Great Western Auctions

Today we are talking antiques … no, not us … we are talking about the kind that you find in places like this! If you ever have the dubious pleasure of watching daytime television you will no doubt have come across programs like the Antiques Road Trip, Flog It, Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic … indeed, you would be hard pushed to avoid them. Sometimes we wonder what the BBC would do without such programs to fill the day. One of the stars of these shows is Anita Manning and this place, Great Western Auctions in Glasgow, is where she hails from. Topically, it might be better called La La Land because she runs it together with her daughter Lala. Anita Manning at Great Western Auctions, GlasgowWe have been known to like a good rummage so we are not exactly strangers here. Not antique experts by any stretch of the imagination but going round these places is good fun and lets you see all the things you never knew existed and never knew you wanted … potentially a dangerous and expensive thing to do! Of course, you can also get a real bargain if you are there at the right time. Getting a bargain, of course, generally means that you were the only one bidding which, in turn, tells you a lot about the items desirability.

George Wylie handbag at Great Western Auctions, Glasgow
George Wyllie handbag

Today we were in Glasgow on an errand nearby so we decided to pop in just to see if there was anything we didn’t need. There are always things of interest in any auction so the trick, if you are not a dealer, is to be ruthless with your own desires. For instance, in this auction there was a handbag by the artist George Wyllie which I was tempted to buy for Pat simply because it would have been lighter than any of her other ones. In the downstairs area there is a small café where weary rummagers can get a little sustenance. It is run by a lovely retired lady who does this part time café business, as she says cheerily, “just to keep me off street corners”. When the auctions are on she gets up at 5am to bake everything for the coming day … including the scones. It’s a no-frills no-nonsense kind of place but since we were feeling a little bit peckish we decide to have a bacon roll each and share a scone. A scone at Great Western Auctions, GlasgowShe asked if we wanted butter and jam on the scone – we didn’t even bother asking about cream, and then she made up the scone for us .. not behaviour we would normally condone but, since there is only one small table to sit at,  it probably makes sense because most folks just have to stand. Assembling a scone, standing up with a cupful of hot coffee in the other hand is never easy. Anyway we got a seat at the table and started on our rolls which were absolutely fantastic. For some reason we did not have high expectations for the scone but it turned out to be very good too, in fact, it would almost have made topscone were it not for some presentational issues – paper cups, no plates etc … but, hey, they are not trying to impress here, they are just trying to provide some quick bites for hungry bidders who always have one eye on the tv screens following the auction anyway.

Moorcroft plate at Great Western Auctions, Glasgow
A Moorcroft plate

We feel that an accusation of ‘presentational issues’ could be levelled at the media these days who, three days later, are still going on incessantly about the Westminster Bridge tragedy and elevating it to a status which it surely does not deserve. If they treated it as a crime perpetrated by someone of deranged mind rather than a ‘terrorist act’ we would not be giving actual terrorists the oxygen of publicity they crave so much. Didn’t get the handbag, it eventually went for about £100, sorry Pat!

G14 9UY     tel: 0141 954 1500    Great Western Auctions

Mona’s of Muckhart

We are very familiar with Westminster Bridge so our thoughts go out to all those caught up in yesterday’s tragedy … a kind of re-enactment of the horrific events in Nice which are still very fresh in our memories. In spite of our frequent moaning about Westminster we have to hand it to all the MPs and the security forces who seem to have responded admirably. At the end of the day it is virtually impossible to protect against religious zealots whose mind set is totally irrational … but it is important that the Palace of Westminster, as far as possible, remains a public place.

