The question is, what do you do when it is tipping it down with rain and blowing a chilly north wind .. go for a walk of course … well some of us do! Those who read our previous post will know that, from time to time, we are prone to a spot of bird watching .. and Linlithgow Loch is as good a place as any to spot all sorts of water birds and sometimes the occasional rarity. Not this day however; the birds, having more sense than us, had obviously run for shelter .. just a few coots and swans braving the elements along with our good selves. Somewhat drookit, we eventually came round by the Palace and came across the recently unveiled statue of Mary Queen of Scots looking out over her former home … not sure about it, what do you think? She was born in the Palace and, because her dad died, became Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old; she also became Queen of France when she was seventeen.. not bad going for a mere teenager. Of course many believe she should also have been Queen of England but that is a whole other story. At the end of the day, her main claim to fame comes through our Canadian niece whose two favourite women of all time are Mary Queen of Scots and Lady Gaga. By now you will have deduced where all this is leading .. a scone refuge! Slightly battered, but nevertheless invigorated, we found our way here to the So Strawberry Caffé in the town centre, enticed inside by the banner ‘Happiness is Homemade’. By the time we had discarded all our wet stuff our scone was on the table in front of us (we had opted to share one because they were quite big, but mostly because Pat fancied their gingerbread) … all their goodies are indeed home-baked. The scone was really nice with a slightly crunchy top and soft inside, just the way we like them, and loads of butter and jam .. no cream on offer, but sometimes you just have to make do .. life can be tough! Again it was a close run thing but unfortunately So Strawberry just missed out on a topscone award .. you see how hard it is! The gingerbread was very good too.
So often, in places like this, the staff can be a bit on the surly side, but not here; all the young lasses appeared to be enjoying their work … lending little festive adornments to the displays. They do something a little bit different here too … miniature cakes for children .. very useful for frustrated parents trying hard not to overindulge their kids.
Today is St Andrew’s day which provides a convenient link between Scotland, France and Syria what with Mary’s french connections and Andrew being Syrian. The government seems hell bent on joining France in the bombing of Syria even though it is extremely unclear how this will help … and not at all difficult to see how it could make matters much worse. Cameron is using the old “Britain must do the right thing” trick to make those opposed to the bombing appear to be doing the wrong thing. Peter Ford, the former British ambassador to Syria says “if we are not careful we will stumble into the Syrian quagmire and the people of Britain, not David Cameron, will pay the price in blood” .. and he should know better than most! At times like these wouldn’t it be wonderful if the government had an opposition worthy of the name rather than the shambles currently masquerading as the Labour party! At least So Strawberry doesn’t have to masquerade as anything other than a great wee café.
This day was one of those brilliant sunny winter days where you feel invigorated by the clear crispness of the air. Some readers may not realise that one of our many talents, besides looking for scones, is looking for birds. Today we were at Vane Farm, near Kinross, in a cold bird hide watching amongst other things, slavonian grebes and a white-tailed eagle. Now if any of you have even a passing interest in oisseaus you will be well aware that watching these relatively rare birds is a little bit special. You tend to feel vaguely honoured and a trifle pleased with yourself just for having been in the presence of such rare and magnificent specimens .. no not us, the birds! Like them though it is never long before you feel the urge to feed and hence we find ourselves here in Kinross at the Green Hotel … a place that holds many fond memories for us. For a number of years this place hosted our work’s Christmas parties. One abiding memory is of us all doing a conga round the grounds in the falling snow … and being completely impervious to the cold .. perhaps the less said the better. Anyway, it was nice to be back and nice to get into a big comfy armchair after our bottoms had endured a cold hard bench all afternoon. Service was perfect and before you could say “white-tailed eagle” we had our coffee and scones. Coffee was fine, although we have had better, but the scones were very good .. lovely and warm and probably the most fruit we have had in a fruit scone for ages .. and they came with a nice pot of jam and lashings of cream. It was really difficult but eventually it was decided that they just missed out on a topscone award .. but it was very very close … phew … the anguish and stress we have to endure for your reading pleasure and scone enlightenment! We wish there was more enlightenment in the ongoing Paris situation.
