The Hunting Of The Haggis

When the festivities are over and a new year has begun,
it's time to shed the greyness and have a little fun.
The first month maybe SAD but it also is a hoot
because in Scotland, it starts the haggis shoot.

Now this bonnie beastie, is quite shy and lives on hills
it's breeding's quite prolific, (it's never heard of pills).
It's small, and round with a tail - and a little snout
it's sight and hearing is superb and that's without a doubt.

You stalk the haggis carefully, one move will see them scurry
you take your time and quietly wait, no need for you to hurry
the culling of the haggis has become a national sport
not yet banned by parliament, nor in the news report.

To disguise this whole event was thought to be quite hard
'till thanks to Rabbie Burns, known as our national bard,
and now the annual shoot, there is no need to scupper
hence the lesser known history of the Burns's Supper.

The haggis held with all due honour, as befits the beast.
It proudly makes it the main attraction of this feast
piped in with pomp and style, and with great ovation
await savouring each tasty bite, with anticipation.

Many, many moons ago, the haggis was quite happy
'till huntsmen came along and chased this little chappy
they soon learned that haggis was a tasty bite
so they hid away in daytime only coming out at night.

The haggis is quite clever, and they devised a plan
which would confuse the hunter, since he was merely man.
Some ran round the mountain, running left to right
some went round the other way, they did this most the night.

Evolution then stepped in and changed this little breed
since running round the mountain, they ran at quite a speed
if you look closely at a haggis, you will see their little legs
on one side they are longer and the other, little pegs.

Depending on which way they ran, whether right or left
determines which side is the shorter, which side is bereft
now there are two species and alas they cannot breed
to complete the breeding process, it's equal legs they need.

It is indeed quite sad to learn, these species cannot mate
they'd fall off the mountain and both would meet their fate.
Their hair is long and shaggy, to keep out winter chills
and can hide amongst the heather, safe from raptor's bills.

Now capturing the haggis, is a skill that few possess
so fresh meat on the table is getting less and less.
It's taken years to shield them from men's hunting sins
that's why you see the haggis, now on shelves - in tins.

The Burns Supper

Having been brought up in ‘Burns country’, I have been used to the wide plethora of Burns Suppers celebrated from any time soon after New Year. Although the date should be January 25th, it seems to be acceptable throughout the whole 12 months. However, it does reach it’s crescendo around the 25th when quite honourable, intelligent, well adjusted men exchange that embodiment of self-esteem for some strange alien being, since copious amounts of whisky are the perfect accompaniment to the haggis.

There are certain rituals to the Burns Supper, it is an evening’s entertainment and if you get good entertainers, good speakers and good food, it is an excellent night. The other notable piece of information is if you have a kilt, you wear it.

It is an evening of song, recitation, speeches and tales. There is an order to the programme of course with plenty of pomp and circumstance. The chairman greets the guests and introduces those taking part. This is followed by the ‘Selkirk Grace’;

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Normally everyone would stand while the star attraction gets piped in, a steaming haggis served on a silver platter. It is then addressed by Burns’ recitation “To A Haggis”. Once completed, it gets taken to the kitchens for serving and the meal can begin.

cutting_the_haggis

To A Haggis

Cock-a-leekie soup is a good starter but it can be lentil or Scotch broth or similar after which haggis, neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes) are served. Only a small portion is served as this is followed by a heartier meal, perhaps of steak pie. The dessert can be traditional Cranachan, a delicious dish of whipped cream and toasted oatmeal, whisky and raspberries. but like the other selections on the menu, there can be alternatives such as apple pie and cream etc.

There are two other poems which are part of the celebrations and those taking part will be happy to slip into the part.

the-real-tam-oshanterTam o’ Shanter

holy-willieHoly Willie’s Prayer

The Wild Haggis

Festive Season Reflections

Christmas and New Year is a time of reflection, perhaps the festivities surrounding it make missing loved ones a bit more intense. You can’t help wondering what it would be like to celebrate one more Christmas or New Year with them, losing someone at this time is the most difficult to cope with.

In my family, the loss of my younger sister at the age of four, has given me a lot to think about throughout the years. I can’t help wondering what it would have been like to grow up with a sister.

My mother died suddenly just 11 days after we had been out for a New Year dinner at one of the local restaurants and my father died ten years’ later in November, Christmas has never been the same.        unborn-child

My daughter died at birth and although her twin sister survived, and she has been a fantastic daughter, there is bitter sweetness in being thankful for her and at the same time remembering the loss, that part never goes away for a parent to lose a child.

