Saying Goodbye

For breakfast this morning I found myself still seated at the bar next to my long time foreman and right-hand man, Panto. The handle is short for Pantomime horse, an unfortunate moniker given to him by me due to his long nose, pricked ears, plus a constantly bemused and vacant expression. He has had this unfortunate name since we first met digging holes back in the early 80s, not once has he ever taken offence. In Glasgow, every man has a name, ugly or not, for his closest friends. Panto is a man of few words. He lives voluntarily in the old world where chivalry towards women starts with your ma and shirtless waiters never hold out for tips when they fetch you your hat after a hearty meal in a greasy spoon diner.

Somehow, a mildly spoken man in his sixties might appear incongruous mixing with stronger spoken, younger men of a different generation, but his juxtaposition at my side over the last thirty years or more has taught me that a man of few words can be Kryptonite to those who, to coin a phrase from my youngest son, "chat shite".  His loyalty has known no parameters throughout our friendship, life will be slightly uneven without being able to gaze upon his charismatic face.

Panto, never one to show any emotion other than a full fifteen minutes of relief after the great Guinness shortage was rescinded back in 2003, has never questioned my intentions to hand over the business reins during my forthcoming sabbatical, to my sons. Where most men would ask the age old question, 'what's in it for me?' Panto merely nodded his satisfaction after being confirmed that he will have a job in Glasgow for life.

Our last Friday night pint thinned out to just the two of us after the back of 3am, but still unable to express more than a few words on the subject of 'cheerio', he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and quoted to me the following words by James Orr.

The savage loves his native shore,
Though rude the soil and chill the air;
Well then may Erin's sons adore
Their isle, which nature formed so fair!
What flood reflects a shore so sweet,
As Shannon great, or past'ral Bann?
Or who a friend or foe can meet,
As generous as an Irishman.

A simple, honest and loyal companion, he evoked more from me with these 53 words than most men spit out in a lifetime. It's been a pleasure to have had him about me. This recipe is one that I have prepared for him on and off over the last decade. He would take himself off to a quiet corner and unwrap his wee treat from its greaseproof hiding place and munch them with his big oul green plastic mug of tea. He still firmly believes that it is Siobhan that stands behind the apron, especially as in Panto's world, men will always dig holes while women stay home and cook.

To the Panto's of this world, to my many gracious fellow bloggers across the globe, my loyal pals too numerous to list in Ireland, Germany, Canada, Australia and the grand oul shores of Amerikay. To the wee Glasgow girl fae Hercus Loan who melted my heart and then disappeared up the Thames on her very clever banana boat, the classy, delightful, wonderful Patricia herself, in the west of England who with her enigmatic smile constantly held back my opinion of the auld enemy, the English. The ever loyal little singing fella (who isn't actually little after all) who made me humble with his honesty and down to earth nature that I have treasured over the years and will never forget. A better friend will never be found. To all the genuinely smashing ladies and gents who have been pure dead brilliant, even the religiously misguided fools who have suffered my drunken ramblings, poor punctuation and pish-poor grammar over the years, I say thank you and cheerio for now.

Keep the faith. - JB

Almond Oatcakes

2 builders size handfuls of crushed and rolled almonds straight from the tree of Hope.                                           
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup rolled Scottish oats                                                  
1 cup brown sugar or substitute                                                  
30 ml baking powder                      
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon of natural honey , straight fae the hive if you have the pluck.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract                                                  
2 free range eggs, for the love of all things holy do not use the fodder produced by those poor wee wretches they keep in cages.  Leave them well alone, as they are destined to end up in a bucket wrapped in the ominous letters of KFC.                                        
300 ml milk, full fat, you only live once, eh? 
1 single measure of Whyte & Mackay whisky. You may have to sample a wee swally or two during the preparation of course. Daisyfae will back this theory up by way of a tried and tested method of staying ever intoxicated on life. If you cannae find this brand of whisky then the dessert will be good, but not as good as it should be. Move to Scotland or sweet talk your local whisky supplier. If it should come to light that a Jack Daniels substitute has been used, then the divil himself will surely rise fae hell and punish you for your wickedness.                                                  
100 ml good vegetable oil / rapeseed oil. 
Blueberries / strawberries  / raspberries (for garnish)                                             

Mix together dry ingredients. Beat eggs. Add milk, honey, whisky and vanilla extract. Mix into dry ingredients. Bake in a preheated oven at 160 Celsius for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Add fruit of choice, dust with icing sugar and add fresh cream and a raspberry compote. Add a sprig of mint to show off to your monster-in-law. Serve with iced tea, strong coffee or even a tall glass of cider.

