Monday, December 28, 2009
Going through Edinburgh airport on my way to the former DDR always has it's pleasures. This time though it wasn't just the duty free but the chance to fly posh with Lufthansa and not the usual trash-class with Ryanair - pirates so brazen that they should have a base somewhere off east Africa. However, on safely negotiating the security checks, a day after another religious nutter almost bombed yon flight to Detroit, i was rewarded by a display advertising the new Old Pulteney expression WK499.
This isn't the whisky merchants of Inbhir Uige up in Caithness - home to yon bigoted cooncillors - trying to emulate Irn Bru's WKD alcopop but a version of Wick's finest export designed for duty free. Why should those who deign to take the most destructive form of travel be allowed the special privilege of duty free whisky? Answers on postcard to Friends of the Earth whose carpark i understand used to resemble Cameron Toll's at the Boxing Day sales. And that includes a certain ex-FoE chief who is now the czar/ caesar/ kaiser for freedom of information or something like that at the Scots' Parly.
On to the whisky though and this expression of Caithness' own Gaelic heritage is something to savour. It comes at cask strength of 52% but has no age statement. Younger than 10 though, i'd bet. Taste is described as 'sweet, soft and delicately complex with chewy vanilla and warm spices, with a lingering warm finish.' I'd go with most of that. There's definately some Chai Tea in there, some toffee and more spices than a shelf in Khushi's kitchen. As to the finish, it's not just warm but firey - though letting it stand for 2 or 3 minutes does tame it somewhat. OP seems to be a quality dram in all its expressions and at £32 for a cask-strength, it's well worth getting hold off. It still has a way to go though to match the SMWS's single cask 7yo OP released a year or so ago whose title i cannot remember.
Let's hope some of this uisge-beatha makes it to those Caithness cooncillors who seek to deny Gallaibh and her Gollachs her heritage and bilingual present. I would also wholeheartedly recommend having a dram of OP WKD whilst reading R.Crumb's brilliant and frightening pictorial account of the Book of Genesis. Whoever said that the bible was FCKD up?
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Hey, there's a recession on. Factories, companies and shops are closing and shedding jobs faster than an ascendant Nu-Labour minister can shed dodgy facial hair (think Peter Mandelson, Alastair Darling and possibly Claire Short). So, according to the laws of Fool Britannia and her history of perma-war, go and boost the numbers of squaddies. Hence, we see 1000 new members of Her Majesty's Taleban Bait take her schilling. Many of them, by their own admission, have few if any qualifications and little hope of another job in their ane wee pairt of Scotland.
In recent days, we've seen much discussion about council and government budgets. The Hootsmon/ Scottish Daily Mail has trumpeted about 'reasonable' opposition to expenditure on Gaelic, as if Gaelic script costs more than English. Glasgow has threatened to close libraries and swimming pools. And no financial support is forthcoming for traditional and threatened distilleries such as Tamdhu or the Johnnie Walker base in Kilmarnock.
War, though, is always a good investment. So, does Gordon Brown's 'moral compass' dictate that on top of bankrupt Britain's £multi-billion deficit in financial terms, we can add a cost of blood?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Roc na Gàidhlig saw three excellent Gaelic-singing rock bands of differing genre deliver some roasting new Gaelic music to a bitterly cauld Forest Cafe in the new Gaidhealtachd of Dùn Eideann. I once saw the Forest described as a kind of 'hippie Starbucks'. Does that mean a laidback cafe with broken windows and one toilet cubicle per 100 people? Whatever, in this age of cynical capitalist greed that sees bankers getting golden handshakes while all sorts of working folk - including those at Johnnie Walker and Tamdhu - facing the dole, it's good to see some kind of cooperative venture apparently succeeding.
Hey, there may be some tosspots involved in these things but that's life. Show me one microcosm of human activity that doesn't include some conflict with those involved.
Speaking of tosspots... senile Tory Hibee and Edinburgh Evil News columnist John Gibson failed to show up for Roc na Gàidhlig. As did his fellow pro-ignorance campaigners Iain Whyte and Michael Blackley. If only they'd known that Edinburgh Gael and punk 'legend' Ruairidh Polloi was handing out whisky to all who wished a wee slug of the uisge-beatha.
High-Commissioner aint really my taste but recent weeks have seen me have plenty of the good stuff. Frau Wind and Cloud was fortunate enough to score a birthday-present bottle of Cadenhead's 2001 bottling of an 11yo bourbon hogshead Inchgower at 61%. Beautiful stuff and classic Inchgower. A fruit-salad nose gives way to honey and salt on the tongue. Superb stuff. It also goes great with 'Salzige Heringe' - a kind of salty liquorice chewy sweet from the north of Germany.
It's also the time of year that our Deutsch freunden start eating the stollen that they baked a few weeks previously. This sugary fruit-loaf type of thing goes well with our old Ileach friend Lagavullin 16. The 'Lag a' Mhuillinn' btw was picked up for a mere £30 odd from Wine Rack - another store facing the good auld capitalist axe.
With the boom and bust brothers of Tory and New Labour looking to win the right to run/ruin 'Great' Britain sometime next year - and both of them seeking to plunge the Great Satan into even deeper debt with more spending on nuclear weapons and foreign wars - then it has to be time for Scots to seriously think about going it alone.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This week saw Edinburgh's much maligned cooncil publish it's Gaelic Language Plan. This has been a rude awakening to those in Dùn Eideann who claim that the city has absolutely no Gaelic history or present. These people include perennial bigots like the Tory Hibee and all round jakie John Gibson who has been peddling his drivel in the much declining local Evening News for longer than i can remember. Add to this Michael Blackley's biased piece of 'news' on this issue and city Tory fuehrer Iain Whyte (note the Gaelic name) who claims that Gaelic is as foreign as French or German!
I wonder if Iain Shyte could point to many French/German placenames in Edinburgh? Or detail French/German church services going back centuries? Or famous poets of these tongues buried here? Of local school kids or rock bands using these languages? No, of course he can't and that's why Iain Whyte is just another ignoramus and bigot.
