Afternoon tea at Claridge’s

April 25, 2014

The main purpose of our trip to London was to go to Claridge’s for afternoon tea. Now, this is not something that we would normally do, but we had friends staying with us last summer during the Open golf at Muirfield – 17 miles (27K) up the coast from Dunbar, and they very kindly bought us afternoon tea for two, with champagne, at Claridge’s as a present. Claridge’s is of course, very posh and expensive. To give an idea of how expensive, I have just checked about staying there next week and I have the first choice of the Mayfair Suite, available from £1400. Expensive? Hey, this is a bargain, given that Claridge’s Suite is from £2100. Afternoon tea, even with champagne, is not as expensive of course, but for most people, it’s a something that you buy yourself or others as a treat. People often refer to “how the other half lives”. Well, when you are at Claridge’s, you are the other half. The phrase is a nonsense of course, as when people refer to the “other half”, they really mean the privileged 10%. As soon as you walk into Claridge’s and similar top hotels, what you notice is firstly the opulence of the décor e.g. there are always lots of mirrors, which I’m sure is an aspect of interior design, which tries to appeal to the vanity of customers who don’t just want to be in Claridge’s, but want to see themselves (and be seen by others) in Claridge’s. See photos 1-3 for the décor. The second feature is the number of staff. There are staff outside the entrance to hold the door for you or greet cars or taxis, and then there are many staff inside who are there to either greet you, help you or, it would appear, just to smile at you reassuringly. I’m sure that there must be a PhD study which would look at the different smiles given to different customers and the importance of the smile in hospitality management. There were lots of smiles for us as we approached the area for afternoon tea – the website refers to it being “Set in the splendour of Thierry Despont’s magnificent Foyer” – and I was told, in a very charming way, that our table was not immediately available but would be soon, and would we like to take a seat in the foyer. When I followed the other 3 afternoon tea partakers, I joked with then that we had been offered a free bottle of champagne while we waited, but I’d turned it down. We sat for probably 10 minutes, just taking in the décor. Then, one of the well dressed staff came up to us and apologised profusely, saying that our table was further delayed, but would we care to come into the lounge and have some champagne while we waited? I’d like to say we refused what was obviously just a patronising offer to people who were deemed not to be  used to such surroundings, but we smiled back and rose slowly from the sofas (settees? – what do they call them in 5 star hotels?) and made our way into the bar, although I’m pretty sure that the female member of staff who accompanied us, never actually used the word “bar”. We were given a bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne – a pleasant surprise.

Copper panelled staircase at Claridge's

Copper panelled staircase at Claridge’s

Art Deco at Claridge's

Art Deco at Claridge’s

Art Deco mirror at Claridge's entrance

Art Deco mirror at Claridge’s entrance

The afternoon tea itself was a delightfully decadent, hedonistic experience. The young Italian waiter explained that we would have our rosé champagne with the selection of sandwiches (click on gallery for photo) and then we would select our tea from the list of 30 presented to us. There is a bewildering choice of tea but I settled on the Single Estate which was from the ” Thyolo Mountains of Malawi” and, the menu told me that ” It is heady and bold with  notes of malt, caramel and chocolate”. The sandwiches – chicken, ham, smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise and cucumber and rocket (for more detail search for Claridge’s afternoon tea menu) - duly arrived with one tray for 2 people. I stopped myself from betraying my humble origins by not asking the waiter why he had cut off the crusts of the sandwiches, as my mother had always said that I would never grow up to be tall if I did not eat the crusts. The sandwiches were delicate and very tasty. We were offered more but declined, knowing what was to follow. The waiter then brought the scones and cakes (see photo 4) and explained about the scones, the clotted cream and the jam, as well as about the range of cakes on offer. There then followed a cultural discussion about whether one (Note: We’re in Claridge’s, so one uses the term “one” and not “you”) should put the cream on the scone first and then the jam, or vice versa. The conclusion was that one should try both, and one did and one was pleasantly surprised by both.  The cakes (see photo 5) were a mixture of light fruit cake, lemon cake, raspberries and cream, and chocolate gateau and were superb. My favourite was the lemon cake (see photo 6). The waiter brought a trolley with the teapots, with the tea leaves in them and water pots. He explained, as he filled our individual pots, that the water had to be put into the (unwarmed) pot at 97 degrees, in order to get the maximum taste from the tea. Mmm – so no boiling the kettle and no warming the teapot – sounded a little deviant me. What we discovered of course was that, while the tea was indeed very tasty, it was lukewarm. However, when in Claridge’s, do as the Claridgeans. All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend an early evening – we sat down at 6pm.

