Monday, 31 October 2011

ICI Bread and Butter Pudding

It might seem a contradiction in terms to associate a recipe with the name of erstwhile chemicals giant Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). I spent my whole professional career there and attended the occasional executive dinner at Warren House, ICI's training and conference centre at Kingston upon Thames,  beside Richmond Park. Colleagues from that era still can't quite believe that the company no longer exists, but most of the businesses continue succesfully under new owners who are more clearly focussed and I won't attempt in this small space to explain the demise of the giant chemicals conglomerate. Suffice it to say that one of the culinary memories is of the Warren House Bread and Butter Pudding, illustrated above. I got the recipe from them and we've followed it ever since and passed it on quite a few times.
250mls milk
250mls double cream
pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod
3 eggs
125g sugar
8 slices of soft white bread( crust removed)
25g butter
2tb spoons sultanas(soaked)

Bring the milk, cream,salt and vanilla pod to the boil then remove from the heat. Beat eggs and sugar together in a bowl and stir in the hot milk and cream mixture. Butter the bread slices and arrange in an ovenproof dish, buttered side up. Sprinkle the sultanas between the layers reserving a few for the top then strain the liquid mixture through a sieve onto the bread, making sure it is thoroughly absorbed. Place the dish in a roasting pan with enough boiling water to come half-way up the side and cook in a preheated moderate oven (180C/350F/Gas4) for 30-40 minutes.It should be puffed on top and completely set. 
You can experiment with different breads but this is one dish where much maligned ordinary soft white bread (Warburtons) seems to work best. You can spread warm apricot jam on top and sprinkle with icing sugar if you want to sweeten it further but I prefer the elegant simplicity of the unadorned dish. Serve with pouring cream and a glass of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. This serves four people generously

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, and, Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Old Pulteney Whisky beats the World

A  whisky from my home town distillery has just been named best in the world by renowned expert, Jim Murray. The 21 year old single malt scored a record-equalling 97.5 points out of 100. The whisky is matured in American oak casks and bottled at the Pulteney town distillery in Wick.
' The 21-year-old Old Pulteney malt absolutely exploded from the glass with vitality, charisma and class,' said Mr Murray. Whisky making has had a chequered career in Caithness. Of the three large commercial distilleries, only Pulteney survives. The Gerston and Ben Morven distilleries at Halkirk both closed a long time ago. Even in Wick, the distillery closed between 1930 and 1951 during a 25 year spell of prohibition introduced by the town in 1922 to combat what was seen as excessive drinking in the fishing community.
     The picture above shows some of my personal stock- bottles in progress if you like. There is a 12 year old, a 17-year-old and a cask strength Isabella Fortuna litre bottle, celebrating the eponymous sailing fishing drifter which has become the Old Pulteney mascot. The 21-year-old isn't illustrated, an open bottle disappears very quickly; too quickly at over £80 a bottle retail!
     But Dear Jim, and I don't want to say this too loudly, the local officionados prefer the much cheaper 17-year-old, but maybe that's just the canny Caithness folk.
     Bourbons from the US took the runner-up places. George T Stagg was named second best while ten year old Parker's Heritage Collection Wheated Mash Bill picked up third place.

While we're on the subject of booze, I've just bottled this year's bilberry liqueur. The berries were steeped for three months in a mixture of gin and vodka (50/50) with lots of sugar, then filtered  to give a port coloured slighlty viscous product. It already tastes wonderful with lots of port type notes and sweet fruit. Its still a little tannic though and I'll keep it for a year before drinking.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at and and

