Stikkordarkiv: Scotland

Whisky Blues av Per Erik Tell og Börje Berglund

whisky_bluesDet er to år siden jeg leste Whisky Blues av Per Erik Tell og Börje Berglund, og jeg skulle selvsagt ha skrevet om den før, men jeg utsatte det fordi jeg ville bruke tid på å skrive en skikkelig tekst, og nå har det vel strengt tatt gått for lang tid for det. Nåja, jeg husker sånn nogenlunde både handling og hva jeg likte og ikke likte ved boka, så helt i blinde jobber jeg vel ikke nå heller.

Boka ble til ved et samarbeid mellom whiskyentusiasten Börje Berglund og forfatteren Per Erik Tell. «Krim i whiskymiljø?» tenkte jeg, «Det høres jo lovende ut.» Historien foregår i flere tidsperioder, nåtid, 1980-tallet en gang og en episode i 1692. I nåtid skal et fat med «verdens beste whisky» – Cask 1692 – selges på auksjon, mange vil ha kloa i det, og vinnerne er et hemmelig konsortium som har som formål å bevare skotsk whisky skotsk. Men når fatet skal åpnes for første prøvesmak oppdager man et problem, det inneholder nemlig et lik. Dette ønsker naturlig nok hverken selger eller kjøper noe oppstuss om, og det hyres derfor inn en privat etterforsker, Angie Connors, fra London.

Parallelt fortelles historien fra 80-tallet der den litt enfoldige Oliver Campbell ankommer Pitlochry for å jobbe som postbud. Han befinner seg raskt midt i et sammensurium av kjærlighetsintriger og slektsfeider, og sliter i i tillegg med en onkel som har trukket i tråder for å skaffe ham jobben fordi han vil ha en gjentjeneste: Finn ut hva MacMillan Whisky Distillery egentlig driver med når de sier de skal produsere verdens beste whisky. Med andre ord: Stjel oppskriften.

Kriminalhistorien er egentlig helt grei. Intrigene er sånn passe innviklede, noen av skurkene er riktig så usympatiske, andre roter seg borti mer enn de er klar for. Angie Connors er en flott heltinne, jeg skulle gjerne sett mer til henne. Oliver Campbells amorøse eventyr i Pitlochry sliter jeg litt mer med, men er villig til å godta romanens premisser på dette feltet.

Alt rakner derimot når det kommer til det sentrale motivet, «verdens beste whisky». MacMillans vil ha oss til å tro at deres forfedre bragte med seg en hemmelig oppskrift for den perfekte whisky fra Irland i 1692, og at de nå har destillert etter denne oppskriften. Det er dette fatet, som etter 20 års lagring selges på auksjon. Kan man ingenting om whisky høres jo dette kanskje tilforlatelig ut, men beklager, jeg tror ikke et sekund på det.

For det første: All whisky – i alle fall skotsk single malt, som er det det tross alt er snakk om her – lages etter samme «oppskrift»: Maltet bygg, vann og gjær. Bruker du noe annet er det ikke lenger skotsk single malt. Variasjoner finnes selvsagt i gjærstammer, vannkvalitet og i byggtype, selv om hvor mye dette faktisk påvirker smaken er diskutert, men hovedpåvirkningen på en whisky kommer fra fatet (et sted mellom 50 og 80 % alt etter hvilken ekspert du spør), bruken av torv ved tørking av malten, fasongen på potstill’en din og hvor du kutter destillasjonen. Kommer du og sier at du har destillert «verdens beste whisky» etter en hemmelig oppskrift fra irske munker i det virkelige Skottland vil du bli ledd ut.

Og irsk oppskrift? Det er bare så vidt en skotte er villig til å innrømme at det lages ekte whisk(e)y i Irland, hen ville aldri gått med på en irsk oppskrift skulle være bedre enn den skotske.

For det andre: (Og det følger fra det første.) Fat kjøpes ikke blindt, ikke til den prisen. Enhver interessert kjøper ville forlangt å få en smaksprøve før de bød på fatet. Joda, fat byttes og selges til stadighet, både ulagrede og lagrede, men da beregnes prisen ut fra liter, prosent og alder. Sprit som potensielt er ferdiglagret blir testet underveis. Fatet kan ha hatt en feil så whiskyen er udrikkelig, er den lagret en anselig mengde år kan alkoholstyrken ha dyppet under 40 % slik at det ikke lenger kan kalles whisky, og så videre.

I det hele tatt er hele historien om fatet (ja, det også: Bare ETT fat? Hvordan i heiteste klarer et normalstørrelse destilleri, som MacMillan skal forestille å være, å produsere bare ett fat på en ‘run’?) så full av huller at det ødelegger boka som helhet. Andre detaljer som har med whisky å gjøre skurrer like mye, som at teknikeren som skal analysere fatets innhold (før man har funnet liket) kommer fra Dufftown. Dufftown er en trivelig by altså, men det er ikke her industriens laboratorier ligger. Og det bare fortsetter gjennom hele boka. Det hadde kanskje vært tilgivelig om det var en krim skrevet av en vanlig forfatter, men her markedsføres jo boka på basis av at whiskyentusiasten Berglund er medforfatter, og da må man faktisk få lov til å forvente noe bedre.

Artikkel om boka i Kristianstadsbladet.

(Innlegget er krysspostet til drikkelig.no.)

The Great Escape – Monty Halls

hallsAny book about Scotland is immediately interesting to me, so I didn’t need to think long about purchasing Monty Halls’ The Great Escape: Adventures on the Wild West Coast when I came across it.

