Writing

A life stripped bare

I recently finished reading the book, “A life stripped bare”. The author, Leo Hickman, is a journalist at The Guardian newspaper and this book came about after his employer set him the challenge of trying to see if he and his family could live more ethically over the course of a year.

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He began his experiment by inviting three auditors into his home, to assess his family’s green credentials. The auditors consisted of a director of Friends of the Earth, the founder of the Planet Organic shops in London and a researcher at Ethical Consumer magazine. These three people went through Leo’s home, pulling things out of his kitchen cupboards, reading the labels on cleaning products and probing him about all aspects of his lifestyle. As I read the book I felt mighty glad that nobody was rifling through my cupboards in a similar manner, but some of the what they said was certainly relevant to me.

I admire people who make big changes to their lives in order to lower their carbon footprint or try to live in a more community minded way. My brother Fergus, who went missing in September, was one such person. On his website he recorded his thoughts about a variety of ethical concerns, some of which caused him a great deal of mental anguish. He suffered from depression, and in his darker moments felt overwhelmed by the huge scale of many of the world’s problems. He didn’t just worry about them, however, but made a concerted effort to do something practical in response. A lot of what I read in this book reminded me of him. It also made me think more about which aspects of ethical living instinctively appeal to me, and which I’d find much harder to take on board. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing, for example, that I don’t know where my bank invests its customers’ money, or if the companies I choose to interact with have a poor track record when it comes to human rights or environmental issues. Those things should matter to me, but because they don’t impinge on my day to day life I find it easy to put them to the back of my mind.

On the reverse cover of the book are the following three questions:

How often in life does convenience triumph over ‘doing the right thing’?

Can you really make a difference?

What does ‘ethical living’ mean anyway?

I now have a better idea of how to answer those questions for myself and I imagine most people would agree, in theory at least, that it’s worth trying to live more ethically by making choices that cause less harm to ourselves, to others, and to the local and global environment. An interesting aspect of the book is the inclusion of letters that were sent to Leo from all over the world. Although he did receive a few discouraging messages, the majority of correspondents were positive and encouraging.

The main message I took away was that although none of us can do everything to solve the world’s problems, we can each do something, and something is better than nothing. As Leo Hickman says, “you can’t save the world single-handedly, but you can make more of an effort than you did yesterday.”

I think I have now become more aware of what is meant by ‘ethical living’. If all we do initially is to give a bit more thought to our actions, we’ll be in a better position to have a positive effect on society. I hope I can not only keep that message at the forefront of my mind, but get into the habit of applying it in practical ways. I don’t think this book would have had the same impact on me had I not witnessed first hand someone deliberately living as ethically as they could. For that, I have Fergus to thank. Unfortunately, I can’t tell him about this in person but it’s a comfort to know that he’s left such a positive legacy.

Categories: Books, Organic, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Chocolate biscuit tasting challenge

After writing a recent review about the Polish chocolate biscuit sensation, Prince Polo, I felt inclined to set myself the challenge of tasting several wafer biscuits at once. In my review I mentioned the similarity between Prince Polo and the British Blue Riband biscuit. I also mentioned Kit-Kat, the king of wafer biscuits in the UK.

There are lots of chocolate covered wafer biscuits on the market, many of which contain layers of toffee or other flavours. If I were to attempt to include all of them in a tasting I would quickly feel a) overwhelmed and b) sick.

For this tasting, I decided to stick to basic wafer/chocolate combinations and chose the following five biscuits as my tasting treats:

Prince Polo   *   Blue Riband   *   Blue Riband Dark   *   Kit-Kat   *   Kit-Kat Dark

I hunted high and low for the Blue Riband Dark, which proved an elusive beast. After failing to find any, my original five biscuit list was reduced to four. Here are the biscuits, resplendent in their packaging.

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A quick description of each biscuit seems prudent.

Prince Polo4 wafer layers interspersed with chocolate cream, all covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate.

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Blue Riband - 4 wafer layers interspersed with chocolate cream, all covered in milk chocolate.

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Kit-Kat Dark3 wafer layers interspersed with chocolate cream, all covered in a thick layer of dark chocolate.

