The first of my two original recipe 80/- brews has been poured after 6 weeks of patiently waiting!

I wish I hadn’t drank 4 Brewdog beers before sampling this but it seems to have a surprisingly dominant caramel flavour, which fits the style and is pretty tasty! Before I get too carried away, I’ll have to taste without external influences but for a first attempt at an original recipe, I am tentatively calling it a success.

It isn’t suitable for infusion with tea, at least I don’t think so, but it might be useful for other purposes in the future.. might need to look into “pastry” beers as I suspect a caramel & hazelnut tart ale might be interesting.


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Somewhat surprisingly, I just missed out on an ‘A’ for my first assignment of the current course. Indeed, had I checked the converted file post-submission and noticed the three missing explanatory formula in the submitted version, it is pretty likely that I’d have crossed the line.

Ach well, ne’er mind.


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Quarter to 80

Notes from brew day #13
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 3-minute read

The last brew of the first quarter of 2021, and the final attempt at an 80 shilling base beer, for now at least.

For my previous brew I used some small quantities of left over grains from the brew before that, and adapted some previously brewed 80/- recipes to create my very first original recipe. However, in order to reduce the number of small volumes of differing grains that I would need to use, I attempted to refine the recipe for this brew.


The last beer is still conditioning so I still don’t as of yet know exactly how it will taste but my gut feeling from sampling and smelling the wort at different stages of fermentation is that it won’t quite manage the level of sweetness that I am looking for in order to compensate for the bitterness when I introduce roasted green tea to the recipe later in the year. In order to try and improve on this as well as refining the recipe I also reduced the mash time by 5 minutes in order to try and retain some (but not a lot) of non-fermentable complex sugars.

As well as the Melanoidin malts which I introduced in the brevious brew, I also added some DRC malt - which is a double roasted crystal malt, it apparently contributes a caramel raisin flavour without the associated bitter astringency of some darker malts. I have a reasonably clear idea of how I want my eventual 80/- x roasted green tea beer to taste and I think the DRC malt will help achieve this, I will probably also introduce some orange rind when I come to experiment with tea, presuming I have a base beer to work with.

Last time I accidentally omitted Sorachi Ace from the recipe and used Magnum, this time I rejigged the hop additions and made First Golding the primary hop with some Sorachi Ace addition at flame-out for the “vanilla, tea and coriander notes” that it allegedly imparts, hopefully with such a late addition, I’ll avoid the intense lemon flavour associated with the hop when used for bittering.

Again as per last brew, no dry hopping, this is ostensibly a malty beer.

My usual yeast (White Labs WLP029 - Edinburgh Ale) was out of stock! So I had to choose between a Dusseldorf Alt or Irish Ale style yeast.. The profile of the latter was closest to the Edinburgh Ale yeast so I opted for that.. and hey, many Scots such as myself have Irish heritage so the beer is still authentic ;) .. actually on that, Williams Bros use Nottingham Ale yeast for their 80/- so..

I will create a recipe template for the site and post the recipe details, stages and notes at a later date.

The original (standard) gravity on this beer after transferring to the fermentation vessel was 1.048.. I’d like it to retain some sweetness and as such I’m not really sure of a target final gravity, I’ll just take what I get really.. I expect the ABV will be around 4.5% but we’ll see.

As mentioned above, I still haven’t tasted my first original recipe beer so trying to refine the recipe is a bit bold.. Only about 4 weeks left until I get to taste it and see if my efforts were worthwhile!


Today, I wrote two emails to other craft brewers in Kochi prefecture..

  • Email 1, I had been planning to send since 2018.. but I wanted some brewing experience and knowledge first. It was to Setoguchi-san @ Tosaco and before sending the email, I asked Sakino to proof-read and suggest corrections. When the document was returned I didn’t see comments so thought that corrections had been made. It turns out that as I had the previous version of the email open, it didn’t update with the comments.. so the email I sent has several mistakes :( I really hope that they aren’t too bad and that Setoguchi-san isn’t offended!

  • Email 2, was to two brewing brothers from Yamamoto Bakushu.. This time I did see the comments from Sakino and made the suggested corrections before sending.. as the email address on their website seems to be non-functional so the email was rejected.

Just been that kind of a day.


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Both of my “mid-semester” assignments are now submitted and hopefully sufficient for passing grades. I have a break until 26th of April when the final assignment for this course is released, then two weeks to research and complete it.

In the meantime, I am going to try and:

  • Write introduction emails to some Japanese brewers in Kochi and other neighbouring prefectures in Shikoku
  • Reach out to Scottish brewers to arrange post-lockdown brewery visits
  • Book and study for my driving theory test
  • Contact driving instructors to try and arrange an intensive, automatic driving course
  • Try and improve my Japanese by reading and posting to note.com (despite my apprehensions about the platform)
  • Brew more beer! Next will be the first of a single malt and single hop (SMaSH) IPA series

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I have a new icon under my photo on the right, it is for my note.com profile.. note.com is a Japanese social sharing site, I guess, I’m still navigating it.

It does represent something that I have been avoiding for several years, that is a big centralised site potentially data harvesting me but I’m making an exception as it may be a useful tool for connecting to Japanese craft beer enthusiasts and brewers.

Sakino thinks I am OK to post in English (even though I don’t see any non-Japanese posts) but I feel that I’ll need to pepper some Japanese in as I go, though not to the extent where it becomes a deterrent to posting.

I’m treating this as an experiment and a way to read a bit more Japanese, even if just scanning initially.



5 brew days in the first quarter of the year (even though the first one was a failure)! Target of 15 beers in 2021 looking very attainable!

Had a taste of the wort before adding yeast and if I’ve done the right thing with the mash, then hopefully some of the sweetness will carry through to the beer.

Had a nice caramel aroma but that is likely to dissipate through fermentation.. probably about 6 weeks before this one is tastes as the style appears to benefit from a longer maturation period..



TODO list for this evening:

  • Clean and sanitise keg

  • Clean and sanitise beer line

  • Transfer beer from fermenter to keg

  • Clean and sanitise fermenter

  • Clean and sanitise mash tun

  • Write up brew day plan for tomorrow

  • Stop giggling at the rugby scores


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It occurred to me today that I hadn’t had a baked 🥔 for a very long time and set out to fix that..

Baked potato and homemade baked beans, a ginger glazed Scottish flat mushroom and some grilled asparagus.. It was pretty tasty!

A large baked potato with crispy skin, loaded with homemade baked beans.  Behind sits a glazed Scottish flat mushroom and some grilled asparagus spears.

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Filtration and Packaging Assignment 1 done! I’ll proofread and submit later today and then move on to assignment 2 on Monday.

It wasn’t the most exhilarating experience and I don’t expect that I’ll hit the lofty heights of my semester 1 grades but it should be good enough for a pass.

The next assignment involves completing 6 industry safety courses and writing a reflective essay on how I would apply this to the whisky packaging industry..

I hope the final assignment is a bit more relevant to my future brewery plans. Looking forward to September’s course already.. it’ll either be on cereals and mashing or on yeast and fermentation.. at the moment, I’m not sure which I should prioritise.


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I’ve been wanting to watch Borgen for years but don’t watch terrestrial TV and could never find the first season online. I was recently advises that it is now all on Netflix and have watched the first episode. What a cracking start, I think I’m going to like this!



I developed a neat script which pulls a bunch of data from a GPX file, and with the help of a few free tools, namely gpxinfo and gpx2png, it calculates a few things, creates route maps and posts a summary to my site. I noticed today that the logic for pace was a little askew, so sorted it and am happy with the results..

It’s a simple enough process that I even got Sakino to switch to the free and open source FitoTrack app! We just need to record our exercise, save the GPX file to nextcloud and then run a script and about 5-10 seconds later the session is live on our sites!


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Mair 80 Bobbin

Notes from brew day #12
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

What’s this? A brew day blog post on the actual brew day? My, aren’t we organised!

With reference to the title, ‘mair’ is Scots for ‘more’ and colloquially a shilling was called a bob back in the day, with the Scottish beers being often referred to as 70 bob or 80 bob etc.

As a result of having some excess grains and hops from my previous brew , today’s beer will be unique and I guess this was my first attempt to design my own recipe. It wasn’t merely a matter of ordering less grains and swapping in those I had in store, though that was part of it! I actually made some conscious decisions on grain choice with respect to my brew day plan.


My previous 80/- brew day had a 50 minute mash, which if I understand correctly results in a sweeter beer as there is a smaller window for the amylase enzymes to break down complex sugars into mono- or di-saccharides which can be consumed by yeast. The result would be a lower alcohol beer as there is less ethanol converted and due to a higher amount of residual sugars a richer mouthfeel and sweeter beer. At least this is my understanding. However, I want to provide as much nutrition to the yeast as possible, to exhaust it before conditioning and I think the 50 minute mash, or at least my management of it led to an excess in active, hungry yeast in the resultant beer, or at least at the bottom of the keg of said beer.

So, I went with the more familiar 60 minute mash but I still want this beer to be reasonably sweet, for future addition of a slightly bitter adjunct, and as such I opted to include Melanoidin malts, 10% of the grain bill. The blurb on the brewstore website states that if this ratio of aromatic (melanoidin) are added it can add a honey-like flavour to the beer.. Sounds good to me and should hopefully make up for the lower volume of residual sugars in my beer, to some extent.

With regards to the hops I have (Magnum, First Golding and Sorachi Ace), I did a bit of reading about their bittering and flavour profiles and decided to include both Magnum and First Golding.

  • Sorachi Ace if used for bittering can lead to a an intense lemon flavour but for flavouring it can bring vanilla, tea & coriander notes, these both sound great but I mis-remembered and thought that these weren’t all suitable for this beer. I intended to use them towards the end of the boil initially.
  • First Golding is a very commonly used hop for this style of beer, its bittering contribution provides a refreshing crisp finish and when used for flavouring can bring orange, marmalade and soft spices to the beer. Both sound good, I’ve gone with this as my primary bittering hop and added some at the end for flavour.
  • Lastly Magnum, a hop with high alpha acid content which is very popular for bittering IPAs, Pils etc. (In Europe anyway). Though it isn’t used much as a flavouring hop, it apparently can impart subtle spice aromas, like nutmeg and this holds interest to me. As such, I’m going with some Magnum mid-boil so that it’s bittering contribution is there but restrained and some in the last 10 minutes with a hope that it subtly adds a little complexity to the flavour.

On double checking the qualities of the hops, I actually did mean to use some sorachi ace.. oh well, plenty left for next time.

No dry hopping, this is ostensibly a malty beer.

For yeast, mainly due to limited alternative stocks at the brewstore https://www.brewstore.co.uk), I’ve gone with WLP029 - Edinburgh Ale. It’s the same yeast used for the previous 80 shilling brews and it makes sense to have some part of each brew to remain uniform.

I will create a recipe template for the site and post the recipe details, stages and notes at a later date.

The original gravity of the beer on transfer to the fermentation vessel was 1.050 which is a bit higher than the other export beers that I’ve brewed which signifies a higher sugar content, so long as the yeast activity is fervent this should result in a slightly stronger beer, I’m hoping for the 5% ABV area which would make my final gravity target around 1.012.. but I’ll be happy with around 1.015ish, I guess. In addition, the beer looked very clear, was a gorgeous colour and smelled great.

It remains to be seen if my experimenting results in a tasty beer, but given this is my first attempt at my own recipe and will be tweaked going forward, so long as it isn’t bad it’s all good!

I am going to have to change beer types soon though as I am running out of 80 shilling based puns for blog titles! Let’s face it, in that regard, I’m never going to top 80 chillin !


From the mouths of babes..

After a 10km walk today I was standing at the door waiting for our dog to come in, I had a bag of spicy peanuts from Lidl in hand and was looking forward to a beer..

My almost 3 year old daughter, Islay launched an inquisitive line of questioning about the bag in my hand, were they for the dog? what were they? etc. Culminating in the (genuine) question, ”Does mama not love Papa’s nuts?”

.. to which, after confirming the question, I merely responded “not as much as she used to”


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Just checked the temperature of my beer fridge before bed and it was down to -0.5°C, so definitely possible to use for cold-crashing.. however, given the green beer will be in kegs rather than the fermenter and they currently feed from the bottom, I might want to wait until I’ve bought the floating inlet pipe kits for the kegs before testing this.


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Just kegged my Alice Porter attempt after a record 18 days in the fermenter. After my recent intestinal adventures I was very much on top of the yeast dumps this time, the beer looked very clear as it transferred to keg. Had a nice aroma and I had a taste when taking the final gravity measure.. so long as it remains non-oxidates and conditions well this is going to be good!


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TODO list over the next few days:

  • Fix the slight CO2 leak that still exists in my kegerator set up - may require shaving a little of the end of the pipes to ensure they are completely flat against the back of the John Guest fittings and possibly even drilling into the wall of the kegerator to fix the gas splitter in place.
  • Identify why gas doesn’t seem to be filling the kegs (beers are pouring flatter than before, but still quickly) and fix, may be resolved by above step.
  • Clean line and keg in preparation for conditioning the porter which is patiently waiting in the fermenter
  • Keg and condition the porter
  • Replace thermometer batteries and test the beer fridge’s capabilities for imminent cold crashing use.

It seems my eagerness to replace the barb and clasp system of connecting the gas and beer lines with John Guest push-lock fittings might have been premature, with little space to play with in the kegerator ensuring the lines connect flush with the JG connectors is pretty tricky. In a cellar environment the fittings are generally fixed in place so movement is minimal and the risk of gas leak also low but we are where we are and I will make it work!

Brew day number 12 is this Sunday and I’m thinking of going full Sorachi Ace with the 80 shilling.. for science!


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FitoTrack Is Good

A privacy-focussed, free and open source fitness tracker
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 2-minute read
Tags:

Yesterday, for the first time in many years (almost a decade), I took an hour long lunch break, during which, again for the first time in many years (much less than a decade though) I went out for a bike ride. It was suprisingly a beautiful, if not slightly cold day which definitely helped me start this new and hopefully lasting exercise routine.

Today, it is basically a storm outside with very strong wind and much rain but as I noted on a social media site (distributed, federated, free and open source obviously), “Bit of a dreich day for my 2nd lunchtime bike ride.. but I am of rain, I was born in Scotland, dreich is my daily driver, a wee bit of rain and wind won’t stop me… Only my resistant legs can do that! 33 minutes more of this psyching up to go." and psych me up it did, I completed a revised circuit and though I considered doing a second circuit (as I intend to progress to soon), I figured that it would be better to stop after one so that I can cycle again tomorrow, rather than push through and encourage the jellification of my legs.

In the same update I also said that I’m “Going to give FitoTrack a go today.", which is a free and open source fitness tracker app with lots of stats, devoid of any data harvesting or adverts, that enables me to track and monitor my progress in much the same way as you might expect of a similar, commercial app tied and bound eternally to a google data centre. The GPS seemed to be reasonably accurate though admittedly not 100%, I seem to recall my garmin watch being of an equivalent level of accuracy and you are able to export your workouts as GPX files or share to whichever apps you have installed on your phone that you may wish to share to, in the form of a png image file. On this point, I have raised a feature support ticket requesting an option to choose the size and file format of the shared file as it is quite large.

If this sounds like something you might like then you can find the FitoTrack app on F-Droid - or other non-ethical purveyors of apps which I’ll not link to here, alternatively you can download the source from their codeberg page .

Today’s FitoTrack workout summary with the map provided by OpenStreetMap contributors


Alice Porteresque

Notes from brew day #11
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

I departed from my current series of Scottish export type ales to make another dark beer for my birthday, or rather the brew day was for my birthday the actual beer is still a few weeks away. I opted for one of Brewdog’s recipes which they have open-sourced for several years, all publicly available for free as in pdf format, or on their website or for a small fee as a hardback book. As this is an published and open-sourced recipe and not part of copyrighted recipe book I can actually post the details for a change! Brewdog has a lot of critics, but I’m not one of them, I enjoy a number of their beers and commend their efforts towards sustainability . I am not however associated with Brewdog or in any way a Brewdog fanboi, unless James discovers this page and hey! I’d really love to come and see your brewery!

Another departure I made was that I ordered the ingredients of this brew from The Malt Miller rather than The Brewstore as the recipe calls for specific grains, yeast and hops that were unfortunately not available from my preferred, more local, supplier. I initially tried to find alternatives for each of the grains but it soon became clear that I was moving further and further from replicating the Brewdog version of the beer that I just had to look elsewhere. I was very pleased with the delivery and service from The Malt Miller and my only criticism is that I had to order larger quantities of grains than required as they don’t offer the smaller increments that The Brewstore does, opting for 50g implements rather than 10g. I also had to buy 100g hops packets even if only 5g of hops were required but hey ho, the excess will not go to waste!


On to the Brew day! The full recipe can be found here and the ingredients for a 20L brew were as follows:

Malts:

  • 2.63kg of Extra Pale
  • 0.88kg of Munich
  • 0.38kg of Crystal 150
  • 0.31kg of Special W - which I couldn’t find so replaced with Dark Crystal
  • 0.44kg of Carafa Special Type 1
  • 0.38kg of Flaked Oats - Which were unavailable so I used torrified Oats
  • 0.31kg of Torrified Wheat

Hops:

  • 5g of Magnum at the start (Bitter) - only 5 grams of bittering hops.. presumably this recipe was designed at higher volume and this is a scale down, but maybe not shrug.
  • 25g of First Gold in the middle (Flavour) - had to somewhat guess here, my understanding is that if the hops were added in the middle (30m) they would be roughly 50% bittering and 50% flavour, so I opted for 25 minutes before the end of the boil.
  • 25g of First Gold at the end (Flavour) - It isn’t uncommon to add hops at 0 minutes left but I read that end could mean anywhere from 15 minutes left to 0, so I opted for 5 minutes until end of the boil for this addition.
  • 25g of Sorachi Ace at the end (Flavour) - same as above.

Yeast:

  • Wyeast 1056 - American Ale - This was the first time that I used Wyeast and it was a smack-pack, where you smack the .. pack.. to burst the liquid yeast sachet, introducing it to a solution which activates and nourishes it before pitching into the fermenter. Pretty neat!

Not really much to say about the day itself, it went to plan without any drama, it was very enjoyable and followed by popcorn and movie day with my daughter, a good day all round.

Whilst I haven’t yet transferred the beer from fermenter to keg and therefore don’t have an actual FINAL gravity reading, it has been stable for the past few measurements.. the scores on the board (I do care this time!) are:

Brewdog Alice Porter Original Gravity: 1.053
Jon’s Alice Porteresque Original Gravity: 1.053 - booyah!

Brewdog Alice Porter Final Gravity: 1.013
Jon’s Alice Porteresque Final(ish) Gravity: 1.012 - やった!

Brewdog Alice Porter ABV: 5.2%
Jon’s Alice Porteresque ABV: 5.3%

I’ve no idea how close to the original this is going to be once it has finished its journey but {your deity of choice or not} on a bike I am looking forward to tasting it!


80 Chillin

Notes from brew day #10
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

TLDR: This brew day was successful, in that at the end of it wort was transferred to my conical fermenter. As of yet, some weeks later it is not ready for drinking testament to which is that I just suffered a weekend of yeast eating all available mono-saccharides they could find within in my gut.

The grain bill for my tenth foray into homebrewing was taken from Craft Brew by Euan Ferguson and is more or less identical to that of William Bros ‘s 80/- recipe included in the book. William Bros are a craft brewery from Alloa , home of my aunt and also a town with a brewing heritage and one that I, for some reason, associate with 80 shilling.

The hops were Goldings 5.2% (the percentage being an indication of alpha acid volumes) and the yeast was White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast (WLP028).

What was notable about this recipe were the lack of volumes for water and wort at the various stages and any indicative suggested method to follow. As such, I crafted a brew day plan based on previous brews and hope that it works out.


In absolute contrast to the previous attempt at this beer, this brew day was almost flawless. After the Grainfather blocked pipe incident that sabotaged my previous brew, I took to the net to find a solution and found that Grainfather themselves had admitted this flaw exists and created a filter basket which sits at the top of the mash tun above the upper filter plate and catches errant grains before they reach the circulation pipe.. at least in theory. In practice, this only works if you are brewing a beer with sufficient enough a grain bill to allow the upper plate to sit high enough for the walls of the new filter basket to sit higher than the height of the circulation pipe inlet at its lowest setting.. this was not the case in this brew and I had to spend 47 of the 50 minutes holding the basket in place, with my fingers millimetres above the 71°C wort being circulated below. It seems to me that a far more useful solution to the issue would have been for the basket to be welded to the removable circulation pipe inlet hence ensuring the basket cannot fall below the height of the inlet itself. As mentioned in the previous blog post, looking into this a bit more to see if I could fashion this solution, instructed me that this needs a brazing specialist and is not really a viable option during lockdown.

Me holding a filter basket in place during the mash

Aside from this, the brew day was good. This was the first brew which I’ve done that mandates a 50 minute mash, previously this has always been at least 60 minutes. The purpose of the shorter mash is presumably to allow for a sweeter wort and resultantly a sweeter beer as the amylase enzymes have less time to breakdown the non-fermentable polysaccharides, so a greater volume of these are transferred to the fermentation vessel and as the yeast cannae eat them, into the beer. As I am trying to work towards a reasonably sweet brown ale for a future recipe idea, I was happy to give this a go.

The nominal O(riginal)G(ravity) target for this beer (it was a bit of a hybrid but taking the gravity targets from the William Bros recipe) was 1.048 S(tandard)G and I hit 1.043 which is a little further from that target than I would normally hit if following the recipe verbatim, but the focus of these series of beers is the impact of the grain on the colour and flavour of the beer so hitting gravity targets is an added bonus, if it happens. The F(inal)G of the William Bros beer was 1.012 with an ABV of 4.2%, the FG of my beer after two weeks in the fermenter was 1.018 which would be disappointingly high if I cared, but I don’t.. honest.. and results in an ABV of 3.9%.

The current status of the beer has been impacted a little by my kegerator finagling (replacing spar and clasp connections with John Guest connections, replacing gas regulator and trying to eliminate the gas leak that I previously found) and so doesn’t seem to have carbonated effectively with the two weeks of conditioning, it’s back on the gas feed and I’m giving it another week or two. I do NOT want to ingest more live yeast from this beer! On the plus side, the aroma is excellent, it has a treacle-like richness to it that I hope is reflected in the final beer, whenever it decides that it is ready!

I am about to keg my latest beer from my eleventh brew day and hope to cold crash it if I can convince my beer fridge to run at close to or below 0°C, I’ll condition it first to try and avoid any oxidation, finger’s crossed that it works!

The Grainfather blue LED panel displaying current temperature whilst it heats the strike water

A close up of some small kernel unmilled oats

A close up of mixed malted barley prior to mash in


Yesterday, for the first time in many years, I took a whole one hour for lunch break and, again for the first time in many years, my newly re-wheeled bike out for a ride.

Naturally, once home I looked for a free and open source fitness tracker in order to record my progress.. on the advice of a friend in the designers, I found FitoTrack and it is perfect for my needs.

Today, despite the stormy winds, I went out for a second bike ride and refined my circuit. Don’t judge me, I am very unfit and this is the start of my journey back to fitness! Anyway, I hope to build up to two then three circuits in a lunch hour but for now one is enough of a challenge.

Export of the FitoTrack workout session summary with openstreetmap routing and some unimportant stats

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Learning first hand what it is like to be a fermentation vessel this weekend.. too much live yeast still in the small sample of newest beer that has been fermenting and conditioning for four weeks.. will give it longer and also look into conversion kits for my Cornelius kegs to draw the beer from the top, rather than the bottom and avoid the sediment.. This is a lesson that I could have done without!


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I replaced the gas regulator for my kegerator set up this evening s the last (cheap) one was leaky despite much tightening.. also started phase one of swapping over from barb and clasp connections over to john guest push lock connections.. the clasps were probably fine but I prefer the push locks as that’s what I’m used to from almost two decades in beer cellars. That said, the pushlock connectors are more sensitive to movement so I’m going to have to see if I can somehow connect the gas splitter to a wall of the fridge..


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Photos of today’s cooking efforts

A Scotch broth like soup, maybe the best I’ve made so far (imho)

Chilli, salsa, guacamole (with whole coriander leafs because someone - me - forgot to chop them) and nachos with way too little chilli or cheese (alternative).

All #vegan and all delicious!

Eating this whilst thinking about my friend in Hidaka-mura who would almost certainly make a version that would put these to shame!

close up shot of a brownish soup with various root vegetables, barley, spinach and some fresh parsley Vegan chilli "non" carne, kidney and black beans, vegetables, vegan mince in a brown, spicy sauce with some coriander A yellow, green salsa with specks of red chillies, pretty moist looking. guacamole, a green avocado dish with red chillies, cherry tomatoes, peppers and fresh coriander baked nachos, topped with the vegan chilli, some jalapenos and a miserly portion of grated vegan cheese close up of the nachos, salsa and guacamole from previous photos on a small side plate.

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Spent a few hours cooking for pleasure today, it’s a bit of a rarity as I try to compress as much brewing into the year as I can but happy with results so far!

Made a Scotch broth inspired soup to go with the rye bread that Sakino is baking and a batch of chili non carne for nachos later.. will make guacamole and salsa once Islay is asleep.. first time cooking with chillies since Islay started eating the same food as us and am very excited about eating it! All #vegan of course.

Will post some photos later when the remainder of the dish is made and nachos constructed!


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Replaced by continuous integration process flow, which automatically updates the website when I post, with a very simple script. It seems to work well on my other site so testing here.. fingers crossed


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Something keeps breaking my website.. when I delete a post the site doesn’t appear to rebuild correctly. Hoping that this post will fix it again.



My next brew day is Sunday and for the first time I’ll be kegging a beer on the same day as making the next one! Going to try and focus on reducing potential oxygen uptake during kegging.. thinking of doing a CO2 purge of the keg before pouring and then do a gas release and refill after sealing to push out any stowaway oxygen.


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Learned a bit about barrel-aging and environmental issues and factors relating to packaging, today.. Both very important to our future plans but I don’t think the course will go into any more depth about the former, so I’ll need to focus on it after I get through the mid-course assignments relating to filtration, pasteurisation and sedimentation.. Somewhat drier and less relevant to someone who doesn’t plan to filter or pasteurise their beers..

I’m not really enjoying this semester’s course so far, it was always going to be the least interesting of the brewing related courses, but the 3+ hour lectures and dearth of links to further reading are taking a toll.. Hopefully, it’ll improve in the coming weeks. Just a shame that the first assignment doesn’t interest me at all.. Low enthusiasm but will do what needs to be done!


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I decided that for my next brew day which is on my birthday weekend to change it up a bit and try a recipe from a major brewer which I have both tasted and enjoyed and as they open source their recipes, that brewer is Brewdog and the beer is Alice Porter.

Normal 80/- focussed service will return afterwards.


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End of the Beginning

Notes from brew day #9
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

TLDR: This will be a short post as my first brew day of the year was sabotaged by a blocked pipe! However, given that this site is primarily a journal of my brewing experiences and lessons it would be amiss of me to exclude it.

The grain bill for my ninth foray into homebrewing was taken from Craft Brew by Euan Ferguson and is more or less identical to that of William Bros ‘s 80/- recipe included in the book. William Bros are a craft brewery from Alloa , home of my aunt and also a town with a brewing heritage and one that I, for some reason, associate with 80 shilling.

The hops were Goldings 5.2% (the percentage being an indication of alpha acid volumes) and the yeast was (unused but would have been) White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast (WLP028).

What was notable about this recipe were the lack of volumes for water and wort at the various stages and any indicative suggested method to follow. As such, I crafted a brew day plan based on previous brews and hope that it works out.


The brew day was a little less organised than usual but went reasonably smoothly until post-boil when it came time to rapidly cool the wort before transferal into the conical fermenter. The metal circulation pipe on the grainfather got blocked by wayward grains and therefore wasn’t pushing the boiling hot wort through the counterflow chiller, also as the pipe contained boiling hot wort and I don’t have heat resistant gloves, I was unable to try to investigate and fix until the wort cooled to a more reasonable temperature. It took several hours for the wort to cool by which time I had struck the day off as spoiled. If you let wort cool naturally then it massively increases the risk of dimethyl sulfide formation which would have resulted in a very unpleasant beer.

In the heat of frustration, I had decided that after a string of issues with the Grainfather that I was going to immediately replace it. However, once I had naturally cooled down over a period of some hours, I thought better of spending several hundreds of £s for a replacement. As it happens, the grain creep into the pipes is a known issue and after customer feedback to that effect a new filter was created which should help control this. It was £16 so I bought it. This should stop overflow grains getting into the mash pipe and into the wort at the bottom of the mash tun, which should reduce the amount of grains making it into the circulation pipe (though given I had to hold it in place for the duration of the 50 minute mash during brew day #10, I feel perhaps it might have been designed a little better - apparently correcting this flaw will require a brazing specialist so £16 is potentially only the start!).

However, there is an additional point of risk. The inner sleeve\grain basket of the unit has a gap between it and the mash tun (which it needs) and if pouring grains in from a wide receptacle (such as a big soup pot) then there is a risk that some grains will fall between the sleeve and the walls of the mash tun into the wort at the bottom and be sent to the recirculation pipe. The additional filter should catch these during mash though. I have (mid-mash on brew #10) adapted my process to transfer the grains using a small 500ml jug from pot to tun. I also need to order heat-resistant gloves as a back up.

Anyway - as I wrote the draft of this post (as always) I was brewing again, same recipe as above but with a clear pipe, a new tentatively positioned filter, a more organised start and due care during the mash in stage. Fingers crossed!


Brew day #10 today! A re-run of last week’s 80/- brew based loosely on ‘Williams Bros’ grain bill but timings, hops and yeast chosen from other similar style beer recipes.

Hopefully nothing wil sabotage this brew!


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Just cooked a roasted butternut squash, brussel sprouts and mushroom dish based on the recipe at the bottom but I used chestnut mushrooms, had only (slightly insufficient) fresh flat leaf parsley and cooked freekeh (for the first time) rather than hard red wheat.

It was very tasty! I love freekeh it turns out, have eaten bulgur wheat many times in then past and freekeh is very similar just a better texture.

One issue was the cooking time.. Converted the fahrenheit oven temperature to celcius and thought this must be too high.. But went with it.. After 30 minutes (15 early) I took the tray out and the sprouts were overcooked and had lost their bite.

Didn’t take pictures but Sakino wants me to make it again for lunch tomorrow so will try to remember to take a few snaps.

https://industryeats.com/brussels-sprouts-butternut-squash-mushroom-veggie-bowl-recipe/


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Currently (virtually) attending a guest lecture by Dr. Daniel Kerruish, group microbiologist at Diageo, on pasteurisation.

He is suggesting that pasteurisation for small craft breweries is very much ‘a cherry on top’ and due to the volume of hops used and relative high ABV of craft beers, so long as hygiene practices are properly maintained then pasteurisation isn’t really required.

Pasteurisation tends to be restrictively expensive for small breweries and the technology tends to be power hungry so not great for a sustainability focussed brewery.


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Export From 2020

Notes from brew day #8
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 5-minute read
Tags:

Intro

For my final brew of 2020 and my first foray into brewing from recipe books as opposed to pre-measured and packaged kits, I opted for a Scottish export style beer, loosely an 80/- (shilling) style. Whilst I knew before I made the choice that I did not have the correct gas for conditioning this beer style - it prefers a CO2-Nitrogen mix and I only have CO2 - I opted for this beer style as a non-complex malty departure from stouts.

As the focus of this and future brews will be on learning the different flavour influences of the ingredients of beer and not so much on process, then I’ll ditch the template I had been using in previous posts for a looser, more flavour focused form.

I suspect that as I’m learning from recipes in copyrighted books, I’ll not be able to share exact details of the recipes but we’ll see how it goes.


..brew time!

The recipe that I followed was “Scottish Export” from BREW by James Morton .

The first challenge of this brew was that I was unable to order the precise ingredients listed in the recipe. So I turned to an online resource, brewing grain substition chart , for suggestions on replacements. A very basic but very handy reference spreadsheet for common grain alternatives.

I swapped out the Maris Otter, which is the base malt and makes up the bulk of the grain bill, for Golden Promise Finest Pale Ale, the Special B malt for Dark Crystal and the Pale Crystal malt for Light Crystal. The additional flavour malts were Amber and Chocolate.

The grain bill was ~4kg and each of the grains were measured in the following percentages of that total:

Grain % of total bill
Golden Promise 85%
Light Crystal 5%
Dark Crystal 5%
Amber 2.5%
Chocolate 2.5%

I had to also source a different hop as the suggested East Kent Goldings was out of stock, I had been assured by the recipe preamble that the hop choice wasn’t overly significant so I opted for Williamette, having never before heard of it (though this is a questionable reason for the choice).

The yeast was White Labs WLP028 - Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast.

I also used Irish Moss, for the first time, as a process aid - it to clarify the beer by enhancing the removal of some proteins that can otherwise contribute to haze formation.

As always, all ingredients were sourced from the Brewstore in Edinburgh.

The hope was for a malty, very lightly hopped brown ale which can be adapted and made my own in future brews. As this was the first attempt, I wasn’t expecting perfection just something I can work with as a base for furthering my understanding of the influence of the grains.


The brew day was very straightforward, it was an easy recipe to follow and everything went smoothly.


The beer

The resulting beer is drinkable but not overly enjoyable, it’s a bit reminiscent of how I remember this style of beer tasting in the 80’s but I had hoped for a little more of an exciting tipple (photo to be added once I have CO2 again to pour one).

The biggest disappointment is that there is very little head retention. This cannot be attributed to the non-preferred gas being used for conditioning, head retention is related to proteins and dextrose and it seems there was some deficiency there in the final beer. It is possible that the beer required more conditioning time before being poured, I left it for 2 weeks in a ~5°C kegerator, unfortunately I don’t really have anywhere to properly condition the beer at a stable, ideal temperature of 12°C, still perhaps it could have been conditioned for longer.