Anyway the village of Muckhart is about as far away from such events as it is possible to get … a sleepy little corner of Clackmannanshire in what is known as the ‘hillfoots’ of the Ochil Hills. It actually consists of two small adjacent villages – Yetts of Muckhart and Pool of Muckhart and the ‘Muckhart’ bit seems to refer to the surrounding fields being used for pig farming at some time in the past. What happens in Muckhart? Well not a lot but it does have a 27 hole golf course and nice wee pub whose doorstep is exactly the same height above sea level as the Wallace Monument … not a lot of people know that! Today however we are in Mona’s in Pool of Muckhart on that never ending quest for topscones. Interior view of Monas of Muckhart It is difficult for someone of our age to utter the name “Mona” without getting an immediate rush of nostalgia for the Rolling Stones and their Bo Diddley track of that name … don’t worry if you’re under sixty, it’s a generational thing. This Mona has nothing to do with the Stones but everything to do with the current owner’s grandmother whose name was Mona Cram. You enter into a nice little shop selling jewellery, knick knacks and lots of home baking before continuing through to the café area where we discovered a solitary plain scone with three cheese scones keeping it company … all they had left! I decided to put the plain one out of its misery leaving Pat no option but to go for cheese. A scone at Monas of MuckhartThe lady looking after us was a joy … you know how it is when you meet someone and you just know that nothing is going to be too much trouble – and even if it is it will be done cheerily and with a smile … she was one of those! My scone arrived with generous pots of jam and cream and Pat’s had been nicely warmed up and came with butter. In other words, everything was just as it should be. We enjoyed them but Pat felt her cheese one was slightly doughy and try as I might I just couldn’t raise mine to topscone status either.  The friendly atmosphere more than made up for any disappointment with the scones … Mona’s is definitely worth a visit. Here in Muckhart on a lovely day it is impossible to even begin to imagine what possesses someone to perpetrate the events of Westminster Bridge yesterday … long may it remain so.

FK14 7JN     tel: 01259 781322      Monas of Muckart

Pâtissier Maxime

Delicate cakes at Pâtissier Maxime, EdinburghHere we are in Edinburgh again and this time Pat is treating me to afternoon tea at Pâtissier Maxime … yeagh! In 1985 when Didier Meyer won “best Puff Pastry in France” it encouraged him to set up his first Pâtissier Maxime in Haguenau near Strasbourg … he probably never dreamed that one day there would be one here in the west end of the Scottish capital, but here it is! It specialises in macaroons, cakes, tarts and loads of other pastries but they also make their own ice cream and chocolate … their window display is a glorious confection of colour and deliciousness.  The burning question, of course was “what do the French know about afternoon tea” … it’s such a British institution that this very French establishment might struggle to pass muster? Once seated it all started in a terribly civilised way with a glass of prosecco but when we saw the afternoon tea arriving we knew it was going to be a little bit different … in presentation at least. Normally afternoon tea comes with a fine china cake stand and equally fine china tea cups in order to engender the refined atmosphere necessary for genteel conversation … raised pinkies and all that! Afternoon tea at Pâtissier Maxime in EdinburghNot in Pâtissier Maxime … here it comes on a huge heavy multi-tiered wooden construction covered in fake grass … and tea comes in thick coffee cups … sacrebleu, mon dieu, help ma bob!! Three girls at the next table got an even bigger one that the waitress could barely carry. At least there was a nod to British sensitivity with the savoury stuff at the bottom and the sweet delicate cakes up at the top. Sheep table decoration at Pâtissier Maxime, EdinburghOnce we had recovered from the initial shock we noticed that, as well as the copious amounts of food, there were several ‘fun’ items like easter eggs, bunny rabbits … and a sheep?? The sandwiches and cakes were all absolutely delicious of course but the crème de la crème for us was always going to be the scone. They were big … much bigger than they should be for an afternoon tea so we were a bit nervous about tackling them. In the end we decided to share one between the two of us because if we had eaten one each we would never have got anywhere near the goodies on the top tier. A scone at Pâtissier Maxime in EdinburghThey turned out to be quite good, a tad on the dry side perhaps but just toooo big, fine on their own perhaps but not as part of a very generous afternoon tea … no topscone for Didier … désolé monsieur! Everything else was excellent and the service we received was wonderful. So did Patissier Maxime pass muster? Well, yes and no! The food definitely did but the presentation, flamboyant and  fun as it was, lacked that certain British reserve but then they are all French in here, what did we expect? Scotland is not particularly noted for reserve, quite the opposite, but these days even Scottish reserve lies head and shoulders above the British variety. Internal view of Pâtissier Maxime in EdinburghCan you imagine the furore if David Cameron had had to ask the EU for permission to hold a referendum on Brexit .. and then to be told “no, you can’t”! Nicola Sturgeon’s reserve is astounding in the face of the hypocrisy of Theresa May who, up until recently, was lecturing us on what a disaster Brexit would be for all nations of the UK. Margaret Thatcher, of all people, said “Scotland does not need a referendum on independence she just needs to send a majority of nationalist MPs to Westminster to have a mandate for independence”. She obviously never envisaged that happening, far less that 56 of the 59 Scottish MPs at Westminster would end up being nationalist. In these circumstances, Sturgeon’s patience, dignity and reserve could be used as a lesson to any self-respecting Englishman in stiffupperlipness.Internal view of Pâtissier Maxime in Edinburgh Thanks Pat for treating me at Pâtissier Maxime … you know I’m worth it!

