Freedom Dinner 2016 – Rod Liddle Speech

Rod Liddle Speech - Forest Freedom Dinner BCW

Speech from The Freedom Dinner with Rod Liddle Tue, July 12

ROD LIDDLE is associate editor of The Spectator, former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and columnist for The Spectator, The Sun and Sunday Times.

Speech from The Freedom Dinner with Rod Liddle Tue, July 12

MANY THANKS for inviting me here tonight. I have been told that I was picked to deliver this address from among a very large list of people, solely because I have children and am a mother. This gives me great empathy and understanding and also the right to amend my CV whenever the feeling takes me.

That was a star which rose and fell rather speedily, wasn’t it? Before we even learned how to pronounce her name.

We live in interesting times, do we not? It is quite possible that within a few months England’s most long-standing political leader will be a man called Tim Farron. I heard Tim on Any Questions last week and he spoke with great uncertainty and anxiety, like a man who fears that he may have left the gas oven on at home and is contemplating calling the emergency services. Soon we will have to regard him as a titan of politics, a colossus.

And then there is my party, Labour, which is fine fettle, no? There will be a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s sane and rational leadership from a woman called Angela Eagle – swoop, swoop. She is the sister of the former cabinet minister Maria Eagle, which prompted one MP to say that Angela was the lesser of two eagles. And also that she wasn’t even the best politician in her own family. Not even the best … Well, who could imagine Labour making that sort of mistake?

Angela is also a lesbian, which is fine by me. But this is presumably the next stage in the lesbian takeover of British politics. Both the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Conservatives are led by lesbians. I don’t know the sexual preferences of Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru – any port in a storm, I would guess.

But this is all very commendable, especially as I read recently that lesbians are actually much scarcer than is popularly thought; almost endangered and that we should perhaps consider a reintroduction policy in selected areas, much as has been accomplished with red kites in the Chilterns. It will be a fine sight to see lesbians once again soaring on outstretched wings across Beaconsfield and Henley, gimlet eyes scouring the terrain for carrion. But rumours of their scarcity have clearly been exaggerated.

All of this is keeping Labour from its most important work, which is kicking me out of the party. I was suspended a month or so ago for the crime of having suggested that adherents of Islam were not always entirely kindly disposed towards Jewish people. I know, it beggars belief how I could have possibly reached this conclusion. I’d probably had too much to drink.

Anyway, I got an email shortly after from a man called Harry who said I was suspended but could present my case at a “fact finding” hearing. I would be allowed to take a friend with me, but the friend wouldn’t be allowed to speak. I suggested that suspending me before the initial fact finding hearing had a slightly, how can I put it, Soviet ring to it. And Harry replied that my suspension was a “neutral” act. I would have thought a neutral act would have been to NOT suspend me, but there we are.

This was all part of Labour’s frankly hilarious investigation in anti-Semitism which gave the party a nice clean bill of health and was presided over by a woman who presides over all of us, Shami Chakrabarti. Shami is also Chancellor of Essex University, visiting fellow at Nuffield College Oxford, an honorary fellow at Mansfield College, master of the bench of the Middle Temple, governor of the British Film Institute and holds honorary degrees from three more universities.

It’s nice she was able to squeeze Labour’s Jew-bashing into her packed schedule. Indeed so prolific is Shami within publicly funded bodies, quangos, the third sector and education that I was able to create a parlour game called Six Degrees. Basically choose any arts council, charity or quango, look down the list of trustees and you’ll be able to get to Shami within an absolute minimum of six moves and more usually two.

This is because it is a very small pool of people who run all this stuff and they are all chosen for the same reason – they share precisely the same bien pensant opinions. And, usually, affluent background. This is the new establishment, the people who in a sense govern our country. People who are appointed to stuff, who are on the boards of all of our universities, who run the arts programmes, the charities, everything which costs the taxpayer money. Always appointed – no interview needed. The same names, over and over again. The new great and the good.

Gramsci would have been proud of this march through the institutions. When you dig away at each name it’s not easy to find a reason why they’ve been appointed. I was rooting through the names on the BBC Board of Governors a while back and came across a woman of whom I’ve never heard. So I searched out her biography to find out her back story. All it said was Mahmuda has spent her career upholding standards in public life. You can imagine meeting her at a party, can’t you?

