IF the food at hame wis halesome but plain farin, ma mither came intae her ain when it cam tae the muckle faimily celebrations o birthdays, Hogmanay an Neuerday. I dinnae include Christmas in that because durin the 1950s, Christmas Day wis still a workin day for maist adults. Sae the sense o occasion tended tae be confined tae the weans – tho maybe in faimilies wi a strang Christian tradeition, there wis a special dinner cooked on Christmas Day. No in oors.

That didnae detract fae ocht tae dae wi ­Christmas as a wean, an I can still mind braw Christmas Days hanseled in wi a Native American wigwam biggit on the leivin room flair and the rich reid cotton o a ­Manchester United fitba strip when I idolised the Scottish striker Denis Law! Fitba books like The ­Topical Times Football Annual were there as weel, and aw the weans got their ain Cadbury or ­Rowntree’s Selection Box thrang wi aw kinna ­chocolate ­confections. Nae wean wis bothered aboot no gettin Christmas dinner when they had a fou ­collection box tae heck through ower the festive ­season.

The birthday treat wis the clootie dumplin, a ­muckle puddin wrocht wi self-raisin flouer, ­sultanas, broon sugar, gowden syrup, suet, allspice an ­cinnamon, eggs, and butter that wis melled thegither in a bowl, syne scraped intae a muckle cloot. Eikit tae the mix wis a puckle favours for the weans tae find inside the dumplin when they et it later on.

In oor hoose, the favours were aye wee siller threepennie bits that were rowed in greaseproof paper an derned in the dumplin mix. It wis aye magical tae find ane in the dumplin on yer plate – especially if you were the birthday boay! The fower ends o the cloot wis drawn thegither an tied tichtly wi string, then the haill lot wis placed inside a big pot wi space eneuch tae immerse in watter awthin but the tied tap o the clout. The dumplin then simmered awa for whit seemed like oors on the tap o the cooker. On the day o the dumplin, that wis the denner, nocht else, sae ye were stervin by the time five o’clock came.

The ither ritual enjoyed by me an ma sisters wis the scrapin o the skin o the dumplin left on the cloot efter ma mither turned it oot on a muckle plate. By some fey alchemy, the skin on the cloot wis even tastier than the skin on the bit o the dumplin ye hecked! Some fowk added custard tae their dumplin, but wi us it wis jist creamy Ayrshire milk that wis eikit, sae that we cuid enjoy the warm, reekin, an richly ­unctuous experience o eatin the sonsie ­dumplin aw its lane. Neebours, I’m droolin at ma desk the noo, jist thinkin aboot it! That ither boay fae Kyle cried Burns got it aw wrang when he cried a ­haggis the “great chieftain o the puddin race”. Withoot ony shadae o a doot, Rabbie, the Dumplin in a Cloot is the Great Chieftain o the Puddin Race.

The National: Auld

New Year wis the maist important celebration, an the wark ma mither puit intae makin it somethin ­special for her faimily wis legendary. In the days afore Hogmanay, she wad be thrang in the kitchen makin sweet-smellin butter shortbreid an the ­densest ­fruitiest Daurk Bun that onybody ever tasted. I hae heard ­ithers cry it Black Bun, but mum cawed it Daurk Bun, an its daurk, tangy fruity taste bides in ma memory bank for aye.

The day o Hogmanay, she wis a dervish o acteivity, makin the hoose spotless tae prepare for the comin New Year, and cookin a big pat o mushy peas wi a ham bane added tae gie it mair flavour. A bowl o hot mushy peas sprinkled wi maut vinegar wis offered tae the revellers that came tae the hoose, as sustenance tae keep thaim gaun tae the wee sma oors o New Year’s mornin.

Ma mither wis supersteitious – fae the Fife side o the faimily mair than the ­Ayrshire side, I wad jalouse – sae the Furst Fuit that entered the hoose wis gey ­important tae her. Simply put, he had tae be tall an daurk an preferably ­handsome and guid-luikin!

Noo monie o ma faither’s Kay brithers an nephews were daurk-haired an daicent-luikin an jist tall eneuch tae pass muster in the Furst Fuit category laid doon by ma mum! Houaniver, if she felt there wis ony danger that the Furst Fuit cuid be a fair-heidit chiel that cuid bring nocht but bad luck for a year, then she wis forced tae tak maitters intae her ain haunds, an send a daurk-haired boay oot the hoose tae wait tae he heard the bells chime on the toun knock, afore chappin at oor door wi his Neuerday Bottle in his haund.

Ma guidbrither Jim fae Derval ­frequently got the role, whauras ma ither guidbrither Rab fae Hurlford never got the shout, because he wis fair-heidit an that wad hae brocht a curse doon upon oor hoose an aw that dwalt in it!

