Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Crackers at Christmas

December 30th, 2006

NAMES MUST be withheld to protect the guilty, but the forgotten turkey stuffing was uppermost in everybody's mind. Could Christmas dinner survive the omission of such an essential ingredient? Would it be just a grim pantomime of the joyous events being celebrated the length and breadth of the country?

But help was at hand. The sweet chestnuts which I had thought would come to nothing (Courier 21/10/2006), had ripened up to eating size and I'd collected several pounds. I toasted some at the sitting-room fire and knew that they were tasty. In true seasonal spirit I offered this feast of nature to the stressed cooks.

I wasn't ready for the barrage of ungrateful comments which greeted my thoughtful gesture. It was made painfully clear that if I expected someone to boil and peel all those nuts in the time available, that someone was me! In the meantime the monstrous regiment of domestic divas would soon throw together an alternative. It's hard to find yourself so summarily outvoted at such a festive time.

But I jest. With the Doyenne at the helm, of course Christmas dinner met all our expectations. The cracker jokes were just as awful as we knew they would be. And cracker hats are always  one size fits all', which produces some odd sartorial encounters.

Our meal finished with Christmas pudding with a difference – it was a “last year's” pudding which was so alcohol-enriched it had survived the twelvemonth, growing darker and darker with the passage of the seasons. Boiled for another four hours, it was the colour of black pudding by the time it was brought to the table. Smothered in cream and rum butter, it was so rich  it effortlessly kicked cholesterol well into the second division.

For sixty years the Whitson Christmas trees have been installed in the same brown barrel. It's an apple barrel which my mother got, at the end of the Second World War, from Mr Hay the manager of Coopers, the grocers (long gone now) in Montrose High Street. Apples, like most things at that time, were in short supply and, so far as I recollect, these apples came from Canada.

It's a bit the worse for wear now, and perhaps I need a cooper to restore it to its former glory. At my family's bidding I've nearly thrown it on a bonfire on several occasions. But something has always stayed my hand. Now it's part of our family's  living history', and a story to pass on and share with the grandchildren.

Thank goodness for Macbeth and Inka – they need their regular walks, however overindulged we may be feeling. Without that daily discipline I could become a couch potato. “Dogs are our link to paradise”, someone wrote. Looking at our two, it's hard to believe, but their company certainly entertains us and has enriched the past year.

  

I’m posting this week’s article on Hogmanay, an important date for all Scots worldwide   We hope you had a happy, family time at Christmas and, as  2006 draws to a close,  wish you a successful year to come, and that 2007 brings you all that you want for yourself and those close to you.