This stuff has a point right now. You will probably be aware of the sort of weirdo authoritarian censoriousness currently gripping our students. The banning of speakers from left and right because they transgress some fatuous shibboleth these cossetted and mollycoddled idiots think of as sacred. Feminists banned from campuses because they’re not sure about transgendered people. Islamists banned because they’re not mad on feminism. Jews banned because they’re not sure about Muslims. Sombreros banned because they might offend Mexicans.

The idea is to create a safe space where these people – supposedly our intellectual elite – can exist without anything, ever, challenging their world view. As if they have a right not to be contradicted or offended. As if what they believe is it, and there’s an end to it.

We sometimes portray this hilarious – but genuinely totalitarian tendency – as being an affliction of youth. I’ve written about this and said much the same thing. But it’s not, really. The universities in which these kids are taught are scarcely better. The same political and cultural hegemony applies, a suffocating refusal to allow freedom of speech and dissenting views.

It’s there in all of those quangos and third sector bodies I mentioned before – an absolute refusal to tolerate dissent from the approved socially liberal views. It’s there in the BBC. You can see it in the Guardian which has recently started denying readers the right to comment on articles which it thinks might be controversial – the site called, with exquisite irony, Comment is Free. Its writers were miffed when people started posting opinions which ran counter to their own. So they banned the comments, all of them.

And more than anything it’s there in the deranged and apoplectic response from some Remainers to our vote on June 23. It’s not enough that they may disagree with the decision to withdraw from the EU. I can understand that: it was a close call for me. But the screaming tantrums and the bedwettings, the toys thrown out of the pram, the tears before bedtime and the stamped feet! The demands that because working class people were allowed to vote the whole thing should be run again. Oh DO fuck off.

And you are left with the same conclusion you reach with those students. That these people are utterly unused to being contradicted. They have no experience of being gainsaid, of being told that they might be wrong, of being on the wrong side of the argument. And so they react with an incandescent fury and a sense of outrage and also, in this particular instance, with the massed ovine bleat of raaaacccist, like lobotomised sheep. Very angry lobotomised sheep. And they gather in Parliament Square and they sign petitions which somehow they think is more democratic than the actual vote. They are deranged, I think, these people.

Still, we are out, although for the next two years stuff will proceed as normal as we are still beholden to European Union directives which insist that the tobacco industry and the sugar industry and the fast food industry are basically agents of Satan tempting a gullible and cretinous public with evil.

No more so than with cigarettes, of course. I think I was slightly angrier with Tony Blair for banning smoking in public than I was with him for invading Iraq, which is a rather selfish way of looking at the world. But one adapts as a loyal consumer, much I have done with the packaging issue. These days I always ask the tobacconist for a packet of cigarettes that has that chap with an enormous tumour growing out of his throat. I much prefer that to the one which shows inadequate semen.

The argument has always been – from the same neck of the woods as those people I’ve mentioned before – that you are, to quote a smug and complacent phrase they often use, on the “wrong side of history”. That, in essence, freedom of choice, like freedom of speech, is actually a tyranny rather than benediction. They think it is not a freedom at all because other people – never themselves – are somehow oppressed by it, oppressed by freedom.

And so they demand ever greater restrictions on your products, more regulations and, best of all, price hikes so that it is the poor who really cop it. They are the ones who suffer through paying more for their treats – the smokes, the burgers, the alcohol. Because they are the stupid ones whose lives need to be regulated. Other people. It is always other people who binge drink, isn’t it? We just have three or four rather agreeable bottles of Sancerre. That’s not binge drinking. Cheap cider is binge drinking.

And they do all this because of course they know best. Like the students with their safe spaces and the Guardian restricting free speech for other people, and like the howls of outrage from the anti-Brexit mob, they cannot bear to gainsaid. You’re on the wrong side of history.

Ah, well. As we have seen, one can be on the wrong side of history until history suddenly and rather capriciously switches sides – as it did on June 23 this year. The other people, particularly the poor, became sick of being told what to do. And they rebelled. It may not seem so to some of you Remainers worrying about your overseas contracts right now, but in the end that rebellion is good for you too. It was a vote for freedom of choice.

A quarter-year review of 2016, and a guide to what to expect from the rest of the year

pouring whisky

We’re fast approaching the quarter-year mark. Three months of 2016 have been and gone, and we’re back to work after the long weekend to tackle the remaining nine months of the year.

With that in mind, it feels like the perfect time for a first look back on the highlights of the first part of the year – and a quick look ahead to some of the big events coming up in the rest of 2016.

