Monday, 24 December 2012

And here's Rudolph Dogstarke


Missing from last post


But writes dog- gerel after too much Christmans spirit

'Twas the day before Christmas and out in the park

not a creature was stirring, no pals for Dogstarke.

She scampered around, a little downcast,

tail a bit droopy,but it didn't last.

For out of the gloom came Biscuit and Brora, followed behind by Hamish and Flora

then Staffordshire terriers, Mimi and Lola.

Here's Lucy, "come by Lass", there's Simpson and Hector,

and slightly aloof,portly old Victor.

All big doggy sniffs and wet doggy noses,

warm human handshakes, hip flasks and Roses.

The park is a muddle of mud,licks and cheer.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good year.


And woof,woof form Dogstarke





Saturday, 22 December 2012

And remembers some fondly

As the song says, "the weather outside is frightful ...and since we've no place to go" let's remember somewhere we've been.

Oban. Before the visit I only knew it from Alan Warner's Sopranos and the guide books weren't entirely complimentary so maybe not the best destination for a landmark birthday? The weather wasn't auspicious either as clouds gathered, but at least the Rest and be Thankful was open. Alt na Craig house proved to be a great find once we did. Lovely big room with a view over the harbour. Ah but the view, it was getting a bit less lovely as the clouds had followed us in. Dinner was booked at Coast, a nice walk into town, we were offered a taxi but declined, we also forgot the umbrella. Or rather we remembered the umbrella just a little too far on to make it seem worthwhile turning back. Then the rain started. Big plops, slowly at first but soon finding their stride. By the time we arrived at the restaurant I looked fresh from the shower. My mood wasn't the best, even after a session with the hot air blower in the bathroom. Poor Mr Starke, it was his birthday.

I needn't have worried, the food and surroundings cheered me up and we left to clear skies. Our walk back was much happier, even tho it was uphill. And so to bed.

Next day and for the rest of our stay, the sun shone. Perhaps the fairies came and looked kindly on us. When they do it's hard to believe there are more beautiful places than the west coast of Scotland.

On our trip to Kerrara did we disturb their more mischievous kin? We'd missed a turning on the path to Gylen castle and were resting enjoying the view, suddenly the sheep began to run as a huge hairy goat materialised. Alarmingly it ran towards us, sitting quite close to the cliff edge, over which it seemed to disappear. Was it my shakes that stopped me taking a picture? Later looking back to our perch from Gylen castle, no goats could be seen. Our nerves were settled by tea and cake from the Kerrara tearoom. There was even a puppy to play with ( no Dogstarke back then ).


Kerrara tearoom dog with one of her brood!

Exploring Oban we bought chocolate and whisky, scrambled around Dunollie castle tho' never made it up the hill to McCaig's tower and bought fresh fish on the seafront. Car free we sailed to Mull and visited Duart castle. Enjoying a dram outside we watched the Laird, his Lady and their dog brambling.

Duart castle chimneys


Back in town we ate well, never a bad meal in fact. And what could be better than delicious seafood from Ee-usk watching the lights of The Lord of the Isles coming in to dock? A Cal-Mac ferry has never before seemed so romantic.


View from the Mull ferry.

Then all too soon, time to go home. The long drive east. Through the rain.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

But will put up with a leaky roof from time to time.

This summer Mr Stark and I spent some time in Australia. Mostly we stayed in perfectly nice but unremarkable corporate type hotels but for Mr Starke's two actual holi-days we skipped away to a couple of quite different places.

First off to Lady Elliott Island Eco Resort, a tiny coral atoll at the south end of the Great Barrier Reef. Of course being an island we couldn't skip there, our early bird taxi took us out to Redcliffe airstrip where we made sure to avoid the sky divers' queue and boarded a 12 seater for our trip out to the island. Any cloud induced glumps lifted as they did and then disappeared completely as our pilot took us down to get a closer look at migrating whales and a first glimpse of our destination.

Not a terribly Eco way to travel but the only way to get there.

