Thursday, September 28, 2006

Getting the picture

I didn't take the digital camera on my recent trip to Ayrshire for two reasons. The main one is that I forgot it, but the other one is that it takes enormous jpeg files and you can only get about 15 pictures on the memory card. So I bought one of these cheap single use film cameras and, like all film cameras there are still a few shots remaining before the film is finished. Hopefully that'll happen tomorrow. There is plenty to photograph - walls filled with straw, cornicing and the recently uncovered niche for example.

One of the people we met on our trip to Arran was Robin Gray who is occasional chef at the Wineport and also the owner of Kingscross herbs which supplies organic vegetables and, presumably, herbs to the catering trade. There used to be a restaurant in Glasgow called Mitchells which was run by two chefs. One was called Robin and had a smallholding on Arran. I wonder if it's the same person. Mitchells has closed now and despite extensive Googling I can't find any more information about it.

There were painters and joiners in today. The painters spent all day painstakingly filling all the cracks in the function room ceiling. The joiners were building the new bar. D***** will be here on Tueday to discuss the works planned for November. We're going to close completely during November to allow the remainder of the upgrading work to be completed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ayr, there and everywhere

Just back from investigating the foodie paradise that is Ayrshire with a trip to Arran thrown in. We met some of the folk involved in the creation and running of the Ayrshire food network which encourages and promotes local artisan food producers and restaurants that use their produce. Sadly they don't have a website, but the link I've put above tells you a bit about them.

We also visited Arran to hear about the taste of Arran scheme which does have a website so I won't say any more about it. Go surfing!

Then headed to Glasgow which seemed to be very busy. All the hotels and B&Bs were full. Eventually I was enlightened - Celtic were playing in a European cup match. My enthusiasm and knowledge for football is such that I can't remember who they were playing, but they did win. Had a couple of pints here and then had a welcome bed for the night provided by a mate. Thanks Paul!

Spent a day nosing around Ottakars and stocking up on reading material for when the pub's empty (there aren't any book shops in Jedburgh) and then trundled homewards. L is getting a day off tomorrow - if you've read her blog you'll see why.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Food glorious food

I'm off on a freebie tomorrow. It's organised by visitscotland and is to do with food tourism. It starts at 9am in Ardrossan and that means I've got to leave this afternoon (or 4 am tomorrow).

The trip takes in various food producers, restaurants and touristy places and I hope it'll give us some ideas for when we finally start serving meals other than breakfast.

After a long day and a reasonably busy night in the bar (we had the entire 12 hours to do ourselves due to staffing problems) we ambled off to bed around 12.30.

At 1.05 the phone rang. If the phone rings that late it's usually one of the guests with unwelcome news (building on fire/fallen down, wayward grandson of minor aristocrat running amok with fire extinguisher - that sort of thing). On this occasion it was the garage near the woollen mill who had a couple of tourists looking for rooms.

We were full, but that's a new record for our latest ever attempt at check-in. Please don't treat this as a challenge!

Friday, September 22, 2006

House of straw

The old lounge bar which is going to be the new dining room is next door to the old residents lounge which is currently our living room. Are you following me so far? Well, these two rooms were originally a single room and at some point in the dim and distant past a wall was built dividing them. Fortunately for us, this wall is not a brick one and does not support the floor above, but it does have some interesting features which our electrician discovered today. The wall is what's called a "stud partition" which basically means there is a wooden frame, covered on each side with wooden lath (little strips of wood) with plaster on top. So far so good. But to provide insulation the now long-dead builders filled the space between the layers of plaster with...

... straw. Yes, the space is filled with close packed straw. Now the more perceptive of you will have noted the construction here: Straw, little strips of wood, bigger pieces of wood. Yes, this is not so much a wall as a bonfire in search of an ignition source. I'm not sure whether we can leave the straw in place or whether we need to strip it all out.

Electrical installation work continues in the new dining room. Joinery work continues elsewhere. No prospect of a finishing date this far.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


"The main cause of hotel fires" said John Webber of Nairn's cook school is not cleaning the grease filters in your extraction system. We hadn't cleaned ours for about three months mainly because we were expecting to be in the new kitchen two months ago. However, we're not and the grease filters were beyond disgusting. Once they get clogged with grease there is the danger of excessive heat causing the grease to ignite and, voila: hotel flambee.