It is also possible that the replacement grains that I chose lacked the desirable properties of those in the recipe and that some adjustment might be required in order to protect the foam retention properties of the beer, for example, adding oats or wheat malts, or a greater proportion of crystal malts (though the latter seems unlikely given they already made up ~10% of the grain bill).

However, it is most likely that the addition of Irish Moss removed too much protein from the wort resulting in a poorer head retention. It used half a protofloc tablet for a 20L brew, but it seems like that measure is recommended for a 25L brew and as such this is likely the main culprit.

That said, as a first step in a learning process, I’m happy enough with it, we’ll drink it ;)


Next

Plans for next beer - change up the grain bill and adjust irish moss measurement!

I found the recipe for Williams Bros Brewing Co. 80/- and have modified my grain bill based on it. I haven’t changed the yeast to match theirs, nor am I using the mix of hops that they are using, I will stick to a singular malt with few additions to simplify the process. The grain bill contains oats and malted wheat so hopefully the next beer will retain its foam for longer than the current one.


Photos

Plastic bags containing various malted grains, colours ranging from pail beige to dark brown - too much plastic! Golden Promise pale ale malted barley grains in a stainless steel pot Amber malted barley grains in a stainless steel pot Light and dark crystal malted barley grains side by side, light beige on left, dark brown on right, in stainless steel pot A small collection of dried, green Williamette hop pellets in a small, brown bamboo bowl A close up of a hydrometer measuring gravity of a brown beer with some chrome bar taps in the background A very clear brown beer in a sample container with a white kettle and black tiles in the background


First lecture of new semester today, up to 2.5 hours long.. Not sure how likely it will be that I can watch and work every Monday afternoon but we’ll see.

On the plus side, hopefully I’ll find out details about both of the mid-semester assignments today and make a start on researching them.


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My first attempt at an 80 shilling type beer has been a bit disappointing, possibly due to the replacement malts that I had to use.. and it seems to be a beer that really needs mixed gas.. not doing so well on CO2..

.. it’s drinkable, there are the sort of caramel notes you might expect but they are far too subtle.. might have been better with marris otter but there was none in stock at the brewstore..

..deciding whether or not to switch recipes before I place my order this evening for the first brew of 2021.


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Plans for 2021

The future is calling, there is work to be done!
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 9-minute read

Back in January 2020, I wrote a blog post about plans for the upcoming year . The other day I was reading through the post and wrote a reflective review of progress made during the past year. This was a pretty satisfying process for me, so I figured that I would do the same for 2021 in the hopes that when I review progress at the end of the year, I’ll be even more satisfied.

The overarching goal for the year is similar to last year, progress towards becoming a brewer and preparation for applying for the Hidaka village kyouryokutai (協力隊) scheme with a view to moving to the village once we’ve wrapped up the house sale and other loose ends here.

During the past year, we’ve been evolving and re-prioritising plans for future projects in Japan should our application be successful and the focus from a career point of view will be in the realm of craft brewing, putting food-related plans on the backburner for future attention. With that in mind and reflecting on the progress made during 2020, the following are my plans & goals for 2021.

Brew more regularly

I managed 7 out of a planned 12 brews during 2020, and many lessons were learned during each brew. Following great advice from a new craft brewer contact in Japan, I will be focussing on brewing more frequently as I need to make the focus shift from learning to beer design. I am hoping to brew a new beer every 3-4 weeks. If I can crank out 15 beers this year, I’ll be delighted.

My final beer of 2020 is currently conditioning in its keg and is a Scottish export (80 shilling) style. I intend to brew a few more similar beers but each time adjusting the balance of grains, in order to further my understanding of the influence of different types of malts. I also want to introduce oats into the recipe because oats are fucking great in beer!

After my brief experiment with brown ales, I am intending on focussing single malt, single hop (SMaSH) brews during which I’ll use the same malt but change up the hops for each brew. I hope to really gain a greater understanding of both the different flavour contributions and bittering qualities of each distinct hop. There are a huge number of hops available so I’ll need to be selective as I aim to have completed this run of beers by around the middle of the year.

After these two experiments, I’ll move on to attempting to design the three beers that I have in mind for my main lines in my future brewery. I don’t expect to be able to master or finalise these designs this year but I hope to produce some tasty, if unpolished, beers of my own design during the second half of the year.

As my new friend explained, there will likely not be the opportunity to brew again in Japan once we move until I either find a job working at a brewery or I establish my own brewery as Japanese homebrewing laws are very restrictive.

Establish brewing network in Japan

In December last year, I wrote an 8 page letter to a brewer in Japan (Ken Mukai of Mukai Craft Brewing ) in order to congratulate him on opening his brewery and to introduce myself as a hopeful future collaborator (and friend!). I was pretty nervous about this if truth be told, but the letter was well received and coincidentally a mutual friend had been talking to Ken about me the day before the letter arrived! In an email response, Ken provided me with some really useful information and advice and key amongst these was the suggestion to reach out to other brewers as well and tell them my story and plans. So, I will!

This is going to be a challenge as I’ll need to really un-rust my Japanese in order to contact the majority of brewers, there are some other non-natives who I’ll be able to more easily communicate with but I need to improve my Japanese anyway and this is a great opportunity to do so!

In addition, there is a new resident of Hidaka village who joined under the same kyouryokutai scheme as I intend to apply to, his business plan is also to create a craft brewery in our small town. Far from considering this as a potential threat to our own plans, I hope to engage with our future neighbour and help in any way that I can to collaborate with and ensure the success of his brewery.

Reaching out to strangers like this is pretty daunting for me but it’s one of the few steps we can take whilst not in Japan to help with our future plans.

Experience breweries in Scotland

Once the covid-19 situation calms down and is hopefully eliminated, I intend also to reach out to some breweries in Scotland with a view to visiting and hopefully witnessing or assisting in a brew. I have a reasonable relationship with my favourite brewer up in the north east of Scotland (no not that one), and though the specifics might need to be negotiated, they are very open to a brewery visit once things calm down.

I also have a friend of a close friend who has his own brewery in East Lothian and who is apparently also very open to a visit and for me to ask any questions I can think of.

I’ve previously visited Stewart Brewing in Loanhead in Edinburgh on one of their craft kitchen brew day experiences, and I believe they have pretty close ties to my university so I may be able to arrange an active site visit there too.

Also, at previous craft beer festivals I’ve briefly spoken with the owner of the Alechemy brewery here in my town and he was pretty open to a visit too, so I’ll need to get in contact with him.

There may be other breweries who I can speak with, such as Barney’s or Pilot in Edinburgh who I’ve had friendly conversations with in the past but this is all dependent on lockdown restrictions being lifted and covid-19 being “under control”.

Continue studying the science of brewing

I have so far completed one semester of my MSc in Brewing & Distilling programme and am very happy with how it went. My next course which is focussed on maturation, barrel aging, filtration and packaging starts on Monday 4th of January and I am excited to get started again.

My second semester course will either be on malting, grains and mashing or yeast and fermentation, I’m not sure which I’ll opt for first as I need to do both but either will be really interesting and these are the two courses that I’m most excited about.

In between semesters, I hope to find time to enhance my understanding of topics I studied in my first course, such as microbial spoilage and cleaning-in-place with a view to researching brewery design to take the first steps in investigating options for my future eco-friendly, sustainable craft brewery.

The year ahead looks really interesting in this sphere, I will only have one course left to complete (as I’m only doing the brewing specific courses for a postgraduate certificate) and likely it will be in the second semester of 2022 with a gap for the first part of the year - which will hopefully enable us to move over to Japan and get settled in.

Get house in order

We couldn’t make any progress here last year and we have to this year in order to hopefully sell our house in 2022. We need to finish the garage conversion to the level that the council will provide a completion certificate, we need to renovate the en suite and give the garden and external brickwork some love. It should all be achievable if the current plague gets the fuck out of town.. but I’ve been burned so many times by contractors so confidence in this area is low.

Groundwork for future brewery

Most of the work required towards our future brewery, can’t really start until we are in Japan. Also, as the intention isn’t to establish the brewery immediately, but rather continue my studies and gain some industry experience, the majority of the groundwork is really just research and clarification into licensing requirements and laws, and understanding the hoops that we need to jump through when the time comes, the more we can line up in advance the better.

At this moment in time, I’m thinking that we may build a taproom before we work on the brewery. The thinking is that a) we’ll need one, b) it will help with networking with other craft brewers if I’m selling their beers, c) will potentially open up collaboration opportunities for exclusive small batch limited edition brews to be sold in our taproom and, d) it exploits my almost two decades of experience in working in pubs in Scotland.

The intention would be to have uniform branding between the taproom and brewery, and so we can do work on reserving web domains, logo design, and as above, reaching out to brewers etc. before moving over.

Obtain a driving license

In order to apply for the kyouryokutai scheme and to move to Japan, I need to have a driving license. I’ve previously taken some lessons but due to the demands of work over-reaching into my life those were put on hold. That was several years ago, so I’ll now need to resit the theory exam as my previous pass has now expired. The intention is to find someone who does intensive lessons for automatic cars and I’ll try to arrange that for the Summer (the season referred to as Summer in the rest of the world, not the 3 days of sunshine during the Scottish year). I’m going for automatic as most cars in Japan are automatic and I’m just not that in to driving.. It’s a necessity for both the application and for future plans as we’ll be living very rurally, but excitement levels aren’t overly high and I’m holding out what hope I have that we’ll be able to buy a second hand electric car when we move over.

Continue to find family time

Finally, as busy a year as I have lined up for 2021, these plans cannot be at the cost of restricting time to spend with my daughter and wife. There are goals that must be achieved in order for our plans to progress on schedule but they will need to be achieved around family time.

Onwards!


2020 Plans Reviewed

Review of plans for was a crazy year
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 4-minute read

In January last year, I wrote a blog post about my provisional plans for 2020 , this seems as good a time as any to review the plans and assess how well I managed to move towards achieving them.

It probably goes without saying that the global disruptions of this past year have rippled into each of our lives and resultantly some of the plans have been impacted due to situations outwith my control. Also, during the first five months of the year, my wife was working on her MA dissertation, which meant that most of my spare time was dedicated to looking after my daughter, which was great but not conducive to productivity in other realms.

So “excuses” given, let’s review the plans in order of their placement within the previous post:

Japanese Local Government’s Initiative (kyouryokutai programme - 協力隊)

Our plans to apply for this scheme early 2022 have not at this moment changed and feeling around the family is that we have a very good chance of success with our application, however there is one dependency that is going to require a little more social stability and less prominence and threat of covid-19 to achieve. If I’m to apply for this scheme I need a driving license!

Japanese Language Proficiency Tests

I did initially start studying for JLPT N3 at the beginning of last year but this was railroaded by the pandemic and continuous lockdowns slashing my available free time considerably. I’ve re-evaluated the necessity of sitting these tests and as I don’t really intend to work for someone else in a permanent role, I don’t actually think that the proficiency tests are really that necessary. I will have to work on improving my Japanese both spoken and written (typed) and may revisit in the future but for now under current circumstances this is being shelved.

Brew Regularly

My plan for last year was to try and brew a beer each month, so 12 in total, 1 of which had already been brewed (and poured down the drain), I managed a further 6 brews - taking my total at this point to 8 brews over two years. Obviously, this is a little less than I had hoped, but given the circumstances and the tangible improvement in both my brewing knowledge and the quality of the beers, I’m reasonably happy with progress made.

I managed to brew 2 American IPAs, 2 New England IPAs and 4 Imperial Stouts, with the latter darker brews I played around a little with adjuncts, coffee and cacao nibs in this case, which was very rewarding.

Study the Science of Brewing

In this realm, more than any other, great strides were taken! My application to join the MSc Brewing & Distilling (distance learning) programme at Heriot Watt University was successful and I’ve completed my first course, which was Beverage Microbiology and Biochemistry. I’m still awaiting the final marks for this course but my first couple of assignments were well received and very well marked(!) so I have high hopes.

Studying microbiology and biochemistry with no background in science was certainly a steep learning curve, and as I have no aspirations to becoming a scientist, sometimes the content of the course felt a little unnecessary to my particular aims, however other parts were fascinating and really helped boost my understanding of the brewing processes. I still have a lot to learn in this area, and have certain sub-topics that I really want to drill into when time allows, these are: cleaning-in-place, microbial spoilage & strategies to mitigate and eliminate contamination.

Cook-A-Lot

I probably cooked just as often in 2020 as in previous years, however, most of the time the main aim was sustenance rather than making time to cook delicious dishes. It did happen, but with constraints on time being what they were the frequency of cooking “sessions” was lower than I’d have liked. I did make some pretty memorable stews with barley over the last few months.. I might have become somewhat of a barley addict..

Get the house in order

Lockdowns, a neighbour who ignored lockdowns from day 1 and had a constant, daily supply of labourers and other craftsmen visiting his house and a general urgency to protect my daughter from this coronavirus strain meant that absolutely no progress was made here.


All in all, considering that circumstances we all had to face, I’m reasonably content with progress towards our plans during 2020. I would have liked to brew more often, I would have liked to have sat and passed JLPT N3 and it would have been great if some work on our house could have been completed. However, I am firmly on my way to becoming a brewer and whilst more focus will be required over this next year to further progress, I’m happy with the steps taken to achieve this goal during the past year.

Onwards!


明けましておめでとうございます.. when the time comes for you.

Happy Hogmanay until then.



Been playing in the snow with Islay a fair bit today which has been fun but despite being somewhat Nordic, I really can’t stand the cold!

I’m not great with too much heat either (like Japanese summers) which is less than ideal.

Give me a lukewarm, dreich, rainy, Autumnal day any day.. yes, I am Scottish and also yes, that does describe the vast majority of Scottish days!


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To the Shaft theme tune:

Who is a guy who dislikes xmas but loves cooking for any occasion? this guy! you’re damn right

Who is a guy who makes pigs in blankets, without pigs but better than just blankets? This guy’s wife! not a guy

(Tune bit which inconveniently splits the lines)

Who is a guy who most likely doesn’t remember the theme tune to Shaft! This guy? you’re almost certainly right!

….

“Giant sausage roll” - chestnut mushroom and nut roast with cranberry, cinnamon and nutmeg flavours in pastry

“Sprouts n stuff” - sticky, crunchy woodland mushrooms and shallots

“Crunchy spuds” - thyme, rosemary & garlic roasted tatties

“Sausage and bacongine” - vegan sausage wrapped in smokey marinated aubergine slices!

All from the the Bish Bash BOSH! Cookbook

Cooked pastry containing a nut & mushroom filling, brown, shiny and crispy looking Same pastry dish from before but sliced open revealing the nut and mushroom filling Brussel sprouts with stick mushrooms, shallots and covered with a sprinkling of toasted almond flakes A bit plate, one half covered in very crunchy roasted potatoes, the other with vegan sausage and aubergine bacon on cocktail sticks

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Last night Islay told her mum, “it’s OK, I’m a big girl, night night” enabling Sakino to leave the bedroom before she fell asleep. After months of coaching by myself, this was a breakthrough moment.

When she woke up this morning, I gave her a big hug and told her how proud I was of her for being a brave girl as she recounted the story.

.. then spent 35 minutes trying to convince her to eat some breakfast to no avail!

Rollercoaster!


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After a shockingly exhausting four mile trek, pulling a trolley carrying a reasonably heavy gas canister.. I now have my CO2 bottle refilled and at a bargain price!

I wish I had known about Lothian Supply Co. before as it would have cost me £50 less for the initial purchase of the same gas bottle as compared to the brewstore in Edinburgh! The top up was only £5!

Once feeling has returned toy wrists, I’ll hook it up to my kegerator and hopefully, so long as I didn’t completely decompress the keg before noticing my lack of gas, I’ll be pouring a glass of delicious Imperial stout in a few hours time!


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End of the Imperial March

Notes from brew day #6 & #7
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 8-minute read
Tags:

Wow, 5 months have passed since my last homebrew journal entry and it was written on the day of the first of today’s summarised brews. The seventh of my brews was back in late September just after I started my PgDip Brewing and Distilling course , much writing about beer has happened since then but all academically and not on this site, though I am happy to report that things are progressing well in that area and for anyone interested I have links to my assignments on my bookmarks page .

Anyway, let’s crack on, shall we?

In the same vein as my previous post I’ve decided to bundle both brews together as they were using the same base recipe with minor adjustments to adjuncts. As you might expect with a series of brews that are essentially the same, improvements were notable in each subsequent brew and the last one, in which I had assistance from my wife, zero mistakes were made.. not a typo!

As I’ll be covering two brews I’m going to condense my normal layout a little and skim over parts which went well for both brews. Both brew days went smoothly but in the area of gravity measuring a discovery was made in the latter brew which proved to be a valuable learning experience.

The Beer Kit

The beer kit for both of these brews was this Imperial Stout 23L All Grain Beer Kit (pictured above) from Edinburgh based brew store .

The kit contained a pre-ground bag of grains (unspecified) and 2 vacuum-packed foil wrapped packs of hop pellets (namely hop A and hop B).

The yeast for both brews was a dried yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast ).

Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast sachet

Additionally on brew day #6, I tweaked to volumes of the adjuncts from the previous brew to try to produce a more chocolate-y stout so I used 150g of cocoa nibs and 100g of coffee beans. On the next brew day, I reduced this to 120g of cocoa nibs and dropped the coffee altogether.

The ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and as always the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

Stage 0 - Prep!

No issues here on either day so, moving on!

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

This stage went very well on both days, though on brew day #6 I accidentally brought the temperature down to 66°C for the mash, but recovered to 68°C and maintained the temperature for the hour. During both brew days I took more time to constantly, gently, mix and move the grain bill around whilst the temperature was reducing from the strike temp. of 76°C, than I had previously. In earlier brews I was concentrating on getting the temperature down quickly and less focussed on loosening the grains and breaking up clumps, this led to a more vigorous approach which it seems might have been somewhat counterproductive.

Lovingly stirring the grain during mash in

As noted previously my grainfather is definitely struggling a little with consistency when heating and maintaining heat, it is a candidate for replacement when time and funds are more ample.

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

Again, I followed a similar procedure on both days which was to gently coax the water from the grains during lautering, breaking up the grain bed gently so that the wort could flow a bit more easily. When it came to sparging, I was a little bit more aggressive with the breaking up of the grain bed, allowing the rinse water to pass through somewhat quicker than before. Compared to brew day #5 this process completed almost 2 hours earlier!

Stage 3 - Boiling

On both of these brews, and in comparison to previous brews, there was a much more generous protein build up at the start of the boiling stage. It took about 6 minutes to break it up and this I believe is a good sign and is a direct result of the tweaking of my mashing method.

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

The schedule for this both brews was:

  • 36g of hop B at 60 minutes (start of boil)
  • 36g of hop A at 25 minutes (35 minutes into the boil)

In addition for the second of the brews:

  • 150g/120g of cocoa nibs at 5 minutes (55 minutes into the boil)
  • 100g of coffee beans at end of fermentation for 24 hours for brew #6.

Cocoa nibs in a bowl

Cafepod SW18 daily grind whole coffee bean label

No whirlpools again, this is a future experiment because its an invite to chaos with the false-bottom in my grainfather.

Stage 5 - Cooling

No notes were taken with regards to cooling and I have no adverse memories of this part of the process, so I gather all went well.

Stage 6 - Fermenting

As a result of learning more about yeast on my microbiology course, I had developed a deeper understanding of the requirements for a good fermentation by the time I did my 7th brew, I have a deeper still understanding now but it remains to be seen how that plays out in future brews! As such for brew #7, I was intent in increasing the available oxygen for the yeast for the initial phase of fermentation, and the conical fermenter is a little too heavy to lift and shake.. So after transferring the wort from height (normal procedure), and through a sieve (ineffective), I experimented with using an electric whisk (sanitised of course) and this definitely greatly increased the surface oxygen and produced the amount of frothy bubbles that I was looking for.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #6): 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #7): 18L is what I have written in my notebook.. but that can’t be right!
  • Desired OG: 1.083
  • Actual OG (#6): 1.081
  • Actual OG (#7): 1.083
  • Desired FG: 1.016
  • Actual FG (#6): 1.041
  • Actual FG (#7): 1.041
  • Actual FG (#7 with a device I can actually use): 1.022
  • Desired ABV: 8.9%
  • Actual ABV: ~5.25% (but really ????)
  • Actual ABV: ~5.51% (but really ~8%)

As previously suspected, I am not using the refractometer that I have used to measure every one of my brews, correctly. It seems to measure higher gravities reasonably well but doesn’t fall below 1.040, which isn’t ideal since every single final gravity target is lower than that by some margin. Having received advice from a few mutuals on mastodon, it seems like it needs to be calibrated with purified water and maintained at 20°C +/- 0.5°C and needs to be regularly recalibrated.. Thankfully, I had a hydrometer lying around which requires no calibration and which gave me much more promising results. It does require a sacrifice of more beer for measuring but for some degree of accuracy that’s fine with me. Also as a result, I don’t really know how close to previous targets I hit but.. onwards!

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising

During the transferring of beer to keg on brew day #7, I took multiple samples at different stages to measure with the refractometer as mentioned above, this was really to rule out a niggle that maybe at different stages of the transfer there would be different trub concentrations that perhaps were affecting the gravity reading of previous samples taken from the tap at the bottom of the conical fermenter.. it didn’t really seem to make much difference but a worthwhile exercise nonetheless.

Photo of the stout being transferred to keg

Stage 8: Drinking

Both beers were delicious, the first was a novice attempt to come close enough to Fierce Beer’s Mouse Mousse chocolate stout and I don’t think I was overly far away but perhaps the coffee inclusion detracted from the comparison a little. The beer didn’t really taste much like an imperial stout, which tends to confer an oily quality and strong alcohol flavour, it was instead a very easy to drink and pleasant, if not slightly thick, chocolate stout with a subtle coffee aftertaste. It was a glorious success and did not last long in this stout loving household.

The latter beer was my greatest triumph yet, not only because finally I acquired an accurate reading of the final gravity but it is (not was, more on that shortly) indisputably an imperial stout! By lowering the cocoa nibs volume, the strong chocolate flavour of the previous beer was lessened but still a little more than subtle and it is very much my favourite beer so far. Unfortunately, after pouring some of it, I noticed that I was out of CO2 and had to immediately stop pouring lest I decompress the keg.

Due to lockdowns, my access to the shop where I bought the gas canister is essentially outlawed and so I’ve been without gas for over a month.. I have just a few days ago discovered that the shop is actually supplied by a company in my town and that they would be happy to top the canister up if I can swing by their warehouse! I’ve had conversations with a local taxi company explaining that they’d be transporting a pressurised gas canister and we’re good to go. I just need to clarify cost of top up and how long the process will take (whilst the taxi meter ticks) and then hopefully this week I’ll be able to continue pouring my best beer yet!

Next up will be my first foray away from kit beers as I try a Scottish export type style from a recipe book. I chose the recipe due to its process simplicity and low volume of hops so that I could play around with different grains over the next few brews and see how I can tweak it into something delicious.


Cyberpunk 2077 purchased.. but will not be downloaded before I submit my final assignment of my beverage microbiology and biochemistry course..


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For my first recipe based homebrew I’m going for a Scottish Export type beer.. ordering each of the ingredients is far more fun than ordering a premade mystery box!


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I received my mark for the second assignment of my first course and whilst I didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of my first mark, I’m happy with a 2nd tier ‘A’!

So, for anyone interested in how kōji is used in the production of saké, here is my poster on the topic .

It is somewhat wordy for a poster and not a gleaming example of topnotch graphical design, and I was marked down for this, but I like words.. so…

Special thanks go to my friend ‘on the inside’ and 後輩, Andrew Russell who works at Imada Shuzō saké brewery (今田酒造) in Akitsu (安芸津), Hiroshima and who owns the Origin Sake blog .


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OK, final assignment is now open. I have 10 days to complete it which seems a lot but I think I’m going to need all of the time, I’m not predicting an early submission for this one.

4 questions all relating to DNA, microbial genetics and manipulation or engineering of yeast cells.

I had hoped for a somewhat more practically relevant topic to sink my teeth into but we are where we are.. and for me it is the only topic in the course that I didn’t study at all.. ah well, so be it.

3 of the questions have a max. word count of 500 and are worth either 10% or 20% of the total mark and the other has a max. count of 1500 and is worth 50% of the mark. The whole assignment makes up 60% of the course total.

I’m still awaiting the result of my 2nd assignment which I’m hoping will be shared soon.. but regardless, IF I can catch up on lost sleep from the past week then I can nail this final assignment.

I’ll need to register for next semester’s course which will be related to filtration and packaging.. I think.



I just received my mark and “feedback” for my first postgraduate assignment and I exceeded my expectations by some way.. 90%

Context: (from assignment mark return announcement) “40% is the pass mark, >60% is good and >70% is excellent.”

I was worried as I’ve never written a science-y report (I got a B in higher physics in 1993 and didn’t study since..) but feeling much less apprehensive now.. though I’m not going to rest on my haunches, it’s going to take considerable effort to achieve anything close to this again.

I was planning to upload my assignments to my website (unless humiliating failures) for anyone interested in the topic so am glad the first one is presentable.


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Assignment 2, a poster about koji, done and dusted and shortly to be submitted (5 days early!).. don’t think I’ll be making any plans for a career in graphic design but it’ll do.


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I’v just added my Session ID to my contact details at the side of the page. Hovering over the green S logo will display a QR code which can be scanned from within the Session messenger app to add me.

Session is a VERY secure and private end to ended encrypted messenger. Based on signal but without a reliance on ANY personal data, including telephone number. It also doesn’t collect any data!

Session is available for mobile or desktop and more information can be found on their site: https://getsession.org

I may be encouraging those that I convinced to join my xmpp server that this might be a better option..


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First assignment of my PgDip course submitted several days early.. taking a day off from studying before I start researching my next assignment.

I need to find time to write up a blog post on my last two brews as well, but not today.. just biding time until the working day finishes and I can pour myself a nicely chilled imperial stout! Tick tock..



All working weeks should be 4 days max, so I get to spend more time with this wee lassie.

2 year old daughter with wild long hair, wearing a denim dress and smiling wide mouthed


Learning about cellular chemistry this week and already (just finished watching lecture video 1 of 2) it is considerably more interesting than the previous section on cellular structure.

Last week was a breakdown of the names and high level functional overview of the component parts of cells from different groups and whilst undoubtedly important, was incredibly difficult to read about whilst trying to maintain even a minimal level of consciousness.

On the flip side, learning about carbohydrates, saccharides, linked carbon chains and rings etc. is actually helping me wake up this morning..

I feel like I may be naturally aligning more to the biochemistry elements of the programme over the microbiology elements.. or at least these elements are making more sense at this early stage.



Day 2 fermentation sounds more active than previous brews, a lot more rapid bubbling in the airlock! I have a good feeling about this, I’m expecting progress with regards to closing in on the elusive Final Gravity target but will it be enough to satisfy my ‘exit’ criteria?

Delaying yeast dump 1 until tomorrow, then I’ll get the first glimpse of how it’s going.. fingers crossed that its 1.030 or lower (previous best at end of fermentation is 1.041 with this beer).



Today’s brew was (potentially) my best yet, which in all fairness is what you would expect in an iterative learning process.

I made some adjustments to make some of the processes more efficient but unlike earlier attempts they were a direct result of previous lessons learned.

This brew was perhaps my last before the lessons of my brewing & distilling programme settle in so it was personally important for me to use my previous message experiences and adjust accordingly before the bedrock of understanding the scientific processes was formed.

My original gravity target was 1.083, according to my hydrometer I hit about 1.0823 and my refractometer 1.083.. the latter may require tuning.. but if you’ll permit a slightly emotion fed response ‘ya fuckin dancer’

The big test however is the final gravity, the target is 1.016 and my last 3 brews of this same beer haven’t breached 1.041.. so whilst I’m happy with today’s brew and I did my best to oxygenate the shit out of the wort.. I’ll not be satisfies unless the FG is lower than 1.020

I don’t know what these numbers mean either, other than a measure of sugar to water density.



Another very smooth brew day is approaching the final quarter.. decided on a distinct lautering/sparging process separation today and shortened the latter process considerably.. will have to wait and see if this decision impacts my original gravity figure.

Slowly approaching boil, about an hour ahead of my last brew.. and 3 ahead of the brew previous to that.



Equipment all re-cleaned and re-sanitised in preparation for brew day #7 tomorrow!

If all goes well then I’m hoping this will be the last brew where I use a grain kit and will move on to actual recipes and ordering specific grains, hops & yeast.

The only criteria I have to satisfy is to hit or be very close to my final gravity target.. if I can do that then the brew will have gone well. In order to achieve that I’ll be utilising some kitchen implements (sieve and whisk) to try and increase the oxygenation of the wort before pitching the yeast.

First brew with my wife assisting, should be fun.



Islay is off to spend 8 days with her grandparents from Thursday.

Very anxious about this, aside from the huge uplift in covid cases here (which is very unsettling), she hasn’t been away from us before for so long and I’m not sure she’ll cope well as the realisation that we aren’t there settles in.

Also, handing a mini-vegan to non-vegans for any length of time is a concern because nutritional balance is super important.

She’ll probably have a blast and it’ll just be me wracked with worry.



Spent an entire day just trying to get my micropubendpoint to recognise image alt text from indigenous.. has been on my todo lost for a while but quite a frustrating process and no studying done today!

Tomorrow much reading!

close up of a boox e-reader, in power off mode.


Had a cooking masterclass with sous chef Islay yesterday, we made guacamole and three bean chilli pie!

Very attentive throughout, hopefully this will become a regular occurrence!

Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix! Alt not yet added, will fix!

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My first course relating to the microbiology and biochemistry of brewing starts “gently” next week!

I already know what my two assignments will be and am excited to get started.. tomorrow!



A bit less of a focus on study than I’d hoped for today, more on induction to the new programme, watching lots of intro videos, signing up to the various websites and installed MS Teams on my linux desktop (ugh) .. also prepped Sakino’s boox for my purposes and became a member of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling.

A little saddened to see facebook and google groups promoted (definitely won’t be joining those) but have had to hold my nose and request access to a couple of linkedin groups.. As a contractor I can’t really risk deleting that account unfortunately.

Productive day though and I did fit in a chapter of the audiobook for ‘Beer’ by Charles Bamforth so there was almost a study element in there too..



Only a few weeks until my first PgDip course begins. From Monday, I’ll be getting back into the swing of studying by reading and understanding the pre-reading book suggested by the university to prepare me for my first microbiology course!

I’ve not studied science since higher Physics which was in 5th year of high school some 28 years ago.. and I’m playing a little bit loose with the definition of study here..

Challenging but fascinating times await!



Day 1 of my anxiety riddled few days at the caravan park near Kirriemuir with my parents, their motorhome, my wife, daughter and 3 dogs.

Put the foot down before arrival that we would not be visiting the onsite restaurant and bar under any conditions.. otherwise been keeping to ourselves and I almost felt sort of relaxed a few times..

.. I’m to sleep in the awning.. with midges so I’m sure tomorrow won’t be unnecessarily awkward.



We had a visit from two of my closest friends today and it was so great to see them!

It was also the first time that I’ve struggled with the physical distancing restrictions.

As we heard stories of loss I really wanted to be able to hug my friends and also to be able to share a beer, that I made an am proud of with them but neither of these things were possible.

There were moments of awkward silence that wouldn’t have existed but for our disparate proximities.. and to top it all off, Islay got tired just before they left so my hope that our hugs could be transferred to them via her were not realised.

We’re doing the right thing but today was particularly difficult.



Been playing Oxygen Not Included recently, having previously avoided it as I not a big fan of Klei’s art style (really didn’t like Don’t Starve) but finding it a lot of fun.

There is a surprising amount of depth to the game and a lot to learn.

I doubt that it’ll present a challenge to the best base-builder game of all time (Rimworld) but it is keeping me entertained for now.


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OK, had a decent night’s sleep, the gout is only a minor niggle today and have a 13,192 word masters degree dissertation on “Chinese and Japanese language teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion in a Scottish university” to proofread for my Sakino!

Large coffee consumed, glass of water at hand and a full keg of delicious stout on tap waiting for me at the end. Let’s do this!



I think I’m going to give the 7 minute workout a go again. I really need to do some exercise and outside of work hours I really don’t have the time to do anything.. so hopefully I can take the pain and roll this into a regular and eventually daily schedule. To this end I also found a free and open source app on f-droid called seven which has all of the scheduling etc.

Today, I’ve also subscribed to a few brewing podcasts and bought one of my brewing science books in audio form so that I can enhance my upcoming studies with some auditory learning.

7 minute work out basic exercise plan comprising of 12 exercises

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The Sunday afternoon popcorn and movie ritual that Islay and I share is definitely the highlight of my week.

Not only is home-popped corn awesome, pretty healthy and a great vehicle for nutritious yeast, but Sakino isn’t a fan so it’s an activity for just the two of us.. even if Sakino did like popcorn, Islay wouldn’t let her near the bowl anyway.

Tasty, not too unhealthy snack with the added fun of trying to identify popcorn art!

On the other hand, trying to make it to the end of a movie with a 2 year old is still somewhat of a pipe dream!



I have my first engagement with Heriot Watt with regards to my PGDip programme in the form of a distance learning info webinar on 25th of August!

It seems ages ago that I applied and excited to get started.

I need to make start on studying the suggested book (‘BREWING’ second edition - Lewis & Young) soon, hopefully once Sakino submits her dissertation in a few weeks I’ll be able to find some me time.



Jon replied to https://jon.kelbie.scot/note/5f16e059/

Seems like the childminder is putting a lot of additional practices in place to satisfy both the enhanced government requirements and us concerned parents. So, fingers crossed!

Just wondering if we should make a mask for our 2 year old now that she has seen others wear it and may have to go into a shop with the childminder.


Islay is going back to the child-minder tomorrow.. got to say, I’m pretty apprehensive.



Not Black & White

Notes from brew day #4 & #5
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 9-minute read
Tags:

Subtitle: A little less stout*

As I sit waiting for the mash stage of my 6th brew to complete, I figured this was as good a time as any to post the belated summary of my previous two brews.

