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Issue 29 - I have the haggis to prove it

Scotland Magazine Issue 29
October 2006


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I have the haggis to prove it

Sally Toms introduces herself as the new Editor of Scotland Magazine

Scotland is a place that easily captures the imagination of children. And like so many people, my love for the country began on childhood holidays.

On one such holiday I was bought a little toy ‘haggis’ by my parents. It bore no resemblance to an actual haggis (meat products do not make very attractive toys for little girls); this haggis was a stuffed animal that looked a bit like a large round guinea pig. It was covered in grey fur with little orange plastic eyes and it came with a book about his haggis adventures.

From then on I firmly believed that these creatures were real and that packs of these shy, shortlegged animals roamed freely throughout the Highlands.

Nowadays I’m reminded of my haggis delusion every time I buy one vacuum packed from Macsween’s, but it was a nice idea while it lasted.

I’m revealing this embarrassing little anecdote not to demonstrate how gullible I really was at that age, but rather to make the point that because there were so many other things in Scotland that were completely alien to me, it simply never struck me as odd.

In fact it seemed perfectly plausible that an animal called a haggis could exist when Scotland had so many other cultural oddities (or so it seemed to me at the time): bagpipes; tartan; fierce looking cows; the Loch Ness monster; men in kilts strong enough to toss a tree trunk up in the air, etc.

I listened wide-eyed to dramatic tales of murder and revenge, clans, battles and exiled monarchs, of remote island communities where people survived by eating puffins and seaweed. Where the weather can be so ferocious that trees grow across instead of up and people have to weigh down the roofs of their houses with stones.

I should imagine that the reality is not particularly glamorous if your roof gets blown off every winter, but to a kid – this was real excitement and I was hooked. It seemed so far removed from my little home way in the south of England and the culture I knew.

These stories continue to fascinate me as an adult, but now of course I am forced to realise they are just a tartan-tinted version of the truth – fantasies sold in gift shops along the Royal Mile.

Working for this magazine for the last few years I’ve learnt to appreciate a different side of Scotland. One with lush hotels, trendy city bars, beautiful architecture and gardens, literature, history, fine whisky, food, shopping and music. And the more I learn, the more I love.

Few other places these days have a national identity as strong as the Scots. Its people are so proud to belong to their country, and people in other countries want to belong to it too! In the United States there are more than 11 million people who claim Scottish descent – that’s twice the amount of people who actually live in Scotland.

I am pleased as punch to have become Editor of this magazine. I don’t wish to be overly sentimental, but penning your first editorial is an important thing, especially when you’re under the scrutiny of an audience who are so passionate about the subject. I felt I should at least try to show that Scotland means as much to me as it does to the readers of this magazine.

And I still have the haggis to prove it.