A Second Year In Photos: A Golden-Diamond-Jub-Olympic Summer

Let’s be honest, we’re never going to have another summer like 2012. Not only have parts of the country gone from being drought-stricken to being underwater, but we had the second ever British Diamond Jubilee (Victoria’s was the other one, if you’re wondering) and London made history as the first city to hold the Olympic Games for the third time. In tribute to this once-in-a-lifetime summer I’ve decided that day 4 of A Second Year In Photos is to be dedicated to celebrating our Jub-Olympic summer (as horrific a name as that is) and inspiring a generation.

Despite the official anniversary being in February, it was decided (presumably because of the trustworthiness of the British weather) that all of the official celebrations would take place over a long weekend in June. Obviously this meant that it rained for a large part of that weekend, but with a bit of stiff upper lip and our handy collections of waterproofs we made it through.

I was in the little Yorkshire village of Bramham for the weekend visiting a friend (tall tales over here) where we were lucky enough to catch a bit of sun for a very British tea party in the street. It was certainly an entertaining weekend, even if some of my memories are a little hazy (I blame whoever thought drinking G&Ts from a pint glass was a good idea).Bunting down the High Street, Bramham.After the right royal piss-up that was the Jubilee, we geared ourselves up once again to invite the whole world to come and have a snoop round the country. Despite ‘scandals’ about security, budgets and all the political back-fighting, the Olympics were an outstanding success for the UK – both on and off the medal table. I was lucky enough to follow in my great uncle’s footsteps (him and my great aunt having been at the last London Olympics back in 1948) and got to go down and soak up some of the atmosphere. My friend and I ‘only’ had tickets for a day of the tennis (although Olympic Wimbledon Centre Court tickets aren’t exactly something to be sniffed at), but we spent the week revelling in the Olympic spirit (gin, obviously) – even managing to watch the men’s 20km road walk race outside Buckingham Palace. I had an incredible time in London that week, and became an expert in so many sports and members of Team GB.

The Olympic Rings became a familiar site to most Britons over the course of the summer – the closest set to me being the ones in Edinburgh, and of course the Paralympic Agitos afterwards – but the rings on the Thames were also pretty special.

Olympic rings and St Paul'sAlthough not quite as impressive as my favourite set – those on Tower Bridge.

Tower bridge and the Olympic RingsI don’t think I really need to say that I had a fantastic time during all our celebrations this year, so it seems only fair to give them their own special day here.

Leading on from the Jub-Olympics, tomorrow’s A Year In Photos will be more of my favourite holiday snaps from this year.


A Second Year of Contemplating

Picture the scene: It’s Monday evening after a long day in the office. I’m sitting on the sofa  slurping my way through a bowl of my roasted tomato and red chilli soup, mopping up as I go with a big hunk of crusty bread; the dog is, as ever, lying at my feet trying to soften my heart of ice with those big brown eyes. It was then that I had a thought. I dismissed it as a little ridiculous to begin with, but as I was finishing off my follow-up ‘course’ of a glass of lovely red wine left over from Sunday night’s dinner the thought came back to me and this time I couldn’t shake it – tomorrow is the 16th October. Contemplating the Clouds is two years old.

Yes, in the disorganised chaos of my daily life – it’s my preferred choice for organisation, it would seem – I almost forgot the blog’s birthday. This wasn’t the case last year – oh no – then I was so organised that I even went out and bought it a cup cake and a number 1 candle (have a look over here, if you don’t believe me). This year, the dog and I are sitting staring at the screen, wondering what to write (or in the dog’s case, why there isn’t cake involved this year).