Now tight rubber isn't usually my thing particularly set off with fetching little ankle bootees but the fishes have probably seen worse and to be honest weren't likely to care. Me? I've never seen anything like them.

We signed up for a sunset cruise, Mr Starke wasn't that enthusiastic but there were snacks and fizz. And then there were whales...

Whales. Huge humpbacked whales. None of my photos do them justice. They were elegant and truly awesome. They knew we were there and could have flipped our boat but they just kept on doing their thing. I've rarely felt so small. Never in daylight. They swam around us and then away, the sun sank below the horizon and the birds flew home to roost. We returned for dinner and bed.

And so to the leaky roof. Our day on the island had been sunny and bright but night brought rain. Heavy,heavy rain. Imagine the scene, I'm lying in bed listening to the rain rattling on the iron roof, thinking my espadrilles left outside to dry would get wetter, but at least it would be fresh wetness. And then my goodness how suggestible am I? I'm listening to the rain and thinking my arm is feeling wet. My arm is feeling wet. Rain is dripping through the ceiling. It's only dripping through a tiny spot though and the bed is fairly big so I move to a drier bit and snuggle down again. Next morning all is dry even my espadrilles.

Don't assume the leaky roof means a rackety resort. Next day the staff were hugely apologetic but I didn't mind anyway. It's not a fancy place, there aren't butlers at your beck and call. The staff are friendly and helpful, meals are hearty but not fine dining and the rooms are comfortable and clean (mostly watertight!); there is one phone and one Internet access point but the modern world is not why you go. The luxury is in the surroundings, whether you snorkel, dive or simply laze around you're surrounded by nature, sometimes wet, sometimes noisy and messy (I'm thinking of the bird breeding season) but to be cherished and celebrated.



And what of our second stay? Well that one was nearer to conventional luxury. Spicers is a small up market brand and Spicers Balfour in Brisbane's trendy New Farm was certainly well appointed, with the requisite clean sheets, fluffy towels, cold and piping hot drinking waters on tap and all the technology you might ask for. But nice though these things undoubtedly are, they weren't the best thing about our stay. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed them but what made our stay memorable was the attitude of all the staff. Eager to help but not in your face and always,always friendly. There was no stuffiness and no disdain just a feeling of being in a very comfy and stylish home. My only regret was that we couldn't stay longer and just enjoy a little more of our surroundings.

Connecting, with people, with nature. That's the value of travel.

Now all I need is for Australia to move a little closer to Scotland and I'll be back in a flash.


(Mrs Starke does not like long haul flying but that's another story)


Saturday, 8 December 2012

And is having fun enjoying her own

No! Not like that. This is not a fifty shades of Starke. Just enjoying the loveliness of a freshly made bed. Not at the moment obvs, I'm not that lazy and Dogstarke precludes long lies these days. So fresh(ish) from a sleep in my own clean sheets I embarked on what has been the most expensive dog walk to date. No Dogstarke didn't misbehave, quite the opposite but lots of our lovely local shops and cafes are dog friendly. Add in vintage and craft fairs and there goes a fair wodge of cash. I can't even pretend that I've been buying Christmas gifts. No one but me is going to wake up on Christmas morning with an orange feathered hat in their stocking. Sorry GlamourPuss.


I did manage to pick up a couple of gifts, but will keep them secret, just in case......of course there were also the shoes,from our lovely independent (ooh Ruby Shoes) because shoes always fit. And after indulgent but dairy free hot chocolate( I'm blaming you The Chocolate Tree ) that may be an important factor in wardrobe choices later.

Mmmm could I flout the no hats with a frock after 6pm rule?


Thursday, 6 December 2012

And still manages to keep one

No not a reference to stealing hotel linens nor worse habits. It's a footballing analogy and due to another successful Louvre body swerve (mixed metaphors here, that would be the egg shaped ball game). Instead of the "place which must not be visited" we followed a sociable lunch with a long wait outside the "Paris seen by Hollywood " exhibition at the Hotel de Ville and a short time inside. More tiny clothes, this time belonging to Audrey Hepburn, but also some surprisingly large boots worn by Gene Kelly. He must have been fleet footed to avoid tripping over them! Interesting early film of Paris crowds, reminiscent of Caillebotte's "Rue de Paris - temps de pluie" at Musee d'Orsay.

