Car! Books! Stuff!

Car! Books! Stuff!

27 October 2000

Woohoo! After four, yes, four months of waiting, we’ve finally
got the car we won in July. I went along to Abercromby Toyota last Monday
to pick it up. I think the sales people were a bit confused when the first
thing I asked was, “will you buy it back off us?” They got over it, though,
but the price they offered wasn’t quite the price we were hoping for. So now
it’s on the open market.

Would you buy a used car from this man? Of course you would 🙂


The long wait is finally over:
The Amber Spyglass
by Philip Pullman is finally out in hardback. This is the
third book in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, which started with
The Northern Lights and carried on in The Subtle Knife.

Last Christmas Abi gave me the first three Harry Potter books. I zipped
through them in a matter of days, and found that I was thirsty for more
young adult fiction. (For the last few years now, I’ve had an idea for a YA
trilogy of my own bubbling about in my head, but it hasn’t emerged onto paper
yet. I was hoping to stir up some more creative juices. Hardly surprisingly,
it still hasn’t happened yet.)

At one of our local Waterstones,
in the YA section, I found a pile of books, all apparently in the same series,
that caught my eye straight away. The name of the author: Philip Pullman.
The book covers were colourful and moody, the lettering of the titles bold and
sublty ornate, like a finely crafted sword. Whoever came up with the design
deserves an award–they are some of the finest and most inviting covers
I’ve ever seen.

As I read the blurbs, I discovered that there were two series: a Victorian
trilogy (The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North and The
Tiger in the Well
) and the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. At the time
I didn’t realize that only the first two books of this trilogy were available.

Can I just say, “AAARGH”.

The Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife are just stunningly
good books. They may be targeted at a youthful audience, but any adult will
be equally bowled over by them. The characters are engaging, the world Pullman
has envisioned is wide in scope, filled with genuinely innovative fantasy ideas
(like Lyra’s world, where everyone has a personal daemon, a kind of animal familiar
that is almost part of one’s soul), and the adventures portrayed are gripping,
fast-moving, and filled with tension and action. Plus, they introduced us to
Tokaji wine 🙂

So, for the last nine months or so, I’ve been eagerly waiting for The Amber
to appear. Fan sites originally said it would be coming out around
April, but the release date was set back to November (although it’s out already).
Some rumours say that this was to avoid conflict with the launch of the fourth
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, others say that Pullman delivered a
larger than expected manuscript to his publishers, and that it required extensive
editing to bring it down even to the eventual 550 pages of the UK hardback edition.
(I suspect the former, myself.)

But now it’s finally here. I picked it up yesterday evening, and I’m looking
forward to some long and pleasurable hours over the weekend. Once we’ve finished
laying a new floor in our loft, that is.

Microsoft Certification update

After having been a “temp” MCSD (two of my qualifying exams expired
three days after I’d achieved got my MCSD), I’ve now upgraded myself to
permanent MCSD status. The dreaded “70-100 Exam” (Analysing Requirements
and Defining Solution Architectures) turned out not to be so hard after all,
and I passed it with a modest 99%. No, really.


Fifteen weeks down, twenty-five more to go. Abi is just starting to show, or
maybe she’s just getting fat. (Ouch–stop hitting me!)

New PC!

Well, more like yet another set of upgrades to the old one. Frankenstein,
which was build from scratch from individual components back in 1995, has now
shed its last original part–the keyboard. And that was only because it had
too large a connector to plug into my brand new
Abit KT7 motherboard. Mmmm….Donuts…

To go with the motherboard is a new AMD
Duron 800 chip, which is a serious eye-opener after my old K6-2 400. I can
now finally run Deus Ex at an acceptable
framerate–even on my old Voodoo Banshee video card. Okay, so it’s only
running at 640 x 480 resolution, but that’s just fine by me. It still looks
great. (And as for Quake 3, can we say 79fps? Sure we can!)

At the same time, I also decided to give up my treasured Linux project.
I like the idea of Linux, and I love puttering around with it, writing little
scripts, hacking around with CGI and perl. I don’t love having to
spend several days trying to figure out how to get my modem working, how
to set up the drivers for our wireless
ethernet cards
, how to configure Samba to serve up our MP3 collection,
and how to configure a proxy/firewall to allow both Abi and me to share
our internet connection.

All of the above had been in my original plan for yon wee Linux beastie
in the corner. But when I can reformat the hard drive, install Windows 98
and WinProxy and have the machine
doing all of the above in under two hours with Microsoft software, then
it really isn’t much of a contest.

I figure I’ll probably end up with a Linux machine somewhere inside
the firewall, and maybe I’ll mess around with it occasionally. I hack
around with computers all day for a living; when I get home, I really just want
things to work first time. Unfortunately, Linux just doesn’t cut it
on the ease of use and configuration front yet.

More soon,


Winter Glen

The Winter Glen sits at the bottom of Hanover Street just before it turns into Dundas Street. It’s a basement restaurant, reached by a short set of stairs. Most of the restaurants in this area are two blocks further up towards the centre of town, and with its discreet entryway, the Winter Glen is hardly in your face and screaming for business. It relies on reputation to pull you in, or, if you happen to walk by it every day on your way to work (like I used to), a rather tempting menu.