The premise is fairly straight-foreward: Monty Halls goes off to the west of Scotland to live «like a crofter» for six months. He finds an old bothy to fix up – renting it from the estate it belongs to – and sets about his task with good cheer. What ensues are plenty of stories involving the locals, the livestock he aquires, the gardening he attempts, and – not least – Scotland’s nature, both inanimate and very much alive. The tales are told with self-deprecating humour and a love of the country and people which is almost palpable, and makes for pleasant reading.

The congers have a reputation for ferocity that is based entirely on its thrashing death troes on the deck of many a fishing vessel. They react in much the same way you or I would if dragged from our homes and clubbed to death, being somewhat miffed by the process.

Indeed.

My one gripe, if gripe it can be called, is that – as Monty Halls himself points out – to really test his mettle as a crofter he should have spent the winter months in the bothy. As it is, he skims the cream, so to say (not to suggest it’s some sort of luxury holiday – it ain’t). As nice as it is to read about the six months sojourn, the book would have been more interesting had he extended his stay to include the next six months as well.

Not that I’d want to do so myself, I’m far too fond of my creature comforts, but then the whole point of books like these is surely to live vicariously through someone else?

Still, a very pleasant and suitably informative read, making me look forward to my next trip to Scotland, whenever that will be.

All autumn

I have been slacking. In my reading, yes, but obviously even more so in my blogging. Anyway, here is a – I believe – complete list of what’s been «going down»:

Sahara – Michael Palin
Pretty good. Informative, evocative, serious and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny. Reminded me that I need to get hold of the follow-up to Travels with a Tangerine.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith
Quite delightful, as always.

The Tales of Beadle the Bard – J. K. Rowling
The best part being Dumbledore’s notes, and the wonderful confusion between Rowling’s footnotes and Dumbledore’s, that is: Between reality and fiction. You’d probably need to have read the whole Harry Potter series to really enjoy this (and if you’re into metaliterature as well, you’re in luck), but since that includes everyone and his grandma, I guess The Children’s High Level Group will see a nice profit, and nothing could be better. I had a cracking good time reading this, and managed to amaze my colleague by finishing most of the book during a one-hour flight. Yeah, impressive, I know. *rolls eyes*

Freedom’s Landing – Anne McCaffrey
As mentioned here, I got rather annoyed with McCaffrey for using «specimen» for «species» (twice!) and for including a couple of prejudiced, half-witted so-and-sos in order to introduce some conflict. I realise the second gripe is unfair, a conflictless book would, after all, be pretty boring, and so I put that down to my ongoing disagreement with Fiction in general. I rather enjoyed most of the book, and am looking forward to reading the sequel when Fiction and I are reconciled in the hopefully not too distant future.

Nød – Are Kalvø
In truth I only read about 50 pages, then started skimming and then I read the last few pages. I don’t know if it’s Kalvø or me, but it all seemed pretty pointless and tiresome.

Which brings the total tally this year to 45, methinks, and unless I am to fall short of the rather wimpy goal of one-book-a-week (oh, horror) I really need to get in some serious reading time over the holidays. We’ll see.

Espresso Tales

Espresso Tales is the second bound installment of the serial novel published in The Scotsman, the first installment of which you find in 44 Scotland Street. Bertie-fans (and surely there are many of us) will have their moments. Domenica is as egaging as ever, and Bruce runs into well-deserved trouble. You gotta love it…

Faintheart – Charles Jennings

faintheartIn which we advise the author to stay at home next time.

I finally got hold of a couple of travelogues of Scotland of the sort I was looking for – thanks, yet again, to amazon – and started Charles Jennings’ Faintheart on my way to Stryn last week. It’s pretty entertaining, but still, I am far from satisfied.

It’s very funny in parts, his description of sheep, for example: «a sheep wandering across the road looks somewhere between a big dirty hairy dog and a maggot on stilts». He also made me want to visit the Glasgow Necropolis, a «non-denominational ‘hygenic’ graveyard» in Glasgow like Pere Lachaise in Paris. So what’s the problem?

Well, the exact problem is a bit hard to nail down, but I get the feeling that it is all slightly pointless, somehow. It’s not so much that he doesn’t have a «purpose», like, I don’t know, travelling around the coast of Britain counter-clockwise, and that this makes him move around in a rather unstructured way. I have no quarrels with a little well-applied randomness. And it’s not that he doesn’t have a specific purpose for going to Scotland, like, I don’t know, drinking a measure of scotch in every pub called Mac-something, either. You shouldn’t need a purpose to travel anywhere. It’s more that he gives the impression that the only reason he’s in Scotland in the first place is that he’s decided to write A Travel Book, and then picked a piece of paper with «Scotland» on it out of a hat. He doesn’t seem to want to be there. That’s it. Much of the time he really seems like he would much rather be somewhere else. Like back in the office London. What sort of idiot would rather be back in an office in London than travelling around in Scotland, even if it’s raining? And if he would really rather not be there, why doesn’t he just go home? Find another country to write a travelogue from? Write a completely different sort of book? Why can’t I be in Scotland instead of this embittered and whiny journalist? And if he actually does want to be there, and is enjoying himself, why does he keep giving the impression that he is constantly disappointed and/or depressed?

Another thing that left me unsatisfied is that there is virtually no contact with people. If you read the bit about Two Feet, Four Paws, you’ll remember that I chastisised myself for being unreasonable in craving contact with people in Spud’s case. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect just a little human intereaction from Jennings, though. After all, he spends most of his time in pretty populated places. He goes to several pubs, for example (though he finds most of them dismal – why doesn’t he move on? Don’t tell me there are no nice pubs in Scotland, because I won’t believe you), and we are treated to some delighful conversations – but they are conversations he overhears, he never dares involve himself at all.

Still, I like the bit about the sheep.