Five highlights of 2016 so far

1. England Grand Slam

Yes, it really is true, you’re definitely not dreaming by now: England won their first Grand Slam in 13 years. Not only that, but they looked pretty good value for their win. Perhaps even more excitingly, Scotland won their first Six Nations match in two years against the Italians, before going on to beat the French for good measure.

2. Scotch Whisky – a mini revival, but is there a shortage?

The first three months to 2016 brought a small, but no-doubt welcome, upturn in the fortunes of Scotch. After five years of falling sales, the Scotch Whisky Association recently announced that the industry enjoyed a 2% increase in sales last year as demand soared. However, the good news has coincided with a shortage of single malt Scotch, and prices might just go up for older vintages.

3. AI beats humanity

OK so if you’re not a techie, this one may sound kind of dry: a computer beat a human at a board game. It’s a pretty big deal though – it potentially means that humans will start learning from computers, and even that computers will eventually outpace us. There’s a genuine sci-fi risk to all this that even people like Stephen Hawking are worried about (it’s still all rather far-off/far-fetched for now, but it’s definitely a big moment in computer-human relations).

4. The Scotch Creme Egg

Did you miss this one? The Scotch Creme Egg is creation of Derby Chef Phil Joy, and it quickly went viral. Well, it’s not too late to try it out – Cadburys sell the eggs until April.

5. ‘Brexit’ Referendum announced

No review of the first part of 2016 would be complete without a nod to the looming EU referendum.  On 20th February the Prime Minister fired the starting gun on the referendum debate. It should keep us going with enough non-weather-related talking points for the next few months to make even the most British among us seem like natural conversationalists.

And five things to look forward to…

1. The Euros

It’s going to be football fever this summer, when the Euros kick off in France. The competition gets under way on the 10 June at the Stade de France. England, Northern Ireland and Wales will all be there to represent the Home Nations, with the latter making their first foray into tournament football since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

2. The Queen turns 90

Yet another big celebration year for those of you who count yourselves as royalists, the Queen’s birthday is on 21st April. There will be big celebrations from 12th-15th May followed by a second set of events in June. Our agèd monarch is only one decade away from having to post herself a congratulatory card on her centenary…

3. ‘50 years’ celebrations of… everything

They’ve already started, but prepare yourselves for a ton more celebrations-cum-remembrances of events (especially music and sport related ones) that happened half a century ago – and the accompanying BBC 4 and Channel 5 documentaries about them, of course. ‘Fifty years since England won the World Cup’; ‘Fifty years since John Lennon claimed The Beatles were bigger than Jesus’; ‘Fifty years since Cooper floored Clay’; ‘Fifty years since Fifty years since lists began’, etc.

4. The Olympics in Rio

OK, so Team GB probably wont beat its medal haul from London – but it’s still the Olympics, so it’s bound to be exciting. However, the mood ahead of this year’s event is rather less jubilant: the build-up has so far elicited mixed feelings from the people in Rio, and protests have taken place against a backdrop of forced relocations for Favela residents. There’s no guarantee it’ll all magically fall into shape on time either, what with the current unfolding of a massive corruption scandal in the Brazilian government.

5. Time for change in the US

The democratic process, in all its glorious eccentricity and obscene grandiosity, is already in full flow in the US, with Trump and Cruz, Clinton and Sanders still fighting for the Republican and Democratic nominations, respectively. The climax to all this fun will take place in the shape of the US presidential elections, on November 8th 2016. Quite frankly it looks like it might well be the most bonkers democratic event in history.

British bunting

Whether you’re musing the past or the present, don’t forget to drop into one of our Boisdale restaurants and treat yourself from our mouth-watering menu and selection of fine wines or even book to see one of fabulous live shows.

The Brexit break-up: will Scotland regret EU membership if it votes to leave the UK?

EU flags

David Cameron has fired the starting gun for an in-out referendum on the UK’s EU membership by announcing the date that we will head to the polls – 23rd June. Shortly after his announcement, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared that a Brexit would “almost certainly” trigger a new vote on Scottish independence because “it would be best for Scotland to be in the EU as an independent member state,” rather than join the rest of the UK in a hypothetical exit.

Aside from the not-so-subtle opportunism involved in resurrecting the Scottish independence campaign, Sturgeon’s comments revealed an intriguing tension. She spoke of Scottish separatism, facilitated by closer union with Europe; independence delivered through closer contractual union with the world’s largest organisation.

