Monday, August 04, 2008


We just tried living in the manner of country squires for a couple of weeks by hiring a house in the middle of an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands. I tried some of the rural pastimes on offer, like fishing, and was happily rewarded with no success on a loch reportedly brimming with brown trout. Although I’m keen to eat the creatures, I’m too squeamish to smack one on the head, watch it gasp for the last time, and then gut its innards in time to see the final, faint pulse of a hot red heart.

Out walking the hills and doing my best to tell the difference between a skylark and a meadow pipit, I also spotted several beautiful red deer, who’d watch me warily before running scared. According to the promotional brochure, hind-stalking was an optional extra, but I didn’t dare to ask the estate’s owners what that might involve. Chasing after it with my arms in the air, shouting as the female deer dashed away and round the mountain to face a barrage of lead from Hamish the gamekeeper? (Yes, the gamekeeper really was called Hamish). Or was it something more sexual? After all, there’s not a lot of female company in the mountains, and the burly Highland cattle may be prone to resisting a lonely farm hand’s embrace.

Not wanting to enjoy too much health and fresh air, we occasionally descended the mountain to breath in the staple aromas of the Scottish towns – cigarette smoke and fried food. Deep-fried haggis, chips, cigarettes and ice cream still staunchly constitute the immutable diet of the Scots, who refuse to entertain passing fashions such as vitamins and avoiding death by heart failure. The thinking is that if these items are washed quickly enough through the system with vast quantities of beer, whisky or Irn Bru, then they won’t have time to damage the vital organs.

On a bench in Blairgowrie one Sunday evening I sat next to an old lady who alternated each drag on her cigarette with a munch on an ice lollipop and a coughing fit loud enough to summon a fleet of emergency vehicles. Unperturbed, a nearby gaggle of very young lads chuffed away with the enthusiasm of apprentices eager to adopt the Great Scottish Lifestyle Choice before it’s banned by some well-meaning Westminster vegetarian health-nut.

What they need is a month up in the mountains with nothing but a fishing rod, a hind to stalk and two sticks of wood to rub together to make a fire and cook their catch. Give them a kilt, a dirk and a broadsword while you’re at it and turn the pallid, skulking weans into proper proud Scotsmen. My own weapon of choice would be one I saw on display at Blair Castle – the bollock dagger. There can be nothing more terrifying than to hear a manic Celt whispering the imprecation: “Dinnae stare at ma hind, laddie, or I’ll tak ye oot wi’ ma bollock dagger.” Failing that, the cholesterol will get you in the end.