Scones and cakes at Claridge's

Scones and cakes at Claridge’s

Cakes an teapots at Claridge's

Cakes an teapots at Claridge’s

Lemon cake at Claridge's

Lemon cake at Claridge’s

 

A Word a Week Photo Challenge- round

April 18, 2014

Here is my contribution to this week’s challenge – many more great attempts at Sue’s website.

Camellia flower after rain in Wagga Wagga

Camellia flower after rain in Wagga Wagga

Bales in a field near Dunbar

Bales in a field near Dunbar

Fountains at the Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Fountains at the Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Poppy seed pot in my garden

Poppy seed pot in my garden

Chagall stained glass - seen in Nice gallery

Chagall stained glass – seen in Nice gallery

Creme brulee - afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Creme brulee – afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab, Dubai

London trip: camellia tree and Hampton Court walk

April 16, 2014

The blog is delayed until today (Tue 15 April) from last week as we were on holiday in the London area from Wednesday to Monday. We stayed in the pretty village of Thames Ditton. We were staying with relatives and in their back garden, the camellia tree was in full bloom. As the weather is milder in the south east of England, camellia trees grow extensively in gardens, whereas they are much rarer in the colder south east of Scotland where I live. I took photos of a bed of leaves which lay under the tree and my photographer’s luck was in, as a whole flower had fallen to sit in the middle of the spread of leaves, which lay as if waiting for a fairy princess to lie down in the pink softness. The 2nd and 3rd photos below show a single and a double camellia flower.

Bed of camellia leaves

Bed of camellia leaves

Single camellia flower

Single camellia flower

Double camellia flower

Double camellia flower

The day after arriving, we went for a walk to Hampton Court, via East Molesey. We walked along the river, past the well known Molesey Lock, which was built to allow large vessels to sail the river Thames. As you walk along the river, you see a variety of houseboats, some very narrow and some much larger. I took the photo below of a larger boathouse, as it was beautifully reflected in the river. Further along, we passed a  cherry tree in full blossom, with the flowers being a very similar colour to the camellia tree - see next photo.

Houseboat on the River Mole

Houseboat on the River Mole

Cherry blossom

Cherry blossom

On to Hampton Court itself, with its magnificent buildings and barley sugar chimneys – see here for a blog report on a previous visit, showing the chimneys. While all the daffodils had passed their best and were looking like weary revellers going home after an all-night  bacchanalian party, the tulips were standing proud and there were many varieties on show. The final 2 photos show a bed of tulips and other flowers and another bed next to the gates of Hampton Court. From there, we went on to Bushy Park, a wide expanse of grass and trees, and you can see where the avenues were created in the times when Henry the Eighth went hunting there. There are still herds of deer in the park and they often lie in the grass quite near the footpaths which transverse the park.

Tulips at Hampton Court

Tulips at Hampton Court

Tulips at Hampton Court gates

Tulips at Hampton Court gates

Forward Prizes, spring garden and free will

April 4, 2014

I have just finished reading The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. It’s an annual collection of poems submitted for various elements of the Forward Prizes. The best collection was by Michael Symmons Roberts entitled Drysalter which I’ve referred to in the blog. Taking the book off my bookshelves and opening it at random, I find Discoverers including the lines “History as layers of paint, sedimentary/ and underneath them all, spread/ like a painless contagion, stone”. The best first collection prize went to Emily Berry for Dear Boy, which includes the truly original prose poem “The International Year of the Poem” in which the poet imagines poems being seen as internationally subversive and governments taking action e.g. an Israeli prime minister stated that “We have now declared war on the poems of Gaza….we will treat the population with silk gloves/ but we will apply an iron fist to poems”. If you don’t normally buy poetry books, buy this one and read one or maybe two poems a day – your imagination will be richly stirred.

