Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Idiot (by Jack Ramsay)

I’m Jack Ramsay, and I’m a gullible idiot.

There. I thought I’d best start with honesty. I’m also a husband, a writer of the most frustrated kind, a pen-pal to Maine’s very own magnificent Karen Bessey Pease , and an immigrant to Australia. But, back to the idiot thing, if you’ll indulge me.

An idiot, if dictionaries are to be believed, is a layman; a stupid person. But some definitions go further and describe me – sorry, ‘idiots’ – as having an intelligence quotient of less than twenty-five. Okay, so I might have an IQ slightly higher than that, but having the combined brainpower of six idiots, in my book at least, still makes me a lot of idiots. The word ‘gullible,’ of course, isn’t in any dictionary. Check it out if you don't believe me...

Such claims are all very well, in a ‘Saturday night after a few beers with the boys’ kind of way, but I have irrefutable evidence stretching over many years to corroborate my assertion. The examples are many, and the good Lord knows they’re varied in the extreme, but let me take you back to the day I first realised just what it takes to secure the title ‘idiot of all he surveys.’

I grew up in Scotland, on a farm that nestles in the foothills of the Ochil Mountains near Perth, gateway to the Highlands. Okay, truth time again, they’re Hills. But if you stand at the bottom and look up, knowing you have to get to the top, they’re pretty daunting in a grassy, rounded, picnic-on-a-Sunday kind of way.

After school I’d hang around the smoky little bothy where my dad and a few of the farm men retreated to fix their machinery when it broke, as it often (rather conveniently) did in winter when it’s too cold and rainy and mucky to be outside.

One afternoon at the end of March I was sitting on my favourite five gallon drum, ignoring the wrestling rats in the corner and trying my hardest to emulate my peers – drinking overly sweet tea that had been stewing on the fire since breakfast, laughing at the right times and nodding at the wisdom spouting forth from such admirable fellows – when something Grieg the Grieve said made my ears prick up. The ‘Grieve’ is the foreman, incidentally.

He was planning a haggis hunt. The very next day!

Sure, I’d eaten haggis before, many times – I’m a Scot, and there isn’t a Scot alive who doesn’t incessantly crave the succulently meaty flesh and sweet wood fired flavour of the most cunning prey on the moors – but I’d never been on a hunt. Platefuls of haggis had always magically appeared from my mother’s kitchen, surrounded by the ubiquitous guard of honour of mashed tatties and chappit neeps (also known as ‘mashed turnips’ in the English-speaking world.)

When I questioned the origins of our national dish the shepherds and drovers laughed at me, then I sat listening in awe as they told of the last great Perthshire haggii hunt (‘haggii’ is the plural of haggis, just for reference – say hag-eye) which had claimed the lives of four novice hunters in a netting gone wrong. The more they divulged of that fateful morning some ten years before, the more I found myself compelled to claim my right to hunt the haggii. I saw my chance to prove myself.

I, Jack Ramsay, would become the youngest haggii hunt champion in living memory!

And so, after one or two well-placed hints from me, the anvil played host to a whispering confab, and when the huddle broke up I was invited along to what promised to be something extra-ordinary: we were to stalk the (apparently) infamous snorkel-nosed pond-dredging mountain haggii – a very dangerous species, but the tastiest of them all. Barely able to contain myself, I leaned closer as Grieg the Grieve outlined in hushed tones the equipment we would need, and his plan of attack.

We were to leave for the ponds by sun up. My dad agreed to call the school and inform them of my absence – it wasn’t every day that a boy became a man, so a day out of class was acceptable, even laudable.

Next morning I rose before dawn, taking care to follow Grieg the Grieve’s instructions to the letter. After all, what idiot would squander his chance at infamy by failing to rendezvous at the meeting place or bring the essential tools of the haggii hunt or wear every last item of protective clothing necessary to tackle an amphibious horde of such devious beasts?

Not I! I’m Jack Ramsay!

In the next room I heard my father preparing himself for the hunt, talking in whispers with my mother and enjoying his first joke of the day – he was always such a considerate, jovial man – but my tasks were pressing and I had no time to share in that particular hilarity. I made a few final checks, zipped myself up and struggled the half-mile to the school bus stop, where I was to be collected by Grieg the Grieve in his Land Rover. Then to the hills, where we’d meet my father.

So it was that I found myself waiting impatiently by the side of the road in the farm manager’s holey old wetsuit, his lead weights around my waist and his snorkel by my ear, ready to dredge every pond in Perthshire in search of my quarry. So it was that my knees came to buckle under my burden of fishing nets, wooden stakes, sledgehammers and oxygen tanks, a combination which, even on that cold April morning, brought sweat to my brow and a desert to my throat.

And so it was that, as the school bus rounded the corner and headed towards me, its occupants’ mouths agape, their fingers pointing, I realised without a shadow of a doubt – I’m a gullible idiot.

But, like I said, the word 'gullible' isn't in any dictionary...

NB: No haggii were harmed in the telling of this story.

First published in The Irregular newspaper, Kingfield, Maine, USA – June 2009


  1. Ah, Jack! Reading of your idiocy brought a smile to my face. As it always does.


    I remember when this was published in the Irregular... everyone I spoke to that day wanted to know who this Jack Ramsay--this Scotsman from Australia--was! What could I tell them but 'excellent writer, patient advisor, faithful friend'?

