Edinburgh, Claymore and the 69 position

Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh beckons. On 2 August it is the location of Claymore, the annual wargames show run by the South East Scotland Wargames Club. How much longer the show is held there is in question owing to plans to demolish and redevelop the stadium, but that’s a story for another entry.

I like Claymore. Scottish wargamers seem very friendly and always pleased that someone from as far south as I am makes it up each year. I usually travel by train, which is convenient because after the short link service from the ferry at Lymington Pier to Brockenhurst, in the New Forest, I can stay on one train all the way to Edinburgh Waverley. No changes, no hassle: the worst part is hefting two bags full of lead soldiers over the footbridge at Brockenhurst on the outward journey.

Since the change of franchise, however, the train journey is not as convenient. Virgin used to run the cross-country service all the way, and there used to be more choice of trains with only the one change at Brockenhurst. Now Cross Country holds the franchise from Bournemouth to Birmingham, plus the slow east coast route from Birmingham to Edinburgh, and the choice for travellers like me has got worse. I liked the Virgin service. I could choose to go via either the fast west coast route which is an hour faster than the east coast route Рthe west coast route passes through the striking scenery around the Lakes and Carlisle Рor pick the leisurely east coast route that has the awesome coastal views in southern Scotland.

And I could make feeble jokes about taking a Virgin all the way to Edinburgh and back.

I used the Cross Country service to travel to Edinburgh in May, and thought it slow and inconvenient, because I had to travel later on the way up, and earlier on the way home to minimize the changes. It has made me think about how I attend Scottish wargames shows.

Still, no such worries for Claymore. Mike, one of two friends from school with whom I am still in touch, and the owner of Black Hat Miniatures, has a stand at Claymore this year and because he can drive (I can’t) is taking a Transit up. I am tagging along in my usual role as navigator and loader/unloader, and to remind Mike to take breaks. It’s a real bonus because I can take a huge amount of stock to the show, and while I recoil at the thought of the cost of diesel for the trip, that’s offset against the 40 quid of taxi fares and a train fare of around 130 quid that I’d be looking at to do the show the way I usually do.

The real bonus of the Scottish shows is that I get to see friends Adrian and Noelle, who fortunately moved to Edinburgh some years ago and provide a comfortable base in Morningside. While I mourn their moving from Southall, west London, because it deprives me of the fantastic vegetarian curries available there, their Edinburgh base is even better. This is particularly so for Claymore as it coincides with the first week of the Edinburgh Festival, and Edinburgh simply buzzes.

So how do we get to the 69 position? It’s simply because with the arrival of Mike and myself in Edinburgh, the old Hoobie Quiche (the mythical hobby clique) of the 1980s roleplaying fan scene reaches pretty well the most critical of critical masses as the city is littered with the ageing shambling mounds that were once pert and trim roleplaying geeks. OK, pert, trim and spotty. We’ve all got older, greyer, married or gayer.

The 69-meet, a gathering of beer-swilling pert, trim and ¬†– well, you get the picture – used to take place at the Sun in Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, a pub that used to boast it had 69 real ales on its list. The pub transformed, tragically, into an Irish theme pub; no-one has been back: the meet has moved on. The 69-meet was probably, definitely, not instigated by the young handsome and bouncing Trevor Mendham; I honestly can’t remember anything straight in this regard, except that Trevor will deny everything, and that Trevor hates real ale and only drinks lager. The choice of The Sun was always a perverse one for him as it served probably the worst lagers in the world.

And so the 69-meet resurfaces. Saturday 2 August is the date (same day as Claymore), the time is 8.30pm-ish, and the venue is The Morningside Glory in Edinburgh. It may move possibly to The Waiting Room, because one thing I have learned is that Scottish draught beer is in general vile, with all the appeal of iron filings dissolved in rat’s piss, and thus going to one Scottish pub only leads to a rapid move to another in the hope of finding something drinkable. Watch out for fat grey-haired buggers talking about elves, trolls and the state of the games industry: they are not the Hoobie Quiche.

Tomato-free for one month

Since the realization after the IW Festival that tomatoes are probably doing me no good, I haven’t touched them. It has been hard, as tomato-based sauces feature highly in my preferred Italian and Indian recipes, but the results have been striking. The cracked skin on my palms has healed over, and while still not soft and lovely (eczematic skin never seems to heal neatly), it’s so much better than it was a month ago that I really feel quite chipper. I still owe my relief to Glaxo for producing Betnovate and to Steifel for Oilatum Cream, but I have hopes that I can cut down on the former, because it’s the steroid that one step away from the ultimate and final step of Dermovate (there is nothing stronger).

