Saturday, 27 June 2009

and another....

for which i apologise in advance. for those familiar with 80s pop the reference will be familar. everyone else should best avoid.

the following conversation took place on the train

me> so which of the countries we've been to or are going to holds most significance to you?

t> that's a difficult one. i'll have to think about it

me> go on

t> (mulling) i'm not sure. budapest i can't make up my mind about. croatia was nice, slovenia i have high hopes for and then there's vienna. (a long pause) yes, i think it'll be vienna

me> vienna?

t> yes i think vienna will have the most significance

me> vienna?

t> vienna

me> it means nothing to me....

lovely ljubljana

the national cake of slovenia, or so they say, the kremsnitse rezina, a double layered confection of cream and custard that can make your arteries harden at ten metres. yes, it can and we felt it but undaunted we ate it anyway because missing out a cake, any cake, now seems like failure, even if we have to force the fork to our mouths.

we go to lake bled, where the rain pauses just long enough for me to burn. we eat the rezina and something else called, imaginatively enough, the bled cake. it's all choclate and cream, with nuts, and more cream. with maybe some cream. they're lovely. but not as lovely as lake bled is sublime. stupidly, picture postcardly sublime. if heidi ran up with a chocolate box you wouldn't be surprised.

and ljubljana? prettier than zagreb, with more bookshops (of which more when i get back) but the main interest is to compare and contrast with croatia. the language is similar but i find croatian easier to process even if the sounds of slovenian are easier on the scottish tongue. and the slovenes can talk! it's almost better now not to bother with the sights and to sit and blether with the locals. we talk about national identity, small nations, all those things. the slovenes i've spoken to are much more aware of scotland than we are most of whom i doubt could point to slovenia on a map. back, again, more when i get back.

today, our last day we sample the grabnica (sic) which, apparently, is also slovenia's national cake, a gut stopping combo of cottage cheese, poppy seeds, fruit cream and pastry. heated! and some ice cream to top it off before lumbering back to the hostel for a nap. (i have to point out that it's not all like this - sickened from so many calories and fat we breakfasted only on fruit)

so, off to vienna tomorrow. don't know if there's internet so the next report may not be until we're back in budapest again. assuming we get there. we had dreadful rain today and austria's already having a major flood alert with warnings also out around budapest

an addendum - i'd tell you what i'm listening to but my mp3 player (the replacement!) broke after an hour. what i'm reading, bought in the fabulous bookshops of zagreb and ljubljana are a collection of modern slovenian poetry, collected montale and, probably most apt, swann's way

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

an additional zagreb

so, laden down with pastry, dough and cakes we get to a vegetarian restaurant for a bit of detox. and not just one but two, both of which were very fine and managed to stretch their menus way beyond the british vegetarian staples of salad (cheese), omelette (cheese) and pasta (cheesy). we waddle back to the hostel. we're at the stage where even the thought of another cake is making our arteries spasm. and we're not even close to vienna...

questions arise.

why does it seem that every third shop is a shoe shop. do the women of zagreb have secret imelda marcos style shoe cupboards the likes of which we can only guess at?

when do people actually work? true they're out an some ungodly hour but by the time we're up there's already a substantial part of the population drinking coffee, smoking, chatting and generally lounging about. admirable yes but how do they sustain it?

smoking. everybody smokes. don't they have lung disease here. among the smokers where we're staying they love it and i have to admit that if i was here longer, or drinking, i would struggle.

where are all the russians? there are some but they're all blended in. what we're after is the russian man in all his white clothed plumage, smoking and firmly gripping his (much younger) female companion. we saw many of these during the baltic shenanigans last year and were expecting more. sadly. no luck so far and we fear none ahead. we miss them.

yes zagreb, loads of culture we're seeing. honest.

(there really was a more serious post lurking in there but i think it was averted by a clot of cream in my brain somewhere..)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

risotto crimes in zagreb

the rain continues. last night we practised our croatian by watching chuck norris. today there:s a bunch of us watching some old richard widmark movie.

zagreb is an appealing wee place, much tidier than budapest but we suspect this is, in large part, to post war euros or maybe we're just being cynical. that said, it's difficult to get a handle on it as tourists are corralled a bit in the old town. which isn't so good on a monday when everything is closed. in the rain.

so little in the way of cakes until today. we haven't had any strukli as yet but we're continuing the chocolate odyssey with the local version. t's hot chocolate was so dense her spoon really did stand up in it, the best, she says, she's ever tasted. the chocolate cakes are good but not budapest torte good. and finally we get to local signature cake, the kremesnite. scottish readers will recognise this as the humble vanilla slice but instead of the donkey choking pastry and the luminescent paste sludge that constitutes a filling at home here in zagreb this is a rather lovely crisp thin filo filled with a light yet resistant cream. lovely. and unlike the vanilla slice or other such hallucinogenic scottish fare it doesn't cause genetic disorders

the market up the road is great but unfortunately we don't have anywhere to cook anything. still bread and ewe's cheese. can't complain. not about that anyway. but last night we were forced out to eat. i wasn't that hungry so i thought risotto would be simple enough. even allowing for local variation i was unprepared for what arrived. like rice pudding without the nutmeg. almost like risotto but without the risotto rice. and some sort of cream sauce.... a risotto crime and no mistake.

such trauma did it cause me that tonight we're off for macrobiotic fare tonight. and then ljubljana..