After Friday night with friends, Saturday night dinner was just me and Mr Starke. We ate at Pramil, rue Vertbois 3e. Highly recommended. Again small and cosy but more polished than Thursday's choice. Pink lambs liver, delicious and no ill effects, take that Westminster Council.

Lazy Sunday morning, a last decadent breakfast and then a visit to the Musee de la Vie Romantique followed by our now traditional Sunday in Paris activity, a visit to a cemetery. Last visit it was the frozen Pere Lachaise where we paid our respects to Oscar Wilde.

(Pere Lachaise February 2012)


This time it was Cimetiere de Montmartre, patrolled by cats, and the (almost) last resting place of Zola, moved to the Pantheon in the '70's, and "la Goulue", Louise Weber, former Can-Can dancer at the Moulin Rouge.


Bypassing the place of her triumph, besieged by coach loads at Sunday lunchtime, we preferred to emulate her nickname with a long lunch at the beautiful brasserie Mollard opposite Gare St Lazare. It's an historic monument, officially because of the gorgeous art nouveau decor, but should be for its platters of seafood, lunches en famille and traditional hierarchies of busy waiters - only the maitre d' finishing off the crepes Suzette and lobster.

Then back down to earth with a bump. The Gard du Nord and the RER to CDG. And over that journey I'll draw a veil.


Friday, 30 November 2012

And is getting to try some out.

What's more they're really rather good. We (Mr Starke & me) are having a couple of days in Paris. Thankfully it's not quite as cold as the last time we were here, February 2012, when the temperature was never above freezing. Luckily the apartment we stayed in had good heating but the dry cold took its toll on my hair. Remember those science lessons with the Van der Graaf generator? We had windows overlooking the Canal St Martin and the lock keeper had to defrost the locks to let the boats through.

This time we're a little farther west staying at the Residence Nell in the 9th. It's very handy for shops, bars and restaurants and walkable to most main sites. Actually I'm an unreliable witness to walkability as I'll walk vast distances when sightseeing, particularly if I'm not familiar with the public transport system. In my defence I'll say that I know how to use the metro and buses here.


Last night we ate at Autour d'un Verre which was very close,crowded or animé as they say here and best of all cheap. Food was good too. We arrived after 10pm and the place was still buzzing when we left. I wasn't brave enough to try the marrow bone starter but it seemed popular. We're catering for ourselves here so we walked back via the local Grocer's to pick up fruit and yoghurt for breakfast. This morning was a bit too rushed to pop out to the Baker's opposite for croissants but tomorrow should be more relaxed.



Mr Starke headed off to work and I was left with the difficult task of amusing myself, so..a little hobbit like second breakfast, a wander around Moustache, a great pet supplies shop, for a little something for dogstarke, a visit to BHV for all those essentials we'd managed to leave behind and then off to the Musee d'Orsay to see the Impressionisme et La Mode exhibition. It was brilliant looking at the relationship between the art and the fashions of the time. I was struck by the curator's introduction on the audio guide reminding up us that an exhibition should above all be enjoyed, so enjoy it I did. Like all exhibitions of clothes it also left me feeling ENORMOUS, the clothes were tiny, even corseted I couldn't ever have achieved a waist like these. The shoes were tiny too, unlike any we see today.

Afterwards I contributed to my enormity by stopping for lunch at the museum restaurant, it's very pretty but was soooo much more expensive than last night's dinner and not as good.


After lunch I took a stroll back across the river, and through the Tuileries. I find them very bleak.

Not like gardens at all. Now I'm back "home" drinking tea and writing this but soon I have to change for dinner, only the second outfit of the day not the four worn by the ladies featured in the exhibition. Tomorrow a friend has suggested a trip to the Louve. Yikes!




