Not Saussure

January 25, 2007

Burns night

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 6:57 pm

Colin Campbell, in Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, reminds us that January 25th is Burns Day and provides, among many other pieces of useful information, a recipe in Scots for haggis (a wechtie pudden traditionally served wi chappit neeps an tatties.)

Back in the early 1990s, when communism was busy falling to bits in the old USSR, I spent a lot of time up in Leningrad/St Petersburg, where life went a lot more smoothly for me and my clients if I kept in the the local Dom Druzhbia, ‘House of Friendship’, which was the official body that tried to keep an eye on foreigners who were doing business up there. I used to do my bit for Anglo-Soviet relations (and a quiet life) by popping in for coffee with the Deputy Director every time I went over, taking her her out for lunch and using her trainee Intourist interpreters whenever I was doing anything I didn’t mind getting back to the authorities. In return, since they’d established I was harmless enough, they stayed out of my hair.

Anyway, one of the main parts of the House of Friendship’s work was entertaining visiting Soviet Friendship Societies, and for some reason the Leningrad branch had particularly fraternal relations with the Scottish-Soviet Friendship Society, who were always taking over parties to see them.

One year, I got an anguished phone call in London from the Deputy Director; she knew I was coming out shortly (presumably she checked the visa lists as part of her job) and could I do her a favour?

Slighly dubious, I replied I would if could, but it would rather depend. No, she said, nothing to worry about; they badly needed a haggis.

What on earth do you need a haggis for?

Turned out that they were entertaining a delegation of Soviet-friendly Scots who were over there for Burns Night and with whom they were planning to hold a Burns Supper. The Scots, obviously, were providing the haggis.

Unfortunately, the Scots organiser, being the sort of chap who’d hate to offend his Communist hosts in any way, had thought to check with the Soviet Consulate to see if they had any regulations on the import of prepared meat dishes — understandable, I suppose; the USA have all manner of similar regulations, so the Soviets might be expected to have them, too.

Well, of course they had regulations — they were Communists, after all, so they dozens of them. Unfortunately, apparently no one had thought to draft a regulation concerning the importation of haggis to the Soviet Union, or at least not one of which the London Consulate were aware, with result the whole matter had been referred back to Moscow. This, of course, took forever, with the result that the Scots had had to leave for Russia without any haggises, while someone in the Foreign Ministry there presumably tried to work out what on earth a haggis was for.

Consequently, as the Deputy Director explained through my howls of laughter, she would take it as a personal favour if I could would bring her a brace or so haggis, because otherwise the Burns Supper would be a bit like Hamlet without the Prince. Because, of course, had the idiots thought to ask her — or any Brit who went over regularly — they’d have known that the Soviet Customs were, by that stage, really not likely to be bothered about the illicit import of capitalist haggises (and, if they were, $10 would fix that easily enough).

Anyway, that was my contribution to Scots-Soviet friendship and understanding.



  1. I’ve been to the House of Friendship, would you believe – just on the Fontanka river, as I recall?

    Actually, they have a little Scottish library nowadays, to which I contributed a small volume of Walter Scott or somesuch on my [work-related] visit almost exactly four years ago. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such cold.

    I also spent a rather manic few days showing a return delegation round Edinburgh a few months later. Hospitable people, even though the Russian bureaucracy, as you say, is enough to drive you mad.

    Comment by Mr Eugenides — January 25, 2007 @ 11:46 pm

  2. Cold outdoors, that is. The House of Friendship itself was perfectly warm. Oh, you know what I mean.

    Comment by Mr Eugenides — January 25, 2007 @ 11:47 pm

  3. That’s the chap, Mr E, though I think, strictly speaking, Fontanka is a canal. As they doubtless told you, the building used to be the home of Prince Yusupov, the chap who killed Rasputin.

    Was my chum Margarita Mudrak still running the show? It was she who got me into the haggis smuggling racket.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 26, 2007 @ 7:57 am

  4. It was! Small world.

    Comment by Mr Eugenides — January 26, 2007 @ 9:02 am

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