In my grandfather’s time, death was very formal, the deceased had to be attended to, mainly in the home, funeral cards were sent out and you knew what the envelope contained if you received one, it was edged in black. It was almost always a burial for like funeral parlours, crematoriums were few and far between. A service in the house was followed by a cortége to the burial ground, mainly attended by men, often formally dressed in black and possibly wearing top hats. After the service, it was back to the house for a glass of whisky for the men, sherry for the ladies. Burial grounds are notoriously cold and the mourners needed something to warm them on return.

funeral-cards

One of the pieces of jewellery I have is a gold ring belonging to my grandmother, a hair ring or mourning ring. Though the hair is long gone now, it was popular as a remembrance of someone close. A length of hair was taken from the cadaver, plaited and put in a specially made ring. Over the years, the hair was damaged and finally taken out.

I thought initially that this was quite a macabre practice, then realised I have a lock of my hair in a Bible, happy in the fact, for the time being at least it’s not a mourning relic.

Even more macabre are the postmortem memorial cards, when the deceased was posed, sometimes as if being alive, to have a photograph taken.

Perhaps it’s best just to remember people as the were in life rather than in death, that way, they remain with us in our celebrations.

In Search Of The Black Bun

There are many Scottish traditions for Hogmanay and New Year and one of the common treats was Black Bun, a very rich, dark, fruit cake. Originally eaten on the twelfth night, it soon became a traditional Hogmanay treat, a wee dram and a slice of Black Bun.

Not being a baker, the subject was being discussed about where to buy Black Bun, we turned to a local girl with a coffee shop who made her own cakes. She was up for the challenge although didn’t know what Black Bun was. The cake should be made well in advance to allow the flavours to develop but she didn’t make it until New Year’s Evblack-bun-2e, however I was there to see it come out of the oven. It looked good but when she cut into it, it was too light in colour. The recipe she used was by a well-known English baker and sad to say, although very nice, it was not what our mums and grannies made. Our eager baker wants a report back and although she did follow a recipe, it neither looked nor tasted like the traditional moist, dark cakes we had been used to.

This spurred me on to look through my granny’s handwritten recipe book and this is what I found:

Black Bun

black-bun 1/2 lb flour, pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder and rub in 1/4 lb margarine, make into a firm paste with cold water. Line a tin with the paste leaving enough for the top.

Mix together 1 lb flour, 1/2 lb sugar, 1/4 oz ground ginger, 1/4 oz cinnamon, 1 teaspoon black pepper, teaspoonful each baking soda and cream of tartar. 2 lbs large raisins, 2 lbs sultanas, 1/4 lb almonds, blanched and shredded. 2 oz lemon peel. Moisten all the ingredients with 1/2 pint milk. Mix thoroughly and pack into lined tin, cover neatly with the lid of paste. Moisten the edges and firm carefully, brush over with egg and prick with a fork. Bake in a moderate over for 3 hours.

Paste: pastry

Moderate oven: 325º-350ºF/160º-180ºC/Gas mark 3-4

Old Father Time

father-time

Old Father Time took up his scythe, his cloak was worn and grey

his weary limbs rejoice to see, the end of his final day.

His tired old eyes, once bright, but now had grown quite dim

his beard in unkempt strands, fell down the front of him.

He trudged along, a well worn path, of those who’d gone before

not sad to leave this world behind, he wanted it no more.

The time he gave was not well spent, his moments quite abused

Every precious second that he gave, saw them badly used.

We’ll never get them back again, they’ve gone and what a waste

His work on earth was done, and walked off quite disgraced.

The midnight door lay just ahead, and twelve, the clock was striking

his hand upon the handle turned, this world was not his liking

But there before him stood New Year, with a face that’s all aglow

just as he had stood there anxiously, no more than a year ago.new-year

His wrinkled hand reached out to greet, this young bright New Year

a forlorn smile upon his mouth and in his sad old eyes, a tear.

Good luck my friend, the Old Year, said as they momentary met

This world does not deserve the gifts you bring, this is the worst year yet.

The New Year looked up and said, “I have hope within my heart

and one year to make good use of it, before I too must part”.

This New Year has given hope to us, and time to make amends

it’s up to us to use these gifts, on this our lives depends.

Wishing one and all a guid New Year, for health and hope abound

Let’s greet this New Year with a smile, that hope and peace be found.

Agnes M Wilson

For Auld Lang Syne

I used to love New Year when I was a child. My parents always liked to bring in the New Year at home, then we would visit my aunt and uncle about half an hour’s journey away. My aunt had a running buffet from about midnight onwards. There would be soup, a cooked ham, sometimes roast beef or chicken as well but it would be accompanied by vegetables and bread. Besides first-footing being thirsty work, you needed to keep sustenance up as well. It kept you going longer and since you visited many houses and were drinking many drams, the food provided an excellent lining for stomachs.

I don’t remember fighting or brawling but there would be a few who were rather the worse for wear but basically the visitors we saw were a cheery lot. Plenty of stories and jokes and the camaraderie amongst them would be worthy of top billing on stage. This was more like a ceilidh (kay-ly) although we hear of ceilidhs now, we think of Scottish country dances but it is actually a gathering for music, songs and story telling.

