Once upon a long time ago, in days obscured from memory by the mists of time, there lived in the misty glens of the northern mountains two rival clans, led by two rival chieftains. These chieftains, whose names were Great Hag and Great Gis, rivalled each other in all things; in the knottiness of their wild beards, in the pitch of their deafening battle cries, in the number of red hairs spouting from their muscly chests. And as is only to be expected from men threatened by the presence of a perfect replica, these two chieftains rivalled each other in the depth of their mutual hatred.
Consequently, the two clans of the northern misty glens had fought since long before even the days of a long time ago. As the two clans were so perfectly matched, victory for either side was impossible until one of the chieftains was finally slain. This was though just too long for the high-king of all the glens to wait. Fed up with seeing the pretty heather of his pretty mountains soaked red by the blood of warriors, the king decided to give his chieftains a right old talking to. “Look here,” said the king, “you two must shake hands and make up. I order you to hold a feast of friendship.”
A feast was duly held, but it was not to be one of friendship. Unable to swallow his hatred, chieftain Great Hag determined on a cunning plan: he would serve the most disgusting meal he could devise from his evil imagination, so that he would forever know he had won the last victory over his rival.
So it was Hag acquired a sheep’s stomach from an obliging nearby sheep, and stuffed it with heart, lungs and liver, and presented it to Great Gis on a bed of turnips. Unfortunately, the plan backfired: Gis loved the dish, declared it ‘delish’, and resolved upon firm friendship until death.
Thus haggis was born, and was passed down through the ages as a meal of friendship. A great poet celebrated it, a great nation adopted it, and this week a woman determined for a quick, easy and painless challenge decided for the first time to taste it.
No matter that it has a reputation for being the final frontier in palatal exploration. No matter that the woman has a gut instinct of revulsion to eating guts and an aversion to any meat that still resembles its animal of origin. No matter indeed that she had sustained herself for an entire year in China without once resorting to eating anything she deemed “weird”.
She set aside all that: for there is a Scottish restaurant in London with a half-price offer too good to ignore.
And so the woman recruited her mother on her quest, and set forth for haggis armed with the genes of a Scots grandfather who had relished it all his life, and fortified by the knowledge that a good many people whose opinion she respected thought the meal very nice “actually”.
With bold self-assurance she placed her order and with hunger gnawing her stomach impatiently awaited its delivery. When an unattractive brown lump was finally set before her, her courage did falter. Fortunately, however, the woman is blessed with a compassionate mother who had sportingly ordered the most foul-smelling fish on the menu, a fish with a smell so foul that its foulness must surely out-foul the taste of haggis, if indeed that too proved foul.
The woman therefore set about her challenge with commendable energy, and consumed half the lump at great speed, not giving her senses a chance to fully digest the taste. A taste, she decided, which was a little like meatloaf with an after-thought of marmite. Having got about half-way through though the woman made a crucial error: she enquired of the waitress what exactly was in it.
The waitress, who had been waiting for this moment, reeled off the ingredients with schadenfreudenistic relish and thus the spell was broken, the truth could no longer be suppressed: the woman was munching on heart, lungs and liver. She gulped, gingerly looked down to where one half of the meal had until recently been, and half-heartedly made a show of picking at the rest.
It was now, as the first wave of nausea swelled within the woman’s stomach, that her mother finally plucked up the courage to herself brave the tiniest of nibbles. With a lifetime of haggis deprivation to make up for, the daughter refused to accede that a nibble was enough, and encouraged her to take a full forkful with the thought that perhaps this particular lamb of all lambs had been a drunk, and had a liver soaked through with delicious alcohol. The thought was not enough. As the mother’s face passed from fear to horror to disgust and finally indignation with all the expressive quality of a professional mime, the woman was reassured: she was not alone.
Her stomach though was not thereby settled, and she spent the remainder of the night feeling very queasy. Her tactic of gobbling everything up before the taste kicks in does get the food down you, but does not give your tummy time to tell you whether it is likely to stay down.
There can be only one conclusion. After nine weeks of enjoyable challenges, nine weeks of success, a fall was bound to come. Great Hag at last has his victory, for humbler of zeal, slayer of over-confidence: thy name is haggis!
I sincerely apologise to my Scottish friends and relatives for expressing such vehement dislike of their national dish, and for having the cheek to invent yet another explanation of its origins!