I play a silly game of characterizing cities as things. Here’s how it goes: If London were a holiday, which one would it be? My answer — no doubt influenced by Charles Dickens — is Christmas. Paris is New Year’s, because I’ve spent a few memorable ones there, feasting, drinking bubbly, and giving cheek kisses.
Halloween? New Orleans, with its haunted French Quarter houses, voodoo and vampire lore, is my pick. But Edinburgh can give The Big Easy a run for its money.
In fact, Edinburgh has just been named one of the top three creepiest cities in the United Kingdom by Skiddle, an events discovery platform, based on the combined number of reported hauntings and Halloween-themed events. According to Skiddle, bookings of ghost tours are way up in London and Brighton, which take the top two places in its survey, and Edinburgh.
A terror tour favorite in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirkyard, a church cemetery established in the mid-16th century, is a one-stop shop of horrors, replete with ghosts, ghouls, and bodysnatching.
I would’ve thought that the British tourists would’ve been spooked enough by the economic ghosts of 1979 — a stagnant economy, surging inflation, and waves of industrial unrest, trounced by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s free-market policies in the following years.
Prime Minister Liz Truss, who resigned amid the all the Tory turmoil, was no ghostbuster.
Yes! We Have No Newspapers
There is a newsagent on Princes Street, near the Apex Waterloo Place Hotel. Above the door, hangs a sign for The Scotsman,” the Edinburgh daily, flanked by two smaller signs for other city newspapers: The Evening News, and the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.
My husband and I stopped in to buy some newspapers, keen to read the coverage of the Scottish National Party Conference. But we found none there.
Yes, they had Fyffes bananas, and the shelves were stacked nearly to the ceiling with boxes of “sweet biscuits” and shortbread, especially the shiny red tartan boxes of Walkers Shortbread, advertised on the shelf as “Walkers Pure Butter Luxury Shortbread Top Quality All Size Box 3.99 p.”
I walked up to the cashier, a young man of South Asian origin, and asked if he sold newspapers. He said he gave up selling them because he didn’t want to deal with the “all the paperwork and returns for a few pence on a sale.”
Anyway, he adamantly said, “Nobody ever needs to read newspapers. They have nothing in them, only opinions.”
Surely, I said, there’s a newsagent in the vicinity that sells newspapers. Somewhat grudgingly, he told me to go to the WHSmith shop in the train station.
I left the no-news newsagent and walked to the station. I bought 15 pounds worth of newspapers at the WHSmith because I’m a big-spending nobody.
Sir Jim, ‘The Bonnie Baker’
In read in The Herald that Walkers Shortbread’s profits had more than doubled to 62 million pounds sterling this year, boosted by strong demand in key markets.
In the late 1980s, when I was the editor of a global food industry paper, I interviewed Jim Walker, head of the family-owned baking company, which was founded by Joseph Walker in 1898. In my story about Walkers, I dubbed him “The Bonnie Baker.” He is now Sir Jim, having received his knighthood in the late Queen’s Birthday Honors earlier this year.
Walker told The Herald that it had been “a very, very difficult couple of years” due to COVID and supply problems. “Butter has virtually doubled, and the price of flour has gone up as well,” he said.
Butter was a problem for Walkers in the late 1980s, but for quite a different reason.
In the U.S. cookies market, where Walkers wanted more penetration, it was a bad time for butter. Spurred by food activists, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, consumers were demanding that cookie manufacturers eliminate highly-saturated fats, from butter to palm oil, in their products.
On a visit to the company’s headquarters in Abelour, in the Highlands, during that saturated fat-cutting time, I offered Walker this advice: Find a healthy butter substitute.
“No, we can’t,” he said firmly. “Butter is one of four shortbread ingredients.”
I offered him another pat of advice: Extend the brand’s product line with chocolate chip shortbread.
This was probably already in the works, but I’d like to think that I was responsible for Walkers adding another ingredient — and going on to become the largest British exporter of shortbread and cookies to the U.S. market.
Buchanan Fish Fight
The Buchanan clan has its first new chief in over 340 years.
“The last Buchanan chief, John Buchanan, died in 1681 without a male heir. Identifying the new chief required decades of genealogical research conducted by renowned genealogist, the late Hugh Peskett,” according to History Scotland, a Scottish heritage website.
John Michael Ballie-Hamilton Buchanan was inaugurated Oct. 8 in a ceremony in Cambusmore, Callander, the modern seat of Clan Buchanan and the chief’s ancestral home. International representatives of the clan’s diaspora – from North America (count conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan) to New Zealand — celebrated alongside the chiefs and other representatives of 10 ancient Scottish clans, History Scotland reported.
“Speaking before the inauguration, Lady Buchanan, said they expected many neighboring clans to attend – despite, in some cases, a long history of rancor,” The Daily Telegraph’s Olivia Rudgard wrote.
“ ‘Spats’ involving the Buchanan clan include a 15th century feud with Clan MacLaren, apparently started at a fair when a Buchanan man slapped a member of the MacLaren clan with a salmon and knocked his hat off his head.
“It ended in a bloody skirmish which killed, among others, one of the sons of the MacLaren chief,” she wrote.
With apologies to Robert Burns, a Scot’s a Scot, for a’ that — and Scotland is a bonnie place to visit.