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Restoration of the Stuarts

Once again, my novel The Stuart Agenda finds itself riding on the cusp of current events thrust from the pages of history. The Prime Minister wants to change the rules on royal succession so that females can take their birth place in the line rather than have to give way to younger brothers. In practise that means tearing up the 1701 act of settlement. Since females have legal equality in almost every other sphere this is hard to argue against and all our female monarchs seem to have done a pretty good job. The secondary aspect of the proposal is the more interesting for me in that it opens the door to the monarch marrying a catholic and perhaps even being one. The publicity surrounding this has shone a light onto the old Jacobite succession so that we can see what might have happened in the absence of that act. The King would be the current Francis of Bavaria a descendent of Henrietta Anne Stuart, youngest daughter of Charles I. Francis has no descendents so the line would pass through his brother to Sophie, Princess of Liechtenstein and her oldest son, Joseph. The Liechtensteiners had a canny eye on history when they chose London as Joseph's birthplace and have parked a few tanks on English playing fields in sending the boy to Malvern College.  
Are todays Jacobites stirring in the glens and thinking of raising the standard once again? True, there is now a government petition calling for the restoration of the Stuarts. That would need 100,000 signatures to get a debate in Parliament. Otherwise, Jacobite websites seem to be rather preoccupied by the details of past Stuart glories and the fate of de jure( pretender speak for 'if only') folk across Europe. Hot topics included the birthday of Mary of Modena. My novel was dismissed out of hand on one of the sites, on the grounds that my fictional Stuart family was, well , fictional! This missed the point that the novel lays out a strategic process for having a go at the throne of Scotland. To update what the book says, the current disarray among the Scottish Tories highlights the need and opportunity for a right of centre nationalist party that can compete with the SNP and campaign for an open process for choosing the head of state as opposed to the automatic Hanoverian succession being offered by Salmond. A sane energy policy might also be attractive but I must resist the temptation to write the whole manifesto.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, and

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Stuart Agenda- Excerpt, Chapter 1

Today I'm posting Chapter 1 of the Stuart Agenda. The story starts with Stuart hero Robert, at Gordonstoun, the famous Scottish public school.

Chapter 1                             

Scotland, May 2035 - Gordonstoun School

‘What a match! What a tackle! Pity the lanky guy had weak knees. I’m very proud of you,’ read the message on Robert’s z-phone. It was from his stepfather in Paris. He’d been receiving live feed from the evening inter-house rugby game via Robert’s ear stud camera, giving him his stepson’s view of the game. The praise made Robert feel better, helping to neutralise the guilt he felt about inflicting a serious leg injury on the lumbering Prince Henry with his try-stopping flying tackle. But didn’t the haughty heir to the throne need to be taken down a peg or two? Robert drifted off to sleep wondering whether a week or two on crutches would plant a few seeds of humility in the royal persona.


     Deep in the night, Robert slipped out of a fitful sleep disturbed by a sound that didn’t fit the normal pattern in his room at Gordonstoun’s Round Square House. It wasn’t the moan of the wind round the high gables outside or the distant voices of other boys in the building, it was in the room. He was instantly awake, on his guard, feeling vulnerable as a foreigner. His adrenalin rushed to meet the unwelcome intrusion. As he opened his eyes and looked around he was aware of a threatening silhouette coming towards him out of the paleness of the window blind. He slid quickly from under the duvet and launched his six foot length at the intruder with a flying rugby tackle, similar to the one that had felled Prince Henry earlier in the day. The force of the tackle sent the intruder backwards with Robert still locked round his thighs. They careered into Robert’s desk, sending his touch screen flying and scattering books in all directions before slithering to the floor. Robert was now on top of his struggling would-be assailant and delivered a short right hook into his face to ensure that the attack was over. Robert then leapt up and touched the wall, activating the wallpaper LEDs .

     ‘It’s you, Simkins,’ said Robert, looking down at the contorted face of Prince Henry’s friend and lead sycophant who was clutching his bloody nose.  Robert’s tone hardened when he saw the baseball bat lying on the floor.

     ‘I don’t believe this; did that creep Henry send you? Is he pissed off with me for that tackle?’

     ‘No, he didn’t send me. He’s been to hospital because of you and your mad tackling; he’s going to be on crutches for a month. We’re not putting up with it, especially from a Frog.’

     ‘Think of it as international experience then,’ replied Robert with mock gravity, swallowing the insult and resisting the temptation to ram Simkins’ words back in his mouth.

     ‘You should go back to France; this school isn’t big enough for both of you now,’ said Simkins, getting up from the floor as the door to the room opened and Andrew MacDonald, Robert’s neighbour, appeared.

     ‘What’s going on? I heard an almighty clatter.’

     ‘Simkins came to duff me up for hurting his master,’ said Robert, picking up the baseball bat.

     ‘That’s a bit strong, Simkins, you could kill with that thing.’

     ‘Henry’s a clumsy carthorse. He shouldn’t be allowed on the rugby pitch.’

     ‘It’s Prince Henry to you, even if you are a Republican Frenchman. He’ll soon be the Prince of Wales, don’t forget. You just can’t treat him like that.’