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Kit-Kat3 wafer layers interspersed with chocolate cream, all covered in a thick layer of milk chocolate.

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To assist me with this challenge I roped in my trusty associates, the delightful assistants. Delightful assistant no.2 has a great passion for biscuits of all sorts and was enthusiastic about participating. Delightful assistant no.1, while less keen on biscuits is decidedly keen on chocolate and particularly partial to a Kit-Kat. Coffee was prepared and the biscuits laid out on a tasting plate.

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We all sampled the biscuits in the same order: Prince Polo, Blue Riband, Kit-Kat Dark and Kit-Kat Original.

As we did this, we sipped at our coffees and made tasting notes.

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Delightful assistants assiduously making notes on chocolate covered wafer biscuits.

After munching through the biscuits, we read out our notes and were surprised by each other’s comments. For example, we all mentioned the sweetness of our first biscuit, the Prince Polo, but our opinions differed significantly:

Delightful assistant no.1 – “rather sweet”

Delightful assistant no.2 – “not too sweet”

Me – “not sweet enough”

And so it went on, with disagreements aplenty and definite variations in preference.

We each ranked the biscuits from 1-4, with 1 being our favourite and 4 our least favourite. Here are the final results in order of preference:

Delightful assistant no.1: Kit-KatKit-Kat DarkBlue RibandPrince Polo

Delightful assistant no.2: Blue Riband, Prince Polo, Kit-Kat, Kit-Kat Dark

Lorna: Kit-Kat Dark, Blue Riband, Kit-Kat, Prince Polo

One of the few things we did agree on was that the chocolate coating on Kit-Kats was noticeably thicker than that on Blue Riband or Prince Polo. As delightful assistant no.1 put it, the Kit-Kats were more like a sweet than a biscuit, whereas Blue Riband and Prince Polo were distinctly more biscuity.

I don’t suppose all this is of much use to anyone, but if it achieves anything it at least confirms that one really ought to try every possible biscuit for oneself rather than relying on the reviews of others.

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Categories: Biscuits, Chocolate, Photography, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

New year, different perspective

I pinched the title of this post from Annie of An Unrefined Vegan, because the post she wrote on this subject rang true with me.

When I started this blog, in January 2012, I was intent on writing about tearooms and little else. For that reason the blog name I chose, Lorna’s Tearoom Delights, seemed fitting. I started the blog in tandem with a book I was writing about tearooms, and my vision for the future was a series of books about tearooms and endless blog articles on the same subject.

Recently, however, I’ve felt rather restricted by this title and that’s probably why I’ve branched out and started new blogs dedicated to different subjects. I currently have eight WordPress blogs on the go, some of which I haven’t made public, but it seems ridiculous and unnecessary to have so many.

Thanks to Annie’s post, I’ve decided it’s high time I stopped feeling restricted by Lorna’s Tearoom Delights. A number of my loyal readers have assured me in the past that they don’t mind what I write about, but I’ve always felt guilty about new people following me and expecting this blog to do what it says on the tin, so to speak.

I don’t want to lose all my followers by closing the door on Lorna’s Tearoom Delights, so I’m hoping a change in perspective won’t put too many people off.

I’ve been writing about chocolate bars on my newest blog, Any old excuse, but from now on I’m going to do my chocolate posts on this blog, along with anything else I feel like writing about.

If you follow this blog for tearooms alone, I apologise for the dearth of them lately. I can’t promise that tearooms will ever be such a feature of this blog as they were in the beginning, but since I do still enjoy visiting such places I’m sure the odd tearoom post will pop up from time to time.

Thank you to everyone who follows this blog, particularly those who’ve been dropping in for years and leaving comments. Getting to know people through blogging has been, and still is, a real pleasure. It’s something I wouldn’t want to give up now.

To finish off this post, here are the delightful assistants on a recent trip to Crieff. After a nice lunch at Crieff Hydro we took a stroll around the grounds. I led them along muddy paths and across a rocky field, made all the more interesting by low angle sunlight dazzling them as they walked. They appear to have enjoyed the element of uncertainty, which got me to thinking that perhaps there’s a gap in the market. If I were an entrepreneurial type I might start up a company running assault courses for geriatrics, but I think I’ll stick to providing the occasional treat for the assistants.

