Burning up

Under the counter with Lindsay Calder
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When 25 January approaches, I start having tartan dreams and haggis nightmares. Tonight is Burns Night, and don't I know it.

For weeks now, I have been planning this evening and it hasn't been easy. Not only do you have to scour this sassenach soil for good Scots fayre; whom you invite to sup at your table is just as important.

Last year was a disaster. I had specified quite clearly on the invitation that the dress code was tartan. So, when all the lassies turned up in Nicole Farhi neutrals and the lads in pinstripes, my other half and I felt a right pair in our ex-Gordon Highlander trews. The girl who had promised to give a sword dance arrived swordless and unkilted and limply proffered a Highland dance LP instead.

My piece de resistance - Jimmy the Pipes - who was given a big billing on the invitation, arrived two hours late, and although I swore that I hadn't just invited him for his pipe-playing skills, it was hard to conceal my disappointment when he finally arrived pipeless. Some girl had broken his finger, so he was off pipes for two months, and couldn't even drink his dram.

This year is not looking much better. My one very eligible single girl has cried off - Flora, who sounds like the Queen but has great legs, threw her head back in a fit of laughter last week, causing her pearl choker to fly off and knock out a tooth. Apparently it will cost pounds 2,000 to fix (the tooth). So, I've invited a glamorous blonde friend whose husband is abroad, and I just hope everyone behaves.

Macsweens of Edinburgh make the only haggis I can trust, but as I won't manage to hop on the shuttle to bag a fresh one by tonight, an export one from Fortnum & Mason will suffice. It's best not to reveal the ingredients to your guests, as a sheep's "pluck" (its lungs, liver and heart) mixed with oatmeal, meat suet and seasoning cooked in the sheep's stomach might not get everyone's juices going. However, Macsweens have created haggis for wimps - a vegetarian version cooked in a plastic bag.

The haggis will arrive to the strangled tones of the pipes (fingers permitting), each guest addressing it - in, I fear, their best Rab C Nesbitt accents - with a verse of Robert Burns' "To a Haggis". Once stabbed, the "Warm- reckin, rich" stuff will be served with bashed neeps and champit tatties (mashed swede and potatoes) - filling and farty fodder.

Finally, lots and lots of The Glenlivet to toast the "Great Chieftain o' the Puddin-race", so that everyone will have a good time and, more important, won't remember if they haven't.

A Burns Night Survival Kit:

The lingo: "To A Haggis" in Robert Burns, Selected Poems, Penguin pounds 6.99

The piper: hire your own from Pipe Major Willie Cochrane of the Scottish Bagpipers Agency (0181-805 0912) who sends pipers as far as Korea and the Caribbean (around pounds 100)

The haggis: Macsweens, pounds 2.50 per lb and vegetarian at pounds 2.70 per lb from Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly, London.

The dram: The Glenlivet, 12-year-old pure single malt, pounds 17.99 from good off-licences.

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