I’ve decided to bundle them together as both brews were using the same base recipe and whilst one was a pretty smooth ride, the other was a catastrophe of errors!

As I’ll be covering two brews I’m going to condense my normal layout a little and skip over parts which went OK for both brews.

First though, a small bit of background on these two brew days.. Brew day number 4 was on a Friday, a day which is traditionally reasonably quite for my job and thus, I figured a day where I could fit in a brew whilst also working.. That Friday was not a normal Friday, that Friday demonstrated the clairvoyance and devilry that my colleagues apparently possess.. just as every single stage deadline approached, I was called, pinged or otherwise engaged to carry out some work. Stage transitions were rushed, wort was spilled and walls were decorated in partially formed stout.. It was a terrible idea and a disaster of a day!

Brew day 5 was an entirely different beast, having learned from stupidity, it was scheduled for a quiet Sunday. Every stage was carefully considered, measured and executed and bar introducing the 2nd hop 5 minutes early and not having fine mesh hop bags available, the day was a resounding success!

The Beer Kit

The beer kit for both of these brews was this Imperial Stout 23L All Grain Beer Kit (pictured above) from Edinburgh based brew store .

The kit contained a pre-ground bag of grains (unspecified) and 2 vacuum-packed foil wrapped packs of hop pellets (namely hop A and hop B).

The yeast differed between brews, one brew day #4 I used a liquid yeast (White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast ) and on brew day #5 a dried yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast ). Though, to what end this contributed to differences in the beer, I am still too inexperienced to ascertain.

White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast sachet Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast sachet

Additionally on brew day #5, I added a couple of adjuncts, 100g of cocoa nibs and 100g of coffee beans.

The ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and as always the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

Stage 0 - Prep!

No isues here on either day so, moving on!

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

On brew day #4, I started poorly and continued in a similar but more frantic vein.. First mistake, aside from scheduling a brew on a work day, was that I had pushed the pipework too far down into the heated grain was unable to retrieve it, resulting in grains being able to bypass the false floors and potentially block the filer in the brewing unit.

On brew day #5 there seemed to be some sort of blockage in the circulation pipe and it wasn’t circulating as much as I’d have liked, but I managed to fix this on the fly with only a momentary drop in mash temperature.

Photo of the mashed grain

Otherwise, the striking and mashing stages went OK for both brews, though I noted yet again that my grainfather is definitely struggling a little with consistency when heating and maintaining heat.

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

DISASTER ZONE! For day #4, I was very, very flustered by this point and was trying to rush the sparging stage. In order to try and get the sparge water to drain more quickly, I was attempting to stir and break up the grain cake, however the metal bar supporting the insert containing the grains and water was not designed for additional weight, the force that I was applying was too much for it and it kept disconnecting from the unit and as a result wort and grains were propelled around the room, primarily up the wall and over a frustrated amateur brewer! I was certain at this stage that any hopes of making a drinkable beer were ruined.

Photo of the sparged grain

No issues experienced here on day #5, I made no attempts to rush the process, though I did very gently stir the grain on occasion when I couldn’t hear water passing through. It took almost 4 hours! No mess though!

Stage 3 - Boiling

Nothing to see here.

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

The schedule for this both brews was:

  • 36g of hop B at 60 minutes (start of boil)
  • 36g of hop A at 25 minutes (35 minutes into the boil)

In addition for the second of the brews:

  • 100g of cocoa nibs at 5 minutes (55 minutes into the boil)
  • 100g of coffee beans at end of fermentation for 24 hours.

Post boil on brew day #4, I attempted a whirlpool but the additional false bottom within the unit was rising every time I got some sort of pace going.. conclusion, no more whirlpooling attempts with this set up.

Stage 5 - Cooling

This is where the grainfather’s flaws come into play, whilst trying to rapidly cool the wort and transfer to the fermenter, it’s heating unit kicked in and started super-heating the wort. The fermenter is thankfully temperature controlled and was able to cool the wort back down to the target range before I added the yeast.

This happened on both days but I was more mentally equipped to deal with it on the second of the brew days. Added a lot more time to the process though!

Stage 6 - Fermenting

My experiences with previous brews led me to purchase a cheap cooling system for my fermenter, involving an ice box and pipes which pump cooled water through the sleeve of the fermenter. As such despite the wort hitting the fermenter at a higher temperature than desired on both of these brews, I was able to cool it down in the fermenter before pitching the yeast.

Not much otherwise to report here from a process perspective, the only difference between both stout brews was that after arriving at a consistent final gravity reading for the second of the brews, I added 100g of coffee beans which had been briefly rinsed with boiling water into the fermenter, and then let it steep for 24 hours.

Despite the calamity of the first of these days, the gravity figures were surprisingly similar which you might think would mean a similar alcohol by volume figure.. that doesn’t appear to have been the case, although the estimate is pretty much the same the drinking experience suggests that the second beer was considerably closer to the target than the first. The impact of the booze after drinking was definitely more obvious with the latter beer.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #4): 23L
  • Actual Volume (day #5): 22L
  • Desired OG: 1.083
  • Actual OG (#4): 1.070
  • Actual OG (#5): 1.069
  • Desired FG: 1.016
  • Actual FG (#4): 1.040
  • Actual FG (#5): 1.044
  • Desired ABV: 8.9%
  • Actual ABV: ~4%
  • Actual ABV: ~3.5%

This leads me to believe that I have a little bit more to learn about how to use my hydrometer. The first stout might have been around 4% the second was not, it was definitely much stronger. I have a fairly high resistance to alcohol (not a brag) and I was decidedly tipsy after just 3 schooners of it, 3 similar sized 5% beers have little noticeable impact normally. Yes, this is circumstantial but I’m calling the 2nd beer as hitting its ABV targets regardless of the evidence suggesting otherwise! This screams user error to me!

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising

Not much to mention here, I’m reasonably well versed in this process now and didn’t experience much worth reporting, except disappointingly off-target figures, but as noted above, I suspect I am somehow recording these inaccurately.

Photo of the stout being transferred to keg

Stage 8: Drinking

The first beer turned out to be surprisingly passable, it wasn’t a clean tasting beer, it had a bit of funkiness, probably due to the comedy of errors surrounding it’s inception, but it was assuredly drinkable regardless. It was a homebrew though, no doubts about that, it would be returned at a bar and replacement sought.

It seems though that perhaps stouts, in our house anyway, have a larger buffer for success than IPAs do.

The second beer was OUTSTANDING! It was exactly what I wanted it to be, it’s an imperial stout so not really designed for ease of drink, it’s thick and oily, carries a punch in flavour and alcohol volume but is rounded off with very subtle hints of coffee and cocoa. This wasn’t just passable, it was wonderful! As I sit here, now at the boiling stage of my current brew, I can only hope that I am able to replicate this level of beer for my 3rd imperial stout in a row!

Photo of my first or perhaps second Imperial Stout

Imperial stout number three is so far going well, and is basically the same as from brew day #5 but with 50% more cocoa nibs. They are only in the mix for about 5 minutes so not much time to make an impact so we’ll see how that goes.

Onwards!

  • A little less stout came to me one evening in the 90s as I sat in the Bell’s bar in Aberdeen for happy hour with a good friend. The bar was quiet, and to entertain ourselves we were re-branding the drinks we could see at the bar or marketing them with new slogans. One of my funny at the time creations was Guinness Lite with the slogan ‘A little less stout’. Whilst we went on to get fairly inebriated that one always stuck with me.. then some time later when I took my girlfriend (now wife) to Dublin to propose, we visited the Guinness storehouse and I discovered that at some point (possibly the 70s based on the font and graphical stylings) that Guinness in fact did have a beer called Guinness Lite, though I have no idea if they ever used the slogan ‘A little less stout’.

Jon replied to https://jk.nipponalba.scot/note/5ef085b9/

The main issue I have now, is just that it takes a very long time for new posts to appear on microsub servers using aperture.p3k.io ..

Last note was created around an hour and 20 minutes ago and it still isn’t appearing.

I’m going to look into hosting my own microsub endpoint - looking at Ekster now.


OK, I think I’m reasonably happy with my site now..

I finally found out how to deal with hyphens in frontmatter in hugo (the documentation of which is a lesson in frustration).. Now to see when I hit post if reverting my micropub endpoint hacks have broken anything..

I’m now using a webmentions hook to deliver interactions to the site.. though, I want to fiddle a bit with nginx to move some of the php files to a non-public directory..

I’ve given the html a semantic overhaul which will hopefully make it reasonably accessible though there will be more work to do there (particularly around captions and alt tags for images).

In this vein I also removed all floats (I think) and am using grid and flex for layout. Have dropped a bunch of excess html and css too..

Have hidden my switch to 日本語 button until such time as I actually have a reasonable amount of Japanese or bilingual content.

Still a work in progress but much further down the line than previously.


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Whilst playing with my daughter in the garden last week, I tried to get her to stay still for a photo.. I thought I’d failed and gave up.. a few days later I noticed I’d captured this.. accidentally the best picture ever!

Close up selfie of a smiling two year old girls face, looking adoringly at her papa. Her long brown hair is lit up by the sun, she is wearing a white t-shirt


Hoppy Days!

Heriot-Watt University PgDip course acceptance
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 3-minute read
Tags:

As stated in my founding post for this beer focussed blog, I have future plans to one day establish a modest craft brewery of my own in rural Japan. In order to help achieve those goals I tentatively applied for the MSc Brewing and Distilling By Distance Learning course run by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

Learning to brew beer through practice and experimentation is all well and good but I really wanted to understand the science behind the brewing in order to be be prepared to tackle future challenges and ideally preferred to do so in a structured manner, so this course seemed perfect for my needs.

Unfortunately, the soft requirement for entry into the course is an undergraduate degree in science or engineering and my degree in Japanese language and culture fits neither bill so I was apprehensive that I may not be considered. I therefore lined up some former lecturers to provide references if required and penned a passionate accompanying statement ensuring the university that faith in me would not be misplaced.

Offer letter from Heriot-Watt University

Fortunately, the soft requirement was indeed soft and without any request for references I have been offered an unconditional acceptance into the programme, which I have confirmed! WOOHOOO!!!!! If we’re honest, this is probably more to do with harsh financial challenges facing our universities than it was to do with my passionate plea but either way, come September 2020 I shall commence studying in the programme which I think makes my dreams to open my own brewery far more attainable.

Whilst, this is an MSc course, every new student is enrolled in the postgraduate diploma course and opts in to the dissertation for MSc at a later date, should they wish to pursue this. I do not currently have plans to complete the MSc, nor even the PgDip but rather intend to exit after completing 6 courses and attaining a postgraduate certificate (on completion of 4).

My reasoning is that I’m attaining industry knowledge which will then be applied in practice to my own company, as such I am not so inspired to study the courses relating to academic writing and research. This could however change and the course offers me the flexibility to make tho choices further down the road.

Offer details from Heriot-Watt University

In recognising that I don’t have a science background the offer also included a book recommendation for me to prepare for the start of the course, which shall be studied intently during the coming months.

I am very excited to start, a little daunted by the idea of studying a postgraduate science programme but ready to face the challenges and rise to them!


Of Sugar Munchers and Chilly Gas

Post-brew discoveries #1
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

As I settled down to read over the brew sheet for my impending Imperial Stout brew and after over 2 hours of cleaning and sanitising kit, I made a discovery.. I did not have enough yeast for the next day’s brew and had no means of acquiring more in time. So I hugged the windows in this mobile network black spot we call home in order to latch on to a signal to advise my scheduled brew buddy of the postponement.

YEAST

Purepitch Yeast Packet Front

When buying the beer kits I have been using to learn brewing, I had noted that for certain kits I could choose dry yeast or liquid yeast. I had previously read in slightly out-dated brewing books that liquid yeast is superior to dry yeast and so I have, for the last few orders, been opting for liquid. As it turns out, in doing so I’ve unknowingly been brewing with insufficient volumes of yeast!

Nowadays, due to improvements in the science dry yeast is apparently pretty close to liquid yeast in terms of quality but one advantage to liquid yeast is it enables you to create a yeast starter. This is currently too advanced a process for me to include but in essence you create a low gravity wort using dried malt extract and pitch the yeast into this a day or two before, which enables you activate and grow the yeast cultures so that you have sufficient volumes to pitch into higher gravity worts. Still with me? (who am I kidding, I’m the only one reading!). This is also advisable if your yeast is a bit older.

Purepitch Yeast Packet Back

As a result of the previous paragraph, when you order liquid yeast in the kit, you are only sent by default one sachet. If you don’t make a yeast starter then this is likely to be insufficient, and you have the option of ordering more. If only I had realised this at the time of ordering I’d have an exciting stout in the fermenter.. and my last beer would be much better!

This may go a large part of the way to explaining why I missed my final gravity reading in the last brew.

So today, I’ll order the extra two sachets of liquid yeast required to munch on high gravity stout wort and then I’ll buy dried yeast going forward until I’m ready to advance to yeast starters.

Force Carbonation

As I opted to skip the bottling phase for the time being and keg my beers, I have been trying to follow steps with regards to properly carbonating the beer post-fermentation. Carbonating using CO2 rather than brewing sugars is referred to as force carbonation (not force carbonisation as I keep calling it) and the trick is knowing what PSI or volume of gas to introduce to the keg for how long.

Han Solo Force CarbonisationForce Carbonation NOT Force Carbonisation

Everyone seems to have their own method and so for the beers I have made up to now I had opted to follow a generic instruction from the manufacturer of my brewing kit, Grainfather. Their instructions are simple to follow:

  • 30 PSI for 2 days
  • 10-12 PSI for 1 day
  • 8-10 PSI and refrigerate for 4 hours

They are simple to follow but haven’t really worked for me, in each case the resultant beer was a little too flat. My experiments thus far in correcting this have been disappointing, for my NEIPA I cranked the PSI up for too long, resulting in a massively over-carbonated beer, I’ve been able to eek it down again but there is a lasting bitterness in the beer as a result.

I’ve been looking in to this and possibly the issue is that I’ve not been considering temperature as a variable. When I pressurise my kegs, I do so inside the kegerator (for that is where the gas outlets live) and this is maintained at a temperature of 4°C whereas the instructions above seem to infer that the keg is only refrigerated for the final age.

My meanderings led to further discoveries, namely gas carbonation charts and gas carbonation calculators because I, of course, and not re-inventing the wheel here.. many brewers precede me and careful web searching could have saved me a bit of effort.

Different beer types have different recommended gas volumes and working out how to deliver this volume at my working temperature can be attained using either the charts or the calculators (the latter being quicker, easier and more likely to be my way forward).. so from here on in I’ll be using this calculator from Brewer’s Friend, a website which I suspect I’ll be visiting often.


Chinook What I Made

Notes from brew day #3
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 10-minute read
Tags:

After the abject failure of my previous brew determination was high. Mistakes would not be made, at least not with regards to the most important stage of the process, sanitisation!

This was my first brew day with assistance, in the form of my dad, and having someone to “teach” really helped my focus throughout the day, not only were there considerably less mistakes there were also notable improvements throughout the steps compared to previous attempts.

TL:DR I DIDN’T DESTROY THIS BEER!! WOOHOOO!!

In my summary of brew day ichi-ban I described in detail (my understanding) of the steps involved so I’ll not go into as much detail this time but will attempt to follow the me structure.

The Beer Kit

19L New England IPA

The New England IPA 19L All Grain Beer Kit was the same beer kit that I had used in the previous disastrous brew however due to issues with online payment I had to vistt the brew store to pick up, and the hops that were included in this kit were different from the previous kit. I’m a novice so I didn’t question this at the time but at various times during the brew I considered that perhaps I had been given the wrong hops.

Grain bill for brew 3

In the kit this time was a bag of mixed grains, 200 grams of Chinook hops as well as a sachet of White Labs WLP066 London Fog Ale Yeast (liquid).

As previously ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

This was actually missing from the kit on this occasion but I had the previous brew’s sheet and I noted all of the important steps and numbers in a notebook.

Stage 0 - Prep!

Not only did I clean and sanitise EVERYTHING immediately after the last brew, on the night before this one, I went through the whole process again! This time however, on the advice of a retired chemist on the fediverse I noted every measurement and each step down.

Brewday 3 - Notes

In addition to directly address the issue that wrecked my last beer, I bought accurate measuring devices in the form of a glass pipette set which enabled me to measure exactly 2ml of the ‘no rinse’ sanitiser in with 1 litre of water for the spray bottle.

Brewday 3 - Pipettes

I also endeavoured to spray less enthusiastically, or rather less intensely.. enthusiasm levels were high regardless of the somewhat tedious task at hand. The extra focus on preparation definitely provided a solid foundation for the next day’s activities!

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

Another lesson learned from the previous brew was to heat the strike water as soon as I rolled out of bed, this meant that by the time the brew started the water was already at the correct temperature.. enabling me to spend just short of an extra hour with my daughter before I started in earnest.

Previously, I had noted that the thermometer probe wasn’t secure and had slipped out during the last brew.. this was firmly taped to the unit this time and didn’t budge through the whole day.

With the mash, we actually actively mashed and stirred the grain in for the entire duration of the water dropping from 76°C to 66°C.. this was tough work, I’m not entirely sure how long it took but my dad and I took turns, and in actively working the mash for the whole time we not only reduced the cool down time considerably but also released more sugars into the wort than previously.

This stage was absolutely nailed, a marked improvement on previous attempts, and the benefits of having a brew buddy became very apparent, very quickly.

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

According to the brew sheet for this NEIPA recipe, approximately 8-10 litres of 76°C water should be rinsed or sparged through the spent grains in order to hit a pre-boil wort volume of 25 litres.. I needed 12L which was the same as last time.

It could be that there are improvements that could be made to this part of the process so I’ll maybe agitate the grain a bit more during this process to release more sugars and move the sparge water through, I suspect that of the 12L poured in a fair amount was still sitting within the grain cake.

Stage 3 - Boiling

Somewhat excitingly (likely to a very limited audience only) there was some proper protein build up as the wort hit the boiling point. I had experienced this during a trip to the Stewart Brewing Craft Beer Kitchen with friends a few years previous and was a little confused as to why it hadn’t happened on my earlier brews.. but it seems that our increased activity during the mash stage was the reason. What nice, natural, confirmatory feedback on our enhanced efforts!

With the confidence that the thermometer probe was securely attached and accurately measuring temperature, after breaking up the protein with a paddle, the rest of the boil went very smoothly.

We filled the time reading brewing books and chatting about my future brewing plans in Japan. As my dad was driving later in the day we weren’t drinking.. my next brew buddy is a non-driver!

Brewday 3 - Books

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

There was an initial 50g of the Chinook hops as a 10 minute (from end of boil) addition, then the hop stand which involves lowering the temperature post-boil to 70-80°C, adding in another 50g of the hops and holding the hot wort at that temperature for 30-45 minutes, we went for 40 minutes at 76°C since 76 appears to be a special number.

So far the hop stand seems to be a specific step for this style of beer and must contribute to the hazy or rather juicy look of the final beer.

Brewday 3 - Chinook Hops Label

Whilst we were reading in the previous stage, I had spotted a note attached to a recipe from BrewDog’s DIY DOG 2017 which stated that they get the be results when dry -hopping for 5 days (rather than 4 recommended elsewhere) at 14°C. It wasn’t overly clear if they meant specifically with the recipe the note was attached to or as a general rule of thumb but with my newly acquired chiller, I gave it a go.

Hop schedule for this brew was:

  • 50g of hops at 10 minutes (50 minutes into boil)
  • 50g of hops post-boil in a hop stand
  • 100g of dry hops post-fermentation for 5 days at 14°C

Stage 5 - Cooling

Post-brew it occurred to me that I missed a step which could logically fit in this age, I briefly mentioned it in my first brew post and will remember to do it next time.

The whirlpooling stage is primarily meant to separate trub (errant hops or grains which managed to escape the grain basket post-sparge) from the wort by dragging them down to the bottom of the .. boiling vessel.. but also the act of a 5 minute (yup!) whirlpool will also cool the wort a little, albeit slower than the cooling coil that comes with the Grainfather.

We cooled the wort to 18°C and transferred into the fermenter at a higher elevation than previously in order to increase the oxygen in the wort for the hungry yeast.

Stage 6 - Fermenting

The target original gravity (OG) for this beer is 1.063 which on my previous disastrous brew I hit on the nose, this time though I missed it by a little, landing on 1.059.. There was about an extra litre of of pre-boil wort and it seems that this was extra sparge water resulting in a very slightly weaker final wort.

Brewday 3 - Hydrometer for measuring wort gravity

The fermentation of this beer was the most active (noisiest) so far.. even into day 8 there was still the occasional bubble through the airlock. However, as previously experienced the active yeast increased the temperature of the wort in the fermenter, and it occurred to me finally that I had forgotten to buy a cooling system, so I ordered an inexpensive one and took immediate action whilst awaiting its delivery.

On noticing the temperature creeping up to almost 23°C, my wife and I carefully moved the fermenter on to a worktop in the utility room, opened the window to a Scottish winter and watched the temperature drop. The fermenter has a heating element so whenever it drops below the target temperature it slowly recovers.. so whilst there were a few periods where the temperature was slightly below 18°C, they were brief and the heat never exceeded 20°C for the remainder of the fermentation window.

During the fermentation, I noted that the yeast dump deposits were a bit smaller than previously but this made sense because the yeast was .. expiring.. at a slower rate. Where the fermenter previously went dormant after 4 days it stretched out twice as long this time before fermentation seemed to be done.

Again though, my final gravity (FG) reading was higher than the target and this time I’m not sure why. It was closer to the FG this time (1.026) than last time (1.033) so some progress is being made. Perhaps I need to look into the pH levels of the water or perhaps it will improve upon the introduction of a 5 minute whirlpool.. This is a challenge I feel will take a bit of time to understand.

As a result of missing both OG and FG targets my final ABV (according to the Brewer’s Friend Calculator ) is 4.33% had I hit my OG this would have been 4.86%.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 19L
  • Actual Volume: 19L
  • Desired OG: 1.063
  • Actual OG: 1.059
  • Desired FG: 1.013
  • Actual FG: 1.026
  • Desired ABV: 6.6%
  • Actual ABV: 4.3%

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising

I force-carbonated the beer for 2 days at 30PSI, brought it down to 12PSI for another 24 hours, hooked it up to the tap and lowered the pressure to 10PSI. However, as I had noticed on my first brew this resulted in a slightly under-carbonated beer so I cranked up the PSI to 30 for another 24 hours.

Stage 8: Drinking

Vindication you taste awesome! OK, dialling it down a bit.. this is a tasty beer, I would be happy if I ordered this in a pub and would enjoy every last drop. I wouldn’t necessarily rush back to order it again though but that’s an issue of personal taste..

I like my NEIPAs to be almost fruit juice like, certain hops give off more fruity qualities that I think are better suited to a NEIPA than others. Chinook has some of those qualities it seems but also some resin-y qualities, this is fine, Fierce Beer make a very nice juicy beer which is quite resin-y (Late Shift ) but it just isn’t my personal preference.

Brewday 3 - NEIPA

As an exercise in brewing this was a fantastic experience and my confidence and enthusiasm has been restored.

Will I drink this beer? Of course, with pride and I’ll make it again, but next time I’ll use El Dorado hops and see if they taste like I think they would taste without the accidental inclusion of sanitising chemicals.

For the next brew, I have a friend joining me and whilst we enjoy this NEIPA, we’ll be having a crack at an Imperial Stout.. arguably my favourite type of beer!


Why Pixelfed?

Why I host a Pixelfed instance
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 5-minute read
Tags:

Since December 2018 I have hosted a Pixelfed server, intended for family and friend use but in actuality currently only used by myself and very occasionally my wife.

The reason that I’ve not applied a @dansup level of marketing to encourage my circle to move over to the platform yet is due to a few bugs and polish items that I am awaiting, but as we are edging closer to a version 1 release, I thought this might be a good time to jot down my thoughts on the application. Primarily intended for the audience that the instance is targeted towards.

I have previously written about the fediverse and why I have left facebook, google etc. so if you need a primer then that’s the place to go first.

What is Pixelfed?

Pixelfed - A free and ethical photo sharing platform.

Pixelfed is, in a nutshell, a free and open-source instagram replacement. It allows you to upload photos and short videos, create albums, collections and ephemeral stories and enables sharing and interaction across the fediverse.

Mastodon, Pleroma, Friendica etc. users can follow a Pixelfed account and interact with the posts and account owner from the safety and comfort of their own hidey-hole.

Further information can be found at pixelfed.org .

Why use Pixelfed?

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times by folks already using federated social media. Their reasoning is usually that the other application such as Mastodon and Pleroma not only allow you to upload media but also to have media only tabs so why have another account on a photo & video only site?

This is a fair question and I sometimes upload photos to my pleroma account rather than Pixelfed.

However, most of the applications that I host are provided on the basis of the use cases of family and friends. In my circles instagram is very popular and pixelfed is pretty close functionally to instagram, getting closer by the day and improving on the concept too.

Pixelfed Collection - Craft Beer

I do also use Pixelfed though and there are unique aspects of it that I like such as the organisational functions such as the ability to create collections or hashtags discovery groups.

Pixelfed Discover Page

I like that Pixelfed processes the photos on upload (massively decreasing storage space for me) and I like, though rarely use the photo editing functions such as cropping and filters.

I don’t think I ever used stories, if it was even called that on instagram, but I can understand why others might find it fun, interesting or useful.

An upcoming feature named circles which will enable you to create groups of friends/followers who you can share photos or video with and no-one else will see them. This sounds good, whether or not I’ll personally use it in practice remains to be seen.

Scopes enable you to manage the visibility of your posts, either:

  • public - visible by everyone via a public timeline
  • unlisted - will appear on publicly profile page but only followers can see in their timelines
  • followers only - can only be seen by followers even on profile
  • circles - SOON™

This enables me to have a private account for photos of my daughter which are only visible to people I personally approve - family and friends only. This is a common feature across fediverse applications.

Pixelfed visibility scopes

Embedding! You can now embed photos and profiles into other blogs or web pages, which is nice!

I like the developer(s). This is generally common for most of the open source apps that I use, the developers are generally very open to feedback and are excited that people are using their application. Marketing mogul and time-illusionary @dansup is no exception! I have had many interactions with him over the past 15 months or so, and whether it be a unique issue I was experiencing during initial set up, a feature suggestion or a bug report the interactions are always gratefully received and pleasantly handled, and wherever possible bugs are fixed as quickly as they are reported. This interaction means a great deal to me, it re-affirms my decision to leave faceless corporations in favour of people-oriented open source developers.

Wish list

As mentioned above, I have been waiting for the application to be in a more polished ate before trying to onboard family and friends and whilst I feel we are nearly there I have small list of outstanding tasks or features that I’m looking forward to being addressed:

  • A federated timeline or federated discover page - I think that the discover page will only really bask in it’s glory when it allows discovery of accounts and media from other Pixelfed instances.
  • Remote account avatars - Currently avatars for accounts from other remote instances are not pulled, it’s a minor thing but it makes the application feel unfinished (which it is of course!)
  • Fixing the bug I raised eons ago ;) - #1359
  • Notifications for all interactions - Currently notifications are limited and don’t include comments.
  • Ability to choose photo order when uploading multiples
  • Webfinger support - a bit jargon-y but makes searching for other accounts more user-friendly. Added since post
  • Instagram and Pixelfed imports - The ability to import media from instagram or other Pixelfed accounts. It’s coming, I’m patient.
  • Pixelfed app - There are a number of apps on your chosen phone OS and I like them, but I think having an official Pixelfed app will help bring people onboard.. most folk are used to an app per site which seems pretty inefficient to me but for this reason a Pixelfed app will be really help shift folk over to the platform. This is also in progress.

This list used to be a lot bigger and I’m sure it won’t be long before it shrinks again.

Pixelfed is a fantastic application and I look forward to encouraging tho close to me to join.

Pixelfed on Mastodon


2020 Provisional Plans

Big plans for a busy year
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 6-minute read

On our return from our most recent trip to visit my wife’s family in Japan I posted on my pleroma account about my ambitious plans for 2020 in order to hopefully facilitate a move to rural Japan as early as Spring 2022.

This article is an attempt to flesh the out a little and to have somewhere that I can more easily refer to for updates, amendments etc. So in no particular order:

Japanese Government’s Rural Initiative (not correct name but will update and write about in greater detail in the future)

This is a scheme aimed at encouraging more families to move from the big Japanese cities to rural locations, with a focus on encouraging retraining, community involvement and company creation. Each town government has its own requirements and the can change on an annual basis.

Successful applicants have up to three years to make a life in the town and contribute to the local economy, during which time the government will subsidise rent, home refurbishments and pay a regular, sufficient wage. After three years then you are on your own so to speak but by then hopefully you have established an income of your own.

A brief look into the scheme would suggest that so long as I have a driver’s license by the time of application and am capable of participating in an interview, then I should qualify. I already have a litany of ideas the biggest of which is to have my own craft beer brewery however, it is a mid-to-long term plan and hopefully some of my more immediately implementable ideas will impress the government officials when the time comes.

Japanese Language Proficiency Tests

Initial plan is to sit and pass JLPT N3 - which I should already be able to do, but the intention is to study for it properly in order to establish a study pattern for the more challenging N2 exam which I hope to sit in 2021.

If I’m to get back to a level where I can participate in a Japanese interview for the above scheme then the JLPT exams will help to focus me and fill the large gaps in vocabulary that have appeared since I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Japanese in 2011 - not that I was particularly good with the language back then, I was more interested in Japanese feudal history.. regardless, N3 this year, N2 next.

Brew regularly

Starting next week, I’ll be trying to brew a different beer each month and attempting to study the science of brewing so that by the time we move to Japan I have a solid knowledge-base from which to reach out for potential brewery internships as brewing beer at home is kind of illegal in Japan (unless under 1% ABV).

I am still a beginner and my second brew was somewhat of a failure. I hope to improve my understanding of the basics, tighten my quality control process and become very familiar with the different grains, malts, hops and yeasts over the next few years. I’ll initially probably be focusing largely on IPAs but before we move to Japan I want to experiment with dark and sour beers. I’ll endevour to record everything in my blog and as my Japanese improves, add translations where relevant or interesting to build towards a profile which can be understood by potential future employers.

Study the science of brewing

Hand in hand with the brewing plans, I hope to find some online courses or books from which I can learn more about molecular biology etc. I want to be in a potion where I understand protein chains, yeast storage and quality, water quality etc. This knowledge will be very important when the time comes to establish a brewery but also before then it will enhance my ability to design beers based on more than a hunch about tasty flavour combinations.

I recently re-visited the Heriot Watt University MSc Brewing & Distilling course page and discovered that it may be possible for me to study towards a Postgraduate Certificate online which if an application was successful would enable me to study exactly the content that I will need to for a career in brewing. I have contacted HW admissions and if I get a positive response to my multiple questions then I think I’ll apply for this course which would begin in September this year. Fingers crossed!

Depending on work-load and progress with this, I may also reach out to some Scottish craft brewers to see if there are any prospects for short-term internship or shadowing to set in place for next year.

Cook-A-Lot

I already do a fair amount of cooking at home and when time allows like to spend 4-6 hours in the kitchen making delicious #vegan food. However, as my future in Japan will revolve around both drink and food and in all cases vegan varieties of them all, I need to up my game and focus on mastering some fundamentals from which potential menus in potential cafes or food trucks might be devised.

I’ve previously worked in the kitchens of hotels and pubs in a variety of roles and several of the roles involved cooking for the public so I’m not completely unfamiliar with the requirements, but if I’m to be a lone vegan cook in our wee village in rural Japan, then I’ll need to really understand dashi options, umami and cooking with the local ingredients I’ll have at hand. Fun!!

Get the house in order

Literally! We’ve had an unfinished garage conversion for several years now! The building contractor who was hired to do the work upped sticks and ran away when the council returned a list of issues. Since then it has fluctuated in importance and several attempts to enlist the help of other contractors to finish the job have failed. We need to get this fixed once and for all or selling the house in a few years time is going to be somewhat of a challenge.

Sundries

Undoubtedly there will be more plans made, developed and or abandoned as the year progresses, but I hope to write about as much of it as possible, particularly where it relates to potentially interesting information uncovered as we learn more about the process and challenges of moving (back) to Japan.

Next year: driving license, JLPT N2, studying for Japanese beer proficiency tests (yes, really), strengthening of pretty much everything above.


Crying Tears of Hazy Gold

Notes from brew day #2
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 10-minute read
Tags:

Enthusiasm for my second brew day was very high, expectations were moderate and preparation was good (or so I thought). Enthusiasm for writing this blog post after the disappointing conclusion to the brew day was somewhat minimal, but at the me time I am a new brewer and I need to record failures as well as success if I am to learn from my mistakes!

TL:DR this brew failed and resulted in all of the beer being poured down the drain!

In my summary of brew day ichi-ban I described in detail (my understanding) of the steps involved so I’ll not go into as much detail this time but will attempt to follow the me structure.

The Beer Kit

19L New England IPA

I had hoped to use the me beer kit consistently for the first three or four brews but I also wanted to step up from 11L to a 19L brew and the previous beer kit was not in stock for this volume, so I opted for New England IPA 19L All Grain Beer Kit , once again from Edinburgh bad brew store . I knew off the bat that making a NEIPA is a more involved process but I was up for the challenge.

In the box this time was a slightly damaged bag of mixed grains, some of which were clearly oats and as I hold the opinion that any beer is made better by the inclusion of oats, I was pretty happy with that!

Grain bill for brew 2

In contrast to the previous brew I also knew which hops I was using! 200 grams of the excitingly named El Dorado hop as well as a sachet of White Labs WLP066 London Fog Ale Yeast (liquid).

200g Vacuum-packed bag of El Dorado dried hops

As previously ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

Stage 0 - Prep!

I almost feel like I should address this section last but as I’ve already shared the disappointing conclusion to the brew day, I’ll grudgingly explain the one major mistake of the day which added an unplanned heat to the drinking of the final product.. think less of habanero and more that acid vat from robocop.

