Saturday, 1 October 2011

gingerbread men

My wee sister came up last weekend and so I did some baking. I had bought the Peyton and Byrne 'British Baking' book which is a wee beauty. Simple, recognisable British baking - no fuss here, just good, solid recipes.

I went with the Gingerbread Men recipe as I always love biscuits that mean I get to use my biscuit cutters and because they last for a week - most baked goods need to be eaten pretty quickly but I was doing prep work as I would be working the day Emma arrived. This turned out to be a very good thing as I ended up being very ill and was in no fit state to bake or cook anything so at least there was some home baking already sorted!


350g plain flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g cold unsalted butter
150g light soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp golden syrup

The recipe says the prep time is about 15 minutes - I would say nearer 25 - unless you are super duper fast.


Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4 and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour, ginger and bicarb powder into a bowl.

Rub in the butter - or do what I did and use a food processor.

Stir in the sugar.

Whisk the egg and syrup in a bowl then add to the flour and butter mixture. Licking the golden syrup spoon is a nice treat!

Mix it all well to form a dough.

Flour a surface and roll out the dough. I divided the dough into two balls for this bit. The recipe says 3mm thickness - I like a thicker biscuit so went for nearer 5mm.

Dip your cutter in flour then cut out your shapes and transfer them to the tray. You can make eyes, nose and mouth using a knitting needle or sharp knife. You can also add currants for jacket buttons and eyes too if you like.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until a lovely golden brown. When ready let them cool for 1-2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack.

Store in an airtight container - they will last up to a week.

Monday, 5 September 2011

onion tart and two potatoe salads

We have been getting a veggie box delivered each week and it has meant we are a) eating with the season and b)responding to what has arrived and thinking up recipes to use up the food rather than planning what we want to eat then shopping for the veg. This has been quite good because it forces you to look out new recipes.

This week we had a glut of potatoes and onions [white and spring]. It is still too warm to go into proper winter food yet so I searched my cookery books and my brain for a solution. The result - two types of potatoe salad and Nigella's onion tart [page 392, How to Eat].

Now, I cheated a bit. I left out the nutmeg because I really don't like it, and swapped the marsala to red wine. And, the tart calls for a pastry case and I have been really busy so I bought one.

30g butter
Drop of oil
500g white onions, sliced very thinly
1-2 teaspoons of sugar
4 tbsp red wine
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
300ml creme fraiche

Melt the butter with the oil in your frying pan and then add the onions.
Stir and cook on a medium to low heat for about 10-12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the sugar and reduce to the lowest heat and cover [with a lid, foil or, as I did, a large dinner plate].
Leave to cook for about 20 minutes. The onions should be all tender and almost going to mush.
Add in the wine, turn up the heat and cook for about 8 minutes. Keep stirring so it doesn't catch.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool a bit.
[you could also do this bit in the morning or the night before]

If you are using a homemade pastry case, make it while all the onion prep is going on.

Make a custard by beating the eggs, egg yolk, creme fraiche and half a teaspoon of salt together.
Add a good grinding of pepper - I like a lot so it is more like several grindings.
Take your onions and line the pastry case with them.
Then carefully pour over your egg mix - Nigella gives a good tip at this point - don't fill your case right up with the liquid - leave some aside and top up once you have it on the rack in the oven to avoid the wobbly, shaky, drippy trip from surface to oven.
Nigella doesn't say this but if you have a pastry case that isn't in a tin/foil [because like me you bought it!] place it on a baking sheet with a strip of greaseproof paper underneath it. This means that when you come to remove it you can lift it and slide it onto a plate without breaking the pastry.

Grind some more pepper on the top.
Bake it at Gas 6/180 degrees for about 35 minutes or until it is golden on top. It should be set but not rubbery and overly firm. It will cook a bit still as it cools down.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool for about 10-15 minutes before slicing up and serving.

For the potatoes
As many potatoes as your local veggie box man has delivered![about 750kg in my case...]
A jar of good quality mayonnaise
A tbsp of mustard
A glug of oil
A large handful of chopped spring onions
Salt and pepper

Potatoe salad needs cold potatoes so either boil them while doing the onions or do them the night/morning before.

The first thing to do though was to scrub the soily potatoes - which Andy really enjoys...

When cold, divide them between 2 bowls.
In one bowl add two tbsp of good mayonnaise and the spring onions - mix well.

