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Food and Travel: Pluses and Minuses of Xmas in Scotland

THE snow currently lies deep, and crisp…but fairly uneven throughout Scotland’s third largest town Aberdeen “the Granite City”, across Grampian, Scotland generally, the British Isles, Europe and, indeed, most of the Northern Hemisphere.

It’s the coldest December here in the rugged Scottish north-east for 10 years.
For me, after working and living for decades in the tropics it seems the coldest winter ever, although the first winter I spent on this earth (1946-47) was reportedly spectacularly bitter.
My late father, “home” on leave in British West Yorkshire from the then Mandated Territory of Palestine, to check on “No. 1 Son”, apparently spent the whole furlough shovelling snow off our roof, keeping paths, pavement and the road outside clear of black-ice, sleet, slush and drifting snow.
It must have been grand returning to the more balmy climes of the Mediterranean, Red and Dead Seas, trying manfully to keep Jew and Arab apart and not doing beastly things to poor British Tommies, after the vagaries of British weather…and the first sight of six-month old me!
My  first year  working encompassed the unspeakably bleak mid-winter of 1962-63. I was a cadet racing reporter, but there were no mainland meetings –– either National Hunt or on the Flat –– from Christmas Eve until Easter Monday.
Daily duty comprised writing two or three paragraphs confirming there would be no racing “today” at (say) Lingfield Park, Haydock Park, Cheltenham, Kelso, Pontefract, Redcar, Cartmel or Sandown Park, due to the frozen courses. There would be a stewards’ dawn inspection “tomorrow” at Cartmel, Redcar, Kelso, Catterick and Sandown.
Months and months of doing just that, grabbing a free tea off the cart which trundled constantly 24 hours a day through editorial floors and perhaps a shilling bacon butty… the rest of the day was mine.
Never having been exactly a workaholic, I’d have been in seventh heaven, other than having to live on three-and-a-half guineas a week (£3, 52.5p) 
Our Air Zim flight to Gatwick, slated for Friday December 18, was re-scheduled to the next day, ironically as our Dear Leader took it to Copenhagen’s global warming conference!
We weren’t sure he’d brought it back (unsuccessful talks went on all night) or whether Scandinavian weather had delayed take off.
It was there, parked outside V/VIP arrivals, out of sight of we hoi-polloi.
The change actually suited me better than the original flight plan: taking off 90 seconds earlier than scheduled; landing at an icy LGW two minutes under its planned 10 hours 15 minutes hop.
Being a day flight, we had the sobering experience of soaring over a sad, sere, severe, once agriculturally productive, Sahara Desert seemingly hour after endless hour.
I’d left Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) in shorts and short-sleeved shirt as yolk-yellow sun beamed from a cornflower blue cloudless sky; temperature nudged 35C.
With Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo and Menton immediately under us, Marseilles over the port wing, twinkling lights of Alassio and the Italian Riviera above the starboard wing, our pilot told us to expect minus three degrees celsius maximum at Gatwick.
By the time we landed, shorts and golf shirt were in my grip, replaced by thick, woollen Argyle socks, sturdy longs, T-shirt, long-sleeved Black Watch heavy plaid shirt, two light V-neck sweaters,  medium-weight crew neck jumper, heavy zipped “fleece”,  quilt-lining zipped weatherproof/waterproof jerkin, Royal Stewart tartan cashmere scarf, wool beanie, commemorating Hogmanay Edinburgh 2007 and leather fleece-lined gloves.
I’m not sure whether I looked like Nanook of the North, the Michelin Man or a walking barrage balloon, but, by gum, I was reasonably warm!
And didn’t I need to be on a 914 km overnight journey by National Express from Gatwick, via Heathrow, Glasgow and Dundee to the Northern Lights o’ Old Aberdeen! Almost a fortnight later, the temperature ––where I’ve been –– hasn’t risen above five degrees celsius; it was minus 6,5 degrees celsius at lunchtime near Glamis Castle, in Angus, on Boxing Day; minus 9,5 at the same spot at 10pm.
In the Western Isles the mercury has several times plummeted to minus 16 degrees celsius!
Scotland Homecoming 2009 had recently ended.
Four-hundred special events were held nationwide over the year to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Caledonia’s national poet Robert Burns. Scots from throughout a Diaspora they’ve occupied (and often run!) for 500 years, and from every corner of metropolitan Scotland and the rest of the British Isles, flocked back to support the celebrations.
Christmas Eve midnight mass and a traditional groaning table turkey-and-all-the-trimmings Christmas day lunch were at Forfar and my son’s in-laws at Kirriemuir, Angus, which is bracing to celebrate, in May, the 150th birthday of its best-known son Sir JM Barrie, creator
of Peter Pan and The Admirable Crichton, among a huge literary legacy.
A committee has sat for two years planning festivities which will begin, as all rugby players and fans will snigger to hear, with a Ball of Kirriemuir!
Boxing Day was spent on the Earl of Crawford’s estate, near St Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife. After a piping hot Scotch broth and  cold turkey and ham lunch supper was of roast streaky-bacon wrapped pheasant, shot on the nobleman’s moors abutting the chill, grey North Sea.
This was shot legitimately by one of the Laird’s guests.
Almost every other partridge, pheasant or grouse I’ve ever eaten was shot by my good self on sporting moors surrounding the baronial halls of members of the House of Lords in Yorkshire. I regret to say, without the peers’ permission!
A wee while left in a Scotland getting no warmer; then to the Caribbean for a fortnight’s working holiday, visiting golden beaches, forests and ancient Spanish architecture of major tourist destination the Dominican Republic, occupying two-thirds of the stunning island of Hispaniola, with voodoo-ridden French-speaking neighbour, Haiti.

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Dusty Miller

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