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). 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 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 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 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, Kamazaki 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.

Idle Thoughts

So I won’t bore you with my thoughts on the rugger. The final on Saturday will speak for itself and I shall certainly be watching the game. As I thought the South Africans have got the blonde bombshell chappy back in the starting line-up. He is always good value to watch though. Wonderful hair. In fact I would say game-changing hair.

Now, I started talking to a chap yesterday who was in Taste and wearing a Carnegie Club top. I asked him about my old schoolmate Dave Thompson who had been the pro up at Skibo Castle for decades. And it turns out that Dave has just retired and is off to live in Spain.

Dave landed a brilliant position there after a brief foray into the professional ranks. He was top qualifier on the European Tour back in the day and had one full season out there with the big boys. He hardly made a cut, lost a tonne load of money into the bargain and got divorced too.

Dave is a character. He was an amazing all round sportsman. A fine full-back for Stewarts Melville and an awesome fast bowler. Oh those were the days! What an outfit we were. Rarely beaten, we shone brightly on sunny afternoons down at Ferryfield when life was one eternal dewy spring morn.

But let’s get off the sentimental bandwagon. There’s work to be done.

I’m 61 now. Gosh. Where did all that time go what?

All sped by rather. And here is me just starting off too, while all my friends sail off into the idyl of retirement.

But I have work to do. A new venture is on the horizon. Carpe diem and all that.

Watch this space.

Fare forward passengers.

Rumblings at the St Andrews Club

Our captain and vice-captain have just resigned with only one month of their office left over.

Intriguing what?

An EGM has been called and the town is abuzz with gossip as to what’s going on. People are holding impromptu meetings down at the New Club and everyone is really in a bit of a fair tizz over this.

So I shall be getting a front row seat at the EGM to hear the story.

Of course we don’t have this issue at my club Mortonhall in Edinburgh as we no longer really have any committee of any sort, as it was thought wise a few years back to run the club more like a serious business with a serious CEO, who is getting paid serious lucre by all accounts. This has now all gone a bit flat though as members are feeling divorced from the running of their beloved club. And they have a point as the greens are over-done to death, the bar prices are extortionate, the food is dull and expensive, a cheap pool table has now taken pride of place in the bar, the comfy leather armchairs have disparu, the CEO won’t put claret on the wine list nor answer emails thereof and they have destroyed the natural beauty of the entrance by putting a hideous fence around the putting green. I know not why?

Anyway, what a rugby match we had with New Zealand taking on Ireland in the quarter finals of the World Cup. You had to really feel for Ireland at the close as a rolling maul in the final moments actually got over the line but was incredibly held up. Somehow. I know not how. Poor Johnny Sexton looked gutted to the core and no wonder. It’s probably his last game for Ireland after an amazing career.

But it’s only a game. As is goff of course.

But what is happening down at the St Andrews Club? A vote of no confidence is a serious matter.

Back at the butchers

As I said its always good for the old soul to pop into the butchers shop in Bruntsfield that is Wm Christie and Son.

Because Angus is a laugh and indeed his brother Bob is a laugh and further, Jody, Angus’s new wife from Toronto city is a laugh too. So that’s a guaranteed 3 laughs on a good day if they all pitch up. Which is more than you’ll get than going to a Frank Skinner comedy show and twenty eight bucks cheaper.

And of course you never quite know who will pop in. Yesterday, there was a rather dapper chappy in a kilt who I kind of recognised. He was quite obviously a tour guide as he had his badge on. So my starter for ten was ‘are you a blue badge?’ To which he replied ‘yes how do you know?’ To which I rather stated that he was indeed wearing his STGA blue badge.

But this was veritably the tour guide chap Joe, who does a lot of you tube videos with his buddy and is doing rather well by all accounts, as they have now chalked up a hundred and twenty videos.

But what fun he is. And doing pretty buoyantly as well it appears, as he has a group of seventy clients for a week who are staying in the Waldorf nonetheless.

I explained that I hadn’t made the grade as a blue badge guide and was soldiering on doing my own little thing.

And yesterday I did just that. I had four lovely americans from Seattle who I escorted around a damp Edinburgh. It was a lovely day all told.