Perhaps he should read his own council's Language Plan which states:
Many place names derive from Gaelic, such as Balerno (Baile Àirneach, sloe settlement), Craigentinny (Creag an t-Sionnaich, fox rock), and Dalry (Dail Fhraoich, heather slope). Edinburgh, through much of its history the nation’s capital and leading centre of commerce, learning and the arts, has continually drawn people of all languages and cultures, including Scotland’s Gaels. Among the best known of those who spent significant parts of their lives in the capital over the centuries are poets, writers and musicians: from Donnchadh Bàn Mac-an-t-Saoir (Duncan Ban Macintyre, 1724-1812), who lived and wrote here in the later 18th century and whose grave lies in Greyfriar’s churchyard; Niall MacLeòid (Neil MacLeod, 1843-1924), perhaps the most popular Gaelic poet of the 19th century, Alasdair MacIlleMhìcheil (Alexander Carmichael, 1832-1912), editor of the folklore collection Carmina Gadelica, the 20th century poets Somhairle MacGill-Eain (Sorley MacLean, 1911-96) and Deòrsa mac Iain Deòrsa (George Campbell Hay, 1915-84), to Donnie Munro of Runrig.
The full plan is available to read by clicking here.
The plan could be stronger - for example, there is no stand alone Gaelic primary school yet in the pipeline. Glasgow is already looking to open its 2nd such school and Inverness is now planning to extend it's own bunsgoil due to demand. However, it will be a pleasure to see 'Fàilte do Dhùn Eideann' signs on our city boundaries and local signs in Tollcross.
Gaelic of course plays a major part in Edinburgh's history - we can see this in the local placenames left by past Gaelic-speaking communities as well as in the stories of past kings such as Malcolm Canmore. However, Gaelic is still a living part of Edinburgh. It may be a small part but do we really want to go down the road of denying 'minorities' rights and services?
One example of this is the forthcoming Roc na Gàidhlig 2009 which will showcase some contemporary Gaelic music and culture and not just auld folk songs. Funnily enough it features two Edinburgh bands who sing in Gaelic. Maybe the likes of John Gibson, Iain White (or Johann Blanc to give him his preferred Franco-Germanic moniker) and Michael Blackely could make it along, if not to throw horns at the Gaelic thrash of Atomgevitter, then to engage in some robust discussion with young Gaels. See you at the Forest folks.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Rumours have it that Jambo peer George Foulkes has been seen traipsin the streets of Edinbugger with his auld pal Jack McConnell who in celebration of Oidhche Shamhna/ Halloween has dressed himself up as 'an ex Worst Minister'. Foulkes himself has been chappin doors, claiming to be a 'Socialist Lord', singing 'The Sash' and asking folk if he can have their nuts.
This comes on the same day that the Catholic Church has announced to the world that Halloween is 'Anti-Christian'. Foulkes and New Labour have responded with a press-release issued to them by their new Unionist allies, the Orange Order, in which they claim that the Pope himself is the 'Anti-Christ'. Elsewhere, ordinary people will ignore the nonsense of both the Vatican and Orange Order and celebrate this auld pagan Gaelic festival by having a laugh.
Oidhche Shamhna (Samhain's Eve) marked the end of summer and beginning of winter in the ancient Gaelic calendar. It was thought that at this time, the 'door' between our world and the world of the dead would be opened slightly, allowing for spirits and other creatures to sample the other side. This obviously was in pre-enlightenment days. However, science and reason have still to reach some quarters and i don't just mean the scaremongers, bigots and outright nutters of the Vatican and Orange Order who still peddle an altogether more sinister fantasy. We still have 'mystical Celts' who actually believe in sithichean, troichean, taibhsean, bocain, manaidhean, eich-uisge and other mythological supernatural beings from Gaelic tradition. These mystics and boolshitters are happy to use science in the form of the Internet to propagate their delusion and sales-pitches though funnily enough, few of them actually seem to be 'Celts' in the sense that they speak a Celtic tongue.
One such place is the 'Tir na nOg Holistic Centre' which despite being in Scotland, uses the Irish Gaelic for it's name. It is celebrating 'Samhain' (which simply means November to modern Gaels) with a firewalking session. Well-off mystics who possess more money than sense (and probably an accent that is more Cambridge than Carlabhagh) will have to part with £60 for the privilege though.
As they say... "A ceremonial fire will be lit and carefully tended as the group spends the evening in activities which will strengthen the sense of connection to ancestral lines, bring into focus the hopes and dreams waiting to be realised, and identify and break through fears or blocks standing in the way of those dreams. The evening’s main event, walking on red hot coals, will be a symbolic moment of incredible power - firewalking is a metaphor for all those moments in life when we have a choice..."
Curiously enough, traditional pagan sacrifice and blood-letting seems to have escaped transition into modern 'Celtic' celebrations.
Choice? Well, i certainly don't choose to be fleeced by charlatans whose idea of 'Celtic' is some mystical otherworld which probably never existed. And, if it did exist, there's probably a good reason why our ancestors stopped throwing rowan berries at water-horses - i.e. they eventually realised that such creatures don't fkn exist!
This all reminds me of Sharon MacDonald's excellent, 'Reimagining Culture', an academic study of a real Celtic community in Skye. In it, MacDonald talks of the White Settlers who came to northern Skye expecting to experience a Celtic paradise a la Tir nan Og. Instead, they found to their disgust crofters who drove tractors and shell-suited youths who spoke Gaelic amongst each other and laughed when the Settlers entered the local shop. Worse than that, the Celtic locals were so blinded by modern technology that they refused to share their knowledge of local fairies and keening at wakes.
So, this Oidhche Shamhna, the only spirits I'll be meeting will bear names like Ardbeg, Inchgower and Laphroaig.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Oi Polloi's recent Autumnal jaunt to Deutschland on their 'Roctober' tour was a chance to indulge big time. However, the immersion into a life of loud punk rock, lots of good beer, irregular inputs of nutrition, daily autobahn travel and a lack of sleep left me a shadow of my former self. How can middle-aged men (well, 35 upwards) do this on a regular basis?