It was customary to take your ne’erday bottle with you when visiting to offer your host a drink whilst wishing them health, wealth and happiness for the coming year. It was bad luck and bad manners to refuse a drink from someone’s ne’erday bottle. The ‘first-foot’ traditionally should be male, dark-haired and carrying a lump of coal to signify good luck and prosperity. Lang may you lum reek, (long may there be smoke from your chimney) was a common toast to friends.

Another common custom was a quick spring clean of the home, you couldn’t take the dirt from the old year into the new. Also many people would open the back door to let the old year out, and the front door to let the new year in.

It was fun for all the family although children found it more difficult to keep pace with adults, their tipple being alcohol free ginger wine or blackcurrant cordial. All drinks were supported by shortbread or fruit cake etc. Our curfew was around  three o’clock, remembering my father still had to drive home. Daylight could be another round of visiting family and friends before a celebratory dinner.

As adults, we continued to celebrate New Year in various ways and at that time, living in a small village, we visited more of our neighbours. One particular year, our Filipino neighbours were looking forward to their first Scottish New Year so they came along with us on our first footing of various neighbours. We had a good time and ended up at our Filipino friend’s home for the final party. The next day is when everyone finds out if we lost anyone along the way – but our neighbour had lost his teeth. It was a lost cause having called again at all the houses visited earlier and no sign of the teeth. It was an accepted casualty of the celebrations so when a passing neighbour called in to wish our toothless gent a happy new year, he noticed the dog behind the sofa chewing on something – Donny found his teeth. Whether he ever wore them again, we didn’t ask.

Pitlochry’s Street Ceilidh

 

When Santa Calls

Our Christmases were quite low key, and definitely for the children. We didn’t get a fraction of what today’s children get but we were more than happy with it. We had a nice dinner although nothing like the big razzmatazz of today.

The house would be decorated with paper chains and honeycomb bells and balls and there would be tinsel and glass baubles for the tree. The tinsel I remember was quite scraggy in comparison to the thick fluffiness of now. The tree was real, and you couldn’t beat the lovely smell of pine which added to the Christmassy excitement.

We always hung up our stocking, or at least one of dad’s socks, it was bigger. In the morning it was filled with a tangerine, an apple, some sweets  and perhaps coloured pencils or similar. We usually got a bigger gift of a toy, some smaller toys and lots of books and annuals. I seldom got up before at least one annual had been read from cover to cover.

rupert

Christmas was a family day, we visited relatives, exchanged gifts and we could play with our cousin’s new toys and games. It was a lovely day.

It’s sad that commercialism has taken over, the Christmas bells are being replaced now by the sound of till bells ringing in the shops. It’s not what Christmas is meant to be. First we have the nativity, celebrating the birth of Jesus. Then we have Santa Claus – you may wonder where he fits into the scheme of things.

Saint Nicholas came from the Mediterranean area, he is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, students and repentant thieves. You would think that would be enough to keep him busy, but he was a kindly bishop and was reputed to give gifts secretly, and often slipped a coin into a child’s shoe. Known in some places as Father Christmas but he had many other names depending on the country. If you want to know more about the real Santa Claus, a visit to his website is quite enlightening. St. Nicholas Center

Perhaps we should think about Christmas and it’s true meaning and not so much spending money on gifts that often are excess to requirnativity-scene-7ements, or over-indulging children whose lives are already overburdened with parents and grandparents competing to see who can give the most. The usual excuse there is because they want to see their faces when they give them too much. That’s not giving the child a gift, that’s self-indulgence.

Think how many homeless people could be fed if all the money for excess gifts giving was given towards some real need. Remember St. Nicholas is reputed to have only slipped a coin in a shoe, he didn’t have a credit card to run-up debt.

Perhaps it would be nice to turn the clocks back and make Christmas a family day and remember the ‘reason for the season’. It’s not Happy Holidays, it’s Happy Christmas.

christmas-new-year

What’s In An Ad?

Certain memories stand out of my grandparents and the differences in what hung on the walls of botmaph maternal and paternal grandparents. I don’t actually remember photos or pictures on the walls of my paternal grandparent’s home, there was a very large map, which probably came from a school as my grandpa’s nephew was a school headmaster.strop

There was a barometer and beside the fireplace was a leather strop, which my grandpa used to hone his cut-throat razor. Perhaps their walls weren’t interesting enough for me to remember.

My maternal granny had a large framed picture of Pear’s Soap advert, I always thought it was really nice.pears-soap-picture In the kitchen there was another framed advert for Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, showing all their moods.five-boys

The kitchen wall was also home to a framed copy of the Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem, originally titled as “God Knows” but is known better as “The Gate Of The Year”. The poem became popular in 1939 when King George VI quoted in his Christmas broadcast to the British Empire

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

I have always remembered those words, they were committed to memory a long time ago from a framed print of the speech. 

