NEWS, RAMBLINGS AND AWARDS                               NOVEMBER 2010
                          THE SOUPSAYER'S GUIDE TO ANNOYING FOLK


Lesson 4a - 'Excuse me, I notice that the station toilet is locked. Could you please obtain a mop and bucket as I have wet myself.'

Lesson 5g - 'I'd just like to compliment you, sir, as those combined water-taps, soap-dispensers and hot-air dryers on the trains are just wonderful.'

Lesson 6t - 'Why won't this electronic ticket machine accept Scottish bank notes?'

Lesson 7r - 'Excuse me, fellow, but that notice says that the temperature in this carriage is controlled in some manner and I shouldn't try to open the window. Why, then, is it so hot in here?'

Lesson 8a - 'You there! - how come this convector fan-heater only stays on for 90 seconds whenever I push the ON button?'

Lesson 9u - 'When they hired you, did they explain that your job was solely concerned with scribbling a squiggly line on tickets?'

Lesson 10s - 'Pardon me for asking, but can you tell me where the waiting room is. All I can see on the platform is a Perspex box.'

Lesson 11w - 'I'm given to understand that you close the toilets after a certain time to prevent vandalism, and yet the station is still open. If that is correct, could you come round this side of the counter and I'll pee on your leg.'

Lesson 17f - 'So, let me get this right now.. what you're saying is that this packet of crisps and this cup of coffee is going to cost me an arm and a leg... is that correct?'
BEST SOUP IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to Brian's Cafe in Bo'ness.

BEST ALE BREWED IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to 'Seven Giraffes', a superb ale brewed by the Williams Brothers in Alloa.

BEST PUB AWARD goes to Greyfriars Bar in Perth. Go there now to find out why.

BEST THING TO SEE AWARD goes to the panoramic view from Edinburgh's Calton Hill.

BEST LITTLE WALK AWARD goes to the forest track through Mugdock Wood in Milngavie.

'Tis the time of year for wearing a big jumper, drinking strong ale, and lounging around in front of a glorious real fire in a hostelry with wizened beams. Who can fail to feel all snugly and cosy when first meeting with that old familiar jumper after so long? Winter, that cold bleak time of year, offers a whole range of memorable experiences.  It is that time of year when great pleasure may be had by doing nothing more taxing than staring into the dreamy depths of a real fire, listening to it crackle and spit, and watching it roar and fan and spark with a festive firework display. If you look back at the September News in The Good Soup Guide, you'll see we did a feature on real fires in public houses and coffee houses. Pick one out, and make an effort to go there at the first available opportunity. I can guarantee that after a few minutes all your worries will melt, all your fears will fade away, and all you will be left with is the magic of a Scottish winter.

On a different note entirely, I might say that something very strange is happening with the dates of the News 'Back Issues' below. I may be losing my marbles, but it's beginning to look like a pint glass of ale... no? This, of course, is marginally better than last month when it looked decidedly fish-like.
[Just click a month to access previous monthly News pages]



