I like my food. And I like the rituals that go alongside all things culinary. But to see my dinner marched into a room on a platter led by a pipe band with all its pipers a’piping and its drummers a’drumming – that has raised the bar to a standard I doubt will ever be surpassed.
As this is my year of saying yes to things I usually say no to, I found myself alongside 300 other hungry souls with a penchant for charity and perhaps things Scottish, at the 17th Annual Burns Supper in Budapest on Saturday evening. The Address to a Haggis, recited by the lead piper Rab Tait, may as well have been delivered in Zulu for all I understood of it. Written down, I get it, but spoken word? Not a chance. ‘Twas all very dramatic.
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
Dresses of all lengths swanned around the ballroom as ladies of every vintage inveigled their dicky-bowed men to dance. It was all terribly posh – a lovely change from a jeans-and-shirt night down the pub. While we were insisting on boy-girl-boy-girl seating upstairs, I noted an All-American table on the main floor with men on one side, women on the other. Had I had time to reflect more on this, I may well have found a story there.
With wine and whiskey on tap, the haggis, flown in from Inverness, was in good company and judging by the complete silence at our table, it was served at just the right time. Welcome drinks can be a little too welcoming at times and it’s hard to resist the bubbly in a hotel as upmarket as the Corinthia. The latent environmentalist in me did shudder at the food miles involved, but to my shame, any guilt was quickly squashed under the banner of authenticity.
With all sorts of trips and hotel stays and other goodies up for auction (including a pig-killing for eight!), my speculative self came to the fore and today, I sit in front of my laptop praying that none of my bids were high enough because if they all come in, it’ll be a lifetime before I can afford the haggis experience again.
One of my favourite days of every other year in Ireland is when Scotland comes to Dublin to play rugby. I have a soft spot for the highlands and still have a hankering to settle down with a gillie. Perhaps I overdosed on the TV series Monarch of the Glen or read one too many Hamish Macbeth novels, but there’s something about a man in a kilt that is … well … something else! Some of the sporrans were riveting – it’s not often that propriety permits blatant staring at a man’s nether regions…
Every man I met with a Scottish accent on Saturday night, I called him Graham. I have no idea why. Some switch clicked off in my brain and everyone became Graham – except for the one real Graham whom I insisted on calling Dougie. And, I swear, I didn’t touch the whisky.
One of the Charity circuit’s highlights, the raffle alone made 5 million huf (about €15 000 / $18 000). Was I glad I went? Definitely. Would I go again? Let’s see how my auction bids do. But regardless of whether the 18th Annual Burns Supper sees me tripping the light fantastic in 2015, I am grateful that I said yes. I am grateful to have renewed my acquaintance with haggis. And I’m grateful that I got to spend time with the pipers.
An oldie for you:
Fair fa your honest sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin race,
Aboon them a ye take yer place,
Painch, tripe or thairm,
As langs my airm.
Obama is confused, so he just grins and moves on to the next patient.
The next patient responds:
Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat an we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.
Even more confused, and his grin now rictus-like, the President moves onto the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:
Wee sleekit, cowerin, timorous beasty,
O the panic in thy breasty,
Thou needna start awa sae hastie,
Wi bickering brattle
Now seriously troubled, Obama turns to the accompanying doctor and asks: ‘Is this a psychiatric ward?’
‘No’ replies the doctor:
‘……this is the serious Burns unit.