Monthly Archives: January 2019

Poetry in Motion


Last night we attended the magnificent untraditional Burns Supper at Giffordtown Village Hall. It was every bit as good as anticipated. For readers from afar I should point out that the point of a Burns Supper isn’t really the supper itself, but the celebration of the bard’s contribution. As I have said before (see my last post), I think the celebration tips over all too often into adulation, and the formula can become tired and boring.

Doug and Jan Wightman and the Giffordtown Village Hall committee put a marvellous event together. What I’m going to do in this post is perhaps a little cheaty; but it was so good I want to share the joy! This is a selection of the inspired ‘slides’ that went into their shadow puppet rendition of Burns’ epic poem, Tam O’Shanter. Doug read the poem, Jan made the puppets, unseen helpers backstage manipulated the puppets and Steve Gellatly (silent movie pianist) did a dashing accompaniment on the keyboard. The poem title link takes you to Brian Cox reading the whole poem. This will have to do you until Doug gets a recording contract!


When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors, meet;
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate ….


While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An’ getting fou and unco happy …


O Tam! had’st thou but been sae wise,
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder wi’ the Miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on
The Smith and thee gat roarin’ fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday,
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou wad be found, deep drown’d in Doon,
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk.


… And at his elbow, Souter Johnnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
Tam lo’ed him like a very brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs an’ clatter;
And aye the ale was growing better …


… Weel-mounted on his grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet,
Whiles glow’rin round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares;
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Where ghaists and houlets nightly cry …


… The lightnings flash from pole to pole,
Near and more near the thunders roll,
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze,
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing …


… As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The Piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit …


… To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jade she was and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d …


Now, do thy speedy-utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stone o’ the brig;
There, at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross…


For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump…


The performance was ace. So were the haggis and neeps and the Tunnocks Teacakes and the alternative address to the haggis; and all the music; and finally, as if we hadn’t had enough pleasure to last a fortnight, a wee dram gifted by an absent friend. Matured in sherry casks so less peaty than you’d expect of a fine Islay. Bliss. Happy Bardic Celebrations, everybody. Keep it fresh.


Jean Armour Supper

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This is the time of year when everyone in Scotland starts honing their recitations of Tam O’Shanter and the Address to a Haggis, Holy Willie’s Prayer and the like. It hardly seems a year since we last celebrated Robert Burns’ birth. And if I’m honest, I’d say a year is perhaps not quite long enough. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Burns’ work (most of it anyway) and a good plate of haggis and neeps is a fine thing on a winter’s night. But in my humble opinion, we should all be showing a bit more creativity in setting out our Burns night parties.

The standard programme (Selkirk Grace, Toast to the Haggis, Immortal Memory, Toast to the Lasses and Reply etc.) certainly offers a good dose of the Bard’s best work. But it’s a hard thing to keep fresh year after year. So for Burns Night 2019, I’m delighted to say I’ll be at Giffordtown Village Hall watching a shadow puppet rendition of Tam O’Shanter and raising a glass as various musicians and poets give us their best. By order of the organiser, there are to be No Speeches. Sounds good to me.Image result for burns poems

A good number of years ago, I helped devise a Jean Armour Supper. Jean Armour was Burns’ long-suffering wife and it seemed like a good idea to give her centre stage for a change. Sadly I haven’t kept any record of those proceedings but I do remember it was a great event, in the best Harpie tradition.

This year I’m thinking cocktails, having read an inspiring book recently entitled ‘Free the Tipple: Kickass Cocktails Inspired by Iconic Women’. What would JA like to drink to enhance her enjoyment of her supper? Well I have a few suggestions and will be glad to hear yours too. How about:

tomato breakfastBLOODY MARY: Basically vodka and tomato juice with a bit of spice, and maybe a dash of dry sherry. It’s one of my favourites as it feels so healthy! Especially with a nice long stick of celery to stir it with. It feels like at least two of your five a day, with a good alcoholic undertow to brace you for whatever life has in store. Obviously Jean Armour had a lot to contend with, and I reckon a good Bloody Mary or two would help her put her philandering husband in his place. All those vitamins!

ESPRESSO MARTINI: Coffee was well known in Scotland by the late 18th ceImage result for espresso martini images�ntury. Many coffee houses had a No Women rule, but our Jean I’m sure would have challenged this absurdity. Or she might have taken the opposite tack, as a 1674 ‘Women’s Petition Against Coffee’ complained that

… the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE …has…Eunucht our Husbands…

In Jean Armour’s shoes, a eunuched husband would probably have been a better behaved husband. A difficult call to make? Sex or loyalty? Nowadays of course we know she shouldn’t have to choose. In any case, a smoothly bittersweet blend of Aqua Vitae, Kahlua, cold espresso and sugar syrup would lend a sophisticated edge to Jean’s revenge.