Some like lots of creamy mayonnaise so once you have done the first two tbsp judge yourself what you would like. Grind over some pepper and give it a final mix.
In the other, add the mustard and the oil and mix well.

I also served some cherry toms mixed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some salad leaves which I thought cut through the dairy centred nature of the rest of the dish.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


I had my wee brother Theo over and needed some easy peasy recipes that would fill up a 15 year old with, apparently, hollow legs.

I picked up this recipe from Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie at Home' - I didn't follow it quite to the letter but here is my version.


12 sausages
Two punnets of cherry tomatoes
2-3 sprigs of Thyme
2-3 sprigs of Rosemary
2-3 garlic cloves - crushed and chopped
A tbsp of crushed Oregano
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Baking potatoes


You will need a large roasting tin and the oven preheated to about Gas 6, 180 degrees
Foil for the baked potatoes


Prick the potatoes all over, wrap in foil and start to bake in the oven immediately

Slice up the cherry toms in half and place in a large roasting tin

Scatter the herbs and garlic over the tomatoes

Glug 3-4 tbsp of olive oil and 1-2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar over the herbs, garlic and tomatoes

Now for the messy bit...

Dump the sausages on the top and with your hands mix everything up until the sausages are all coated
Before putting in the oven, arrange it so the sausages are on top

Bake for 30 minutes, then turn over the sausages and divest the potatoes of their foil so the skins bake crispy, and bake for another 15-20 minutes



I made this the day of the Bridge of Allan games - torrential rain ensued. To save time I baked my potatoes in foil at breakfast time - I sometimes find that although usually they take an hour you might need longer and I like my skins really crispy. I also prepared the toms and sausages in their seasoning and left them in the tin covered in cling film. This meant that dinner was even quicker and easier and the food kept fine like that until it was time to bake it. And if you make this quantity just for two there will be enough for two nights or, in our case, for a hungry person to have as a rather nice packed lunch to reheat at work.

Friday, 19 August 2011


I am starting to blog again - slowly - but after a break it's hard to get back into the swing of it! I have also started a new blog - it is for my political/newsy stuff as I want this blog to be pure fun and food and funky cool stuff.

Talking of cool stuff - here is a pic of the Joseph Joseph salt and pepper grinder we got today -

Friday, 29 July 2011

go read this blog

One of the best bits of my job is meeting people living with diabetes and hearing about their experiences. Sometimes I don't get to meet them in person - sometimes it is a patient survey or letter or email. How people talk about their diabetes and deal with it is diverse and fascinating. Joe Freeman - our social media guy - pointed me in the direction of the Diabetes UK blog - which I knew about but hadn't made time to go and see [bad me]. The first post I read was about a person who wanted to know what they looked like when they have a hypo. What an amazing thing - it wouldn't have occured to me that someone would think of that and yet it makes perfect sense. Knowing your condition includes knowing about how it manifests itself and as the blogger notes how it looks may not automatically mean people know it is a hypo. I know of people who have been assumed to be drunk or on drugs when having a hypo - of people being picked up by the police or thrown out of shops/restaurants etc for being disorderly. Hearing directly from people with diabetes reminds all of us that raising awareness and making sure everyone knows about diabetes is really important. And that being let into a persons experience is a real privelege. Go read it!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

gin is good

But don't say I said that. Working for a health charity means you are much more conscious than usual over what you are 'supposed' to be doing to be healthy. I have a heightened awareness for the foods and exercise avoidance that mean a less healthy lifestyle. However, heightened awareness also means I think even more about chips than I ever did. And chocolate. And gin. I want them.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been trying to clean up my act. Moving job to a health charity may mean I know more about and are more aware of health messages - but this hasn't turned into a super healthy lifestyle. If anything the travel, odd working hours, evening events with buffets and a weakness for comfort eating when juggling 'competing priorities' means I have in fact put on weight and developed some not-so-great habits.

While working on our South Asian Community project a lot of the feedback from participants has been about the basic, simple changes you can make. How to give up sugar in your tea, or change your cooking oil. It's easy to say - harder to implement. Everyone in a household may need to make the change around you. For many they are trying to break the habits and practices of a lifetime. More than that, it is about culture too. For me food is a social thing. Breaking bread - or sitting down to a lovingly prepared meal and sharing the food and our reactions to it - is part of my culture and background. So taking a leaf out of their book, instead of thinking 'I must be able to cycle 50 miles before work NOW' I have taken a gentler approach.