The one thing made me curious though was a tin brewery tray of the Scottish brewers, Wm. Younger & Co. Ltd., as granny was a devout Christian and didn’t approve of strong drink, I never knew where it had come from. Although one answer could be, alcohol applied in correct dosage, could also be medicinal. Whisky could be used as an antiseptic, an ease for toothache and stout was an excellent tonic long before antibiotics.

younger

Afternoon Teas

It is nice to see the Victorian afternoon teas making a comeback. It’s disappointing though to see commercial companies offer afternoon teas wwaitresshich are nothing like the elegant teatimes of the past. Cakes and other dainties are served but there’s no crisp cotton tablecloth on the table, no dainty china cups and no real tea, only teabags. There does seem to be a difference on how you feel, depending on the type of afternoon tea you are attending. Add all the frills and fancies, linen serviettes instead of paper, patterned china instead of the standard hotel earthenware cups. Scones served with curls of butter and jam in proper jam dishes instead of prepacked portions. All that transports you to a genteel era, housemaids with black dresses and white aprons and caps serving dainty sandwiches and cakes on a tray. Also tea served from a teapot, kept warm under a tea cosy. Though a dedicated coffee drinker, I have a selection of proper leaf teas for the guest to chose from and not a teabag in sight.

I do wish I had paid attention to both my granny’s and mumtea-settable‘s baking though. Granny’s scones were second to none and none of the ingredients were weighed. Handful, pinch and spoonful were the measurements instead of pounds and ounces. When the milk was sold in glass bottles and cream would still rise to the surface, the short life without the fridge didn’t mean sour milk was wasted, we kept it all for granny to use in her scones. No science degree to tell you sour milk makes the scones light, I use active yogurt instead to replace the ‘live’ bacteria milk processing takes away.

Having inherited a number of recipe books, handwritten by my mother and both grandmothers, it’s quite comforting to see the titles such a “Mrs Hamilton’s Fruit Cake”, or “Sadie’s Chocolate Cake”, let your imagination loose and not only do you see these people in your mind’s eye, but you can almost smell the baking as well.

Many years ago, I bought an S.W.R.I. (Scottish Women’s Rural Institute) cookery book. Some of the recipes date back generations and one such recipe from the book, I will share:-

Hatted Kit (A very old Highland dish)

Warm slightly over the fire 2 pints of buttermilk. Pour it into a dish and carry it to the side of a cow. Milk into it about 1 pint of milk, having previously put into the dish sufficient rennet for the whole. After allowing it to stand for a while, lift the curd, place it on a sieve, and press the whey through until the curd is quite stiff. Season with sugar and nutmeg before serving, whip some thick cream, season it also with a little grated nutmeg and sugar and mix gently with the curd. This dish can quite well be made without milking the cow into it., although the contributor’s mother always considered that direct milking put a better hat on the kit.”

A French Connection

Having an interest in genealogy takes me on many interesting journeys. I often help others in their search for their roots and every now and again I come across an interesting story. Sticking with the war theme, I had been browsing one of the family history forums. Family historians can often help others with local history questions as well as family associations and this was a post requesting information on a village not far from me. To add to the interest, the name being searched was also a name in my family.

The village being questioned was Glenbuck, a mining village in Ayrshire. It was fairly typical of mining villages with rows of miners’ houses set on quite desolate dark, rolling hills. My memory of it was a ghost village and often my friends and I would take a run in the car over to it. There was something dark and sombre about the rows of empty houses but that’s as far as we got, we never ventured out of the car.

buck1945cAs the story unfolded, some years ago an Australian teacher had spotted traces in a field in France which convinced him, was a war grave. After a lot of hard work trying to persuade anyone to investigate his find, the area was finally excavated. There were over 200 remains of British and Australian soldiers which the German army had buried in a mass grave. This started the process of trying to identify the remains and to give each and every one an honourable burial.

Volunteers were recruited to research the families of the soldiers and this was one of them, trying to identify a soldier whose family had lived in Glenbuck. With this close association with Frommells, I started following the story. It had been a difficult task because there were only a few clues to who the soldiers were but a new war cemetery was built and as each identified soldier was exhumed, he was given an honourable burial in the newly built cemetery.

Glenbuck’s history doesn’t start and end there, the village is thought to have come into existence around the 17th century when a small group of people helped each other build wooden homes and lived off small animals, each helping the other in skills of survival. Minerals later discovered, started to be mined until finally it became a mining village. Very little remains of the village now, just a few scattered houses, however it will remain in British sporting history as the home of Bill Shankly, footballer and ultimately, manager for Liverpoool United.

200px-billshankly1
Photo from wiki