Irn Bru and Deep Fried Mars Bars….

I was a way for a few days last week in the heart of Scottish Border Country. Where the gastronomic delight of the Deep Fried Mars Bar was invented! And the only place I think on the planet where they drink the revolting ‘taste of girders’ aka Irn Bru. If you get past the bright orange E-number laden look, there’s the taste…

It’s pretty much chips with everything. And melted cheese on chips is better.

Recently the Economist published an article under the heading – Glasgow – No City for Old Mean – you can read the article here. But an extract suggests, “Even in wealthy neighbourhoods mortality rates are 15% higher than in similar districts of other big cities. In rougher parts the difference is starker. A study by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health found that between 2003 and 2007 there were 4,500 more deaths in the city than might have been expected given the age and poverty of the population.”

It’s all a bit odd, because, the Borders, especially, are an amazing place. This really is God’s Country. Miles of rolling hills and some of the best Golf Courses I have played on. In some parts you really do get a sense of isolation – the air is clean (and wet!) and the views spectacular (apart from the wind turbines). It looks healthy! And walking around the course is clearly healthy.

But wander into the towns and you do see the plethora of take-aways and pubs. Galashiels on a Friday night is fight-night. The drunks don’t take long to be looking for a fight!

I didn’t have a deep fried mars bar – nor did I savour Irn-Bru – I avoided Tenants Lager too. As you can tell I have turned to healthy living…

The Scotland Disaster….

I’m back from the Borders. Some call it God’s Country. I call it wet.

We did see a tiny bit of sunshine, but Thursday and Friday were a farmers delight. It poured – and then some. It was also cold. This was not my idea of fun. I have come to the conclusion that I’m a fair weather golfer. Getting cold, wet and muddy is for others.

What I didn’t mention in my blog in the week was that we had a fairly disastrous start. I was getting a lift with one of my golfing buddies. He picked me up and we loaded the car with three grown blokes and their bags (golf / clothes). All was going well until we hit the M! and were around 20 miles into the journey – when his car decided to adopt ‘limp mode’. Restricted to 50mph. We turned back. We swapped for my car – which is not designed for three – as we quickly discovered. So we had to abandon quite a bit of gear.

On the second day, my car developed exactly the same problem! And so we drove around Scotland – and all the way home with the car slipping between normal (fast) and limp (slow). It would reset itself for a little while, but it’s off to the Doctors on Monday for an overhaul.

And if bad news usually comes in threes (ignoring the weather) one of my other mates got a call that his father had collapsed. He had to leave us – and we heard later that morning that his dad had died. This certainly put a dampener on the day.

So perhaps this trip wasn’t meant to be. There were some highlights – but not many.

Will try to lift the spirits next week on the blog. After all – it couldn’t get worse…

Bonnie Scotland

Was it Skegness (‘Skeggy’ to us Nottingham types) that was oh so bracing? I think so, although possibly an ad-mans spin on blustering gales?

As you read this I wake up this morning in ‘Bonnie’ Scotland – yet another phrase which hides the real meaning. What I mean is that I’m in a cold place which generally stops England from fraying. It’s that time of year when a pilgrimage is made to play the ‘good walk spoiled’ game of golf. This has become a regular fixture for the group of us from Nottingham Squash Club – who have our own mini golf society.

And I can confirm that there is some sort of different climate up North. It is several degrees cooler, but yesterday was acceptable. The forecast for today, however, is that the sky is going to be a different sort of angry black. If I’m honest it’s not weather for golf!

We had always assumed that if it rained for four days that would be a reasonable result.

We are staying in Peebles, a nice little place, where there are fewer fights than Galashiels. We are also in a Hotel where we are not banned from. There was a misunderstanding at Burts Hotel a couple of years ago and the delightful and customer-facing Mr Henderson (owner extraordinaire) barred us – not just for Christmas, but rather for life. He muttered something about ‘responsible adults’. In fairness I have never claimed this title. Nor were the various ‘incidents’ anything to do with me!

I love my golf, I just wish the weather would change back – just a little. If you know anyone in charge of the stuff, a little word in their shell-like would be much appreciated!

In the meantime, I’ll put some wet weather gear on and try again today. The cries of “In the hole” or “who’s the daddy” ringing in my ears!


Scotland Golf Tour – Autumn 2011

It was six months ago that I was last in Scotland – but for the last couple of days I have been in Border Country. Specifically between England and Edinburgh, where they have some fantastic golf courses.

One of the tricky holes at Torwoodlee!

As before we use Freedom of the Fariways tickets – which are great value. We get six rounds of golf for £95. But this time we had some spare vouchers – so my six rounds cost £10!

The six we played were:

Lauder – 9 holes. Wet, windy and horrid conditions. In no hurry to go back – a very poor score!

Torwoodlee – We played 9 holes in the morning and 18 in the afternoon. Conditions had improved – and this was a great course. It’s hilly to say the least! A better score around here.

