Reaching Out

I have had a blast and a half of a start to my tour season with the luck to have met some wonderful people on my first few tours of the year. How lucky I am to be able to do this. I am indebted to Alan Chalmers, who has now sadly passed, who gave me an opening here. What a very decent chap Alan was.

Now I have been doing a wee bit of browsing on the web to see what’s out there in the food tour world and stumbled across Arva Ahmed who set up ‘Frying Pan Adventures’. She was a a Dubai based food blogger who got a bit bored I believe in having to dish up reviews to order and so set up a food tour company with her sister, the first in Dubai.

It seems like she has absolutely killed the food tour scene there and has made a bit of a name for herself. She got invited onto that Netflix series ‘Somebody Feed Phil’ with that chap Mr Rosenthal who in my opinion has one of the best gigs in the universe, wandering the globe and trying out the best and most individual cuisine each region has to offer. I see they got Tony Singh in the Edinburgh one. Sound choice.

Now the weather here in St Andrews has been miserable. I managed to get my American client Phil onto the Old Course last week but the heavens opened and the wind blew and it was cold and dreek and we got utterly soaked to the skin. But Phil and I navigated our way around with the help of Brian Erskine, my friend who was roped in to caddie and did a sterling job. Brian is a sterling bloke though.

There are things afoot on the restaurant scene folks but I can’t divulge more than that at the moment. I will keep you all in the utmost suspense!

I see PIGGS have now opened up in Bruntsfield. It is run by my friend Iggy Campus’s sons and will kill it there. Iggy really knows what he is up to and his sons have the looks and the style and indeed the food to pull this off big time. It should make a nice change for people who frequent the monstrously overcharging Montpelliers. But let’s not hark on about that crowd. They are not my flavour of the decade, albeit they can turn a bob or two.

But it’s not all about money. I would rather treat people fairly in life.

Outwith that, I see Dine Murrayfield are now 4th on Trip Advisor! I knew it was a super location there when I opened my cafe 10 years back and it’s a bit of a shame that we didn’t make that work as a bistro. We really failed badly there. Ho hum. I take a lot of the blame of course for not addressing things quicker. It was a truly learning experience. The guys now doing it are pretty on the ball even though I’m not bowled over by their food if I’m honest.

I was bowled over this week in Dollar though as we slipped into Cafe at No 44 on the main drag and I had the best bacon roll I have ever had tasted. And what a charming little place too with lovely attentive staff. This really is spot on folks.

Anyway as I said exciting times are ahead now for me on the food scene and as I said watch this space.

Fare forward passengers.

Days like these

It’s rather pouring today and I am well invested in the window seat at Luvians, sipping my hot chocolate and having a wee bit of time-out.

I had a great time yesterday in Edinburgh visiting the Morningside library which is a really tip-top place with many interesting books on local history. Of course I am biased as it’s my patch, Morningside. I feel at home walking around here and still see the old ken’t faces wandering around, doing their stuff, going to Waitrose’s to pick up their weekly shop, dropping by the Merlin or Canny Mans (if they can afford it), popping into Hills (Ladbrokes has now gone alas), or just frequenting one of the many coffee shops which now adorn the main drag. I think there are about a dozen now. Long ago there was only the Coffee Stop, except I never ever stopped there to my recollection. Coffee stopping was not the art form that it is nowadays.

Looks like we have finally sold our property in Kelty which is a relief. Crazily we bought there 15 years back when we did work for Wimpey Homes with the flower business. I probably did the worst property deal ever as I sold my flat in the heart of London to enable it. This still hurts to be honest. But as a businessman I don’t cut it and I know it. My talents lie elsewhere I think. I am still trying to unravel that one though.

Anyway I suppose the beginning of wisdom starts with knowing which road we shouldn’t be travelling down. It’s taken me a bit to grasp this mind.

Anyway I am all set for the summer now. I have made some good progress on the golf course this week, added to a few more tour bookings coming in (one with 10 ladies coming to see Dundee and me!)

Am looking forward to watch Scotland play Ireland tomorrow at the rugger. I do hope they don’t revert to cheating though and give an honest show.

Last day of Cheltenham chaps and I have not had one bet.

Now that is progress.

Mind you I do hanker after a pint one day down at that cosy little snug of a pub in Hollow Bottom, I think that’s what it’s called?! Take me back to bygone days wandering around the Cotswolds and slipping by the Woolpack and all that.

Now who could desire much more than that?

God get me a train and get me to Slad once again.

Rugby woes

It was a shocker for scottish rugby fans on Saturday as the team got beaten in Rome. A match that could have set up a thrilling encounter next week against Ireland for the Six Nations crown.

All was looking good as we were 20 to 10 ahead when Horne flew over in front of the posts and the commentator was talking about bonus points. However a replay of the action showed that Schoeman had intentionally obstructed an Italian player off the ball and a penalty was rightly awarded to Italy and the try nulled.