For the last 10 days, the east of Scotland and most of the east coast of  England has been covered in low cloud, with the occasional slow inrush of haar (sea mist) and the temperature has hung about 6 or 7 degrees. At times, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s sentence at the beginning of his novel The Road – “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world”. Now in The Road, the world has suffered a disaster – possibly nuclear war – and the sun has been permanently blocked out. The sun will return next week here but the image of a “cold glaucoma” is startling. Despite the ubiquitous grey in the sky and on the sea, my spring garden provided some relief and welcome colour, in the form of wallflower. grape hyacinths, daffodils and tulips in the 1st photo below. The 2nd photo is a pot with pansies, red and white tulips and daffodils. The 3rd photo shows the aftermath of the rain on a cyclamen plant.

Spring garden

Spring garden

Spring pot

Spring pot

Cyclamen after the rain

Cyclamen after the rain

Out on my bike this week, I listened to an episode of In Our Time, the weekly radio programme hosted by Melvyn Bragg on free will. This episode is from the programme’s archives. It was a fascinating discussion and it did not get too bogged down in terminology. Proponents of free will argue that we have freedom over our actions – will we choose the chicken or the fish in a restaurant? – although this is not complete freedom as our choices will be influenced by factors such as societal pressures, our experiences and our tastes. Opponents of free will – the determinists – argue that everything we do is determined e.g. by nature or by divine intervention, so we cannot have free will. However, if everything is determined, why don’t we just act as we like, possibly irresponsibly, as what we do is determined anyway? Some philosophers argue that if we have moral responsibility for our actions, then we don’t have complete free will but they also reject determinism. As with all things philosophical, there are many arguments and counter arguments e.g. we must try to define “free” and “will” before we can discuss it. So, while it looks like you have free will with regard to reading this blog post or not, you don’t make that decision uninfluenced.

A Word a Week Photo Challenge: contrast

April 2, 2014

Here are my photos involving different types of contrast. Many more excellent specimens at Sue’s website.

Please note that I’m unable, at the moment, to make photos open in a new tab – looking for a solution.

Height of man and height of termite mound in Litchfield National Park,  NT, Australia

Height of man and height of termite mound in Litchfield National Park, NT, Australia

Bright sky and dark shore at Belhaven Beach, Dunbar

Bright sky and dark shore at Belhaven Beach, Dunbar

Silhouettes against sea and sky, Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Silhouettes against sea and sky, Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Burj Khalifa dwarfs 70 storey buildings in Dubai (Photo taken from car)

Burj Khalifa dwarfs 70 storey buildings in Dubai (Photo taken from car)

Contrasting colours in the summer sky above

Contrasting colours in the summer sky above the summer night sky in Dunbar

Upright donkey, leaning tower in Pisa

Upright donkey, leaning tower in Pisa

Wenlock Edge, potato dreels and bored sheep

March 29, 2014

An intriguing and poetic entry from Paul Evans in a Country Diary in The Guardian this week. It begins “At wood’s edge, on a rabbit-scrabbled bank, a patch of white sweet violets, five yards square, glows under trees. There is so much energy in the air: a flash of sunlight catches the flowers and is gone under heavy cloud; in a matter of minutes there’s rain, then snow”. Evans goes on to tell us that sweet violets were dedicated to the Greek goddess Persephone one of whose roles was to encourage spring growth. Evans is also the author of an article How to be a nature writer and he gives an excellent list of what to do and what to avoid.