The first year of Contemplating the Clouds was my first foray into the blogging world. It started with just photos, then was transformed by the addition of words. This time last year I thought that perhaps I was getting better at both the photos and the words; now I feel – I hope – that they have improved again – I know there are certainly fewer typos (and thanks to the friend that has no qualms about calling me out on them if they do appear; I do appreciate it, even if I don’t always sound grateful). But what of the theme and overall purpose of Contemplating? Well, that too has solidified a bit. This is a blog about a 20-something living, working, procrastinating, eat and drinking in Edinburgh. Oh, and about the adventures I run off on every so often.Edinburgh, Carlton Hill, Old Town, Lent, 40 Days of photos

I said last year I had no idea what the coming year would hold, and whilst it hasn’t been without its share of appearances from the drama-llama, I think it’s been a fairly settled one. At birthday numero uno I was three weeks into a temporary job that could end with virtually no notice in a company that had less than six months before it ceased trading  to say it was a little uncertain is a bit of an understatement, and the fact that I had no idea what ‘proper’ job I was ever going to get (if I would get one at all) was weighing pretty heavily on my mind. As it transpired I temped at the exporters for five months, and only left because I found gainful employment in the real – or perhaps that should be the surreal – world. I’ve now worked in internet marketing for the last seven months. It’s a massive jump from the world of academic biology that my university days in St Andrews were filled with, but I really enjoy it. Of course it’s tough at times and after seven months I feel I have only just begun scratching the surface of all there is to know – but that is part of the fun of it. Working mainly with the travel industry is also something I really enjoy – even if I do get pretty severe travel envy at least once a week – but perhaps what’s surprised me the most is how much I love writing. That may sound rather stupid from someone who writes an often fairly word-y blog, but when this started it was all about photos. My writing still has some way to come, I think, but we’ll see what the future holds on that front (although I wouldn’t hold your breath for a novel, quite yet).Defender of the Nation, Edinburgh Castle

The other thing I mentioned last year was that I’d like to go on holiday again. It was very much a passing remark, however, I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have made it in at all, had it not been something I really wanted to happen. And happen it did. With friends scattered across the country – and indeed the globe – I have been lucky to go away several times over the past twelve months, in fact travels have come to rather define the year. There was a little trip to London last Christmas time, followed Buxton, Peak District, Millers Dale, Wriggly Tin, quarry, hiking, viewpointvery quickly by another to St Andrews, the early new year was a bit dull, but the end of February saw the adventure of the Wriggly Tin (a long weekend to the Peak district, partying it up the likes of which Buxton has never seen before…). It took a while after that, but as the season that held the somewhat misleading title of ‘summer’ rolled around I put those accumulating holidays into use: first was my trip to Yorkshire for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and less that eight weeks later I was heading south again – this time bound for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Olympic Games in my capital city: London 2012. For anyone that was reading the blog around then, you’ll know that I had an absolutely fantastic trip, I didn’t shut up about the Olympics for weeks. But as the Jub-Olympic summer was drawing to a close I had other travels on my mind – my whirlwind trip to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava. Let’s be honest, my summer’s travelling has dominated the last twelve months, it was utterly extraordinary, and something I doubt I will ever get the chance to repeat.My tickets for the Olympic Tennis - so excited!

Icing dribbling over the side of the cakeAnd that neatly brings me to the present day. Whilst I have no idea what the coming twelve months will hold I am pretty safe in suggesting that it will certainly hold more of three things that have filled the blog with lots and lots of images this year (away from all my gallivanting). They are, of course, dog walking (Keira isn’t going anywhere, after all), my attachment/addiction to a single app on my phone, Instagram, which has spawned the weekly round-up of Instagrammers Anonymous, and my other huge and overriding passion – food and drink. These three things have kept me busy over the last twelve months and I have no doubt that they will continue to flourish – who knows where they might take me.

To celebrate one year of Contemplating the Clouds I ran a week-long series called A Year In Photos, which involved me picking out my favourite 12 photos from the year (plus perhaps a bonus one on the side). Whilst the connections between the paired up photos were sometimes pretty tenuous, we all struggled through and seemed to quite enjoy them, so to advance on that it’s my self-promoting pleasure to follow this long-winded essay by seven days of (considerably shorter) posts – A Second Year in Photos.Monument to Peter the Great, the Moscow river and the cathedral of christ the saviour

All that’s left now is to say thank you. There would be very little point in me writing this blog if I didn’t think there were others out there reading it, so I’d like to extend a thank you to each and every one of your who reads the blog; much as it is an enormous cliché to say, it does mean a lot to me. It doesn’t matter whether you read every post, or just the odd one or two; if you’re the person in Edinburgh or Auckland that visits virtually every time I write a post, or you’re the person in Singapore, the Bahamas or Kazakstan who has visited just a handful of times, the very fact that you read it makes me happy.