On the plus side, German beer is always an attraction. The trip through Edinburgh's duty-free is aye a chance to check out the whisky. Free samples were had of Balvenie Rum Cask - excellent stuff - and the Auchentoshan desk was surrounded by Polloi and their hangers-on. The Auch 18yo went down very well, and it wasn't even midday yet.
Once in Germany, talk turned to a bunch of loony anarchists who call themselves 'Anti-Deutsch' and who threaten to picket and disrupt any activities they deem to be 'anti-Semitic'. As this lot support Bush and Blair's war in Iraq, frown upon the speaking of German or Gaelic (even in their respective countries) as 'nationalist', and support Israeli phosphorous bombing of schools... they need a very wide net to catch all us 'anti-Semites'. Fortunately for us, this quasi-religious sect has very few hands with which to grab yon all-encompassing net and their activity was limited to grunts of dissaproval and calls for Anarcho-Semitic revolution from a colourless wee blog, written in...er... German. I guess their Hebrew aint up to much yet.
Interestingly, 'Semite' refers to the family of languages of the Palestinian region and included Arabic and Hebrew and gave birth to the subset of myths known as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. One language says 'shalom' and the other 'salaam'. How different can they be? Not much. But why let logic get in the way of good divisive blood-spilling mumbo-jumbo?
Meanwhile, England's very own bunch of loony politicos, the BNP, are apparently in turmoil after fat toff Griffin's pretty crap performance on Question Time. Griffin, despite being a twisted Tory bastard, is apparently the 'nice' face of this bunch of nazis. However, it seems that the 'not so nice' other face is gurning big time about their 'weak' leader. Is there a split on the horizon? Could be, especially when this hugely homophobic party start finding out that their overwhelmingly male membership aint actually that straight.
Worse than this though, at least on a personal level, was the earth-shaking and techno-esque (think of Joey Beltram and NJoi) snoring of Norman Silver. Worse even than the distribution - 'according to anarchist principles' - of a bottle of Queen Margot in Hamburg. It has to be said though that the punters enjoyed their Scottish windae-cleaner. Let's hope they get the chance to try the good stuff.
And, the 'good stuff' has to include Bunnahabhain's Darach Ur.
Slàinte mhath to a good night's sleep.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Deja vu or what? Watching the parade of portly white Old Etonian multi-millionaires at the Tory conference took me back a few years though this time, things are a wee bit different. This time, the posh boys have been caught with their hands in the till. Yet, despite the expenses fiddle, the heirs to hereditary fortunes are telling us to tighten our belts and prepare for wage-freezes should they take power next year.
Anyone who can remember the unrest of the Miners' Strike and Poll Tax defiance knows what's in store.
Take one wee trip through Conservative blog world and through the likes of the Tax Payers' Alliance et al and you'll find numerous rabid Brit-Nat right-wingers, English nationalists, anti-Europe xenophobes and Tory libertarians frothing at the mouth about the need to end the NHS, smash the BBC, promote tax-cuts for the rich etc...
(Strangely though for 'Conservatives' who are anxious to defend 'traditional' Britain, they seem only too keen to stop support for indigenous British languages such as Gaelic and Welsh.)
Yet, as reported today, Tory MP Eleanor Laing has yet to repay £25k as trumpeted by rotund toff David Cameron. Several Tory and Labour MPs have agreed to 'step down' at the next election - however, this means that they will still be able to pocket their very generous pensions. It's worth remembering that many of these scroungers are also on the payrolls of various companies who reward them well for their 'work' as 'consultants' and directors. Compare this to the whinging of both Tory and Labour about dole scroungers.
The Tories too seem set to continue Labour's fashion for promoting unelected friends to positions of power via the House of Lords. It is amazing that this lot are anywhere near power in the year 2009. Ok, so they may have one or two token blecks popping up amongst the jowelly white fizzogs and one or two horse-faced ladies given a temporary reprieve from maintaining family values in the home but it's a sad reflection on Labour rule that a bunch of Victorian-value junkies are within a bawhair of power.
The only fear is that the English will turn to neo-fascist heidbangers like UKIP and the BNP in protest instead of more reasonable alternatives such as the Greens. Fortunately, Scotland still shows every sign of putting a more progressive foot forward by increasing the vote of the SNP. But, will it be enough to sever the ties between us and the backward, corrupt and increasingly unnecessary Westminster parliament?
Credit: the above photo was kindly donated to Tocasaid by the Daily Mail (still reeling from the Twitter campaign to subvert their racist poll), who also pointed out that David Cameron and Boris Johnson are nowhere to be seen in it. The names are as follows:
1. Arrogant Wank 2. Arrogant Wank 3. Arrogant Wank 4. Arrogant Wank 5. Arrogant Wank 6. Arrogant Wank 7. Arrogant Wank 8. Arrogant Wank 9. Arrogant Wank
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Our lungs may be glad for the absence of smoke and many of us still glad for the presence of strong whisky. Though i understand that the Irish legend Christy Moore has had to cut back on that too in recent years. Fortunately, he's still visiting his usual haunts with his passionate and political ballads and singalongs. Scotland is doing reasonably well with gigs in Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow coming up very soon.
Will be looking forward to the crowd-pleaser Viva la Quince Brigada - the account of Irish volunteers who stood against church and fascism in Spain. Worth remembering the Scottish sacrifice too, as detailed in the excellent Homage to Caledonia. With the attempts of certain neo-fascist parties to gain representation in our parliaments - it's worth remembering that fascism will use democracy if possible, before snuffing it out. No freedom for the scum who would deny it to others. So, raise a glass to those fought and still fight against fascism.
Clach air an càrn.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
A new report from Highland Council has detailed the higher attainment of Gaelic Medium pupils. New report, but not really 'news'.
"Pupils learning Gaelic "match and better" their peers in other subjects, Highland Council has said.
It said figures compiled from SQA exam results showed more credit level awards were attained in the language than for English.