That was never likely to happen here since frying a few eggs doesn't those cause huge flames that you see on tv programmes. Well, not unless I'm having a really bad morning:-/ However, the grease filters needed cleaned and, being old, they're enormous - far too big to fit in the dishwasher and almost too big to fit in the sink. A day's soaking in strong degreasing solution has got them to the stage where they are usable.

If you find yourself in the West End of Glasgow, visit Fi Buchanan who runs the best deli in Glasgow if not Scotland. Sales of cherry tarts have probably plummeted since I left the BBC nearby, but she has a fab selection of cheeses, cold meats, olives and, well almost anything you could possibly want and quite a lot you don't know you want because you didn't know it existed. There is a connection btw, Fi used to work for Nick Nairn before setting out on her own. His loss is everyone else's gain!

Washing daze

The laundry monster duvecoverum giganticus is found in warm dark areas around hotels and guest houses. Given optimum conditions it can grow to twenty feet in height in a very short time. Treatment with biological washing powder is known to be effective, but can take a long time. If neglected it can take over the entire hotel and cause the fatal condition outoflinenitis.

Meanwhile, it's been a good weekend thanks to the dog trials in Kelso (they were all acquitted apart from one who was convicted of terrierism) but that finishes today and next week looks pretty quiet.
I'm escaping to Edinburgh on Tuesday and we have L's brother Rob with us this weekend before he flies back to South Africa to avoid having to suffer another dark cold Scottish winter... as opposed to a dark cold Scottish summer. Only kidding - it's nice today.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rain, rain

There's a dog show in Kelso just now and it means that we're full for three or four days. To mark the first day of the show there was heavy rain followed by thunder and lightning. The leak in the roof on the first floor corridor seems to have been fixed, but the small one in the old owners' rooms continues. D**** was here yesterday with the builder. Given available resources it seems likely that our only input to these rooms will be framing, plasterboarding and fitting out - the roofing work's too dangerous and the floor strengthening will take more man/woman power than we have available.

What we can get on with is one of the unused rooms on the top floor which used to be a bedroom and is going to become an ensuite for the next door room. There's little heavy joiner work needed and no building work. We need the plumber to supply a hot and cold feed, a drain and a central heating feed but we can do most of the rest.

Cornicing work is finished. The cornice company blotted their copy book by leaving the place a complete mess which L had to spend half an hour tidying up before the guests came back, but apart from that we're very happy with the result. Pictures later.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Staff shortages

We've been lucky with the staff we've had during our (nearly) two years here, but it looks as though our luck has temporarily run out. We were already looking for a barperson to do 16 hours or so, but with little success (see previous postings both here and here ).

On Sunday night we had six people staying and at ten o'clock I'd set up for breakfast, got the laundry under control and settled down in the bar with a pint of frothy ale, at which point eight Brazilians turned up looking for accommodation. So suddenly we had 14 staying and all five rooms occupied.

On Monday morning after breakfast (the Brazilians devoured everything in sight!) one of our two remaining bar/cleaning staff turned up, told us she couldn't work for us anymore (personal reasons and not a complete surprise to us) and left.
That left us five rooms to strip,reset and clean followed by eleven hours in the bar. Oh Joy!
There was less cleaning yesterday, but we still had to do the whole 11 hours in the bar.

Until recently we had a more or less permanent advertisement in the job centre and a few weeks ago they called to ask if we had taken on any of the ten people who had applied for the job.

No-one had contacted us.

That's not entirely surprising since it's a condition of receiving unemployment benefit that you have to apply for any suitable jobs that come up. Of the ones who do contact us, very few bother to turn up for interview. Even weirder is the one or two who have shown up for interview, been given the job and not turned up on the day.

One of our ex employees has offered to do the occasional shift to help out. And Shirley who does the cleaning at weekends has offered to do cleaning through the week as well.

So where are all those friendly Eastern Europeans when you need them?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Delete existing partition? Y/N

Since last May, the hall leading to the bedrooms has looked like this
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and that's been a source of much annoyance during the tourist season since we have to keep apologising for the temporary boarding and explaining that it all should have been taken away ages ago.

Well, now it has been.
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and things are starting to look a bit more normal. The work to finish the two rooms can now continue without causing any disruption - at the end of the day we can just close the doors to the rooms.