Remember to bus your own plates when done, as this kitchen is now closed while I come to terms with a life that has been cruel and heart breakingly grief stricken at times. Humour, strength, good pals and the odd bottle of whisky has seen me through the hard times. I leave the rest to you. This one is on the house.



For breakfast this morning I am enjoying a large pot of coffee and a cinnamon bun delightfully laced with almonds, glazed cherries and a not insignificant splash of dark rum to bind it so very well together. I'm a creature of both comfort and habit. I have a morning ritual which has changed very little over the years. I eat light, I drink good coffee, I poop in my own private bathroom, I like it that way, why change now? This morning however, sees me raw-eyed and contemplative as I choose a somewhat quiet corner of the mock Piazza Navona seating area of the airport to ease myself into the day. I curse softly as the uneven feet of the metallic bistro table sends waves of hot coffee into the saucer. I brush away a tiny speck of sugar crust from my crisp white shirt sleeve as I lean dejectedly with my right hand supporting my weary head. Travel leaves me self conscious about a lack of dignity due to my size. I need to scratch sections of my appendage freely without creating attention for other people watchers hunched over laptops as I too disguise my movements behind my 17" screen. Size really does matter when it comes to scratching that itch! Departing and arriving is only one short stride away from other peoples comings and goings. I miss my wife, I miss my morning view from the upstairs windows, most of all I also miss my immaculately clean bathroom and toilet.

The human traffic that haunts most airports at this nonchalant hour never ceases to amuse me. I am a self-confessed people watcher. I have whiled away many an hour amusing myself at others unaware displeasure's such as facial twitching, grimacing, blinking and the flicking of hair. I have found myself awarding imaginary points for involuntary noises, such as coughing, grunting, clearing the throat and sniffing. Wrinkled noses and the widening of eyes is a favourite trait of senior citizens during the consumption of hot beverages it would seem. Japanese ladies have a penchant for spitting into handkerchiefs, while German ladies pull lightly at the concealed wax from many a conical ear. I cast an inquisitive eye over the tall Italian looking woman in her early 30s who on several occasions has risen from her chair and wandered off in the general direction of a quiet corner near to the discount luggage store. Her expensive suit tells me that cheap luggage is not what holds her attention. I notice how she coyly glances behind her before possibly passing a gust of silent wind. Her elegant hands smooths her suit as she flicks her expensive bangs before returning once more to her seat. High above us, a small cluster of pigeons flap hectically away from my view. Coincidence maybe, who really knows but me and her and of course the birds.

I immediately award her double points, but feel somewhat sympathetic towards her plight as I also overindulged myself the previous evening when it came to the rather rich food on offer. At 3am I had precious little time to empty my own ballast tank between hotel reception and awaiting taxi at the kerb as the doorman advanced to assist with my luggage. The expression on his face as we drive away tells me he has suspicions by way of the street drainage and its reliability to function correctly. I'm a man, I rarely feel guilt. I do however feel strangely disappointed that for all these years my mother, my wife, sisters, aunties and female cousins have all lied to me. Women, it would seem, also need to toot in order to refine their early morning relief. We all do things when we believe that other people are not watching.

My attention turns to the latest arrival to the seating area. A tweedy looking gentleman, in what could only be described as English clothes, flops seemingly rather lackadaisically into a waiting chair. He seems red of cheek and appears to have left home in the middle of a frenzied shaving session with a cheap blunt disposable razor. I notice the long wispy strands of nasal hair as they converge scruffily a small distance from his top lip.  The bridge of his nose seems to have come out in sympathy with the intruders from his nostril, three wiry silver bursts of bristle tell me that he seldom spends much time in front of the mirror. Comically, his eyebrows in order not to be outdone by the explosion in a spaghetti factory lower down his face, thrust long tendrils of wayward hair skywards as if waving at pewfodders invisible ghod. I picture him saluting at magpies, picking his nose at traffic signals and wheeling an antique lawnmower around an allotment somewhere in deepest darkest Hampshire.

