Sunday, August 26, 2007

Govan to Hong Kong. The eaty way.

Friday 10am. Am woken by cat leaping off top of wardrobe and landing on chest like dropped sack of potatoes. Except with feet, and claws. And loud yelping noises. Did it at 5am too - apparently it likes me. Quickly work out that in order to kill it I have to catch it first, and while I'm still under the duvet it's already out the door, laughing.
Get up and try to remember where dry cleaners is that contains suit which got covered in red wine the other night by singularly stupid partygoer. It's in Partick, of course, so walk down to Dumbarton Road and pick up suit. Meet friend at cashpoint who's just been to doctor and given the all clear. "What for?" I ask. "Worst hangover I've ever had" comes the cheery reply, "Just going off to try and find the car now. Want a lift?"

11.30am. Get subway (single stop) to Govan Cross, walk through the quiet, sunny streets of what was once a thriving shipyard community but is now largely deserted, to pack bag and leave Glasgow, having forsaken the delights of Cannes to holiday this year in, er, Govan .

12.00 noon. Stagger down stairs with bag and walk to bus stop, avoiding eye contact with suspicious looking new Govanite who, on a hot day is wearing a jumper, two jackets and an anorak. His pasty white vacant expression, dribbling, and slight stagger suggest narcotic intake so leap onto first small cityhopper bus and join cheery pensioners who are on their way to meet chums for shopping, cups of tea and probably small cheese and onion foldover from Greggs the bakers. (60p)
12.10 Alight at Govan Cross Shopping Centre and join queue to buy Greggs 59p sausage roll for late brunch. Scoff entire thing (yum) before taking subway, this time halfway round the entire system, to Buchanan Street.

12.29 Arrive Queen Street Station in time to miss train to Edinburgh but they're every fifteen minutes. Don't care. It's packed so sit in Business Class, where I can read a free copy of the Evening Times if I pay the supp of five quid. Ticket Inspector comes round and counts number of people in Business with economy tickets. All six of us. "Doesn't matter" he says and let's us all off. Nice man. The rest of the train is sweaty standing room only so donate my copy of Evening Times through sliding door in spirit of Red Cross.

13.30 Am late for lunch so sprint up Waverly Steps to Balmoral Hotel, where I pretend I'm staying in order to leave bag, fresh from Govan, and head up to Harvey Nicks where, on the Forth Floor the agent has a table outside, and we enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and spectacular view over St Andrews Square while munching and drinking posh food and wine al fresco. The starter is some kind of tiny dried up smoked haddock pastry thing which I wouldn't have paid 29p for in Greggs, followed by "Thai" fishcakes which are as big as they are tasteless. Greggs don't serve fishcakes so no comparable data available.

15.30 It's Festival Time so all manner of famous faces are lingering and drinking after lunch, some of whom I can even put a name to, rather than simply "that's that bloke off Mock the Week". Tragically no deal is done so we agree to reconvene in London for more posh food and wine.

16.00 Head to office, write emails, make calls, bemoan August as a month where nobody is at their phone. Leave at 16.55.

18.00 We are esconsed in a Thai champagne bar but swap for beers in tiny wee pub in Royal Mile, which has resisted gastropubification and only serves drink to bona fide drunks. And us. Crisps if you're lucky, although to be fair it does have a small room at the back which is transformed into a theatre for the festival. Thus providing a three week income which probably outstrips the annual bar takings. The barman is an expert at lighting his fag behind the bar, taking a draw as he walks towards the door, inhaling and, as he reaches the fresh air, blowing out a lungful of smoke, thus not breaking any laws. There is also a military chap, sporting several scars and tattoos, who wants to be my friend.

20.00 Hopes of dinner in Edinburgh's poshest new Italian eaterie are dashed by throngs of tourists so a greek meze and BYOB suffice. Thresher's 3 for 2 deal means we've got two extra bottles which miraculously we do not open as we are too busy talking.

