage, he knows his sloinneadh.

The English was written and directed by Hugo Blick and he consulted Crystal Echo Hawk of IllumiNative to try and get it ‘right’. I think he did an excellent job and I have only two toatie complaints! The buffalo-slaughterer said his family had been cleared from “Strathaven” – I didn’t hear him clearly say the name which was pronounced as three syllables and so checked the subtitles. This might have been an auto-correct on Mr Blick’s computer which stayed in the script, for surely he didn’t really confuse Strathaven in South Lanarkshire, where the old bitch’s remit certainly did not run, with Strathnaver in Sutherland where the folk who rented the land were at the mercy of her and her husband?

And then, right at the end we’re told that Buffalo Bill and his wild west show toured “England and Wales in 1903”. They did, but they were also in Scotland in 1904, presumably as part of the same tour. They had previously performed in Glasgow from October 1891 to February 1892 on a tour which had also taken them to Germany, Belgium, England and Wales. It was during this first visit that the Lakota interpreter, George Crager, sold the famous Ghost Shirt to Kelvingrove Museum – see Bringing them all back home Part 1. For more information, have a look at https://dennistounconservationsociety.org.uk/page/062.buffalo-bill

Anyway, once the World Cup is over, I’m going to be re-watching this series at least once; it’ll be on the iPlayer for another eleven months so I have lots of time to get to grips with the plot twists, admire the authentic casting and the acting performances, take in the details of the costumes, appreciate the wide (Spanish) skies, flinch anew at the violent assaults, enjoy the wicked getting their comeuppances, greet at the ending, but above all appreciate how far Mr Blick has helped to take the western genre from the lazy stereotypes of my childhood. I thank him for it.

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