Innerleithen – 9 holes. One of my favourite Scotland courses. It’s old, tiny and very tricky. A good score (4 over par in 9) so I like it!

Peebles. This is a proper course, it’s big and long. I was hitting the ball well and hit my longest drive here – 282 yards. Conditions were good – and the courses is in superb condition.

Woll – 18. We couldn’t get onto our favoured last day course of Hawick, so Woll was the choice. I was enjoying it until I pulled a muscle in my back – at which point my game was over… It did give me a chance to write this blog!

We stayed this time in Peebles – the Green Tree Hotel. The are really nice people and it’s good value. It’s not 4*, but it’s not 4* prices either. It is clean and comfortable.

So that’s it I guess for my goldf tours of 2011. But we love these courses that I guess we’ll be back in 2012.

It does seem odd that I have played more golf in Scotland this year than in England?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Grumpy Old Man! Tagged Edinburgh, , , Golf in Scotland, Hawick, Innerleithen Golf Club, Lauder Golf Club, Peebles, Peebles Golf Club, , Torwoodlee Golf Club, Woll, Woll Golf Club

A great golf ‘toy’

As you probably know I like my gadgets… I have a few (most made by Apple) but there are some others too…

Last week I played golf in the Borders in Scotland, as part of the Nottingham Squash Club Society. This was our third trip and seems to have become a regular feature in the Calendar. There are some stunning golf courses and through “Freedom of the Fairways” it’s great value for money.

It also gave me an opportunity to test out one of the very latest gadgets for golf. For some time now you have been able to buy a GPS unit and they have been getting more and more ‘intelligent’. The latest ones have colour screens which show you ‘trouble’ and then greens – with key distances. They are the modern replacement for the Caddy!

I had considered picking one up, but they are quite expensive – around £350.

Mine is a little different – it is in a watch. It doesn’t have a fancy screen, nor is it in colour. It just shows you the distance to front, middle and back of the green from wherever you are on the course! It ‘managed’ my 6 rounds of golf and it was brilliant. The accuracy is quite unbelievable – and the result on screen is instant. It even knows when you have left a green heading for the next tee!

The only issue is that all of my playing partners wanted me to tell them how far they were from the green…

It may seem like a bit of a cheat? I don’t thinks so as it didn’t help me climb any higher on the leader board than 7th place – although I did win at one of the courses!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged Borders, freedom of the fairways, Garmin, , golf watch, GPS, Nottingham Squash Club, Peebles Golf Course,

Butlins – trying to forget

Butlins in Skegness celebrated its 75th Birthday last week. Billy Butlin had set up the camp so that families could spend some time together – and the ‘it’s so bracing’ Skegness was his first venture.

The happy camp spawned the famous Redcoats. Happy people with smiley faces to make your stay a joy.

I almost daren’t tell you this, but a few years ago (10 perhaps) we were so disorganised in sorting a holiday we decided to give the place a try. We had seen on the Holiday Programme that they had invested ‘millions’ in upgrading the place – the huts were now like proper houses (New England style as I recall). There was an indoor pool and a spa. And entertainment till you drop.

It was truly awful. I think we managed three days. The house was ok, but the rest of the place was stuck in some sort of time warp. I swear that men walked around with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads. Women swam in the bra’s. 24 hour non-stop karaoke was the form of entertainment. The pool was just appalling.

In fact it is the second worse place I have ever stayed. My good mate Richard was left in charge of booking our golf hotel in Scotland last September – I think he may have chosen it on ‘VFM’ – at £24 each it promised ‘a must for a lovers of things Scottish’. It was truly awful – modelled mostly on Fawlty Towers – certainly last upgraded in the mid 70′s when Basil stormed onto our screens. The Landlord even ‘did’ Snuff. Richard has been demoted from Hotel monitor to Milk monitor for the rest of his life.

So congratulations to Butlins for lasting this long. 75 not out is pretty good…

I drove past the place two weeks ago – and that reminded me: Thats what you should always do – drive past it.

As this blog goes to post I am on my way to Scarborough for the weekend – more of that later perhaps! I must be in some sort of holiday-camp-retro-status….

Irn-Bru with that haggis sir?

The duck tape holding the bath together was a clue. With another four stars gained this would have been a four star hotel. Scraping two was I think something of an aberration or mirage from the past.

Hawick - where I didn't get a hole in one

Still, it was undergoing refurbishment; we needed to excuse them whilst they did it. That wasn’t a question – more a mission statement.

My second trip to Irn-Bru (they now have diet Irn_bru apparently) Country to play golf this year was punctuated by a stay at the Abbotsford Arms Hotel at Galashiels (pronounced ‘Gala’). Their web site is undergoing ongoing refurbishment. This should also have been a clue. A big fat one.

Trip Advisor people were pretty forthright here. But it was a forgone decision as we had left the sleeping arrangements to my mate ‘Baby Brains Burton’. This won’t happen again. He is just rubbish at choosing hotels.