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The delightful assistants – shielding themselves from the glare, or not sure they want to see where this blog might be heading?

 

Categories: Blogging, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 30 Comments

List of books read in 2014

In response to a request from Connie in my last post, this post contains a list of the books I read last year.

Divided into fiction and non fiction, they’re listed in the order that I read them (although I jumped about between fiction and non fiction throughout the year).

Although the oldest non fiction title was published in 1997, about half of the fiction was published before that. The oldest fiction title on the list is Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”, which was first published in 1901. This edition (below) was printed in 1957 and belonged to my grandmother.

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It’s probably not very difficult after skimming the list to guess that Agatha Christie is one of my favourite authors. I had previously read all of those on the list, bar one. I’m extremely grateful that she was so prolific, because I can read and re-read her books without returning to the same ones too soon after they were last read. There are 12 of her books on my 2014 list, and I fully anticipate devouring a similar number this year.

One of the best finds for me last year was Eric Ambler (1909-1998), who wrote spy stories. After reading “Cause for alarm”, which I came across by chance in the library, I sought out some others and three of them are on this list. I did start a fourth one that he wrote later in life, but I couldn’t get through it.

Another highlight last year was reading two creations by fellow bloggers, Shona Patel and Annie Oliverio. Shona’s book is a fictional story set in India and Annie’s is a non fiction guide to caring for someone who’s dying. I found both of these books outstandingly well written and compelling.

Fiction

“Hector and the search for happiness” by François Lelord (2002)

“Mutiny on the Bounty” by John Boyne (2008)

“Maskerade” by Terry Pratchett (1995)

“Seven dials” by Anne Perry (2003)

“Murder in the museum” by Simon Brett (2004)

“The curious incident at Claridge’s” by R T Raichev (2010)

“The scheme for full employment” by Magnus Mills (2003)

“A judgement in stone” by Ruth Rendell (1997)

“Miss Buncle’s Book” by D E Stevenson (1934)

“Teatime for the firefly” by Shona Patel (2013)

“The collected stories of Rumpole” by John Mortimer (2012)

“The affair of the bloodstained egg cosy” by James Anderson (1975)

“Five star billionaire” by Tash Aw (2013)

“The island” by Victoria Hislop (2005)

“The witness at the wedding” by Simon Brett (2005)

“Second time around” by Marcia Willett (1997)

“The house on the cliff” by D E Stevenson (1966)

“Sleeping murder” by Agatha Christie (1976)

“The best man to die” by Ruth Rendell (1969)

“Shroud for a nightingale” by P D James (1971)

“The behaviour of moths” by Poppy Adams (2008)

“Easter Island” by Jennifer Vanderbes (2003)

“Sleeping Tiger” by Rosamunde Pilcher (1967)

“Dumb witness” by Agatha Christie (1937)

“Deadline” by Barbara Nadel (2013)

“Cause for alarm” by Eric Ambler (1938)

“Cover her face” by P D James (1962)

“The good thief’s guide to Vegas” by Chris Ewan (2010)

“Skios” by Michael Frayn (2012)

“Kim” by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

“Journey into fear” by Eric Ambler (1940)

“The Bad Quarto” by Jill Paton Walsh (2007)

“Every man for himself” by Beryl Bainbridge (1996)

“Epitaph for a spy” by Eric Ambler (1938)

“Gaudy night” by Dorothy L Sayers (1935)

“The bride’s farwell” by Meg Rosoff (2009)

“Devices and desires” by P D James (1989)

“Trent’s own case” by E C Bentley and H Warner Allen (1936)

“The pale horse” by Agatha Christie (1961)

“They came to Baghdad” by Agatha Christie (1951)

“The body in the library” by Agatha Christie (1942)

“A pocket full of rye” by Agatha Christie (1953)

“A murder is announced” by Agatha Christie (1950)

“The Thief” by Ruth Rendell (2006)

“The moving finger” by Agatha Christie (1943)

“The Sittaford Mystery” by Agatha Christie (1931)

“Blood at the bookies” by Simon Brett (2008)

“Destination unknown” by Agatha Christie (1954)

“Ordeal by innocence” by Agatha Christie (1958)