The media must bear a lot of the blame for us all feeling utter despair at the world being such a horrid and despicable place … some of the Murdoch press headlines in particular have been truly awful. Of course, it isn’t … the world is a wonderful place full of absolutely wonderful people. Even the perpetrators of these atrocities are not religious fanatics nor immigrants, as the media would have you believe, they are mostly French and Belgian lapsed Muslims who have scant knowledge their own religion .. they are disaffected people who have found a way to express their anger at the futility of their own lives .. not an excuse in any way shape or form, but perhaps our governments should be paying more heed to that aspect of things rather than taking the easy option of air strikes. In times like these we are made to feel that we should not scrutinise our government’s actions too closely, when surely we should be doing exactly the opposite. Does anyone honestly feel safer in the knowledge that we can completely flatten a town in a country thousands of miles away? Technology now allows us to wage a war with the potential for hundreds of thousands of dead on one side and absolutely none on the other … that’s not war as we know it, but it is illusory because it is also absolutely certain that the war will not be won, if it can be won, until we send in our sons and daughters … does that get reported?
Does it get reported that the cause of the original trouble in Syria was the weather? Does it get reported that the trouble in Ukraine was caused by the US, not Russia … no! Until our journalists start doing their job properly rather than simply repeating what they are fed then this cycle of stupidity will continue .. because we will be seen to be supporting it. Journalists are guilty as much for what they don’t say as much as for what they do because when they ignore the truth the silence becomes a lie. Enough we hear you say! Just don’t expect fair reporting any day soon but also don’t forget the birds at Vane Farm … in the midst of all this mess, they are still fabulous … but no more so than our fellow human beings, don’t let the media tell you anything different.
Café 33 is run by the Tortolano family from the Lazio region of central Italy so we expected a small family run restaurant with good food and a warm welcome. Strangely though it did not have the atmosphere we normally associate with such places; perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was the tired decor, perhaps it was the fact that there was no one there except us, but the overall feeling was one of disappointment. However, they are keen to point out that Café 33 is on the sunny side of the street in Bridge of Allan; the street runs east/west and Café 33 is indeed on the sunny side, almost directly opposite Jamjar which we visited back in May. It was not sunny today however, exactly the opposite, rainy and quite cold so it was good to get into the warmth for a coffee. The scones are homemade every morning and are not at all bad but nothing out of the ordinary either; in fact there was nothing particularly wrong with this place, but nothing particularly right either. If you find yourself in the middle of the street (mind the traffic) torn between this place and Jamjar, go to Jamjar. Our sense of disappointment extends to the ongoing Paris situation which continues to generate more heat than light with all the political leaders slavishly following the script written by IS. Never mind that IS’s buddies, Boko Haram, have killed many more people, we are not aware of any bombing raids on them, not even an outcry, in fact, not even a mention … but they are in Africa of course! Instead, we seem to risk getting involved in a war that is essentially an argument between two warring factions of Islam and like all religions each faction regards itself as the only true religion .. so it is a hard one, if not an impossible one, to win. Did you notice Dave’s response at the dispatch box when Corbyn asked if they would go after the people who fund IS before they start bombing .. “yes, yes, that’s all very well but it’s no substitute for bombing,” .. the poor guy is bustin’ a gut to join in; he has been PM for over five years and still hasn’t had a war for goodness sake .. and now would be a perfect time for such a distraction what with the EU referendum, immigrants, the deficit .. and don’t let’s forget the full fiscal framework for Scotland. Also, in these austere times, he has acquired his own private jet, so that he can sit down with the other big boys who all have their own planes … playground stuff really, he just doesn’t want to be left out. It does raise a fairly fundamental question however about just how many countries it takes to completely flatten Syria? In fact, who on earth would want to be Syrian? Oh, St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, he was Syrian; maybe Dave’s desparate desire to bomb the country is actually subliminally meant to send a message to Scots .. we had better behave! Anyway, besides all that, we probably just got Café 33 on an off day, maybe we will visit again when the sun is shining on the sunny side off the street .. provided we are not at war and scone rationing has not been introduced!
