There is exactly one month to go before Scotland votes on whether or not to become independent from the rest of the UK, and people keep asking me, as a Scot living in London – how I will vote? I’m getting tired of explaining to everyone – I don’t live in Scotland, I’m not on their electoral role, so quite simply I don’t get to vote.
Scotland, the land of my birth, the keeper of my historical heritage, will carry on regardless and decide without me, and I have to admit I’m very uncomfortable about that fact. I do understand that in choosing not to live in Scotland but instead live elsewhere in the UK, I have effectively forfeited my birthright to have a say in the upcoming election, but nevertheless the outcome may still potentially affect my future, wherever I might choose to live…
I feel very uncertain about what happens with my nationality if Scotland becomes independent. I am, and always will be, Scottish by birth. I like being Scottish, but I also like being a UK citizen, and I don’t actually mind being European, either. My children and grandchildren all still live in Scotland, and I go ‘home’ to visit as regularly as I can – so the question of independence still matters very much to me.
I have some Scottish friends who are keen nationalists and will definitely be voting ‘yes’, and other Scottish friends who love being Scottish but also love being British, and so will definitely be voting ‘no’. I have English friends who live in Scotland and will be voting ‘yes’, and other English friends who say that if they lived in Scotland they too would definitely vote ‘yes’.
Right now it’s not clear to me which way the vote will go – as usual, those who have already decided will not now change their minds, and as for those floating voters, the undecided, well, we shall have to wait and see. And as for me, the fate of my future nationality hangs in the balance along with them, uncertain, undecided, and unsure…
For this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: In the Beginning, in the absence of any real agreement on the origin of haggis I’m using some artistic license in inventing my own blended mythological take on some of the many stories that abound. I’m quite sure many cultures used very similar recipes throughout history, so I do appreciate that it’s unlikely that haggis in its current form evolved only in Scotland. But nevertheless like it or loathe it, haggis, now seen as a traditional Scottish dish, seems destined to be forever associated with Burns Night…
To accompany my story I’ve included a real haggis recipe from the March 1950 reprint of ‘The Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes Cookery Book (Sixth Edition). The recipe goes as follows:
‘Real Scotch Haggis
Procure a large stomach bag of a sheep, liver, lights and heart. Bag must be well washed, first in cold water, then plunged in boiling water and scraped. Soak in cold water and salt all night.
Wash the pluck and soak in cold water and salt. Boil pluck (which is liver, lights and heart) for one and a half hours. In boiling, leave the windpipe attached and let the end of it hang over the edge of the pot so that the impurities may pass freely out. When cold, cut away the windpipe and any bits of skin and gristle.
Grate or put through the mincer, adding half a pound of suet. Mix all this mince with two cupfuls of oatmeal, previously dried before the fire, half a pint of the pluck liquid, season with pepper and salt. Fill bag only a little more than half full to leave room for meal to expand.
Sew up the bag, put in a pot with boiling water. Prick occasionally with large needle to allow air to escape. If bag seems thin, tie it in a cloth. Put in plate to prevent sticking to bottom of pot. Boil three hours and serve.
Note – instead of using a bag, make an ordinary suet paste of 8oz flour, 4oz suet, 1 teaspoonful baking powder: mix with cold water. Roll out paste, lay haggis inside and roll up. Lay in scalded floured cloth and steam for three hours.’
How Haggis came to be…
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when Lairds ruled the Highlands of Scotland and everyone and everything on it, times were hard for those who toiled the beautiful but unforgiving landscape. There were barley and oats grown, and there were thick-coated sheep grazing the steep hills and snow-capped mountains. There were birds and rabbits in abundance and deer in the forests of the glens and fish darting sleek and slender in the fast-flowing rivers, but in spite of this abundance there was little food to be had for Everyman and his family who worked the land for the local Laird and lived in a small low-built stone hut thatched with heather and bracken and built into the side of a hill.
Tradition had it that every time a sheep was slaughtered on the land, the Laird would have his choice cuts of meat, the castle kitchen would have the head and the feet for boiling down, but Everyman was entitled to take the offal home for himself. Everyman’s wife Agnes was a canny housekeeper, and she always made the best out of whatever was available to eat. She’d learned from her mother, and her mother before her, and generations before that going back through their Scandinavian and Celtic bloodline, how to magic healing out of herbs, how to magic a hearty meal out of seasoned oats and minced offal boiled in a sheep stomach, and how to magic whisky – uisge-mhath, the water of life – from malted barley and the golden peat-coloured spring water that ran sparkling and fresh from the mountains.