The council said youngsters taking Gaelic medium education also performed well at maths."
It really isn't rocket science - not in this day and age. Until the 70s, when Gaelic was still being beaten and ridiculed out of kids whose families and communities spoke nothing else, it was thought by some that belting a child into speaking only one tongue would set him up in the world. Surely in Scotland, in 2009, there is no excuse for leaving a child with only 'one window on the world'. Gaelic speaking kids even speak better English, if that's what matters to you.
In short, monoglots are in the minority in the world. Most people can speak more than one language. Many can speak 3 or more local tongues. The benefits have been documented by the likes of Chomsky, Colin Baker, Richard Johnstone and Sorace. It's been recognised in Wales and in the Basque Country for decades now.
Let's leave the old mindset behind. The full report on BBC Scotland can be read here.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Dougie MacLean & Kathy Mattea - Turning Away
Progress marches on. Anything else is by nature 'conservative', i.e. backward and stuck in the past. But progress can also include a recognition and a will to retain that which is of value. Is it part of the 'Scots cringe' that sees us let that which is of immense value slip away? Gaelic is one example. It is at the heart of our identity as Scots. It is our oldest tongue - already producing classical poetry when the English language was barely an offshoot of Germanic Anglo-Saxon. Many foreigners cannot understand why most Scots don't speak it. Especially in today's age when the cognitive benefits of bi and multi-lingualism are evident - from Chomsky's 'innate grammar mechanism' in children's brains to the advantages of bilingualism as evidenced by Colin Baker in Bangor. Hey! Gaelic and other languages are GOOD for kids. Maybe we were WRONG to waste money and time beating it out of them in the first place?
"On Loch Etive they have worked with their Highland dreams
By Kilcrennan they have nourished in the mountain streams
And in searching for acceptance they had given it away
Only the children of their children know the price they have to pay"
It's also the wee treasures we let slip too - and often without a fight.
Alcohol is important to us apparently. But that doesn't stop multi-national companies like Diageo, who made some £2billion in profit last year, from destroying communities at a whim. They also hold many other fragile and rural distilleries in their hands and we have to be grateful for it. But, when the goodwill runs out...?
Even, our pubs and inns are routinely destroyed - either by voracious 'pub chains' who turn them into plastic, soulless shells or by arrogant incomers with no thought for local culture.
Some examples spring to mind.
The Tron Tavern in Edinburgh. Once a traditional 'Scottish' pub but one without a 'theme'. Different floors, wide selection of drinks, traditional musicians coming and going. Now, it's so shit, even students don't go there.
The latest which has been hitting headlines and forums is the demise of the Glenuig Inn in Moidart. Gleann Uige only got a road linking it to the rest of the mainland in the 60s and has remained a relatively traditional but still vibrant part of the Gaidhealtachd. From it came the three MacDonald brothers - excellent Gaelic-speaking world-renowned pipers in the traditional mold. The Inn too, until recently was oak-lined, warm and welcoming and a hub of the community. However, it's been bought over by a 'blow-in' from England who wants to turn it into a 'niche enterprise' and 'green' business. This translates as, getting rid off the good beers, ripping out the auld oak interior, turning into a cold and characterless shell, farting about with opening hours and literally telling locals and tourists alike to 'take a hike' around the nearby peninsula if they disagree. His latest 'green' venture, as reported in the Times, is to buy the anchorage and rent off the moorings to rich yacht owners and to make sure the local fishermen go the same way as the local inn he has destroyed.
And, our new 'eco-landlord' can't understand why the locals are resisting his Cromwellian attempt to civilise them. This guy was born in the wrong age. Colonial India would've been his very own 'niche'. Surely, it's time for us to take back control? Leave the Scots cringe in the past where it belongs.
"In darkness we do what we can
In daylight we’re oblivion
Our hearts so raw and clear
Are turning away, turning away from here"
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Chaidh a bhogadh bho chionn bliadhna aig Mòd na h-Eaglaise Bhrice le comhlan-ciùil mar Na Gathan ga fhàilteachadh gu faramach. Gu dearbh bha cruaidh fheum againn air seo. Carson nach bu choir Gaidheil agus mòr-sluagh na h-Alba gu lèir seirbhis fhaiginn airson an cuid airgid-cise? Bhoill, tha e againn agus ged nach urrainn dhan mhòr-chuid fhaighinn fhathast air teilidh àbhaisteach, bidh aon 200,000 ga choimhead. Chan eil seo gu leòr ge-tà agus se an dleastanas aig ceannardan a’ BhBC a chur air Freeview cho luath sa ghabhas. Tha sianal ‘Tele G’ air Freeview mar-tha, mar sin tha beàrn ann dha. Ach, cò tha ruith Tele-G? Chan eil fhios, a-rèir choltais. Ach, the faileadh North Korea air. Sgrìobh chun nan ceannard is dèan iarrtas airson BBC Alba air Freeview.
It was launched a year ago at the Falkirk Mod with bands like Na Gathan giving it a noisy welcome. There was a dire need for this. Why shouldn't Gaels and the Scottish public in general not have a service in return for their taxes? Well, we do have it now and though it's still not available to the majority of viewers, it still attracts some 200 000 viewers to watch SPL football, shinty, documentaries, Scottish and international news and children's shows. This isn't enough though and the high-heid-yins at the BBC have a duty to put in on Freeview. There is a channel, 'Tele-G', on Freeview already, so there is space for a Gaelic channel. But, who runs it? No one knows apparently. Smells like North Korea. Write to the BBC Trust heads and demand that BBC Alba goes on Freeview as soon as.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
A friend just returned from Eilean Ile with a bottle or two of 'real ale' from the 'boutique' Islay Ales. Interesting, at first. But, if ever there was an example of small not being beautiful, then this is it. In short, the Islay 'Single Malt' Ale is one of the foulest tasting liquids i have ever tasted. Notes? Well, carpet-underlay gives way to motor oil and the general heavy and dark consistency would no doubt go a long way to protecting any natural wood you may have outdoors.