Ok, lower the lights, cue soft sexy music, “because this not just a scone … its an M&S scone”. A very successful TV ad that has fallen into everyday usage to describe everything other than what it was supposed to, M&S food … but this is food and it’s M&S food so will it live up to the hype? No problem, probably the best self service scone we have had so far. There were a couple of problems though; the coffee was decidedly average and the butter was too hard to spread on a light fluffy scone .. but the scones themselves were very good .. Pat had a very good cheese one. Now here is an interesting thing; in our last post you will remember that we were having to rough it at Gleneagles where everything was brought to us at our seat in front of the big open fire by a team of waiting staff .. everything was absolutely first class. By comparison, for the rather spartan surroundings of the self service M&S scones we had to buy jam and cream separately so that, unbelievably, they ended up more expensive than the Gleneagles ones. In total, for exactly the same order Gleneagles was just slightly more expensive because of the coffee .. but the coffee was perfect, a hundred times better than M&S. Just goes to show; one scone experience was light years ahead of the other but both cost much the same .. just so as you know. Understandably the news is still dominated by the Paris catastrophe however in its attempt to provide 24hr coverage the BBC has been reduced to wittering rather than reporting. If there were to be a scone disaster in Azerbaijan, we are sure the BBC would immediately be able to go over to their own scone correspondent in Baku. The day before Paris there were around 50 people killed in an IS bomb attack in Beirut that went completely unreported, not a single cheep .. never mind what that says about standards of reporting, what does it say about us, did they just not want to bother us, what is the difference between the Paris and Beirut? It is also sad to see the knee-jerk responses from politicians; declarations of pitiless war and increased security measures everywhere. Do they not understand that that is why we are in this mess and that a war on terrorism is about as futile as a war on drugs. Amongst all the talk there seems to be no cognisance of what appears to us to be the only way forward; go after Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE who, directly or indirectly, provide funds and succour to IS and al-Qaida .. make them pariah states, freeze their assets, let them know that they are not welcome instead of feting them like royalty, send their diplomats home .. whatever it takes until they sort themselves out! But of course that way might harm the bankers and arms dealers and that would be unthinkable because for every bullet fired and every bomb dropped they whoop joyously. It would probably mean a drop in our standard of living but we think we could get by on just one scone every second day if it meant we could live without fear .. oh no, just remembered that the US standard of living is non-negotiable so that probably is not going to work. And, of course, our media all too often simply reflects the foreign policy objectives of our governments. If we may continue the TV ad analogy .. if Carlsberg made foreign policy disasters? Just remember, as our government ramps up the terror alert to “severe” that as many people have been killed by bee stings in the last decade as in terror incidents .. maybe even as many people have choked to death on scones?
The intention was to go for afternoon tea to the five star Gleneagles Hotel .. but we were refused .. can you believe it .. for goodness sake, do they not know who we are? Actually they were very nice and very apologetic. A man spent quite a long time trying to fit us in but eventually had to admit defeat, they were sooo busy .. serves us right for not booking. By way of a consolation prize he directed us back down the drive to the Dormy Clubhouse which overlooks the 18th holes on both the King’s and Queen’s golf courses .. this means a lot to some folks but to us it is just grass that needs cutting. We had a look inside and decided that, if we were going to have to rough it, we could just about get by in here .. the cozy fire in the middle of the floor was more than enticing considering this was our first really cold wet day of the winter. By this time we had jettisoned the idea of afternoon tea and both opted for a simple fruit scone and a coffee … but, this being Gleneagles, it seemed to take a team of four to deliver this relatively simple order. Not complaining, we were just sitting by the fire reading the papers while they fussed around us. If nothing else the Dormy is notable for it’s sugar lumps … they are all individually wrapped? When our scones arrived they came with a little pot of butter and three different jams; raspberry, strawberry and marmalade. The butter was beautifully soft so that it spread really easily, which was just as well because the scones were so light that they almost needed to be pegged down to keep them on the plate .. absolutely fantastic! Now, being at a golf club, we had thought that this post might be about sport and the trials of the IAAF in particular … but unfortunately the tragic events in Paris have overtaken everything. In spite of wall to wall coverage by the media and the usual platitudes from politicians there is virtually no hard information as yet. Cannot help thinking of a recent Twitter spat between Rupert Murdoch and ITN’s Jon Snow. Murdoch was bitterly bemoaning the cruel state of the world and Snow rather aptly replied, “I find that in life one reaps what one sows”. When you consider that there are only 22 countries on the planet that the UK has not invaded at some time or another (France probably not much better) and that Paris is a bit like a doughnut, white in the centre and black on the outside, it is amazing that the West is constantly surprised when this sort of thing happens. Maybe you, like us, get angry when an advert comes on the telly from a charity asking us to send £5 for a mosquito net to completely transform the life of a child in Africa when our government simultaneously spends trillions on wars. For a tiny fraction of that cost they could supply every single child in Africa with mosquito nets .. and render the charity pointless. Until our governments start to find money to help people as easily as they find money to kill them these horrendous events will keep happening. They’ve got a bit of a cheek, we hear you say .. sitting there pontificating in their posh surroundings, eating their scones .. we know, we know! Anyway, you will be aware that our favourite scone comes from Fonab Castle but these Dormy ones, along with the recent ones from Olympic Studios, might be worthy rivals. Maybe we will have to check them all again to make a final decision but in the meantime our thoughts are with all those caught up in the disaster in Paris.
