Storybook Glen, Maryculter

I've written up a recent trip to Storybook Glen for Nothing To See Here. Situated just outside Aberdeen, it's a fairytale garden, which is a common enough concept worldwide but rare in Scotland (and the rest of the UK). On one level, it's a brilliant day out. Serious good fun, we all loved it. On another it's a shrine to folk art, or naive art or whatever. I never know where the lines are drawn when it comes to all that. Check out the Storybook Glen Flickr set for more details or visit if you can. It's well worth it.

Cumbernauld - the vision

Good and bad news for Cumbernauld this week. The bad first - it's up for its third Carbuncle. These are the raspberries given out by Architecture Scotland for the worst buildings, with a special "Plook on a Plinth" category for worst town. The idea is to "provoke debate about the poor quality of development in many of Scotland’s towns and cities" but it still seems a bit mean.

On the other hand this view of Cumbernauld how it was meant to be is one of the top 10 Treasured Places in Scotland. This competition run by the RCAHMS (Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) asked people to nominate their favourite picture from the RCAHMS archives. The 100 nominees are an interesting cross-section of the ordinary and extraordinary: The Dollan Baths in East Kilbride, The Italian Chapel in Orkney, Edinburgh prefabs and the Aluminium works in Kinlochleven all got a mention. I spent a while trawling through the site, reading why people love certain places. There are some great buildings in the top 10 - voting is open until 10 December.

James Bond Pan paperbacks

Hot on the heels of those fab Beatles stamps, James Bond is next to be commemorated by the postal service (thanks Lucy). The stamps out in January 2008 show 4 different editions of 6 Bond novels. It's a tribute to James Bond and classic book cover design rolled into one. Although they're all mighty fine I have a fondness for the Pan paperbacks - classy and schlocky at the same time. Biorhythm who took the picture above links to the extensive Pan Paperbacks Collectors website which has lots of cover galleries and a brilliant interview with two of the cover artists Sam "Peff" Peffer and Pat Owen. Good to know that they always read the books before designing the covers.

Glasgow Craft Mafia

Glasgow Craft Mafia, a collective of groovy crafty types is getting off the ground this week with a launch party at Home in Albion Street, followed by some markets over the next couple of months. Check out the members to see what's in store. It's an ideal place to start your Christmas shopping.

A deep fried Mars bar

Up north we visited Stonehaven, a nice old seaside town south of Aberdeen. The Carron (formerly The Haven) chippie there claims to be the home of the deep-fried Mars Bar. As it's the first time I've seen one on a menu I had to try one. It's a curious thing, an example of whatever the modern equivalent of tartanry is - something that represents Scotland worldwide but isn't very common when you live here. Londoners recently voted it the 6th best Scottish invention while Scots didn't include it in their top 10 at all.

So, what was it like? Well, it was very well made for a start. The batter was beautifully light and crispy and sealed the chocolate so none of it oozed out. Initially, a very tidy snack. The first bite was magical - a lovely mix of savoury and sweet. The crunch of the batter contrasted nicely with the gooey filling. The Mars bar doesn't melt but the caramel and the Milky Way-style fluffy stuff (technical term?) melt together and go all marshmallowy. Overall, it was surprisingly nice but after a couple of bites I'd had enough. I wouldn't eat a normal Mars bar really, so it's no reflection on its deep fried friend.

The wikipedia entry on Deep fried Mars bars is pretty detailed and outlines local variations like the deep fried Creme Egg from Duns (they've taken that too far). It also says, in a very deadpan way "It is known that the deep-fried Mars Bar was preceded by the deep-fried pizza. It was common practice in Angus to deep fry frozen pizza from as early as 1980." - now deep fried pizza really was a real part of growing up. I remember it being a real treat although when I tried one recently I couldn't handle it. Posting the Mars bar photo on Flickr prompted a discussion of the best thing you've ever had deep fried. My friend John (from Aberdeen) grew up on deep fried jam butties. Something I remember fondly is the cheese sandwiches deep fried in pakora batter from (the now defunct) Murphy's Pakora Bar. They were outstanding. Fried ice cream is big in Mexico. Any advances on that?

Update: Simon James points out a clip of Raymond Blanc trying a deep fried Mars bar on BBC2's The Restaurant. He couldn't eat a whole one either.

Anyone know where the bandshell in the show was? Found it: Corlears Hook Park. The walking tour sounded good... I wish I could go back to New York. Here's the clip of them singing If You're Into It at The Unisphere.

An ABC of endangered species in the British Isles

Here's a lovely thing. An ABC of endangered species in the British Isles arranged in a very beautiful A2 wallchart. This is the handiwork of Present & Correct, a design company from Kentish Town. £1 for every one sold goes to The National Trust, for new hedges and dormice boxes.

Here's a curious thing. Look at this picture (via Coudal) and see which way the dancer is rotating. Clockwise means you're right brain dominated (feeling, "big picture", imagination), anti-clockwise is left brain (logic, detail, facts). I clearly see the dancer spinning clockwise so I'm more right-brained, which probably figures as I'm left-handed. I'd be very interested to know if I like's readership is particularly right-brained or left-brained. What do you see?

Update [Saturday morning]: It's split about 50:50 between clockwise and anti-clockwise with lots of people seeing her change direction. Even though people have explained how to do that I still can't see her going anything but clockwise. Lots of right-handed see her clockwise although no lefties owned up to seeing her anti-clockwise. ManxStef pointed it out on Boing Boing where there are other explanations, and suggestions that it's a straight optical illusion. Maybe so. I never could get those Magic Eye pictures either.

This is a short taster film for a series on anti-tourism by Daniel Kalder. I read, and loved his book The Lost Cosmonaut which is a sort of alternative travel book. It's based on the belief that "As the world has become smaller so its wonders have diminished. There is nothing amazing about the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids of Egypt. They are as banal as the face of a Cornflakes packet". I agree with that. Not that they're not amazing, but they're too familiar to be really remarkable, whereas some places are so mundane people actually stop noticing them to the point that they can come into view again in a surprising way. This is certainly what Nothing To See Here is all about.

Daniel Kalder was born in Fife but lives and works in Russia so most of his exploring is around the spectacular bleakness of the Soviet Union. There are some interesting snippets in the film, like Peter the Great's Kunstkammer which houses his collection of mutants. It would make a great series so here's hoping someone picks it up.

East Kilbride town centre

East Kilbride, Scotland's first new town, is 60 years old this month. To celebrate South Lanarkshire Council are putting 4 films about its development online (follow the SLTV link, then the Highlights tab). The first, Town for Tomorrow is a belter - a promo from 1954 which shows the values that it was built on. It underlines the optimism and innovation that went into it - the Development Corporation were trying to improve the way people lived and came up with a number of sensible, considerate ideas that still seem to be working 60 years on - lots of green space around houses and flats; 4 main housing areas equidistant from the town centre; different types of housing for couple/families/older people; schools and smaller shopping centres within each district. That's just for starters. It often seems like new towns have been written off as failures en masse but there's a lot to celebrate here.

For the last 3 years my daily routine has been going through it on a bus twice a day and as I start a new job this week this is one thing I'll reallly miss. There's something very ambient about the whole set-up that makes floating through it on the top deck a good way to clear the head and start the day - clean lines; lots of light and space; muted colours; roundabouts; a mixture of standard housing stock (the models for houses, flats and cottages are more or less consistent throughout the whole town) broken up by more innovative buildings like the funky modernist churches. It's familiar but different at the same time, and whatever it is that some people find soulless is soulful to me. Happy birthday EK.

More info:

Recommended reading