Grace’s Guide to Scones, for the Uninitiated.

scone

            You know you’re advancing in years when you begin to frequent coffee shops on a regular basis. You begin to have favourites. You get to know what’s on offer besides the coffee, too. For me this is likely to be a scone. For overseas readers here is an explanation of ‘scone’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scone
I consider myself to be something of an expert on scones and it is this, besides the quality of the tea or coffee that determines whether a coffee shop makes it onto the favourites list or if it is cast into the venues that are forever shunned. I have fond memories of scones in New Zealand, where the ubiquitous dairies produced substantial offerings boasting dried fruit in abundance, or made from wholemeal flour, often warmed and with ample butter on the side. Ireland also serves up generous, delicious scones in their many forms.
And yes, for the uninitiated there are several forms of scone, the most common being the fruit variety. This is best enjoyed with butter only but is too often used as part of a cream tea [that is to say, with jam and clotted cream: [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clotted_cream]. The most suitable scone for a cream tea is a plain or ‘Devon’ scone, since fruit detracts from the whole jam/cream experience. The best establishments may also offer cheese scones, which are a nod towards the less unhealthy option, being free of sugar, although it has to be said that dietary health is not a feature of this post.
Sometimes, having established that a café has scones before we select a table there is a prolonged wait for the scones to arrive. This is because the scones are already plated up and part of the [aforementioned] cream tea. Please note, café proprietors, that if we, the customers request a scone, this is not the same as a cream tea and while we are unlikely to turn it down we are not in the habit of devouring cream teas [treats that should be enjoyed on an infrequent basis].
Scones that do not pass muster tend to be dry, with a consistency akin to sawdust [such as those from a prestigious castle tea room in our locale] and too flat, with the appearance of an inflated biscuit. Mass produced scones may also have a slightly bitter taste, from having had too much raising agent added or with a leaden texture that sticks to the roof of the mouth and are sometimes available in the cafés of large department stores. Best are the offerings of small, independent coffee shops with their ranges of homemade cakes.
I am of course perfectly capable of baking scones at home and have done so in the past, but these days baking at home is an activity best avoided due to Husband and my propensity for eating the results.
For the foreseeable future, scone research has been put on hold. This, reader is due to the fact that overconsumption of scones has lead the researcher to begin to look like one. So having imparted what I know I leave you to pursue your own investigations. Enjoy!

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A Tumult of Testosterone

We are undertaking our second Rugby World Cup tour. This is not quite as momentous as you might think, given that a] the Rugby World Cup is being held in the UK this year and b] we do not have tickets for all the matches.

Our first RWC tour, in 2011 was in New Zealand. In contrast to this year’s campaign it was an extraordinary expedition for a variety of reasons, the greatest of which is that it was in New Zealand! New Zealand remains the single most wonderful country I have ever visited. Enough said.

Nevertheless, the UK’s contribution to international rugby competition is not to be snorted at and is providing logistical nightmares that were not present last time on the opposite side of the planet. As before we are using a campervan to get to some of the venues [our own rather than rented]. We eschewed the first game at Twickenham, due to the prohibitive ticket price. We began with Georgia versus Tonga at Kingsholm, Gloucester. Easy! Husband hails from there, hence handy relatives with guest room and car to provide lifts.

Next game: Cardiff [Australia versus Fiji]. Cardiff boasts a splendid city centre camp site. Hooray! Cardiff was crammed with rugby fans in a way that Gloucester was not. This is both a joy [the meeting up, the chats, the sights, the atmosphere] and a chore [the jobsworths, the queues, the bag searches, the squashing, the getting trodden on, the corporate pushing of brands, the pushing and the endless standing about].

Notice-I have not ventured into the tangled scrummage of rugby analysis, the dodgy ruck of commentary. Why not? Because, reader I am a complete and total ignoramus on the subject. I do not know my ruck from my maul, my penalty from my knock-on and remain stubbornly resistant to understanding off-side. ‘What was wrong with that?’ I quiz Husband as the penalties pile up. But in spite of detailed explanation I continue to watch in a mystified fog of ignorance.

Despite all of this and the fact that for many years, in the previous life I rejected any kind of sport outright as a source of entertainment, I have come to enjoy watching rugby matches. I like the thrill of the build-up, the party atmosphere, the banter of the pub-goers, the outrageous costumery of the fans, the ridiculous items for sale, the gladiatorial nature of the conflict as fifteen enormous honed sportsmen pitch up against fifteen of the same, the shattering collisions, the heaving, grunting drive of the scrum and the soaring voices of the crowd as they chant, sing or stomp. And who could fail to be excited when a player breaks away to weave and dodge to the line and score a try?

So with two RWCs under my belt I begin to feel like a seasoned supporter. All the more so, perhaps when you consider that the next Rugby World Cup is to be held in Japan. Now THAT is what I call food for thought…

Christmas Climates-what’s your preference?

In 2011, towards the middle of November, in the midst of an extended trip to New Zealand followed by Australia we found ourselves in Adelaide in temperatures of around 30 degrees. And Christmas was cranking up.