     ‘Get your arse out of here, Simkins, I’ve had enough of this.’

     ‘This isn’t over; we’ll get you,’ said Simpkins as he scurried from the room.

     ‘That tackle sure is causing trouble. You’ve pissed off Henry’s camp big-time. You should have let him score.’

    ‘What? You must be joking.’ replied Robert, who was struggling to put his feelings about the Prince into words.

     ‘Perhaps you just don’t like deferring to a Prince.’

     ‘Andrew, you’re a MacDonald of the Isles aren’t you?’ said Robert, closing the door, the back of which was adorned by a picture of the Scottish rugby team.

     ‘Sort of, my father’s cousin is the MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.’

     ‘Sit down for a minute, Andrew; listen to this. You know me as Robert Lafarge; my stepfather André Lafarge is a successful French businessman. But my real Dad died. His name was Stuart. We’re the true line descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ said Robert, with a sense of relief that he had shared his burdensome secret with someone who would be likely to understand what it meant.

     ‘So that explains the thing between you and Henry. It’s the battle of the rival houses, Stuart against Windsor.’

     ‘Anyway our families were locked together in the Jacobite struggles, Culloden and all that, and the rest is sad history.’

    ‘Robert, if you ever need my help in that cause, you know you can rely on me.’

     Robert couldn’t get back to sleep. The incident with Simkins had  stirred up a ferment of history and personalities that was beginning to bubble. First of all he questioned what he was doing at Gordonstoun. Without much warning he’d been removed from the familiarity of the French education system and parachuted into the famous Scottish school, mainly at the behest of his Uncle Leo and Aunt Françoise. After the death of his own father when he was five years old his uncle and aunt had played a big part in his upbringing, although he was aware that he had not paid sufficient attention to many of Uncle Leo’s attempts to educate him on Stuart history. His mother seemed to go along with the move to Gordonstoun on the grounds that it would be a better base for an international career. His stepfather limited himself to a chauvinist grumble about leaving France.

     At Gordonstoun he often suffered from homesickness and hated the Scottish cold and especially the food. Even drowned in milk and honey he detested porridge. On the positive side he was enjoying school rugby which in his mind had developed an importance beyond his formal studies, something of which his stepfather would probably approve.

     But, most of all, the day’s incident made him more keenly aware of his heredity, his descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose Royal line had been replaced by the Hanoverians. Uncle Leo would not tolerate them being referred to as the de-Germanised Windsors.

     As he tried to get to sleep he made a commitment to read more about his illustrious ancestor but sleep refused to take him so he got up and began searching the Cybernet for references to Bonnie Prince Charlie. This quickly threw up a virtual tour of the ill fated Jacobite campaign of 1745/6. The site enabled him to walk in the footsteps of and see through the eyes of his ancestor. He put the headset on, chose his viewpoint and started the walk.

     He was immediately transported to the deck of the French ship Du Teillay  passing the vast cliffs of Barra Head on Berneray, the rugged southern sentinel of the Outer Hebrides. It was the 22nd of July 1745. The ship sailed on into the Sound of Barra, the French tricolour billowing provocatively behind, anchoring off the Island of Eriskay. He got into a rowing boat with his seven companions in arms and made for the beach.

The warning cries of the gulls and the skirl of the pipes welcomed him as they scrambled ashore onto the white sand to be met by members of the MacDonald Clan.

     Their faces soon turned from joy at the return of their spiritual leader to sadness that he didn’t have a large French army behind him. The MacDonalds shook their heads and the party went back to the Du Teillay to head for the mainland at Borrodale. Messengers were sent out to call the clans to raise the Prince’s standard at Glenfinnan on August 19th 1745. After a long, exhausting walk the party rowed up Loch Sheil between the haunting dark mountains on either side to Glenfinnan village.

     The clans began to arrive in the late afternoon and into the next day. The spectacle of the raising of the standard and the blood curdling cries of the Highlanders saluting their leader made the hair stand up on the back of Robert’s neck and tears well up in his eyes. Through the long night Robert walked and rode with his ancestor south to his triumphant entrance to Edinburgh, on to his numerous victories all the way to Derby. There the Prince railed in disbelief as his generals insisted on retreat back to Scotland when they were only a hundred miles from a panicking London. The trail back then led inevitably to Culloden. At this point Robert switched off the display, emotionally and physically exhausted. He wanted to walk the ground at Culloden for himself.