I am about to rise when a rotund guy in a cream khaki jumpsuit enters my vision. He jabbers constantly into an unfashionably large phone which must have been plucked from the Velcro pouch attached to his belt. I genuinely fear for his safety should he need to bend down. I mentally run through the procedure for administering oxygen to those large people who run the risk of passing out while wearing tight clothing. I am half way through my minds rehearsal when I catch sight of the rather visual pee stains that appear to have formed an outline of Jamaica in his general crotch area. My interest immediately wanes. I can only hope that in his current state he doesn't fall over and becomes akin to a large woodlice on its back, feet waving frantically in the air. As if from heaven a mysterious booming male voice announces that flight 371 to Glasgow is about to board. I fall into line a few steps away from a young lady whose shapely bottom appears to be lip syncing with her underwear, either that or it is an extremely clever human advertisement for taking in washing.

This evenings meal will consist of steak, I can already feel my red blood cells rising as I smile my best 5am smile at the pretty princess in the flight attendants uniform as she checks my seat number on the ticket. Our hands touch for a brief moment, just long enough for me to notice an ever-so-slight facial tic. Here we go again, the in flight entertainment is about to commence.

Chefs Steak Fix

When choosing a steak, sirloin is a fine choice due to its tasty, melt-in-the-mouth succulence. Good sirloin has just the right amount of fat and nice marbling. Rump steak is slightly cheaper than sirloin but it’s still a great steak for griddling or frying, with more flavour than sirloin. However, it does tend to be slightly chewier, especially if it has not been matured properly. The age of the steak is extremely important, as the hanging process develops the flavour and tenderises the meat. So ask your butcher how long the beef has been hung for. If need be take him for a drink and ensure that his glass never falls empty if you are to ensure a fine feast for the dinner. As a rule, 21 days as a minimum and 35 days as a maximum is a good range to go for. Hanging is important, especially if the meat is freshly poached acquired from a friend.

Good beef should be a deep red colour, check the beef has good marbling – little streaks of fat running through the meat is a given! This melts when heated, helping the steak to baste itself from within as it cooks. A good layer of creamy-white fat around the top of sirloin steaks is also essential.

Heat your griddle or frying pan over a high heat, until smoking hot. Lightly brush the steak with a little olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. For the love of all things beefy, don’t griddle more than two steaks at a time, and keep them spaced well apart. If you add more than two steaks to the pan at once, the temperature will drop and the steak will stew, rather than fry.
Don’t turn the steaks until good seared markings are achieved, then turn them over and cook on the other side. You must let the steak rest for about 3 minutes before serving, to allow the juices that have been drawn to the surface to relax back into the meat. Serve with a good red wine or / and ice cold beer.


The Leaving Tree

For breakfast this morning I took an early morning drive through the remnants of the housing scheme that once spawned some of Glasgow's most frightening looking men. Of course, back in the day they were merely angelic wee monsters playing fitba and pavie with the fresh faced girls that seemed to spring up from every back street scheme in Glasgow. It would take many hardships and another twenty years before a handful of them would evolve into the Rubik's cube of characters that went on to become my life long friends.

Of course, the schemes have changed dramatically since my youth. No longer does poverty hang over this particular part of the city, the developers and prosperity long since moved in and forced the urban decay back across the brown bubbling waters of the Clyde. Where once stood crumbling brick and soot blackened buildings, elbowing each other for room to breathe amongst the dank tower blocks and high flats, now stands epic glass offices. The old entrances are festooned with gleaming luxury cars, exotic names and business suited drones faxing their way to another days wealth doing something superficial, but very beneficial to a rich man and his pockets.
Set in the heart of this Armani jungle is a small sandwich shop which has been trading since time began. It hasn't changed much on the inside other than renovate the warm walls with the same sandy red colour that was first introduced back in 1976. It was considered to be 'cosmopolitan' back then, the majority of eating establishments still favouring the dour lime and yellow walls that invaded the 70s with a psychedelic haze that certainly didn't enhance the limited choices of food on offer. Grease seemed to be the in-flavour, coated on everything from the plates to the walls and in some cases even the ceilings.