EH2 4PA     tel: 0131 225 6066      Pâtissier Maxime

The Ground House

Although the City of Stirling is only about 11 miles away from our home we hardly ever go there … Edinburgh yes, Glasgow yes, Stirling no. Occasionally we might dip into one of the out-of-town retail parks but never into the city centre itself. Mostly we just drive past it on our way to somewhere else. It was recognising this sorry state of affairs that led us to purposely go from one of these retail parks into the centre  just to check it out. On the face of it, of course, Stirling has a lot to offer – a castle, a big pointy monument on a hill that can be seen from miles around and lots of other historic attractions full of guides dressed in period costume just in case you happen to be totally devoid of imagination. When you get to the centre however it is pretty obvious that Stirling, like most other towns, has not escaped the effects of all these retail parks on the outskirts … it looks a wee bit sorry for itself. Logo of the Ground HouseFinding a tearoom was surprisingly difficult, we ended up having to ask but were soon directed towards this place The Ground House Coffee Company on King Street. It has a pretty relaxed vibe with lots of students sitting tapping away on laptops and checking their phones but .. hey, so were we! The system is that you are given a menu, you take a seat and decide what you want then you go to the counter and tell them what you want, then you go back to your seat and wait for them to bring it to you … is this self service or not? Internal view of the Ground House, StirlingWe bucked the system and ordered before we sat down because they had a selection of plain, cherry, fruit and apple and cinnamon scones right there in front of us at the counter … no point in wasting time looking at menus. Pat opted for fruit and I thought I would try the apple and cinnamon for a bit of a change. They didn’t have cream (not even scooshie) and they didn’t tell us the scones were going to be toasted but when they arrived they had almost been char grilled. We are never sure if this is scone abuse or not? In a way it seems a bit unnecessary but in another way it can sometimes work out quite well … maybe you should just be given the choice. Turned out that The Ground House was a place of dilemmas: the ordering system; the toasted scones; the lack of cream; the question – do you have jam with an apple and cinnamon scone or do you treat it more like a savoury cheese scone?

Scones at the Ground House, Stirling
Toasted apple and cinammon to the left and fruit to the right … is this scone abuse?

If you know the answer to this last point please get in touch. I decided to try and answer it myself by having one half without jam and the other half with … but the result was that I enjoyed both! If I had to stake my life on it I would probably plump for jam, but it’s a very close run thing? We are constantly wrestling with such problems … stressful! At the end of the day we enjoyed the scones and the coffee was excellent … we would recommend The Ground House Coffee Company to anyone – their pizzas look great by the way! Internal view of the Ground House, StirlingJust across the road from this café, on top of the entrance to the Atheneum building, there is a statue of William Wallace … known as the Wee Wallace, presumably to differentiate it from the somewhat larger one on top of the hill about a mile away.  You can make out the Wee Wallace left of centre in our title photograph above. We wonder what he would have made of Theresa May’s announcement today that Scotland cannot have a second referendum … apparently because it would not be fair for the people to have to vote before they know the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. These weasel words try to ignore the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU … end of,  hence the need for another referendum before the UK leaves … or is she saying that the UK might not be leaving after all?? We don’t think so … Wee Wallace doesn’t think so either and the Big Wallace certainly doesn’t think so!

FK8 1AY      tel: 01786 357606      The Ground House FB

The Park Bistro

In the year 1818 a man stood in a field somewhere between Edinburgh and Falkirk and drove his spade into the soil … he was starting to excavate a massive thirty one mile long ditch between the two towns which would eventually be filled with water … the Union Canal, as we know it today. In a modern world of JCBs and  huge automated earth moving machines, it is quite extraordinary to think that this canal with all its tunnels and aqueducts had to be constructed entirely by hand … millions of spadefuls mostly at the hands of hundreds of Highlanders and Irishmen. The intention was to feed Edinburgh’s insatiable appetite for coal but today our own personal needs are much simpler because just a few yards from the canal’s towpath at Philpstoun is a converted cattle shed, the Park Bistro, which we hoped would satisfy our appetite for scones. For the many hundreds of people using the canal and the towpath The Park provides welcome respite from their exertions though today our exertions were pretty feeble since we arrived by car on our way home from Edinburgh. Interior of the Park Bistro, Linlithgow Quite a while back we tried to get a scone here but they had just sold the last one so it was not to be … today, however, there was no such problem … scones aplenty! When they arrived with our coffee we asked if there was any cream .. the lady screwed her face up and said “only scooshie”, we screwed our faces up and said “no thanks”. A scone at the Park Bistro, LinlithgowHowever, just as we were about to cut into our first scone she suddenly reappeared placing a lovely bowl of whipped cream on our table … “stole it from the chef making a pavlova” … and, with a sly wink, she was off just as suddenly … service, or what? The coffee was good but the scones themselves were quite tricky to eat because they were so crumbly … much wiping and licking of fingers. Despite this we enjoyed our time at The Park …  but not what we would describe as a topscone experience. Ajoining the café area is a wee room imaginatively called ‘The Wee Room’, which can be hired for private parties and in it hangs a tapestry showing Louis XIV defeating the Spanish near a canal in Bruges in the 1667 War of Devolution. Can’t think why it should be hanging here other than canals … oh, and devolution, a concept which seems in mortal danger these days given the Prime Minister’s attitude to Scotland and Brexit.