As I had previously extolled as the most important factor of the entire brewing process, I cleaned EVERYTHING and sanitised EVERYTHING so that no stray bacteria would contaminate my beer at any age of the process.

Shiny interior of the Grainfather mash tun Look how shiny it is!

The issue wasn’t with cleaning, everything was as clean as it needed to be. The issue wasn’t that I forgot to sanitise anything, absolutely everything that had any contact whatsoever with the ingredients and the wort at each age of the process was sanitised. So what was the problem?

Over-sanitisation, or rather insufficient attention to detail when mixing the sanitiser with water resulting in the wrong ratios and a much more potent solution than I should have been spraying on absolutely everything.

The sanitiser bottle comes with a 10ml measuring, eh neck section.. which is the amount to be mixed with 5L of warm water. My spray bottle holds only a volume of 1L so I eyeballed 2ml .. because obviously there is such a huge margin of error that this was a class A idea.

I have had some sound advice from a friend on the fediverse who previously worked in pharma, which I shall be following henceforth! Namely, record everything in detail to which I’ll also be incorporating proper measuring implements.

Let’s leave this disappointment behind and move on to the actual brew day, shall we?

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

The temperatures involved in the striking and mashing ages mirrored that in my previous brew though obviously the water volumes increased for the larger grain bill and thus the heating process took a lot longer.

Note to self: Start heating the water as soon as you get out of bed!

This should have been a straight-forward, stress-free age and a simple repeat of la time, however I discovered my first issue with the Grainfather brewing unit, and that is that the thermometer probe does not snap or lock into place. Due to this, the probe actually slid out a little and the temperature readings as a result were not accurate. When I noticed and pushed the probe back in, the accurate reading was higher by several degrees than it should have been.. and by this point I had already mashed in·

Lid off of the grainfather to try and reduce the mash temperature more quickly

So the strike water was too hot and it took longer to cool to mash temperature, which elongated the process and would have impacted on the gravity and potentially the taste of the beer had it not been already, unwittingly destroyed by this point. I tilted off the lid from the Grainfather which would normally be sitting atop the unit, in order to try and facilitate the cooldown process.

Otherwise, the grain bill was well mixed and mashed and despite this minor setback I was excited to plod on.

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

According to the brew sheet for this NEIPA recipe, approximately 8-10 litres of 76°C water should be rinsed or sparged through the spent grains in order to hit a pre-boil wort volume of 25 litres.. I needed 12L to hit about 24L thanks to the increased evaporation in the previous stage. This would presumably have very slightly weakened the wort but not by enough to be concerned.

An off-the-cuff amendment to bring the brew day back on track, morale was still high!

Stage 3 - Boiling

By this age of the brew things have been a bit more hands off for a while, and I was really starting to feel the impact of my scheduled brew buddy cancelling on me, again, for the second time. The whole process was much longer than the previous, smaller brew and extended by the thermometer issue. I was at home and could have attempted to alleviate my encroaching boredom but as I’m still learning the basics, I didn’t want to become too distracted and make more mistakes.. So the isolation started to set in around now.

.. the boiling stage is pretty tedious to write about.. wort boiled for 60 minutes, next!

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

This was the stage I was looking forward to the most, aside from drinking this gloriously hazy, juicy New England IPA that I was crafting. A new process to test and learn!

There was an initial 50g of the El Dorado hops as a 10 minute (from end of boil) addition, then the hop stand which involves lowering the temperature post-boil to 70-80°C, adding in another 50g of the hops and holding the hot wort at that temperature for 30-45 minutes.

It took about 15 minutes to reach the temperature range and add the hops.. I appear to not have recorded the temperature nor time I maintained the wort at the temperature.. but it was within both target ranges.. I’ll do better with the recording next time.

As it turns out this is the only added complexity in this NEIPA brew as opposed to the previous US IPA brew and it would have been nice to enjoy the beer and mull over the influence of this new process.. hindsight!

It did make for an even longer brew, that’s for sure.

El Dorado Hops!

Hop schedule for this brew was:

  • 50g of hops at 10 minutes (50 minutes into boil)
  • 50g of hops post-boil in a hop and
  • 100g of dry hops post-fermentation for 4 days

Stage 5 - Cooling

During my first brew, I over-chilled the wort and introduced the yeast at too low a temperature potentially killing off some yeast from the get go, I was not going to make the same mistake again.

This time, I very carefully cooled the wort to 18°C before transferring the wort from the brew unit to the fermenter and only pitched the yeast once the temperature had been maintained for a little while.

Stage 6 - Fermenting

Just prior to pitching the yeast into the fermenter I took a sample for original gravity (OG) measurement, my target hydrometer reading was 1.063 and my measurement read 1.063, through the tiredness I felt vindicated that perhaps my amendments had fixed everything and in just two short weeks I’d be swimming in glorious, juicy beer..

I had issues with hitting my gravity target on my first brew and one of the reasons I think was that I didn’t try to oxygenate the wort on it’s journey into the fermenter, so I tried to do so this time and next time I’ll try a little harder to do so..

The liquid yeast and hitting the target temperatures before pitching definitely appeared to make big improvements, this time the fermenter bubbled much more rapidly, aggressively and for several days longer than before. So much so that it naturally increased the temperature in the fermenter to higher than the preferred range.. I adjusted the temperature regulator accordingly.

It was during the 10 days of fermentation that I started to suspect something had gone awry. Every 2-3 days I would take a yeast dump (much more carefully this time!) and a sample to measure progress. I also tasted the samples.. for educational purposes, you understand.. and immediately was concerned that this beer was hotter than anticipated. I did however already have a cold and a sore throat so I wasn’t absolutely sure if my suspicions were on point. So I continued.

Again though, my final gravity (FG) reading was higher than the target and this time I suspect it’s a combination of the higher strike and mash temperatures leading to a longer mash process as well as despite my attempts, under-oxygenating the wort when transferring into the fermenter. It possibly wasn’t aided by excessive sanitisation liquid contaminating everything.

I’m still learning, I’m still learning, I’m still learning.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 19L
  • Actual Volume: ~19.5L
  • Desired OG: 1.063
  • Actual OG: 1.063 - NOT A TYPO!!
  • Desired FG: 1.013
  • Actual FG: 1.033 - Also not a typo.
  • Desired ABV: 6.6%
  • Actual ABV: ~4% again.. probably.. I guess

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonating

I had identified and resolved the minor CO2 leak from my gas cylinder and honestly, this might have been the smoothest part of the whole process.

I force-carbonated the beer for 2 days at 30PSI, brought it down to 12PSI for another 24 hours, hooked it up to the tap and lowered the pressure to 10PSI. I left it for a couple of days more before pouring as I was pretty ill and also pretty busy.

Stage 8: Drinking

So, was it all worth it in the end? sob gulp sob

My heart was already seeking consolation from my ankles by the time I came to pour the beer. On a positive, it looked gorgeous, it smelled fresh and lightly hoppy and the head was bubbly, stubborn and inviting.

However, I had to check my neck immediately after drinking to ensure it hadn’t burned through my throat and poured on to my chest.

Without any further ado, I unhooked the keg and poured all 19L of the “beer” down the sink. Gutted! The brew day was about 8 hours long and it was really hard to keep up concentration levels for that stretch of time.

For the next brew, which of course there will be on our return from Japan in January, I hope to try the same beer again and correct the one major and few minor mistakes. I will have a brewing buddy this time, a real one and not just the kindly souls from Estonia and Finland!

Beers from Estonia and Finland


And So It Begins

Notes from brew day #1
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 11-minute read
Tags:

The much anticipated first brew day in what I hope to be many subsequent and incrementally improved brew days finally culminating in a career in the #craftbeer industry, has come and gone. This shall be a summary of the events as well as the mistakes I believe that I made along the way and thoughts on how to fix them for my next brew day.

The Beer Kit

US IPA 11L All Grain Beer Kit

For the first handful of brews I am trying to understand the methods and get used to the equipment that I’ll be using for the next few years of home brewing and so I have opted to buy all-grain beer kits in an effort to focus on process. The beer kit for brew numero uno was this US IPA 11L All Grain Beer Kit from Edinburgh based brew store .

The kit contained a pre-ground bag of grains (unspecified), 2 vacuum-packed foil wrapped packs of hop pellets (namely hop A and hop B) and one sachet of Mangrove Jack’s M44 West Coast Ale Yeast.

The ingredients were accompanied by some general brewing tips and the …

Brew Day Sheet

This very handy two page guide split the brew into its composite stages and provided target temperatures, gravity readings and volumes as well as space for recording timings and measurements throughout the day. It was very useful and despite my occasional flapping it kept me pretty much on track. The composite parts of the sheet will be incorporated below in the stage sections.

Stage 0 - Prep!

This was added to this post as an afterthought but it is far to important to be so. Not only did I have to finish setting up my brewing equipment and hooking up gas etc. to my kegerator.. I had to CLEAN EVERYTHING and SANITISE EVERYTHING! Not doing so can lead to the beer being infected and being undrinkable at best.

I’ve worked for many, many years in bars and kitchens, I’m an avid cook and I have drilled myself during this time into always maintaining a clean and organseid work area (only in the kitchen!) so this wasn’t a stretch. I also found it very relaxing and quite nostalgic to be cleaning beer lines etc. again after all this time.

There was little risk of me not doing this stage well, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it all the me.

AWP Cleaner and Sanitiser which I used to clean everything!

Always thoroughly clean and sanitise your food/drink preparation and equipment.. anything that comes in contact with the beer or ingredients during the brew day must be clean and sanitary.

Chemsan no rinse sanitiser - because it’s handy to have spray bottle even though everything was already technically sanitised

Stage 1 - Striking & Mashing

In a nutshell the mash is the introduction of the grain bill to the hot strike water and steeping at an ideal temperature for a set period of time. The process activates enzymes which breaks down the starches in the grains into sugars which are then dissolved into the hot water to create wort.

The first part of this stage is measuring the volume of strike water (12L) and getting it up to ideal temperature, in this case 76°C. Whilst there really isn’t much room for error here, I did heat the strike water in an electric urn rather than in the mash tun.. it may have been quicker the other way around.. we shall see next time.

I then slowly introduced the grain bill into the water, stirring as I wanted to ensure that any grain clumps are broken down and then once the porridge-y concoction as in place, we reduce the temperature to 66°C to steep the grains for an hour. The temperature of the mash influences the body of the beer, lighter and drier beers are mashed at slightly lower temperatures than full bodied beers. This beer is middle of the road, a medium bodied beer.

So far, so good!

Stage 2 - Lautering & Sparging

Lautering is a term used for the removal of the spent grains from the mash tun, leaving only wort behind which in larger volume brewing is transferred to a separate boiling unit. My grainfather acts as both a mash tun and a boiler so I guess my beer is only partially lautered??

Several of the snippets of wisdom come second hand from this book: Brew by James Morton

The next process is the exquisitely named sparge! This step in my generously named ‘brew kitchen’ involves lifting the inner chamber of the grainfather and pouring 4-6 litres of 76°C water slowly through the spent grains so that all of the remaining sugars are rinsed off and into the wort below.

My target wort volume after sparging was 15L and I’m relieved to report that I hit the target on the nose.

Two stages down and though there may be some efficiency gains for next brew, no actual beer affecting mistakes yet!

Stage 3 - Boiling

In layman’s terms, this method involves raising the wort to boiling temperature and maintaining that for a period of time, in this case 60 minutes.

NAILED IT!

Stage 4 - Hop Additions

This is where it can get a little tricky because the hops have different functions or rather add different qualities to the beer depending on when they are added. Hops add flavour, bitterness and aroma, I guess technically bitterness is a subset of flavour but it’s my blog and after buying the kit and brewing it.. my beer so :P

Hops added at the start of the boil are bittering hops and when added later in the boil or even post-fermentation this is for flavour depth (as in not bitter notes) and aroma.

The schedule for this brew was:

  • 10g of hop A and 10g of hop B at 60 minutes (start of boil)
  • 10g of hop A and 10g of hop B at 7 minutes (53 minutes into the boil)
  • 10g of hop A and 10g of hop B - Dry hop 4 days. The hops are added to the fermenter (secondary if you have one) once the beer has fermented and left to steep for 4 days.

I had noted from various books and online videos that a very important process when adding hops is called whirlpooling and involves using your stirring implement of choice (sanitised of course) and creating a whirlpool in the wort for about 30 seconds, this allows the hops to disperse more evenly into the beer (or something like that, I need to revisit the theory).. and this was the step where I met my first challenge.

Due to me opting for a small batch, I didn’t have a lot of liquid to work with and struggled to create a proper whirlpool without hitting the false bottom inside the grainfather and potentially dislodging filters etc. The same challenge awaited me with the dry hopping stage.

So lesson 1, make larger volumes of beer! There are probably other ways to have overcome this challenge but too late for that now!

Stage 5 - Cooling

During this stage we rapidly cool the wort from boiling to a target temperature of 18-23°C for transferring into the fermenter. In my case using the grainfather this is done by pumping the boiling wort through a counter flow wort cooler which is a coil that ts atop the unit and attaches to a cold water outlet of your choice, the cold water is contained within the cooler and the hot wort is pumped through the coils, reducing in temperature with each circuit. Conveniently the hot wort sanitises the cooler as it goes through the first run as that would be a nightmare to have to sanitise otherwise.

Grainfather wort cooling coil

I had a few issues here due to buying a cheap garden hose to connect my only compatible tap to the cooling unit a number of metres away.. there were leaks and containing them wasn’t fun.. but only water was sprayed about so no big deal.

As I have no thermometer unit in order to gauge the temperature of the wort as it flows through I also over-chilled the wort at this age, reducing the temperature to about 14°C. Which was the temperature that I transferred the wort into the fermenter.

Stage 6 - Fermenting

The temperature was too low, but I have a temperature controlled conical fermenter so I set the temperature to 20°C and I took my sample to record the original gravity (OG) reading from my hydrometer. However due to the leaks and missed target temperature I got slightly flustered and instead of waiting until the wort had hit the preferred temperature I pitched the yeast too early (at about 15°C).. This mistake inevitably impacted the beer.

Wort trickling into the fermenter

Once the wort was transferred and yeast pitched, I sealed the unit and added the airlock. Before long the yeast that hadn’t needlesy died of hypothermia started munching on the sugars creating alcohol and causing the airlock to gently bubble reasonably frequently. The sound of the yeast ‘farting’ was a source of entertainment for a couple of days.

The wort is left to ferment and turn into beer over the next 7-10 days, or whenever two identical gravity readings are taken over the space of two consecutive days. Every 2-3 days I needed to perform a yeast dump, which is to slowly .. dump dead yeast from a valve at the bottom of the fermenter.. I wish I had paid more attention to the word slowly before engaging in this process.

7 days passed and I had very static gravity readings, not anywhere near target but consistent.. in fact I had them after 4 days but didn’t want to give up hope so waited the week. Hops were added, a failed attempt at whirlpooling occurred and the fermenter was re-sealed for 4 days.

So, to summarise my mistakes in this stage:

  1. Over-cooled the wort - recoverable, but…
  2. Pitched the yeast before the wort recovered to a target temperature - killing some yeast and leading to a higher final gravity and lower ABV beer.
  3. Rapidly dumped yeast, losing a fair amount of wort in the process.

Lessons learned: Breathe and take your time.

For reference the following were my volume and gravity targets and final gravity (FG) results:

  • Desired Volume: 11L
  • Actual Volume: ~11L (woohoo!)
  • Desired OG: 1.061
  • Actual OG: 1.059 - That seems pretty close to me
  • Desired FG: 1.012
  • Actual FG: 1.027 - Ah FFG! Missed by a whack but I think it’s explained by the mistakes I made.
  • Desired ABV: 6.5%
  • Actual ABV: ~4%

Stage 7: Kegging & Carbonising

After 4 days of hops steeping in the fermented beer it was time to transfer this nectar into one or many receptacles.. I opted for a keg because it’s simpler albeit more expensive. I also, as a bartender of almost two decades, really, REALLY wanted to have draft beer on tap at home.

Panic set in a little here as I had read so many different carbonation methods, some ‘natural’ ones involving the introduction of brewing sugar and storing at room temperature for weeks and some rapid ‘forced’ carbonisation using CO2 at high pressures in order to produce carbonated beer on tap within 4 hours. I am by nature a very patient man but I forgot to buy sugar so.. I opted to carbonate the beer using CO2.

The option I eventually settled on actually came from the grainfather manual and involved pressuring a keg at 30PSI for 2 days in the fridge, reducing this to 10-12 PSI for 1 day in the fridge, then reducing this to 8-10PSI and hooking the beer outlet pipe up to the tap.. then after 4 hours.. DRINK!!

So I followed the instructions and sampled the beer after the suggested duration.. it poured like a dream! The head retention was phenomenal.. but sadly the beer itself was a shade flat. It occurred to me pretty swiftly that this was due to the lower volume of beer in the keg.. so I disconnected, upped the PSI to 30 again for another day, reduced to 10-12 PSI for half a day then hooked the beer up.. BINGO!

However, I have noticed that I do have a very slight CO2 leak. I think I know why, I don’t think the keg is sealed as well as it could be. I’m going to try and focus on this a bit more with the next brew but honestly, I think it will take some practice before the leakage is eliminated.

Stage 8: Drinking

So, was it all worth it in the end? Hell to the yes!

It’s a baby beer!

I have never drank this particular beer before and so I don’t have a direct comparison.. It is however, despite its flaws, drinkable and even quite enjoyable! Even more so after a few days of settling.

There are improvements that I think could be made and reached primarily by resolving the mistakes above but also I could have used irish moss to clarify the beer if the haziness was of concern (it wasn’t) and this will be a consideration going forward.

My next brew day is tomorrow and all of my equipment has already been cleaned, I will sanitise as I go. Whilst I had hoped to use the same beer kit in a larger volume the brew store didn’t have it, so I’ve gone with their limited addition NEIPA (New England IPA) which I am very much looking forward to.

The journey continues!

Note: The image at the top of the post is a photo of a selection of beers from Fierce Brewing in my beer fridge. They are one of a number of breweries who have inspired me to this point.


Tasting Notes - Op & Top

Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 1-minute read
Tags:
Name (名前) Brewery (醸造所) Country (国) Type (種類) ABV % (アルコール度数) IBU (アイビーユー) 
Op & Top Brouwerij De Molen Netherlands English Bitter 4.5 38

This was the first of a short-lived effort at cataloging my tasting notes using paper and pencil. It was also my first attempt at recording my thoughts about the pour, nose and taste of beer. I’m hoping that with more experience, I’ll be a shade more creative going forwards!

以下は私の初めての紙と鉛筆で書いたビール試飲ノートの試みです。説明で非常に基本的な言葉をたくさん使いましたが、まだまだ勉強しています!これから面白いビール醸造関連の言葉をもっと学びたいです。

Disclaimer: I’m not an artist and there will be some shockingly poor logo sketches in this series! I just wanted to mention this before someone else did!


Brewshido - A beer journal - Intro

Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 3-minute read
Tags:

Some time ago, I made the decision that at some future point in my life I want to be a craft beer brewer. For reasons this has not yet transpired but the dream still remains and recent plans to relocate to rural Japan in 4 years time provide potential opportunity for the wheels to be put in motion.

以前からずっと、将来ビール醸造者になりたいと思っていました。まだまだ夢の段階ですが、4年後ぐらいに日本の田舎に引っ越す予定なので、達成可能な夢だと思います。

My only experience thus far of brewing was when a few years ago, a friend invited myself and a few others to the Stewart Brewing Craft Beer Kitchen where under the guidance of a resident brewer we had a fairly decent go at making a milk stout. The day in the brew kitchen was excellent and really encouraged me to learn more about the process.

今までにビールを作ったことが一度だけあります。その時は友達と一緒にStewart Brewing Craft Beer Kitchen(スチュワート・ブルーイング・クラフトビール・キッチン)でビール醸造者からミルクスタウトの作り方を学びました。それはとても面白い経験だったので、ビールの作り方についてもっと学ぶように励まされました。

As it stands, in a room which was formerly a garage but hasn’t quite finished it’s conversion into anything resembling suitable, sits a Grainfather All Grain Brewing System along with a conical fermenter, a large urn and various other brewing paraphernalia. All as of yet, still boxed and awaiting their inaugural run. I have a few other pieces to “invest” in before I’m ready to start brewing but the main barrier has been the unfinished room.. which will hopefully be finished soon.

残念なことに、「Grainfather(グレーンファーザー)」というビール醸造機や円すい発酵槽、その他のいろいろな醸造の機器を買ったにもかかわらず、私はまだビールを醸造していません。できれば近いうちに最初のビールを作りたいです。

I’ve been a member of the Beer52 craft beer club since a month after its inception (I think) and have sampled many craft beers from around the planet and each month I learn a little more. I initially started a paper journal, just recording the hop choices and tasting notes for the beers I was getting delivered, however that soon became tiresome and primarily delayed the drinking of the beer so I stopped. I still have a lot of learning to do and am hoping that recording my drinking and eventually brewing experiences will help me in this process.

「Beer52]というクラフトビールクラブが始まってすぐの頃から、私は会員です。毎月いろいろな世界中からの新しいビールを試飲する度に、ビールについてもう少し深く学べています。でも、まだまだ勉強するつもりです。

Some reading materials

So, the purpose of this blog will be primarily self-education and note-taking but I hope that it provides some interesting reading for fellow enthusiasts who like myself don’t necessarily have all the jargon knowledge of more seasoned professionals.

このブログでビールの試飲や醸造の記録を書きながら、ビールの作り方について学んでいこうと思っています。このブログで他の方と興味を共有できれば幸いです。

I’m categorising this journal under brewshido.. Bushido is the Japanese term for “way of the warrior” and I previously had a blog called bushidodreams (which can be found on this site).. so I’m coining the term brewshido to mean the way of the brewer.

I acknowledge that neither my brewing nor my Japanese language knowledge are of a sufficient level to warrant the brashness of coining a new word in my second language but it is what it is!

ところでビール醸造以外には、武士道と日本の歴史に興味があります。それで、Brewは「醸造」という意味なのです。でも私の日本語もビール醸造のレベルはまだまだですが、侍もビールも好きなので、ブログの名前をbrewshidoにしました。


Defunct Blogs - A Memorandum

Blog: Whitabootery
4-minute read
Tags:

Bushido Dreams

A logo I made in my parent’s house, whilst incredibly bored awaiting my year in Okayama to begin.

Bushido Dreams Logo

Bushido Dreams was my first real blog, the first which actually attracted readers (albeit in small numbers) from all around the world.

I started it in advance of moving to Japan for the exchange year of my Japanese undergraduate degree. I was a mature student, starting the degree at 30 years old and it gave me a chance to write a little about my experiences, practice some Japanese and as it turns out gain the attention of an amateur photographer in Okayama who would offer me a loan of the camera I had hoped to buy before the trip! (which I lost along with an iPhone I had won, one drunken day in Yoyogi park in Tokyo).

Unfortunately due to a database corruption I lost a lot of the blog posts (including ALL of the Japanese ones) and what remains has been imported into this site from the soon to be retired bushidodreams.com

Kilted Scot

When the .scot TLD went live I went a little crazy and booked a handful of domains, primarily for my own future use but also with a thought that maybe, just maybe someone might be interested in purchasing one from me.. it almost happened too with a domain I’m also about to give up (rebellious.scot) when I was approached by a craft brewery in the Borders of Scotland.. I was keen to do a deal, maybe for a case of beer or something like that.. but I never heard back from them..

Anyway, I decided that kilted.scot seemed fitting for the home of my journal recording my experience of learning Gaelic (or Gàidhlig) and so started an unfortunately short-lived and infrequently updated blog. Sadly, after a very interesting first year of night classes the second year moved to a day of the week which was at the time impossible for me to attend and as such, the blog ceased to be.

Kilted Scot Logo

I only managed 16 blog posts (actually a couple more that I didn’t think needed importing to here) but this turned out to be a really good educational tool for me, I re-realised that an important process in language learning is regurgitation of what you’ve learned and whilst I wasn’t able to speak to anyone at home or in my social circles in Gàidhlig, the blog gave me a way of committing what I’d learned to memory.

Farewell kilted.scot - you served me well.

Sovereign Scot

This was another .scot domain that I booked early without any real notion of how to use it.. but then my political awakening happened in around 2011 when the SNP were elected by majority, breaking the system and we knew an independence referendum was on the cards.

Sovereign Scot Logo

In the build up to the independence referendum an abundance of excellent digital resources popped up in order to inform the populace on our choices, however due largely to disparagement from the “Scottish” media many of the sources were deemed untrustworthy through the eyes of an unsure and confused majority. I had briefly thought that in my social circles (which were already largely YES confirmed or heavily leaning) that I might be able to help some NO-leaning or undecided friends to vote YES if I researched and presented my research in my words on a blog, intended purely for the audience of my own social circles.

As it transpires, I spent most of my time researching and not enough time presenting and when I did share or post on Facebook, it seemed (surprisingly) that no-one was seeing or acknowledging my posts.. (I suspected foul play at a very early stage - fucking algorithms!).. A mixture of lack of spare time, rescusitating Bushido Dreams and creating Kilted Scot, a concern about over-sharing of my blog to folks outwith my social circle and a lack of confidence in myself, that I was presenting something that hadn’t been said more succinctly than others.. all contributed to the site never really being populated or published.. but for posterity, I’ve imported those posts to this blog.

The lights were never switched on for sovereign.scot

Going Forward

I intend to transfer this blog into a self-hosted federated blogging site at some point in the future, when I’m happy with the progress and suitability of the available options. In the meantime I hope to semi-frequently compose new posts covering a wider range of topics than the three blogs above. There is a fairly good chance given our desire to move to rural Japan in the future that the ethos of Bushido Dreams will spill into nipponalba, but otherwise I’ll likely post about all manner of diverse topics and hope some of you will find them interesting!


The Fediverse

Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 6-minute read
Tags:

Back in April last year I posted a long update on facebook describing my rookie understanding of distributed and federated networks and my opinions on the options that I had tried at the time. Of course, chances are no-one actually saw the post due to Facebook’s algorithms but there we are, the original post has been reproduced here .

Since then I’ve built and destroyed multiple instances of various flavours of federated social media:

In addition I’ve built a nextcloud server and an xmpp server, as well as self-hosting all of my email accounts.

There are other types of federated services such as Prismo and GetTogether that I haven’t even had a chance to properly explore and I am perpetually on the lookout for a federated photo album application which can replace my koken photo website (even briefly considered writing it myself!).

Why bother doing any of this, when most of the services are already provided by Google, Facebook or Twitter?

READ A NEWSPAPER!

I am done with being harvested for marketing data or for national election\referenda manipulation.. I don’t want an algorithm to decide what content (that has been shared with me) I am or am not permitted to see.. I am sick and tired of opening an app on my phone and being presented with ads for products and services that the app should not know are suitable (or not) for me.. and I don’t want my daughter and any future kids to be no more than a cog in a data machine, inadvertently being harvested by corrupt mega corporations for profit or indeed, worse.

As such, I’ve decided to provide alternative services for those of my family and close friends who wish to use them as privacy focussed, decentralised alternatives. It may well be that they have little to no interest and that’s fine, but should they be curious or change their mind then I have their back - and if they don’t trust me with their data more than they do Facebook then, I will happily help them set up their own self-hosted services.

So why have I chosen the services I am currently hosting?

  1. They are privacy and security focused by default and being self-hosted, hardened where possible by myself.
  2. They are federated services built on the ActivityPub protocol. This means that the different sites speak the same language and therefore can communicate with each other despite providing different services. So a pleroma user can follow a friendica user or a mastodon user, a pixelfed user or a writefreely user etc.
  3. They are distributed services. Rather than being in one global corporations’ data centre(s) the network is comprised of thousands of smaller, often self-hosted installations. This makes them less vulnerable to attacks, and much harder to censor.
  4. They are open-source applications. The source code is available for anyone to verify it, report bugs/flaws and strengthen the application on a community basis.
  5. They can be self-hosted, which means I am in complete control of my content.
  6. They are free - though buying the developers, moderators, hosts and contributors a coffee would be appreciated.
  7. There are no ads, no algorithms and complete transparency.

The services which I currently host

  1. Pleroma - this is my main social media site, it is a micro-blogging site (think twitter) with several front end options. It is light enough to run on a raspberry pi on a home network (mine now runs on a RockPro64 from Pine64 alongside my matrix and xmpp servers). The devs are very approachable and are very active.
  2. Pixelfed - an instagram replacement, it is still under development though basically functional, the next beta update (due very soon) should bring a lot more functionality and the following update will bring instagram & tumblr import functionality. I wrote a bit more about why I like pixelfed here .
  3. Matrix - It can provide audio, video and text chat as well as conferencing.. rooms can be bridged to other services such as RSS feeds, IRC etc. It could be a replacement for WhatsApp, LINE and Telegram but has a little more work to do for multi-user encryption.
  4. XMPP - A simple enough FB messenger replacement, a chat service with file sharing capabilities, fully end-to-end encrypted.
  5. Nextcloud - this is a home cloud system with a huge amount of customisation and applications including text, audio, video chat, social media (via ActivityPub ), distributed filesharing and collaboration, phone tracking, email client, phone backups, rss reader, calendar, audio player etc. This is just for us in our house but potentially in the future I may re-create a shared talk/social media nextcloud server with limited storage quotas.
  6. Funkwhale - a music site soon to be podcast capable. I host my music collection here privately so that I can lien remotely (replaces spotify for me). It can be used to host and share creative commons music but I’m a novice in finding CC music (that I like) so I haven’t yet explored this.

The website switching.software has a lot more information about different alternatives to centralised srvices, written in plain, non-techy language, however here are some of the main alternatives (disclaimer: in various states of active development)

Good Guys Wank
pleroma, mastodon, zap, friendica, diaspora facebook, twitter
pixelfed instagram
peertube youtube
writefreely, plume medium, blogger
nextcloud dropbox, google drive, onedrive, box
xmpp, matrix messenger, whatsapp, LINE, telegram

I recently saw a post via pleroma:

Friend: Are you OK? You haven’t posted on Instagram in ages

Me: I quit FB, Instagram, and Twitter.

Friend: Why’d you quit the internet?

Me: Actually I’ve rejoined the Internet.

This about sums it up for me, I’ve left the data harvesting silos but I’ve re-joined the internet.

One common observation of those on “the fediverse” is that everyone is much friendlier.. that’s because we’re not being manipulated, our timelines are not manufactured and we’re able to have genuine discourse with humans free of corporate interference. There are still asshats and bots but you have the ability to curate your own timeline and have the support of an admin who cares about his instance who will assist if required.. and if you don’t feel that your admin has your back.. then you can just move to another instance or make your own.

As a side note: I have also replaced Google’s android on my phone with LineageOS without any google services and have deleted my google, facebook (including whatsapp & instagram) and twitter accounts. In April, I’ll hopefully take delivery of a Purism Librem 5 phone which is built on a security and privacy focused linux distribution and not android at all.

Edited (February 5, 2020) to update currently hosted apps and mention I’m ill waiting for the fucking Librem 5 phone..

Edited (April 23, 2020) to update currently hosted apps and mention that Purism are on rocky ground, if I don’t get some sort of update about my Librem 5 phone soon then I’ll be requesting a refund and opting for a PinePhone.


Distributed or Federated Social Network

Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 2-minute read
Tags:

EDIT: This was written in the early-ish days of my federated social network exploration and posted to facebook, some of the opinions are out of date and a newer, related article can be found here .

These are decentralised, open source, social networks which are interoperable (they all talk to one another). There is no advertising, no data-mining, no central ownership, but also no censorship. The don’t insist you sign up with your full name and indeed recommend you not doing so.

There are a number of different networks available with the most popular currently being Mastodon, Diaspora*, Hubzilla, Friendica etc. Each flavour offers slightly different services\functions such as chat, RSS feeds, photo albums, interactions with other social networks etc.

However, they are not owned by corporations and as such are generally not as feature-rich as those centralised, closed-source social networks such as facebook, google+ and twitter etc.

Each has a learning curve though not unsurmountable, I’d imagine pretty easy to overcome if you join one of the bigger population public servers. I’ve set up my own server so it was a slightly more complex process for me.

I tried diaspora*, friendica and briefly mastodon..

I loved the simplicity of diaspora* but it lacked some functionality that I was looking for (such as photo albums).

Mastodon is very twitter like and the server that I joined was overwhelmingly full of Japanese anime otaku so it wasn’t a great experience. So I don’t have much info to share on that one.

So I have settled (I think) on Friendica, it has an integrated RSS feed so I can see news articles etc. that I was accustomed to seeing in FB. It can integrate with other non-federated social networks. You can have multiple profiles, so for example a work profile and one for more personal relationships. I’ve integrated a FB like chat. The bigger public servers will have these features and more.

Friendica also has the greatest connectivity to other networks with in the two entities that are the federation and the fediverse (free network link below)

More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_social_network

A quick guide to the free network

Popular public sites for diaspora*, friendica and mastodon:

Diaspora*:

Friendica:

Mastodon:


Freagair - Lesson 2 (Term 3)

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 4-minute read
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Hàlo! Wow, I haven’t updated this blog since November last year! Apologies to anyone who visits but life got in the way as it so often does.

Anyhow, I am still studying Gàidhlig and whilst my attendance for term 2 was unfortunately only about 40-50% I’m still holding my own :)

At this stage there is a similar pattern to my Gaelic studying experience as there was (is) to my Japanese experience and in both I think that patchy attendance is most likely the cause.. that is that I am managing to understand the grammar concepts, I can read and write (obviously with many dictionary references) and I’m slowly getting my tongue around some of the pronunciation.. but my comprehension of spoken Gaelic is still very weak.

Hopefully I’ll manage a sustained run of attendance to classes this term and start to improve upon this (2/2 so far!).

So, I thought I’d share my homework for this week whilst I work on it. We are learning about past tense and present tense verb conjugation/construction and in class we answered the following Ceistean with positive responses, the homework is to construct the negative responses to the questions.

I missed the class in term two where this was discussed and as such don’t have explanatory handout so will have to actually work through this one on my tenuous understanding of the grammar rules.