23.00 I snaffle one of the bottles, get it opened by pushing my way through a melee of drunks in the Waverly Station bar to grab the corkscrew and settle down in the overnight sleeper buffet to read and drink wine. But have mislaid reading glasses! And can't read! Bah! Do not therefore feel like sitting drinking wine. Strike up conversation with other passenger who has cancer. Very sad, very thoughtful, very brave. Terminal.
00.00 Change mind. Drink wine.

02.00 Stagger - the train is moving - to berth and try not to waken other occupant but accidentally switch light on, kick him while clambering into top bunk, switch main overhead light on, loudly apologise and then - presumeably - snore all the way to Euston.

07.00 Turfed out into cruel light of day and jump in cab. Arrive home at 8am and we go out to Patisserie Valerie for breakfast. Beautiful morning, slightly sleepy. Put other suit in other dry cleaners - one I'll remember this time.

09.00. Head for proper tube, Piccadilly line, to Heathrow. Sail through whole process (already checked in, no queues, pleasant staff give me fast track pass) and, despite efforts of British Airports Authority to prevent me finding plane by constructing large supermarket in the middle of the terminal, by 11am am sitting in airline lounge eating dimsum for second breakfast.

12.00 Board Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and change into Shanghai Tang pyjamas. Chinese attendent surprises me with Glaswegian accent. He's from Shawlands, which is a bit like the nearby Govan except everyone has a job and a large house. Watch movies, sleep, eat, sleep, watch movies.

07.00 Arrive Hong Kong and am whisked by fast car along motorways, over bridges, through tunnels into Central for first meeting where, in the sublime surroundings of the Mandarin Oriental, we are to my disappointment eating fashionable western style breakfast (boo!) instead of dimsum which is probably what the entire population of the HK is tucking into at that moment.

11.00 Meeting over and am whisked off again to ferry for Macau where the world's biggest hotel/casino complex is about to open. The Venetian - a clone of the Las Vegas Venetian , where the Grand Canal and gondolas exist cheek by jowl with branches of Nike and Zara - just like Venice itself.
Acres of wealth, bags of opulence, 3000 duplex suites instead of rooms, plus twenty four hours a day seriously upscale fine dining establishments from Japan, Los Angeles, Paris, and New York. But alas not Govan. No 59p sausage rolls then.


Thursday, August 16, 2007


Sunshine, being a rare commodity these days, is something I am determined to manufacture. This came to me during the last Ryanair flight where I decided that no matter what they threw at me, I would beatifically smile back (driven admittedly by the small logged thought that said "You only paid £20 for this flight you cheapskate" but that's another matter) and infuse their lives with a little bright shiny happiness. It's the very least Ryanair staff deserve.

Sunshine is the order of the day. And not just in the general direction of Ryanair, or callcentre pikeys who I as a rule don't like very much at all.

No, let's start with the London to Edinburgh GNER East Coast service which is one of my favourite rail journeys, currently doubling as the comedy express to Festival City. This morning Jimmy Carr was seated only a few rows away from that West Country bloke off Mock the Week and Stephen Merchant's official lookeylikey was there too (three double takes to establish that it wasn't the man himself). This is a good service even when it's a tad overfull.

I was planning to the get 11.30 but being bored I got there early and jumped on the 11am to be told there was no chef for the dining car. Yes yes I know you didn't know they had chefs. Well the days of the curled up cheese sandwich were a long time ago in GNER. Admittedly, I recently asked to see "the children's menu" on the Scotrail Sleeper and was brought two microwaveable boxes of fish shapes and sausage shapes and gruffly asked which one I wanted. The small person just pointed in terror, fearful of being eaten by the grizzly one in uniform.

No no, GNER - who sadly are giving up the service in December due to parent company troubles and handing over to National Express (if you're liking all this train information why don't you also try is in a different league food and drinkwise and every so often the thought of a meal as we streak along the North Easteren shores of England hurtling towards Auld Reekie attracts.