Now you might be a bit surprised by this post because we are reviewing a multinational coffee house – Caffé Nero to be exact, one of these dastardly companies that pays no tax .. prepare yourself for a bit of a rant. Of course we never thought we would have to review such places because we did not think any of them did scones .. but we were mistaken, Caffé Nero does (maybe because it is British), so we felt duty bound to give them a try. The whole tax thingy is a bit of a mess. Starbucks takes the brunt of the criticism because they are the biggest and the most famous. Caffé Nero has not paid any UK tax since 2008 because it exploits the same loopholes that Starbucks and all the others use (Boots has avoided £1.2b) by simply not being registered in the UK. There is nothing illegal about this practice so our sympathies lie with the companies which, like all companies, are duty bound to maximise profits for their share holders .. otherwise they are deemed to be negligent. The problem lies with the loopholes themselves and that is a governmental issue. The UK government gets a lot of stick for not closing them but, if you are expecting them to take decisive action any time soon, don’t hold your breath .. most of the government exploits the exact same loopholes for their own personal benefit. Luckily, the European Commission is not so queasy about tackling the problem. They recently decreed that Starbuck’s tax exemption in the Netherlands amounted to a state subsidy, was therefore illegal, and ordered them to repay £22m to the Dutch government. They did the same for Fiat which is registered in Luxembourg and presumably this principle will apply to all multinationals in due course .. if it does we should all benefit .. hurrah! As far as the UK is concerned there may also be light at the end of the tunnel .. not because of government action, heaven forbid, but because, Crickhowell, a small town in Powys has elected to move ‘offshore’ and registered all it’s businesses in the Isle of Man … the same as Caffé Nero, and now they will no longer have to pay tax either .. brilliant! No skullduggery .. all done in discussion with HMRC. If all towns were to follow suit, and we cannot see why they wouldn’t, perhaps then the UK government might eventually waken up to the concerns of ordinary people who have to pay every last penny in tax .. or go to jail. Enough of all that frippery we hear you cry .. the scones! Reviewing this particular Caffé Nero is a little unusual because it means that the result applies across all of it’s 600 outlets .. they are all the same .. it is their main selling point. When you go into a Caffé Nero, or a Starbucks for that matter, you know exactly what environment and quality to expect .. fantastico! Not sure how they do it, presumably there is some sort of black magic involved, but the scone we have here in Falkirk will be exactly the same as the one we would have in Canterbury or Belfast or wherever .. is that just clever, or is it slightly spooky? Our scone came complete with butter and jam and, if we had wanted, a sealed tub of clotted cream. All in all it was quite good. Doesn’t fit the criterion, so it never had a hope of getting a topscone award but we can see how folk coming into Caffé Nero could ask for this and enjoy it, so hats off to them for being able to produce this level of standardised product across all it’s outlets. The bad news today is that 10 Tory MPs sat through the debate on the Scotland Bill then 400 came in to vote down all the Scottish amendments .. it will now fester for months in the unelected Lords. The good news is that a wee firm in Crieff is to start exporting oil to the Middle East .. okay it’s rapeseed oil … but still, maybe they would like scones as well?
Situated in East Sheen village, this place is one of these authentic little Italian cafés. It has a shop, Villa Rosa, next door which sells anything you want Italian .. we bought a fantastic panattoni to take home. From the outside, Leonardo Caffé and Villa Rosa look like separate entities but, don’t be fooled, inside they are a single unit with a large garden area at the back which must be wonderful in the summer. The business was set up by brother and sister team Leo and Rosa in 1983. Originally from Puglia in Southern Italy they pride themselves on everything they sell being authentically Italian .. okay, maybe not the coffee, it is from Columbia but it is blended in Italy so we will let them away with that one .. because it’s excellent. The scones were just a tad on the big side for our liking, with a slightly pasty taste .. but having said that, they were very light and fluffy and not at all bad. Rosa looks like a typical strong Italian woman who you just know would not stand for any nonsense .. but has an ever-present warm welcoming smile. She may have much in common with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi who looks like winning the country’s first free elections in 25 years. This woman has conducted herself with such steadfast grace over so many difficult periods in her life that she must rank amongst the Mandelas and Ghandis of this world. Although slight in stature, women don’t come any stronger than this … she will need every ounce of it in the months ahead if she is to move her country forward. Although she thinks she knows what is best for her country the power still lies with the military who know what is best. She may need some help from Rosa … we wish them both well.