MARCH 2010
APRIL 2010

MAY 2010
JUNE 2010
JULY 2010


I have a hair in my eyebrow
That does what it thinks is best,
It grows at a jaunty angle,
So different from the rest,
I try to brush it into line,
But then up pops its head,
Sometimes it seems to smile at me,
And fill me full of dread,
I feel that it may be a scout,
Leading the way for more,
Onslaught of bushy eyebrows,
Like Dennis Healey wore.
And lo they entered a forest where the midges were huge. Such was their girth that it was at times difficult to tell whether particular trees were indeed trees or midges balancing malevolently on one hairy leg, which they were known to do to entrap walkers.
'I'll just have a wee rest here,' the walker would think as they nestled comfortably against one thick thigh.
Of course, if they were very observant they would have noticed the steelies. Trees very rarely wear steel toe-capped boots. But these monstrous midges did. This obvious flaw in their tree mimic ruse forced some midges to look for other tricks. A few gained skills with ropes, and before long three foot wide midges with steelies were leaping out of trees and landing on people's heads.
But that was long ago, in the days of sabre-toothed thingies and woolly wotsits. Nowadays, after the passing of many thousands of years, midges are just tiny things who fly around and bite walkers at will.
All, that is, except Malcolm.
Evolution seems to have passed Malcolm by. He still wears steelies, is still three foot wide, and still he leaps out of trees on a rope to attempt a landing on some poor walker's head.
The problem is, he's not very good at it. Quite often he will leap from the tree on a rope that is too short, and end up dangling well above the intended target. On other occasions his rope is too long and he falls to the ground in a bedraggled and bemused heap, a sight that is usually too much for most walkers who immediately take to their heels with cries of, 'Midges the size of cattle! Run for your lives...'
All of which makes one wonder how Malcolm's ancestral line was allowed to continue. Well, there is one good reason for that. And if you wish to know what that reason is, you will have to contact The Good Soup Guide to demand more on Malcolm.
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This month we feature HMS Duncan and its launch on the River Clyde in Glasgow in October. There was actually a large crowd at the event - thoosands an' thoosands - and not just the one lady in red. With all these destroyers' names beginning with the letter 'D', one wonders what the next one will be... HMS Dougie?
The launch of HMS Duncan on the River Clyde in Glasgow
Much discussion is currently taking place with regard to next year's award winners. If you think you make and sell the best soup in Scotland, brew the best ale, run the best pub, or know of something exceptional like a visitor attraction or country walk, then let us know. While our opinion is rarely influenced, we should perhaps say that we would welcome samples of bottled ale brewed in Scotland so that we might come to a proper opinion with regard to the very best in the land. All samples of ale should be sent to Edward Burns, Flat 69, 57 Laurel Street, Glasgow, G11 7QU. Please email to give notice of delivery.
If you can guess where in Scotland this nice lamppost is located, then email The Good Soup Guide. The first correct answer to be pulled out of the pint stoup will receive kind thoughts.
In this age of efficiency and targets, it’s very hard to imagine a time when railway station staff tended real coal fires in the waiting rooms of the travelling public.
Once upon a time you could have warmed your toes at the hearth while those at your beck and call bustled in the background making sure that every aspect of your journey was as pleasant as possible.
Nowadays there aren’t enough railway workers for bustling to take place to any great degree. And no real fires in waiting rooms.
I am reminded of this daily as I wait in the hovel tucked under the stairs on Platform Two of Stirling Railway Station. It is a cold harsh little room. Its one source of heat – a tiny convector heater – hangs from the ceiling and dispenses one-and-a-half minutes worth for each push of a button. Generally it is around the tenth episode of getting up off the icy metal seat to switch the thing back on that you realise you are in fact quite warm already.
This discontent is not a new thing.
Back in 1912 the citizens of this Gateway to the Highlands were becoming just a tad tired of sheltering ‘in the lee of the bookstall’ while wintry weather whooshed around them. They got themselves together, held meetings, and produced a pamphlet titled, Stirling’s Inadequate Railway Station.
‘The condition of Stirling’s Railway Station,’ it says, ‘has been a vexed question with the community and the travelling public for many long years.’
It is in this very lee of the old John Menzies bookstall that I also shelter. If the adjacent waiting room is open, I may take my frosty body inside and practise my aerobics with the fan-heater switch.
If I look at this room in which I find myself I see all kinds of things. I see wood panels that look quite old, and on their white-painted surface there are marks where shelving or counters were once placed right up against them. I see the curvature of the window area that looks out onto the platform. If I get up off my freezing seat and look real hard, I see that some of the glass windows are more recent replacements. I know this because the replacements are flat glass, while the originals bear a gentle curve that matches the curve of the structure. You wouldn’t notice it unless you really looked. Attention to detail is a trait that we have strangely left behind. 
If I wander outside and look up at the curving blue-painted panel above the windows I see ghosts of long-gone letters; there is a ‘Y’, an ‘E’ and other typographical remnants. I stand and stare while the past reveals itself. It was once an Enquiry Office. The same lost letters can be found above the door on the other side of the small structure. Right in this very place travellers would have spoken to smartly-dressed employees and been given information on which steam train would be leaving from which tidy platform. And all without the benefit of a sheet of toughened glass.
Sometimes I wait on Platform Three. From here I can get a better view of the exterior of the tiny structure on Platform Two. The curve that faces out onto the platform matches the curve of the adjacent old John Menzies shop (now WH Smith) whose shutters now sit firmly shut, its interior brought up to date with plastic and easy-to-clean surfaces.
If I move further along Platform Three, away from the Menzies echo on this platform, I see a rectangular window with a ledge. What once happened here, I wonder. Then I shift position and the low winter sun illuminates vague letters above the window. I can make out the words ‘CIGARS’ and ‘TOBACCOS’. I stand at the window and touch the small protruding wooden counter. It is worn smooth by the hands of many smokers. How many men, and women, have stood at this very spot and asked for some of the best black or shag to fill their pouch and pipe. Sigh, it’s changed days indeed. No tobacco stall, and no smoking even if there was.
One Saturday I thought to do some research into the station. In Stirling’s fine library I leafed through books and was suddenly looking at a picture of the rounded shelter on Platform 2. It was a picture taken sometime after the station was improved in 1916, and before it became an Enquiry Office. To my utter astonishment I saw the wording, ‘Campbell Ltd,’ above the curved frontage, and below was the open window of a grocer’s with boxes of produce spilling out on a shelf. I could never have imagined that my sorry shelter was once such a grand retail establishment.
You can witness the same backward progress at most railway stations in the country. At Perth, for example, wind whistles through its wonderful Victorian expanse while passengers huddle in Perspex boxes plonked on the platform. The once-used fireplaces are hidden in locked and dusty rooms full of character. At Bridge of Allan the sturdy old station is now a house, and passengers shelter from the elements in plastic monstrosities that don’t even have a proper seat. At Edinburgh’s Waverley, the magnificent wooden ticket-office that once sat under the glass dome has been replaced by a coffee-house. You can see how it used to look in a photo at the Bo’ness Railway Museum. It wasn’t a ticket-office. It was a palace. I could go on.
Every day I am reminded of our railway’s disrespect for the past as I hand over my ticket to the inspector on the train. In the good old days he would have popped a nicely-shaped hole in it with a metal punch. You knew your ticket had been checked. Now they mark it with a pen in a manner that suggests they are not so much examining your ticket as making sure their pen still works. Which is entirely understandable. Because you need some heat for ink to flow freely, and at times the carriages are cold. Like my little shelter under the stairs.

This article was written in 2008. I'm sure Stirling railway station, and other stations around the country, have improved immeasurably since then. Or have they? Tell us your story at