And here is the perfect time to raise a glass of whatever is you happen to have handy (mine’ll be a G&T, please) and say here’s to a fantastic year of Contemplating the Clouds and procrastinating to our hearts’ content; and here’s to the future, whatever it may bring.


Gin, Cheese and Laughter: Adventures at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival

Let’s face it, I just can’t be trusted when it comes to events involving food. Or gin. The bad idea bears just take over. But then again, a weekend of wine, gin, cheese, cooking demos and then a bit more gin is a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, it was Foodies Festival time once again.

Having encountered 6 litre bottles of Hendrick’s and much more besides when I went last year it was a certainty that I would be getting tickets again this time round. But this year I got one better online with the three-day ticket – not just one day of supreme over indulgence, a whole weekend. Win. Sadly though, I could only use Saturday and Sunday – but for the sake of my wallet and liver, that’s probably not such a bad thing, even if it was moved to Inverleith Park this year and I could walk there.

Open coconut with a straw at it.I made a rash promise at the end of last year’s blog post saying that when I went this year I would focus more on the food – not the wine and gin – and you’ll, of course, be overjoyed that I stuck to my guns and didn’t drink a drop. Who am I kidding, I almost forgot about the food again. That might have something to do with our rum-filled coconut on Saturday afternoon, although I can’t quite recall…

That’s not entirely true, I tried samples from many companies – mainly those relating to cheese – as well as lunch of a kangaroo burger with spicy tomato relish and rocket (Skippy loves a good bit of rocket) and a hog roast roll (not both on the same day, I should add). I even ended up buying some cheese, shock horror.

Smoked fish in a shed smokerThe foodies festival has now been around for quite a few years, and is growing in size and popularity every year. And it’s really not hard to see why. This year there were over 100 stalls, ranging for tiny little artisan producers right up to recognisable national brands. There were also a few off-the-wall stalls as well, such as the seaweed selling man with three teeth and a woman selling “her precious cultures” who couldn’t understand why we weren’t more interested in making our own version of Yakult…

Interestingly (/upsettingly) I would say that there were fewer gin companies there this year – the lack of a Hendrick’s stand being particularly notable – but they made up for it with more unusual culinary stalls, like those selling ‘homemade’ Thai curry and satay kits (they were delicious, even if their paper cup did rip and give my t-shirt an interesting coloured stain). There were also some of the big name sponsors there too – not quite sure how many cars BMW sold, but I wouldn’t bet on too many – as well as a few ‘pop-up’ restaurants and Lavazza coffee, whose samples I will be drinking for a long time to come.

The less formal eating stalls, all conveniently in a row up the back, ranged from noodles to crepes, via hog roasts, jerk chicken and kangaroo – each of which was equally tempting, making it rather hard to choose which to go for. It also made me feel slightly sorry for the man selling burgers, which seemed a little tame by comparison. I later learnt they were wild boar and venison, and then didn’t feel quite so bad for him.

I’ll gloss over some of the details or I’ll be here forever, but like last year I advise you avoid Cassilero del Diablo at all costs, owing to its disgusting taste, and would recommend that unless you like peaty whisky don’t opt for Black Grouse. We also avoided the stand selling cakes that were ‘free-from’ pretty much every ingredient that makes a proper cake. We did, however, make friends with a couple that owned a farm (she was an ecologist, he a zoologist by degree) and made wonderful sausages, the man that owns the gorgeous Edinburgh Gin (we did taste the elderflower and the raspberry about twice each, and I might have accidentally come home with a bottle of the Elderflower), and the people from the Cheshire Cheese Company (their presence makes their following me on Twitter last week slightly less odd) who have a sticky toffee cheddar – shouldn’t work, but it really does – and a caramelised onion and Rioja ‘gourmet cheddar’ which has found its way into my fridge and lunch for the next couple of days. My favourite stall, however, has to be the company who have – genuinely – named themselves ‘I Heart Sausage’. And if that weren’t amusing enough to my immature sense of humour, they have a variety of sausage called – I kid you not – the ‘Chucklesnort’. Try keeping a straight face when talking to them after a few gin samples…

