The Need For Consistency In The Sourdough Bread Baking Community

My son started secondary school last week. His previous school was about a ten minute walk from our house and we used to walk up together and then walk back in the afternoon. Now he gets a taxi to his new school each day which picks him up outside the house. Whilst this does mean I don’t need to be ready and dressed when he has to go anymore it does mean I can go the whole day without leaving the house. This is not a good thing.

I had planned to do a bit of writing today. Firstly I had a few finishing touches to do to a games review for Orange Bison, a website I have occasional contributions to. Once that was done it would be more on the book. Sitting down to write at 8:30am though, once my son had left, would mean I’d be indoors all day again. I felt I needed a walk out first.

Anybody who thinks the last few entries in this blog have lacked photos is in for a treat right now.

I was on a mission for spelt flour. Hang with me here because I have my reasons. For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to homebake a decent sourdough loaf. I have my starter bubbling away in a jar underneath the stairs and it’s fed each evening (mostly). My first attempt at such a thing resulted using 100g of starter, 394g of white flour (I know, I was following an online recipe) and 8g of salt (yikes!) resulted in something which was flat but actually did taste like sourdough once you got past the salty after taste,

Upping the starter amount to 250g and the flour to 400g (because rounding up is good) yet reducing the salt to 5g meant it rose a certain amount but tasted really bland.

Various recipes online give wildly different instructions.

So I thought maybe adding spelt flour would give it something else at least, mixing it 50/50 with the white flour. The weather was good so I walked to the local shopping centre because there’s a health food shop there. I wasn’t sure if they’d have it but amongst the protein powders and energy bars but I did manage to strike gold.

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Today will mark the third attempt. These are the things I do when not writing.

Whilst I was at the shopping centre I decided to get a cup of coffee and a cake at 11am because I don’t often get the chance to do this without it being my lunch hour or something.

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With great foresight I managed to remember to bring a book along with me to read as well. I’m currently a good part of the way through Jim Smallman‘s ‘I’m Sorry, I Love You’ which is a history of professional wrestling. It’s a really good read, well researched yet still accessible. Wrestling fans will understand the title, anybody not in the know will think it’s a bit odd. There was a woman who was on the table opposite me who seemed to be trying to work out, from the picture of a bare chested man on the front, which Mills and Boon novel I was reading.

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Then I walked back home past the town shops up the road from my house. I bought a loaf of bread and some steak pie. I got home to realise that I forgot to buy breakfast cereal for tomorrow morning.

Also once I got back home this year’s version of Pro Evolution Soccer is waiting on the doormat. Every year I tell myself I should just not bother with spending money on the latest edition because it’s just a little bit of an improvement. Then they announced that the Scottish Premier League was officially in the 2019 version.

I’m such a sucker.

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All this took me up to noon when I got started with writing. I’m actually doing quite well with it so I’m glad I trooped out for a jaunt this morning. If I’d have stayed in then I would certainly have got underway earlier but it would have been a bit stop and start as I was trying to find the groove.

A View With The Buzz

I was walking back from my parent’s house today which involves a journey through the train station. As I approached the entrance I turned to see a new addition to the surroundings which made me stop, put down the bag I was carrying and take a photo.

Gretna Bench

 

A bench, placed there heck knows when. I walked around it, doing a complete 360 as I looked for a small metal sign to say it was placed there in the memory of somebody who just happened to like trains. There was nothing, it is blank.

It is surrounded by bare land, the grass does not reach it as it is directly under the huge footbridge they had to install when they upgraded the station from one platform to two about five years ago. This is, quite literally, the place the sun don’t shine. That box next to it is an electrical substation which emits a buzzing noise at a fairly continuous rate, possibly at a pitch to ruin the hearing of nearby teenagers and dogs. Beyond the train line behind the bench is a dual carriageway which is the start of the road towards Dumfries. Sitting on the bench will give you a brilliant view of the car park and the hedges beyond filled with bottles and crisp packets.

This is how we do stopping to enjoy your surroundings here in Scotland

Built On War

Gretna is a small town built on war. It does sound a bit dramatic but the town was mainly built to house munitions workers for the nearby ammunition factory during the war. As such it’s pretty self contained for a town with it’s own doctor’s surgery, bank, grocery shop, bakers and butchers. It also had a bingo hall back in the day to entertain although it’s not much now. Whilst I was born in Dumfries, I grew up here. Gretna does have a very strange thing as far as national identity goes as a result of being so close to the border between Scotland and England. There’s not really such a thing as ‘a Gretna accent’ as some families have English connections and some Scottish. Further down the road in Eastriggs and Annan you’ll get the defined Scottish lilt but not so much here.

But anyway, I’m not here to talk about ammo or weddings. I wanted to give you a short tour of the places around here that are kind of important to me.

Gretna Hall Hotel

Gretna Hall Hotel stands on top of the hill just around the corner from my parent’s house which was handy because it’s the hotel my Dad managed from before my birth to 2006. As such I spent vast amounts of time in my youth wandering the corridors. It’s an old building, the original part dates to 1710, and when I was young it seemed like the corridors went on forever even though it’s a fairly small hotel in comparison to others. Gretna has a history of runaway marriages as a result of Scottish law allowing younger couples to marry without their parent’s consent. Often young couple’s were chased across the border by the bride’s father who would turn up a few hours later. As a result Gretna Hall has a secret room which young couples would hide in whilst Father searched what he thought was the entire building. It’s probably not an ultra secret but I’m not about to tell anybody where it is. There were also plenty of other nooks and crannies in the building and it was brilliant as a kid to walk down one corridor, vanish and then appear somewhere else in the building that seemed impossible to access. If it all sounds like a Scooby Doo haunted mansion, that’s because it was.