The fact was that Schoeman’s action was totally needless. Horne would still have scored. This turned the game around for Italy. What I found noteworthy were the journalists comments. They called it an ‘error’.

‘Error’ ! Come on chaps let’s face the facts here. This is downright cheating and has no place in the game of rugby. And please let’s start calling this out for what it really is. Greg Townsend the coach said that they would have to tackle this ill-discipline! Would he have said that he would root out the cheats in his team. He may then gain some credence in my books.

Anyway very well done to the Italians. They are now a major player in world rugby.

We are marching into springtime now folks apart from the lack of spring weather of course. I am maintaining my Rishi Sunak Monday fast and have got my coffee down to one a day. So hoorah. My golf swing is still challenging me at every turn though but some things never change.

This weeks tips are Lidl’s hazelnut croissants, wild nettle leaf salad and Lidl’s.

Lidl’s is just brill. Now there is a wee catchy number.

The first qualifying round of the Jock Hutchinson is on Saturday on the Eden course so I will keep you guys posted. This is my favourite St Andrews Club comp whereby qualifiers play a knock-out on the Old Course throughout the summer.

I did get to the final once and one up with two to go but I ceremoniously bottled it. Some things never change indeed.

Fare forward passengers.

Best fish and chips?

I am always amused when I go to Anstruther to see the queue outside the fish and chips place there. Not that I go to Anstruther just to see the queue outside the fish and chipper mind you. Anstruther has an awful lot to offer apart from fish and chips.

Now when I say fish and chips place I mean the garish, award winning blazoned one in the middle of the main drag. The Anstruther Fish and Chip Shop. There are two other substantial fish and chips outlets in The Wee Chippy and The Waterfront but most tourists flock to the garish one.

However I was not amused with the cost of their carry out fish supper. It’s £13.50 now (not that I purchased one!). And that is without one mushy pea in sight. Indeed no sauce tartare either. Well at an extra cost I suppose.

It’s funny how hype works in the commercial world. I mean people are still known to drink Budweiser and Heineken, which is wholly remarkable. And an awful lot of people must eat Subway sandwiches and Dominos pizzas too for there is one on every high street noo.

But £13.50 for fish and chips. And they are queuing up for it. Strange old world.

They do the same at Janetta’s in St Andrews for ice cream. When lovely, unassuming Luvians is serving better fare around the corner.

It’s all hype man, hype. Cheap hearsay hype. I mean people patronise Gordon Ramsay’s pad in St Andrew Square (goodness knows why?) and pay a million bucks for a steak. Whereas the best steak is at Kyloe or Wildfire, but who’s heard of them or wants to? It’s all in the name or in the name-dropping maybe.

We found a corner store on the High Street last week which sold the best pastries I’d ever tasted. £1.50 a pop.

There was no queue there.

I’ve got for my first game

on the Old Course tomorrow which should be fun. My new swing is in place for the season and I’m hoping for great things. My handicap is incredibly 10.5. How did that happen? Obviously a lot of very poor golf.

But what a very hard game it is. I’ve been struggling now for almost 40 years with it but still I persist. That says something about me but a lot about this old game.

Anyway bring on the old lady.

Fare forward passengers.

Day trips to Edinburgh

I am in the habit of popping down to Edinburgh a couple of times a week on the bus.

I usually trail up to my old golf course, Mortonhall, to hit a few balls on the range which has the most stunning vista of the city from the top of the Braid Hills. It is quite quite exceptional. And it does warrant a ‘quite quite’.

I then usually slip down the road to Morningside through the Hermitage, past the tennis courts and the braidburn, to have a coffee at Waitrose.

It’s a wonderful thing that Waitrose give you a free coffee (and not bad coffee too) if you purchase something in their store. They also have a bench by the window with seats and I normally sit and ruminate. Except I usually don’t sit and ruminate long as I nearly always see someone I know coming out with their shopping.

Yesterday first came Ken McNaughton, an old ski teacher friend who is a wonderful chap. We hadn’t seen each other for a bit and we had a great catch-up about the days instructing at Hillend and our skiing tales since.

Then along came my mum’s good friend, Marie, who I also hadn’t seen for a good many years. She really hasn’t changed and is in wonderful Marie form. A keen golfer who plays at Craigmiller Park and is still a member back in Portrush. Now that is cool. Her son, Andrew, plays at Mortonhall and loves it.

Of course there are some people who come along that are not so communicative for whatever reason. An old tango teacher who rather avoided eye contact and the like. But I can live with that as he never set the heather alight with his conversation anyway.

So that’s my tip for the week. A free coffee and chin-wag at Waitrose Morningside. Absolutely free. Which is really quite ok as I now really resent getting done for an artisan coffee from some awful trendy joint.