I commented last year that I thought the theatre events were a bit rubbish, because it seemed impossible to get tickets; well this year we cracked the system. It involved a bit of queueing, pretending that we were two sets of people, not part of the same group, and going back a little later and picking up whatever was there. Through this we went to see Norman Musa (a Malaysian chef), someone from Callander who used the words Stephen K Amos at Foodies Festival‘blanched’ and ‘OK’ far more often than was necessary, Steve from the Ning Chinese restaurant, the founder of the Backyard Jerk Company (who make Jamaican jerk sauces), a bartender/mixologist from Hendrick’s and Stephen K Amos. Not too bad a haul.

The three of those worth mentioning are definitely the last three. The Backyard Jerk Company were the last thing we did on Saturday and – once we got over the initial introduction of the Welsh accent – was great fun. Informative, entertaining and the food tasted fantastic. Sunday started of with Stephen K Amos, billed as ‘chef and comedian’, which rapidly turned out to be more accurately titled as ‘comedian’. I have never laughed so much in a cooking demo in my life. He was hilarious, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be going to see his Fringe show soon. Our last event was a short history of gin and cocktails, from the wonderful Hendrick’s. Plagued a little by technical problems and the guy knocking stuff over, this lighthearted hour about gin was one of my favourite parts of the weekend – informative without facts being rammed down your throat, seamlessly funny, and of course full of gin cocktails.

Sitting on the hill above Inverleith pond, gazing out towards Edinburgh Castle with our plate of churros and dipping chocolate on Sunday evening, the pair of us had a good laugh about the weekend. Yes, we probably drank a little more than necessary, and it’s true that we probably took advantage of the free samples a little too much in some places (especially the ones we didn’t buy anything from); however, that’s what these sorts of festivals are all about – good, honest food and drink without pretentiousness, for those who love them. A fantastic weekend, well worth the food-and-drink-induced stupor that I watched the Olympic Closing Ceremony in and had through most of today at work. When can we get tickets for next year?


Instagrammers Anonymous: Another Busy Week

Another really odd week this week, but it’s gone by in a flash. From being in Callander and St Andrews last weekend, to preparing to go down to London tomorrow for the Olympics – they start tonight, had you heard? The media’s been pretty quiet about it, so you’d be forgiven for not realising – I feel like I haven’t stopped.

Ahead of trains, tennis, a certain 5 rings and drinking raspberry gin that will no doubt make up next week’s summary here’s this week in pictures – Instagrammers Anonymous – featuring the dog, and raspberry gin.

The dog proved her intellectual capabilities with a book on lemurs and Madagascar.Dog reading a book, instagram

This view brought a massive smile to my face.Welcome to st andrews signI bottled up my home made raspberry gin – helpfully editing the bottle’s original label and replacing it’s former contents.raspberry gin in a bottle with label

And to round it all off I made some muffins from the gin-soaked raspberries and glazed them with some of the actual gin.raspberry gin muffin

Fear not – it is almost the weekend, and I have a week off! Win. Oh, and it’s the Olympics! (not sure I’ve mentioned it enough). Whatever you are up to in the next few days I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am looking forward to tonight’s opening ceremony and my trip to London.





Raise a Glass to World Gin Day!

Peoples of the world rejoice, for today is the 9th June and this can mean but one thing: it is World Gin Day!

Yes, an entire day devoted to the stuff of wonder that is gin. Be it Hendrick’s, Chilli and Lime, Pineapple, a cocktail, or some of my latest purchase – Raspberry Edinburgh Gin – I think it’s fair to say that I am quite a fan.

There’s only one way to celebrate this wonderful day, and that’s to sit back and sip a  glorious G&T.

Edinburgh Raspberry Gin, in a bottle and a glass.