Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Haggis-buying B*astards of Bournemouth

Husband and I organise an annual Burns Supper in Almaty - a night of Scottish revelry to celebrate the life and works of the Scottish national bard, not as you may think, a mercy mission to help those hapless Kazakhs for whom New Year is an opportunity to test out their operating skills for large, cheaply-made fireworks after drinking vodka all day long. 

It is a charity fund-raiser with 225 paying guests, and last year we made nearly $30,000. This year, we have sold all our tickets in advance and may make more. Hope so. 

To make our event as authentic as possible we get a Scottish band to fly over from Edinburgh, we find men in kilts from all over Central Asia to gather together and worship the haggis, and, we bring the finest MacSweens haggis into Kazakhstan by the surreptitious suitcase-full to Almaty where it is then prepared by the Intercontinental hotel for our guests delectation.

Last year, we dragooned some friends into bringing back 30kgs in one go. They managed to smuggle it past customs and we were sorted. But MacSweens is very fine haggis indeed, and we were met by howls of dissatisfaction at the portion sizes allowed on the night (it was more of a sample mouthful than a full course of the meal!). So this year we decided to bring more back. We had more time, we knew plenty of people flying back and forth to the UK. Easy. Or so we thought.

The first lot was duly delivered to a hotel in central London. Our courier (who shall remain nameless) is a metal head, and went to see Motorhead in concert the night before flying back to the Stan. Early morning, faced with the boxes in the hotel fridge, he had a brainstorm, thought that twice as much as possible had been sent by accident, and left 18kgs behind.

Not to worry, he told me, as I looked on aghast at the news of 18kgs of missing haggis. He was traveling back for another meeting and could pick it up in a week’s time. Except that during that week, the hotel lost it. And then said that their fridge had broken down and it had spoiled and been thrown away. Either way, no haggis for us and a wasted business class flight’s worth of baggage allowance passed us by.

Second consignment was the veggie version (which I have slightly over-ordered). Perfect delivery, smuggling and straight into the freezer in Almaty - very efficient smugglers those two! 

The third consignment was to be delivered to a large hotel in Liverpool for a family of smugglers to secrete about their persons. No problem, don’t worry, there is nothing that can go wrong, said the lady at the delivery company when I phoned to make sure my order was perfect.

Nothing can go wrong, except the coldest winter in the UK for 20 years. When a really-quite-small amount of snow fell in the UK and all delivery services pretty much gave up and decided not to even try to deliver anything at all. No haggis for us. 

As I have now arrived unexpectedly in the UK with my husband and knowing that we were 18kgs short, we set about procuring all the MacSweens for sale in the Christchurch and Bournemouth area. But it is the month of Burns Supper, and other haggis eaters abound. When my father spotted (and unfortunately did not buy) a mountain of fine chilled Haggi (is that the plural?) in a corner of the Waitrose chiller there were 24. When we went back later the same day to buy them, there were only nine left! Eek!

We managed to get 11 from a local butcher’s, but when they arrived they were frozen which we cannot take with us to Kaz in case they defrost on the way – to re-freeze would be a health risk. They must remain chilled and then be frozen on arrival at the hotel.  We sent them back and found another 13 in another butcher’s. Also snaffled.

We phoned around all the local meat purveyors in vain, looks like we had bought all the available, non-frozen, meat MacSweens haggis in our area. The remaining bundles will have to come out with the band. 

I guess our activity might cause some panic and distress among the Scots living in the Dorset area who find that some b**stards have bought all the shops out of haggis before Burns Night, leaving not a single one, round, scrumptious haggis for the stabbing of (haggis are addressed with a poem and then slit from top to bottom with a dagger on Burns night, releasing the delicious aroma of this essentially-sausagy item). But it is dog eat dog in this situation (or should I say Scot Eat Haggis?), and with my husband leaving with a suitcase of haggis yesterday bound for Kazakhstan, I am afraid that our actions cannot be undone! We are the haggis-buying b**stards of Bournemouth! 

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