      After an hour of sleep he trudged in late for breakfast, still reeling from the emotional impact of his nocturnal journey. He picked up two boiled eggs and a heap of toast from the self service counter before sitting down beside Andrew MacDonald.

     ‘No further disturbances in the night?’

     ‘Only self-inflicted, I spent most of the night on the Cybernet.’

     ‘No wonder you look tired.’

     ‘Well look what’s just crawled in,’ said Robert as Simkins appeared at the door, sporting a ripe black eye, followed slowly by Prince Henry on crutches. Robert felt the tension in the dining room rise as every head turned to see the Prince, many of them then turning on Robert, conversations falling to whispers, all waiting to see what would happen.

     ‘I suppose I should go over and ask how he is.’

     ‘You could offer to carry his tray for him.’

     ‘No, that’s Simkins job. I’ll let the sods sit down.’ Robert was not surprised that nobody approached the Prince to ask for his health or commiserate. Before long the tension passed and people began to drift out for the morning classes. Robert got up and strode over to the Prince’s table.

     ‘I’m sorry about the injury. I’m glad it’s not worse; I’ve seen legs broken that way.’

     ‘So, I’m lucky that you were going easy on me, am I?’

     ‘No, I didn’t mean that.’

     ‘I’m going to lodge a complaint; that was dangerous play.’

     ‘I told you we weren’t going to put up with it,’ added Simkins.

     ‘When did you tell me that Simkins? Does Henry know that you came to play baseball with me in the middle of the night? Should I lodge a complaint about that, with the police perhaps?’

     ‘That had nothing to do with me, I was at the hospital,’ protested Henry loudly.

     ‘Let’s forget the whole thing, shake hands on it,’ said Robert, offering his hand to Henry and trying to look him in the eye. Henry’s long thin face stiffened, his eyes unable to meet Robert’s, refusing to make peace, camped firmly on his injured pride. He slapped Robert’s hand contemptuously aside as Simkins cackled a gloating laugh.

     ‘Have it your own way but don’t try to go past me on a rugby pitch again. Stick to chess, I hear you’re good at that. And join the A level charm class as well.’

     Henry’s face flushed at being spoken to so directly and he struggled to his feet and

scuttled crablike out of the dining room on his crutches, followed by the faithful Simkins who glowered back threateningly at Robert from his safe retreating distance.

     Robert sat down in Henry’s seat and put his head in his hands. Images from the night filled his vision, he felt Bonnie Prince Charlie’s footsteps stamping on his back; history was taunting him, driving him. He wrestled with his feelings of anger. Did he want to complain himself, leading possibly to Prince Henry’s further humiliation? Or did he want to nurse his anger into his growing consciousness of being a Stuart? Perhaps he would find what he was looking for at Culloden. He would go there with his Uncle Leo.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, Barnes and Noble, and

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Stuart Agenda-Review and Interview

Getting good independent reviews for a novel is important in establishing the credibility of a writer and his work. The Red Roses for Authors site has reviewed The Stuart Agenda and given it 4.5 out of 5, a pleasing bouquet.

'The intrigue in this story makes it a page turner as the reader is never completely sure which side each character is on and what will happen next, right up to the end.'

You can read the full review at
I'm also guest blogger on the British Romance Fiction loop. Visit me at the address above to see my interview on writing in general and the genesis of The Stuart Agenda in particular.
The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, and

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Caithness Castles- Caithness Courier

Last week I photographed this view of Ackergill Tower in the foreground with Sinclair Girnigoe Castle and Noss Head lighthouse behind. The picture was taken across a barley field from the road down to Reiss golf course and was published in the Caithness Courier today, in the 'Your Caithness' series.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, and

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Corr-Croft rescue required.

The Corr presents a unique memory of the crofting way of life. It is a fine example of an extended longhouse that mirrors the development of small-scale, self- sufficiency farming. It is of sufficient importance historically to merit A-listing. Vacated a few years ago by elderly owners, the main crofthouse is now in urgent need of rescue. The croft enjoys an elevated position with good views across open Caithness land to the sea and Lybster village. The property is on the market with its 158 acres at £182,000 through Georgeson's of Wick.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, Barnes and Noble, and