Unfortunately I have not been given a bag for the Dunhill this week though. A bit of a shame. But I was glad to see my pal John had picked up Catherine Zeta Jones. Or more correctly he has bagged Catherine Zeta Jones. No maybe that’s not quite the way to put it. But you get my drift. He has got her bag (golf bag).

But John Crawford deserves that as he is a very decent guy. He told me that he actually played in the Dunhill one year as they used to give a slot for one chap from Leuchars Station. He got a friend to caddie for him and said forget the goff, his job was to make sure that he made the most of the gratuitous hospitality that is lavishly laid on throughout the week. He wanted to be the last man standing at each night’s bash.

Now there is a man I can relate to.

But oh my goodness, Matt Wallace the personality-challenged golfer has just walked into Taste as I write this!

And the day had started off so very swimmingly. I have even got a shout of a job in Luvians Wine shop after a wee chat with Quintin who said they were looking for someone.

Taste really is an excellent place.

Fun times

I have to say that my new job as a tour guide is a bit of a blast. I am not entirely sure though that all my clients would quite affirm so positively, but I do seem to be getting on ok on the review front (albeit I am below average on the number of 5 star ratings as a proportion of tours on the Tours By Locals site). Ho hum.

It’s a privilege though to be given the opportunity to spend time with so many very interesting and fun people. And I am getting paid for this. I mean it beats being a trainee chartered accountant auditing title deeds in Mortlake. All day actually.

I must admit that I have no formal qualifications for my new role though. In fact I failed to get onto the illustrious Scottish Tourist Guide Associations blue badge course.

Yes I have rather bad memories of that final weekend interview with some uninspiring tutors, alongside a prevailing sense of being back in a primary 7 classroom.

In fact it drove me to having too many beers with an old pal in Glasgow, missing my last bus in Glenrothes and spending a night in a shrub next to the bus station (somewhere to rest my head but not exactly the Coco Chanel chanel suite in the Paris Ritz)

Albeit I do feel a kind of relief at this as it would have stung me the best part of ten grand and I am not referring to the Coco Chanel suite in the Ritz (that’s 12k I believe) I mean that blue badge course, of course. But I am fond of that parallel. It is a good parallel.

Anyway hang course work. Hang the blue badge.

I had my fill of all that in attempting to get my professional accountancy qualifications and I’ve kind of been through the mill and back.

I am doing my own study of scottish history and the like and that’s better and a whole lot cheaper. Anyhow, tour guiding is largely about entertaining and engaging people and I figure you just can’t teach that.

St Andrews is wonderful at the moment by the way. I have taken to swimming in the sea regularly and am really feeling the benefit. My weight is going down as a result of my new zero alcohol policy and a better diet.

I don’t think a lot of people quite believe me on this one though! The drink I mean. I came clean on social media about it and not one person commented. Shame.

Nevertheless on the drink/golf front I have achieved two monumental things (not that going dry is not monumental may I say).

Thanks to my critical Trip Advisor review, Sheena and Jack finally saw the light and Tennents is back again in The Dunvegan (even though I am manifestly not!) and the wine committee at Mortonhall Golf Club in Edinburgh is now seriously contemplating putting a claret on their list. I have been badgering them for a long time about this.

A club of this standing without a claret! What ho!?

I do hope it’s a good one though.

Fare forward passengers.

The old caddie lark

This old caddie lark is a bit of a lark.

I mean I hang out a wee bit in St Andrews these days and have my ear near to the ground (sometimes a bit more near to the ground than others if you get my drift!)

Anyway I was in Taste just now and bumped into a caddie who works at the Old who has just informed me that the Links Trust are now allocating caddies for the Dunhill, which means that if you have had a client for the past few years then tough, because you ain’t going to have them this year.

These blokes who run the Links Trust have again got above themselves. Of course I have a personal axe to grind with them when they dictated that I should show them every article I wrote before it got published! Who do you think you are guys?

You who have no real feel for the history of our game here either. You changed the name of the Old Tom Morris Shop where he had his workshop to the ‘The Open’ !

Yuk. Why?

Moreover they have run roughshod over employees with respect to their pensions, pay terribly low wages to their workers when they (the chosen few fat-cat directors) walk away with stratospheric sums, have put up the yearly residents ticket this year by over 40 per cent on the pre-text of having to recover from covid after they somewhat milked the government for furlow dosh. Tenuous what?