What’s behind the nationalist movement that allows it to accommodate such a psychological paradox? It leans against the increasing trend of countries electing nationalist parties concurrently with developing a deep distaste for the supposedly dictatorial terms of EU membership: Greece, Hungary Poland, and of course Britain (or England, at least) have all railed against the terms of membership in the last few years, while ramping up the nationalist rhetoric. Is there, then, a bond that connects Scotland and the continent more strongly, strangely vaulting the English border and landing in Caledonia?

There are some practical reasons behind Scotland’s warmth towards the EU. Its crucial whisky trade exports over a third of its produce to the EU – equivalent to about £1.25bn – and the Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive David Frost has argued strongly in favour of EU membership. In other industries, too, Scotland benefits greatly from membership: it will receive roughly £33m from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and hundreds of millions more from structural funds. Last year the Scottish Government published a booklet entitled “The Benefits of Scotland’s EU Membership”, in which Fiona Hyslop MSP argued that Scotland owes 336,000 jobs, 46% of exports (roughly £13bn) and many billions besides in EU funding.

However, at the heart of the argument is a sense that Scotland can at last find its own voice through closer integration with Europe. Although the SNP actually held an anti-EU stance during the 60s and 70s – campaigning against British accession to the European Community – it has since been a consistent supporter of EU membership. As per Sturgeon’s comments yesterday, the EU is viewed as a lever to further nationalist aspirations. The Scottish Government recently published “Scotland’s Action Plan for Engagement in Europe” – an explicit attempt to counter Euroscepticism, in which it emphasised the EU’s “cultural” benefits for Scotland, as much as the purely economic ones.

It’s true that Scotland’s connection with Europe goes back a fair bit further, although even here a deep pragmatism was evident. As long ago as the 13th-Century, Scotland forged the “Auld Alliance “with France, a treaty between the two countries that was essentially designed to offer them each protection from England. A deal founded on the often-volatile philosophy of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, it nonetheless lasted. Indeed, in 1942, General Charles de Gaulle proclaimed the Franco-Scottish relationship the “oldest alliance in the world.”

Perhaps we can read into this a deep-seated continentalism in Scotland’s outlook? More likely, however, Scotland simply sees Europe as a way out of the UK. Just as the Auld Alliance afforded protection from England, EU membership offers Scotland a stepping stone over England and towards the separation from the UK it craves.

So the Scots’ connection to Europe is more an assertion of their own strength and independence than a genuine affinity. Their affiliation is borne out of pragmatism, much like the pragmatism shown by Nicola Sturgeon in her quickness to ring the Scottish independence alarm bells immediately in the wake of the EU referendum announcement.

mountains

It’s curious, though, that while England debates whether to leave the EU because its national sovereignty has been so eroded by the Brussels bureaucrats, Scotland sees the EU as a path to autonomy. However, could it be that herein lies the ultimate irony of the nationalist movement? Will we find a situation a few years from now where an independent Scotland, which had staked its all on the EU as a deliverer of its nationalistic goals, finds that like England its national identity has been subsumed by the European superstate?

Of course you can always head to Boisdale and mull all the political news over your favourite tipple, in our wonderful relaxing atmosphere, we’d be delighted to see you.

Rum, vodka, beer, scotch – whatever your favourite drink, here are some suggestions to broaden your horizons

Martinis

Last week the UK’s chief medical officers revised down the recommended amount of alcohol men should drink in a week to 14 units.

That means that a single pint of beer is now 14% of your recommended weekly allowance. The new guidelines don’t leave much room for error if you’re planning on sticking to them.

So how should you use up your 14 units?

Now seems like an opportune moment to try to make the most out of each drink. Can you try new flavours and explore new combinations?

Here, we’ve helped you out with a selection of drinks you might never have tried, but we think are well worth using up some of your new weekly allowance on!

1.For the gin drinker: The Martini

While hardly the most unusual drink on this list, such is the universal appeal of the martini that it’s rarely superfluous on any list – alcohol-related or not. Gin mixed with vermouth, strained into a classic martini glass and finished with a twist of lemon peel or an olive.

2. For the beer drinker: Craft beer – take your pick

Don’t head straight for that bland imported lager you were about to pick up; there is a rich and ever-expanding world of craft beer out there, just waiting for you to explore it. For just a few suggestions, why not try a Camden Town India Hells Lager, Crate Brewery’s Best, the Hackney Brewery’s Raspberry Kristalweisse or a Beavertown Gamma Ray, an American pale ale.

