Saturday, 31 January 2015

Life in Riyadh - More Than just a Desert and Camels Kind of Adventure

There are certain things you expect to come across when you're living in the Middle East. Desert, for instance and camels.  However we’ve just found something very unexpected and definitely out of the ordinary. Think of a little bit of Scotland in the middle of Riyadh. Then think of being invited to a Robbie Burns Supper. And then, haggis.

Now I must confess that despite Scottish ancestry, I’d never experienced a Robbie Burns Supper. So the invitation was right up there with really exciting, partly because it was new and different, but partly also because it carried a small note of familiarity. I remember my father reading me Burns’ To a Mouse as a child. The dialect made it hard to understand, but there was no missing my father’s love for poetry in general, and Burns specifically.

But a Robbie Burns Supper? I assumed we’d have haggis. It was not something I’d ever eaten, but I did know enough about it to feel slightly unsure.  My curiosity was piqued, but asking our hosts questions like, “Will you be serving haggis for supper?” sounded terribly wrong in light of the fact that they own a small Scottish terrier, whose name is also Haggis. Try thinking of a way to ask that question, without it sounding like something from an Edgar Allen Poe short story.

In the end, I googled  Robbie Burns Supper and realised that there was a very precise and set order of proceedings and that the serving and eating of haggis should be central to the evening.  Which was exactly as it happened. The haggis was ceremonially brought in and our host, resplendent in kilt and appropriate Scottish attire, recited Burns’ Address to a Haggis with great drama and more than a couple of knife wielding moments. Later, after Burns’ Selkirk Grace, the star of the evening arrived on our plates, looking like something out of a Nouveau Cuisine magazine. Served with parsnip and potatoes, or neeps and tatties to those who speak Scottish, the combination of flavours and textures was just delicious. (Some of us, dare I confess, might even have had seconds.)

As the evening went on, the food continued coming. Our host shared anecdotes about Burns, glasses were raised for toasts and some of us read our  favourite Burns’ poems. 

After an enthusiastic rendition of Auld Lang Syne, it was time to push back chairs and walk home. As I walked, I thought that tomorrow I'd look up Burns. I’d find out some more about him and read some poems, particularly one mentioned in passing, To a Louse.  There had to be an interesting story behind a poem with a title like that. 

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