Monday, 26 November 2012

But has never seen Star Wars

Actually that's a lie, although never on the big screen. "I've never seen Star Wars is the name of a show on R4 where guests try out something popular they've never done; eat Pot Noodle, get waxed, wear jeans, watch the X Factor, you get the idea. I'll never be on the show, which is good, these never done things are precious.

There are lots of very popular programmes and films I've never seen. They're secret. Once someone knows they see it as a project. They want to stop you missing out. This is how I succumbed to Pretty Woman. I can't let sisterstarke know the list or she wouldn't rest, tho' she wasn't to blame for PW. She would ply me with wine and the next thing I'd know would be my least favourite movie star (even before his fall from grace) rampaging across the screen. And then where would I be? I'd have lost a bit of me-ness.

I'm also a bit superstitious. On our first date Mr Starke and I almost visited a historic site. Almost. We've avoided it ever since.

We're off to Paris soon. I've been there quite a few times. Never to the Louvre. Each visit I used to think "I'll go to the Louvre this time". Once I was all set to go, was at the gate for opening time, queued for twenty minutes but there was a strike. Another time complete with a museum carte, so I'd already paid, I got through the passage but was overwhelmed by the choice of galleries and ran away. I don' t avoid National collections as a rule. I've visited them in other cities, become their Friend. I've been to the other "biggies" in Paris, a couple more than once. I've searched out the strange, the "insolite" and been a solitary visitor in some. The Louvre though continues to elude me and is becoming a touchstone.

Instead of a 100, 1000 etc. things to see, do, eat before you die list, I've got an ever increasing list of don'ts.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Everyone likes a list......

Well maybe not everyone but I love lists and complain when places.things I love are overlooked. So here a bit prematurely is my hit list for 2012

Best meal. Not best restaurant or best menu but best all around meal experience....Lunch by Brian Maule at Chardon d'Or. We had a lovely lunch here in June; food was great, service friendly but not oppressive and the room comfortable. It's obviously a popular place because it was busy on a Wednesday lunchtime (ok this may have had something to do with a certain regal visit) and we vowed to return for dinner. ( still on the to do list)



Best picnic. Soft shell crab, oysters and rose frizzante at the Abergavenny Food Festival. Late summer, great company and lovely food. What more could you wish for?

Best view. Now this one is hard. After all this was the year we saw whales off the Great Barrier Reef.......

And Paris crackling under sub zero temperatures....
But this was the one I enjoyed most, warmed by love and a malt.
Best brunch. Cafe de l'Industrie, rue St. Sabin, Paris. I don't have a photo of the food but it was scrumptious, with a touch of heat to warm us up. And this scooter parked outside.
Best museum. Textile tower house, Hawick. I love this place, it has a great mix of temporary shows - from textile students to Sir Walter Scott and a good permanent display of Hawick's woolly heritage. There's also a great. wee shop and very friendly staff.
Best jubilee tea party. The one chez Starke of course, and it was sunny!
By now you'll have twigged that just like the end of year clip shows I have no real theme and just wanted to post pretty pictures.

So with absolutely no compunction here is the final category...........

Best cute animal. Could it be, the Wombat? (above).


The Koala?

The Koala with her Joey?


The duck?


Perhaps the lizard?

Nooooooo. Don't be silly. The cutest animal and best puppy is......





Sunday, 4 November 2012


So, scared by stories of dogs slipping their collars and running off, and Dogstarke being a very small dog and having no road sense yet, I bought her a harness. A nice, comfy, padded harness. In pink. A horrible sickly, baby pink. Master Starke refused to take her out wearing it, and he'd wanted to buy her a, Swarovski crystal studded collar.