“And then there were none” by Agatha Christie (1939)


Non-fiction

“Pirates, Plants and Plunder” by Stewart Ross (2005)

“The idle traveller’ by Dan Kieran (2012)

“The lost city of Z” by David Grann (2009)

“A terminal illness primer for caregivers” by Ann Oliverio (2014)

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck (2006)

“Sea legs” by Guy Grieve (2013)

“59 seconds” by Professor Richard Wiseman (2009)

“Affluenza” by Oliver James (2007)

“Arthur Conan Doyle – beyond Sherlock Holmes” by Dr Andrew Norman (2007)

“Up with the larks” by Tessa Hainsworth (2009)

“Quirkology” by Professor Richard Wiseman (2007)

“Seagulls in the attic” by Tessa Hainsworth (2010)

“Round Ireland with a fridge” by Tony Hawks (1997)

“The mould in Dr Florey’s coat” by Eric Lax (2004)

“Screw it, let’s do it” by Richard Branson (2006)

“Himalaya” by Michael Palin (2004)

*   *   *   *   *

This morning I finished a non fiction book I started reading a couple of weeks ago. Having got into the habit of keeping a note of books last year I might as well carry on and see if I can do it for two years running.

Thanks to Professor Richard Wiseman, my year got off to a spooky start with the book below. I like a bit of the paranormal now and then, so I’m hoping for a few more ghoulish surprises in the next 12 months.

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Categories: Books, Photography, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Enter 2015

I was inspired the other day by reading a post by fellow blogger, Darlene Foster, about building on the success of 2014. (You can read it by clicking on her name.)

In the post she details the goals she set herself for 2014, and reports on how she got on with them.

Towards the end of December 2013,  I did a post about my resolutions for the coming year. My main aim was to keep a note of all the books I read throughout 2014.

I started a blog about it, which I made private after a while to take the pressure off having to write decent English, and I’m pleased to report that I managed to stick to my goal.

I was hoping for a minimum of 60 books, and by last night my final count was 66, with more than three times as many fiction as non fiction. I had imagined the split would be more equal, but since I’m attempting to get my own stories published, perhaps it’s advisable to spend more time immersed in fictional worlds.

On that topic, I entered a number of short story competitions last year, none of which I won. I also failed to get any stories published in magazines that I submitted to. I felt despondent at the time, but now that we’re starting a new year I’m putting all that behind me and cracking on with more writing, in the hope that one of these days I’ll produce something publishable.

When it comes to resolutions and, for that matter, daily ‘to-do’ lists, it’s helpful to throw in some easily achievable targets alongside the more challenging ones, which leads me to my other main goal for 2015.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m aiming to consume at least 52 different chocolate confections throughout the year and write about them on one of my other blogs, Any Old Excuse. I’ve posted about a few already, as a sort of warm-up act.

Whatever your goals or ambitions for 2015, I wish you well with them and hope that the coming year is full of pleasant events that cheer and comfort you.

Happy new year!

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I’m looking forward to seeing some spring flowers, like these beauties outside the excellent Storehouse of Foulis near Dingwall (top tip for lunch if you’re ever in that neck of the woods needing refreshments).

Categories: Blogging, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Merry Christmas

This summer, when I took a break from blogging, I was expecting to spend a few months concentrating on writing fiction. When my brother Fergus went missing in September those plans went awry.

Having a member of your family suddenly disappear without trace has a range of unexpected repercussions. It’s now over three months since Fergus vanished in Switzerland and we still don’t know what happened to him, or indeed whether he’s alive or dead. It’s strange being in limbo, not knowing if he will ever come back, but sadly after this length of time I’ve come to the conclusion that he won’t.

For the past few weeks my dad and I have been going down to Edinburgh as often as we can to try and sort things out at Fergus’s flat. There is much to do and I imagine that this situation will dominate our lives well into the coming year.

Although I have been visiting tearooms during this process, I haven’t had the energy or inclination to photograph and review them. However, as a small distraction for myself I’ve set up a new blog called Any old excuse.

On this new blog I aim to review at least one item of chocolate-based confectionery a week. 

Tea and chocolate, two of the things that make life worth living.

Click on the picture above to find chocolate posts in 2015.

