Tag Archives: Scotland


imageTwo weeks from today just over 4 million people north of the English border will be voting in an election that could have the most profound impact on my life. I’m powerless to do anything about it and not allowed a say on the matter. The matter being decided is the life or death of my country, the United Kingdom. Two weeks from tomorrow I will have not long landed in a foreign capital on the passport of a country that may no longer exist.

This post is not about the arguments for and against Scottish independence. It’s also not my perspective on the valid reasons the Scots have for seeking independence I believe they have. I am a unionist. It’s about the lack of realisation of what could be in store I perceive from the rest of the country, the other 55 million whose lives may be impacted. I can understand the lethargy in some ways. Not being able to have a say in the matter is incentive enough to want to disengage. The real shock is that the British Government has admitted it has no Plan B if the Scots vote to leave the Union. As the polls stand now, the long-standing ‘No’ majority has been whittled away to just a 6 point lead: 53% over 47% in the Yes camp. All either side needs to win is 51% and there are still 2 weeks to go. For our Government to have no Plan B is evidence of breath-taking arrogance and complacency in their disbelief such a state of play would exist as I’ve always suspected could.

On the morning the results are announced, the media group I work for will, like very many others, be broadcasting live from Scotland. I may not know the results until My flight touches down. Only then will I know whether I still have the same nation to belong to, the same flag to be proud of, the same passport to travel by or whether it will all be about to change. My employer will contemplate whether it can carry on broadcasting to Scotland or not. Every British bank will know whether it’s business as usual or profound volatility on the Stock Markets and a possible run on the pound sterling. Every business in the UK that has a dot.co.uk domain will be assessing the financial costs of reprinting corporate stationery should ‘dot anything dot UK’ be no longer valid. The Northern Irish may be re-assessing their own place in the Union as Irish Republicans may gain momentum for a vote to join with Ireland. The Welsh, for me a country with a far more obvious national identity and language than the Scots, will be rethinking their place in the Union. The British Labour Party may be assessing the loss of 50 Labour MPs that Scotland currently sends to Westminster to bolster their numbers and that impact on the political landscape south of the border which grows more Conservative the further south you go. The Queen may be re-assessing what her role will be north of the border if any at all. Our military personnel employed to run our Nuclear Deterrent based in Scotland will be wondering whether they still have jobs seeing that becoming a nuclear free zone is part and parcel of an independent Scotland. With that comes the possibility of a UK exit from having a nuclear deterrent altogether as there is no Plan B to move the naval facilities elsewhere and no obvious replacement to the Faslane naval base.

Further afield, the remnant UK (or whatever we might be called) will be contemplating less voting power in Europe, a potential loss of seat at the top table of the UN. The USA maybe contemplating life without the guaranteed assistance of its strongest and most dependable ally. NATO will be assessing the risks to its North Atlantic defences capabilities. Governments in Madrid, Rome and Brussels who face similar rumbling sentiments for national break up (most pressing in Spain) will also be watching the results of the Scottish vote very closely.

I’m aware that some or much of the above might not necessarily be bad outcomes to the rest of the UK for some. Fair do’s. There are myriads of other minutiae none of us know yet that will affect us both north and south if Scotland is to become like the Irish Republic: in close proximity and culturally more like brothers yet nonetheless foreigners and no longer part of our national psyche.

Fellow Brits in the other 3 Home Nations: if you have thought up to now that the vote in Scotland in 14 days time is just a matter for them and not us…think again. We are 14 days away from possibly the most seismic shift in our lives any of us have ever known and I include all wars in that assessment. A seismic shift of such great magnitude than our 4 united nations have known for many centuries. A seismic shift that will extend beyond our borders and ripple across the world. That is not me being grandiose and over-stating our significance. It’s just the way it will be.

London to quit the UK?

LOndonTonight’s Comment page in the London Evening Standard caught my eye:  “There’s an easy solution to Britain in Europe”, writes columnist Simon Jenkins. “Let the rest of Britain stay but let London leave.  The great metropolis has never been a true partner to the other capitals of Europe.  It does not walk arm in arm with Paris, Brussels, Berlin or Rome.   It flirts with those it does business with, New York, Tokyo and Shanghai. For the rest of Britain, Europe is a commercial opportunity, a market for its goods and services.  For London it is a weekend break”.

