Month: August 2011

Haggis – The Honest Truth

Our farewell meal in Scotland had to be haggis, neeps and tatties – something I look forward to every year.

Mr Macsween is famous for his superior haggises so we bought a breeding pair (the smaller one is the male).  They turned out to be a bit frisky with several attempts to escape from the kitchen and a bit of hide and seek on top of the fridge.  We got them down with a ladder and some cheese (haggises are partial to cheese). I had to get my father’s help to round them up after they’d made a bid for freedom across the garden.   But once back in the kitchen they were denuded and swiftly despatched.Then out came the whisky to celebrate.  Haggis and whisky are never far apart.   This Macallan 15 year old was rather good. These haggises were microwaved – you can boil them in water but they tend to explode which can be messy.

Next step:  prepare the neeps (turnip).  For those of you not familiar with root vegetables, this is a turnip. Years ago my (English) aunt, a farmer’s wife, said to me in astonishment ‘You eat turnips?  But we feed them to the cows….’.  Considering the Scots managed to invent television, penicillin, Dolly the Sheep etc (and I could go on) on a diet of porridge and turnips, her cows are probably extremely intelligent.  Peel and chop the turnip, cook in salted boiling water than mash it up, adding butter and milk.  Et voila, bashed neeps.

Cook and mash some potatoes and that’s it: haggis with neeps and tatties.Scottish Haute CuisinePurists eat it like this but you can also add baked beans – and HP sauce is good with it too. Yum 🙂 🙂 :).


Chamonix – A Fashion Forward Moment

You saw it here first.  A sneak preview of what we’ll all be wearing next winter in Sydney:Love the thigh-length hairy yeti boots.  Love the matching, stuffed-dead-animal hats (taxidermy is so hot right now).  The puffa jackets are in tweed – a quirkily French note.  Or perhaps it’s ironic?  Who knows with the French.

As for the leggings, get your knitting needles out and start casting on.  We’re deep into extreme knitting territory here – they look like they’re in a fine jersey but they’re really knitted; knitted as in ‘knit one purl one’.  

There are 3 obvious design flaws:

(i) high risk of frostbite in the nethers – they’re wide open to every sub-zero draught and snow flurry

(ii)  there’s no handbag – where can I put my Gauloises, my credit cards, my lip gloss, my Mars Bar and my small, yappy dog?  I could shove them all down the front of the leggings – nice and warm so Flaw No 1 would be fully addressed, but could ruin the look

(iii) saggy gusset syndrome; after 5 minutes sitting down, you’ll look like you’ve got a wet nappy on when you stand up again.   Saggy gussets lead to chafing issues.  Nasty.

This outfit will look terrific on anyone who’s 1.8m tall, a size 2 or less and essentially stationary.  And French of course.  DON’T attempt this look if you don’t meet the minimum requirements. 

Otherwise you’ll look like a furball the cat threw up.

Chamonix – A Room With A View x 2

Chamonix is very pretty and Frenchly charming, sitting snugly in the valley bottom, surrounded by vertical mountain faces and savage,  needle-like crags.  Mont Blanc lurks massively in the distance.  Clouds hide and clear, hide and clear so no view stays the same for more than 5 minutes.

The hotel’s very central – right beside the finish line for the epic Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc.  It was the last double room in Chamonix because as usual we left it very late to book. 

The Georges V it’s not.  This is what 100 euros gets you in Chamonix in summer:Yes –  it is 6 feet wide and those are bunk beds (bloke in the background is Neil’s climbing partner, Duncan). But if you turn round to look out of the window……Et voila – the redeeming feature.   

With the Ultra Tour on, and seeing all the runners come in well into the night, I’ve felt a bit inspired about getting started doing some running again – even went as far as googling the race.  After thinking about it for 5 minutes though, what appeals is the chariots of fire moment – the opportunity to run up an avenue of people applauding you for doing something heroic.  I’d quite like that.  It’s the having to do something heroic that’s the difficult bit.

And so to the other room with a view. 

With thousands of people milling around the town all weekend, here is the French modern equivalent of a pissoir.  It’s a large blue bucket with some straw in the bottom – or so Neil says – I wouldn’t go anywhere near it.  I like the piece of plastic on the top for a roof – someone’s clearly put some thought into it.  I should point out that Neil isn’t usually photographed hanging around outside mens’s toilets.

Or at least, not to my knowledge.

Chamonix – A Blog with a View

Up to the top of Le Brevent (2525m) on the chairlift.  Fabulous day –  panoramic views forever.  Heard someone saying ‘c’est belle notre France’ (literally ‘it’s beautiful, our France’) – couldn’t not agree with them. 

There was no café at the top (eek – just as well I didn’t walk up ha ha ha) so came back down to Planpraz. Wandered round a corner to find lots of people setting up paragliders so watched them for a while. 

Heading downhill to the cafe, was nearly mown down by a horde of French people heading for lunch.  Not a good idea to get between them and their next meal.  The way the bloke at the front is standing staring belligerently at me reminds me of a bull in a field of cows.

So now I’m sitting here on a sunny terrace at Planpraz, 2000 metres above Chamonix, facing the glittering snow on Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles du Midi.  The coffee is crap but on the plus side they’ve improved the toilets since I was here 3 years ago.  A relief in more ways than one.