I see Montpelliers have done up their place again. Seemingly spent 1.5 million on it! Wow. That’s a lot.

However I won’t be rushing in. A 6oz fillet steak will cost you £34.95. And that is before you get any chips (french fries of course!) and the like. Sour grapes maybe? No. Not now. My brother was a founding partner but got rather ousted by the sort for whom friendship is skin deep, have the audacity to charge £34.95 for a steak and hang out with sleekit coofs, who literally kick a man when he is down.

No, I will stick to the not so trendy joints, thank you and leave the muckle rest to their artisan fare.

Fare forward passengers.

Old Course Caddie Shack

I played on the New yesterday with Azzie and Ed and a lovely new chap, Steve, who was the head guy at UK Mail a few years back. A gentleman. He has come to retire in St Andrews.

He said that he now does a bit of caddying up at the Castle. He had been down at the Old but was not impressed with the atmosphere in the caddie shack down there.

He told me that he went in when he first started and there was a group at a table who he said good morning to. There was not one response from anyone in that group and a deadly silence prevailed.

Another time he was sitting next to the said group and he thought he would try and add something to their conversation. You know to break the ice and show caddie fraternity and all that. Kind of see if they had any cognisant life in them and maybe it was that they were just not morning people.

But again there was zero response.

I am not surprised at hearing this as I know some of the boors that he is talking about It’s astounding that grown men can be quite so ignorant.

This is not to say that there are not good men down there for indeed there are; Scott Ritchie, Dave Jack, John Cunningham and the inimitable and miraculous Tom Stevenson to name a few. But these other guys let the show down big time. Shame for them. They are a most pathetic bunch.

Steve also recounted a story about the Dunhill of which I was equally unsurprised about. A caddie had the bag of Ronan Keating who was seemingly so rude that by the 2nd hole the caddie said stuff this I don’t need to take this shit. And he duly walked off and left the bag to numpty Roland.

Well done that caddie.

I may try and do a few bags up at the Castle this year because there is a better shack mentality up there and with guys like Steve and Jim Monteith

and Brian Erskine and Craig Robertson it’s very much worth it.

And at 110 bucks a round on average it’s pretty ok.

Fare forward passengers.

Burns Supper Week

Just finished a week in which I performed two Tam O’Shanter recitals at my old golf club, Mortonhall, in Edinburgh and the Fairmont Hotel in St Andrews. And it all went swimmingly.

Yes I have now got Tam well and truly by heart and so can begin to enjoy doing it rather than feel the trepidation of stumbling and stalling half way through.

I played some rather unremarkable golf on the Jubilee yesterday but really enjoyed getting out for a natter with my pal, Azzie, who is one of the more modest and humble people in this world. I had heard through the grapevine that he had two holes in one in the same round on the New Course last summer!

That is something very special indeed. And it was more impressive in that he got them at two of the hardest par 3’s in St Andrews (in Scotland even!) ie the 9th and 17th on the New Course! And he hit 5 irons at both holes. Wow and wow and even wow.

I think that must be one of the rarest feats I have ever heard of on a golf course. Well apart from me doing 3 minutes 57 in the Dewar Hill Race at Mortonhall of course and Oliver Horowitz (‘An American Caddie in St Andrews’) winning the gold sovereign 3 times at the ‘playing in’ of the R&A captain (see my earlier post of how I came a glorious second to him!)

But joking apart this is phenomenal. Well done Azzers. What a man.

I am very excited about the forthcoming season now. The tours are building up and there is a lot of gowf to be played. Azzie and I are trying to get our first game on the Old next Saturday, ballot dependent.

At just over 300 bucks the St Andrews Links Ticket is still the hottest ticket in golf. Ok it’s gone up since the time I was a student here when it was fifteen quid a year!

But oh my, that was a very long time ago. How I still remember drinking pints of heavy and playing dominoes in the St Andrews club after our Wednesday medal on the New.

Those days are gone now sadly.

But there is still much to be done.

Fare forward passengers .

A week in the library

My first week off from toad work and I made the most of my St Andrews University library ticket. Let’s face it, when the weather is below zero and the bitingly cold wind cuts off the North Sea, then it’s not the worst place to shore up.

I am getting ready for my two Tam O’Shanter gigs this week. One at Mortonhall Golf Club on Thursday and then the next night at the Fairmont Hotel. This should be a very interesting week. I like the way Mortonhall billed me as a ‘special guest’. That made me laugh a bit. Well I suppose as a reprobate and censored St Andrews caddie cum somewhat local tour guide with a rather eclectic career history, I am not your usual Mortonhall member. I will have to try and make some mileage out of that description though. But most of all I want to do Rabbie proud and give a decent recital.

Our golf was cancelled yesterday due to frost which was a bit strange as there was none. Green keeping is beyond me.