It’s not often that an opening paragraph of any article in the Standard grabs my attention but this one did most likely because it caught my mood of the moment and that mood is twofold: first, not to wait for the Scots to drive us all to Prozac with another two years of tedious bleating for a freedom they already have (but apparently haven’t got the brain cells to recognise) but boot them out early, boycott the Glasgow 2015 Big Sports Day – er I mean Commonwealth Games – and let the rest of us get on with it. Second, a mood of relishing the chance right now if I could have it of sticking two fat fingers up at Europe, giving Prime Minister Cameron a big slap round the chops and voting for the UK to quit the EU.

But to have London tell both Europe AND the rest of the UK to go bollox? Now there’s a novel thought.  Well, we could after all.  London is the 5th largest urban economy in the world after Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago estimated at £361 billion.  London’s GDP is larger than the combined economies of Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland.  When the world comes to visit,  to shop in and be entertained in the UK we all know that it’s really London they are coming to see with maybe the odd day out to, well, whatever exists outside the M25.  We have two of the world’s busiest airports serving us – more airports for this one city than for some whole countries, a major port, the world’s premier financial center, a plethora of sports teams and stadia, a world leading arts and entertainment capital, music industry hub, one of the most exciting culinary and fashion capitals on the planet,  global news and communications hubs and 8 million people to service them all.

Of course it wouldn’t/couldn’t happen but in some ways London has already left the UK.  There is no other city like it in this country I have visited or in any other for that matter.  The world lives here, and no that’s no indication of any subliminal UKIP tendencies – that is simply what makes us such a unique city. We are a world class international city, a capital of business and finance with as much impact on the citizens of Hong Kong and Singapore as on those of Spalding and Wigan. Three hundred languages are spoken in the city. More French people live here than in many a small to mid sized Frankish city. Half all Australia lives here on two year house swaps with British counterparts. Just yesterday when I used the touch screen to check in to my local GP surgery for an appointment with the Doctor I was given the option of selecting from 10 languages to do so and nowadays I carry a Polish phrase book with me just in case I get into difficulties on the Tube.   I do love London but I only feel I’m back in the UK when I’ve travelled just that far enough north of Watford.

No, I think London and the UK are stuck with each other for the foreseeable future though it might just be nice if one day, just once, we over-taxed, over-stressed, over-crowded over dumped on Londoners were given a real opportunity to actually say bollox to the rest.



Haggis, Neeps & Tatties – my recipe.

{This post was drafted before my current 7-day Cabbage Soup Diet Journal}

It’s January 25th on Wednesday this week and north of the English border, our Scottish cousins will temporarily stop bleating on about independence to warm the homely hearths on this cold, deep Winter’s night, cracking open the finest Malt Whiskeys  and then settle down to a hearty plate of ‘Haggis, Neeps and Tatties’.   Then, once repleat, they’ll toast all things that can wear a Kilt and how the Scots invented the Earth and all upon it… and pick up bleating about the English again.

January 25th is ‘Burns Night’.  It is not, as I once thought, a commemoration of the night Scottish people pounce on foolish stray Englishmen and Bar-b-que them over a bonfire, but a celebration of the life of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet and one of their most famous sons. Never heard of any of his works?  Bet you have.  You sing one of his ‘chunes’ every year on 31st December – ‘Auld Lang Syne’, thought to have been penned by the bard in 1788.   Did you know that after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, there are more statues around the world of this Scot than any other (non-religious) person?  Some other interesting facts you may not know about Rabbie:- the Soviet Union was the first country ever to honour  him on a postage stamp in 1956, he was the first person to appear on commemorative bottles of Coca Cola in 2009 and US President Abraham Lincoln is said by some to have been inspired by his works during the American Civil War and his fight to abolish slavery. It’s that old ‘freedom’ thing from the English again isn’t it?