a tapestry at the Park Bistro, Linlithgow
Must have taken them ages to get ready for battle!

It’s a bit rich, when the Parliament in Edinburgh wants independence and almost every single Scottish MP at Westminster wants independence, for May to tell Sturgeon to ignore these ‘details’ and get on with the day job … especially when May’s own domestic politics are in a much worse state than Scotland’s. Anyway, with the announcement yesterday of IndyRef2 we cannot expect the battle over the next few years to be conducted with anything like the aplomb of Louis XIV … it is going to be messy! Window sign for the Park Bistro, LinlithgowOn a slightly different tack … these days most people would pay a premium to have a canal view but not so William Forbes of Callendar.  When the Union Canal was being built he petitioned every MP at Westminster because he thought the canal might spoil the distant view from his mansion … the route was subsequently diverted through a half mile tunnel under Prospect Hill which had to be hewn by hand from solid rock. Not a problem in those days when men were disposable … the great and the good will always look after each other. Looking at that tapestry again you kind of get the feeling they might take a break from battle for afternoon tea … and a scone!

EH49 6QY     tel: 01506 846666       The Park Bistro

The Taste Café Deli

For those in the know it is common knowledge that both Mary Queen of Scots and James VI’s daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia, were avid sconeys. In the 16th century they both lived in Linlithgow Palace and a scone, of an afternoon, would have provided a welcome diversion from embroidery and harping. The reason we mention this little known snippet is because their scones would have come from here, the Taste Café Deli … okay, not exactly this café but, back then, this building used to be the bakery for the Palace, so you can see the royal connection … can’t you! Apparently Mary liked a fruit scone but Elizabeth’s preference was for plain, the question was would they still do them? We were here with my sister who, although Scottish through and through, has spent her entire adult life on the Côte d’Azur and, over the years, has acquired all the culinary skills and good taste of the French. The problem was that, to get to the café, you have to go through the delicatessen … a real problem for someone afflicted with good taste! And so it was that, on leaving, we were equipped with a couple of haggises, haggi … whatever and a full blown Stornoway Black Pudding! You see, you can take the lass out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out of the lass! As you read this post all of these items are being used to titillate the palates of the good folk of Nice, educating them in the delights of Scottish cuisine. Anyway, what about the scones? We had just had a pleasant, if muddy, walk around Linlithgow loch but still did not feel hungry enough to handle a scone each … so we ordered two scones between the three of us. Interior view of Taste Café, LinlithgowCream was not on offer but when they saw our quivering petted lips they miraculously produced a lovely bowl of it for our delectation … brilliant! The Taste Café is just a really good honest no frills kind of place with lots of books and toys for the kiddies, exhibits from local artists. A scone at the Taste Café, LinlithgowNot sure what Mary Queen of Scots would have made of our fruit scones but we thought they were very good … not topscones but very enjoyable nevertheless. In terms of senses, taste is extremely useful: sweetness helping us identify energy rich foods and bitterness warning us of potential poison. Chancellor, Philip Hammond’s budget yesterday seems to taste more of the latter. He says it is necessary to take unpalatable steps to get us out of the mess we currently find ourselves in … after how many years of his government’s rule??  This week also saw the House of Lords defeating the government for the second time over Brexit. Oh dear, an unelected bunch of old folk standing up to an unelected Prime Minister … crazy politics? Mind you, had Guy Fawkes been successful in his Gunpowder Plot in 1605, Elizabeth of Bohemia, that scone munching Linlithgow lass, may well have ended up as Queen of England … so perhaps there is nothing new about crazy mixed up politics!

EH49 7ED    tel: 01506 844445       The Taste Deli Café