3. For the Rum drinker: the Bermudan float

This drink is the ultimate hangover cure (although you will of course be doing well to achieve a hangover on your new state of near-total sobriety). A shot of Havana Club 7 year old rum, ginger beer and a scoop of vanilla ice cream smothered in Angostura bitters.

4. For the fruity drinker: the Jack Rose

A classic drink that’s been around for time immemorial, the Jack Rose is made at Boisdale with Querville Calvados (a delightful apple brandy), lemon, sugar, and grenadine. A couple of pieces of literary trivia: it was the favourite drink of Nobel Prize-winning American author John Steinbeck, and makes a guest appearance in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

5. For the vodka drinker: a Salty Dog

For those on a January health kick, this drink has a good dose of vitamin C. Vodka and grapefruit juice, served in a salty highball glass (ok – it’s got a fair whack of sodium too…). Can be made with gin also.

6. For the Scotch drinker: Scotch, of course

Sometimes, it simply makes sense not to complicate a good thing – that’s the humble opinion of this blog. Enjoy neat, with water or ice – whatever your preference.

Beers

However, don’t get stuck in the same old whisky-drinking habits. Each scotch has a distinct flavor and it’s well worth exploring new blends. Boisdale has a huge selection of scotch whiskies, and others beside, including Irish, Welsh, Japanese, English and American. So head to one of Boisdale Bar’s and make each whisky a memorable one this year.

Feel free to disagree with our suggested drinks – or add your own suggestions.

Posted threats from MPs and TV presenters having a bust up: here’s what Parker the political Parrot got up to over Christmas

Christmas presents

Parker the Parrot, our very own parliamentary reporter, had a bit of time off over Christmas. Here’s what he got up to.

Christmas Day

Family sent me some feed and beak polish for Christmas. Thoughtful of them. Also received a feather duster from an MP I broke a rather unfavourable story about last year relating to some, ahem, unsavoury habits he’d indulged in. I wasn’t sure if he was sending me a threat or telling me he was clean now.

Boxing Day

A typical Boxing Day: leftovers, bad TV and residual sense of exhaustion due to weeks of endless Christmas songs.

Still, starting to get into the swing of this holiday malarkey – it’s nice to have a break away from the Westminster drama. Texted the party leaders to thank them for their lovely Christmas cards. Asked Ed Miliband why he was still sending them to me. Asked Tim Farron why he’d started.

27th December

Realised that I haven’t really achieved the goals I set myself in 2015. I haven’t got fit, haven’t learnt Italian, haven’t mastered the piano (I did try, but it’s very hard to play with feathers instead of fingers). To be fair, I’ve been too busy keeping up with the political discourse surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s beard and the role it has to play in twenty-first century electoral politics. Maybe I should start a blog about great political beards…

28th December

Used the day to brainstorm ideas for a book I could write on modern UK politics. Surely that’d give me some clout as an authority in the analysis of British politics? I’m thinking, something that breaks down the clichéd and over-simplistic notions of nasty Tories and loony lefties; a deep investigation beyond the superficialities of the, media-heavy, issue-lite politics we consume every day.

Then again, I could just dig out the fifty best political gaffes ever and give it to Buzzfeed. It’ll take less time and goodness knows more people will read it.

29th December

Tried to go to the Star Wars movie but the ticket office said no costumes allowed here. I explained I’m not in costume, I’m a parrot. He said no parrots allowed here…

30th December

New title idea for my book – Birds in Britain: The Demonisation of the Avian Class.

champagne and fireworks

New Year’s Eve

Hosted a party with some of my political correspondent friends from the media. The night turned sour when a presenter from ITV News drank too much of the punch I’d made and clashed with the BBC over whether the license fee was fair. It wasn’t pretty. All became rather surreal when someone from Sky started looking for camera 3 to cut to Faisal for an update on a suspected party re-shuffle. I worked out later they were unhappy about my seating arrangement.

New Year’s Day

Feel terrible. Hungover, and had to do the post-party clean up. Paxo stayed over to help but ended up just watching the boxset of The Thick of It. He made us watch his guest appearance on repeat.

I’ve set myself one New Year’s resolution: don’t take another holiday for as long as possible – it’s more hassle than it’s worth.

Oh yes and one more, check in at Boisdale as often as possible to keep myself sane!