Using the carpet as a template you can see where the doors (and walls) originally were before the wall was replaced.
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The function room door - to the right of the picture - is a bit further left, but since the position was no more than a guess it's fairly close.
The new residents' lounge (left door) has shifted a lot from its original position. Again, the positioning was a guess and doesn't cause any problems.

New cornicing was fitted in the hall yesterday
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and looks pretty good. The new cornicing has been attached in the function room and the new residents' lounge will be done later in the week. In the new dining room there were a couple of bits of cornice removed when the bar was fitted and they'll need replaced. The cornicing folk (do you call them cornicers? Is that a word?) didn't know about that though, so it'll take a couple of weeks to make the new bits.

D**** is here tomorrow to see what's happening and discuss future plans.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I was at work. Bored. Trawling through the Guardian website when a newsflash caught my eye.

I remember watching the events unfold on News 24, watching the black smoke issuing from the towers and thinking "it's going to take them days to put that out".

Of course it didn't. The whole event had a feeling of complete unreality about it. The French documentary shown about a year later had such a powerful effect largely because it had two elements that were missing from the original footage - proximity and sound. The long shot of the aircraft hitting the second tower had a dreamlike feeling - it seemed to happen in slow motion. It couldn't be real could it?

I'd been exchanging emails with my old school friend Frankie the day before - I was planning a trip to the states and spend most of the 10th checking flights and prices. Frankie was working in DC close to the Pentagon. We didn't hear anything for three of four days and were worried.

The silence was mainly because he had an inbox full of "are you alright" emails and it took a while to work through them all. He had a fairly good view of the Pentagon attack and when I went over the following February the area round the Pentagon was bristling with anti aircraft guns and there were concrete barriers around the area near the White house.

Travelling to, from and around the States took a while because of all the not-very-random-at-all-really security checks. I eventually discovered that I kept being searched because of the bottles of whisky I was carrying which appeared as mysterious cylindrical objects on xrays.

I didn't visit New York on that trip. Could have, but didn't.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What did I tell you?

In a previous post I mentioned the fickleness of our younger drinkers. Three weeks ago we sold at least a bottle of Apple Sourz. The same two weeks ago. Last week we put it on optic and sold another bottle.

Last night - none. Not a single one. Everyone was back onto Blue WKD, or to be more exact Cheeky Vimto which is blue WKD and port.

It was a good night, though tiring as, due to the almost perpetual staff shortage, we had to do most of yesterday (and all of today) ourselves. The person we interviewed for the bar job was fine, but had had a trial elsewhere and decided to take that job instead of ours.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

In celebratory mood

Happy birthday to me! Yes another year older and not an hour richer. Her ladyship has cooked me a very tasty steak and Tracy our barmaid gave me a very nice bottle of red wine which I spent several minutes attempting to break my corkscrew on (it was a screw cap - it's been a long day).

And we're full. Largely due to the tup fair at Kelso which has resulted in the bar being full of people talking about sheep. Whatever the reason it's nice to be busy.

Unlike the workmen. Aarlene, the reason I avoid mentioning the workmen is that to do so results in uncontrollable wailing, possibly gnashing of teeth and certainly rending of garments. There was supposed to be a crew change this week - the workmen we had were supposed to leave and another lot were supposed to turn up. Well, you've guessed it, the old crew left yesterday, but the new one has failed to show up. So it's been strangely quiet today. D**** our project manager phoned the foreman of the joiner's firm to be told that he didn't know anything about it. "Bloody unbelievable" was, I think D****'s comment and I can't really improve on that.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Californians - an apology

The previous post started with a representation of a telephone ringing which I originally put in triangular brackets. Blogger of course interpreted these as htm tags and fell over big style. In fact the whole west coast of America is probably in darkness as I speak. Sorry! I've changed them to dashes! And I won't do it again - promise!

Other jobs

-Ring ring ----- Ring ring ------ Ring ring-

"Good Afternoon. Spread Eagle Hotel, John speaking, how can I help?"

"Hello, could I speak to Mr Campbell"

"That's me"

"Hello Mr Campbell, I'm calling from a call centre in the West Midlands and I'd like to ask you if you have a few minutes to answer some pointless questions about branded glasses"

"I... suppose so"

"What products do you sell in branded glasses?"

"Well, we've Tennents..."

"Er... is that the same as Carling?"