When we went there last Saturday, the menu was filled with imaginative sauces and variations hung from a backbone of solidly classic ingredients: lots of game and fresh fish. Although there is no a la carte selection, there is plenty of variety on the fixed menu. And at £26 for three courses, the price is pretty decent, too. The wine list is short but adequate if you plan to drink a whole bottle. Being pregnant, my darling snoogums wasn’t drinking, so I just wanted a half. This left me with two reds and two whites, one of which had just sold out. The Pouilly Fumé I ended up with proved quite tasty and crisp nonetheless.

Feeling adventurous, there were two dishes that grabbed my attention straight away. I started with mussels, tiger prawns and scallops in a light fish broth flavoured with Chinese spices. The scallops were a bit small, but the tiger prawns were huge and juicy. The fish broth, though, was the star of this show: it was sweet and exquisitely smooth, like pure distilled shellfish. Put away all images of fish heads bobbing about in a witch’s cauldron, and consider the joys of liquefied crab meat overlaid with the condensed aromas of a Chinese take-away…. Now you’re getting close!

My main course carried on the oriental theme. (I suppose we could have just gone to a Chinese restaurant instead, but hey.) Thin strips of duck breast draped over steamed vegatables, in a sweet oriental jus, with shallots in an orange marmalade. Unfortunately, this is where the disappointment set in. I could forgive them the broccoli (after all, chef could hardly be expected to cater to my every culinary whim), but the shallots and orange completely overpowered the whole dish.

The first bite of duck was delicious. It was cooked pink and moist, and it soaked up the honey-sweet dark jus like kitchen roll. But as soon as the orange aftertaste started to kick in, there was no turning back. The duck’s distinct flavour was washed away. Even pushing the soft, whole shallots to one side wasn’t enough, because the sauce had picked up too much of their flavour. Adding bites of new potato and courgette didn’t help, either. The tang just blasted them away, and I could only tell them apart by their textures.

By contrast, the venison that Abi had was overcooked and tasted of bland, generic Meat Product. We figured that if we put them together we’d have two perfectly flavoured main courses. Set apart, though, they weren’t quite up to scratch. Full points for imagination, but chef’s palette is obviously a bit more robust than mine.

Things started looking up again at dessert, though. I had a mouthwatering slice of lemon and lime tart with a light drizzling of thin vanilla custard, and Abi took the chocolate tart. The base of my slice was a moist, crumbly biscuit and the citrus filling was rich and velvery, melting on my tongue like frozen silk. Tiny strips of lime zest added an occasional extra tang to the mix. The experience was over far too quickly. Abi’s chocolate tart contained the entire cocoa output of a small South American country, yet was almost as light as my citrus tart.

We finished the meal off with coffee and tea. I don’t know why, but I felt unreasonably disappointed when the waiter arrived with just a single cup of tea for me. Normally I don’t drink more than a single cup anyway, but I do rather like having a pot there. I’m sure they would have been only too happy to bring me a refill, but for me it ended the evening on a minor note.

We both came away with mixed feelings about the Winter Glen. The restaurant is decorated in a modern Scottish style, with relatively sparse table settings. The place filled up nicely while we were there (from about 19:30 onwards), and there was a nice buzz to it. The atmosphere is upmarket smart casual; the maitre d’ wore a jacket and an open collar shirt. It is equally suited to business dinners and smart family evenings out.

Food-wise, it was very good, but not uniformly excellent. Starters and desserts were top class, but our main courses let the average down. Also, maybe it was just my selections, but I suspect that chef has a bit of a sweet tooth. That’s fine for me, because I do too, but don’t go there expecting a light touch on your tastebuds.



12 October 2000

Picture below taken at 6 weeks (30 August), but we’ve been waiting until
now to make the formal announcement. It’s now 12 weeks, and this puts us past
the main danger zone for miscarriage, so we feel (relatively) confident
that B will make its appearance somewhere
in the vicinity of 20 April next year.

Happy, me? <grin>

Car? What car?


Almost four months down the line, we still don’t have the car we won. I’ll
put up a full timeline of the ridiculous rigmarole once we actually have it.
For now, all we know is that Toyota failed to send Fuji the invoice for the car
in mid-September. Fuji only cut cheques twice a month, and the next run is at the
end of this week. So, supposedly, Toyota will have the money for the car at some
point next week, and will then be able to hand the car over to us. By that point
we will have had the car insured for a month, at a cost of £60. Seeing as we only
want to sell the damn thing as soon as we get it, we are highly unchuffed
with the whole situation.

MCSD ahoy!

To my surprise, Microsoft send me a letter saying that I am now an MCSD
(Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised
because I had only sat three of the four necessary exams. (I passed VB Desktop &
Distributed earlier in September.) It turns out, though, that
some of the exams I sat about two years ago (WSA I & II) were still valid, and counted
towards my qualification.

Unfortunately, these exams were retired three days after I got the letter.

Fortunately, Microsoft give you six months grace to sit the necessary further
exams to bring the qualification properly up to date. I’ve got myself booked in
for the dreaded 70-100 exam next Monday. Fingers crossed.


