Immortal memories: just an ordinary Burns’ Night
Asking around the other school mums yesterday morning, I was impressed that almost everyone was planning on haggis for their tea. Burns’ Night is not just for tourists and ex-pats, then. How many of us actually read or recited any of the poems of Robert Burns last night, I couldn’t say; but we all appreciate the excuse that he gives us to have a wee bit of a celebration in these dark, dreich January days.
We had no guests staying, and no plans to be changing into kilts and tartan and go rushing off to some manufactured Burns’ Supper, thank goodness. Since my husband had his last day’s shooting of the season yesterday, he was in tweed plus-twos (breeks) anyway and looked pretty ‘ethnic’ already! We four sat down together for haggis by candlelight. I gave a truncated recital of Burns’ address to the haggis – years ago I learned it by heart to recite at a university Burns’ Supper, but I didn’t think that our small boys would sit through the whole thing – stapped the creature with my peever (i.e. stuck a knife into it) and served it out to enjoyment all round. Even the littlest discovered that he liked it. We told the boys all about haggis-catching: how their legs on one side are shorter than the other for running around hills so that, if you drive them in the other direction, they lose their footing and roll down the hill into the haggis traps set at the bottom. The children lapped this up with wide eyes. I asked my husband if there were any wild haggis still to be found on the grouse moor on the estate, but he thought that, like the grouse, there were very few left in our patch these days. I am now feeling a twinge of guilt, wondering what reception the boys’ retelling of these stories will receive at school today…
A traditional pudding for Burns’ night is cranachan, a fattening and delicious mixture of whipped cream, raspberries, whisky, honey and toasted oatmeal: each ingredient is an example of the bounty of food and drink to be found in Scotland. As a change from this, however, I decided to try a recipe by Lady Claire Macdonald, a wonderful Scottish cook. It was a syllabub made with cream, whisky, chopped ginger in syrup and grated lemon rind. Absolutely delicious and definitely one to make again – when our cholesterol levels have recovered from this year’s Burns’ Supper!
The toasts were drunk in the Balvenie Doublewood, a particularly mellow single malt which is a favourite of mine. We toasted the haggis, of course, and the Immortal Memory (of Rabbie Burns). We also drank a toast to another great Scot, the irreplaceable Bill McLaren, the voice of rugby for years to so many Scottish fans, whose funeral took place yesterday in Hawick and who is remembered by many, many people with respect and affection.
After supper, at the end of which my elder son very sweetly proposed a toast to Mummy/ ‘The Lassies’, my husband tuned up his pipes at the boys’ request and went outside to ‘gie ’em a blaw’, as my father used to say. There is a story there. My dad played the pipes occasionally, an appreciative amateur, and used sometimes to let me try to blow a strangled note from his beautiful Indian-made chanter. The chanter had been given to him as a boy by a friend of his father. When my parents were first getting to know the young man who was to become my husband, I persuaded the latter to bring his own set of bagpipes to our house to play them for Dad. As I predicted, Dad was hugely impressed and decided very quickly that this was a most suitable young man for his daughter! Eventually he presented the Indian chanter to my husband – a treasured bequest – and it is now our own children who enjoy struggling to blow a note or two out of it. So, last night after supper, my husband played ‘Lochanside’ as a tribute to his own father, and ‘The Black Bear’ as a tribute to mine, while elder son played a drone on the chanter and younger son capered and danced on the icy remains of the pre-Christmas snow.