January, the flawed month of resolution: why do we still indulge this habit of failed self-correction?

list of goals

The New Year has long been treated as an opportune moment in the year for each of us to press an internal reset button: ‘out with the failures of last year,’ we proclaim, ‘in with the new and improved me’. January offers us a calendar-convenient juncture, if a somewhat arbitrary one, when we can do away with the mistakes of the past and forge for ourselves a fresh start.

However, the fact that we celebrate the New Year in January is of itself no reason to bind ourselves to the twin yokes of self-improvement and an implied sense of prior failure. The reality is that most of us know that while the intentions behind our newly-begun resolutions are good, they aren’t likely to last.

Indeed, why exactly should January be the month of self-correction – of miserable diets and costly (and invariably doomed) gym memberships? Why our annual obsession with placing a disproportionate emotional and physical burden on these first 31 days? If anything, making January a month of resolutions is simply an admission of prior procrastination: it’s the delayed enactment of a long-dreamed-of goal, one that you could have started last year/month/week, but which you didn’t have the self-will to do.

It’s worth looking a little beneath the surface here, for the reasons why we actually celebrate the New Year in January and why we make resolutions. The month gets its name from the Ancient Roman deity Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions. His name derives from the Latin for doorway and January therefore serves as a kind of gateway between the old year and the New Year. The Romans would celebrate this time by making promises of improved moral conduct.

Which immediately raises the question: how were they behaving the rest of the year? We don’t need to imagine too hard. Studies, surveys and anecdotal evidence have repeatedly shown that modern resolution-makers largely give up on their new goals before the mid-point of the year, and there’s no reason to suspect our ancestors were so much better than us. And therein lies the problem with an annual reset button: once you’ve pressed it once you tend to keep on pressing it, in the hope you’ll come good eventually. To give yourself a fighting chance read more here.

So what to do with these pesky New Year’s Resolutions? Perhaps, simply, when we try something new this year, we ought not to append the appellation “resolution” to it, a term that has been so undermined by New Year that it has come to mean it’s very opposite. Is what you’re undertaking worth it and, crucially, will you actually do it?

running shoes

Author G. K. Chesterton, the epigrammatic English author of the early twentieth-century, observed this of our inability to reform in his essay “A Defence of Rash Vows”: ‘A modern man refrains from swearing to count the leaves on every third tree in Holland Walk, not because it is silly to do so (he does many sillier things), but because he has a profound conviction that before he got to the three hundred and seventy-ninth leaf on the first tree he would be excessively tied of the subject and want to go home to tea.’ In other words, without the self-restraint, don’t make the resolution. Otherwise you might as well just go home to enjoy a cup of tea and some decadence.

Why not make your New Year resolution to visit us here at Boisdale and enjoy our wonderful atmosphere, fabulous dining and fine wines; the perfect way to start the New Year off with a flourish.

Five of the best Christmas traditions from around the world

Christmas market

We’re just round the corner from Christmas: crunch time. What with the frantic rush for last-minute presents, the massively overfilled shopping trolleys and the interminable Christmas music, it’s easy to get a little tired of it all before it’s even begun.

So if you’re feeling the need to spice things up, why not draw on some of these quirky Christmas traditions from around the world to spice up your holidays? Or, even better, see if there are any cheap seasonal breaks. Well, it never hurts to check…

1. Scotland: Christmas markets

Christmas Day was banned in Scotland for some 400 years, so in relative terms it’s still something of a novelty. It only recently became a public holiday, in 1958.

Perhaps because of this, Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve celebration, has traditionally been the most important winter celebration in Scotland. Nonetheless, Edinburgh has become famous for its now traditional Christmas markets, which are open from late November until Christmas Eve.

2. Austria: where devils come to play

Austria and Germany are home to one of the most bizarre, and terrifying, Christmas traditions: the Krampus. A devil-like horned creature, the Krampus is brought to life during the build-up to Christmas, when young men dress up in his likeness and parade through the streets of alpine towns in Austria and Bavaria. They have even been known to terrorise those who they suspect of misbehaving, threatening them with whips made of birch branches.

3. Brazil: the home of the 350 ton floating Christmas tree

While the 25th December is a national holiday, the 24th is the day when the celebrations really take place. People tuck into great food and share gifts, and it’s not unheard of to go to the beach (the weather can touch 100 degrees in December). It’s also common for fireworks to take place at this period, and there’s no better image than lights going off above the striking image of Rio’s 350 ton floating Christmas tree – the largest of its kind in the world.