The Hotel cost £40 per night each. Whilst I don’t advocate wasting money there is a level at which you should aspire in life – and it’s some way above this. Especially for a holiday. It was better than the £24.99 he had originally chosen – that one had a commode in the corner. A tarpaulin strung between two trees would have been better.

The only saving grace at the Abb (as it is lovingly known – “Fab at the Abb”..) were the staff; who were very friendly. Even if the owner did sniff snuff! I think my Grandad used to do this? I declined the offer – it looks vaguely illegal snorting up lines of black powder….apparently they do a white one too. Yeah right.

The Abb staff were accommodating in providing a high chair for Steve. He is 48 (cm from the ground.) We thought it was funny.

The golf was the saving grace – as before in the Spring we played some fantastic courses in stunning settings. The locals are lucky – they have some excellent courses on their doorstep. Innerleithen is a favourite – only 9 holes but very challenging! We enjoyed Duns too and Minto is always good. Hawick, where the day before we played held a Pro-Am to honour the “Voice of Rugby” Bill McLaren. He was a member at the club and scored a hole in one at the 16th hole – which is probably one of the trickiest par 3′s I have ever seen!

So plans are afoot to return next year – and I am booking the hotel… I sincerely hope that my hotel in Shanghai later this week is marginally batter!

Scottish – the dry run

I went last week to Scotland to practise my Scottish – mostly because my daughter Jade is getting married to Andy (a Glaswegian). My wife reminded me that all of her side of the family are Scottish. Mine are firmly English.

and don't trip up on the fire extinguisher

So to practise, I went to Melrose. Primarily to observe and learn. Whilst there it would have been rude not to play a bit of golf – bearing in mind that it is the home of golf. Well St Andrews is – where I went last year.

My primary observation was that these lands north of Hadrian’s Wall are a cautious place. Not so much ‘red light’ more ‘amber’. Flashing.

Boiling water in our kettle in the hotel room was not quick. You could have had a cup of tea whilst you waited for it to reach boiling point.

Then there was the bathroom – not only was there a shower screen – there was a curtain too! I felt safe – two lines of defence against that water escaping.

There were signs in the hotel – helpfully telling you things you might not realise – that doors actually open. And it may be dangerous to you if you are stood in the wrong place. Like behind them.

Whilst waiting for my mates (who had been detained by a nice policeman for having slick tyres on his racing van) I was reading a glossy magazine in reception. Guess what – they have a special road safety scheme up there. Not just content with road signs they have a whole scheme! It’s like the cycling proficiency test for grown ups.

One night we had a drink in The Kings Arms – a pub that has been around since 1798. They must have been stung before, because they were insistent we paid for drinks as we bought them – this was even when three of the guys were two minutes behind the early doors boys. “No” they couldn’t leave the tab open! In fairness we do look like a group of 17 year old ‘runners’….

The golf was not cautious though – it was pretty average. I should have hit the ball a bit harder, but felt I shouldn’t…

Green but not pretty?

Yesterdays story about the new power-lines in Scotland struck a chord. The news is that consent has been given for a new 137 mile long line of 600 pylons – some 200 feet high – in some of the most beautiful countryside in the Country. Not surprisingly there has been opposition – 20,000 people signed a petition. But, alas they have been ignored.

Wind Farm on the East Coast at Mablethorpe - 'ugly' redefined.

The argument runs that the damage caused by global warming is greater than that caused by a line of pylons. The opposition say it is tantamount to vandalism and will leave a scar on the landscape.

Having driven through the borders and spending time in Scotland this year I think it is a pity to spoil some of the stunning views.

Another problem is that this is ‘connectivity’ ahead of its time. Some of the renewable energy sources are still in their infancy – particularly ‘wave’ technology. We are not yet in a position where they have been proven.

I have always had some concerns about wind turbines – whichever way you look at them – they are not pretty. They can be noisy too. Small scale turbines in ‘domestic’ settings can be integrated, but the larger units which really generate sufficient power to have a reasonable payback period – and contribute to a larger group – are difficult to ‘hide’. Friends of the Earth say that “In the UK a single average-sized turbine of 1MW typically produces at least 2.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. This is enough to meet the needs of almost 600 average households“. I am yet to see one (or more) which add anything to the visual environment!

There is a group called Revolt – who oppose excessive power-line development. They say, “While there is no entitlement to a view in English law, there is a serious injustice when significant damage to quality of life or loss of property value is imposed disproportionately upon residents, as a result of a public or private development. The injustice is particularly great when a new powerline passes through a neighbouring property close to a family residence, leaving the family with no influence on wayleave matters and no compensation, yet facing losses possibly greater than their life savings.“.

It is an interesting point about ‘value’. Of course the proximity of a pylon or wind-farm will affect value – not in a good way!

We do need to harness sustainable / renewable energy sources. But we also need to preserve the environment we live in. If that means burying cables or taking tracks that follow an existing feature then I am for this. As for those wind farms or pylons – N I M B Y please!