I haven't fully given up coffee but I have limited myself to coffee on a Sunday. The cravings were bad - the headache coincided with a few stressful days at work so I convinced myself it wasn't the caffeine withdrawal. I even tried - horror of horrors - decaf coffee at work.

I haven't fully given up chocolate either - but I have cut down drastically. No Milky Bar on the train home [they are really small these days!]. I did have a dark chocolate covered ginger biscuit - but that doesn't count?

And last night on our walk along the river to get ice cream I went for a modest small scoop - not my usual greedy two scoop with a Flake.

I now also walk a lot more when I am in London instead of resorting to the tube. I get some exercise but also get to see and learn about the city I am working in. I am also walking to the train station in the village at home and back each day. Not quite my 'big goal' but better than nought.

These are all small changes - but I am proud of making them. They are the first step to getting healthier - and without that sense of failure when in the first week you haven't lost a stone and bagged a Munro, because who could achieve that? I am also reminded though of how hard it is to make those changes. I am surrounded by the information and guidance needed - and yet I still find it hard. It makes me realise how much we ask of those around us when we talk about five-a-day and doing more exercise. We need to realise that this stuff isn't as easy as it looks in a leaflet and that daily life and ingrained habits are hard to change.

And I have my wee brother coming to stay next week. So the next step is some big walks in the amazing countryside I have around me. He is great company and likes to get out and about so that will get my walking legs up to speed again.

So - back to the gin - I have not given up alcohol. I am not a big drinker but I do like 'a wee swally'. And I am not a martyr so I have to keep one fun thing. I can go weeks without a glass of wine - although in the modern way of the young professional I will have several glasses when out with friends but rate it ok because we were also having dinner - bourgeoise drinking is just as bad as any other kind. Also cocktails are not necessarily better than drinking Buckie. It's just more stylish. But I don't believe in giving up every fun thing. So I have this evening sat down to a lovely Blackwood's gin which has aided my 'work diary tidy up' and allowed me to feel like working late isn't too much of a bind. For me it is small steps, big changes, and if I am going to preach the message I should live it too.

Friday, 22 July 2011

back online

It has been a while since I last posted which has been down to a combination of moving house, no internet and an incredibly busy time at work. I am back on the internet though and blogging has recommenced. I will be sifting through the scraps, photos and other flotsam and jetsam I have gathered thinking 'that would be good for the blog' and getting it posted. So bear with me - I am gearing up again for the blogosphere!

In the meantime, you can catch me on twitter @JCJudson...

Thursday, 2 June 2011

style blogs

Most style blogs are focused on London, NY, Paris, Milan etc etc. So it is good to see a blog that, while it does include some London street style, includes that capital of fashion - Glasgow [Les Garcons de Glasgow]. The Sunday Herald did a piece on it - and ran a street style spread. Apparently next week they are in Stirling - do you think my hoody, skinnies and boots combo for sorting out the house will be a hit?

For a good take on LFW see dressmebest - not a Glasgow blog but it brought me to this amazing red and black dress...

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

organisational culture

not this kind of culture...

I spent Tuesday at the Volunteer Development Scotland board meeting in Stirling - VDS is Scotland's Centre for Excellence in volunteering and leads the way in informing and modernising approaches to volunteering policy, enhancing practice and improving the quality of the volunteering experience for the people of Scotland. I really enjoy being a part of the board - yes, the decisions are sometimes challenging and in the current economic climate everything comes with a bit more pressure these days - but the enthusiasm and focus of the team at VDS is something I enjoy being around.

In previous meetings we have used the term 'form follows function' to help us through our decision making and today the Chair coined another - lean, mean, fast, flexible. 'Mean' is not us being horrible to one another - more that any organisation needs to be able to focus on its aims and objectives and not be distracted from that path. I like these two phrases. The first reminds us that while structures are important, they are only important so far as they enable us to carry out and achieve our aims. The second phrase reminds us that delivery needs to be reactive and proactive to the environment around us and that there is no room for excess in anything that we do.

In the hands of other organisations these phrases could be seen as negative or reasons to take actions that would otherwise be unpalatable without a sound bite to cover them off. It is interesting to me that I don't feel this with the Board or team at VDS - that behind the words is a philosophy and ethos that is about always keeping the volunteer at the centre of our work. How do you explain this though? This kind of 'feeling' strays into that fuzzy world of 'culture' that many organisations struggle to define or achieve. It has made me reflect on the organisations and cultures I come across in other parts of my working and personal life - the NHS, Diabetes UK [and my amazing team in Scotland], the Scottish Government etc.

