True Tales of Haggis and Bagpipes
This is a tale of historic origins, much of which has been strained through a digital wobbly-truth detector, without inflicting any apparent damage, and with the balance having been told to me by my maternal grandmother. It was been passed down through successive generations of gullible children, as narrated around smokey peat or coal fires, and doubtless embellished and enhanced on its deviating route, by the imbibing of that hypnotic 'old wives' tale' serum that is the single malt Scotch whisky.
But what has driven me to unlock this gem of true recollection, from my foggy memories? Well, an unrequited appetite for flavours not savoured for many years, along with the promise of new tastes to come, have combined to stimulate the gelatinous grey matter through that major organ of man's decision making, the stomach. In particular, I have been licking my lips over the past few days, after reading @Lada Prkic's buzz on Croatian licitars. My appetite was further whetted by @Louise Smith's comments on steak and kidney pie, in the same buzz, and her unbelievable revelation that she has never cooked Haggis, that revered and rare Scottish treat, tucked into by Scots, expatriate Scots, and their guests, the world over, at Burns Night celebrations.
These special occasions are held annually on 25 January, to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet. After the guests are seated, the Master of Ceremonies narrates the Selkirk Grace as follows:
"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."
The soup course is served, then the evening entertainment commences with the 'Piping in of the Haggis', whose carcass, laid bare on a silver platter and held aloft, is ceremoniously carried into the gathering accompanied by the skirl of the bagpipes. This is a sweet sound to those, like myself, of true Scottish descent, many of whom are tone deaf, but it can be dangerously off-putting to those unaccustomed to the composite tones and pitch of the cane reeds, responsible for the high melodic tone of the chanter and the accompanying lower monotones of the drones (more on this later).
The sound is so stirring to the Scots, and ear-splittingly painful to many others of Sassenach descent, that the bagpipes were historically used in battle by Scottish regiments to urge forth their tartan clad swarms, and to beat the enemy into submission by conjuring up visions of ghosts and goulies screaming their way out of the fires of hell.
It is less well philosophised, however, that the bagpipes were invented in Ireland and exported to the Scots as a joke, under the guise of a special treat requiring great patience and many years to master. The Scots, who have yet to understand the intended jocularity, have nevertheless adopted the bagpipes as their own and elevated their awesome sound to the present status of a potential weapon of mass destruction.
We then move to the 'Address to the Haggis', which is generally displayed on the head table in front of the Master of Ceremonies as a delicacy of minced offal meat, oatmeal, herbs and spices, and wrapped in a large sausage skin, or less commonly a sheep's bladder or stomach, hence the 'pudding' disguise. Few in attendance on the night, except a few stalwart Scots males, know the true origins of the Haggis meat itself. These same stalwarts have been sworn to secrecy on pain of having to wear the kilt in public, without undies, continuously for a year. No amount of self flagellation by generations of various religious orders can compare with the excruciating pain (not to mention the effective contraceptive result) that is a consequence of the kilt's heavy tweed-like tartan cloth rubbing continuously against the tripod of manhood without protective jocks, boxers or Y-fronts.
After a pause for the male readers to adjust their seating posture, back to the Haggis, which, as I have alluded to above, is addressed in the guise of a 'pudding'. The opening words of the Address are as follows:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
And this is where you, the favoured reader/follower, are to have the secret of the Great Scottish Chieftain revealed. This is no counterfeit concocted pudding, but a rare and timid creature (a "tim'rous beastie") seldom seen by man, which, in its dominant form as the Highland Haggis (haggi major Scotlandia), inhabits the steeper heather-clad slopes of Scotland's hills and bens. Legend has it that this fleet of foot, two legged, rotund, paunchy creature has one leg longer than the other. This is often misconceived as an anatomical disparity but is in fact an advantage, affording the rare animal a unique ability to contour, virtually uninhibited, across steep terrain, provided, of course, that it always traverses in the same direction. Males and females, tragically, have opposing long and short legs, so that they only come together once in their lifetime, before moving off in opposite directions.
So rare are these creatures (no doubt due to their fleeting mating habits) that they are only allowed to be hunted for a few days in every year, commencing on 12th August, the Glorious Twelfth, which just happens to coincide with the start of the grouse shooting season. Haggis hunting may only be pursued by the same specially chosen few male stalwarts as referred to above, all sworn to secrecy under the same threat of genitalia carborundum imposed by tartan torture.
The obvious means to achieving capture of this evasive game, and hence enabling transfer from hillside to plate, is to cause the beastie to stop in its tracks, turn and run away in the opposite direction, at which point it will inevitably fall down the hill into the arms of the waiting gillies. Alternatively, the crafty Haggis Hunter may attempt to lure the creature onto lower flat ground using a mating call, generated by blowing into a cane reed similar to that used in the bagpipe drones. Once on flat ground the Haggis, of course, runs in ever decreasing circles until it falls over in a dizzy daze. If you've ever seen a bagpipe player practicing the pibroch (classical form of bagpipe music) he also walks in ever decreasing circles, although you can readily revive him by plying him with whisky at regular intervals. This is the derivation of the common tourist trinket, "instant piper - just add whisky".
Now I know that many of you may say that this tale of two legs is a purposeful distortion of the facts, an incongruous tale for tourists and that everyone know a real Haggis has four legs.
Well this is due to the presence of the more common four legged Lowland Haggis (haggis minor Scotlandia) which is often sighted as road kill, and hence too flat to formulate a feed. Well these equally crafty lowland beasties are nocturnal and hence, when they come out to feed, are invariably safe against the fate of being transferred from paddock to plate. They know that the even rarer Haggis Hunter has a congenital adversity to cold, which kicks in once the sun has set. The only cure is a nip of single malt whisky (taken as frequently as a heart beat) which, of course, results in spoiling his aim at best, or at worst, rendering him fully comatose.
Now that you, my selected reader, have been inducted into the secrets of the Haggis, you shall, if male, be expected to keep solemnly silent upon threat of ... well you know what (the very thought brings tears to my eyes). Whereas, if you are a lady, then there is absolutely no problem, as everyone knows that the ladies will always keep a secret, and never let anyone know ... except perhaps their best friend, husband, boss, shopkeeper ... and then only if they promise not to tell anyone.
When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:
The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.
Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.