This stuff is virtually undrinkable. Apparently, Bruichladdich provide some of their wort to Islay Ales for production into ale. I hope it turns out better than this. Otherwise Bruichladdich would be better leaving it where it is and distilling it. As to their other products, I have tasted their 'Saligo', which while drinkable, hardly sets the heather alight.
Which leads me on to question the existence of 'Islay Ales'. Apparently a small enterprise set up by a couple of English ex-pats and a German, it seems to offer negligible local benefit, such as employment, to the local community. The locals, as far as i can tell, prefer the 'big bad' brands available in local pubs. If Islay Ales conform to the strict German purity laws, then Scots' Law has interfered somewhere along the line. I'll stick to my Becks, danke sehr.
If you wish a good Scots ale that actually tastes good, then go for the superb Innis and Gunn. Matured in oak for 3 months, as opposed to Islay Ales' bottle-conditioned', it has to be one of the tastiest beers on the market.
Final conclusions? Incomers often bring a lot of good to communities, but is Islay Ales just a pastime for some middle-class English/German ex-pats? Even the Gàidhlig on the label is dodgy - Leann an Ile? - why not Leann Ileach? Unless it's a clever pun on the well-known port-à-beul 'Sann an Ile'? Lastly...
- not every beverage from Islay is worth buying
- 'real' and 'small' are often used to cover up 'crap' and 'amateurish'
- sometimes the native culture - i.e. the Islay whiskies - is far superior to fashionable 'boutique' enterprises
- Bruichladdich should leave their wort where it is and distill it
- incomers should have the freedom to develop their little hobbies but it would be nice if it benefited the local community in some way
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Yes, it's the nature of the beast. Nàdar na beiste rather than Airigh nam Beist. Diageo have just posted £2billion in profits. Sounds good except is was down slightly. The fact that they have made some $2 less than they did last year means that they have to 'rationalise'. And, what could be more rational than a whole raft of job losses?
I'm not a Diageo doomsayer. The nature of the beast is that we live in a more-or-less capitalist society with some socialist reins to make sure the beast doesn't eat everything. Diageo keeps open many small distilleries. But can it ever be justified to sacrifice hundreds of jobs and history in one fell swoop? Let's have the community buyouts.
Yet while Diageo is 'streamlining' in Kilmarnock, it is also unveiling a new Manager's Choice range of single-cask bottlings from it's range of distilleries. 'Good news' thought many when it was announced. Tasting some cask-strength drams straight from the tocasaid from the likes of Lagavulin, Inchgower and even Glenkinchie got many a mooth slavering. Then came the price tag. Between £200 and £300 per bottle!!! An ann às an rian a th'ad?! The Keepers of the Quaich, above, may be pleased but many of us plebes won't get a sniff at it. I can't see the Diageo stall at next year's Whisky Fringe handing out free drams of the Mason's Choice.
Fortunately, we also have 'Our Ane Choice'. So, it's down to places like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society vaults where a huge range of single-cask whiskies can be tasted before bought. The SMWS Vaults aint exactly a proletarian drinking-den along the lines of the Bothan Eoropaidh in Lewis but if you like serious whisky, it's the place to go. Therefore, i picked up one of their new Caol Ila bottlings (cask 53.131 'Turbuso Humo', 9yo, 67.9%) at a mere £38. Diageo will apparently release their Caol Ila manager's choice in March 2010 at a hefty £300. You do the sums.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
What a start to the new fitba season. Compassion is the IN-WORD. Having shown compassion to Al-Megrahi, I now call on Scots' Justice Secretary Coinneach MacAsgaill, he of good Isle of Lewis stock, to show equal compassion to Gary Caldwell of Glesgay Celtic, Christian 'Nada' Nade of Hearts and the high-heid-yins of Diageo. For they aint getting SFA from me.
The last 2 or 3 weeks, have seen Gary Caldwell outshine himself as an arsehole at every opportunity. Fine for Celtic, but his performance in Scotland's 4-0 drubbing by whale-killing alcohol-taxing Norway is unforgivable. Christian Nade has apparently been a professional footballer and striker for 9 years in which time he has 'amassed' 19 goals - that's 2.1 per annum. Why are cash-strapped Hearts paying this dud's wages and giving him games? His lumbering around the centre circle in Hearts' first leg game against Dinamo Zagreb was an embarrassing advert for Scottish football. Diageo are looking to sack hundreds of whisky jobs in Kilmarnock, simply because their profits are 'down' to £2billion.
On the bright side, the Yanks have realised that boycotting Scotland is not feasible. Refusing to use tarmacked roads, penicillin, television and phones has proved to be a step too far for the 0.0003% of Americans who could place Scotland on a map and have actually heard of Al-Megrahi or Lockerbie. Hearts' redeemed themselves in the second leg against Zagreb. I also hear from a Lochend Jambo and local punk rocker that he terrorised some 'Hibee Yahs' who were cheering on Dundee United in Mathers a few weeks ago. Apparently Hibs are the 'flair team' of Auld Reekie and Hearts are too un-PC. So, the 'Sex and the City' question this week is... Would Ben Fogle support Hibs?
Also, was good to see diving cheat Eduardo get collared by UEFA, much to the chagrin of Arsene Whinger of Arsenal. Now, let's see if the ugly sisters of the Old Firm promote the same justice when playing their fellow Scottish clubs.
As festival time draws to a close and thousands of zany Ben Fogle clones head back to the Great Satan, i managed to catch the free Rough Cut Nation exhibition of graffiti at the Portrait Gallery. It wasn't as intoxicating as the excellent Whisky Fringe two weeks ago but i was fair chuffed to see someone had captured Hibs' new forward line - see above. They might even score more goals than goalie MaKalamity can flap into his own net, but they won't get into many Edinburgh 'nightspots'.
Friday, August 21, 2009
It is possible that Gaelic-language feature film Seachd has awakened some awareness in Hollywood of the Gaelic tongue. That said, US 'awareness' of the outside world can be bewildering at times - it seems that some of them are 'aware' that our NHS is a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists. Does that then put Stornoway's Ospadal nan Eilean up there with Taleban controlled Afghanistan?