It has also prompted me to go and look out my old MBA notes on culture and have a think about the different kinds and how they are generated - and the leadership qualities required for each one - combined with what I saw at VDS and experience elsewhere and see what I can learn from that. I think it could form a future post...

Monday, 30 May 2011

joseph joseph - so good they named it twice

I previously blogged about the joseph joseph index chopping boards I got given for Christmas [thanks, Emma!]. I have not used them, preferring to save them for the new house. Now, the new house has seen some buying power - kitchens, carpets, bathroom suites etc all take investment - but we have been very restrained and not splurged on 'furnishings and household items' as I term it. So, we haven't bought anything that isn't integral to the building itself. We have held back and been sensible - we have not stockpiled cushions, crockery or ornaments. This weekend we broke with that just a wee tiny bit. We ordered some dining chairs to brighten up the dining table and some bar stools for the breakfast bar. We have also ordered pots and pans [new induction hob = new cooking pots] but that is a whole other post. We also indulged in some joseph joseph! So I have new utensils on their way -

And critically, two new worktop savers for our new breakfast bar/Kitchen surfaces. The house has a lot of sleek lines and neutral colours but everyone needs some fun and we spotted some cool worktop savers at Sterling Mills.

Andy gets the tractor -

I get the sheep on the hill -

We managed to not buy the entire range, or give in to new knives, or any number of amazing things. So we have been restrained - honest!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

busy busy busy

Sometimes life gets very busy and while most of the busyness has been good it is tiring and I am starting to look forward to a week or two of calm post-move.

First off is that the house is now lurching forward at a scary pace. We are three weeks out from moving - decisions about paint, conversations with lawyers, forms to fill, carpets to finally order, packing to be done.

The house is looking almost like a proper ready-to-move in house - we get very excited every time we visit. It has always, even in it's shell-like state, felt like home but now there is actually a visibly recognisable house there.

Yes, it has gone so far that I now gaze at freshly painted walls for hours on end...

The walls are painted and the windows sealed and there are wires for our lights.

The bathroom is in and almost done.

The stained glass is being cleaned and restored.

And sometimes it is the little things - our front door is finished, the handles are on the internal doors.

On top of that, work has been pretty manic. We had a day long meeting on Tuesday on peer support for people living with diabetes [followed by dinner with the lovely Ruth Wilson - our Peer Support Manager who works out of the Cardiff office] and launched the Live for It! project on Thursday. Friday was 'work from home day' which means I get to catch up on all of the paperwork and emailing the week generates. And I get to do it sitting in my jeans and hoody and playing my music loud. It also means I can multi task to make our lovely builders some cakes - this week they got cherry and chocolate muffins. In the space of our hour on site they had cleaned out the whole batch...

To round it all off I finally got somewhere with my shoulder and saw the GP and got some pain relief. The worst thing about the pain has been the exhaustion that has come with it and not being able to concentrate when it gets really bad. When everything looks like it is at the end of a long tunnel because the pain is at crazy levels it makes it difficult to be as productive as usual. But - now it is under control I managed a full Saturday awake - for the past four or five weeks I have crashed out post-house visit for most of the day - not great for packing and getting stuff done!

Now I just need to make it through the next three weeks and it will be move in day!

Friday, 27 May 2011

back to skool

One of the issues that really gets me going is kids in school with type 1 diabetes who feel isolated, or are bullied, or don't get access to their treatments because diabetes is not well understood. Alongside that I want kids to have good, engaging education on making healthy choices so that their future is not going to include developing type 2. If diabetes continues to rise in prevalence at it's current rate, 1 in 4 children at school will have diabetes when they are in late adulthood. This for me is quite terrifying - what kind of future is that to offer young people?

How to tackle this? Well, a purely medical approach won't work. Nurses and doctors don't have the time to go into schools to talk about diabetes, kids don't want a lecture on metabolic systems and teachers don't have the training themselves to explain one of the most complex conditions there is. Diabetes UK Scotland doesn't know how to educate primary school kids and schools don't want us taking up their class time.