Here is my blog with a view:

Sitting next to a group of older Asian ladies who are quite cross about something to do with a bottle of juice.  They’re all kitted out in North Face high performance fleeces and tops but with tour bus footwear.  I don’t think they’ve strayed too far from the chairlift.

But then neither have I, so I’d better shut up :).

Chamonix – Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc

Arrive in Chamonix to find it’s the weekend of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.

The race comprises 4 events with thousands of entrants.  It crosses 3 countries (France, Italy and Switzerland) and there are 4 options:

i)       the UTMB (Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc):  166km, 9500m height gain

(ii)    the TDS (Traces des Ducs de Savoie):  111km, 7100m height gain

(iii)  the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix):  98km, 5600m height gain

(iv)  the PTL (Petite Trotte de Leon) – there’s nothing ‘petite’ about it:  300km and 25,000m height gain (done as a team)

Insane or what?  All the races  finish in Chamonix over this weekend and it’s an amazing sight to see.  The weather’s fabulous and the town is heaving with people here to see the finish.

The centre of the town is fenced off so that the runners have an avenue of applause, wild cheering, enthusiastic cow bell ringing and ‘bravo’s’ as they cross the finish line – the French are really excellent at  appreciating ‘grands efforts’.

The finishers are very spread out (they arrive over 48hrs).  As each one heads up the final straight, music from Last of the Mohicans starts up – it’s very moving to watch – some runners are clearly on their last legs and have to walk, others manage to jog up to the line with their wives, girlfriends, supporters or families, or carrying their children on their shoulders, or waving flags.

The race was on the last time we were here as well.  We drove into Chamonix (bad idea – traffic’s a nightmare – get the Alpybus from Geneva instead) and found all these glazed people hirpling around on the roads, all wearing skins (not quite as common then as now). It was, like, really annoying, so we kept honking at them – we just thought they were being obnoxiously French.  Didn’t realise they were exhausted endurance runners.


Princess Bari – Edinburgh International Festival

Back in Edinburgh for a week so I got hold of some tickets for a Korean ballet for my Mum and I. 

We were both very much looking forward to this – we knew it wasn’t going to be a typical ballet experience so we went with an open mind, hoping for something wonderful and happy to go with the flow.   

The first 20 minutes were great.  It all worked – the exotic Korean-ness, the imagery, the traditional and modern costumes, the music, the dancing, the singing, the acting.  But then it just got silly.

Because all of the dancers were wearing dresses, it took me a while to work out that the Princess was a bloke. She was built like a tank, with calves the size of rugby balls.

Any suspension of disbelief quickly became inelastic as the performance seemed to descend into chaos – lots of noise, dancers running around on the stage for no particular reason, the appearance of a hospital operating table on wheels, a surfboard (although it could have been an enormous tongue depressor) and an apple throwing frenzy.  The low point was the appearance on stage of a motorbike – uh oh, the choreographer’s run out of ideas entirely.

After some sort of surgical operation on the Princess, dancers ran around the stage waving something small and wobbly-looking.  I assumed the worst (goolies) as I was totally confused by this point.  Mum said it was probably meant to be an aborted foetus.  Oh super. 

The man in the seat in front of me fell asleep twice. 

The Princess gave birth flat on his back with a large purple balloon between his knees.  When he burst the balloon, someone in the wings chucked a rubber chicken at him.  He had 3 ‘children’ this way.  There should have been 7 but we got the point after 3.  By this point I was in the grip of one of Harry Potter’s Dementors and could feel my soul being sucked from my body. 

When the motorbike came back on for the second time, I had an ‘oh for God’s sake’ moment, signalling a major cultural sense of humour failure. This happens very rarely – the last time was 10 years ago when a bunch of Spaniards came to Edinburgh to do Carmen and brought a white horse with them.  Carmen!!  With a horse!! How great was that going to be???? 

It wasn’t Bizet’s Carmen – or at least not in a form he’d have recognised and been proud to claim as his own.  This was castanet central with tons of flamenco (of which a little goes a very long way) and a small group of  ear-batteringly ululating peasants. But we hung out till the end for the horse.  And he was magnificent if not exactly worth the wait. But if seeing a large, white horse trying to ‘dance’ on a very small stage on rainy night in Edinburgh is on your bucket list, well, you missed it.  Unforgettable. But not in a good way.

Back to Princess Bari.

Towards the end of the 90 minutes, we were hanging on like grim death for a crumb of pleasure, beauty, meaning, entertainment or interest. When the curtain came down I noticed Mum wasn’t applauding so I assumed she was in a state of enthrallment.  Not quite.  I asked her what she thought of it.  ‘I’m speechless’.  Then: ‘A shambles.  Monotonous.  Highly obscure.’ 

The applause was muted.  The company gave 100% but were let down by the repetitive, dull choreography and the leaden way the story unfolded.  There were rare exceptions when it all came together and presented something sublime and you could see what the choreographer is capable of.

The reviewer in the Telegraph was politely, warmly vague but she used words like ‘baffling’.  

Oh good.  It’s not just me then.