Actually, it transpires that Glasgow born director Kevin MacDonald - he of Last King of Scotland fame - is the one seeking a young Gael for his forthcoming Romans-get-humped-in-Scotland epic 'Eagle of the Ninth'(obviously George Burley was not in charge of early Celtic battleplans). With or without US finance, any awareness that Scotland was historically not a nation of W.A.S.P.s is to be welcomed. The English language itself a mere bairn compared to the Celtic tongues and this moreso in Scotland. The earliest classical Gaelic and Brythonnic literature comes from the 6th century. The English language's first great 'bard' Chaucer is from the 14th. In other words, Chaucer is closer to JK Rowling than he is to the early Celtic bards.
However, there are some doubts as to the historical accuracy of Gaelic as the tongue of the Romans' enemies here. Pictish probably was the commonly spoken tongue though recent archaeological evidence apparently shows that Argyll was settled by the Scotti/Gaels a lot earlier than was previously thought. Monoglot pedants and Scottish cringers will love this wee stooshie but overlook the fact that though the early tribes of Alba in 200AD may or may not have spoken Gaelic, they certainly weren't speaking fkn English!
Filming apparently starts in October in Wester Ross and Loch Lomondside.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
It's back. Ok, it's now called Holyrood 9a. I suspect the namechange is an attempt to stop the auld clientele of 'goths, punks, gays, students and bikers' returning from their new haunt at the Auld Hoose up the road.
Essentially though, it's the same place but spruced up a little. Same old seating plan, same old dark wood, same bar more or less... and all the auld memories come flooding back. Except the auld 'alternative' punters are eslewhere. And it's got a huge range of good beers, everything from Stella and some strong continental classics like Chimay and Duvel to one or two Scottish ales too. It also seems to have turned into a boutique-burger kind of place but with a reasonable selection of veggie meals too.
It's also got a fairly interesting and fairly priced selection of malts which are arranged on some high glass shelves. Asking for the Bunnahabhain 18yo started the ball rolling for an act of balancing by the barmaid on top of a shaky metal ladder. It looked strangely like Fringe pavement theatre. Despite being on the top step and on her tiptoes, the bottle was fished from the shelf with fingertips and passed on to the next link in the chain. This process was repeated as the also requested Bruichladdich 18yo bides on the top shelf. This leads me to ask - Sex in the City style, 'Are the 18yo Ileachs the scud-mags of the whisky world?'
Both these malts were very easy-drinking and pleasant. Frau Wind & Cloud commented that these are the kind of drams you would get someone who 'doesnae like whisky'. The Bunnahabhain came in at a very tasty £2.75. Also spotted on the shelves, at various altitudes, were the likes of Scapa 16, Aberlour A' Bunadh (only £3.50ish for a cask-strength), Bruichladdich Waves and Links as well as the usual Satanic Diageo regulars. One or two interesting blends too, such as Praban na Linne's Mac na Mara, which is handy if you happen to be drinking with the Lord George Foulkes and are sinking them faster than Hibs' goalies flap balls into their own net.
Not sure which kind of punters they hope to attract in the long run. Students probably figure as do MSPs perhaps. Let's hope that the legions of yahs and Ben Fogle clones with their absurd fashions (think of Haircut 100 or young Tories high on a cocktail of Babycham and anal-relaxants) deem the Holyrood to be too close to Dumbiedykes for their safety. I can't see the punks returning though. All in all, well worth a visit. Especially if you combine it with a cèilidh to Bannermans down the road as detailed previously.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Apparently it was the biggest gathering of the clans since Culloden though i'm not sure if the many rotund and kilted Americans here in the shadow of Arthur's Seat could have charged the guns of Butcher Cumberland. Making it to their coach in the car park 200 metres away was the best Highland charge they could muster.
Clans are something most Scots rarely think about these days. They do have their historical place and as such are of interest to some. Tourists like it. And chinless toffs with not-very-Scottish accents and certainly no Gaelic seem to love it and fight over the right to gain their 'clan seat' and play at being laird. Reminds me of Oi Polloi's angry classic singalong 'Take Back the Land' from their Fuaim Catha LP:
"I'm the clan chief o.k. yah
I support Scotland when they play rugger
But an independent country? there I'd draw the line
I own this land it's mine all mine."
I was amused though to see, in the 'clan village', a wee tent for 'Clan Paisley'. The only tartan i've seen in Paisley were the Burberry baseball caps on wee radges running from the cops and towards their own rough-bounds of Ferguslie Park. I understand though that clan warfare is still a regular occurence in auld FP.
The Gathering was not without it's good points though. Dougie Maclean sings of love with haunting melodies recalling memories of his father and fore-fathers who actually worked the Highland soil, rather than owning it. His softly spoken politics, humour and warmth speak louder than the combined ranks of professional politicians in New Labour and the Tories who still use scaremongering to keep us tied to Westminster.
From there it was to Satan's lair, sorry Diageo's whisky tent, where we managed to blag ourselves into the one or two remaining seats for their guide through some regular malts under the tutelage of Dave Broom and Charlie Maclean. It was beginners stuff but 6 free malts, inlcluding Lagavulin and Caol Ila are not to be sniffed at. Unfortunately, the Special Releases Masterclass, were a few drams too far.
And, as we rolled out of Diageo's bevy bothy, who walked past us but the aforesaid Dougie carrying a bottle of Edradour's new expression Caledonia. 'Is that open yet Dougie?', 'Aye, here, have a dram'. 'Slàinte mhath gu dearbh!'
There are no tasting notes other than it's 46% and on the occasion, it certainly was the uisge-beatha. Aye, and Dougie Maclean was a gent. Catch him at the next available opportunity.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
The first 'Sabbath ferry' has come and gone, with the cheers of hundreds of well-wishers replaced by the normality of everyday public transport that most of Scotland normally enjoys. It's early days, but the Calvinist god has yet to visit his wrath upon CalMac or those islanders who have campaigned long and hard for this service. The hardline Presbyterians, despite their warnings of dire consequences, have gone back to bickering amongst themselves. The purer they get, the fewer. But for the rest of us, the dark ages are receding into the past.