So how have I coped food-wise? Well pesto (I make it without parmesan) or roasted peppers have taken the place of tomatoes as a base sauce for pasta or pizzas. I’m still suspicious of peppers, but excluding them would mean abandoning the fiery sensation of chilli for ever. As this year I’m growing my own habanero, jalapeno and Scotch bonnet chillis, an allergy to peppers would make my greenhouse redundant. And while I can go tomato-free and dairy-free, chilli-free might be a step too far.

“She who is worshipped” bought home lamb mince, hoping for the delicate minced lamb curry that we like so much. I turned it into sheek kebabs, flavoured with ginger, green garlic, fresh and ground coriander and cumin, and cooked on a steel skewer over a barbecue. No tomatoes were harmed in the making of this dish.

I still have to work round other dishes. A tomato-free and dairy-free lasagne may be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it. And I suspect Chinese and Thai dishes may start to predominate in the kitchen – but that will be no loss.

True Friendship

My sister in law Frances has polycystic kidneys. Her best friend Hilary, who lives in Australia, last week flew the 10,000 or so miles to the UK to donate one of her kidneys. Both are currently in hospital recovering from the operation, which took place during National Transplant Week.

The story made the front page of the Western Daily Press (www.thisisbristol.co.uk – link updated 20 July), and you can read it in full online. It is a truly heart-warming story and, unless you are a steel-hearted monster, may have you reaching for a box of tissues.

I was struck by Hilary’s unselfish nobility of action, and by the strength of support of her own family, who I met at the weekend. It’s a tale, I’m sure, that gives us all cause to reflect on the value of true friendship, and on what we would do for our own friends.

I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato

I suffer from eczema and have done so from birth. It has never been that bad except as a baby, and from youth to the late 40s has been a patchy condition that affects different parts of me seemingly at random. I have never been able to identify the cause, and as a result have been on various, increasingly potent steroidal creams for as long as I can remember.

Despite the misery eczema causes, I always thought myself lucky. Schoolfriend Simon Longprice, with whom I fondly remember playing rudimentary board wargames such as Tri-tactics and Dover Patrol, was covered in eczema, and his daily life must have been dire. Unfortunately, as a child who moved around depending on my father’s job, I lost contact with Simon long ago; I sincerely hope he has done better than me in coping with this skin condition.

The root of my eczema has to be an allergy, and I’ve spent a good many years trying to identify potential sources. In the process I’ve discovered an intolerance of dairy produce, and a switch to a largely non-dairy diet has helped in some ways – but not with the eczema. I love cheese, but cutting it out and switching to soya milk has stopped then outbreak of spots that continued well past adolescence, and the unwelcome farting that I always associated with Indian food and lentils, but seems more linked to yoghurt as a cooking sauce. Funnily enough, I can eat cheese as long as it is cooked in a fondue; somehow heat and wine must break down whatever it is in cheese that makes it indigestible. Unfortunately, drinking wine and eating uncooked cheese does not work.

The IW Festival this year put me on another trail for food allergies. My hands actually got better after the festival and during the following week. Looking back at what I ate, I realized the one vegetable I didn’t eat in anything like my usual quantities was tomato – there must have been one slice in one of the burgers, and that’s it. I’d also avoided orange juice, because I’d been on more exotic smoothies instead for the weekend’s healthy fruit intake.

I had a word with my mum. I talk pretty well every week to keep in touch, making up for years of not being in touch other than to say I was coming home from digs with my laundry. I asked if she’d had any cravings while pregnant, and the answer was sort of what I’d expected: tomatoes and oranges. A doctor friend with a nut allergy had a mother who ate nuts excessively during pregnancy, and it made me wonder whether there is any connection with allergies and pre-natal diet. No doubt some scientific study has already looked into this.

So since the festival I’ve been avoiding tomatoes and oranges. There has been an improvement, and the eczema is becoming manageable with just emollients. This isn’t proof, as I may have overlooked something else that changed, but what I have to do is work out whether any other member of the family Solanaceae – which includes the potato, capsicums and the aubergine – is also responsible. So far the potato seems innocent as this year’s crop of new potatoes in the garden has as usual proved delicious and seems to have had no ill effects.

My long-suffering friends, however, will probably despair of me. My favourite salad – tomato and mozzarella – is doubly out of my diet. And it looks bleak for spaghetti bolognese, lasagne and pizza. Though I have been experimenting with pizza substitutes using a thin covering of pesto as a base sauce with some success.

The thought of linking pre-natal diet with childhood dietary problems comes during the same week that scientists have discovered, in a study on rats, that mothers who eat junk food pass on a preference for junk food and a tendency to obesity in their young. They naturally pointed to the need to eat fruit and vegetables to counter this tendency: what they should have advised was to eat a balanced diet to avoid an imbalance of any one foodstuff – not necessarily junk food – affecting the next generation.