Some charity.

I shall be looking at the accounts with particular interest this year.

However the caddies are ripping it this year. I met a nice chap yesterday just off the Old. He showed me his gains from the round. A hundred and seventy quid!

Now I am in the wrong job like.


I did my first tour of Dundee on Saturday and I’m a bit cock-a-hoop about the place to be honest.

My lovely guests from the Midwest (America) just arrived that morning on the first ever cruise ship to roll into town.

Yes folks. Dundee is now a veritable tourist destination. Would you believe it?

Well you wouldn’t have a few years back before the start of the £1 billion bucks investment into the waterfront and the new Kenzi Kuma designed V&A now sitting majestically next to the RRS Discovery.

I chanced to find the most amazing cafe I have come across in years. Empire State sits in the very heart of town in a lovely curved Victorian street which left me awestruck. An oh so cool cafe.

I mean this felt like being in Borough Market or Left Bank Paris or West Village, NY. But no it was down-town Dundee. Wow!

But more than this Dundee has a wonderful down to earth quality and is very happy in its own skin. It is the UNESCO design capital of the UK. It is the home to the Broons and Oor Willie and Desperate Dan. It has the stunning McManus Gallery and the most pretty Howff Cemetery, epic views from Dundee Law, a Tailend fish and chips shop, a Fisher and Donaldson and one of my favourite bars this side of Tokyo, The Phoenix. It’s kind of like The Canny Mans in Edinburgh but without the stuck-up owners and that awful, awful pretentiousness.

Modest and real just like Dundee. A city that is so very much happening.

And so far without any sickly self-conceit.

How refreshing.

On writing bad reviews

I am in the habit of writing poor restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor. Now, this is for no other reason than the meal I had was nearly always worse than I expected.

I went to Ziggy’s in St Andrews the other day to try their fish and chips. I have never been to Ziggy’s but have heard mostly positive reports about it.

My suspicions were immediately raised though when I was told that the fish only came breaded. I asked if it was fresh and was informed that it came in every day. However my hunch is that maybe it did come in every day but it probably came in already breaded.

Anyway, my fish and chips arrived and it confirmed my suspicions. A tiny piece of fish breaded to death in a thick, tasteless hard crust, alongside some bulk processed chips, a tiny bowl of tartare sauce with the highlight being two slices of lemon.

I advised in my review that they shouldn’t really be offering fish and chips if they can only muster up what you’d expect to get in your bog-average, city centre Costco. This is St Andrews.

When I vented my grievance with the waitress she remonstrated that they sold a lot of them. I said I’m sure they did and indeed Starbucks sell a lot of coffee but this doesn’t mean it’s any good.

I tried the new Mowgli street food Indian place in Edinburgh a few weeks back after reading a rave review in the Telegraph, but it was similar. Albeit they used much better ingredients and there were some reasonable flavours in a few of the plates. But on the whole it was a rip-off. Huge prices for very small quantities. We had a poor bottle of red and several plates, got stung £50 each and left feeling we could certainly eat more.

So basically I’m very reticent about eating out nowadays. It’s largely a huge let down. And I’m not going to splash out on any of your bank-busting tasting menus in a hurry, as I’ve worked for one of these joints and have seen that charade from the inside.

This is not to say that I will not be dishing up my tasting tours in Edinburgh and St Andrews soon. But I will make sure that people get enough to eat, the quality is up there and that people will feel that they haven’t been monumentally ripped.

I have invited Jay Rayner (why not at least aim high!) on my first Edinburgh tour which will sample oysters and chablis in the White Horse, some nice tapas in Piggs, a cheeky snifter in the Jolly Judge at the top of the High Street, some venison and a wee claret in The Witchery, Peking Duck in the West Port chinese and then head to the Radford’s at Timberyard and see what they can dish up on the dessert and cheese front?

Check me out on Tours By Locals. It’s going to be a blast.

But no poor reviews please!

Well unless they are justified, constructive even.

I don’t mind that.