Sunday, 21 June 2009

briefly budapest

in which there will be little in the way of punctuation by way of me discovering yet another qwerty variation.

we discover i have power over the weather. cancelling ireland to get some sun instead we bring the scottishness with us. a blazing thirty three on arrival halves to fifteen in the space of twelve hours. i rise out of the sweaty spot i"ve become but t isn"t happy as it means i can walk more.

the city has, without an architectural lexicon to describe it properly, a style somewhere amongst decaying post imperial baroque nouveau secession. there are some lovely buildings and others, and yes state tv i mean you, where whoever made them just didn"t know where to stop. but i kind of like the dilapidated feel. it feels lived in. and an obvious jewish presence. it"s unsettling to put a face on some of the more depressing history i know and i"m not comfortable with it. i see the first orthodox jewish man i"ve seen in europe anywhere.

and the cake score. so far we have experimented with baclava with, it has to be said, tasty but uninspiring results. but a clear winner tonight on the marzipan front with cakes so tasty t coudn"t finish them. astonishing. and i have some sort of chocolate fruit torte thing the like of which i"ve never had before.

off to zagreb. perhaps their computer keyboards will be simpler. exclamation mark. where is that apostrophe. question mark. question mark.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

and now we must go

yes, it's that holiday time of year and we're off for some central european sunshine. or not, depending on the forecast. t is less bothered than i. her itinerary seems to be a tour of cake and pastry shops. with cheese and dumplings on the side

sporadic updates may follow...

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


burroughs fans who take themselves just a bit too seriously probably shouldn't listen to this.
but it's still very funny.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

and specially for rachel


for anyone else it is safe for work but you won't want it to be. and maybe best use a bit of caution if you've just eaten. or are prone to irrational screaming....

i'm just saying

dylan thomas

And Death Shall Have no Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
with the man in the wind and the west moon.
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone;
they shall have stars at elbow and foot.
Though they go mad they shall be sane;
though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
though lovers be lost love shall not.
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
they lying long shall not die windily;
twisting on racks when sinews give way,
strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
faith in their hands shall snap in two.
And the unicorn evils run them through;
split all ends up they shan't crack.
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

ilam peruvaluti

This world lives

This world lives
Some men
do not eat alone,
not even when they get
the sweet ambrosia of the gods;

they've no anger in them,
they fear evils other men fear
but never sleep over them;

give their lives for honor,
will not touch a gift of whole worlds
if tainted;

there's no faintness in their hearts
and they do not strive
for themselves.

Because such men are,
this world is.

trans a. k. ramanujan

Monday, 8 June 2009

the bnp

so we're waking up today in a country that has representatives voted in from the bnp. doubtless there's a an argument, certainly the bnp maintain it, that this is somehow good for a representative democracy, that it gives voice to racists and jew haters and at last a position for that traditionally under-represented group, the white man.

the only comparable experience i can remember is when the news that thatcher was gone came. i can't remember who phoned, only that they did phone. i needed an hour away i told my co-workers, then went off to find someone else british. thatcher's gone i said and a few of us took ourselves away, much to the bemusement of our colleagues, and we sat looking out at the park, not speaking as if at last, something was over.

which of course it wasn't. regardless of anyone's views on thatcher her views changed a generation. labour mutated into tony blair and while in scotland socialism remained a word in the form of the ssp they did what socialists do best and concentrated on fighting each other, their 'radicalism' staring and finishing with tommy sheridan's ability to keep his trousers on. meanwhile the leaden bipartisan nature of british politics was entrenched and 'single issue' politics was somehow presented as 'a good thing'.

and so it somes to this. and almost no-one in the hospital seemed to care. i told them stories about the old days, of fighting with the nf, anti fascist action and the like but, even to me, it sounded like another world, another person. finally one of my colleagues, who's ages with me, noticing i was a bit absent, asked me what was the matter. i told her and she agreed. i can't believe it she said, people should be rioting in the fucking streets.