Ceistean “yes” “no” Question
A bheil thu tinn? Tha mi tinn. Chan eil mi tinn. Are you ill?
A bheil thu a’ dol don chèilidh? Tha mi a’ dol don chèilidh. Chan eil mi a’ dol don chèilidh. Are you going to the ceilidh?
An robh thu aig a’ bhùth an-dè? Bha mi aig a’ bhùth an-dè. Cha robh aig a’ bhùth an-dè. Were you at the shop yesterday?
An robh thu aig a’ cheilidh a-raoir? Bha mi aig a’ cheilidh a-raoir. Cha robh aig a’ cheilidh a-raoir. Were you at the ceilidh last night?
Am bi thu a’ tighinn an seo tric? Bidh mi a’ tighinn an seo tric? Cha bhi mi a’ tighinn an seo tric? Do you come here often?
An e saor a th’annad? ‘Se saor a th’annam. Chan e saor a th’annam. Are you a joiner?
An e poileas a th’annad? ‘Se poileas a th’annam. Chan e poileas a th’annam. Are you a police officer?
An toil leat cofaidh? ‘S toil leam cofaidh. Cha toil leam cofaidh. Do you like coffee?
An toil leat iasg? ‘S toil leam iasg. Cha toil leam iasg. Do you like fish?
An do dh’ òl thu an tì? Dh’ òl mi an tì. Cha do dh’ ol mi an tì. Did you drink the tea?
An do dh’ ith thu an fheòil? Dh’ ith mi an fheòil. Cha do dh’ ith mi an fheòil. Did you eat the meat?
An do chuir thu ort do chòta? Chuiridh mi orm mo chòta. Cha do chuiridh mi orm mo chòta. Did wear your coat?
An ith thu iasg? Ithidh mi iasg. Chan ithidh mi iasg. Will you eat fish?
An suidh thu ri taobh Iain? Suidhidh mi ri taobh Iain. Cha suidhidh mi ri taobh Iain. Will you sit beside Iain?
An dèan thu cofaidh?* Ni mi cofaidh. Cha dèan mi cofaidh. Will you make coffee?
An do rinn thu cèic?* Rinn mi cèic. Cha d’ rinn mi cèic. Did you make cake?
An toil leat snàmh? ‘S toil leam snàmh. Cha toil leam sn’amh Do you like swimming?

* dèan is one of ten irregular verbs in Gaelic and doesn’t follow the regular conjugation rules, in this case the past tense form of dèan is rinn and the future tense positive form ni.

Questions in Gaelic appear to frequently be about coffee and cake (possibly more reflective of our tutor) and as I don’t like, make or eat either my, conversations tend to be somewhat shorter than the rest of the classes :).


え ず い Exploring Tosa-ben 4

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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Following on from Tosa-ben Card Game (龍馬・土佐弁かるた) I thought it may be interesting for some people if I were to do a series of short posts relating to the vocabulary that I learn from the game.

Even if not, I’m learning that maintaining a Gaelic blog is helping me learn the language so hopefully this will help me with Tosa-ben.

Fourth in the series is えずい which is pronounced ezui, the meaning is ‘cruel, awful or atrocious’.

The common Japanese equivalent for えずい in normal use is probably ひどい(hidoi) but the example on the card uses むごたらしい(mugotarashii) which conveys a meaning more like ‘incredibly brutal, gory or gruesome’.

The example sentence on the card is:

えずいことよのー半平太は投獄の挙げ句切腹の御沙汰じゃと

えずいことよのー  __はんぺいた__は  __とうごく__の__あ__げ__く せっぷく__の__ごさた__じゃと

ezui koto yono- hanpeita wa tougoku no ageku seppuku no gosata ja to

共通語:むごたらしいね (武市)半平太は 投獄された挙げ句に 切腹を申しつけられたそうだ

むごたらしいね (たけち)__はんぺいた__は __とうごく__された__あ__げ__く__に __せっぷく__を__もう__しつけられたそうだ

common Japanese: mugotarashii ne (Takechi)Hanpeita wa tougokusareta agekuni seppuku wo moushitsukerareta sou da

Now for the part of the post which is likely to go through various transformations as I’m corrected by my はちきん(hachikin) wife or family and friends from Kochi!

English : It’s gruesome, its seems that at the end of his imprisonment Takechi Hanpeita was instructed to commit seppuku (suicide by disemboweling).

*Takechi Hanpeita was a major proponent of 大政奉還 (たいせいほうかんtaisei houkan) and associate of Sakamoto Ryoma, he wished for the Tosa domain to be a major player in returning control of the country to the Emperor. Whilst later playing that major role, the feudal lord Yamauchi Yōdō imprisoned Hanpeita and eventually instructed him to commit suicide, though this may seem cruel, to Samurai it was a way of dying with honour.

So, now to the rest of the sentence and a look at other Tosa-ben (if any) at play in this example.

  • よのー (yo no-)– I’ve not seen this form before but it seems to be loosely equivalent to ね but perhaps with a little additional emphasis.
  • じゃと (ja to) – only the じゃ is strictly Tosa-ben and it is the Tosa form of the copula です (desu) the と indicates that the action (seppuku) was the result of instruction.

Tha mi trang gach latha! – Notes on Lesson 8

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 5-minute read
Tags:

This was a tough week, I missed a lot having been absent from class for a fortnight but even for those who had been in attendance previously this was a tough week.

In this week’s notes I am going to type out the reading for our homework assignment in whole and will underline points of interest for discussion afterwards.

If you’ve read my previous posts you will probably understand the reaction of shock and awe that I experienced when I opened the document, with my handy abaìr! dictionary in tow though I went to work translating it.

I made a number of mistakes but I’ll try and explain why as I go along. I’m not going to provide a translation for the whole piece (because I’m a bit evil) as no-one wants to read a blog post of that length!

Is mise Ann agus tha mi à Leodhas ach a’fuireach ann am Musselburgh. Tha flat ùr agam an sin agus tha e bun os cionn an drasda! Rugadh agus thogadh mi ann an Garrabost ann an Leodhas. Cha robh ach timcheall air fichead taigh ann nuair a bha mi òg.

Bha mi a’fuireach ann an taigh criot comhla rì m’athair, mo mhàthair, agus dithis pheathraichean. ‘Se Alison agus Doreen a th’orra. Tha iadsan a’fuireach ann an Leodhas fhathast, agus tha Alison a’fuireach ann an Garrabost fhathast! Tha iad posda agus tha nighean aig Doreen agus dithis nighean aig Alison – chan eil balaich idir anns an teaghlach – tha dithis nighean agamsa cuideachd!

Nuair a bha mi seachd deug bha mi a’dol gu Obar Dheathain gu an Oiltigh… ach, obh, obh ‘s beag orm Obar Dheathain!! Bha mi a’dol dhachaidh an dèidh trì seachdainean!

Aig ochd deug bha mi a’dol gu Glaschu agus ‘s mòr orm Glaschu! Tha mo nighean, Rebecca a nis a’fuireach ann an Glaschu!

Tha m’athair a nis ceithir fichead ‘sa còig agus mo mhàthair tri fichead ‘sa còig deug. Bidh iad trang gach latha agus tha iad gu math! Bidh mi a’dol gu Leodhas anns an Dubhlachd airson ceilidh air an teaghlach!

Nueair a bha mo chlann nighean òg bha iad toilichte ann an Leodhas ag obair air an criot comhla rì m’athair!

Tha aon nighean agam a’fuireach ann am Musselburgh agus an nighean eile ann an Glaschu!

This is the story of Ann’s family and there are a few tricky phrases in there if you haven’t heard them explained or had any context supplied.

For example, when I tried to translate ‘s beag orm and ‘s mòr orm all I knew was that beag means ‘small’ and mòr means ‘big’ so since they were in relation to places (Aberdeen and Glasgow) I figured that they would perhaps relate to either the size of the city or the duration of time there.. so I guessed at either ‘Aberdeen is too small’ or ‘I stayed in Aberdeen briefly’ and the opposite for Glasgow.

I was mistaken, though in fairness I wasn’t far off. As it happens ‘s beag orm is a colloqualism meaning ‘I hate it’ and conversely ‘s mòr orm means ‘I love it’ so Ann hates Aberdeen and loves Glasgow. Not sure what there is to hate about Aberdeen but then I only lived there for seven years not the three weeks that Ann managed :P.

Another clause I found interesting and I think would have struggled to translate if I wasn’t Scottish is chan eil ach which means (in this context) ‘There wasn’t but (20 houses when I lived there)’ this is perhaps seldom used nowadays but is a standard Scottish turn of phrase.

Otherwise the rest of the underlined words are just new vocabulary:

Gàidhlig English
an sin / ann there
an drasda now (with immediacy as in ‘right now, this moment’)
a nis now (more general, as in ‘these days’)
nuair when
_fhathast*_ still
comhla rì along with
_‘se … a th’orra**_ Their names are ..
trang gach latha lit: ‘busy every day’
Dubhlachd December (lit: The Black Month)
eile other

* We learned before that to ask someone their name you would say Cò thusa? which literally means ‘who are you?’ however there is an alternate way which means ‘what is your name?’ and this is dè an t-ainm a th’ort? The response to this question is ‘se <name> (an t-ainm) a tha orm (abbreviated to a th’orm). The form of orm is changed dependant on the personal pronoun, so in this case th’orra is used for ‘they’.

** I find the pronunciation of this word fairly amusing, it is a good example of how complicated Gaelic spelling can be compared to its pronunciation, though often the reverse is true too. Fhathast is basically pronounced ‘haast’ as the ‘f’ isn’t pronounced when lenited and ‘th’ is also not pronounced mid-word.

We also touched upon dithis again which is the counter for two people and just like it’s relative (two) it’s a fickle creature. Dithis means ‘twosome’ which is a noun and therefore when followed by a second noun (as it always would be) the second noun doesn’t take a plural. This is due to the second noun taking the genitive case and reverting back to the singular form. That’s what I wrote down, I do not claim to understand it!

Finally, when talking about a dead person in Gaelic, much like other languages such as Japanese you generally aren’t as direct as referring to them as dead. Rather you tend to say they are not alive, chan eil iad beò. Alternatively, if you are prone to religion you might use caochail which means expired (specifically relating to people). If you are talking about animals or plants you would use marbh.


Dè an t-ainm a th-ort? – Lesson 8

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 4-minute read
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As I was being a good citizen and attending jury duty in high court and that case being of a mentally and emotionally draining nature, I missed week’s 6 and 7 and as such we’re jumping straight into week 8 and all of the joyful complexities that it contained!

This week’s lesson was focussed around a homework piece which the class had discussed during the previous week’s lesson and been utterly confused. I was sent the piece to attempt as homework however, without any of the context they had discussed and boy did I make a lot of mistakes!

I’ll discuss the homework in my follow up notes article and it as it related to family and counters for people I’ll write about that here. I presume that this was the content of much of week 7 and possibly even week 6 anyway so it will bridge the lesson gap somewhat for me.

An teaghlach – The Family

The crux of the lesson was on the use of different possessive pronouns and how they change the reference to members of a family, but first a vocabulary list of said family members:

Gàidhlig English
Màthair Mother
Màthair-chèile Mother-in-law
Athair Father
Athair-cèile Father-in-law
Bràthair / Braithrean Brother / Brothers
Brathair-cèile Brother-in-law
Piuthar / Peathraichean Sister / Sisters
Piuthar-chèile Sister-in-law
Seanmhair Grandmother
Seanair Grandfather
Antaidh Auntie
Uncail Uncle
Mac Son
Balach / Gille / Balaich Boy / Boy / Boys
Caileag Girl
Pàisde Child
Leanabh Baby
Nighean / Clann Nighean Daughter / Daughters
Bantrach Widow / Widower

Note that with regards to the in-laws, male family members don’t lenite cèile but female family members do lenite chèile.

This is relatively simple, well pronunciation aside at least.

Next we’ll look at the different personal pronouns:

Gàidhlig English
mo my
do your
a his
a her
ar our
ur your (pl)
an their

Immediately you should spot an issue, the pronouns for both his and her are the same! However, possessive pronouns mo (my) do (your) and a (his) are followed by lenition. All others are not, thus allowing us to distinguish between a masculine and a feminine pronoun.

Gàidhlig English
mo mhàthair my mother
do mhàthair your mother
a mhàthair his mother
a màthair her mother

In the case of Athair (father) the pronoun is abbreviated as the word starts with a vowel so mo athair becomes m’athair, do athair becomes d’athair etc. In order to avoid confusion between his and her father, her father becomes a h-àthair.

Next, let’s look at counters for people (only applied to people) which cover between two and ten people, I believe that any greater then you just use the normal number (happy to be corrected!).

Gàidhlig English
Dithis Two
Triùir Three
Ceathrar Four
Còignear Five
Sianar Six
Seachdnar Seven
Ochdnar Eight
Naoinear Naoi
Deichnear Ten

Finally, we looked over numbers again by way of a rest!

As mentioned before, Gaels count in units of twenty which isn’t overly tricky but tired minds find even the simplest tasks difficult so again this was a point of confusion.

On top of the numbers we previously heard we learned ceud (hundred), mìle (thousand) and millean (million), the first two being very familiar from the phrase ceud mìle fàilte meaning ‘a hundred thousand welcomes.’

We were told that you can either say numbers following an English style of just reading out the number as you see it.. so one hundred and fifty eight could be read as ceud dà fichead ‘sa ochd deug (one hundred two twenties and eighteen) or full-fat Gaelic which would be seachd fichead ‘sa ochd deug.

Reading years was slightly different as you read the first part as hundreds and the second as it is, so 1919 would be naoi deug ceud ‘sa naoi deug although that looks far simpler than the extensive discussion that was had around it in class.

As always, we finished with a song though thankfully we didn’t have to sing along as I would have objected to doing so. It was a Gaelic salm (psalm) and I would have been silent on the grounds of atheism.

However, unbeknownst to me this is a famous style of singing in Gaelic and would have been .. difficult.. for us to replicate.

This style of singing has a presenter sing the lyrics then the rest of the choir jump in to repeat, using whatever tune they fancy.

I’ll apologise now as it just sounds like a bunch of drunks trying to sing along at karaoke in an echo chamber as far as I’m concerned but each to their own :).

Salm 72


Tha eagal orm bho am fiaclair! – Notes on Lesson 5

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 2-minute read
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Just for a matter of record, the title of this post tha eagal orm bho am fiaclair! means (hopefully) I am afraid of the dentist!.. I’m not but growing up on Lewis my tutor was as the dentist in question was a mobile dentist and he liked a drink.. so the later in the day you got to him, the more tipples he would have had and the scarier the experience became! :)

This won’t be a sizeable post as the majority of what we covered in lesson 5 was directly related to time and is covered in the full lesson post but there were a few vocabulary and grammar points that I noted during the class.

The Gaelic word for ‘and’ is agus as we all know, but once you start studying the language you’ll notice lots of abbreviations and in this case when you see ‘s in a sentence it is the shortened form for agus.

We’ve seen before when describing what we did that verbs, or more accurately verbal nouns, such as ag’ ol (to drink) or a’ sgrìobhadh (to write) are preceded by ag’ or a’ which unsurprisingly has an associated rule which thankfully in this case is very simple: if the verbal noun starts with a vowel you use ag’ and if it starts with a consonant you use a’.

Other than those few grammar points, we learned some more vocabulary:

Gàidhlig English
air as .. back ..
air as gu .. back to ..
ag aontachadh le .. agreeing with/at one with ..
crosda bad(ly behaved) or cross
bun sgoil primary school
ard sgoil high school
aig at
fiaclair dentist
tha eagal orm i’m afraid
tha eagal orm bho .. i’m afraid of ..

That’s all folks, short and sweet this week. Even shorter and sweeter for the next two weeks as I missed those classes due to jury duty!


Timcheal air dà uair dheug ‘n oidhche – Lesson 5

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 3-minute read
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It has been a frenetic month and due to several disruptive weeks in court as a juror I not only missed some classes but also fell behind with blog updates. So somewhat tardily this is my round up of week 5’s lesson and you’ll notice some familiar shades from week 4’s post as we re-visited time, again.

It turns out that time and numbers in general are a bit of a head-scratcher for the wide-eyed beginner Gaelic student and due to considerable confusion during the previous week’s class (which I missed) we focussed largely on both topics again this week. (Note: I’m writing this 3 weeks after the class, so apologies if this merely adds to the confusion!).

An Uair – The Time

We went over time in my last lesson post so I’ll try to avoid any repetition, however I left off wondering how to tell the time when it was x amount of minutes past or to the hour (rather than half past, quarter to etc.) and I can give some examples of this now:

Gàidhlig English
còig uairean ‘sa mhadainn 5.00am
leth-uair an deidh sia 6:30pm
cairteal an deidh dhà ‘sa mhadainn 2:15am
cairteal gu aon uair ‘sa mhadainn 12:45am
cairteal an deidh trì uairean feasgar 3:15pm
aon uair deug ‘san oidhche 11:00pm
cairteal gu còig uairean ‘sa mhadainn 4:45am
trì mionadean an deidh còig ‘sa mhadainn 5:03am
fichead ‘sa dà mhionaid an deidh dà uair feasgar 2:22pm
deich mionaidean an deidh naoi ‘san oidhche 9:10pm
ceithir mionaidean deug an deidh ochd ‘sa mhadainn 8:14am

Sìmplidh, no? The main cause of confusion is down to the number two and the rules surrounding it in Gaelic. I’ll try to explain as best I can!

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post is considered as one unit rather, it refers to a couple and therefore it doesn’t take a plural.

Additionally, if is followed by a vowel then it becomes the lenited dhà this is because vowels cannot be lenited.

There is apparently nothing that likes more than to lenite the following word but in the case of words starting with ‘sg’, ‘sm’, ‘sp’ or ‘st’ these cannot be lenited. Everything else is fair game it seems.

Another confusion is that if there is a noun following a ‘teen then the word order becomes curious. The noun in these cases would go between the defining number and the ‘teen itself, for example, dà mhoinaid dheug is 12 minutes (2 minute teen) and note the double lenition.. dagnammed !

Just like in English the word for ‘hour’ or ‘o’clock’ can be dropped except when it’s eleven or twelve o’clock, then uair must be included.

Got all that, seems relatively straight forward now that its written down, doesn’t it?

Additional notes relating to time is that ‘past’ or ‘after’ is an deidh and ‘to’ or ‘before’ is gu. The ‘sa and ‘san seen prior to mhadainn and oidhche are abbreviations of anns a’ and anns an both meaning ‘in the’.

If being specific about time is a little too complex (and it is!) then you can use either timchael air .. which means ‘approximately’ or faisg air.. which means ‘close to’ followed by the approximate time.

Time may seem like a simple topic but it took our class two weeks to sort of get our heads around it, partially of course as counting in Gaelic is new to us, partially because this is all new vocabulary but largely because for such a simple process there are several gotchas involved that completely undermine your confidence just when you think you have it nailed.

So for some light relief! This week’s song is Fear A’ Bhàta (The Boatman) which is a beautiful song with a eerily familiar tune which I can’t quite place. Enjoy!


Hirome Ichiba, Kōchi

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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Part market, part food-court, part-izakaya and a whole lot of awesome, this is Hirome Ichiba!

Situated close to the castle in downtown Kōchi lies one of my favourite spots in the city and perhaps even the country. Hirome Ichiba is an ecclectic mix of clothes and souvenir shops, fresh produce stalls, restaurants and drinking holes brought together to create one open plan house of fun!

The long wooden benches and tables make for a very welcoming and open environment and as a result if you visit you’ll end up meeting and conversing with a wide range of locals and travellers all out to have a good time and drink with strangers.

The last time we were at Hirome Ichiba was the day after our Japanese wedding and the atmosphere was excellent. We met up with friends and family for lunch and most of us ended up staying until closing time. We met a range of characters from an elderly local grandmother who greeted us with mild sexual assault before buying us souvenirs, a couple of friends who travelled to Kōchi just to visit Hirome Ichiba and a group of middle-aged golf enthusiasts who regaled me of tales of their trips to Scotland and their appreciation of our whisky!

On my few visits, amongst other dishes, I’ve eaten chicken sashimi, katsuo no tataki (of course), karaage, chanbara-kai (sword-fighting shellfish), whale and very reluctantly, Natto. I also had my first (and last) frozen headed Kirin beer there and have enjoyed several local sakes.

If you are planning on visiting Japan, then there are many reasons to visit Shikoku and Kōchi in particular, but Hirome Ichiba for me is one of the top reasons to visit, particularly if you time the visit to coincide with the Yosakoi festival.

A wee bit more info on Hirome Ichiba by ex-pat Kōchi resident Nate Hill can be found here .

Hirome Ichiba activity Hirome Ichiba whale sake jug and cup Hirome Ichiba chanbarakai Hirome Ichiba kirin poster Hirome Ichiba activity Hirome Ichiba activity


うどみゆー – Exploring Tosa-ben 3

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 3-minute read
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Following on from Tosa-ben Card Game (龍馬・土佐弁かるた) I thought it may be interesting for some people if I were to do a series of short posts relating to the vocabulary that I learn from the game.

Even if not, I’m learning that maintaining a Gaelic blog is helping me learn the language so hopefully this will help me with Tosa-ben.

Third in the series is うどみゆー which is pronounced udomiyuu, the meaning is ‘to be in uproar’ or ‘to be in a state of disturbance’. The ゆー at the end indicates that this is present tense progressive form so the meaning would be ‘is currently in a state of uproar/disturbance’.

The common Japanese equivalent for うどみゆー is 大騒ぎしている (__おおさわ__ぎしている – ohsawagi shiteiru).

The example sentence on the card is:

うどみゆーぜよ 国中が 龍馬がなぐれたとゆー 「大政奉還」で

うどみゆーぜよ __きにちゅう__が __りょうま__がなぐれたとゆー 「たいせいほうかん」で

udomiyuu zeyo kunichuu ga Ryouma ga nagureta to yuu “taisei houkan” de

共通語:大騒ぎしているよ 日本中が 龍馬が苦労したという 「大政奉還」で

__おおさわぎ__しているよ __にほんちゅう__が __りょうま__が__くろう__したという 「たいせいほうかん」で

common Japanese: ohsawagi shiteiru yo nihonchuu ga Ryouma ga kurou shita to iu “taisei houkan” de

Now for the part of the post which is likely to go through various transformations as I’m corrected by my はちきん(hachikin) wife or family and friends from Kochi!

English : Throughout the country people are talking about how Ryōma succeeded through the struggle to bring about “taisei houkan”.

*大政奉還 (たいせいほうかんtaisei houkan) was the restoration of power to the Emperor (from the military leaders who ruled Japan for hundreds of years until this point in time). Ryōma Sakamoto was the integral figure in effectively ending Tokugawa (the reigning military family) rule, unifying a newly self-aware Japan and opening Japan up to outside influence. Sadly, he was assassinated before his efforts finally came to fruition.

This card was pretty tricky for me to translate hence the clunky sentence in English.. If you can translate it more cleanly then please leave your suggestion below in the comments section.

So, now to the rest of the sentence and a look at other Tosa-ben (if any) at play in this example.

  • ぜよ (ze yo)– though I suspect this may be shared with other dialects, ぜよ is the Tosa-ben alternative to ですよ which is an emphasised copula, with ぜ being the copula and よ providing the emphasis.
  • とゆー (to yuu) – this is just a different pronunciation of the standard という which in this context means ‘to say’.
  • 国中 (kunichuu) – again I don’t believe that this is Tosa-ben but it is more likely to have been used at the period of time that the card and example represents as Japan wasn’t so much of a singular, unified entity at the time and most likely (in my humble opinion) it would have referred to the Tosa han (territory) rather than Japan itself.
  • なぐれた – this is the past potential form of なぐる which I’m told is old Tosa-ben and must be roughly equivalent to 苦労する which means ‘to succeed through a struggle’.. sort of 🙂

B’z on Bagpipes? part 3

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 1-minute read
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No, really! B’z on bagpipes! Courtesy of my friend Makoto Kaneko who isn’t just a very skilled piper (played at our wedding) but also a champion highland dancer (danced at our wedding).

Makoto has a 5 track CD called ‘Bagpipe The Be Wee Pleasure – B’z Tribute’ and this is track 4.

You can find Makoto on invidio.us .


いらばかしよった – Exploring Tosa-ben 2

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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Following on from Tosa-ben Card Game (龍馬・土佐弁かるた) I thought it may be interesting for some people if I were to do a series of short posts relating to the vocabulary that I learn from the game.

Even if not, I’m learning that maintaining a Gaelic blog is helping me learn the language so hopefully this will help me with Tosa-ben.

Second in the series is いらばかしよった which is pronounced irabakashiyotta*, the meaning is ‘to show off’ or ‘to flaunt’ though this is in past tense progressive form so the meaning would be ‘was showing off’ or ‘was flaunting’.

  • the っ signifies a short pause in the pronunciation generally protrayed in English for pronunciation purposes as a double consonant.

よった (yotta) is the past tense of the Tosa-ben ゆう (yuu) which is one of two present tense continuous forms (the other is ちゅう (shichuu)), this differs from common Japanese where there is only one present tense continuous form and that is ~ている (~teiru).

The first ゆう represents present progressive tense, for example I am doing my homework now (not finished) would be おらは宿題しゆう (おらはしゅくだいしゆうora wa shukudai shiyuu).

Whereas ちゅう expresses perfect tense for example, I have already done my homework would be おらは宿題しちゅう (おらはしゅくだいしちゅうora wa shukudai shichuu). The past tense for ちゅう is ちょた.

Some verbs cannot be connected with ゆう but more information on this can be found on the Tosa Wave Blog.

The common Japanese equivalent for いらばかしよった is 見せびらかしていたよ (みせびらかしていたよmisebirakashiteita yo).

The example sentence on the card is:

いらばかしよった 龍馬さんが 晋作に もろーた 短筒を

いらばかしよった __りょうま__さんが __しんさく__に もろーた __たんづつ__を

irabakashiyotta Ryouma(Sakamoto)-san ga shinsaku ni morouta tandzutsu wo

共通語:見せびらかしていたよ 龍馬さんが (高杉)晋作に もらった拳銃を

__み__せびらかしていたよ __りょうま__さんが (たかすぎ)__しんさく__に もらった__けんじゅう__を

common Japanese: misebirakashiteita yo Ryouma(Sakamoto)-san ga Shinsaku(Takasugi) ni moratta kenshuu wo

Now for the part of the post which is likely to go through various transformations as I’m corrected by my はちきん (hachikin) wife or family and friends from Kochi!

English : Ryouma (Sakamoto) was showing off the handgun he received from Shinsaku (Takasugi)

The rest of the sentence is pretty easy to explore this time as it is basically consists of peoples’ names (Ryouma Sakamoto and Shinsaku Takasugi) and alternative vocabulary for a pistol/handgun.

  • もろーた would appear to just be Tosa dialect’s pronunciation of もらった which means to ‘receive’.

Leabhar-latha – Homework for Lesson 4

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 2-minute read
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Whilst there will be no notes for last week’s class (due to me being absent) the tutor was kind enough to send me the homework task.

So this week I have to keep a diary in Gaelic for a week with at least two sentences in past tense.

Here goes! Hold on to your hats! With my beginner’s knowledge of Gaelic and my insomnia-ridden, work-driven dull week this promises to be a roller-coaster of a journey. Most likely a roller-coaster which is closed for maintenance.

Diardaoin

Bha mi ag obair gu trang aig an taigh. Bha mi a’sgriobhadh am blog mu a’ Iapan. Chan robh mi anns an sgoil-Gàidhlig ‘san amnoch. Bha mi glè sgìth!

I worked hard from home. I wrote a blog post about Japan. I didn’t go to my Gaelic class in the evening. I was VERY tired.

Dihaoine

Bha mi ag obair aig an taigh. Bha mi a’ sgrìobhadh am blog a’ Gàidhlig.

I worked from home. I wrote a Gaelic blog post.

Disathurna

Bha mi a’ snàmh anns a’ mhadainn. Bha mi anns an taigh-bìdh seapanais feasgar. Bha dinneir agus leanntan glè bhlasta. Bha mi toilichte.

I went swimming in the morning. In the evening I went to a Japanese restaurant. Dinner and beers were delicious. I was happy.

Là na Sàbaid

Bha mi a’ ceannach. Cheannaich mi bolgain (no bolganan), càl, feòil agus uinneanan. Bha mi ag obraich air làrach-lìn feasgar.

I went shopping. I bought lighbulbs (or (alternative plural) lightbulbs, cabbage, meat and onions. I worked on a website in the evening.

Diluain

Bha mi ag obair aig an taigh (Tha mi obraich air do cheann fhéin). Chan robh mi cadal. Bha mi glè sgìth!

I worked from home (I am self-employed). I didn’t sleep. I was very tired.

Dimàirt

Bha mi ag obair aig an taigh o leth uair as dèidh ceithir anns a’ mhadainn. Bha mi seachd sgìth.

I worked from home from half past four in the morning. I was extremely tired.

Diciadain

Cha robh mi ag obair. Bha mi a’ snàmh anns a’ mhadainn.

I wasn’t working. I went swimming in the morning.

There we go, as promised all of the excitement of a completely immobile roller coaster.


Kanazawa (金沢) 2006

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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On our travels around Japan in 2006, my friends and I decided to go somewhere which wasn’t in the usual Tōkyō -> Kyōto -> Kobe -> Ōsaka first time visitor path and somewhat randomly decided on Kanazawa.

In a previous incarnation, this blog had some of my photos from that trip with the disclaimer that somewhat foolishly when I backed them up to my ipod at the time I didn’t click the full-size backup option and as a result my only extant photos from that time are poor quality and very small.

However, one of my travel partners from the trip has just recently shared his photos with me and given me permission to upload them here!

Kanazawa (金沢) means “marsh of gold” which relates to an ancient legend of the peasant Imohori Togoro, whilst digging for potatoes, Togoro discovered flakes of gold and this new found fortune lead to 100 years of peasant rule of the city.

Kanazawa is home to one of the top three (Japanese tourist trade loves its lists) most beautiful Japanese gardens called Kenrokuen, another of which is Korakuen located in Okayama where I lived for a year as an exchange student (in the city, not the garden). The third is Kairakuen in Mito which I have not as of yet visited.

Kanazawa is also home to a samurai area and a geisha area, we visited the former and it was pretty cool.

Without a doubt my highlight of the trip to Kanazawa was sharing a hotel with athletes\performers from the Japanese Wrestling Assocation! Sitting in a lobby waiting for friends to arrive, surrounded by very muscular but relatively short angry looking Japanese men, reading newspapers and sipping tea was priceless.


Dè an uair a tha e? – Lesson 4

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 3-minute read
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Unfortunately, I missed this week’s Gaelic class so this post will be a little shorter than the previous weeks’ efforts.

Nevertheless my tutor advised that “We did lots of revision on past and future tense…and started ‘the time’!”, so that’s what we are going to do!

An Uair – The Time

As well as the two A4 sides of class notes, I’l refer to Scottish Gaelic in Twelve Weeks to pad things out a little bit.

To ask what time it is you say dè an uair a tha e? where e has previously been used as the personal pronoun ‘he’ in this case it refers to ‘it’, I suspect that will not always be the case in this devious language and that i will be used in the case of feminine nouns. We shall see.

To say ‘it is ..’ therefore is simply ‘tha e ..‘ followed by one of the following:

Gàidhlig English
uair one o’clock
dà uair two o’clock
trì uairean three o’clock
ceithir uairean four o’clock
còig uairean five o’clock
sia uairean six o’clock
seachd uairean seven o’clock
ochd uairean eight o’clock
naoi uairean nine o’clock
dech uairean ten o’clock
aon uair deug eleven o’clock
dà uair dheug twelve o’clock

Note that aon (one) isn’t used for one o’clock but is for eleven o’clock, apparently in Cape Breton Gaelic it can be used in the former case.

Also 3-10 o’clock uses the plural form of uair which is uairean and also though I’m not sure why deug from eleven o’clock is lenited to become dheug in twelve o’clock.

Just like in English the time clause can be modified to include further information such as in the morning, half past etc.

Useful vocabulary:

Gàidhlig English
leth-uair half an hour
cairteal quarter
an dèidh after/past
‘sa mhadainn in the morning
‘san oidhche at night
feasgar (in the) evening

Examples:

Gàidhlig English
tha e leth-uair as dèidh sia it is half past six
tha e aon uair deug anns a’ mhadainn it is eleven o’clock in the morning
aig cairteal gu còic feasgar at quarter to five in the evening

Note that when quarter/half past/to are used the word for o’clock is dropped, just like in English. At this stage I’m unsure how the time would be modified by say 5 minutes or 23 minutes etc. More examples of how to say time in Gaelic (as well as all of the Celtic languages) can be found on this Omniglot page .

A`cunntadh – Counting

Other than time and revision on tenses, I’m not sure what else was covered in class but let’s have a look at numbers. We’ve previously looked at 1-10 and 11-19.. so let’s look at 20+.

Gàidhlig English
fichead twenty
fichead `s a h-aon | twenty one |
fichead ‘s a dhà twenty two
fichead ‘s a trì twenty three
fichead ‘s a deich thirty
fichead ‘s a h-aon deug thirty one
fichead ‘s a dhà dheug thirty two
dà fichead forty
dà fichead ‘s a h-aon forty one
dà fichead ‘s a deich fifty

Interesting, no? So numbers are counted in sets of twenty, and that set of twenty is in itself modified to bring the next set, which means in order to even say the correct number you need to be reasonably numerate.

Deug translates into ‘teen’ and it seems like it is always lenited when following dhà (two). Also aon is lenited from twenty-one upwards apparently. I would suspect due to their non-inclusion in the list that numbers 3-9 are never lenited.

Finally, as always we have the weekly song, Màiri Ruadh A’dannsa an Nochd by Arthur Cormack.

The title translates to Red-haired Mairi will be dancing tonight. It’s quite upbeat but there is only one version on youtube to share here and the accoustics aren’t great, sorry!