Out cycling yesterday and there was an east wind that would cut your cheeks off if you stood still for long enough. So, I headed out towards the local cement works, with the Barns Ness lighthouse on the shore to my left, and on to Torness Power Station, which admittedly, is not the bonniest sight around our countryside, but if you ignore the power station, and concentrate on the fields, beaches and the sea, it’s a rewarding cycle. Near the power station, 3 tractors were planting potatoes (aka tatties in Scotland) and forming rough furrows, which are then smoothed out and de-stoned in the process. Around here, these furrows are called dreels and when you see a newly planted field of tatties at this time of year, it heralds the onrush of Spring, although the stinging east wind tells you otherwise. I went back and took my camera. Photo 1 shows the rough dreels which contain the newly planted potatoes and photo 2 shows a tractor de-stoning and smoothing. Seamus Heaney’s poem Digging has images of his father ” Stooping in rhythm through potato drills/ Where he was digging”. His father was digging up the grown potatoes. Heaney uses drills instead of dreels.

Rough potato dreels

Rough potato dreels

De-stoning and smoothing

De-stoning and smoothing

Just beyond  the power station, I passed a field of sheep, which appeared to be ewes with swollen bellies in preparation for lambing. On going back with my camera, I discovered an anatomical indication that told me that these ewes were in fact rams. Now, I know that anthropomorphizing is not always recommended, but these sheep looked particularly bored with life. On our bikes, my pals and I pass many sheep on the country roads and some sheep can be seen merrily chewing at grass, or lambs can be greedily feeding, or some sheep can have a philosophical look, as if they might be trying to work out the implications of Hume’s arguments on human nature. The sheep I saw yesterday (see 2 photos below) definitely looked as if the world was not doing them any favours i.e. they were stuck in this field again, grass for breakfast, lunch and dinner, no conversation, no jokes, no laughter,  and not even a mountable ewe in sight. Or maybe they saw me on my bike, and then back with my camera, intruding on their personal space – without even asking permission! – and wondered what was wrong with ME.

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Carol Barrett, time travel and enjoy the daffodils while you can

March 22, 2014

A visit to the excellent SOC Donald Watson Gallery in Aberlady to see a stunning exhibition of paintings by Carol Barrett, entitled Under An African Sky. The exhibition features Carol’s paintings from trips to Botswana and to Tanzania. There’s a wide variety of birds and animals depicted in the exhibition and it’s only when you consider the amount of detail in many of the paintings e.g. birds such as the Crowned Crane or any of the cheetah paintings, that you realise how skilled and imaginative this artist is. I emailed Carol and she kindly sent me photos of what I thought were the two standout paintings in the exhibition and they are posted below. The first is a large painting of 3 elephants and it appears to be an affectionate family portrait, to be enjoyed by all. What I also liked about it was the abstract quality of parts of the painting e.g. the lines on the elephants’ trunks. The second painting is an extraordinary portrait of an ageing lion, and you can almost see the years of experience in his eyes. There’s also, for me, a melancholy aspect, as if the lion might be bemoaning that his best days are in the past, although there is still menace in his eyes. The detail and the delicate background in this painting are of the highest quality and I returned to the painting several times. If you are in the area, it’s a must see.

Tender Giants by Carol Barrett

Tender Giants by Carol Barrett

Fading Monarch by Carol Barrett

Fading Monarch by Carol Barrett

This week, I finished my free online Philosophy course presented by a range of expert lecturers from Edinburgh University. The final week was on time travel and it focussed not on the possibility of time travel but on the logic of time travel. Dr Alasdair Richmond posed a number of intriguing questions about the logic of time travel e.g. could you go back in history and kill Hitler before he came to power? Given that the history of the world since the 1930s has happened and is believably recorded by almost everyone, it would not be logical to argue that this could be done. However, it might be logical to suggest that a time traveller could go back and see Hitler before he came to power, as long as history was not changed. A further logical possibility – however unlikely – is that there could be multiple worlds I.e. not just our own, and that, in another world, Hitler might well have been killed and not come to power. Now, all this could be dismissed as navel gazing but what it does do, is make you think carefully about what you are listening to, what you read and what sense you make of all this.

The daffodils are out in people’s gardens, in forests and in municipal displays at roadsides and roundabouts, and they are a delight to the eye. However, this week we have had very strong winds which have tested the daffodils’ strength severely and there have been many casualties, such as the ones in the photo below, taken at the back of my house. So we have to enjoy the daffodils while we can. At least the daffodils are stronger than the crocuses shown in the previous post, all of which were blasted into oblivion by the wind.