i'm profoundly depressed. what was i doing all those years. my dad talks about 'darkies' as a freedom of speech issue, my mum thinks the bnp 'have a point', many of the twenty somethings at work can say, without a trace of doubt, that we have 'too many rights'. how did it come to this? i have an odd feeling as i sit looking out at my garden, all those history books at the back of me, all that story telling, that it was all superfluous.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

tim turnbull

it should come as no surprise that tim turnbull is a bit of a favourite in our house. so here's this from stranded in sub-atomica which, along with caligula on ice, people should run out and buy. one slight problem tho is that the page doesn't reflect tim's treacle thick yorkshire accent or delivery. he doesn't speak like this because he's not a wee lassie but it's round about there (and it was the first one of youtube).

i'm aware that simon armitage's poetry has caused some discussion in these environs. as such, and thanks tim, here's this.... (if it's not immediately obvious tim turnbull did used to work in forestry)


Simon Armitage has his own chainsaw,
a bobby-dazzler with a bright orange flex.
He uses it to cut his pampas grass down
every year, which does rather suggest

he's never had to struggle up a bank side
laden like a mule with a canthook, tool-kit,
hammer, wedges, fuel and a Husqvarna
262, through brash up to his armpits

until he's found the face and had a fag
watched the rising sun, stripped to the waist
and yo-yoed the saw into crackling life.
Or stamped down the leaf litter at the base

of a hundred-and-twenty-foot Douglas fir,
smelt cat piss and turps from the first day's cut
and felt the hungry saw pull, trimming up.
I can't think he's checked the sweep of the butt

and the lean of the pole before he carved the gob.
And he won't have fought the gyroscopic thrust
of the engine and juddering Oregon chain
or snatched lever, shouldered up and pushed

as the tree sat back, grabbed hammer and wedge
and heard the valley echo with the ring
of steel on steel and felt his muscles knot
and felt the tree yield as he drove the wedge right in.

I'll hazard he hasn't heard the creaking hinge
and rushing air as six tons of timber and branch
come roaring, like a train crash, to the ground.
And done this ten or twelve times before lunch.

I don;t suppose he's set his bar in a stump vice,
straddled the baking saw, sun on his back
and stroked with a three-sixteenths round file
to make each cutter bright and sharp, in fact

I bet his teeth are black where all the chrome's
peeled off. I bet his chain is slack and blunt.
Yeah, Armitage has a glorified hedge trimmer
and he thinks it's a chainsaw.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


I've never liked rhyming. don't ask me why, maybe it was something to do with my poetic education, but those clunky end rhymes all too often sound to me like a door shutting.

each to their own and if that's the sort of thing you like then all fair and good. but, thanks to armando ianucci's recent bbc effort on milton, i was reminded that this dislike of an 'invention of a barbarous age' was nothing new.

The measure is English heroic verse without rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin—rime being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame metre; graced indeed since by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse, than else they would have expressed them. Not without cause therefore some both Italian and Spanish poets of prime note have rejected rime both in longer and shorter works, as have also long since our best English tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, trivial and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings—a fault avoided by the learned ancients both in poetry and all good oratory. This neglect then of rime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it rather is to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of riming.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

so what was i doing

at the weekend? that would be this. the video they've currently got up is well worth a look. if it's not there go to and search for tenundertheben 2009.

rather than soloing i went as a pair this year. my core fitness was okay but due to crashes and near bonks in the run up i wasn't as sharp as i could've been. plus while i did loss some muscle weight a few kilos lighter might've helped! (t says this is nonsense i should point out but she's just, well, wrong)

i'd warned g it would be hot. it was hot enough when we scouted the track the night before but nothing on the day. this time tho i was electrolyted and hydrated to the max. even so i had to keep my speed down to keep my heart rate and breathing steady enough i didn't overheat on the climb. as such we were maybe five-six minutes slower than i'd like to have been over the course of a lap. and, as usual, while my climbing was good i lost time on all the descents which cost us position.

not that it mattered as g was overcooked at the end of three laps and sat down and drinking beer by the time i came in from mine. no way i was going back out after that! good fun tho. splendid weather again but just too hot. but overall i think i enjoyed it better this year because i didn't feel i had to push as hard (and didn't!) because for g it really was about the taking part. that said if we done our two more projected lap we'd have been much further up the table than we were.

but if that'd happened g and his family wouldn't have been at the last corner cheering me in and that was easily the best moment of the day...

Monday, 1 June 2009

no matter how hot it gets

and that's not hot by world standards (but in scotland anything above 20 celcius is pretty stifling) do not, no matter how hot you feel, no matter of you've been bike racing all day in the hot highland sun, do not wash your face with a pressure washer. you will hurt your eyes.

or as t put it, concerned but much, much more witheringly - you're not the cleverest are you?