Leodhas agus Na h-Eileanan Siar remain remarkable places. They possess beauty and culture. And a declining population.
So what now? Well, despite the progress-phobic Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the islands have two hardworking representatives in both the Edinburgh and London parliaments so things aren't looking that bad. Here though, is an opinion of a Gaelic-speaking outsider.
Gaelic - Use it or lose it. It is a national treasure and the Islands are probably the last place where Gaelic is still used in industries like crofting and fishing, the media, in cultural events and now at official level too. As Brian Wilson of the West Highland Free Pravda once said, 'there is no value in just being the same as everyone else'. The Welsh do a lot more for their language than native Gaels do. Gaelic Medium Education should be the standard for all kids in the Western Isles. At the very least, they would speak better English but it should also go a long way to sustaining our indigenous language. We should throw the Scots' cringe on the same scrapheap where Calvinist scaremongering now lies.
Renewable energy - waves, wind and sunshine. Well Na h-Eileanan Siar has two of them in abundance. But windfarms should be run by the local communities and primarily for their own needs. Any surplus can then be sold on. Same goes for the huge coastline and Atlantic swell. Use it. Jobs for local people, clean energy and any profits can go back into creating better services for the community. Why shouldn't Carlabhagh have a sports centre? If Norway can do it for their 'remote' communities... Maybe John Macleod (continuing) could be harnessed and his hot air used to heat old folks' homes and his Daily Mail columns dug into the machair to compost crops of tatties?
Traditional industries - crofting, fishing, Harris Tweed and building. Support them with tax-breaks or whatever. If multi-national companies can be 'enticed' to relocate to Scotland with £millions in grants and tax-breaks then why can't the same logic be applied to rural communities with fragile economies and declining populations?
Cheaper fuel - Here's an idea. See them toffs in Edinburgh's New Town with their huge 4x4 wanktanks? Tax them to fck and then use those taxes to subsidise fuel in the Western Isles where people actually do need a car or SUV. There's a cruel irony that oil tankers carrying fuel sail past the islands so it can be offloaded near Glasgow then transported back up to the islands by road.
Whisky -Add this to the traditional industries. The new Abhainn Dearg distillery in Uig will have it's first legal whisky ready for the Stornoway Mod in 2011. There's also a planned distillery in Barraigh. Tax reductions on whisky would go a long way to helping them survive and expand.
The land - If the grey carbuncle of Fort William can reinvent itself as the 'outdoor capital of Scotland' then the Western Isles can go one better. Use it to attract extreme-sport enthusiasts and Australians to fling themselves of Rubha Robhanais and bungee themselves back to the lighthouse. Plant new crops. Apparently, cannabis can grow virtually anywhere and needs next to nothing in terms of fertiliser or pesticide. Turn it into medicine, clothes, boat sails... cupcakes?
Back to the future - Bring back things we used to have. Shinty for recreation - Camanachd Leodhais are already underway, replant the forests, use the Norse mills for small-scale and localised power, hunt the whales and dolphin with cameras and enthusiastic tourists...
This might be a bit of effort of the part Comharile nan Eilean Siar, the Scottish Parliament and the expensive one in London... but, ged 's fhad a-mach Barraigh, ruigear e.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Broughton Street would surely make an excellent anthropological study. About ten years ago, i overheard a local woman telling her boy, 'aye son, i remember when this used to be a working class area'. As i one-time resident for many years, many years ago, i've seen it go from rough and run-down to a trendy 'metrosexual' centre for absurdly dressed Ben Fogle-type refugees from the south of England as well as those wanting good cheap scran at places like the Basement, Blue Moon or the Rapido chippy.
The Phoenix was infamous for it's fights and 'erotic' dancers. The Unemployed Workers Centre used to reside here until the Labour 'cooncil' cut funding and it became little more than a vegan-cafe and a place where the Irish Republican James Connolly Society assembled to launch a banned march that was violently stopped by Lothian and Borders fat boys in blue. There was the Lesbian and Gay Centre giving out free condoms in the fight against AIDS and occassionaly repelling gaybashing skinhead bigots from the BNP. The Basement, used to be the 'Blues Basement' and was similar to today's Henry's Cellar Bar with a variety of indie, rock and punk bands playing. Ironically enough, when it became the Basement as we know it today, the first chef and he who instigated the Mexican themed menu was the ex-drummer of local punk stalwards the Exploited. He was Californian btw...
There are still some havens though for Scots who....
- are heterosexual
- have an income of less than £50k per annum
- wish to have a drink without picking up an Oxfordshire accent
Apparently it also the sometime haunt for the rich and famous according to auld DJ Jay Crawford who claims to have got pished with and subsequently humped the legs of: Elton John, Whitesnake, Helen Shapiro, Desmond Dekker, Jim Diamond, The Average White Band and many others including Cliff Richard about whom he recalls "goat the evil tosspot weel pished on Ledaig, then ejected for dropping oor skants and singing YMCA." Click here for more star-gazing info from Jay.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Q- Why are Presbyterians against sex standing up?
A- Because it may lead to dancing.
And thus we saw the first 'Sabbath' ferry between Lewis and Ullapool sail. In Eilean Leodhais, the Presbyterian militias fear that within days, the island's youth will all be humming Paranoid and Warpig. Not long after we will see 'Sodom and Gomorrah' replaced by Gearraidh na h-Aibhne and Dail bho Dheas. Ozzy Dotaman will teach our kids satanic Gaelic and BBC Alba's weather forecast will be presented by Ronnie James Dio 'throwing horns' as sunshine bathes Tràigh na Beirigh.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Les Ramoneurs de Menhirs are from Brittany/ Breizh. In Gaelic it's A' Bhreatainn Bheag, literally 'the Little Britain', referring to the nation's Brythonnic Celtic speech and not to backward Brits like Gary Bushell, Richard Littlejohn or even the Lord George Foulkes. Like Scotland's Oi Polloi, these punks have been around a while and now use their own Celtic tongue as well as French or English as a medium.