4. Estonia: saunas in the cold

As with so many special occasions in Estonia, it’s only special if there’s a sauna involved. After doing the prep for the Christmas Eve celebrations, it’s traditional to head off for a sauna and a steam.

devil and steam

5. Iceland: the land of 13 trolls

The Icelandic equivalent of Santa Claus is a group of 13 trolls; collectively know as the Yule Lads (or jólasveinarnir, in Icelandic). According to the country’s folklore, these figures descend from mountain-dwelling trolls and roam through the hills to terrify children who had not been good that year. Literally translated, their names read like the character list from a Disney movie gone wrong: “Bowl-licker”, “Doorway-sniffer”, “Stubby” and “Sausage swiper” are a selection.

If you’re looking for a great evening out to really start your Christmas celebrations off with a bang, then why not join us here at Boisdale where our fabulous Christmas menus are sure to delight!

Scottish writers through history on how to cope with the winter cold

round tower

We’re firmly in that part of the year when the nights come quick and the winter cold tightens its grip over the British Isles.

While for Londoners the climate rarely gets much worse than a brisk wind and a persistent drizzle, elsewhere, and in Scotland in particular, the seasonal change is far harsher. With expectations set for the coldest Scottish winter in 50 years, what solace is there to take from this cruel time of year?

Scotland’s most famous son, poet Robert Burns, wrote the poem “Winter: A Dirge” in 1781. In the weather of the “stormy north” he saw a tonic for his own soul; the inclemency of the climate harmonised with the turbulence of his own emotions. “The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul /My griefs it seem to join”.

For Robert Louis Stevenson, the Edinburgh-born writer famous for Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, winter brought comfort in those small pockets of fireside warmth that managed to fend off the harsh weather:

When all the snowy hill

And the bare woods are still;

When snipes are silent in the frozen bogs,

And all the garden garth is whelmed in mire,

Lo, by the hearth, the laughter of the logs –

More fair than roses, lo, the flowers of fire!

More recently, author Robert Macfarlane, in his fascinating recent book Landmarks, records the language we use to describe the cold. He digs up some of the more obscure words people have used to describe winter: in Shetland, a bitter cold is atteri, Gurl is a howl of the winds in Scots, while to pinnish is to shrink from the effect of the cold.

However, the challenges of winter are not only those of severe weather, but also of deprivation and scarcity. Samuel Johnson, on his tour of Scotland in 1773 with infamous Scottish diarist and biographer James Boswell, observed that “the winter of the Hebrides consists of little more than rain and wind”, hardly the description of an exceedingly cruel climate. Despite this, he perceived that “the dark months are here a time of great distress…winter comes with its cold and its scarcity upon families very slenderly provided.”

Of course, the year’s transition into winter inevitably leads people to think of the passing of time and the fading of lives. The inaugural Glasgow Poet Laureate Edwin Morgan wrote in his poem “Winter” of how “the voices fade” as the world around decays. However, even in the icy white, when all around has lost its colour, he sees hope in poetry: “Even / dearest blue’s not there, though poets would find it”.

church

For all that winter is cold, dark and wet, it is somehow essential to our character, to our place as a small island hanging off the western edge of Europe and the northern tilt of the Atlantic. Poet and renowned drinker Norman MacCaig, imagined the cold of winter as something we cannot help but partake of. In his poem “November Night, Edinburgh”, the bitter cold surrounds us and we have no choice but to take it in. As he braces himself, like one might before knocking back a warming glass of whisky, “the night tinkles like ice in glasses. I gulp down winter raw.”

Need to get out of the cold? Then join us at Boisdale and experience our lovely warm ambience, gorgeous food and fine wines. A sure recipe to banish those winter blues!

A list of the most inspiring bagpipe records ever

bagpipes on tartan cloth

Last week, a musical record that was truly out of this world was set when bagpipes were played in outer space for the first time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF3KcZrLfPc

US astronaut Kjell Lindgren played Amazing Grace in honour of his colleague Victor Hurst, who died recently. The moving performance took place an incredible 250 miles above Earth.

The bagpipes have long been a source of inspiration, and here we celebrate their long history with five inspiring bagpipe records.

The longest bagpipe performance lasted 24 hours – with over 1,200 tunes played

Rikki Evans, a police controller from Aberdeen, managed to break the world record for longest continuous bagpipe performance. He was allowed to take five-minute breaks every hour during the course of the event, which was organised to raise money for charity.