The Peat Inn

After a hard afternoon of spectacularly poor golf on a waterlogged course, there are few things better than a hot shower, a change of clothes, and a cold beer in the clubhouse. One of these better things is having dinner reservations immediately afterwards at The Peat Inn just outside St. Andrews in Fife. (Being able to have both is a distinct bonus, though. I’m sure the layers of caked-on mud would be a distraction to the other diners.)

Having studied at St. Andrews in the early nineties, my darling munchkin wife and I have known about the Peat Inn for a long time. It was always a top choice for graduation lunches and dinners and other fancy occasions, especially when you could get your parents to pick up the bill. Since then, we’ve had it recommended to us by friends, seen it glowingly reviewed in any number of publications, and time and time again we’ve said to each other “we must eat there some time.”

What we found when we dined there two weekends ago measured up to our expectations in every way. When you walk in the door, you find yourself in a small farmhouse style sitting room with comfy couches, heavy wooden tables and sideboards, and a roaring log fire. Even if I hadn’t been hungry already, I’m sure that the smells of food and woodsmoke would have lit the touch paper of my appetite. The Maitre d’ took our drinks orders (their gin and tonic was pretty good, but a little watery from too much ice), and left us to relax with the menus for a while.

Before we ordered, we were treated to a complimentary slice of onion quiche. Yes, I know quiche was supposed to have died at the end of the eighties, but if it’s all as good as this, I have no objections to it making a comeback. Its crust and base were both nicely firm, and the body was velvety smooth with slivers of sweet onion that fell apart in my mouth. It was a slice of “real food” done properly–not a fancy dish that looks good on paper but disappoints on the plate, and that sums up the Peat Inn entirely. The menu is full of wholesome dishes that wouldn’t look out of place on the blackboard of daily specials in a country pub.

Our table was in one of three dining areas, each holding about four tables, and isolated from each other to make the restaurant seem smaller and more intimate. The tables were immaculately laid with fine silverware and Wedgwood china. The wine we had ordered (a half bottle of mature and smoky 1989 Louis Jadot Volnay) was placed on the sideboard next to our table already decanted, with the bottle lined up aside it. Award-winning chef David Wilson is a wine connoisseur, and he insists on all red wines being decanted as near as possible to their storage place, and as soon as they are taken off the rack. My taste buds aren’t sophisticated enough to notice the difference, but I’ll take the advice of the experts on this one.

My starter was a julienne of pigeon breast on spiced pork (£8.50). I had come off the golf course feeling ravenous (and craving steak), so my choices were influenced by a desire for meat, and lots of it. The pigeon breast was tender and gamy. The spiced pork was flavoured only delicately, and a touch on the dry side, but that just allowed it to soak up the rich jus with more gusto. A few large flageolet beans, softened to perfection, were mixed in with the pork, and provided just the right amount of vegetable matter.

For my main course I had chosen a cassoulet of pork, lamb and duck with flageolet beans (£16.00). (Perhaps you see a trend developing here…when my body wants meat, it wants MEAT.) I have to say that I was a little disappointed to find the dish a bit more like a soup than a casserole. It was filled with plenty of chunks of lamb, cubes of ham, slices of home made pork sausage and an entire leg of duck, but in my mind I had been hopping for a thicker, richer ragout. Don’t get me wrong–the casserole juices were fantastic, and I didn’t leave a single drop on my plate. And although casseroled, the flavour of each meat (and the beans) was intact. Hearty and filling, I came away from this part of the meal with my meat cravings satisfied, and my hunger stopped dead in its tracks. Which left dessert to be savoured rather than devoured!

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that banana and coconut is the classic dessert combination for the decade. Variations seem to pop up in every restaurant we visit these days, and every time I try one I am delighted anew. This time it was caramelised banana on banana cake, with coconut ice cream (£6.50). The slices of banana glistened and dripped with barely liquid caramel, and were packed on top of the round slice of banana cake. The cake was moist and just savoury enough to stop the ensemble from being cloying. Chunks of coconut were easily identifiable in the only just solid ice cream. Taken all together, they made a delicious mouthful.

A nice touch comes with coffee or tea after dessert. Beside your bowl of brown and white sugarlumps, you two also get a tiny silver dish with a pair of tiny silver tongs, and inside it are tiny little tablets of sweetener. Cute, but hasn’t your diet not just been wrecked already by the mounds of food? On the other hand, if you’re on a diet, then surely you won’t mind your companion tucking into your share of the delicate petits fours, will you? It would be a shame to put those lemon tartlets, chocolates, and chunks of melt-in-the-mouth fudge to waste….

Probably the only down side to the Peat Inn is the fact that it is at least a few miles away from anywhere you’re likely to be staying, so you may have to give up wine with your meal. Since 1987 they do have rooms (which look stunningly luxurious on their brochure), but at £145 for a double or twin suite, you may find them a little expensive.

In conclusion, then, I can heartily recommend the Peat Inn. Its reputation for fine food is richly deserved, and the country-style ambience matches the menu perfectly. My only regret is that we hadn’t visited it until now.