In the late 80’s to the mid 90’s (pretty much as far as I can remember) the hotel always used to close down for winter as the tourists simply weren’t there. Every November the place would close down and remain perfectly still until the following March. My Dad still took a daily walk around the place to make sure that everything was okay but it was cold and dark minus the heating and electricity. Its the reason why The Outlook Hotel in The Shining seems quite homely to me.

Gretna Old Parish Church

Across the road from the hotel is Gretna Old Parish and I’ve included it here for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the location of my ill fated trips to Sunday School when I was younger. My Mother insisted on sending my sister and I out to Sunday School every weekend. It was after my fourth or fifth visit that I returned home and told her that I wasn’t going back ‘because that God guy they always talk about doesn’t seem to bother either’. I did not return.

Secondly, the graveyard at the back holds a bizarre local kid’s fable. It was said that if the moonlight shone through the bell tower towards a tree at the back on the cemetery then the devil would appear in the branches. I never saw it myself.

Gretna Green Train Station

Yes I know it’s a train station and most places have something like this but, when it opened in 1993, it became quite normal for me to go through to our nearest city of Carlisle each Saturday morning without having to learn to drive first. There also the strange fact that the lighting they put in when it was first build used to sway in the wind with the kind of jangle sound as if they were windchimes. It’s a sound I always found relaxing.

The Gretna Gateway Outlet

Now I cannot confirm this in any way but I’m pretty sure I was the first person sacked from this building. Back in the 90’s it was just a field opposite the last garage you could fill up your car in before you hit England, then they decided they were going to build a shopping centre on it. It was an idea which seemed stupid at the time, a shopping centre next to a small town like Gretna, but it’s pretty much become part of the fabric now and it’s actually really nice to be able to take a walk and get a decent cup of coffee. People seem to travel from Glasgow every bank holiday to shop here as the place will be packed.

It was 1999 and I had just left school with zero of a clue what I was going to do with myself. I seriously didn’t want to go to university or college just yet and I was firmly sick of the education system at that time and was very much of the opinion that I didn’t want to leap back into it just now. I ended up getting a job in one of the new shops setting up in The Gateway. At that time we were just setting up so I went down on the Monday and worked a full day setting up displays and cleaning. Whilst I was working on the Tuesday I felt a little bit ill and off colour. By Wednesday I had a full force stomach bug forcing me to stay in bed. Due to the fact the phone line hadn’t been installed in the shop yet my Mum drove down the road to inform them that I was ill and couldn’t make it. The same thing occurred on the Thursday.

By Friday I thought it was high time I went back in but, upon being in the door ten minutes that morning, I was taken to one side and told I wasn’t a ‘team player’ and that I was going to be let go. I turned and walked out without really saying anything else. It was on the way back to my parent’s house I had a moment of clarity, as if fate had decided it wasn’t quite the right path to go down for now. I got changed into my suit when I got back home, caught the train through to the local job centre and then ended up getting an extras part on ‘A Shot At Glory’ when it was filming in Dumfries that summer. I also applied for art college which set me up for the next five years.

Essentially though I was fired before the centre had even opened which surely means I was first right?

It’s a small place so not much else to show, I’ll leave you though with one of the older pieces of grafitti from the tunnel which leads under the train station towards the town. It’s probably the first thing somebody coming over the border off the train would see.

Thanks for coming.

Libraries Gave Us Power

Gretna, for those who don’t know, is quite famous for weddings. Being the first town over the border when going from England to Scotland meant that many young couples took advantage of Scotland’s more relaxed marriage laws many hundreds of years ago. Despite the law being repealed many moons ago the tradition has continued. Hence, in my home town, it’s not unusual to walk down the street for milk and the newspaper and see a newly married couple. When they set about getting the builders in a few months ago to extend the registration office it looked like the wedding business needed more room. Then I heard it was to rehouse the local library.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t visited Gretna Library since I was very young. We had got our son a library card for Carlisle City Library, eight miles away and over the border into England but for some reason we’d never got anything for the library just up the road from our house and on the way to school and back. Maybe it was because it was part of the community centre with limited opening hours, maybe it was also because it was an old, dusty place.

The new place opened about a month or two ago, it’s actually doubling as a county council centre as well which was housed in another aged building up the road. I checked the opening times expecting it to be the same as the last library, open for about four hours every other day with a one hour lunch closure. In these times of council cuts it seemed only logical it would be the case. To my surprise, the library now has extended opening hours and is open until 7pm some evenings. After picking up my son from school on Friday we finally went to check the place out.

It’s a brilliant place, quite small but then it’s serving a small town not a large city. A really good selection of material as well. We were there for about an hour and fifteen minutes before we realised it and now Kyle and myself both have library cards. Upon arriving back home I remembered that it’s been ages since I had a library card for anywhere as the last time was probably whilst I was at art college for the campus library (itself now closed due to cut backs ironically enough). It feels really good to have a much improved facility as this within walking distance.