Koto (箏) & Clàrsach

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 1-minute read
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As part of the entertainment for our Scottish wedding mk II, we hired the koto (箏) player & harpist, Mio Shapley. Mio-san provided the music for guests arriving, for my bride walking down the aisle and for post-ceremony refreshments and her music was beautiful!

Whilst the day itself was a celebration of Scottish-ness I wanted to lace the events with Japanese influences and Mio-san’s performance added to a fantastic atmosphere.

As well as being a very talented harpist and pianist, Mio-san also performs the tea ceremony for events and indeed the first time I saw her was in 2009 at Japanese cultural day at The University of Edinburgh where she performed the tea ceremony and then later in the evening performed with the koto. More information is available on the Mio Shapley website and if you are planning a wedding (not necessarily with Japanese threads) I heartily recommend that you check out the site.

Photos by the wonderful Karolina Kotkiewicz .


B’z on Bagpipes? part 2

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 1-minute read
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No, really! B’z on bagpipes! Courtesy of my friend Makoto Kaneko who isn’t just a very skilled piper (played at our wedding) but also a champion highland dancer (danced at our wedding).

Makoto has a 5 track CD called ‘Bagpipe The Be Wee Pleasure – B’z Tribute’ and this is track 3.

You can find Makoto on invidio.us .


あっぽろけ – Exploring Tosa-ben 1

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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Following on from Tosa-ben Card Game (龍馬・土佐弁かるた) I thought it may be interesting for some people if I were to do a series of short posts relating to the vocabulary that I learn from the game.

Even if not, I’m learning that maintaining a Gaelic blog is helping me learn the language so hopefully this will help me with Tosa-ben.

First up is あっぽろけ which is pronounced apporoke**, the meaning is ‘to be surprised’ though the card game uses it to mean ‘very surprised’ as their common Japanese equivalent is 大変驚いた (__たいへんおどろいた__ – *taihen odoroita*).

** the っ signifies a short pause in the pronunciation generally protrayed in English for pronunciation purposes as a double consonant.

The example sentence on the card is:

あっぽろけ シケでおらんなった万次郎が 海の向こうから もんてきた

あっぽろけ シケおらんなった__まんじろう__が __うみ__の__む__こうから もんてきた

apporoke shike orannatta manjirou ga umi no mukou kara montekita

共通語:大変驚いた 暴風雨でいなくなった万次郎が 外国から 帰ってきた

__たいへんおどろ__いた __ぼうふうう__でいなくなた__まんじろう__が __がいこく__から __かえ__ってきた

taihen odoroita boufuuu de inakunatta manjirou ga gaikoku kara kaettekita

Now for the part of the post which is likely to go through various transformations as I’m corrected by my はちきん (hachikin) wife or family and friends from Kochi!

English : (John) Manjiro was very surprised that the storm had disappeared when he returned from overseas.

Regardless of whether that is an accurate translation into English or not I’m curious as to which of the other components of the Tosa-ben sentence are actually Tosa-ben and which are just common slang.

  • おらんなった would appear to be Tosa-ben as おらん means ‘doesn’t exist’ or ‘isn’t there’ hence why I translated おらんなった as ‘had disappeared’.
  • シケ comes up on google translate as ‘storm’ so it’s clearly not Tosa-ben.
  • 海の向こう seems to be pretty standard Japanese but possibly in a form more commonly used in Kochi than 外国? It certainly is closer to ‘overseas’ and more pleasing than 外国’s literal translation as ‘outside country’, more commonly ‘foreign country’ or ‘abroad’.
  • もんてきた feels Tosa-ben-like (土佐弁ぽい) and after a wee internet search I found it on this list of Tosa-ben words so that’ll be a tick.

Mo chreach sa thainig! – Notes on Lesson 3

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 4-minute read
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One of the reasons I am enjoying these Gaelic lessons so much is the wealth of information that is presented by our tutor throughout the classes, sometimes explanations of vocabulary background and sometimes related amusing stories. This week had plenty of both!

Firstly, a wee colloquialism that I missed from last week’s lesson which is idir, idir, idir which translates to ‘at all, at all, at all’ and should always be said in full, triplicate form. This is apparently appended to the end of a negative mood sentence as emphasis, such as chan eil mi toilichte idir, idir, idir – I am not happy, at all, at all, at all!

On a similar theme this week we learned Obh, obh! and mo chreach sa thanaig!Obh, obh apparently doesn’t really translate into English but I’d say it may be representative of a mix between ‘meh’ and ‘grrrr!’ but it should normally precede a clause that explains its use such as mo chreach sa thanaig! which literally translates to ‘my destruction has arrived’ or more naturally ‘Good God!’. I like this :D

If wet isn’t accurate or descriptive enough for you, as often it isn’t in Scotland then you can precede fluich with bog which literally means ‘bogging’ as in ‘bogging wet’ or ‘soaking wet’.

As well as the grammar points which I went over in Càite Bheil Thu A’ Fuireach? – Lesson 3 we learned to count from 11-19 and the days of the week.

Numbers (constructed by pre-10 number with 10 appended):

Gàidhlig English
aon deug eleven
dhà dheug twelve
tri deug thirteen
caihir deug fourteen
còig deug fifteen
sia deug sixteen
seachd deug seventeen
ochd deug eighteen
naoi deug nineteen

With regards to the days, each of them carries some meaning, some more interesting than others.

  • Diluan – Monday – from the French for the day Lundi
  • Dimàirt – Tuesday – again from the French Mardi
  • Diciadin – Wednesday – means Day of the1st fast – traditionaly Gaels would fast twice a week, apparently
  • Diardoain – Thursday – meaning the day between two fasts!
  • Dihaoine – Friday – the Day of the 2nd fast
  • Disathairne – Saturday – referring to Saturn
  • Didòmhnaich – Sunday – meaning God’s Day which was generally used by Catholics, OR
  • Là na Sàbaid – Sunday – meaning the Sabbath which was generally used by Protestants

The second Sunday option is apparently more commonly used but either works.

Finally, a little bit about Murdo MacFarlane the writer of this week’s song. Murdo hails from Lewis, as does our tutor and he was well known around the island, in particular her father knew him pretty well. Murdo apparently was a great songwriter but a miserable man :)

Our tutor’s father was a bus driver and drove a school bus into Stornoway every morning and every morning, dressed in a blue boiler suit, Murdo MacFarlane would jump onto the school bus into Stornoway so that he wouldn’t have to pay the far on a normal bus!

This week’s song Cànan nan Gàidheal was written as a lament of the foreseeable death of the Gaelic language as all Murdo saw in front of him was the decline of the language. Thankfully, efforts have been made to keep Gaelic alive and the number of people in my class alone are testament to the success of these efforts.

As I mentioned in the main post, I like this song, the lyrics really speak to me and sum up why I felt the need to learn the language of my predecessors.

Lyrics in English:

nor the sharp, withering East wind

nor rain and Westerly storms

but the plague that came from the South

to blight blossom, leaf, stalk and root

of the language of my people and race

Chorus (after each verse)

Come to us, come with me to the West

and hear the language of heroes

Come to us, come with me to the West

and hear the language of the Gael

If a kilted man would be seen in the glen

certainly Gaelic was his language

then they tore his roots from the land

and replaced Gaelic with the language of the Lowlander

and the Highlands, once the cradle of the brave

is now a land of foreign majors and colonels

Bring out the golden candlesticks

and set up the white wax candles

light them in the room of mourning

hold a wake for the ancient tongue of the Gael

That is what the enemy once said

but the language of the Gael lives on

Though it fled for its life from the glens

and can no longer be heard in the Dùn

from MacKay country far in the North

down to Drumochter of cattle

But in the Western Isles

It is still the first language of the people


Càite Bheil Thu A’ Fuireach? – Lesson 3

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 4-minute read
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Week three and the pace slowed a little whilst the lesson focused on revision of the previous two weeks. That is not to say however that we don’t have new grammar concepts and vocabulary to go over, we do indeed.

The first new grammar concept we learned was in response to the question Càite bheil thu a’ fuireach? which means where are you living? (as opposed to Cò às a tha thu? – where are you from?)

The response to this question varies depending on the structure and/or spelling of the location of residence and there are three variations:

  1. If the location is proceeded by a definite article such as The States (united and of America) which is Na Stàitean then the location is preceded by annsTha mi a’ fuireach anns Na Stàitean.
  2. If the place name begins with B, F, M or P and there is no definite article such as Barra which is Barraigh then the location preceded by ann amTha mi a’ fuireach ann am Barraigh.
  3. If the place name begins with any other letter other than B, F, M or P and there is no definite article such as Edinburgh which is Dùn Eideann then the location is preceded by ann anTha mi a’ fuireach ann an Dùn Eideann.

Simple (simplidh), right?

By way of a wee non-recorded pronunciation guide:

  • anns – like ounce but swap the ce for an s.. ouns
  • ann – same as above but without the s
  • am – you think you have this one don’t you? it’s pronounced im like Tim without the Tennents
  • an – in like in without adding or subtracting any letters or sounds.

Next up, TENSES!

This isn’t as difficult as you might think, Gaelic is actually pretty logical in some regards (not its spelling to pronunciation mapping) and there are really just two tenses, PAST and FUTURE/HABITUAL.

I think I understood that right anyway, present tense is only really represented by the verb ‘to be/do’ and isn’t in itself really a tense.. yup, that sounds wrong but I am fairly certain that is what I was told. The tutor definitely said only two tenses even though there are apparently three. If you know different or can confirm this then please do comment below.

In any case, there are two NEW tenses.

PAST TENSE

Sentence structure is as before but with different questions words, positive and negative responses to what we’ve learned so far.

Questions:

Gàidhlig English
An robh mi? Was I?
An robh thu? Were you?
An robh e? Was he?
An robh i? Was she?
An robh sinn? Were we?
An robh sibh? Were you?
An robh iad? Were they?

The positive response to An robh? is BhaBha mi, bha thu, bha iad etc.

The negative response to An robh? is Chan robhChan robh mi, chan robh thu, chan robh iad etc.

Examples:

Gàidhlig English
An robh thu ag’ol uisge beatha a raoir? Were you drinking whisky last night?
An robh e trang an dè? Was he busy yesterday?
An robh cat aice? Did she have a cat?

FUTURE TENSE/HABITUAL

This tense not only represents what will happen in the future but also an activity that is carried out regularly.

Once again, sentence structure is as before but with different questions words, positive and negative responses to what we’ve learned so far.

Questions:

Gàidhlig **English **
Am bi mi? Will I be?
Am bi thu? Will you be?
Am bi e? Will he be?
Am bi i? Will she be?
Am bi sinn? Will we be?
Am bi sibh? Will you be?
Am bi iad? Will they be?

The positive response to Am bi? is BidhBidh mi, bidh thu, bidh iad etc.

The negative response to Am bi? is Chan bhiChan bhi mi, chan bhi thu, chan bhi iad etc.

Examples:

Gàidhlig English
Am bi thu ag’ol uisge beatha a nochd? Will you be drinking whisky tonight?
Am bi e trang a màireach? Will he be busy tomorrow?
Am bi cat aice? Will she have a cat?

Yes, I do like whisky, why do you ask?

Of course, no lesson would be complete without our weekly song and this time I actually really like it, much better pace than the previous two. Cànan Nan Gàidheal – The language of the Gael written by Murdo MacFarlane from Lewis.


The Scots Who Shaped Japan: No. 1 – Rita Taketsuru

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 7-minute read
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There are many links and similarities between Scotland and Japan, besides my nuptials as a Scot to a Japanese woman, and there were a great many Scots who helped shape modern Japan. Quite often however, these Scots are considerably more well known in Japan than they are back home in Scotland.

I present this series in no particular order, the fact that Jessie Roberta Cowan is not because I deem her to have had the greatest influence on Japan, she is first because currently there is a daily NHK (Japan’s national broadcaster) morning drama about her life, called Ma-san (マッサン), which was Rita’s pet name for her husband. I haven’t had a chance to see the drama yet but my wife apparently cries every time she watches it.

Jessie was more commonly referred to as Rita and her married name is Taketsuru. Rita is referred to as the mother of Japanese whisky being co-founder of the Nikka Whisky distillery along with her husband Masataka who is also known as the father of Japanese whisky. The creation of Nikka was truly a partnership as without Rita’s connections which she had built up teaching English, Masataka would never have found the financing to build his own distillery.

I was going to research and write my own story of Rita’s life as I may well do for future posts in this series, however I found an article on The Japan Times called The Rita Taketsuru Fan Club which I’ve plagiarised parts of instead! The following excerpts are from a story by Jon Mitchell it is a very well written piece and I heartily recommend reading the full article.

Their meeting in Scotland:

“Born in Scotland in 1896, Rita Cowan’s early days had been a model of middle-class gentility consisting of home governesses, piano lessons and a liberal-arts education in English, French and music.

In her 20s, though, two events rent her life asunder — during World War I, her fiance was killed in Damascus, and then, in 1918, her father died of a heart attack.

In the following months, the Cowans’ finances dwindled until, in 1919, they realized they needed to act fast if they wanted to keep the bailiffs from their family home in the town of Kirkintilloch some 12 km northeast of central Glasgow. So it was then they decided to take in a lodger.

The man they chose was 25-year-old Masataka Taketsuru. The Hiroshima native had recently been sent to Scotland by the managers of the drinks company for which he worked. Many decades earlier, Japanese manufacturers had cracked the secrets of European beer and brandy, but one skill still eluded them — the art of making whisky. They’d tried to emulate its taste with spices, herbs and honey, but all to no avail.

Masataka’s mission was to uncover its recipe in the homeland of Scotch whisky itself. At the University of Glasgow, he took courses in organic chemistry, and he also traveled to distilleries all over the country to take apprenticeships in the production of whisky.”

Rita and Masataka were married in Calton Registry Office in 1920 and they moved to to Campbeltown, where Mastaka learned the intricacies of the whisky industry at Hazelburn distillery.

In 1923 they moved to Japan:

“The nation in which the newlyweds found themselves was very different from the one her husband had departed just two years before. The Japanese economy was mired in deep recession and Masataka’s managers were more interested in turning a quick profit with cheaply- flavored spirits than the complex process of making bona fide Scotch whisky.

Disillusioned with their change of heart, Masataka resigned from the company. Rita was unfazed by their sudden financial instability and she supported both of them by pursuing that time-honored profession for foreigners in Japan — teaching English to children and housewives.

While these were undoubtedly difficult times for the Taketsurus, photographs show the pair totally at ease with one another and themselves. Rita clutches a parasol and leans against her husband while Masataka grins confidently at the camera — they appear to be a thoroughly modern couple, thoroughly in love.

By 1923, word had spread of Masataka’s research trip to Scotland and he was hired by Shinjiro Torii (the founder of the Suntory group) to help build a whisky distillery in Yamazaki, Kyoto Prefecture. Rita was happy that her husband would finally have an opportunity to put his hard-earned skills into practice, and for the next six years she taught English while also honing her own Japanese abilities.

Masataka’s time in Kyoto was not as harmonious as his wife’s. He quarreled constantly with Torii over the fineries of whisky production, and these clashes reached a peak in 1929 when Masataka was demoted to the position of manager of a beer factory in Yokohama. He quit — and, once again, found himself out of work.”

On the creation of Nikka after unsuccessful periods working for profit-driven bosses:

Following the disappointment of Yamazaki, it struck Masataka that there was only one way for him to make whisky the way he wanted — he would have to establish his own company.

Without Rita’s connections, he would never have been able to realize this dream. Since 1924, she’d been teaching English to the wife of Shotaro Kaga — the founder of a successful securities company. When Kaga heard of Masataka’s plans, he and two other investors agreed to back the project, and the creation of Masataka’s company, Dai Nihon Kaju (later shortened to “Nikka”).

Upon learning where he was planning to build his distillery, the investors almost changed their minds. But Masataka insisted that there was only one place in Japan with ready access to the barley, peat, coal and water that were vital for Scotch whisky production. That place was Yoichi, a town located in the country’s most inhospitable and underdeveloped island, Hokkaido.”

The distillery turned its first profit in 1940 and Rita continued to play a major part in the success of the distillery until her death in 1961.

The World War II years were difficult for Rita, she was suspected of being a spy by neighbours and their home was subject to raids by Japanese officials. The war years on the other hand were the making of the distillery, there was an embargo placed on imports of Scotch whisky and this brought a wider customer base to the relatively fledgling industry in Japan and Nikka benefited greatly. Nowadays, Nikka whisky is the third most popular whisky brand in Japan.

Legacy:

“Masataka outlived his wife by 18 years, and today the two are interred together on a hillside near the distillery. Walking through the town, I’m delighted to discover that the woman who’d once been ostracized as a potential enemy of the state has since left her indelible mark on the landscape — Yoichi’s main thoroughfare is named “Rita Road” and a kindergarten she helped to establish still bears her name.

After 15 minutes, I arrive at the Taketsurus’ grave. The gray lozenge of stone is lit pink by the setting sun, some fireflies flare brightly and the air smells of freshly-mown grass. In the valley below, I spot the red rooftop of the distillery.

In the years since his death, Masataka’s genius at Scotch whisky production has finally been recognized: In 2007, a bottle of “Taketsuru” was voted the world’s best blended malt; followed in 2008 by 20-year-old “Yoichi” winning the best single malt in the world award.”

Though they never had children of their own, the Takesturu’s adopted Masataka’s nephew Takeshi. In 2002, Takeshi visited Scotland to celebrate the first bottling of the Japanese whisky by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (of which I am a current member) and whilst he was here he established the Takeshi Tsukuru prize at The University of Glasgow, where his father had previously studied. The prize is awarded to the student showing the best performance in the work placement element of the Chemistry Department’s MSci course.

More info about Rita & Masataka:


Cormorant fishing (鵜飼)

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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Cormorant fishing (鵜飼) is a traditional method of fishing which has been around for over 1300 years and the event is protected by the Japanese government (and praised by Charlie Chaplin).

There are still 13 cities in Japan where they still fish in this style and in 2009 within my first few weeks of my exchange year I was invited to Uji (宇治市) and taken on a surprise trip to view this ancient art.

The fishing technique involves a master fisherman (鵜匠) (in this case they were all women as they have nimbler fingers) who controls around 10-12 cormorants by a leashed snare which is placed over their gullets. This snare allows the cormorants to swallow any small fish that they catch but stops them from swallowing larger fish. The snare is more like a ring than a noose and doesn’t choke the birds, in fact fishing cormorant are very well looked after and can live up to 15 years which when compared to wild cormorants that generally live only a few years is quite impressive.

The skill of the ushou (fisherman or cormorant controller) lies in constantly adjusting the leashes so that they don’t become tangled.

The activity is carried out at night with a burning pine torch elevated over the water being the only light. The torch attracts fish closer to the surface and enables the cormorants to see and swoop for them.

If you would like more information on cormorant fishing then check out this Glendale Community College blog .


B’z on Bagpipes? part 1

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 1-minute read
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No, really! B’z on bagpipes! Courtesy of my friend Makoto Kaneko who isn’t just a very skilled piper (played at our wedding) but also a champion highland dancer (danced at our wedding).

Makoto has a 5 track CD called ‘Bagpipe The Be Wee Pleasure – B’z Tribute’ and this is track 2.

You can find Makoto on invidio.us .


Castle K (ケー城)

Blog: Bushido Dreams
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On returning from a recent trip to London, my wife bought me a pretty cool お土産 (souvenir) from MUJI.

A Japanese castle press-out 3D puzzle/model. Currently unavailable in the EU store but for sale (though out of stock) via the German store.

The last picture (which is the background of the first three) is of a hanging decoration that my wife made for me when we were dating back in Japan.


Hotei Tomoyasu (布袋寅泰) vs Tak Matsumoto (松本孝弘)

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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I have a good friend who is a BIG fan of B’z and I am grateful to him for introducing me to this excellent band. However, we have a running debate in which we only disagree by the narrowest of margins.

The difference of opinion is who is the best guitarist between Tomoyasu Hotei (布袋寅泰) and Tak Matsumoto (松本孝弘) who is the guitarist from the main pairing that makes up B’z. Though I’d stress at this point my friend also likes Tomoyasu Hotei but he favours Tak Matsumoto.

My opinion is that Tak Matsumoto is a fantastic guitarist but he has to share the limelight with his band’s lead singer Koshi Inaba (稲葉浩志) and therefore cannot let loose in the way that Tomoyasu Hotei can and frequently does.

However, Hotei-san is his band and he frequently plays with a different array of instrumentalists. This from a guitar perspective gives him the edge (in my opinion) though as a package B’z are a more professional and organised outfit, with a better singer.

We’ll probably never see them go head to head, so it’ll remain one of those unanswerable questions. Attached is one of my favourite of his videos 「カラス」in which he and mental drummer Tatsuya Nakamura (中村達也) go to town.. this is why to me Hotei wins.

Though I respect my friend’s opinion and position :).

Obviously, I could post a video of Tak Matsumoto for comparison but I genuinely don’t know which B’z song most strongly displays his guitar prowess.


Ceart – Notes on Lesson 2

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 5-minute read
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Despite the pace of lesson 2 there were some interesting notes and facts to keep us going through the intensity.

Firstly, the word “cat” in Gaelic is cat and that’s because the word “cat” in English comes for the Gaelic for “cat” which is cat. I may have dragged that out a little, the original sentence was too short to be particularly interesting.

Tha is a very frustrating useful word, it is the affirmative answer to a question starting with a bheil which loosely means “are” and therefore tha loosely means “am” as such it can appear to mean “yes” but it doesn’t. However, it can also mean “there is” or “there are” when using prepositional statements/questions which end with the preposition+pronoun combinations such as agam, agad or aice. I am fairly certain in future lessons we are going to discover that it harbours even more meanings!

Towards the end of the class, in pairs we played through a waiter & customer scenario to practice phrases such as Dè tha thu ag iarraidh? (What would you like to order?) and Tha mi ag iarraidh … (I would like …). At which point we learned neach-frithealaidh which means “waiting person” but which is never practically used in Gaelic.

My usual (2 weeks in a row) partner is also an absolute beginner so we swapped partners and I was with a lovely lady whose parents both spoke Islay Gaelic and so she is familiar with some of the language. We ran through the following conversation a few times, swapping roles on each iteration:

Iain: Tha mi gu math tapadh leat, ciamar a tha thu-fhèin?

neach-frithealaidh: Tha mi gu math tapadh leat. Dè tha thu ag iarraidh?

Iain: Tha mi ag iarraidh brot, tapadh leat.

neach-frithealaidh: A bheil thu ag iarraidh aran agus ìm?

Iain: Tha, tapadh leat.

neach-frithealaidh: Ceart. Tha thu ag iarraidh brot le aran agus ìm. Dè tha thu ag òl?

Iain: A bheil uisge-beatha agad?

neach-frithealaidh: Chan eil. Tha mi duilich. Chan eil uisge-beatha agam.

Iain: A bheil fìon dearg agad?

neach-frithealaidh: Tha gu dearbh. Gloinne fìon dearg?

Iain: Botul. Tha mi sgìth agus fuar agus fliuch.

neach-frithealaidh: Glè mhath. Tha thu ag òl iarraidh botul fìon dearg. waiter: Good evening.Iain: Good evening. waiter: How are you today?

Iain: I am well thank you, how are you yourself?

waiter: I am well thank you, what would you like to order?

Iain: I would like soup, thank you.

waiter: Would you like bread and butter?

Iain: yes, thanks.

waiter: OK. You would like soup with bread and butter. What you you like to drink?

Iain: Do you have whisky?

waiter: No, we don’t. I’m sorry. We have no whisky.

Iain: Do you have red wine?

waiter: Yes indeed we do. A glass of read wine?

Iain: a bottle. I am tired, cold and wet.

waiter: Very good. You would like a bottle of red wine.

My learned partner was very complimentary on my pronunciation (just being polite I’m sure) and asked if I wanted to try the conversation without referring to the script. To this I replied “No, I most certainly do not want to try that” and after a little gentle persuasion we did anyway. I played Iain.. and I did it, I only fucking did it! Went through the whole conversation without once referring to the script.. chuffed, I am!

Interesting phrases/vocab picked up during this lesson

Gàidhlig English
eadar-theangaich translate (lit: between tongues)
an-diugh today
dè a Ghàidhlig a th’air …? what is … in Gaelic?
air ais gu … go back to …
a rithist again
tha mi duilich i’m sorry*
ceart OK/fine
falt hair**
ghruag wig**

* duilich doesn’t just mean sorry, it also means sad and/or difficult.. the sentence tha mi duilich can mean any of the three.

** in this week’s miserable song Gràidh Geal Mo Chridh’ the final line in the final verse goes ‘S thug thu ghruag bhàrr mo chìnn which is translated in the notes as “My hair is thinned” referring to the woman’s physical state since her love left her. However, according to our tutor from Lewis ghruag doesn’t mean “hair”, it means “wig” so her translation was “you took the wig from atop my head” which added a little amusement to a depressing song!

Lastly, it occurred to me during this class that I really need to get a Gaelic<->English dictionary but apparently there aren’t any good ones! The most recommended was one called ‘Abair: Gaelic-English, English-Gaelic Dictionary’ which cost about £4.95 to buy new, but there are questions over whether or not it is still printed. I’ve found a few copies online varying from around £20 to £2,£499.50 (honestly!) which suggests that perhaps they are indeed limited in supply. I’ll maybe have to trawl around some old second hand bookshops!

I had a quick look online earlier too and found a couple of useful links:

The latter three actually all came from the first link and I haven’t explored them for long but I think they could be very useful resources for furthering my Gaelic knowledge.


Pre-Wedding Pictures

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 1-minute read
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In Japan it is apparently commonplace to have your wedding photos taken before your actual wedding ceremony.

These were taken about a week in advance of our wedding day, at the time I found it a little strange but on reflection the bride and groom are kept crazy busy during the wedding day so it sort of makes perfect sense.


Kiriyama Tea Farm (霧山茶業組合)

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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Nestled in the hills above rural Hidaka-mura (日高村) in Kōchi prefecture lies the Kiriyama Tea Farm (霧山茶業組合) run by the Nakayama (my in-laws!) and Yano families.

Formerly Western Japan’s largest tea farm and a contributor of leaves to the very popular Itoen Oi-ocha blended green tea (available at all good vending machines and conbinis!) Kiriyama also produces it’s very own range of delicious teas!

From wikipedia:

Green tea is processed and grown in a variety of ways, depending on the type of green tea desired. As a result of these methods, maximum amounts of polyphenols and volatile organic compounds are retained, affecting aroma and taste. The growing conditions can be broken down into two basic types — those grown in the sun and those grown under the shade. The green tea plants are grown in rows that are pruned to produce shoots in a regular manner, and in general are harvested three times per year. The first flush takes place in late April to early May. The second harvest usually takes place from June through July, and the third picking takes place in late July to early August. Sometimes, there will also be a fourth harvest. It is the first flush in the spring that brings the best-quality leaves, with higher prices to match.

My favouite Kiriyama tea is their Genmai-cha (玄米茶) this is a handcrafted mix of toasted brown rice and tea leaves, which results in a light, slightly nutty tea which is best drank cold.

Other varieties include:

  • Sen-cha (煎茶 – decocted tea)

      The first and second flushes of green tea made from leaves that are exposed directly to sunlight. This is the most common green tea in Japan. The name describes the method for preparing the beverage.

  • Jōsen-cha (上煎茶 – superior decocted tea)

      Much the same as Sen-cha but with selected high-quality leaves.

  • Ban-cha (番茶)

      Lower grade of Sen-cha harvested as a third- or fourth-flush tea between summer and autumn.

  • Hōji-cha (焙じ茶)

      A green tea roasted over charcoal (usually Ban-cha).

  • Kuki-cha (茎茶)

      A tea made from stems, stalks, and twigs. Kukicha has a mildly nutty, and slightly creamy sweet flavor.

  • Shin-cha (新茶)

      First flush tea. The name is used for either Sen-cha or Gyokuro.

Kiriyama (霧山) means misty mountain and if you are able to understand Japanese then you can find out more information about the company and their wares on their website: www.kiricha.com


Tha mi ag iarraidh uisge-beatha – Lesson 2

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 5-minute read
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Week 2 set off at a ferocious pace with another couple of people joining the class! One elderly gent (84 years old next week) joined us after having already completed several of the courses and even corrected the tutor at one point, who he seems to know well. Mental note: don’t try and correct the tutor.

This week started with a little bit of revision of week 1, with the emphasis on little! However, the majority of the class had been practicing and had completed the revision exercises for homework so we were deiseil (ready) to crack on. Crack on we did!

We began with a review of personal pronouns, their stressed forms and pronunciations and practiced many variations. Examples:

Standard Stressed English
tha mi tha mise I am
tha thu tha thusa you are
tha sinn tha sinne we are
tha iad tha iadsan they are

The stressed option is basically emphasising the subject, so in English it would be the difference between “they are” and “THEY are”, if that makes sense in such a small phrase? A better, fuller example would perhaps be:

Alec: Ciamar a tha thu? (How are you?)

Nicola: Tha mi gu math, tapadh leat. Ciamar a tha thusa? (I am well, thank you. How are YOU?)

OK, not necessarily a better example but I’m sure you get the picture!

We then swiftly moved on to numbers 1-10 and the Gaelic for page, which is duilleag.

Gàidhlig English
aon one
dhà two
tri three
ceihir four
còig five
sia six
seachd seven
ochd eight
naoi nine
deich ten

Then things got a little bit complex. We learned about possession, as in “I have” and that it doesn’t exist as a direct translation into Gaelic. Hold on, what? This is potentially linked to religious influence on the language according to our tutor. So instead of saying “I have a car” you are basically saying “a car exists at me”, there are some slight similarities there between Gaelic and Japanese but you have to really want to see them!

To complicate matters prepositions and pronouns are not permitted to co-exist in Gaelic, presumably as they were created by the devil, and so are instead combined. So “at me” which would be aig mi becomes agam and “at you” which would be aig thu becomes agat. Again, combining words has a distinctly Japanese ring to it.

So by way of an example:

Gàidhlig English
tha cù agam I have a dog
tha cù agad you have a dog
tha cù againn we have a dog
tha cù aca they have a dog

A far more in-depth explanation on the topic can be found in the article ‘Possessives and syllabic structure or Ar n-Athair a tha air nèamh‘ on the Akerbeltz wiki site .

Next up we learned Dè tha thu a’ dèanamh? (What are you doing?) as well as the grammar and some related vocabulary for the verbs ag òl (to drink) and ag ithe (to eat).

To say “I am eating bread” is tha mi ag ithe aran and to say “I’m drinking whisky” is tha mi ag òl uisge-beatha and now I’ve learned about 50% of the language I need to live as a hermit on the islands in the unlikely scenario that I outlive my wife!

These sentences can be combined and improved with the following words agus (and), le (with) and gun (without). So utilising them all, we can say tha mi ag ithe aran le ìm agus ag òl uisge-beatha gun uisge which means “I am eating bread and butter as well as drinking whisky without water”.. though a little water does enhance some whiskies in all fairness.. I don’t now how to say ice in Gaelic yet but take it as written that if I utter a similar sentence the ice will ALWAYS be preceded by gun!

Gàidhlig English
tha mi ag ithe iasg I am eating fish
a bheil thu ag ithe buntata? Are you eating potato?
tha e ag òl fion-dearg he is drinking red wine
a bheil ise ag òl bainne? is she drinking milk?

Lastly, we covered the verb ag iarraidh which is equivalent to “wanting” and is used for ordering, it apparently doesn’t translate exactly to “I would like” but is more “I am wanting” which may come over as somewhat rude in English but is perfectly acceptable in Gaelic. This of course completes my never-going-to-happen hermit life-style Gaelic necessity, with the ability to now order my whisky, bread and butter.

Gàidhlig English
dè tha thu ag iarraidh? What would you like?
tha mi ag iarraidh uisge-beatha I would like whisky
drama uisge-beatha? a dram of whisky?
botul. tha mi aonaran a bottle. I’m a hermit.

As always there was some gentle, though in this case not uplifting, respite from the intensity of the class with our weekly song. After singing last week’s song An Tèid Thu Leam A Mhàiri, which was about a man hopelessly trying to get Màiri to move away with him, we moved on to Gràdh Geal Mo Chridh’ which is a tale about a hopelessly (yep, again) sad woman who is mourning the loss of her relationship after her partner left her. I have one word for this song and it is depressing, also way too slow to sing along to.

Also, the first three lines of the chorus which we had to sing have literally no meaning.. they are the equivalent of la la la.


The Origins of Gaelic

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 2-minute read
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Along with the coursework for this session and a wee pronunciation guide we were provided with a short story of ‘The Origins of Gaelic’ which I thought was quite interesting and worth sharing (verbatim).

This Celtic language was first brought to this country by Irish settlers known as Gaels. By 500 AD they had established their Kingdom of Dàl Riada, centred on what is now Argyll in south-west Scotland. In Gaelic Arra (Earra) Ghàidheal is “the coastland of the Gael”.

These early settlers were known to the Romans as Scotti. Gradually, it became a distinct language and continued to expand in the north and west.

With the 18th century and the Jacobite rebellions came an effort to suppress Highland culture – music and language. The Highland Clearances dealt us a further blow. This suppression continued into the 20th century.

Times have changed – we now are determined to fight for the survival of our language. We are proud of our Celtic identity.

“Ultimately, the use of Gaelic is not just a Scottish issue. It is an issue of human dignity, of belonging, and of justice” From the petition sent to the British Government in 1997 entitled “Secure Status for Gaelic”.

Gaelic as a living language is now largely confined to north-western and island communities. There are although sizeable communities to be found in the cities.

Short and sweet! I too am concerned about the survival of this language and intend to do what I can in order to stave off its extinction.

The featured image at the top of the page is courtesy of the always excellent Bella Caledonia website and specifically this article by Daibhidh Rothach from whence I took the following quotation:

When a languages dies, it is gone forever, only the whistle of the wind through grass, the gurgle of the moor burn at night, left to answer its ghost. While the tongues of the Pirahã and Cherokee are of equal value in the mesmerising tapestry of world culture and language, only Scotland can save Gaelic.