"Not if you're Scottish it isn't"

"It's not on my list. I'll put 'other'"

"OK, and we have John Smith's, Guinness, Weston's Cider, Belhaven Best"

"Belhaven? that's not on my list either"

"But you've heard of Weston's. This'll be an English survey then. You've heard of a microscopically small English cider maker, but not the best selling Scottish lager"

"Er No... Um... do your customers prefer their product served in a branded glass or a plain glass?"

"They've never mentioned it. They complain about the price but not the logo on the glass"

"Which products do you not sell in branded glasses?"

"Our cask ale which comes from a microbrewery in Newcastle."

"Why is that?

"They can't afford drip mats let alone glasses"

"Which of your glasses do your customers like best"

"They've never mentioned it. I think the Kronenbourg ones are pretty"

"Customers prefer beer in a branded glass. One is strongly disagree, five is strongly agree"

"Er well, I suppose it means they can tell them apart. Which was 'agree a bit' again?"

"That would be four"


"Now, how much would you be prepared to pay for branded glasses"

"Nothing. If they aren't free we'll use plain ones"

"Er, ok. If the right glass isn't available we will use any one. One is strongly agree, five is strongly disagree"

"Hang on, I thought five was strongly agree. I'm confused. Erm, one"

"Is that strongly agree"

"I'm not sure anymore"

"Do you stock branded half pint glasses?"


"Which products do you serve in branded half pint glasses?"

"Oh, for goodness sake! I've just told you that we don't have any"

"So I'll put none then"

"There's an idea"

"er, and finally we may contact you later with some additional questions. Would that be alright?"

"I don't suppose it'll make the slightest difference what I say here. Oh alright"

"Thank you. Can I have your job description?"



"Sorry, owner/manager/scapegoat"

"Thank you for your time"


Sunday, September 03, 2006


Young folk - tsk! They drink all sorts of wierd and wonderful things and it's a job trying to keep up with the latest "big thing". At the moment it's Apple Sourz which is bright green gunk that smells of apples and is, er, sour. We got through a bottle of it last week and bought another three. Last night we put it on an optic and sold another bottle of it.

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Then there's WKD, available in Blue, Red and Iron Brew flavours. Though the blue one sells by the crate load the other two don't sell at all. So last night we tried to sell them off half price. The red ones disappeared quickly, but even at half price no-one was particularly interested in the iron brew ones.

We'll try weekly promotions either to get people to try stuff they don't usually try, or to get rid of slow sellers. We plan to try a "malt of the month" as well. No, Neil, it won't be Glenfarclas!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tis the season to be empty

Well, almost. We have two folk staying tonight. An Aussie bloke showed up earlier but we didn't have a twin room left and the price for the family room was too much for him.

Not that he said that of course. He said "I'll need to check with my mate"
That was the last we saw of him.

Occasionally people do say "That's more than I'm prepared to pay" or "Do you know anywhere cheaper" (we do).

Mostly though, it's "I'll think about it" or "I have to check with my wife/partner/pet hamster" and they don't come back.

Tonight we have a couple of rooms booked and, being Saturday there will probably be enough chance bookings to fill the rest. We've certainly more advance bookings than last year and the tie up with has been very successful so far (12 bookings in three weeks instead of 4 in a year with Tiscover!)

But we need to get people to come here instead of just stopping here. At the moment the vast majority of our guests stay one night and give "passing through" as their reason for staying. Some say that they are heading for Scotland and are quite surprised to be told that they're already there! Most people's image of Scotland is lochs and pointy hills and, while the scenery around here is beautiful it's gentler.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Blogging while drunk

Yeah, I know - bad idea. I was wasting time earlier composing a whiny self indulgent post about how few customers there had been in the bar today. Fortunately that's been ditched and overall it's not been a bad evening. We have a nice bunch of folk having a semi-intelligent conversation and lots of frothy ale being sold.

We have two guests tonight who won't be here until after midnight (late pickup at Newcastle Airport) so we have to stay up until the wee hours to check em in.

Aarlene, the wireless network barely works in the bar - I have to wedge the kitchen door open with a beer crate and make sure I can physically see the wireless transmitter which is sitting on top of the fridge before I can be sure it'll work. The cellar cooler is working just fine - 15C and falling as we speak.

Renovations - well, the ventilation engineer turned up and finished the installation and some bits of door facing were nailed on.

Hmmm time for another beer,