Blasted daffodils

Blasted daffodils

 

Blog up and running again

March 18, 2014

Terrible gremlins appeared from, presumably, Gremlinland, over the past week, but the blog seems to be up and running OK again. Apologies if you tried to get on to the last post and couldn’t. As we say around here “It wisnae me” i.e. it wasn’t me.

 

“Poetry is the bomb”, making chowder and crocuses

March 15, 2014

I recently bought The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. I buy  this anthology  every year as it is a collection of poems which were considered for the Forward Prizes each year. The best collection, I was very happy to see, went to Michael Symmons Roberts for his book Drysalter which I have featured on this blog e.g. here. The foreword to the book, written by Jeanette Winsterston, has a dramatic start. Winterson writes “POETRY IS THE BOMB [original capitalisation] and the safe exploding of the bomb”. The author acknowledges that this may be “too violent an image” but argues that the world is besieged by the rich, environmental and religious problems, and by information overload. Winterson concludes that “The poem as the bomb is the poem as the flash of energy capable of blasting an opening into our private bunker”. You can read the foreword by clicking on the book cover here. Today, I read one of the poems At Llantwitt Beach by Oliver Dixon, which includes the imaginative lines “the sea itself now/ that giant loom/ perpetually unravelling/ the striped tapestry/ it’s just woven”. The book is a snip at £8.99, so buy it now.

There are many, many recipes for chowder including fish – just do a search. I’ve been making smoked haddock chowder for a long time, and I started off only including smoked haddock along with leek, carrots, potatoes (mashed and chopped), fish stock, milk and crème fraiche or cream. Recently, I have started adding salmon to the chowder and including some celery. So, my method is to sweat a large, thinly chopped leek, 2 carrots diced small and 2 sticks of celery. I then put the smoked haddock and salmon, cut into big chunks, on top of the vegetables. I turn the fish and cook until it’s steamed and then I add half pint of fish stock, made up to a pint with milk. To this I add previously cooked mash potato and chopped potato. To finish, I add the crème fraiche or cream and simmer for about 10 minutes. Serve the chowder with a crispy baguette warmed in the oven, and 2 servings of this constitute a full meal. You can of course, add prawns, mussels or other fish, as chowder is one of the most flexible of soups. It tastes delicious.

March sees the crocuses emerge from grassy areas here in Dunbar and there’s a magnificent display in the nearby village of West Barns, which is known to some of its former residents as The People’s Republic of West Barns. The photos below are from Spott Road in Dunbar, just up the road from my house. The crocus is one of the oldest known flowers and following on from the snowdrops, the crocuses provide a welcome splash of bright colours at (you hope) the end of winter. Thomas Hardy’s poem The Year’s Awakening asks how the crocus bulb knows that winter might be over and that there will be “mild airs that do not numb”. Once the crocuses are above ground, however, you have to admire their beauty because, as soon as strong winds arrive, their delicate petals are threatened.

Crocuses on Spott Road

Crocuses on Spott Road

Crocus close up

Crocus close up

 

Crocus bunches

Crocus bunches

Crocus close up

Crocus close up

 

 

A Word a Week Photo Challenge: Run

March 14, 2014

This week’s challenge is both easy and difficult for me. It’s easy as I have many, many photos of runners. For 14 years, I was the non-running president of Dunbar Running Club and both my wife and older son have run marathons, half marathons and 10K races. It’s difficult as I have to choose from them. My criterion is that I’ve included running photos with scenic backgrounds. You can see many more at Sue’s website.

 

Kilted runner at Carnethy

Kilted runner at Carnethy

Traprain Law Hill Race

Traprain Law Hill Race

Race start with snowy Pentland Hills to come

Race start with snowy Pentland Hills to come

Haddington Half Marathon at harvest time

Haddington Half Marathon at harvest time

Start of coastal marathon on Alnmouth Beach

Start of coastal marathon on Alnmouth Beach

 

 

 

 

 


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