Adelaide was delightful-quaint architecture [what goes for ‘olde worlde’ in the New World], a busy, buzzing city with a vibrant night life, cheeky, fun bars and plenty of attractive, green spaces.

During most of our road trip we’d been disappointed with evening, cultural life. The vast majority of bars, devoted almost entirely to gambling-‘pokies’ and horse racing-tended to shut around 9.00pm. We’d show up just before, at a time we are accustomed to setting out in the UK to be told we could get one drink before they closed up, or that they were in fact just closing. We were mystified. Where was the fabled ‘wild west’ lifestyle, the Bohemian, carefree, party, outdoor social whirl?

Turned out I’d been watching too many ‘Wanted Down Under’ programmes. Other than for an early evening meal no one bothered with going out except hardened gamblers, who sloped off in inevitable disappointment once the books were closed.

Adelaide, though was different. The nightspots were thriving. There were throngs in abundance. The locals enjoyed life. One bar proclaimed it was ‘the worst vegetarian restaurant in the world’, in praise of its steaks. Result.

Our hotel, reserved by Trailfinders [hence not a penny-pinching hostel such as we’d have selected if left to our own devices] was magnificent; a monument to luxury and decked tastefully in the burgeoning Christmas items that were adorning the city. Christmas trees sparkled at the foot of the sweeping staircase.

Outside in the street the stores sported their own Christmas displays-Santa and his reindeer cavorting above the porch of a department store, tinsel glinting in the searing heat of the sun.

To those of us accustomed to Christmas in the Northern hemisphere the appearance of Yuletide decorations in a heatwave is a surreal experience. I responded with a driven desire to obtain Australian style tree decorations-a mission in which I failed, until my kind, Antipodean aunt, seeing my predicament mailed me a beautiful, red and white felt kangaroo to dangle from the branches of our own tree.

Still more outlandish, Hong Kong-where we stopped over on our return in late November-boasted enormous Disney-style Christmas trees constructed entirely of plastic cartoon frogs and vast ornate merry-go-rounds in glittering gold and shiny purple. All this in an atmosphere that could wilt a cactus.

I am in awe of those who celebrate the festive season in a hot climate. But despite being one of the first to complain about cold, dark, frosty mornings and bleak winter nights there is something very special about Christmas at home, here in the UK where we still retain some semblance of changing seasons. And after all, with only one week until the shortest day [in daylight hours] spring is just around the corner.

The Measure. How tourist friendly is your country?

                It must be gratifying to be of a nationalistic disposition. It must be delightful to have your heart swell with pride at the sound of your national anthem or well up when your national team wins a championship. As far as anthems go, the UK would not win any prizes. It is the dreariest dirge ever to be suffered at a sports event. For me, the Welsh would have to take the prize for the most rousing, melodic and enjoyable national anthem, with ‘Land of my Fathers’. Whenever it is performed the crowd, spectators etc join in with stirring gusto like a wall of harmonic sound-most uplifting. But-I am not Welsh, and neither do I possess feelings of nationalism. Of course I am always pleased when England wins something, but I don’t feel moved to hoist a flag over the house roof or paint a red cross on to my face. But the UK has much to offer overseas visitors, such as sites of historical interest, traditional seaside and coastal walks.

                Countries vary hugely in terms of ease of travel and facilities offered to visitors. Take tourist information offices, services that can be a boon for sightseers and essential for map-mad folks like Husband; the bureau may be closed, or it may be manned by a bored, disinterested, diffident moron, or it may be an Aladdin’s Den of brochures, local goods and displays and be staffed by an enthusiastic, helpful local expert who is prepared to engage in conversation, explain how, where and why and provide all the relevant paperwork, like the tourist office we recently visited in Aberaeron, mid Wales.

                One basic yardstick you could use to measure the visitor-friendliness of a place is by its provision of public lavatory facilities. I would rank Wales’ profusion of these services alongside its national anthem. They are everywhere. Aberporth, a tiny cove whose tourist site boasts the post office among its must-sees has two toilet blocks within 200 yards of each other!

                Among other countries, New Zealand caters very well in respect of this basic requisite, as does France, which has improved over the years in that when I first set foot on Gallic shores the only places provided for peeing were men’s urinals on the street-small screens shielding the mid portion, the head and feet visible above and below. Who knows what women were supposed to do if nature called? Perhaps females were deemed to be unearthly beings who were not possessed of such an indecorous need.

Spain falls far back in the rankings. In Madrid last year I fell back on the only option of a workmen’s portacabin when desperation overwhelmed me, relying on Husband to lean heavily on the door whilst I negotiated the hole in the floor that southern Europeans often favour over the comforts of a seat. Other than this the choice would be to visit a museum or a gallery or to purchase a drink in a café, with the inevitable result in needing to pee ever more frequently.

Munich is similarly deprived of public loos, with the exception of the park, where we had to insert lots of euros into a slot but were serenaded by piped piano music once we’d breached the portals-a kind of tinkle while you sprinkle.

Manhattan may have improved, although when we visited about sixteen years ago there was a woeful lack of street bathrooms, necessitating, when desperate, a late night, post beer pee into a darkened doorway, [shielded by Husband], for which I apologise in retrospect. But what is a girl to do? [Answers on a postcard please].