Glinting warmly in the thin sunshine of the day, four aluminium table sets are grouped cosily beneath a brightly green coloured tree that encapsulates the slowly rising Glasgow sun. I've watched that tree grow ever taller since I was a gangly wean. Two men about to enter their 50's sat at either side of the far table. A bottle of whisky before them, blatantly flaunting the public morals regarding the consumption of alcohol on a Saturday morning, but this is Glasgow after all. The slate grey stubble forming on the tallest ones chin indicated he hadn't been long in from the previous evening somewhere in the city. On seeing my vehicle arrive he nonchalantly poured me a glass without asking the question first. But then he could afford to prejudge my decision, he was my brother and knew my tastes well.
As we sat in our jacket attire, it would have been easy for passers-by to assume that we were part of the backwash of Glasgow's yesteryear. Three worn faced men with an accumulation of facial scars not dissimilar to a cross-radial tyre. Life hadn't so much been cruel to any of the three of us, merely reflexes and circumstances had not always gone to plan as situations in our youth had transpired. From those staring down from their office block kingdoms, an easy assumption would have been that we could well be discussing a green-lit scenario on someone who had gotten too big for their britches.

In reality, our deep conversation involved a more serious argument on something of an entirely different nature. Should the skin be left on the tender white flesh of a free range chicken as it enters the phase of a delicious sandwich in the making? How long must a Bavarian ham be left in the smoker before the flavour becomes full on and dances on the taste buds? Is it considered bad form to use anything other than crushed black pepper when preparing a mayonnaise fit for the menu of any decent restaurant? And so the conversation turned, all be it intrinsic enough for us to move on to smooth black coffee as the June weather increased its sunshine levels by just a wee tad. Life had moved on from the old days, but three happier men could not have been found on that street. Where once any of the small assembled group, hard set eyes and shoulders that began at our chins, could have parted the Red Sea without pausing for breath. We now excused ourselves as we briefly took phone calls regarding grand weans, garden clubs and at one point discussed the quality of a friends new leather shoes.

It is the end of my routine, a last chance glimpse of my daily Glasgow life as I prepare to begin again in my pastures new. It is not the culture or the weather that will be the hardest to loosen my grip upon. It is friendship and camaraderie that has engulfed me throughout my formative years and supported me through the thick and thin of my life to date. Acquaintances come and acquaintances go, akin to wallpaper on a bar room wall, the in's and outs of women's fashion, like leaves on a tree they fall only to be replaced by similar things aesthetic only to the eye, never the heart. Solid foundations are formed on the bedrock of routine, those around us, and the feelings that certain places carve in our souls. We cannot rake over our youth, but it is the maturity of our friendship that has forged a bond for our futures. Sadly, not all of us are present at that table as we each remember our past. Like leaves from the winter tree, some of us fall and are never seen again.

Darcy's Piece

150g roast chicken, shredded
6 rashers smoky streaky bacon
Thinly sliced Swiss or American cheese
1 gherkin, press gently to lessen the taste of the vinegar and chop
Small bunch tarragon – leaves removed, finely chopped
75g watercress leaves (thick stalks removed)
6 – 8 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Slices thick sliced white bloomer or French stick
Salt & pepper to taste, small dod of butter

1. Place the chunks of chicken evenly along your piece
2. Layer the melted cheese along the top of the chicken
3. Crisp the skin from the chicken, using a fork, shred it.
4. Crisp the bacon lightly, combine with the chicken, mayonnaise & tarragon leaves.
5. Add salt & pepper to taste, adjust consistency of the sandwich filling mixture.
6. Spread the butter & on one side of both slices of bread. Place sandwich filling on one of the slices, add cress and season lightly. Wash down with cool Danish lager to enhance the full flavours.