I appreciate that reading reviews of chocolate isn’t everyone’s idea of a good way to spend their time, especially if they don’t actually get any chocolate out of it. I’ve disabled comments to make it easier for me to manage, but if you ever feel like dropping by it would be lovely to have your company.

In the meantime, to all my wonderful fellow bloggers, readers and chums:

A very happy Christmas and new year,
and many good things to come in 2015.

Six wee dogs hoping for Christmas treats under the tree.

Six little dogs hoping for Christmas treats under the tree.

Categories: Blogging, Chocolate, Photography, Scotland, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Thank you and goodnight

Much as I enjoy lounging around in the blogosphere – reading other people’s blogs as well as writing my own – it does take up a considerable amount of time.

Sometimes one has to let go of one thing in order to take hold of another, and so it is that I’m taking a sabbatical from this blog in order to attend to other things.

A big thank you to all the tearooms that have provided much of this blog’s fodder, to everyone who’s read my posts and to those who have been so loyal with their comments. Thanks also to all my fellow bloggers who have provided me with such entertaining and stimulating reading material on their own blogs.

I wish you all the very best in the meantime, and look forward to a reunion in the future (with scones).

– Lorna

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A treacle scone recently consumed at Woodlea Tearoom, Sandhead.

Categories: Blogging, Scone, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 66 Comments

New Year’s Resolutions

Around this time last year I did a post in which I stated that one of my new year’s resolutions was to give away 365 items throughout 2013.

At the time I had every intention of fulfilling this aim, indeed I felt utterly determined to achieve it.

However, as is the norm with resolutions, it started off well and then tailed off after a while.

I didn’t manage to record the expulsion of 365 items, but I did make it to 111, a mere 254 short of my target.

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Funky necklace with matching bracelet – two of the items I managed to put someone else’s way in 2013.

This year I am again contemplating resolutions, although I have no reason to believe that I’ll be any more successful with them than I’ve been in the past.

For a period of about three months in 2013 I made a concerted effort to note down the books I read in that time, including the title, author and a short review of each one. Despite only doing it for three months I found it quite an effort, which makes me seriously question the advisability of making a resolution along these lines.

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If books aren’t your thing, perhaps you could master a new skill in 2014 (you might need to click on the picture to read the quote on the bookshelf).

Despite already having more blogs than I can keep up with, I’ve created another new one, Lorna’s Books, where I hope to record every book I read in 2014. (You can get to it by clicking on the blog name, but there’s not much there yet.)

Although choice of reading material is a very personal thing and what I say about a book might be of no value to another reader, I quite enjoy reading other people’s book reviews and so I suppose there might be the odd blogger who would be prepared to read mine.

This project is mainly a test for myself, to see if I have the self-discipline to achieve something I’ve tried and failed to do on several occasions in the past. At the moment I wouldn’t bet on success, but you never know.

In order to avoid feeling depressed if my resolution fails, I should perhaps also set myself an easier challenge, such as eating a scone and drinking at least a pint of tea every day.

The only problem is it would lack any real challenge.

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A stollen scone: one of the delights of the festive season.

Categories: Blogging, Books, Photography, Scone, Scotland, Tea | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Made in Scotland

Just a quick plug for the online magazine, Made in Scotland, which showcases some of Scotland’s creative talent.

The latest edition features last minute gift guides, reviews and interviews with local craftspeople, including the artist Jenni Douglas, who creates beautiful designs for coasters, mugs, notelets, etc.

There also happens to be a little article about a particularly nice tearoom by someone you might recognise (click here if you’d like to read it, but be warned it includes photos of chocolate).

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A magnificent bafflement of chocolate choices.

Categories: Chocolate, Perthshire, Photography, Scotland, Tearooms, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Words of wisdom

As I’m sure many other people do, I write down quotes that amuse me.

Many of these come from the mouths of the two delightful assistants, aka my mum and dad, and I record them in this book:

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A plain burgundy hardback notebook – it doesn’t look much from the outside but there are treasures within.

It’s quite old, this notebook. In fact, it dates back to the 1960s, when it belonged to my dad.

He had the idea of using it to record the books he’d read and the first 18 pages have a book title on each one.