Àirigh – Notes on Lesson 1

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 4-minute read
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The inaugural class of Autumn 2014’s the OLL (Office of Lifelong Learning) Gaelic 1.1 course wasn’t just a matter of repeating “parrot-like” set phrases, grammar points and vocabulary. Our tutor also gave us some interesting side notes and information about the Gaelic speaking communities, history of certain words and various other interesting snippets to keep us entertained.

We learned about àirigh which is Gaelic for sheiling (bothy) which is a one build small house, normally just one room without modern conveniences such as toilets. During Summer the cattle would move for better grazing and the crofters would follow with their families and where the cattle stopped was where the àirigh would be. Families would spend about 6 or 7 weeks during the Summer in their sheilings, often without properly washing, which was great for kids.. not so good for teenagers. Nowadays the bothies can often be found a few miles away from Stornoway and in some cases they’ve turned into drinking dens for tho who have been banned from the Island’s few pubs!

Though not so interesting but certainly vital to learning the language, we were taught that the structure of Gaelic is Verb Subject Object (VSO), whereas English is Subject Verb Object (SVO) and Japanese is Subject Object Verb (SOV).. I couldn’t pick a language that shares a structure with one I already know, could I?

Feasgar (afternoon/evening) is masculine, Oidhche (night) is female.. this distinction affects the word math (good) in the common greetings Feasgar Math and Oidhche Mhath with the female form aspirating the adjective.

Gaelic is full of words that don’t exist, for example the name Mhàiri doesn’t “traditionally” exist in Gaelic. The name Mhàiri is the aspirated version of the original name Màiri. Aspiration or lenition is difficult to explain so I’ll leave you in the capable (and ALWAYS accurate) wikipedia for this one:

Grammatical lenition

In the Celtic languages, the phenomenon of intervocalic lenition historically extended across word boundaries. This explains the rise of grammaticalised initial consonant mutations in modern Celtic languages through the loss of endings. A Scottish Gaelic example would be the lack of lenition in am fear /əm fɛr/ (“the man”) and lenition in a’ bhean /ə vɛn/ (“the woman”). The following examples show the development of a phrase coning of a definite article plus a masculine noun (taking the ending –os) compared with a feminine noun taking the ending –a. The historic development of lenition in the two cases can be reconstructed as follows:

Proto-Celtic *(s)indos wiros IPA: [wiɾos] → Old Irish ind fer [feɾ] → Middle Irish in fer [feɾ] → Clascal Gaelic an fear [feɾ] → Modern Gaelic am fear [fɛɾ]

Proto-Celtic *(s)indā be IPA: [venaː] → Old Irish ind ben [ven] → Middle Irish in ben [ven] → Clascal Gaelic an bhean [ven] → Modern Gaelic a’ bhean [vɛn]

Synchronic lenition in Scottish Gaelic affects almost all consonants (except /l̪ˠ/ which has lo its lenited counterpart). Changes such as /n̪ˠ/ to /n/ involve the loss of secondary articulation; in addition, /rˠ/ → /ɾ/ involves the reduction of a trill to a tap. The spirantization of Gaelic nal /m/ to /v/ is unusual among forms of lenition, but is triggered by the same environment as more prototypical lenition. (It may also leave a residue of nasalization in adjacent vowels. The orthography shows this by inserting an h (except after l n r):

Finally, we found out that Western Isles ladies are very forward (sweeping generalisation and obviously not true.. though it does tie in with my experience of Western Isles student nurses whilst working in a certain Irish bar in Aberdeen!). The following is a converation in full which we practiced in class and translated for “homework” in our own time:

Màiri

Halò. Is mi Màiri, cò thu? (Hello, I am Mairi, who are you?)

Pàdruig

Is mi Pàdruig. (I am Patrick.)

Ciamar a tha thu? (How are you?)

Màiri

Tha mi gu math, tapadh leat. (I am well, thank you.)

Ciamar a tha thu fhèin? (How are you, yourself?)

Pàdruig

Tha mi sgìth. (I am tired.)

A bheil thu sgìth? (Are you tired?)

Màiri

Chan eil. (I’m not.)

Cò às a tha thu? (Where are you from?)

Pàdruig

Tha mi as Na Stàitean. (I’m from The States (United of America fame).)

Cò às a tha thu fhèin? (Where are you from, yourself?)

Màiri

Tha mi à Alba. (I am from Scotland.)

A bheil thu pòsda? (Are you married?)

Pàdruig

Chan eil. (I’m not.)

A bheil thu pòsda? (Are YOU married?)

Màiri

Chan eil. (I’m not.)

Hey you, what’s your name? where are you from? oh, you’re tired, I e, ARE YOU MARRIED?


Feasgar math - Lesson 1

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 3-minute read
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Good afternoon\evening! If you are reading this at any other time period of the day then the sentiment persists, I just haven’t learned how to say any other greetings in Gaelic yet.

This post, like all subsequent posts, exists in order to document my progress in learning Scottish Gaelic or Gàidhlig from absolute beginner level.

I have signed up for lessons via the Office of Lifelong Learning at The University of Edinburgh and recently attended my first class.

The class size is pretty reasonable at 15 fellow students and the teacher is a native of the Western Island of Lewis. We were advised that the dialect we’ll be picking up as the weeks continue will be the Lewis dialect but hopefully we’ll be understandable elsewhere too.

My initial impressions of the course are all positive, even considering we have to sing a different Gaelic song each week! At this stage of the process I am a very eager and engaged student.. I hope this feeling continues.

It would obviously be entirely unfair for me to share the entire contents of the course as this may convince potential students that they need not attend any classes. Beware however, even at this early stage it seems that Gaelic is not pronounced in any way that resembles the way that the words are written.

Point of example: tinn which means sick/unwell sounds a bit like choing when said aloud. I may occasionally refer to the International Phonetic Alphabet when trying to explain pronunciation, this is not one of those times.

Some of the phrases which we learned are listed below:

Gàidhlig English
Feasgar math Good Evening/Afternoon
Cò thusa? Who are you?
Is mise … I am …
Ciamar a tha thu? How are you?
Tha mi fuar I am cold
Cò às a tha thu? Where are you from?
Tha mi a Alba I am from Scotland
Tapadh leat Thank you
Oidhche mhath Good Night

We learned more vocabulary than this and also our revision/homework contains other pronouns such as he, she, we, they etc.

One of the many things I learned was that I (and I presume many other folk) have long been pronouncing Alba (Scotland) incorrectly. It is pronounced as if there is a wee half ‘a’ in between the ‘l’ and ‘b’. This also impacts the pronunciation of Albanach (Scottish) which I’ve also been mispronouncing as the last 3 letters are pronounced ‘och’ in Gaelic, or at least in Lewis dialect.

We also had a few goes at the following Gaelic song, where we sang along with the chorus. It wasn’t as bad as we all thought, but probably not as good as the kids in the video sang it.


Tosa-ben card game (龍馬・土佐弁かるた)

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 4-minute read
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I consider myself very fortunate to be married to a hachikin (はちきん), a strong (mentally, physically, emotionally, alcohol-ly) woman from Kōchi prefecture in Shikoku. Not least of all because our relationship has introduced me to breathtaking Kōchi countryside, the exceptionally accepting and very friendly people of the prefecture, a couple of ancient drinking games and a famous samurai about whom I have learned much and have much more to learn.

Moreover, one of the unexpected bonuses of our relationship was (and still is) the introduction to Tosa-ben (土佐弁), or the Tosa dialect. Tosa is the ancient name for the province of Shikoku that is now modern day Kōchi prefecture. Despite being very lacklustre in my attempts to speak and/or learn standard Japanese, I was surprised to discover that I find Tosa-ben fascinating, infinitely more so than textbook nihongo.

There is something about speaking a Japanese dialect that is a good leveller, though not suitable for many situations the ‘bens’ are affected versions of casual Japanese and so speaking to someone in Tosa-ben or any dialect brings everybody down or up to the same level. As a non-native Japanese speaker stumbler, I’ve long struggled with applying the relevant level of politeness to my specific environs and generally resultantly cobbled together a hotch-potch of casual form, polite form and uncustomary stuttering when I communicate.

So I find the idea of speaking in a dialect which is bound to casual form as a very refreshing, attractive prospect. It also helps greatly that my in-laws all speak largely in Tosa-ben so this enables me to pick up vocabulary relatively quickly and (with the help of alcohol) to communicate with them in an acceptable manner.

Unfortunately, like most language related knowledge or memory, if you don’t use it you lose it and I’ve already forgotten about half of the Tosa-ben that I’ve picked up on my few visits to Kōchi. Therefore, this blog post, which will hopefully run into a series, is multi-functional: it allows me to share some fascinating non-standard Japanese with you; it enables me to study and learn more Tosa-ben and it also allows you to correct me! I’m sure I’ll get a lot of Tosa-ben speakers who are also fluent in English reading this blog.. ..

By way of a disclaimer, as I’ve hinted at above, my standard Japanese is pretty poor and I’m a beginner in the ways of Tosa-ben.. so this series of posts probably shouldn’t be relied on as a serious study resource.

Before we get on to mentioning any Tosa-ben however, a wee story. On my first visit to meet the in-laws in Kōchi we visited a lot of family friends and extended family. lot’s of people were eager to meet me and to gauge my opinion of their hometown etc. One of the visits was to Mr Tequila‘s mother, who was a lovely lady who promptly provided us with tea on our arrival. After finding out that I was interested in learning more Tosa-ben she presented me with a gift! 「龍馬・土佐弁かるた」- a card game called Ryōma Tosa-ben karuta (no idea what the last word means). Sakamoto Ryōma is a very famous and very influential samurai in the intricate weave of Japan’s history.

The card game consists of a CD and 2 sets of 45 cards, reading cards (読む札) and pickup cards (取り札). The reading cards have a phrase incorporating a highlighted Tosa-ben word as well as a stanard Japanese alternative for the phrase. The pickup cards have a picture and the same Tosa-ben word, with the first character highlighted, as well as having the standard Japanese phrase. The CD has each of the Tosa-ben phrases orated, presumably. So how do you play the game I sense you internally querying.. I haven’t the slightest idea!

When I’ve asked my hachikin how its played I’ve been told its really easy, you match one card with the other.. That certainly sounds easy but for someone who hasn’t ever played the game before it isn’t a particularly thorough description.

So for over two years I’ve sat with this much appreciated gift that I haven’t been able to play with even once. Then just last night when I was positioning the box for a photograph, I discovered that the instructions are printed on the side of the box. Here they are in full.

「龍馬・土佐弁かるた」は、高知の方言を読み上げて札を取る遊び方ですが、共通語を読み上げ、それを高知の方言に置き換えて(推理して)札を取る遊び方もできます。

読み札には、土佐弁(あいうえお側順)と共通語の2通りの文章を記載しています。読み手は、どちらか一方の文章を読み上げます。

取り札には、土佐弁の見出し文学とイラストを記載していますので、いずれかをヒントにしてすばやく取り札を取ります。

付属の読み手CDをランダム(シャッフル)再生機能付きCDプレーヤーで再生すれば、読み手がいなくても「龍馬・土佐弁かるた」を楽しめます。お好みで読み札と読み手CDを使い分かけて遊べます。

「龍馬・土佐弁かるた」にはかつて耳にしてきた土佐弁と異なる表現があるかもしれません。方言は、地域・時代・世代などによって使い方が変化するものであることを、あらかじめご了承ください。

Now all that remains is for me to translate this in the hope that they are a little less vague than my previous instructions.

I’ll delve a bit more into examples of Tosa-ben in subsequent posts but I’ll leave you with a small selection of simple Tosa-ben terms.

Tosa-ben Standard Japanese English
こじゃんとkojanto とても\すごくたくさんtotemo\sugoku takusan very a LOT
~ば~ba ~くらい~kurai roughlyapproximately
ようせんyōsen できないdekinai can’tunable to
~ちや~chi ya ~だよ~da yo !(used for emphasis)
おまさんomasan あなたanata you(used by older folks)

Why Study Gaelic?

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

Halò, is mise J K! (Hello, I’m J K)

At the time of this site’s creation I’m a 37 year old Scotsman of Gaelic heritage. I know this as last year I did a DNA test with Scotland’s DNA and the response was that my DNA contains the “quintessential Celtic marker”. Apparently my paternal line hails from Leinster in Ireland and I’m potentially directly descended from the ancient Kings of Leinster.

Extract from my YDNA marker report.

Your marker of S145, the identifier of the Hibernians, is found all over Britain and Ireland, and also along part of the route Pytheas took from Massalia and the Mediterranean. It is present in small but significant numbers in Western France and Spain. One of its most interesting concentrations is in Brittany. Formerly known as Armorica, part of the Roman province of Gaul, this region changed its name to mean “Little Britain”. This happened because of a migration, an exodus from Southern England of Romano-British people who fled the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries. These were almost certainly aristocrats, landowners and townspeople of means, those with the most to lose and the ability to flee. They brought their marker with them and outside of Britain, S145 is most common in Brittany, Little Britain.

The exiles also brought their languages with them and Breton is related to Cornish and Welsh, the P-Celtic group of languages. Scots and Irish Gaelic and Manx make up the Q-Celtic group, what was spoken by your ancestors, the Hibernians. They are cousin-languages that evolved as dialects and they are closely identified with S145, what might be called the quintessential Celtic marker. In turn they are linked to Galician, a Celtic language that survives, just, in Northern Spain. In antiquity dialects of what is called Celtiberian were spoken all over what is now Spain and Portugal. Archaeology, language and DNA all combine to suggest strongly that the Celtic peoples of Britain and Ireland approached from the south, from Iberia. You belong to a specifically Irish sub-group of S145, and it is S169. It appears to concentrate in Leinster and it occurs frequently in men with the surnames of Byrne and Kavanagh. Murphys also often carry this sub-type. And there is a link with royalty. Some carriers appear to be descended from the medieval kings of Leinster, the men once known as the Chiefs of the Lagin. Their warbands crossed the Irish Sea after the fall of the Roman province of Britannia in the 5th century and left their name on the Lleyn Peninsula of North Wales.

The early medieval kings of Leinster gained notoriety because they invited the Normans into Ireland. Dermot MacMurrough lost his throne and in order to regain it, he promised the succession to Richard de Clare, a Norman earl known as Strongbow. And with typical Norman briskness, he took it. Nevertheless, Dermot has a modern successor; the Prince of Leinster is William Butler MacMurrough Kavanagh. He was born in 1944.

The Hibernians, your people, represent an extraordinary continuity from earliest times.

Though maternal lineage is a little less detailed, it is likely that my maternal line also came to Scotland via Ireland (piecing together the DNA results and what I know about my mum’s family history). So my ancestors were Gaels.. which led me to ask myself, what kind of a Quintessential Celt doesn’t even speak the language of his people?

Whilst living in Japan for an exchange year in 2009-2010 I also presented a short speech differentiating between the sounds of English, Scots and Gaelic and it wasn’t really until I carried out a little research that I realised how much in decline the language is. I can’t stand by and watch the language of my ancestors and one of the languages which so heavily influences Scottish culture vanish from existence. I’ll do what I can to ensure the survival of Gaelic.

As of Thursday 25th of September 2014, I began my journey to learning this language. Though the pace will be relatively slow at first with just one 2 hour evening lesson every week within term time at The University of Edinburgh, it is my intention to one day be fluent in Gaelic.

This blog is intended as a progress journal and something that I can look back on later which may be useful for helping our future children learn Gaelic at a later stage. All and any feedback is appreciated, particularly from Gaelic speakers!

Tapadh leat.. for visiting!


Gaelic Pronunciation Guide

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 14-minute read
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Pronunciation Guide

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I found the following excellent pronunciation guide online.

Copied from the Cambridge University Hillwalking Club website with thanks to it’s author Mark Jackson (mark3jackson at gmail dot com) who granted permission to reproduce this below.

Let’s get a couple of things straight before we begin. Firstly, it’s pronounced (in English) ‘gal-ick’. Irish Gaelic is pronounced (in English) ‘gay-lik’. The (Scottish) Gaelic name for (Scottish) Gaelic is Gàidhlig, pronounced ‘gaa-lik’, not to be confused with the Irish (Gaelic) name for Irish (Gaelic), which is written Gaeilge and pronounced ‘gail-gyuh’. Both languages are descended from 6th-century Old Irish, and are about as mutually intelligible as Cockney and Glaswegian (i.e. somewhat, if you speak slowly). Welsh is a more distant relation (compare Welsh pen and Gaelic beinn; Welsh moel and Gaelic meall).

Second, Gaelic pronunciation is a lot more complex than Welsh, and I enjoy writing about it, so I’m not going to give you short shrift. This is going to be a long guide.

Some ground rules

  • Gaelic has only eighteen letters in its alphabet, so no J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y or Z.
  • A consonant + H denotes a completely different sound to the same consonant without an H following it.
  • Gaelic has a system of broad vowels (A, O, U) and slender vowels (E, I). It’s a strange feature of Gaelic spelling that a consonant – or bunch of consonants – only ever has broad vowels on both sides, or slender vowels on both sides. So aonach and coire are both valid words, but not aonech or core. After a while, these sorts of words just start to look wrong.
  • When many – but not all – consonants are surrounded by slender vowels (called a slender consonant), they change their sounds to sound as though they have a Y following them. Consonants do exactly the same in English when followed by a U. Thus the initial sounds of the words ceann, dearg are the same as the initial sounds of cure, dune.
  • There is also a distinction that needs to be understood in certain places between back vowels (vowels that sound in the back of the mouth, that is ‘aw’, ‘ur’, ‘oo’, ‘ow’, ‘aa’, ‘o’, ‘u’, ‘a’) and front vowels (everything else).
  • Gaelic words are stressed on the first syllable. There, that was simple. The whole discussion about vowels only applies in stressed (i.e. initial) syllables, because anywhere else in the word, vowels only make a couple of sounds (to be covered later).

Simple vowels

Gaelic uses the grave accent on vowels, so suddenly we have ten to cope with. The use of the accent is consistent though and just signifies a longer version of the vowel.

  • A like in cat, or more accurately, like the first part of the vowel in cow.
  • À is a longer version of the above, as in father.
  • E like a short version of the sound in bay before the Y sets in; like French é.
  • È longer version of the above.
  • I is a short version of the sound in see.
  • Ì as in see.
  • O as in cot usually; but before B, BH, G, GH, M and MH it makes a sound more like the French au in jaune.
  • Ò as is law.
  • U is a short version of the sound in food; like French ou.
  • Ù as in food.

These rules aren’t applicable all the time, but they’re a good starting point.

Broad consonants

(that is, consonants surrounded by broad vowels.)

  • F, L, LL, M, N, NN and S; as in English. Well, I wanted to start you off with the easy ones.
  • H as in English, but only when it’s found in isolation (which isn’t often). When it comes after a consonant, it modifies the sound of the preceding consonant instead of having a sound of its own. See below.
  • P, T and C; as in English, except that in the middle or end of words you should add a very slight ‘kh’ sound before them, almost no more than a little extra breath. (That ‘kh’ is the back of the throat sound as in loch or German Bach. Practise it.) E.g. càrn ‘caarn’, baca ‘ba(kh)-kuh’.
  • B, D and G; as in English only at the beginnings of words. Elsewhere they sound like English P, T and C respectively. E.g. bàn ‘baan’, fada ‘fat-uh’.
  • R and RR; rolled, and never left out. Ever. If you can’t roll your R’s you can approximate a single tap of the roll (which is all most Gaels ever say anyway) by bending your tongue back until the underside of the tongue is touching the roof of your mouth, and then flicking the tongue forward while trying to say an English R. The tongue should catch behind the teeth, producing a sharp tapping sound rather unlike the English R.
  • BH and MH; both pronounced as the English V. For example, mhòr ‘vaur’.
  • CH; as in loch or German Bach. If you can’t make this sound, you might as well give up now, because there’s no surer sign that you’re a Sassenach than being unable to pronounce loch as anything other than ‘lock’.
  • GH and DH; these are to CH as G is to C, i.e. with the mouth and tongue in the same place but with the vocal cords vibrating. (You can tell if your vocal cords are vibrating or not by placing your hand against your throat and seeing if you can feel a buzzing sensation.) It’s a bit like gargling, or sitting on a G for several seconds. E.g. dhorain‘ ghorrin’.
  • FH is silent. E.g. fhuaran ‘uaran’.
  • PH as in English.
  • SH and TH; as the English H. For example, thuilm ‘hoolim’.

Combinations of consonants

Only one rule here: for some reason best known to itself Gaelic inserts a SH sound into the combinations RD and RT. Therefore aird ‘aarsht’.

Slender consonants

As discussed above, in most cases, ‘slenderising’ a consonant just involves sticking a Y after it. Thus slender B is like the BY in English beauty at the beginning of a word, and like the PY in English puke elsewhere. Slender C is just like the CY in English cute, slender SH is like the HY in hew, slender L is like the LY in million and slender BH is just like the VY in English view. This process is also done to R and NG although their modified forms aren’t found in English. E.g. cìr ‘kyeery’.

The difficulty for English speakers is ending a word with this kind of slenderised sound. For example, cìr above only has one syllable, and it ends with what sounds like an R and a Y run quickly together. Writing out the pronunciations for these things isn’t easy either!

Of course, there are a lot of exceptions.

  • Slender S is pronounced as the English SH. E.g. clais ‘clash’.
  • Slender CH is pronounced like the German ich; that is to say, rather like an H and a Y run together and said with more force. E.g. lapaich ‘la(kh)-piçh’.
  • Slender GH and DH are a voiced version of the above, i.e. as above, but with the vocal cords vibrating. It can sound rather like a severely overdone Y. E.g. dhearg ‘yyerrak’.
  • The consonants B, BH, M, MH, F, FH, P, PH, SH and TH only slenderise before a back vowel (see the Ground Rules section). E.g. bealach ‘byal-uhkh’ and meall ‘myowl’, but beag ‘behk’ (not ‘byehk’), caibe ‘kap-uh’ (not ‘kap-yuh’) and tìm ‘teem’ (not ‘teemy’).
  • L only slenderises at the beginning of a word. E.g. leum ‘lyehm’ but cuilean ‘ku-luhn’
  • N only slenderises initially or after a back vowel. E.g. nead ‘nyet’ and duine ‘duwn-yuh’, but teine ‘tyen-uh’.
  • R slenderises everywhere except at the beginning of a word. Honestly, who makes these things up? So we haverèidh ‘ray’ but bhuiridh ‘vui-ryee’.
  • LL, NN and RR slenderise as expected, you will be glad to hear.

Finally, ever hear the English word tune pronounced ‘tchoon’ rather than ‘tyoon’? This is a common trend, and the same is happening in Gaelic. Thus it’s fine to pronounce teallach ‘tchal-uhkh’ rather than ‘tyal-uhkh’, and of course it means the word nid comes out as ‘nyitch’ (because the D is pronounced as a T because it’s not at the start, but it’s also slender, so it becomes TY which then becomes TCH…)

Enjoying yourself? Just wait till we meet the vowels…

Combinations of vowels

The trick with this stuff is knowing which vowels are actually supposed to be sounded, and which have been inserted to mark the surrounding consonants as broad or slender. Also, Gaelic vowels have a habit of changing before certain consonants, much as the A’s in the English words ”half”, ”hand”, ”hall”, ”halt” and ”hallow” are all pronounced differently. Just be grateful you aren’t having to learn as many rules as a learner of English!

  • As a general rule, an I following a vowel does not change its pronunciation, thus AI, EI and ÒI are pronounced the same as A, E and Ò respectively. E.g. caisteal ‘kash-tchuhl’ and coire ‘corruh’.
  • AO is a new vowel, and we all love those. It’s like the OO sound in English ”food”, but with the lips unrounded, and sounded further back in the throat. To some, it sounds like a cross between that OO sound and the UR sound in burn. E.g. aonach ‘uw-nuhkh’.
  • EA this combination sounds just like a Gaelic E before the letters D, G and S. Elsewhere, it mostly has the sound of the English E in ”bed”, e.g. beag ‘behk’ but geal ‘gyel’.
  • EO and sound just like the Gaelic O and Ò, except that a Y sound is added before them when they come at the start of a word. E.g. beoil ‘byaul’ and eòin ‘yawny’ (note the slender n).
  • EU, IA and ÌO sound like a Gaelic I and A run together, that is, like the English word ”ear” (without the R). E.g.riabhach ‘reea-uhkh’. One exception; before M, EU becomes a long E sound instead. Thus leum ‘lyehm’.
  • IO just sounds like I. E.g. biod ‘bit’.
  • IU, IÙ and IÙI sound just like the Gaelic U and Ù, except that a Y sound is added before them when they come at the start of a word. E.g. iubhar ‘yoo-uhr’.
  • UA and UAI sound as in English pure or Northern tour. Thus bruach ‘bruakh’.
  • UI normally just sounds like U (as you’d expect from the first rule in this section) but before M, N, NG and S it sounds like the Gaelic AO instead. E.g. uisge ‘uwshk-yuh’.

Vowels in unstressed syllables

  • A, E, EA make an ‘uh’ sound as in the second syllable of butter. E.g. bidean ‘bit-yuhn’.
  • AI, EI, I, OI, UI make a short ‘i’ sound as in pin. E.g. tarsuinn ‘tar-sin’.

Simples. No other vowels appear in unstressed syllables.

Vowels before LL, M and NN

Much as in English hall, almost every vowel in Gaelic changes its sound before these letters. This only happens in stressed syllables.

  • A and EA now make the sound of English cow. E.g. meall ‘myowl’ and ceann ‘kyown’. In the case of EA, a Y sound is added before it when it starts a word, and it doesn’t change before M.
  • AI now makes the sound in English sky. E.g. caill ‘kyle’.
  • EI now sounds like English vein, e.g. beinn ‘beyn’ and greim ‘greym’.
  • I and U simply get lengthened, e.g. till ‘tcheely’.
  • IO (and this is a weird one) becomes the long OO sound (but not before M). What’s more, it gains an extra Y sound in front if it begins a word. E.g. fionn ‘fyoon’, fhionnlaidh ‘yoon-lee’ – don’t forget the FH is silent!
  • O is lengthened to a sound similar to that in English home. E.g. tom ‘tohm’.
  • OI becomes the sound of the Welsh EI, that is, a sound formed by running together a short ‘uh’ and an ‘ee’. E.g. broinn ‘brueyn’.
  • UI becomes a difficult sound formed by running together the back-of-the-throat Gaelic AO sound and an ‘ee’. E.g. druim ‘druuym’.

An important rule to remember is that this does not happen if a vowel follows the LL/M/NN. It’s the same in English with the words fall and fallow. Most of the time a following vowel just causes the preceding vowel to fall back to how it would have been had the LL/M/NN not been present (e.g. mullach is ‘mu-luhkh’ not ‘moo-luhkh’), but there are a couple of exceptions:

  • EA becomes a Gaelic short A, but still has a Y preceding it if it starts a word off. E.g. teallach ‘tchal-uhkh’.
  • IO becomes a Gaelic short U. It also still has a Y preceding it if it starts a word off. E.g. sionnach ‘shu-nuhkh’.

Vowels before RR/RN/RD

A similar lengthening takes place before the combinations RR, RN and RD. This one is simpler though.

  • A, AI and EA lengthen to make a long À sound. E.g. aird ‘aarsht’ and fearna ‘fyaar-nuh’.
  • O and U lengthen to sound like Ò and Ù, e.g. sgurr ‘skuur’. Similarly, IU lengthens to sound like .

As in the previous section, this lengthening does not happen if a vowel follows the RR (note: it does happen if a vowel follows an RN or an RD), e.g. corranaich ‘korruh-niçh’. Also as in the previous section, under these circumstances an EA ends up sounding like a short A (e.g. earrach ‘yarruhkh’).

Those pesky BH, DH, GH and MH

The most annoying thing about these four consonants is their tendency to disappear when following a vowel. If you come across one of these four in that situation, you’re safer assuming that it’s silent than that it sounds as it should: e.g.dubh ‘doo’, labhar ‘laa-uhr’, sidhein ‘shee-in’, buidhe ‘buuy-uh’, mheadhoin ‘vey-in’ (often contracted further to ‘vein’), braigh ‘bruey’, nighean ‘nyee-uhn’. But then there are words like abhainn ‘av-in’, laogh ‘luwgh’, damh ‘dav’ and caoimhin ‘kuw-vin’… It helps to know that DH almost always disappears and that MH rarely does.

One thing a consonant disappearing like this often does is lengthen the preceding vowel. This explains why the common ending -aidh is pronounced ‘ee’.

But sometimes (and whether they disappear or not!) these four consonants change the sound of the preceding vowel instead. As follows:

  • A/EA before DH/GH; the DH/GH is not silent, and the A/EA becomes another new vowel, like the ur in English burn but further back in the throat and shorter. E.g. feadh ‘fyeugh’, ladhran ‘leuu-ruhn’ (in this instance the vowel is lengthened by the disappearance of the DH).
  • AI before BH/DH/MH; lengthens to the sound of English sky. E.g. aibhne ‘eyev-nyuh’.
  • AIGH and OIGH make the sound of OI before LL, that is, ‘uh’ and ‘ee’ run together. E.g. mhaighdean ‘vuey-tchuhn’ and oighreag ‘uey-ryuhk’.
  • AOI plus BH/DH/GH/MH; like an AO and an ‘ee’ run together. E.g. laoigh ‘luuy’.

Extra vowels

Gaelic isn’t a fan of having too many consonants of certain types stuck together, so it tends to stick extra vowels in between them, even when there’s no vowel written. To be precise: where an L, N or R is followed by a B, BH, CH, G, GH, M or MH, or preceded by an M, an extra vowel comes between the two. Usually this vowel is a copy of the previous vowel; e.g. bhalgain ‘val-a-kin’, gorm ‘gorom’, garbh ‘garav’.

An exception is that when this would lead to the sound combination E-R-E, an A is sounded instead. This explains why the common word dearg is pronounced ‘jerrak’.

A guide to the respelling used

Yeah, trying to write out how these words are pronounced isn’t very easy when English doesn’t contain half the sounds involved. Here’s a roundup of all the conventions used:

Spelling Meaning
‘by’ as in beauty, even at the end of a word.
‘çh’ like the German ich; that is to say, rather like an H and a Y run together and said with more force.
‘eh’ like a short version of the sound in bay before the Y sets in; like French é.
‘eu’ A new vowel, like the ‘ur’ in English burn but further back in the throat and shorter.
‘gh’ to CH as G is to C, i.e. with the mouth and tongue in the same place but with the vocal cords vibrating. It’s a bit like gargling, or sitting on a G for several seconds.
‘kh’ The back of the throat sound as in loch or German Bach. Practise it.
‘uey’ A sound formed by running together a short ‘uh’ and an ‘ee’.
‘uh’ As in butt_er_ or comm_a_.
‘uuy’ A difficult sound formed by running together the back-of-the-throat Gaelic AO sound (see below) and an ‘ee’.
‘uw’ Like the OO sound in English ”food”, but with the lips unrounded, and sounded further back in the throat. To some, it sounds like a cross between that OO sound and the UR sound in burn.
‘yy’ as ‘çh’, but with the vocal cords vibrating. It can sound rather like a severely overdone Y.

Test

Right, now that you’ve been reminded of what all my garbled pronunciations are trying to say, cover up the right-hand side of the page/screen and have a go at these Munro names:

Name Pronunciation
Stob Bàn ‘stop baan’
An Stuc ‘uhn stu-(kh)k’
Creise ‘kreh-shuh’
Aonach Mor ‘uw-nuhkh maur’
Stob Coire an Laoigh ‘stop corr-uhn luuy’
Stob Ghabhar ‘stop ghow-uhr’
Meall Chuaich ‘myowl khua-çh’
Càrn a’ Gheoidh ‘caarn uh yyoy’
Sgurr an Doire Leathain ‘skuur uhn dorruh ly-e-hin’

Shiraishi Island (白石島)

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 1-minute read
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During my year of living in Japan I discovered a little bit of paradise, namely Shiraishi Island (白石島) which is nestled to the South of Okayama in the Seto Inland Sea. On my first visit I met people who became some of my closest friends during the year, one of whom is coming to visit me in Scotland in a few months!

I introduced Shiraishi Island to classmates, Okayama based friends and visitors from overseas and I continue to sing the praises of this charming little Island..

In just a few days time when Golden Week starts a bunch of my friends will meet on Shiraishi Island and drink their body weights in Moogaritas at the Moooo! Bar .. I couldn’t be any more jealous!

These are just a few of the snaps I took on my various visits to the island, they represent some very happy memories.. I’ll be back on the sandy beaches wearing my cow-patterned shorts, supping an ice cold beer and watching Manchan dance before long!


Review: Japan, Funny Side Up

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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Having visited Japan for a month in 2006, then lived in Okayama for a year between 2009 and 2010 and furthermore having had a life-long fascination with Japanese history and culture, I have experience of reading a great number of travel guides and books about this fascinating country. The one observation I would make of these books is that they are mostly dry, humourless, rinse and repeat guides highlighting the same places to visit and peddling the same experiences, and whilst there is absolutely a place for these books they fail to capture an important aspect of Japan, namely the fun, adventure and humour of everyday life in this curious country.

Amy Chavez breaks the mould with this collection of articles and observations from her many collated years of living in Japan and it struck a chord with me on almost every page. My personal favourite section was the chapter which describes the delights of transportation in Japan and as I read I reminisced about being in very similar situations during my time living in Japan. I loved travelling through Okayama on a local bus as each corner turned would uncover small surprises. This is an alternative guide to Japan and it focuses on aspects of Japanese culture and life that most of the mainstream travel books miss out on, it doesn’t try to cover the same old well-trodden path, it presents new information for the Japan enthusiast to feast on in a very light-hearted, amusing and sometimes surreal way.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who hopes to travel to Japan one day, or indeed to anyone who already has and has happy memories of the time. If you are going to visit for the first time then check out a serious guidebook or two as well but definitely read this alternative guidebook for hints on the little things that could make your trip even more memorable.