A lovely sunny autumn afternoon, a lively puppy. On goes the harness and out we go. Flop. Bottom firmly planted on ground. Much persuasion. Dogstarke gets picked up and carried to the street. Every step has to be cajoled. At the park she rolls in the dirt and slinks along. Not herself at all. She's not even tempted by crunchy dry leaves. Feeling beaten I remove the harness and attach the lead to her collar. Her black nylon lead and purple leather collar. Dogstarke struts along, tail aloft and ears cocked, plays in the leaves and gets brave and talks to other dogs.

Purple, black, leather; Autumn trends no?

Photo doesn't truly represent vile colour.


A tale of two dinners

Sorry for Dogstarke fans no cute puppy pics here.

Last weekend was a rare one for us, two consecutive nights out for dinner on home turf. I think the last time we did this was back at the turn of the century, before the invention of the "staycation", when a cancelled mini break was replaced by a three night restaurant fest which left us bloated and craving dry bread and water.

Crisp linen and fancy flatwear.....

Saturday night with a smart frock and heels replacing muddy boots and jeans, I was whisked, well he paid my bus fare, by Mr Starke to the Pompadour by Galvin at the newly rebranded Waldorf Caledonian for a belated celebratory dinner. I'd never been to the old Pompadour but it used to be described as "Edinburgh's prettiest restaurant" and the new one is a strong contender for that title. The food is good too, rabbit ravioli followed by baked monkfish were excellent and I loved the crab and scallop lasagne amuse bouche, I'd fancied all these on the "menu gourmand" but didn't feel up to seven courses, even of tiny tasting menu portions. Wine, coffee and sweeties were all scrumptious too.

We had a really nice time but this restaurant needs a little bit of extra polish to make it a destination. The service was friendly and enthusiastic but a little haphazard. We were pleased to be out, had plenty to talk about and were entertained by the comings and goings of the Halloween party over the road at St. John's church hall. But that was just as well because there was quite a wait between courses. I've never been in the Waldorf Astoria but imagine it's just a little bit slicker.

Don' t get the idea that it's not worth a visit though, and if you do go, don't miss out on your aperitif in the cute and slightly retro Pompadour bar and as a digestif take a stroll around the display of old menus and hotel memorabilia.

A night less formal

And so, to Sunday and a warning to anyone thinking that being a restaurant critic would be a wheeze. We were invited to take part in a review of Edinburgh's best takeaways. Never since my first time at a free bar has the advice "pace yourself" been more needed and less heeded. By the end of the evening not even "a wafer thin mint" could tempt me, never mind another helping of sabz chilli daal.

Top tip, tempura doesn't travel well.

But will put up with clean carpets..........

Two weeks in; we're getting in to a routine and trying to resist rewarding bad behaviour. Hard in the face of tilted head and expressive ears. Mr Starke can't get used to the "celebrity" treatment we get when we go out. Dogstarke attracts attention everywhere she goes. How will she cope when she's no longer new pup on the block ?


Friday, 26 October 2012



Introducing Dogstarke

and here she is. She's been with us almost a week. I was warned that it would be like having a baby again, and it is (apart from labour obviously). This time round I'm more organised and determined to keep to routines, unlike poor master starke who was just fitted around our lifestyle of the time. Then I hardly knew anyone with babies now quite a few friends are dog owners. Once again I 'm working more than I'd like to be but at least dogstarke's upbringing is within the family. I'm trying not to be impatient - wanting long walks and perfect behaviour; trying to appreciate the puppy weeks which will be over far too soon.

I'm starting to look out for dog friendly places to go once we can manage days out and weekends away. I'm looking forward to returning to the lovely Kilberry Inn in Knapdale and visiting Kilcamb Lodge in Ardnamurchan.

But at the moment after a busy day, I'm letting sleepy dogs lie


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Calm before the storm

The only clean sheets I'll be enjoying for the next while will be the ones I provide myself . The reason? A puppy. We've cleaned and decluttered removing all dangers, read "Perfect Puppy" and created a den, debated her name and chosen her toys. Master Starke didn't enjoy this degree of preparation.

We're kids at Christmas counting our sleeps.

Dogstarke moves in tomorrow.