The largest bagpipe ensemble was in Bulgaria

Bizarrely, the biggest bagpipe ensemble – of 333 players – took place in Bulgaria, three years ago. A troupe of folk musicians performed in central Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, to set the record at an event created to bring some happiness to the country, shortly after the Earth Institute’s World Happiness Report found its people to be among the ten least satisfied in the world. They even had Ravi Shankar come along to help inspire them.

The oldest known bagpipes come from the Middle East

We may think of bagpipes primarily as a traditional Scottish instrument, but they most likely actually originate from the Middle East. The Oxford History of Music notes that a sculpture of bagpipes was discovered on a Hittite slab at Euyuk (modern Turkey) in the Middle East, which was dated at 1000 BC.

The owner of the most bagpipes has 105 – worth £130,000

Danny Fleming holds the Guinness World Record as the man who owns the most sets of bagpipes, with an astonishing 105 in his home. The total value of the instruments comes to a whopping £130,000.

Fleming is a former Scots Guard who came from Arbroath, Scotland originally. He first picked up the pipes when he was ten years old. Unfortunately, his wife Jane and son Logan aren’t particularly fond of his choice of instrument, although on the bright side it has been reported that he has ‘understanding neighbours’.

man playing bagpipes

Strathclyde Police Pipe Band are the most successful pipe band at the World Pipe Band Championships

The Strathclyde Police Pipe Band – now the Greater Glasgow Police Scotland Pipe Band – notched up their first win in the World Pipe Band Championships in 1920 and have collected a further 19 in the years since, the most recent in 1991. The group is made up of serving and retired police officers.

Boisdale, fine wine, fabulous food and great live entertainment! Join us.

When sport goes wrong: Parker investigates seven of the worst political sporting photo-ops

Boris + Parker

In the past couple of weeks, the esteemed Boris Johnson, London Mayor and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, has made two excellent contributions to the long and noble tradition of political sporting gaffes. First, he knocked a school boy to the ground when he got carried away in a friendly game of rugby; then he took a fall in a contest of tug of war.

So, after taking a well-earned break in the rafters at Boisdale, I fluffed up my feathers and went on a mission to track down a selection of our country’s politicians who’ve been caught off guard with the camera’s following their sporting aspirations.

1. Cameron the surfer dude

There have been a few shots of Dave surfing now. Perhaps unfairly, he’s been lampooned in the press for this. Surely there’s nothing wrong with the PM donning a wetsuit and staggering, Bond-like, out of the cold Atlantic waters, surfboard underarm. Although, it’s not just the pictures that made these shots so memorable; it was also the reports that there was some leaky sewage nearby too. Ew.

2. Corbyn cycling

Again, harmless in itself, but wearing that tracksuit is simply giving the media ammunition for snarky articles.

3. Boris Johnson: rugby, football, zip-wires…anything, really

How long have you got? Yes, before his most recent scrapes, BoJo has been guilty of other sporting mishaps. Lots of them. He got stranded on a zip-wire celebrating a gold at the Olympics, he got caught kicking out a schoolboy in a friendly football game, and he simply got carried away playing against Germany in a charity football match.

4. Ed drops his Balls

A fiercely combative, and competitive, figure, Balls was not someone who the media found easy to love. In the annual party conference football match between Labour and political journalists, however, he got some revenge. Mid-way through the match Mr Balls let an accidental elbow (I’m sure it was accidental) find its way on to the upper brow of the unfortunate Mr Merrick, reporter for the Northern Echo. Football and politics are not games for wimps.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRV64oJgdL8

5. Alex Salmond gets hit in the face by a ball

When the former leader of the SNP thought he’d try his hand at football, his PRs must have thought they were on to a winner. However, it quickly turned from photo-op into disaster, when a football planted itself on the face of the the unfortunate Mr Salmond, making him look like, in political speak, a complete plonker.

6. John Prescott, socialist socialite

Like so many of these shots, it seems rather unjust that a politician having a harmless bit of fun with sport can turn into a media frenzy. However, that’s just what happened when the former Deputy Prime Minister, and one of the few remaining class-warriors of New Labour, was snapped playing a game of croquet during office hours.

7. Clegg’s golden duck

The Lib Dem’s former leader set out to do a good deed, raising awareness of mental health in sport while playing some cricket. Let’s have some sympathy for the man, for goodness sake! Nonetheless, when the pictures circulated of Nick in an England tracksuit, it was ready-made Twitter bait.