Oh and as the author suggests, if you can, DO take part in the Okayama Saidaiji Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Man festival), I did and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.


Amy Chavez is a columnist for The Japan Times and author of Japan, Funny Side Up . She is also the proprietress of the fantastic Moooo! Bar on Shiriashi Island and can be found on twitter as @JapanLite


Review: 2:46 Aftershock – #Quakebook

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 5-minute read
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So this is actually less of a review at this stage than a bit of background as due to my studies for my imminent final exams (first one is tomorrow!) I have only read the first handful of stories from the book but even still it has been an emotional roller-coaster ride. The book represents a fantastic collaboration of passionate volunteers willing to contibute their own time and talents for free in order to raise funds for the Great Tohoku Earthquake Red Cross Appeal and it comprises almost 100 contributions by Japanese and foreigners alike all of whom were in some way affected by the disaster. So far I have read the first 8 of these stories and such are the pure emotions encapsulated in them that it has been a struggle to hold back the tears. There are heart-breaking accounts of those directly affected and emotional pledges of support by many who hold Japan close to their hearts. Below I have attached an extract (I hope that is OK!) written by an aged 80+ gent from Sendai which is endearing as it demonstrates the strength of mind of the Japanese and instills confidence that things will get better.

Thing to realise above everything else I think is that whilst the TV coverage (somewhat thankfully due to the high levels of inept reporting) may have died down in your part of the world, the struggle continues for those affected by the tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear challenges, please do what you can to help! I personally recommend buying this book, not only because ALL of the funds go directly to the Japanese Red Cross and not just because numerous people have sacrificed their time and efforts to produce the book, but because as well as directly helping the victims the stories will help you gather a greater understanding of what is really happening in Japan. Please buy #Quakebook and check out the website detailed below for more information on alternative ways to help.


In just four weeks, the 2:46 Quakebook project has turned an idea first voiced in a single tweet, into a rich collection of essays, artwork and photographs submitted by indivdiuals around the world, including people who endured the disaster and journalists who covered it.

2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake contains a piece by Yoko Ono, and work created specifically for the book by authors William Gibson, Barry Eisler and Jake Adelstein.

The Kindle ebook is available to buy from anywhere in the world at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk . You don’t even need a Kindle. Just go to the order page and download (for free) a Kindle reader for your Mac, PC or smart phone.

Learn more about the project here

Stay up to date on the latest news using the twitter hashtag #quakebook or through the news updates below.


Extract from #Quakebook – Encouragement

It’s been a nightmare of a week. I pray that everyone afflicted in this terrible disaster will soon wake up from this bad dream, but I don’t have any words of comfort. As an old man with an old wife, I’ve put up with a lot this week. But it’s nothing compared with the lives of those staying in shelters. Now things have settled down a little, I will attempt to convey the thoughts of the many other elderly people I have spoken with.

For us old folk confused by the scarcity of information, the radio has been our most reliable source of news. Many of us oldies are familiar with the radio and listen to late night broadcasts, with batteries that last a surprisingly long time. While we can use ordinary mobile phone functions, we’ve barely been able to operate emergency functions. Batteries run out as we fumble with our phones and the vast majority of us have given up trying to use them.

Very few people of my generation use the Internet in the first place, and as power is needed to get online, we haven’t been able to use it during power cuts. Even if we connect to the net, we’re poor at finding the information we want. Naturally, we can’t watch television during blackouts.

While we have inadequate access to information, we can ask net-savvy people living near us to get this information for us. For this reason, we are grateful that mobile phones and the Internet provide information. We rely on one company to provide our home with television, Internet and telephone services. While we feared that the infrastructure might have collapsed, the services were quickly recovered. We are thankful for this.

The strength of our generation is our experience. While this disaster is unprecedented, similar experiences such as postwar chaos, oil shocks and the 2005 Miyagi earthquake have kept us prepared. Many people also had stocks of emergency supplies. I pray that old people who are sick or weak can quickly receive medical attention. But rather then telling healthy old folk that you will support them, it would cheer them more to say that you’ll strive to get through this together.

To be honest, it has not been comfortable for people aged over 80. Lining up for hours to get water or do some shopping chills us from the tips of our toes up and gives us back pains. But seeing young mothers of small children patiently waiting for their turn and the impressive qualities of young women who use just a calculator to total up the bills for many customers’ shopping, gives me the strong conviction that this country will not break under these circumstances.

It’s been a while since my wife and I shared activities and fulfilled our respective roles. Our children have encouraged us and this has led to a reconfirmation of our family bonds. We’ve also received much encouragement from unexpected people. I’ve lived for many years. Night has always turned to day and rain has never failed to cease. Conditions have greatly improved during this week, and will get even better next week. This is a manifestation of the fighting spirit of someone born in the first decade of the Showa period. We need to stay strong.

GRANDFATHER HIBIKI Sendai


Silence is Broken

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 4-minute read
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So there hasn’t been a great deal of activity on this blog for the past several weeks and so I thought I’d apologise to the literally one’s of readership for this lack of attention. I have been working a considerable amount of hours, split between 3 jobs, 2 part-time and 1 full-time in order to accrue some funds to purchase a netbook and a Panasonic Lumix LX3 for my incoming trip to Japan. As a result of having little to no social time I’ve not had much to say really.. sorry ^_^.

With the initial stages of my year in Japan now very imminent I have been thinking a lot about what I want to do and see in my first 3 or so weeks of travelling prior to my arrival in Okayama on October 1st. There are a few places from my holiday in 2006 which I would like to revisit, such as Arashiyama.. this small town is still responsible for some of my fondest memories of Japan. Myself and my travelling companions stumbled upon Arashiyama whilst staying in Kyoto, Alexander wanted to see a bamboo tree forest and according to Mr. Google this was the place to satisfy his desire. However, little Arashiyama harbours greater delights than bamboo trees.. on our hunt we discovered a snow monkey sanctuary atop a small mountain, followed shortly by a very quaint, ramshackle little Buddhist temple atop the next mountain.. a very cool wide river adorned by traditional style boats and lots of gift shops. We were told that Arashiyama is a place where the Japanese like to go on holiday and not a massive amount of Western tourists make it to the town. It was stunning.. we did also find a bamboo forest so everyone was happy. It just so happens that I have a friend who is studying for a short while in Kyoto and a very helpful tutor from Okayama University who hails from Kyoto so a return trip to Arashiyama has a solid place in my makeshift itinerary.

However, I have a liaison with a small yakitoriya in Osaka which will most likely be my first port of call. We visited this tiny little eatery as a result of our determination to be a little more adventurous than we had been and our efforts to avoid the easier picture menu restaurants. Our first attempt almost put our good efforts to bed after we accidentally stumbled into a Korean restaurant where the staff spoke no English, and only a little broken Japanese.. our combined Japanese skills amounted for very little and so after an awkward 15 minutes or so we left and found the warm and friendly yakitori bar. The owners of this place also spoke no English but exuded a welcoming warmth and us being able to point at any food we wanted in the bar top chiller was a definite bonus! On our first night a friendly Japanese family bought us a few jars of sake and enquired as to where we were from. We drank several biiru ate lots of meat on sticks combinations, a very good night was had.. so we went back the next day and got speaking to a very worldly Japanese man who seemed to have travelled to every English speaking country in the world at some stage. He translated for Mrs. Yakitoriya and she said that she loved us.. presumably as we couldn’t read the conventional menu and were eating the more expensive option whilst drinking a fair amount of beer and sake. At the end of that evening we asked a .. tattooed man .. to take a picture of us outside the bar with the owners and he complied and indicated on the way back in that he thought that I was Bruce Willis!

Twitter has also (as always) been a source of inspiration and has added a few potential destinations on the map.. I am very tempted to visit Shiraishi Island for a spot of drinking Margaritas (Moogaritas) at a cow themed bar on the beach.. I may have to schedule a visit in for Mooofest! on Sunday 27th of September. I may also have a visit to Matsue on the cards to drop of some Scottish oatcakes to a friend who lives there. Additionally, I was recently speaking to someone who lives in Fukushima and the story of the Byakkotai has tempted my Bushido Otaku senses and presents a powerful draw in that direction.

However, the most pressing visit at the moment is to the Japanese Consulate to pick up my passport and its new visa stamp! Only 14 days left in Scotland!


Seppuku

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 6-minute read
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Today I re-read Inazo Nitobe’s Bushido in preparation for writing up my application for independent study during my year in Japan. I hope to study samurai life using this book (amongst others) as a seed(s) from which my research will blossom.

Whilst reading I came across this following quote which describes an eye-witness account from a western representative of a ceremonial suicide by disembowling known as seppuku.

The article originates from A.B. Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan. It makes for fascinating reading, at least it does for a samurai otaku like myself!

We (seven foreign representatives) were invited to follow the Japanese witnesses into the hondo or main hall of the temple, where the ceremony was to be performed. It was an imposing scene. A large hall with a high roof supported by dark pillars of wood. From the ceiling hung a profusion of those huge gilt lamps and ornaments peculiar to Buddhist temples. In front of the high altar, where the floor, covered with beautiful white mats, is raised some three or four inches from the ground, was laid a rug of scarlet felt. Tall candles placed at regular intervals gave out a dim mysterious light, just sufficient to let all the proceedings be seen. The seven Japanese took their places on the left of the raised floor, the seven foreigners on the right. No other person was present.

After the interval of a few minutes of anxious of suspense, Taki Zanzabuto, a stalwart man thirty-two years of age, with a noble air, walked into the hall attired in his dress of ceremony, with the peculiar hempen-cloth wings which are worn on great occassions. He was accompanied by a kaishaku and three officers, who wore the jimbaori or war surcoat with gold tissue facings. The word kaishaku, it should be observed, is one to which our word executioner is no equivalent term. The office is that of a gentleman; in many cases it is performed by a kinsman or friend of the condemned, and the relation between them is rather that of principal and second than that of victim and executioner. In this instance, the kaishaku was a pupil of Taki Zenzaburo, and was selected by friends of the latter from among their own number for his skill in swordsmanship.

With the kaishaku on his left hand, Taki Zenzaburo advanced slowly toward the Japanese witnesses, and then the two bowed before them, then drawing near to the foreigners they saluted us in the same way, perhaps even with more deference; in each case the salutation was ceremoniously returned. Slowly and with great dignity the condemned man mounted on to the raised floor, prostrated himself before the high altar twice, and seated himself on the felt carpet with his back to the high altar, the kaishaku crouching on his left-hand side. One of the three attendant officers then came forward, bearing a stand of the kind used in the temple for offerings, on which, wrapped in paper, lay the wakizashi, the short sword or dirk of the Japanese, nine inches and a half in length, with a point and an edge as sharp as a razor’s. This he handed, prostrating himself, to the condemned man, who received it reverently raising it to his head with both hands, and placed it in front of himself.

After another profound obeisance, Taki Zenzaburo, in a voice which betrayed just so much emotion and hesitation as might be expected from a man who is making a painful confession, but with no sign of either in his face or manner, spoke as follows:-

“I, and I alone, unwarrantably gave the order to fire on the foreigners at Kobe, and again as they tried to escape. For this crime I disembowel myself, and I beg you who are present to do me the honor of witnessing the act.”

Bowing once more, the speaker allowed his upper garments to slip down to his girdle, and remained naked to the waist. Carefully, according to custom, he tucked his sleeves under his knees to prevent himself from falling backward; for a noble Japanese gentleman should die falling forwards. Deliberately, with a steady hand he took the dirk that lay before him; he looked at it wistfully, almost affectionately; for a moment he seemed to collect his thoughts for the last time, and then stabbing himself deeply below the waist in the left-hand side, he drew the dirk slowly to his right side, and turning it in the wound, gave a slight cut upwards. During this sickeningly painful operation he never moved a muscle of his face. When he drew out the dirk, he leaned forward and stretched out his neck; an expression of pain for the first time crossed his face, but he uttered no sound. At that moment the kaishaku, who, still crouching by his side, had been keenly watching his every movement, sprang to his feet, poised his sword for a second in the air; there was a flash, a heavy, ugly thud, a crashing fall; with one blow the head had been severed from the body.

A dead silence followed, broken only by the hideous noise of the blood throbbing out of the inert heap before us, which but a moment before had been a brave and chivalrous man. It was horrible.

The kaishaku made a low bow, wiped his sword with a piece of paper which he had ready for the purpose, and retired from the raised floor; and the stained dirk was solemnly borne away, a blood proof of the execution.

The two representatives of the Mikado then left their places, and crossing over to where the foreign witnesses sat, called to us to witness that the sentence of death upon Taki Zenzaburo had been faithfully carried out. The ceremony being at an end, we left the temple.

The quality of this article that I value the highest is the balanced way in which the activity is explained, rather than quickly assign the ritual as an act of brutal, bloodthirsty heathens Mitford gives a precise and respectable account of what he has seen and has attributed courage and honour to the samurai who has taken his life. For anyone interested in how modern Japan is influenced by their feudal past I’d enthusiatically recommend Nitobe’s book, his patriotic and passionate defence of bushido gives some indication as to why his portrait was printed on 5000 yen banknotes for 20 years (1984-2004).


Hail the new Shinto ‘God’ of Guitar

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 3-minute read
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One somewhat congested evening in the midst of a major traffic jam on a highway in Tokyo, in between explaining the details of Japanese toilet behaviour and stifling some red-neck Americans from heckling during his heartfelt story of life as a kid in Hiroshima after the bomb, an aging and slightly senile tour bus guide shared with me and everyone else awake and paying attention, an interesting (albeit slightly inaccurate) factoid.

The bit of trivia was that Japan’s indigenous philosophy or quasi-religion of Shinto has eight million gods associated with it. The slight misinformation may have been down to problems with translation however the correct interpretation is that Shinto is said to have around eight million kami associated with it. These kami as described in the previous link do not carry the same connotations as the western concept of a divine, omnipotent being (God). However, now that the disclaimer is done, for the sake of this post I am going to go with the tour guide’s explanation..

The reason for this is simple, after discussing this newly acquired information with my travel companions we concluded that becoming a Shinto god must be a relatively simple process. As a result one of my friends nominated myself as the Shinto God of Scotland, this was seconded by my other travelmate and I was unofficially ordained.

With great responsibility comes great power.. or something like that and so, without further ado and with the powers vested in me I ordain Tomoyasu Hotei as the Shinto God of Guitar. Now, I’m sure there is probably some forms to fill out before it is all official, I’m whilst the rest of the newbie Gods were being shown the administrative ropes I was in an all night karaoke joint drinking beer and singing as if Scotland’s very survival depended on it.

I present the following videos in support of Hotei’s ordainment in case anyone should have any objections:

The first is another example of my favourite Hotei tune, the crowd participation and the energy in this clip are just fantastic! Not to mention the guitar work! LET’S GO!

An excellent cover of David Bowie’s “Starman”

Finally, another great cover, this time Eddie Cochrane’s “C’mon Everybody”. There were loads of fantastic clips on YouTube and it’s been a tough call to narrow down this list to 4.. go check them out!

So please join me in congratulating the new ギターの神! However, should anyone know of an equally talented or dare I say it, more talented guitarist then please let me know be commenting below, there can be more than one kami of any type.


The Genius of Kurosawa – The Hidden Fortress

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 3-minute read
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Through the eyes of this samurai otaku there was, and indeed is no finer director than Akira Kurosawa. His feudal films are unique, not just in content and quality but in ground-breaking cinematography. Add to his directorial and cinematographical genius the stand-out performances of my favourite samurai character actor, one Toshiro Mifune and many of the Kurosawa films are thin and crispy, warm slices of heaven served on a platinum platter.

I have just finished watching, not for the first time, perhaps the most comedic of the great Kurosawa films and I feel the need to share the love that I feel for these movies. The film I speak of is The Hidden Fortress (隠し砦の三悪人, Kakushi toride no san akunin) which was released in 1958.

This film was ‘famously’ the inspiration for George Lucas in telling the Star Wars story from the viewpoint of the droids, R2-D2 and C3P0. In Hidden Fortress these roles are played by luckless, greedy, squabbling wasters Matashichi and Tahei and it is through these characters that the comedy element of the movie is beautifully delivered.. that will be the only time either are referred to in the same sentence as the adjective beautiful!

The other main characters are General Rokurota Makabe played by the always impressive Toshiro Mifune and Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara). Viewers will be forgiven for noticing similarities between this ballsy princess and the rebel alliance’s very own Princess Leia.

The story tells of the journey to return Leia.. sorry, Yuki to her homelands where she is heir to a fallen state. The travels take the posse behind enemy lines and on several amusing adventures, Mifune plays a fantastic straight man in support of the comic peasants!

This movie was in many ways a triumph of cinematography for Akira Kurosawa, there are several techniques which he utilised here which have been copied and reproduced in many a modern flick, such as the frame wipe (another Lucas favourite) and the fast-motion panning shots (horse chase) which were unique in the late 50s. The idea of telling the story from the perspective of the two lowly peasants Matashichi and Tahei was brilliant but I suspect may have been an idea gleamed from Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s short story In a Bamboo Grove, the story of which is told in another great Kurosawa film, Rashōmon (another Akutagawa story).. but this is merely a personal observation.

Whilst there are many superior samurai films from the Kurosawa stable and beyond, this light-hearted adventure holds a soft spot in my heart as it really is surprisingly funny. I’d recommend this film wholeheartedly not just to the die-hard samurai fan but to anyone who in this day and age can sit comfortably through a black and white movie. If this was a movie review site and I had some sort of star rating system then I think I’d give this movie a 4 Centauri.


Okayama tackles Tokyo’s domination of cool web clips! (well sort of)

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 1-minute read
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It seems at the moment that half of Tokyo is working in collaboration to create a very cool time lapse or tilt shift (often both) videos of the city and admittedly they are indeed very cool.

However, my year in Japan isn’t going to be spent in Tokyo, instead I will be living in Okayama and I think it’s high time that the few Okayama citizens with some photographic skill stand up and represent their city (or prefecture – we’re going to need the numbers!).

After trawling the mighty internet for oh, I don’t know, about 12 minutes I managed to track down a potential competitor to fly the flag for Okayama, his youtube name is seirinkai and I propose the he lead the fight on behalf of the spirit of Momotaro and Naruto!

In front of Okayama Station:

Come on brave photographic types of Okayama stand proud and tall!

Some of the cool Tokyo videos can be seen here:

Tokyo Miniature City

Tokyo, Time-lapsed

Tokyo Night


Invaluable web tools for the Japanese learner

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 2-minute read
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The following is a list of the tools that I have come across over the past few years which I have found exceptionally useful as a Japanese language student. I will keep this updated as I remember tools that I’ve used or discover new ones.

Undoubtedly my favourite of all the tools is a firefox extension(plug-in) called Rikaichan, and by itself this little tool is justification enough for switching to the firefox web browser over internet explorer. This tool can be enabled on any web page by right-clicking and selecting Rikaichan from the context menu, once enabled when you hover the cursor over any Japanese character or word a dialogue box will appear telling you the meaning/keyword in English, on/kun readings, and other information. Get RikaiChan here .

The next tool is a handy (or nifty) web page which allows you to search for the plain form of a verb and then builds a selection of tables displaying the various possible conjugations of the verb. The results can be displayed in romanji, kana, or kanji. Very nice and simple tool.. Japanese Conjugation Builder

ALC is next, this is a very handy site which allows you to search through web articles for idiomatic terms of phrases rather than the literal translations returned by most online translators. ALC.CO.JP

Google translate has been a surprising find whilst working on translation assignments, it is essentially a literal translation service but it also handles idiomatic translations with relative success. It also offers a quick language switch link which allows you to re-translate the results back into the original language which helps to quickly arrive at a more suitable result. Google Translate .


Unbreakable??

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 5-minute read
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Conjecture began a few years ago on whether or not I am indeed unbreakable, the occassion was the stag do of my friend and landlord and the incident involved an acceleration vs braking mix up which launched myself and the quad bike I was riding into a large tree. The sequence of events were essentially straight-forward, as I ascended a small hill with a sharp descent I inadvertently fed the machine some gas and propelled over the top of the hill. The drop at the other side was about 3 or 4 feet and as myself and my mechanical counterpart soared through the air my safety helmet sprouted wings and left my head for more comfortable climes. A second or so later was touchdown, as the bike landed I was forced forward and my face planted into the handlebars, the quad and myself then bounced forward and I left my mount and was thrust left shoulder first into a large tree.. had my route been even an inch further left I suspect the quick conclusion to the unbreakable question may have been a life-changing or indeed ending NO.

However, on this occassion I picked myself up, dusted myself off, tried to straighten the handlebar.. was systematically lied to by the rest of the group who said I looked ok, and I continued around the advanced course for the next hour or so. The contact with the tree really should have shattered my collar bone was the diagnosis of the group leader afterwards, however, not trusting his medical background I opted for the Guinness and Karaoke school of medicine and rarely looked back. Although I have a niggle that perhaps a disc in my spine may be slightly out of place I am generally unconcerned and seemed to escape the ordeal without any lasting injury.

Which leads me to my more recent exploits which again appear so far to have failed to cause me irrepairable damage, although admittedly we are still within the ripple effect stage of the aftermath, there may be dormant issues that I am currently overlooking. I suspect that a large part of this second relative survival is due in no small part to the volumous quantities of alcohol consumed prior to the event.. the booze certainly led me to the state where my course of actions seemed apparently sensible and not the most ridiculous ill-conceived mistake that I’ve made for a while. After arriving home in the early hours of Saturday morning without my jacket, keys, mobile phone or indeed wallet I was less than surprised to find myself locked out of my flat. Unfortunately for occassions like this the lack of other flatmates is a bit of a hinderance and I found myself in a pickle, the likes of which are best experienced if the recipient isn’t also pickled. So left with an array of logical options in front of me such as sleep on outside my flat until daytime then go visit the landlord, or try and call a locksmith I opted for the most illogical, dangerous and expensive option available to me. I broke into my own flat (well the flat that I alone live in).. I didn’t however do this by kicking in a relatively inexpensive door, I decided to smash the pane of glass above the door and climb in through the hole. This in itself was not only a ridiculous choice but left me with several challenges such as how do I get up to the pane of glass, the bottom of which is about 7ft in the air.. the details of the next stage of the fiasco are sparse, partly due to the alcohol, partly due to the result of my entrance attempts. Somehow I appear to have defied gravity and knocked in part of the security window with a half-brick. At which stage I’ve pulled myself into the boundaries of my apartment, dragging myself simultaneously over roughly smashed glass still dwelling in the window pane. A failed attempt to steady myself followed and resulted in me flailing wildly, painting the walls of the hall in blood as I free-fell, somehow twisting myself into a reasonably safe position for landing and crashed through a small wooden table onto a pile of broken glass.

On subsequent investigation a large percentage of my body is bruised, or slightly torn, I carry the occassional cut or scrape which may result in fairly interesting scarrage but I don’t appear to be permanently or seriously injured. Which of course is a point of particular relief to myself. Between this accident and my almost 14 years of working in the bar trade my body now contains almost as much glass as Wolverine’s contains adamantite and I can’t help but thinking that if I can just be exposed to some radiation then I may have a future as a superhero ahead of me.. although at this stage I am failing to fathom any environment outside of the bartrade where a man capable of producing glass may be considered useful.

So the question remains and my perpetual sliding into stupidity seems sure to provide further evidence in the future.. I am hoping that the answer will be yes.. I have still to discover a means to updating a blog posthumously.


Turning Point

Blog: Bushido Dreams
Categories: 13-minute read
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Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you felt a huge surge of change sweep over you leaving you with little doubt in your mind that life would from this moment on be irreparably altered in some way or other? A life changing or perspective altering event which redirects the current that your existence had until this point been flowing in?

I have, quite recently in fact, and thanks to an involuntary and unknowing intervention from the acclaimed Japanese writer Harumi Murakami I committing the the event to paper. I have never met Harumi Murakami and although as a student of Japanese language it may not be entirely outside the realms of potential reality that some day I may meet the great man, it is accurate to state that at this time Mr. Murakami has no knowledge of me and even less of the contribution that he has made to this event and nor will he have knowledge of the gratitude I feel towards him for all of his involvement.

So.. to set the scene, imagine that you are on holiday, a relaxing and very peaceful holiday where the stresses and strains of the real world are disarmed, locked up and re-educated so that when you are reunited with them at the end of your vacation they have little effect on your high spirits. You are not however thinking about the end of your vacation you are simply soaking in the serene environment, perhaps sipping a cold mojito and reading a mindless novel which requires little mental involvement but rather it gently massages the enquiring parts of your brain with enough adventure, romance or mystery to leave you with a feeling of extreme satisfaction. Remember that feeling, because on the night of my life-changing experience I was reaching to the end of a comparatively normal day, one which I had been at lectures during the day, I had attended an iaido class in the evening and had attempted to brainwash myself with kanji drills prior to retiring to bed in the early hours of the morning. Hardly an exotic paradise, rather a cold, dark and damp flat in the centre of Edinburgh.

So, shortly after midnight I went to bed but sleep is often an enigma to me, the process of getting to sleep should really come naturally after almost 32 years of practice but I just don’t understand the process. My father is the type of guy who could as easily fall asleep on a tightrope as he could on a king size duvet, which is no mean feat for a man of his size. I however have extreme difficulties in negotiating a slumber treaty between my brain and the rest of my body, whilst I may be physically exhausted sometimes I am rarely mentally jaded, there is always something being considered, planned or executed inside my cerebrum. It is almost like my brain can see into the future and knows exactly how much time it has left to process all of life’s mysteries before the biggest mystery is unfurled and I fall into the longest sleep of all. However I must fight the temptation to digress, I was neither physically or mentally tired that night and so under the faint illumination of my bedside lamp I read the final 200 or so pages of “Kafka on the Shore” by Harumi Murakami.

Absorbed in the novel as I was, I was led by occasional references to classical music that Murakami sprinkled throughout the book and began craving some classical aural accompaniment to my reading experience and I managed to find a compilation CD with Barber, Beethoven, Debussy and the likes, on it went and I continued reading. Within minutes I was lost once again in Murakami’s world, lulled by the background music and entirely engaged by the plot. I flew through the remaining pages and have no idea how much time passed only that when the final page had turned it was still very dark in my room around the unlit edges of my room. I placed down the book and turned out the bedside lamp and then I closed my eyes, still listening to the music I felt exactly like I started to relax, and started to feel much like one might were he lounging on a relaxing and very peaceful holiday. The more urban, stressful environment of my present surroundings was easily coerced from my thoughts by the complete satisfaction that I felt from Murakami’s exceptional storytelling. I lay in the darkness contemplating all of the questions that had been raised throughout “Kafka” and how imaginatively and succinctly they had been answered in the closing chapters, I considered the way in which Murakami had handled death throughout the story and then my mind started writing it’s own travel ticket, the book was now fading into the darkness and I was about to embark on a magical mystery tour of philosophical and spiritual and as I mentally rambled the background track noticeably changed, and then IT happened.

Before I explain what IT was I am going to need to bring you up to speed on what kind of a person I am, this will not involve an in-depth minutely detailed description of the minor or indeed major events of my life, after all we all have places to be and things to be getting on with. I would rather sparingly expedite the relevant facts, that way I can let your imaginations paint a far more fascinating account of my character than the tedious truth would allow for. I have since the age of four been without religion, I was still at the time shipped off to Christian Sunday schools where we’d be told how cool Jesus was.. or something along those lines but, I was more or less sceptical on the whole thing from an abnormally young age. As I’ve grown up I am no less sceptical on any philosophy or religion which requires a “leap of faith” in order to justify against increasing amounts of empirical evidence which contradict the writings of such faith. I am and have always felt that I am inherently a good person however for the majority of my life thus far the gauge by which to judge such a claim has been the Christian morality that my society has evolved upon and I have longed for sometime to find a morality which is based on something a little more.. human. At the same time as being sceptical I am conversely very open minded on non-ecumenical matters and enjoy learning about unfamiliar people and cultures, even though I could never believe in a philosophy which attributes grand claims to a supernatural overlord I can understand that other people may have insecurities which may seem too great to handle personally and hence they find great strength in the notion that an omnipotent being has their back and will take care of these insecurities. I am however digressing, I must learn to pull in the reigns on this troubling habit. The fact of the matter is that from an early age I have felt somewhat alien in an inherently Christian society and as such I have long looked for a society where I could feel more naturally at home.

After many years of searching I found such a society, arguably several hundred years too late, but even nowadays the feudal moral code still provides a modern nation with a non-religious guide of good and bad. I am talking about Samurai, the Japanese equivalent of the English knights of the round table. These men were a warrior caste and they lived by an unwritten set of rules collectively known as Bushido, which shares several qualities with the European concept of chivalry. Whilst being influenced by Buddhism, Shinto and Confucianism it is primarily a non-religious set of rules by which the Samurai conscientiously lived their lives. Bushido promoted benevolence, respect, politeness as well as justice, honour and truth, there is no uber-saviour in the sky waiting to slap your ass if you break the rules but if a Samurai did not follow the rules of Bushido then they would not be accepted by their peers, they would not remain Samurai for long and chances are they would not remain… for long, additionally dishonour would sweep through the family like a tsunami through a small Pacific island. In Samurai and in Bushido I found that which I had been searching for many years and have become fascinated by them, the more I read, the more fascinated I become not only about Samurai but also Japan, both modern day and ancient, and as a result I am studying Japanese language at university. However, there has been one hangover from a Western upbringing that I have struggled to contend with, and that is to fully understand the Samurai attitude to death. Having read such classics as “Hagakure” by Yamamoto Tsunetomo and “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi amongst others I understood that the Samurai has to be ready to react instantly in order to protect their master and in order to most effectively carry out this role they must put aside their own feeling of mortality, they must in effect live life as if they are already dead. I understood the concept completely, well almost, I understood the purpose but I could not comprehend how in practice this concept could be realised. How do you selflessly release your attachment to life but still continue to live? This question had been eating away at me for years but this was about to change.

Pitch black, an icy chill in the air, eyes closed, mind on an inquisitive journey around the all too familiar topic of death, a vaguely familiar classical piano tune starts playing and during the next four or five minutes everything falls naturally into place. All of the factors leading up to this moment are of equal importance and were it not for this chance, coincidental path of experiences of the early hours of this cold Edinburgh morning, the same thoughts may still be cloying at me and keeping me awake night after night.

As the first key of the piano was hit my imagination took control of all of my senses and started painting a vivid picture of what the music was trying to represent. The scene opened up with a very lush green field in spring time, perhaps early April, this was a particularly abundant field with long unkempt blades of grass stretching up towards the midday sky as if begging the passing clouds for water like a baby reaching out to it’s mother for milk. Surrounding the field was an old wooden fence which had seen better days but looked like it had gracefully aged over many decades, as naturally as the grass in the field grew, the field stood guard, keeping lookout and protecting it’s neighbour from harm without regret. Many strong oak trees gathered around the outskirts of the fence providing further cover to the secluded, lavish field. As the tune continues droplets of rain fall towards the thirsty inhabitants of the field, each one landing on a grateful blade of grass, as it lands it splashes and smaller droplets fall onto the leaves, the water rolls gently down the blade, stem-ward and trickles towards the earth below. As the intensity of the music increases it becomes apparent that the droplets of rain are falling more rapidly, youth seems to be returning to the jaded fence as the water splashes over it’s withered frame, the trees stand solidly offering up no outward sign of gratitude but nonetheless there is the sense of appreciation emanating from their immense trunks. It starts to become clear that the intensity of the music has a direct correlation with the intensity of the rain as the shower starts to subside, the ivories are tinkling at a slower, more subdued tempo. The whole scene sparkles with the sun reflecting of the remaining raindrops, there are small puddles around the base of the supporting joints of the fence and small showers continue under the great branches of the oak trees as the droplets of water fall between the leaves high up on the tree. Peace has returned to the field after a very welcome burst of excitement has fallen from the clouds above. The strands of grass seem completely satisfied, almost as if they had been sipping an ice cold Mojito whilst reading a riveting novelette on a relaxing vacation away from the stresses of real life. The baby is no longer calling out for nourishment and the world is at ease. The tune has finished, it was “Clair De Lune” by Debussy, had I checked this information whilst it was playing then there is a very high chance that none of this would have happened, as clair de lune is apparently French for moonlight and doesn’t therefore convey the picture that it painted in my head on this cold, dark morning in Edinburgh.

There is a chance that what follows may sound a little twee or contrived and if it does then I have no real defence to such a claim, it is just how my thoughts at the time organised themselves and I had little control over it. This chain of events led to my breakthrough in a way which I am unable to effectively explain and this is something which I’ll no doubt dwell on for a long time to come.

As the song finished, my philosophy on death was born, my Western upbringing induced hangover dissipated. The Samurai and Murakami and Debussy inspired vision transformed into an incomplex metaphor for life. In the painting above life is represented by the passing rain cloud, in essence it is an April shower. The natural journey of life is short in the greater scheme of the seasons, and our purpose in life is to nourish and enrich the lives of those who depend upon us, it is to bring colour and the feeling of youth to those closest to us, and it is to provide support to even the strongest of our friends or accomplices. Just as naturally as the rain shower begins, it also ends but even though the droplets no longer fall, the affect that they had continues to exist, the grass grows longer, the trees grow stronger and the fence.. well it enjoys the affects of youth in such a way that extend it’s own existence allowing it to continue looking after the field for another day. As much as the shower is a metaphor for life, during the extent of life we are all individually thirsty blades of grass, the strong oak tree or the aged fence and we are affected by the lives of every other rain shower that passes. This may be simplistic and is clearly not an absolutely original idea but that was never the point, as soon as the realisation that death is a necessary and acceptable part of the fabric of the universe fell into place I finally understood what it was to live without fear of death. I may not have the need in modern times to live each day as if I am already dead but crucially I can absolutely understand the concept. Live isn’t about fear, it’s about experience and death is the ultimate experience of life. It is an experience however which I am happy to leave be for now, but when I do eventually engage in this ultimate experience, I would rather like Debussy’s Clair De Lune played at my funeral. A non-religious affair, of course.