We had to think differently. The Edinburgh International Science Festival has a worldwide reputation for making science education fun and interesting and encouraging kids to enjoy science. We have the diabetes knowledge and the ability to fundraise. The schools have a new 'curriculum for excellence' that requires learning to integrate subject areas. From that an idea was born. Why not devise a schools tour that took healthy lifestyle messages and promotion to the kids in a way that matches curriculum objectives? But, in addition, the first step in this was through one of our volunteers who attended an EISF event and had that 'lightbulb' moment - and reminds me that you can take an idea from its initial point of origin and take it right through to fruition. Something to remember when ideas seem too hard to make a reality.

Live for It! is the fantastic result of this. After almost a year of development, and £100,000 investment with sponsorship from Lifescan, Pfizer and ScotMid we have launched a joint project between EISF and Diabetes UK Scotland that debuted yesterday at Niddrie Mills Primary School in Edinburgh.

Each school participates in four 90 minute sessions during which students explore topics including, diet, cooking, digestion, diabetes and how the body uses energy. The programme comprises three interactive workshops, Eat for it! – where students go on a journey through the digestive system, Go for It! where they test blood glucose and learn how our bodies convert food into energy, and Cook for It! – all about eating a balanced diet and making healthy food choices. The final session Live for It! allows the students to show off what they have learned through a series of interesting challenges, including Oscar; a life size model patient with exposed organs and a flashing red nose modelled on the ‘Operation’ board game.

The kids get to find out about how glucose and diet affect the body...

I went along to the launch yesterday and had an amazing time - seeing kids talk about the pancreas, the first time they made and tasted cous cous, figure out what foods to eat and be excited about exercise and what recipes they had tried over the four weeks was great. Seeing a very tangible impact from our work was also good and gives your enthusiasm a real boost. I also got to try out the x box kinnect challenge along with Sarah Ward [Diabetes UK Scotland Project Development Manager and the one to contact about Live for It! -].

This year we will reach around 26 schools and we are already planning for how to fund more.

For me this is what the job ultimately is about - yes, writing reports, filing documents, sorting out emails, managing the budget - these are all essential. But the only reason for doing all of that is so that a bunch of kids get the chance to make the choices about their life that can make the difference between a healthy life or one where type 2 diabetes looms down the line. And the great thing is that with the EISF we will get robust evaluated outcomes and be able to take this to the Scottish Government and others and say, hey, why not make sure every kid in Scotland gets this?

I get to hang out with the EISF team - amazing people - and their Director - Simon Gage - also amazing!

Friday, 20 May 2011

work life balance

So all this social media stuff these days makes it difficult to keep work and home life separate. I currently have two facebook pages and have just started to tweet and I am realising that keeping bits of yourself separate is quite difficult.

When I started this blog it was partly so that Andy had an online repository of recipes, for me to record recipes and general chit chat for friends and family - it resolutely stayed clear of of other areas of my life - like work, politics and having Lupus and M.E. They do sometimes get a mention but they are not dwelt on. I worried about mixing them and about whether if I mentioned work and what I made last night for dinner in the same post that somehow made the work stuff less profesional and the home stuff less fun. It is more difficult these days to shut the door behind you and create that space. But at the same time sometimes the overlap can be positive.

One of things I have realised recently is how much I enjoy that Andy shares the same area of work - diabetes. We have quite different jobs and careers and also quite different interests in general - proving the opposites attract rule. He has a phd and works with other very clever people in health informatics and I can barely get my head round what he does - I do a job and have a career that at times defies definition. Campaigning, public affairs, policy development, planning etc - what does all that mean? I always struggle when you get a form with a drop down menu and you have to chose your profession - teacher, doctor, mechanic, lawyer, nurse, shop assistant - why don't I have an easily defined profession? It seemed that our work was definitely an area where we would always have little in common. But we do both share a keen sense of wanting to have jobs where we can see a line between what we do and making a positive difference in someone's life. Well, that can sound a bit cheesey and ultimately we need to pay the mortgage but we have always made decisions that once the bills are paid we pick jobs we enjoy and that match that goal. Diabetes has been the first time we have overlapped.

One of the interesting things about this has been how we have dealt with sharing our work and also drawing boundaries around it. Andy works with patient data and supports research - so sometimes he won't tell me what he is working on. Sometimes the first time I know what he has been doing is when a paper is published or an announcement made. Equally there are things I sometimes don't tell him - like the content of presentations I am about to do at conferences he is in the audience of. We have worked out a way of keeping those issues separate.

But what has been lovely is when we are tackling a problem or feeling a sense of achivement with things at work we can share it - and we can share a general sense of working together towards something. Andy knows me better than anyone so while the fact that his ability to read my mind isn't always a good thing, it is lovely to be able to be totally open and know the person you are talking to 'gets you'.