A busy week indeed

Started off last Sunday at my old patch the Fairmont with a very enjoyable caddying round. Four lovely guys from Colorado. There is no question that caddying is one of the most lucrative gigs out there. I had forgotten about that. But I prefer tour guiding now.

Monday, I met Barbara and Larry from North Carolina off the bus in St Andrews for a wee morning tour. We finished off in the Dunvegan in Tip Anderson’s old seat. It was a great morning and I suggested we all get a taxi to Leuchars for the 1.30pm train back to Edinburgh as I had an afternoon tour there. Except, we got in the taxi and I was informed that the train had been cancelled. So back into the Dunvegan.

We finally got back to Edinburgh where I said farewell and ran up the steps to meet my next guests at the Carlton Hotel. I was now almost an hour late. Luckily my two guests were as mellow as could be and we had a splendid afternoon in Auld Reekie. I bought them coffee and cakes in Black Medicine and all went rather swimmingly thereafter.

Things didn’t go swimmingly the next day though for my two food tours in Edinburgh. I was supposed to have 11 guests including 2 French people. However 3 couples from Sancerre had pitched up as well as lovely Emilie from Italy and her daughter, three ladies from Boston, Adriano from Quebec and a brother and sister from New York who run the blog, TravelGumbo.

On the French front however, not only was this four more people than I had expected, but they were under the impression that the tour was going to be carried out in French. Ooh la la.

Fortunately, I have some of the lingo and I was able to extricate myself slightly from the awkwardness of this situation and the whole group ended up working surprisingly well. The French contingent didn’t quite get the import of my rendition of Tam O’Shanter over the whisky though. So I cut that a bit short. Tant pis.

In the evening I had a group from the States attending a Life Sciences Conference at the EICC. God they were fun.

The only issue was that when I phoned ahead to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to confirm our booking for our whisky tasting they said that they couldn’t accomodate us. This left me in a bit of a panic as we headed along George Street. I remembered that the Alchemist had just opened their new whacky bar there and the idea of chemically-inspired cocktails for this group of Life Scientists from California from The Alchemist was not a shoddy one. They were a trendy young lot too. And in fact they loved it and we had a great evening, finishing off with a lot of delicious small plates and a rave cocktail in Under The Stairs (one of my favorite places)

On Wednesday morning I had a really lovely group from Colorado who were on a cruise around Britain. They were all ex- music teachers and a most appreciative and sympathetic lot. We had many laughs strolling around the Old Town in the warm sunshine. They said that my tour was the best thing they had done all week and that was sweet of them.

I had another food tour in the evening which all went rather smoothly which was rather nice. Andrea and her daughter who were trying to decide between St Andrews and Edinburgh University. Andrea told me at the end that they had loved the Tam O’Shanter and it helped reaffirm her daughter’s decision to come to Scotland to Uni!

Wednesday, I played golf in Edinburgh in my Wessex Bowl MCBA match, beating Bones. It was a beautiful evening at Mortonhall. I love Mortonhall and the Braid Hills in Edinburgh. It’s rather beautiful up there. In fact it’s altogether stunning on a fine summers evening. Siegfried Sassoon thought so too. Not that he was there on Wednesday (obviously).

Friday, I was going back and forth to Edinburgh on the X59 like a yo-yo, as I forgot that I needed my kilt for my Sunday tour in St Andrews and I had forgotten to take it back up the road in the morning.

Saturday, I had a food tour in St Andrews with two American families who had just arrived. It was fun but I was pretty glad to close out a fairly hectic week on the whole at 8pm.

Fare forward passengers.

The Pottery in Crail

On a fresh summer’s day when the warm breeze willows over the seafront in Crail and happy tourists wander around the harbour and lanes of this idyllic little place, Steve the potter, benignly smiles and welcomes all to his little heavenly home in the heart of this sweet, teeny nook.

He is old now but most tranquil. No wonder of it. Amidst such beauty, this wee paradise, ablaze with red-potted geraniums and his kiln-fired ware.

The place is remarkable. Stunning actually. And so is Crail and the East Neuk. ‘This is heaven’.

Steve’s words.

And I cannot argue with that.

I met his son, Jake, the other day. Lovely chap. Just back from skiing in Saint Martin where he has a chalet. He says he skis about 6 weeks a year.

Now that’s the life.