However the 11am didn't have a chef, at which point I asked the man clipping my ticket if there might be a seat somewhere, anywhere on the train. He suggested that I get off at the next stop and get the 11.30 which would not only have seats but also a chef. I smiled and said that this was a good idea. It wasn't. But I smiled anyway.

Getting off at Peterborough, I was accosted by an overzealous ticket person who wanted my ticket, pronto, and didn't care if it said "Edinburgh" on it or not. I smiled provocotively. Then I asked which platform the 11.30 was coming into and was told "there is no 11.30". And after several smiley filled moments of conversation - not to say consternation - we established that sure enough, there wasn't indeed an 11.30. And never had been.

So I waited an hour and a quarter. When the 12 something or other trundled up and I got on. The dining car was in full swing with 8 empty seats. "Next sitting's at York. 2 o'clock".
I smiled. And asked if I could sit and wait.

I tried to find a seat but couldn't even make it into the next carriage there were so many people standing. Not many of whom were smiling, like me.

So I stood in the buffet where three Fringe producers had their stage drawings out for an Edinburgh show and were loudly discussing lighting which meant that the small drunk man of the buffet only really had me to speak to. And breath over. He smelt as if he'd been drinking since breakfast. I smiled in blissful ignorance since I couldn't understand a word he said.

At 2, I was allowed in and smiled at the stressed out staff. The food was great, the scenery even better, and the weather was smiling too. I finished at 4.15. The train was due in to Edinburgh at 4.30.
"I'll have to ask you to move" the stressed out non smiling lady said, "We need to clear the table". I smiled and said please go ahead. She insisted. I said there were no seats on the train and couldn't I just sit for the remaining 10 minutes of the journey?
I smiled and thanked her for, um, well I don't know really. For taking my money, serving me and then chucking me out the seat. With 10 minutes to go.

Arriving at Waverly Station, smiling through gritted teeth, I stepped into a city where ten thousands comedians are determined to make me laugh. No problemo. I'm smiling already.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Some things need to be said

A long time ago the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was a politics lecturer. I didn't know he was going to be PM, or even Chancellor. He taught politics. He was brilliant.
He then went off and presented a TV politics programme. He was OK at that too.
Many years later he hosted a poetry night at No 11 Downing Street in honour of National Poetry Day (sigh)
There were two brilliant poets performing in front of the great and the good, one of whom was the Fire Poet, Philip Wells, who did stunning stuff, as he always does.
It would have been easy to just shake a few hands and sneak out after a few minutes. But Gordon Brown introduced the evening with Hugh McDiarmid, a poet very well known in Scotland, but not well known South of the Border. He didn't read any notes, nor did he skive off. He recited McDiarmid in full. Then he stayed - despite aides tugging his sleeve - all night.

Wow, former Chancellor. Dude.

The alleged suicide bomber at Glasgow Airport has died tonight, and by coincidence, just a few hours before, Gordon Brown met John Smeaton at No 10.
John Smeaton is the baggage handler at Glasgow Airport who - on a fag break - suddenly found himself in the midst of a conflagration with a flaming Jeep, a flaming driver (now dead) , and another "alleged" terrorist. Smeato ran to help a policeman and has become a hero (at least North of the Border - see for his efforts.
He's also written up worldwide, from the USA to India to China and oh....everywhere (this is a blog, not a newspaper!)
Smeato is a regular guy. A smart, well read, straight up and down bloke who suddenly found himself not only in the midst of a terrrorist attack, but then almost immediatley in a media cyclone. He's dealt with it.

Tonight, Gordon Brown invited him to No 10. He could have just shook his hand "Hi, I'm Gordy" But he didn't. He spent at least ten minutes in private, asking what had happened to him, how he was, what had happened to the others who took the same action. He wanted to know. Then he came out in front of the press and sang his praises. For another ten minutes.

The British Minister took time to sing the praises of a baggage handler from Glasgow airport who just took a moment out his life to do the right thing. To stop a potential mass murderer killing a lot of innocent people.

Hey British Prime Minister! Good Thing!