As well as Andy and I sharing diabetes, I have realised that working with people the way we do at Diabetes UK Scotland means you are allowed to be a person as well as a role. There always has to be a line, of course, but some of my favourite moments have not been in meetings or writing reports - some have been when a volunteer has offered me hospitality in their home after a long day and made me feel welcome or when the team takes a break to play with a team member's daughter after nursery. Sometimes it is when you are exhausted and are really not looking forward to taking the train home when you realise the short lift to the station you were being given is taking twenty minutes and in fact your colleague has decided to drive you home to help you out.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that we are all human and not mechanical parts that can be separated and then put back together easily. It is good to have boundaries. It is good to be professional. But I think maybe my virtual on-line kitchen could do with a bit more of a peak at the other rooms in the house a bit more often. Anyway, once the new house is finished a seem of blogging material will run dry and I will need the material! And if John Halamka can have a blog that combines his high profile work in American healthcare with how to build a birdhouse then why can't we all?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

the project - the kitchen goes in !

And the big moment is here! Our kitchen is now being put in and while there are still a couple of bits and pieces to finish the bulk of it is there. The kitchen has been over a year in planning and while I love all of our house the kitchen has always been the bit I have looked forward to most.

The back wall of cabinets are black gloss [the wrap is still on to protect it while the house is finished] with a vanilla worktop and cabinet doors. I did worry about whether the black gloss would be over powering but seeing it in has put my mind at rest - the height and light of the space needs something other than the vanilla and I am happy it works well.

The surface space is really good - it will be so much easier to have more than a foot of space like we did in our old flat! The template for the indiction hob and hood are done too.

And our brand new shiny sink -

The bit I have been waiting for though, of course, is the Magic Larder - no picture can do it justice and just now the shelves are tied up but here is the first pics. I am in storage heaven...

So there are still bits and pieces to be done but it is great to see such a big step forward - it makes it all the more real and closer to moving in.

Friday, 6 May 2011


They say a week is a long time in politics but after the election results today maybe it should be revised to 24 hours being the definition of a 'long time'. The SNP have the first full majority since the Parliament was re-established in 1999, Labour has become a minority, weak and destabilised party and the Lib Dems suffered a severe drubbing.

The Scottish Election has been a complex one. The media like to reduce analysis to glib statements - it's the Westminster coalition that did it, it was a two party race etc etc. But you don't get the majority the SNP has under an additional member based PR system a year after a resounding vote for Labour in the UK general election without a number of intertwined issues coming together.

The first is that while I sometimes have pondered the logic of local communities unseating elected representatives who are clearly excellent both locally and nationally for the sheer hell of it [as it appears to me anyway], I believe the Scottish electorate are fairly sophisticated and have an understanding of politics in Scotland that is beyond that of most political pundits - you only had to see Nick Robinson on the BBC to realise that. It may seem to some that a strong vote for Labour at the Westminster elections last year would lead to a strong showing yesterday. But of course they are entirely different elections with different choices and different policy outcomes and that viewpoint belies the nuances of a devolved system. Voters may not articulate it as political anoraks would but they definitley 'get it'.

The second is that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote was expected but the depth of the Labour collapse was not. The Lib Dem losses in and of themselves did not create the unstoppable surge in SNP support. Why did the Labour vote collapse like this? Scottish Lib Dems are suffering from a coalition with the Conservatives - what's Labour's reason?

The third is that while the SNP has independence as a policy they have proven that they are a party with policies for all areas of Scottish life. They are not a one trick pony. You may not like all of the tricks but they are a full blown show - not a sketch. They have governed and by all reasonable measures have governed well. They have certainly disproved the predictions of not lasting more than six months in power.

The fourth is that voters views on independence are not the driving factor in voting for or against the SNP. People will vote for the SNP as a party for Scotland even if they are not fully for indepedence.

The fifth is Labour's inability to run a positive campaign and one that is about Scotland - and not about Labour's struggle to operate in the devolved settlement they enabled to happen. A campaign that focuses on using Scotland as a springboard to success in a future Westminster election, negative messaging and an inability to contain Labour's internal struggle to recover from last year's UK elections and the previous Scottish elections is not a vote winner. Scottish voters perhaps more than others are sensitive to being used and patronised to.