SILVER BULLET: the only kind of bullet effective against a werewolf. Or any other howling macho  charmer. The sort of thing that might prove useful in your handbag when you read in the paper that your husband has written a prizewinning love poem for some other floozie. Or meet the mother of his other brace of children down at the school gates. The Silver Bullet cocktail takes no prisoners – a bracing mix of gin and whisky with a wedge of lemon, shaken with ice – and that’s it. No mixers. No messing.


Some new, some old

And that’s just the resolutions! Happy new year everybody, I hope you had a good Hogmanay and are poised for a bright new year. Here’s a cheery grin from a couple of ne’er-do-wells I encountered on a Victorian time travel night just before Christmas:


My favourite thing about this time of year is looking backwards and forwards at the same time. As if with a double-ended telescope and rear-view mirrors – it’s probably already been invented, like most of my good ideas. Anyway what I’m saying is, I don’t like to lose the best of last year before hurtling into the next. So I’m going to bore you with my Christmas dinner stories. Just the menu – the rest of the shenanigans are for private viewing only!

IMG_0454.JPGSo here’s my turkey. I have fulminated at length in the past about never in my life intending to cook another f***ing turkey. But as you will recall from my last post, I came over all funny in mid-December when I went into Cheyne’s the Butchers to order a ham. And for the first time in my life, I can say completely unabashed that my turkey was a triumph. I brined it a la Nigella – in a massive pot with water/salt/sugar, squeezed IMG_0457.JPGoranges with their husks, and a range of whole spices including cinnamon sticks. star anise, cloves, bay leaves, parsley stems and slices of fresh ginger root. After two days (ie on Christmas Eve) I took it out and roasted it for two and a half hours (12lb turkey), painting it all over first with honey and maple syrup, then latticing with streaky bacon. It bronzed up beautifully and I covered it with tinfoil halfway through. Sadly I forgot to take a photo of it as it emerged Adonis-like from the oven. Bronzed and muscled, you get the picture.


Now I’m sorry I can’t find the words to say this without Nigella’s pout: darlings, it was succulent! Enough said? I eased the stress by buying (instead of making from scratch, another first) butcher’s stuffing and bacon-wrapped chipolatas; cranberry sauce; and even gravy. And by doing it a day ahead, I had it carved ready to heat and serve. Not as spectacular as bearing in the burnished beast on a platter and carving it at the table, but I have learned my limitations through the years. Anthony Bourdain, sadly gone from us during 2018, recommends having two turkeys cooked – so you get someone to take one whole cooked bird to the table and flourish it around a bit while, like a whirling dervish, you are standing in the kitchen reducing the other one to perfect portions. Then you wait five minutes and produce beautifully arranged dishes, and everyone thinks you are Wonder Woman. Of course he’s talking about restaurant cooking. I was more than happy that the Wunderkind and his lovely fiancé were flurrying around helping get it all out on the table, hot and fresh and tasty, but without the drama. Rest in Peace, Anthony, your stories are wicked and wonderful. And Nigella – I apologise for all the times I have mocked your pout. Your recipes are brilliant.

We started the meal with a little cup of chilled pea and parsley soup (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Veg Every Day); then Scottish smoked salmon with oatcakes or, for the Troubadour, my quince cheese, made with Newburgh-grown quinces; then the turkey or for the vegetarians, an almond and cashew nut roast stuffed with prunes and chestnuts (thank you Shirley Spears). The usual veggies and condiments. Then Olivia’s Magnificent Limoncello Trifle, second year running so it’s now a tradition. And we finished with an Aqua Vitae espresso cocktail, made up in a big coffee jug by the Troubadour.

The things I would repeat neIMG_0451.JPGxt year are the brining and the buying-in of the extras; getting Olivia to do the trifle; the chilled soup which makes a light and fresh savoury start to a heavy meal; and Valerie’s smoked salmon, superb as always. The nut roast? Not sure. I liked it but the Troubadour thought it was a bit dry so I haven’t quite cracked the veggie option yet. On the left is a nice reminder of a pie-making session with Stella for the Victorian event. Not vegetarian, and nothing to do with Christmas dinner as such but hey, we were heroes! Forty wee hand-raised pies to Stella’s lovely mutton/ham/caper recipe.

There you are, that was it, please tell me your own Christmas dinner stories. It may only be lunch; but it’s such a delight for anyone who loves cooking to have a special project and with lots of friends around the table to share it with. Looking forward to poached egg on toast tonight!

Wishing you all good food and good friends throughout 2018, and lots of ways to share them with those for whom these fundamental requirements are in short supply.