Anyway, this post is not about Robert Burns or Scottish independence.  It’s about food and specifically ‘Haggis, Neeps and Tatties’.  Have you ever had it?   I love it.  A friend of mine first made it for me  when I went to visit her in Edinburgh.  “Haggis?   Eeeeeeew!  Sheep guts and animal gooey bits in a slimy bag?  NO WAY!”.   There are worse reactions I have had to the thought of eating certain foods, but it’s been a very long time since I visited France and experienced that sort of trauma.   Nowadays, ‘Haggis, Neeps and Tatties’ can be on the menu on any given Sunday any time of the year in the Penwald household.  Haggis is after all available in the major supermarkets year round.  Before I share with you my recipe, let me demystify this perilous sounding dish for you. I most recently cooked this for a couple of Welsh friends on New Year’s Day. The look on their faces when I told them what they were eating is pretty much the universal reaction most non-Scots have to the thought of the dish.  Haggis is made of the organs of sheep or lamb mixed with oatmeal, suet, herbs and seasoning.  Traditionally, this is all ground and mixed up and then sewn up into a bag made of animal stomach lining ready for boiling.   Still with me?  OK, you can still get traditional Haggis in skin bags but with the rise of Vegetarianism and in part to make the dish more palatable to the squeamish, you can get vegetarian Haggis sealed in plastic bags.  On New Years Day I served up both options just in case.  The food went down well…and stayed down, which was a bonus. ‘Neeps’ is Scottish for Turnip, although I have since discovered that some Scots don’t know the difference between Turnips and Swede and it is Swede that is used in most recipes I’ve come across.  Finally ‘Tatties’ are your good old mashed potatoes.

This is a Turnip ^

 This is a Swede ^

This is also a Swede ^

So to my take on the recipe.  For a meal for 4 people, you will need…

  • Potatoes for mashing.  Quantities will depend on how big an appetite you think your guests might have, but trust me…make enough for 2nd helpings. I find Maris Pipers the best mashers around.
  • 1 half of a medium-sized Swede.
  • Several Turnips (4-5)
  • 2 medium-sized carrots
  • 1 supermarket-bought Haggis, ready to boil
  • salt, pepper and sugar
  • Nutmeg
  • Cream, butter and a glug of Scottish Malt Whiskey (optional)

At this point, traditional Scots reading this will be wailing and gnashing their teeth (which incidentally was the real inspiration behind the invention of the Bagpipe) but I did say this was my take on the dish, which I have cooked many times now.

Prepping is very easy to do.  First, look at the time your Haggis needs to boil.  It can take 45 mins to an hour.  These days you can microwave your Haggis in a few minutes but I prefer the traditional boil.   If boiling, wrap the Haggis bag in kitchen foil as this will seal in the heat and prevent the bag from bursting.  Bring to the boil and then reduce to simmer for the rest of the cooking time.  Ensure it is piping hot when you serve and make sure the pan does not boil dry. Fill the pan to around half way up the Haggis with water.

In the meantime, peel and wash your potatoes and chop them into quarters or smaller so they will mash easily.  Add salt to taste.  When soft enough, drain and mash adding butter, pepper and I like to add a dash or three of single cream.

While the Haggis and the potatoes provide the savoury flavour – and here’s a tip: The Haggis can be quite salty so don’t overdo it on the salt in the potatoes as they provide a nice counter-balance to the Haggis.  The other root vegetables provide the sweet flavour.  This is where me and the Scots part company.  They use Swede only but I find the mixture of the Swedes with Turnip and Carrot more interesting, tasty and colourful. Peel, wash and cut them all to the same size chunks so they all soften at the same rate. Add sugar, at least a couple of tea spoons full to the boil. This will serve to enhance and bring out the natural sugars in the veg.  Boil until soft and tender and mash away.   You can add some butter, cream or Creme Fraiche at this point plus some grated Nutmeg.

Finally prepare your gravy.   A basic onion or meat gravy used as the base.  Save some of the discarded water from the boiled root veg to mix into tyhe gravy keeping all the goodness. Then add some cream or Creme Fraiche, some grated Nutmeg, seasoning and that glug of Malt Whiskey.

All you need to do now is time everything so it is all hot and ready to serve by the time the Haggis is done and then sit down and enjoy a meal that is warm, hearty and as ancient as the Scottish hills.

Bon appetite!

(Oh bugger…memories of France again.  Really did not need that.)