    But yeah.. you're still an idiot.


  2. Oh, and you usually get even, too...

    I'm still waiting to try haggis. I was sure if I memorized Burns' Address to a Haggis, that would qualify me for a taste. What's a girl gotta do? Go to Scotland?


  3. Oh, I'll get even, sister... :)

    As soon as I replenish my stocks, I'll send you some frozen haggis. It'll survive the journey from Brisbane to Maine quite well - it'll still taste the same, I mean...

    But, did you know (shhh...the Scots don't like this to get out) that Maine and Scotland were once joined. Yeah, Scotland and America were at one time part of the same land mass. And you can bet there are haggii roaming around the hills of Highland Plantation, just waiting to feast on any unsuspecting 'Big Wind' executives who happen to wander by.

    So, organise your own hunt. It's done in 3 feet of snow and 100mph winds :)

    And there's nothing to beat a freshly stewed haggis. But get to it: Burns' night is on 25 January and haggis is at its best when accompanied by po-yet-ray and wee sleekit coorin timrous beasties.

    Enjoy! :)

  4. Okey doke. I'm a little slow in responding, here. I've been trying to write po-yet-ray and finding words that rhyme with sleekit, coorin and timrous is a challenge for we speakers of proper English...

    But Ah'm-ah workin' on it, and will be sure to share it with you when it's polished to Burns' standards.

    (You know what's sad? It's mid-way into January and we don't HAVE three feet of snow yet. I really, REALLY don't want to do 'the dance'... it was -20C this morning! Yikes.)

  5. Okay...I'm working on the Maine version of Address To A Haggis. It's sure to be a classic of the same caliber as Burns'. But Jack... what is 'coorin'? I've checked Webster's, American Heritage, and Maine Lingo dictionaries and I can't find it anywhere.

    Speekee dee Eengleesh!

    Since I have never had the honor of trying haggis for myself, I have had to do extensive research on the delicacy in order to be able to write about it. (As you know very well, research is vital when writing believable prose and cons!) I've located my very own American, who tried haggis in St. Andrews, and he is recording his experiences for me at this very moment. I'm getting the impression that he is NOT going to tell me it tastes like chicken.

    What is 'coorin'?


  6. Well, Pal, here you are. A wee poem from your Maine gal, in honor of your first column in The Irregular, and in celebration of the Scots poet, Robbie Burns, whose 'night' is January 25th. I hope you like it. Do you think it will go down in history as an equal to 'Address To A Haggis'?

    'Address Of A Haggis (252 Spruce Pond Road, Territory 2, Range 1, Maine, USA)'

    A Scotsman told this girl from Maine
    That haggii roamed our hills and plains,
    Our Highlands split, the clansman claimed
    In times long past.
    And when they rent t’was left behind
    A dredger fast.

    This Highlander had honest face.
    Alas, in Maine there is no space
    For haggii to take o’er the place.
    Not at The FARM!
    Their snorkele-nose does cause disgrace—
    (T’is long’s my arm!)

    Now Scotsmen on their wee small isle
    Believe the haggii can beguile
    Large men who find the kilt in style
    (Like Scotsmen do)
    And then, a peek makes this girl smile,
    (Yup, they’ve got two!)

    These clansmen cinch their armor up
    To hunt the haggii for their sup
    (I think that they should wear a cup
    While on the quest.
    For haggii, fierce, will always lunge
    At groin or chest!)

    These hairy Scots are not afraid
    They capture dredgers when they raid
    The pond. Through thigh-high water wade
    To snare the beast.
    With nets and ropes, they make the grade
    And have their feast.

    While over ‘cross the Pond, in Maine
    This native girl has made it plain
    She’d rather all the ponds to drain,
    She learned a lesson.
    From on the shore she takes her aim…
    Fires Smith and Wesson.

    Not only does she have her prize,
    The bullets, they did tenderize
    The haggii, which are bigger size
    Than Scotsman’s beast.
    (Of course they are! We feed them well
    Herein, Down East!)

    Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
    Remember Scots, and how they fare,
    Those kilted men still use the snare
    But it’s not fun.
    Wee sleekit coorin timorous beasties
    Die best by gun!

    by Kazza for MyPalJack

  7. "his lead weights around my waist and his snorkel by my ear, ready to dredge every pond in Perthshire in search of my quarry"

    I thought to meself: Just the outfit to travel here in a pirogue pursuit of the Honey Island Swamp Creature.

    Or c o u l d this be from the mouth of an 'unreliable narrator' who watches rats wrestling?
    Well braggies, haggii, or haggert, I just wish I'd been on that bus, Jack. And that's a fact.

  8. "Not for the fainthearted, authentic Scottish haggis is made with various parts of the sheep."

    How is it that such a culinary artist as myself has never before heard of this item and now Jack Ramsay and YAHOO have it broadcast all over?

    “Haggis here doesn’t taste quite the same as it does back home,” says Laura Kral, one of the owners of the W. 46th St. restaurant. “We make our haggis with ground sheep’s heart and liver, mixed with Scottish oatmeal and black pepper. But it is missing something.”
    For 21 years, the estimated 6 million Americans of Scottish descent have had to celebrate Burns’ night without an authentic haggis, according to The Guardian"
    So who is behind this? It's quite the thing now, on Yahoo page.

    It's a veritable Haggis Revival! What the hag is going on?!!!