The Lib Dems are in a dark place - but at least they know why they are there and so have a head start on how to work their way out of it. Labour needs to figure out how the past 24 hours came to be and recalibrate accordingly. Do they have the mettle to do this? Given the losses they have suffered their intellectual and political capacity is significantly pruned.

Of course, this short blog post itself only skims the surface of a 24 hour period that will take days, if not weeks, to understand and analyse. But five years ago no-one would have predicted an SNP majority or that Labour would be in the position they are now in. Scotland is grasping devolution in a way that no other part of the UK is quite achieving and is stating and creating its own path. If there is a part of our United Kingdom that knows it's own mind it appears it is Scotland.

Monday, 14 March 2011


I like slate placemats - simple, robust and easy to clean. In particular I like these ones from London Kills Me - they have a dandelion pattern so it breaks up the slate and stops it looking to harsh. Also, their website pointed out you can use chalk to write dinner guests names on as place settings which I hadn't thought of!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

taste - sunday morning coffee

Yesterday morning I nipped over to Linlithgow to catch up with my friend Michelle - and she suggested Taste, a wee cafe and deli in the town. I had heard her mention this place before and I am always up for finding new cafes and places that sell cakes and interesting foodstuffs.

I drove over - using my sat nav for the first time - and given I am the most nervous driver in the world quite enjoyed my wee jaunt. The sat nav unhelpfully fell out of its holder half way there but I have to say Ms Sat Nav is a plucky gal and continued to politely direct me from under the car seat.

I had an Americano with warm milk and a slice of gingerbread loaf with butter. The coffee was excellent - sometimes Americano can be served a bit bitter and with too much hot water. Yes, it is meant to be a long drink but I prefer it with a bit of the espresso syrup taste and texture to it - which this was. The milk came in a small jug, nicely warmed - not scorched - and with a wee cap of froth. The loaf was moist but managed to stay firm and not collapse under the butter spreading. Getting gingerbread loaf right is not easy - too dry and it crumbles, too moist and you risk creating a close packed shelf of loaf under the knife.

After a second Americano - which was as good as the first so was impressed with the consistency - I ordered a peppermint tea [we talk a lot - therefore a lot of coffee/tea is needed!]. And they use Tea Pigs! Which I love - I really like fresh mint leaves but next best thing is Tea Pigs.

The service was good - polite and helpful but not intrusive and on a Sunday it is nice to not feel rushed.

I didn't have a lot of time to browse but they have a great selection of chutneys and pickles, a small wine selection and an amazing array of cakes, pastries and pates. I will definitely be back.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

the project - site visit

Stairs from 1st floor to mezzanine

Things move very slowly then suddenly speed up. The past few weeks has seen a flurry of emails to sign off the final-final-final plans for the kitchen, bathroom and flooring. It is amazing that you can think you have thought of everything and then suddenly there is a teeny tiny detail you missed that is incredibly important and must be agreed, like, right now.

Beam reaching up from 1st to mezzanine floor, wee bit of dining platform

The big jobs are also being done - the inside is now all plasterboarded with wires poking through and plug socket spaces appearing. It is at this point you realise that there isn't a plug socket just where you will need one because seeing it 3-d is very different to a paper plan.

Andy standing at the bathroom door, down the corridor towards the two bedrooms

We are also beginning to see the space and get a better feel for it now the windows are all in and the house is a lot lighter. This means the mezzanine seems huge but the bedrooms smaller. The dining platform is taller than we imagined and the garden a bigger space. It is like Alice in Wonderland - sizes and shapes change with every visit. But luckily, so far, we haven't thought 'oh my God we don't like it' - more 'oh my God why can we not move in tomorrow'!

Andy in his hard hat and fetching yellow vest...

However, it is a conversion which means the secret hidey holes we had in the old place and our current rented accommodation will not be available. Two challenges for me - to be a lot tidier and to not hoard. Those who know me well will understand the challenge this poses. The clear out we did a year ago needs to be repeated with an even harsher edit. So I need to see this as a fresh beginning and a chance to declutter rather than a hard and emotional break up with shoes I haven't worn since university and 'archiving' every single card, postcard and letter I have ever been sent.

Where the stained glass window will be put back in as part of the internal wall that encloses the dining platform - as you walk down from the mezzanine or sit at the dining table you will be able to look through the stained glass

And if I manage to do this, and perhaps make some ebay money too, then I can invest in this lovely simple but quirky Keith Brymer Jones 'word' crockery...I particularly like the 'what comes first the chicken or the egg' egg cups and the 'porridge' bowl.