I bumped into Art last week on South Street. He was the sommelier at Dean Banks at the Pompadour when I worked there. Now may I say it’s not hard to bump into Art as he is six feet nine inches tall and most identifiable, rather solid too. A sound second row for Boroughmuir back in the day. A lovely chap too. He fittingly works for Majestic Wine on the corporate side which is rather apt as he is rather majestic, all said.

My tour bookings are beginning to trickle in so that is good. It should be a decent year I hope.

Fare forward passengers.

A New Start. A New Regime.

2024 ! Who would have believed it?

I graduated from St Andrews 40 years ago now. That is something.

I have changed so much obviously but I am still the same will o the wisp character and I am still anchored to the game of golf. Indeed to the friends that I met over 40 years ago now. In fact we are playing on Saturday morning. I am lucky. They are a wonderful and most decent bunch. Not to say that I haven’t met some incredible people since then.

Friends shape you so much.

And I am 62 this year! The year I was born in back in the last century. Now that does make me feel old.

But I am still so young at heart. Still eager, impetuous and with my head in the clouds of course. Some things never change.

I will try and give a weekly blog update from now on for the few that are interested. I do know that a few people are and it is most certainly worthwhile carrying on for the genuine encouragement and positivity that I have had from these individuals.

I don’t think they appreciate just how much that means to me.

But they are very special people indeed.

So the news this week is that I have left Luvians to start focussing on my tour guiding. It was a great gig for a few months and I got a wonderful insight into the drinks industry and the real world of work again (working is hard!).

I am doing Tam O’Shanter at the Burns Supper at Mortonhall on the 25th which will be fun and there is a possible MC gig in the offing!

It’s strange how life works sometimes . How opportunities come from nowhere and lead us down all sorts of crazy new paths.

I read an interesting article in the FT about the famous Kandahar ski club in Murren which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It’s a bit like the R&A I think with a lot of well-heeled members. I like how they style the club as a drinking club with a ski problem. Now, that’s my kind of club.

it took me back to my halcyon days in Val D’Isere when I was out on the piste every day and out on the piste every night. I ran the piano bar in the old Solaise Hotel on the main drag. It was a bit of a dream all said.

But these dreams can come again.

.

Oh what a year, early December 2023

This has been a blast of a year in so many respects. I have effectively started a new business, stopped drinking, lost weight, found Tchaikovsky and Jaramillo coffee, gained wisdom, got one year older and just managed to keep my head above water financially.

So I am quite chuffed overall. I seem to be able to do tour-guiding which is a pleasant surprise, given that I never got selected onto the scottish tour guide association course.

But heho, it’s not necessary to have the blue badge and I have a feeling I would have found the course tough going to be honest. Back to the classroom again and the polite chat and all that history and geology overkill and the rest of the stuff they cram you with.

I am also now working in a bottle shop. In fact not just any old bottle shop, but indeed ‘The Bottle Shop’, which is Luvians in St Andrews. Set up by the Fusaro brothers in 1983, it’s a formidable establishment with very cool staff (mostly students but some university philosophy lecturers! With first class degrees or heading that way and all vastly knowledgeable about the industry- known as Luvianistas!).

Anyhow it’s a great environment to work in even though I am not so knowledgeable about the industry and very much didn’t get a first class degree. I scraped a Desmond.

Luvians is very similar to Taste, the amazing wee coffee shop in North Street and the incorrigible butcher boys’s pad in Bruntsfield and Rosevear Tea and the chippy in Leven and the Crail lobster shack and Kay’s Bar and The Canny Man’s (when they let me in) and that deli with the wonderfully eccentric looking chap in Val D’Isere (if it’s still there and he is still there) and the Bar d’Alsace and The Woolpack Inn and La Grand Ourse and The Phoenix and Mellis’s and Penmans and North Street Newport Bakery when Jo-Lee is on and I could go on? But let us stop with Jo-Lee in the Newport Bakery.

There aren’t enough of these places that’s for sure. Long live the quirky, classy independents. Especially the ones with such nice staff.

So if anyone is floating around St Andrews then do please float by Luvians in Market Street and have a wee dram (there is indeed a whisky tasting library!) and a natter and a chortle if all goes well.

Everyone likes a good chortle. Well unless you’re not disposed that way. But I do like a good wee chortle.

And in my opinion there is not enough of that going on these days.

Long live the good wee chortle.

My tips for the week (all running in the 3.30 at Doncaster) are the new book by Dolly Alderton, the sherry casked Glenturret 12 year old, the Ninja long black with extra shot from Taste, any ice wine, Tamazaki 18 year old, The Highlander Inn, Tomme de Savoie, Romato fino sherry, Nick Drake, chocolate panatone and of course the Newport Bakery almond croissant, ideally served up by Jo Lee.

Fare forward passengers.