Though Oi Polloi haven't made much use of traditional instruments like the bagpipes, the use of traditional Breton instruments such as the bombard are central to Les Ramoneurs' sound. Occasionaly, they are joined on stage at huge Cetlic festivals by tradtional Breton singer Louise Ebrel who sings a kind of mouth-music very similar to our Gaelic port-a-beul.
The Bretons have their own water of life too, though it's a kind of strong cider brandy called lambic. On a visit to Breizh some years ago with a group of Scots and Irish cultural activists, i had the pleasure of swapping homemade lambic - 60% abv - for some of our own Poit Dhubh single malt - bottled at mere 46%.
To my knowledge, Les Ramoneurs have only made it to Scotland once. That was in 1998 when they played a handful of gigs with Celtic cousins Oi Polloi and Na Gathan from Skye. Most memorable though was the Celtic Punk Connections in Glasgow, timed to coincide with the commercial Celtic (tenuous) Connections festival. Apparently the high heid yins at Celtic Connections thought that real Celts, who actually speak Gaelic and Breton, were a bit too rough. There's punk for you - banned from the pubs... er banned from the Glesgow Royal Concert Hall.
Fortunately though BBC Alba's Rapal were interested enough to document the night. Click here to view.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Am currently in the large town of
It's all relative though as Zittau and the surrounding countryside is very poor. It’s fairly hoachin with beautiful fairytale villages and hundreds of old factories, left over from the days when there was work for all. Wages in Zittau are as low as €400 per month for a shop worker and men think themselves fortunate if they take home a grand. Little wonder that many locals of 30 years or older still remember fondly the days of socialism and curse 'Kapitalismus'. Aye, they have the freedom to travel and study whatever they wish, but if you can barely afford the rent then what use is 'freedom'? Since the fall of the old regime, the population of Zittau has fallen from around 40k to 20k. Of 80 of Frau Katja's old schoolmates, only 2 remain in their hometown.
The mark of old regimes is still to be seen in and around the Oberlausitz region of Saxony. In the village of Hainewalde, close to Zittau, you can still see Socialist murals for their old youth groups. The mural seeks to unite the youth of all cultures from the world over. Sounds a lot better than the saluting of the Union Jack and the imperialist Brit Empire mentality that i got in the Cub Scouts. Along the road though is an 18th century palace/castle kind of thing known as Schloss Hainewalde. This was used by the Keepers of the Quaich, er, sorry Nazis as a base and small concentration camp holding 200 or so unfortunate and 'impure' prisoners. You swear that you have seen it in a film. After the war though, the idealistic Commies turned it into flats for ordinary locals. How idealistic, eh? Had they not heard of realpolitik??? Interestingly, the delapadated schloss is now being restored. A shiny new sign tells of it's history but with both the Nazi and Socialist eras missing.
Needless to say, 'Keepers of the Quaich' are thin on the ground here. In the absence of a Malt Whisky Society or some kind of 'Scots Club', a good malt is hard to find. Beer, on the other hand, is everywhere. It's cheap but miles better than almost anything we have in
Wo ist der whisky? Well, in Kaufland, you can find a bewildering and meagre supply. Glenfiddich 12 is universal and you can buy it here for €23.Glen Grant and Loch Lomond malts, with no ages stated, are €14ish. Also on show though is 'Sir Connery' and 'Glen Forrest' single malts. Any info on these is appreciated! Are they Trabant fuel? And, are they still vastly superior to Ledaig?
Zittau also has an Irish pub - The Real Ones (???)- with a fair few Scotch malts like all the Diageo classics as well as Glenrothes, Edradour, Glen Grant, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Balvenie Signature and Port Cask. I had a Bowmore 18 for €5. There was barely one dram left in the bottle though and i think it had been sitting a while. Tasted a bit like spicy air.
The real delight lay across the borders though - that's over into Poland and then another 2 minutes or so into the Czech Republic and onto the edge of town called Hrádek nad Nissau. There you will find Top Shop. It's different to our Top Shop as there are no large posters of yon guy from Spandau Ballet and Eastenders modelling hair laquer and cheap suits. There are no clothes even but a kind of duty free with many litre sized bottles including Ardbeg, Laphroaig QC, Auchentoshan - standard and triple wood - Balblair, 4 varieties of Bowmore, Highland Park 12 and.... what's that? A 70cl Highland Park 18yo for only €44? I dropped my 20 packets of dutyfree pierogi and cha b'e ruith ach leum to the counter with the HP.
Final thoughts....ditch the pound and go Euro. Oh, and it's still sickening to find Scots' whisky cheaper abroad. Ditch the taxes on malt.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Tocasaid is pleased to offer an apology to the Keepers of the Quaich who had been previously slandered and much maligned in these very pages - see below. We are only too happy to point out that the KotQ are a modern, inclusive and progressive organisation who do not discriminate on grounds of income or class.
As proof, we have kindly agreed to reproduce the above photo in which we see the KotQ's 'Dark Chapter' perusing their tasting notes for Lidl's 'Queen Margot' ("Bit rough but otherwise, f****n barry"), Sainsbury's Islay Malt ("mare smoke than a Glaswegian schoolkid's breath, a snip at £16.99") and finally ye olde fave Hundred Pipers ("man, this kills yer liver but aye, does ye the world of good").
Viscount 'Thirsty' Thurso also expressed his support for Gaelic as an everyday living language. He explained that 'quaich' itself is from the Gaelic 'cuach' and that his current most-played MP3 is 'Ramalair Ruisgte' , a Gaelic tribute to the Naked Rambler, by Edinburgh's Gaelic speaking streetpunks Oi Polloi. "And ye dinny argue wi them boys." he added with faux-menace, shaking his substantial pube-like beard for comic effect.