As the first post-Brexit Burns Night looms, Hardeep Singh Kohli finds himself rekindling the Auld Alliance
Last Monday I found myself at The Poor School in London’s ever changing King’s Cross. My co-writer and dear friend Maddy Anholt was starting the first of half a dozen evening workshops on the comedy of improvisation. She’d asked me to join her; it was an invitation I immediately accepted. Never a dull moment with the Anholt.
I was expecting no more than a dozen or so listless student actor types; those superlatively self-absorbed, inherently insecure prima donnas. You know the type: loud and luminous leg warmers, very vocal warm ups.
I couldn’t have been more mistaken. There was close to sixty folk, from all sorts of backgrounds. There were a few thespian types but not a leg warmer to be seen or a ‘me-me-me’ to be heard.
What was most heartening was the number of participants for whom English was (at best) a second language. Can you imagine pitching up in Paris, Rome or Belgrade to learn about the nuanced, deft craft of comedy in a language that isn’t your mother tongue? (Some fluent, first language English speakers struggle with the cultural criteria of comedy.
There was a young French woman, full of energy and enterprise; she embraced everything. It was difficult not to be impressed. I imagined that she had been in London for the past few years, having finished university she decided to make the most of the remaining pre-Brexit period. Au contraire.
The class inevitably decamped to the pub across the road. This is where I found out that my French friend had just left Lyon, arriving in the UK the Wednesday before. That self-same Monday she had started her first new job post-graduation. This 23-year-old woman had moved country, started a profession and surrounded herself with 60 strangers; and she had yet to clock up her first full week in the UK.
Inevitably, with any European national, there is that shrugged shouldered shame that those of us on this side of the argument feel. I find myself compelled to convey a quasi-confessional commentary explaining that there is no end of embarrassment amongst almost half of us. And being as aware as I am of the gargantuan gulf, this clear chasm between how my country, Scotland, voted and the rUK, I found myself telling the lass from Lyon that prior to Union, the Scots and the French had a very close relationship. The Auld Alliance, as it was known, bound our nations for centuries. At the height of relations, French was widely spoken throughout Caledonia, bilingual Scots commonplace. Charles de Gaulle himself said that ‘where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship.’
As this (dis)United Kingdom hurtles inexplicably and inexorably towards an unprecedented, unpredictable future, the Prime Minister freely and flippantly forgets the plethora of platitudes that were promised to stop the self-determination of the Scots. Scotland wants to be in Europe.
And as Burns Night approaches, I’m fairly certain the Bard would back Remain. So for the lioness of Lyon, the young French woman that was prepared to embrace a strange new country with such passionate positivity, I offer a haggis recipe that celebrates an alliance that is both auld and potentially alive. Bon appetite.
Braised haggis with whisky cream sauce
1kg Macsween’s haggis
500ml chicken or veal stock
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
one big carrot, sliced lengthways
one shallot, skin on and halved
a bunch of rosemary
300ml double cream
a nip of decent whisky
Pierce the haggis and place in a roasting dish with the stock, garlic, carrot, shallot and rosemary. Braise in a moderate oven for an hour or so, turning the haggis every now and then. When the haggis is beautifully cooked, remove from the braising liquor. Remove the carrot, shallot and rosemary; their work is done. Keep the garlic to one side. Reduce the liquor by a third before adding the cream. Bring to the boil and add the whisky. Using a knife mash the garlic and add to the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the succulent haggis….