This is the very first entry, showing a book that was read to him in 1967 (by my eldest brother, he thinks), and then read by him on three more occasions before 1970. He must have really liked it.

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Page one of the burgundy notebook.

I’ve tried to do this sort of thing myself, but I invariably forget to add some books as I finish them and eventually the project dies a natural death.

Much more successful has been my recording of quotes.

Over the years my dear pater has been getting deafer and deafer and some of the quotes that tickle me most are those involving his mishearing of things other people say. The quotes that follow will probably appeal to my immediate family more than anyone else, but you might be able to imagine the amusement caused.

My sister: “I want to see your receipt.”

Dad: “My feet?”

My sister: “RECEIPT!”

Dad: “Oh. I thought you were thinking about getting me slippers for Christmas.”

Mum: “There’s three bags to take to Flora’s.”

Dad: “Did you say something to me about teabags?”

My sister: “I meant to bring slips.”

Dad: “You met Prince Philip?”

Dad: “I think I”ll have a wee sit down.”

Mum: “I think you should have a big sit down.”

Dad: “Yes, I think I will have a biscuit.”

Recently my mum’s started to mishear things occasionally, too, such as the time when there was excavation work being done in the garden and one of the diggers (a JCB) got an oil leak.

Lorna: “Dad gave a hand towel to Derek, the boy with the JCB.”

Mum: “What boy who died of TB?”

Both of the parents can be quite droll.

Lorna: “I know a trick with a cake.”

Mum: “Do you? It’s called the vanishing trick. You vanish with the cake, is that right?”

My brother Fergus: “The Tay and Forth bridges were closed.”

Mum: “Entirely closed?”

Dad: “No, just half way across.”

Mum: “You really are looking slimmer today.”

Dad: “I’m wearing a tight vest.”

Lorna (to Dad): “And what made you change your mind?”

Mum: “Common sense.”

Dad: “Or a nagging wife.”

Mum: “It comes to the same thing.”

If you’ve read this far you’ll be needing a picture by now. Here’s an apple and cranberry scone I had earlier this week at Gloagburn Farm Shop and Tearoom:

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A festive apple and cranberry scone at Gloagburn, surprisingly flavoured with vanilla. Delightful assistant no.1 wasn’t too struck by the vanilla addition but I enjoyed it.

In addition to the book of quotes I’m thinking of collecting together my mum’s wise sayings. These are statements that she comes out with now and then, and in which she appears to believe completely and utterly. For example:

“It’s easier to get a fat person thin than a thin person fat.”

“The hours before midnight are more beneficial than those after.”

When I was at university one of my chums was entertained by the fact that I often wrote down word for word the things our lecturers said. My lecture notes frequently had things scribbled on them in quotation marks, and after seeing me do this she began doing it herself.

Little did I know that she was transferring them into a notebook which she eventually gave me for Christmas, on the front of which she had written “Lorna’s little book”.

I still have that book and some of the quotes inside it are from a rather eccentric chap who taught Behavioural Ecology. He was a bit absent-minded but very sincere and liked to make sure that we understood what he was trying to get across.

“There’s a meeting for those studying biological sciences. That’s biological science students.”

(on describing the behaviour of bee-eaters) “A bird is cleaning out a hole. You could call that hole-cleaning.”

“They move around in groups of one, which isn’t really a group at all, is it?”

Back at Gloagburn, before I ate the scone pictured above I had a very filling and tasty sandwich. If I were to ask you to guess the filling I wonder what you’d say:

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What’s in the sandwich?

The sandwich filling was, in fact, curried banana chutney with cheese.

Lastly, here’s something my dad said to a nurse at the local medical centre recently when he was going for a general health check. I can imagine him speaking in his usual confident manner, and the nurse looking astonished. He says her eyebrows shot up as he was speaking.

Nurse: “How tall are you?”

Dad: “I can’t remember it in metric but I do remember the feet and inches: 8 ft 5. When I went into the army they measured me and said they’d build me up. Do people shrink as they get older? Because I think I’m smaller than I used to be.”

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The delightful assistants: smaller than they’re prepared to admit.

Categories: Books, Bread, Inspiration, Photography, Scone, Scotland, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

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