One day the Laird was out riding alone when he came off his stocky little Highland pony close to Everyman’s hut, hitting his head and losing consciousness for a few minutes. Everyman rushed to help and, poor as he was, offered the hospitality of his home to his benefactor. Agnes tended the laird’s wound with her healing herbs, gave him some of her oatmeal and offal pudding, and poured him a wee dram of whisky to wash it down with. The Laird was entranced by the unusual savoury, peppery flavour of this simple meal, and demanded to know who was responsible for creating such a feast, and what was it called? ‘My wife, Ag is’ replied Everyman nervously. ‘Haggis’ repeated the Laird, merry from the whisky, ‘What an excellent name. And where did your wife come by such a creature?’
Not wishing to give up her recipe to the Laird, as she was worried he may take away Everyman’s right to the offal if he knew that was what was used in the pudding, Agnes quickly spoke up and said it was a small rodent-type animal that lived only in the thickest heather on the steepest slopes of the highest mountains. When the Laird returned to the castle, drunk and with a head wound and rambling about wee haggis beasties running about the hillside, it was assumed he was imagining things due to the bang on his head. Everyman and his wife continued to receive the sheep offal after every slaughter, and Agnes continued to make her oatmeal and offal pudding, finally passing the recipe on to the castle cook on her deathbed so that the Laird could now have his mountain-bred, fresh caught ‘haggis’ whenever he liked…
I’m not really much interested in being fashionable, whether in clothes or house decor or furniture. I’m not a constantly updating ‘out with the old and in with the new’ kind of person. When I like something I become attached to it and prefer to hang on to it, and my husband is much the same. So I’m sitting here curled up on the sofa in my usual position with my laptop on a precariously-balanced bean-bag lap-tray, looking around our chaotic whirlwind of a flat and wondering how I might best describe it.
At first glance it’s easier to say what it is not – not minimalist, not of one time or style, not in the least fancy or fashionable as compared to all those home improvement/ lifestyle programmes you always see on TV. Not a student flat, and not a temporary commuter accommodation either (although there are plenty of both available here in East London) – there are too many signs of roots put down, of permanence, of longevity.
It is a mix of all things us – to say it is ‘homely’ sounds too kitsch, but it is definitely our home, always looks ‘lived in’. It has evolved organically rather than having been planned this way, with a cocktail of old stuff, new stuff, bought stuff, hand-made stuff, inherited stuff and the occasional charity shop find all rubbing shoulders together. In one sense nothing really goes with anything, but in another, it all goes with us – we are the common denominator linking our possessions. So perhaps ‘eclectic’ is a good word?
For such a small space I suppose we have quite a lot of bits and pieces, but I like being surrounded by mementos of my past as well as my present – neither of us live close to family, so for us having my grandmother’s old marmalade jar sitting next to my husband’s mother’s porcelain milk jug helps us feel connected. The old heavy cast iron cornbread skillets lugged half way across the world in our hand luggage so as not to incur any excess baggage charges remind me that I’m married to my very own Cajun swamp-boy from Louisiana’s deep south, and the traditional wooden porridge spurtle with carved thistle top taking pride of place in our cooking utensil jar is a small yet significant marker of my own Scottish heritage.
We have loads of very un-trendy but fun magnets stuck all over our fridge-freezer, each one with a specific magical memory – our 10th anniversary trip to Paris, day trips to the beach at Brighton, family-focused visits home to Scotland and the US. Sentimental stuff, but for me that’s the stuff of life, the stuff that matters most.
On the back of our sofa is an unfinished quilted throw in a log cabin design – the fabrics create a memory mix of past sewing projects and bright recycled cotton clothing, with an old cotton sheet as backing – it’s a real blast from the past for me. The quilt itself was made years ago and is in one solid piece, but I crazily decided to hand quilt it all, so to date the actual quilting is still only three quarters done. I also have multiple colourful crocheted blankets everywhere – basically just oversized granny squares, nothing fancy, but they’re practical, functional and created mainly with comfort in mind.
I suppose that having suffered from ongoing depression throughout my life, living with so much fluctuating psychological distress and unhappiness over the years, I truly appreciate the happy moments when they arise and want to be able to surround myself physically and emotionally with their memory, rekindle their spark of joy, remember that when all is said and done, as long as you work hard to ensure the good parts outweigh the bad, life can still be very much worth living…
I’m a Brit, I’m not made for hot weather – I can handle warm at a push, but anything much over mid-twenties Celsius and I start to melt. In fact, not only am I a Brit, but I’m a Scot – and as Billy Connolly famously said, we’re the most patriotic skin-toned of all Brits because our natural ‘peelly-wally’ (Scottish for ‘pale’) white colour rarely tans well, turning only red in the summer and blue in the winter.
Hmmm… I’m not sure how well that’s still going to work as a joke if Scotland votes for Independence come September, but I guess I’ll cross that border if and when we come to it…