The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is one of those entities that sounds as if it has been around for centuries but has in fact only been in existence since 1965 when three smaller council areas were amalgamated. It is home to the many attractions like Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace, Twickenham Stadium but our favourite is the WWT London Wetlands Centre which we visit frequently.It is probably the single most affluent area of London and perhaps unsuprisingly is deemed to have the best quality of life. Also unsurprsingly it is almost exclusively white and conservative. You will all, of course, remember that we have been here before at the Bingham Hotel where we spent a very pleasant afternoon sipping tea in rather posh surroundings. This time we were just out for a walk along the Thames but before we got to the river we stopped off here at Muriel’s Kitchen. There are lots of cafés and coffee shops in town but this one took our fancy .. perhaps because we once had an aunt Muriel who baked a rather mean scone. It’s a very pleasant place with a wide range of food on offer and somewhat retro decor; copper jelly moulds and frying pans in abundance. Sitting here, looking around, you realise that this place, and indeed the whole borough of Richmond, kind of represents the government … predominately white, male, well heeled, privileged backgrounds, private and Oxbridge educated. A generalisation of course, but the flip side of the coin is a bit more worrying because this borough is nothing at all like the rest of the country and hence, by definition, the makeup of the current government does not reflect the country it is supposed to serve. Given that only 1 in 4 of the electorate voted for it we should probably not be surprised .. but that’s UK style democracy, the most undemocratic state in the EU.
It raises the question though; if a government is crammed full of Oxbridge alumni does it mean that they will make good politicians and govern well .. self evidently, it does not. We have the most right wing government in years introducing the Chinese Communist Party into the heart of UK infrastructure .. a move, the only possible beneficiaries of which can be is the bankers. And it is not as if we don’t already know all this; George W Bush’s administration was made up of the cream of Yale, Princeton and Harvard graduates … and we all know what happened under that leadership .. catastrophic wars and financial disaster. Whatever happened to politicians from working class backgrounds .. the Nye Bevans of this world who had imagination and empathy? Perhaps, by way of an experiment, it should be mandatory for people who run for office to be certified eejits just to see if it would make any difference. Unfortunately the scones might have been made by some sort of elite academic because, although perfectly edible, they would not have passed aunt Muriel’s exacting standards .. a bit doughy and a tad on the solid side … great coffee though!
It has been some time, thank you for all your concern; some thought we had died .. scone overdose somewhere, others thought we had been kidnapped by over-enthusiastic sconeys. Well, none of the above, we have been in Londonland .. might as well call it that because it is completely detached from the rest of the country. Unlike vast tracts of Scotland where everyone speaks with a home counties accent … here, hardly anyone speaks English and the Range Rovers are almost as big as a £2m house .. mad, but great, all at the same time! Okay, okay, the scones, what about the scones? The Olympic Studios, complete with it’s statue of Captain Marvel up on the roof, is a very popular haunt for us when we are in the deep south .. either for a meal or to see a film, but this is the first time we have been here in sconey mode .. would we be disappointed? The building itself has had an illustrious past. Byfield House, the residence of the Governor of St Helena and its dependencies of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, stood on this site until 1906 when it was demolished and replaced by a cinema and theatre … Charles Haughtry and John Gielgud first trod the boards here. In 1908 Christabel Pankhurst, took to the stage and gave a rousing and provocative speech .. not about scones but something to do with votes for women; six days later she was arrested at the House of Commons and imprisoned with more than twenty other suffragettes. In 1966 it became the Olympic recording studio and was used by the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Led Zepplin, Madonna, Jimi Hendrix and our personal favourites .. Massive Attack! U2 were the last to record here in 2009. Now it is a cinema again and is appropriately showing the newly released film, Suffragette. More importantly though it has a restaurant and cafe .. selling scones .. and what scones! By far and away the best scones we have had in ages. Very light and fluffy on the inside with a delicate crisp outside .. absolutely fabulous darling .. and at £3 for two scones with plenty jam and clotted cream, the price was not too difficult to swallow either. Another small but lovely touch in the Olympic is that they just give you water and glasses without you having to ask for it .. great! So there you have it, possibly the best scone in Londonland .. unless we find another of course! One hundred years after the suggragette struggle, and after our great Winston Churchill spent a year refusing to speak to the first woman to enter the House of Commons, it seems beyond belief that, in 2015, women are still struggling to get equality. Someone (it must have been a man) said that the best way to make women more comfortable in the workplace was to double glaze the glass ceiling .. well, how would men feel if they were obliged to take the same maternity leave as their partners; would they feel as secure in their careers, would they wonder about reorganisations happening in their absence, new people coming in, others leaving … we don’t think men would handle it at all well. That does not make men different from women because women find it just as difficult. And it is not as if having babies is some sort of peripheral activity, it is fundamental to absolutely everything .. everything. Mind you recent statistics reveal that twelve men commit suicide in the UK every day, far higher than the female equivalent figure, so men don’t have it that easy either. Anyway whoever, woman or man, made these scones, we are sure that Miss Pankhurst would have been proud .. probably even prouder it it was a man!