I got the role mysel a nummer o times later on, an I hae gien the ­responsibeility on tae ma ain son and guidsons as, ­fortunately, they’re aw tall, daurk an handsome.

MA mither an faither lued haein ­faimily an friens roon aboot thaim on Hogmanay, sae the hoose wis usually thrang till the wee sma oors. Although there wis dancin tae whitever music wis popular at the time, fae The Beatles tae the Four Tops, it wis still a time when ye were expectit tae “dae a turn” yersel. Daein a turn meant singin a sang or recitin a poem.

Wi sae monie fowk in the room bein born in Kyle in the hert o the Burns ­Kintrae, it wisnae surprisin that Burns featured prominently in the repertoire o the sangsters praisent, an luve sangs like A Red, Rid Rose, The Lea-Rig and Of A’ The Airts The Wind Can Blaw are minded still by thaim that were blissit tae be there tae hear thaim.

The National: Auld

Awbody sang oor New Year anthem A Guid New Year Tae Yin An’ A’ as weel. Fowk gied each ither drams fae their ­Neuerday bottle, an the langer the nicht gaed on, the mair likely the Scots sangs cam tae the fore tae haud awbody in thrall. The haill faimily minds on thae great nichts in Gawston.

On New Year’s mornin, we were aw wabbit fae the nicht afore, but ane o the tradeitions we got up for wis tae hear the Burgh Baund aka the Brass Baund an Galston Silver Band (tae gie it the posh name that naebody yaised) dae the rouns o the auld burgh playin A Guid New Year and A Man’s A Man For A’ That, ­Rowan Tree and ither tradeitional Scots airs that steired the hert. Tae dae that efter a nicht’s carousin wis heroic in ma een, an the wee man cried Hughie that battered the muckle drum tae lead thaim through the street wis the superhero.

There were heroes bidin in oor hoose tae, for baith ma big sister Mary (French horn) and ma dad (euphonium) played in the Baund at ae time, sae baith were up wi the laverocks tae handsel in the New Year on a nummer o occasions in thae happy years I steyed in Gawston.

The main fairin on New Year’s Day wis the steak pie that ye ordered fae the store butcher. It luikit magnificent and tastit braw wi mushy peas wi a tait vinegar, an buttered champit tatties. The crust on the pie wis gowden an crisp on the ootside, but wi fleshy an succulent skin on the ­inside … the diced steak in its rich gravy wis deleicious an fowk jist lued the haill mixture.

I’m gey shuir maist airts in the kintrae had the same tradeition, tho maybe the mushy peas wis mair popular in the auld minin pairts o Scotland. I ken that Fife minin faimilies that gaed tae wark in coalfields in England like Yorkshire an Derbyshire in the 1950s an 60s still got their steak pies sent sooth fae the ­butcher in Kelty for a guid nummer o years. I hope they’re still daein it!

A wee bit aboot drinkin tae bring this chapter on heckin tae an end. When I gaed tae the uni in Embro fae 1969 tae 1974, I stertit tae get intae wine, an wis drawn especially tae the reid wine o ­Bordeaux cawed claret that at ae time had linked Scotland an France sae ­strangly that it wis kirstened the “bluidstream o the auld alliance”.

Me an ma Hielan fier Cailean ­Maclean eventually scrievit a haill quair on the ­subjeck yaisin a quote fae Burns for the title, Knee Deep in Claret. Weel, I ­introduced claret tae accompany the steak pie for the Neuerday denner in Gawston, syne for ilka Neuerday denner I hae organised sinsyne. It is a wunnerfou combination an I can thoroughly recommend it as a mairriage wrocht in heiven.

Through a Scottish lad that run the wark o the business in London for the UK, I aince did some scrievin wark for ane o the maist famous clarets in the warld, Château Mouton Rothschild in Pauillac. It wis afore ma weans were born, an afore the financial responsibeility o luikin efter thaim … sae I got thaim tae pey me, no in siller, but in wine!

Ane o the bottles wis Château ­Mouton Rothschild 1982, ane o the ­greatest ­Bordeaux vintages o the 20th ­century. I hained it for a special occasion – the Neuerday denner that handseled in the 21st century on Januar 1, in the year 2000. It gaed awfie weel wi the steak pie! Sae weel that ane o ma dochters, Catriona, later got intae the fine wine business professionally. Efter priein that vintage Mouton, ye ken how brawly fine, guid reid wine can taste. Haein said aw that, gin I had kept the bottle insteid o drinkin it, I cuid hae selt it the day for ower £1200!

Every bit as valuable ilka new year wis the Neuerday bottle. For men back then it wis aye a bottle o whisky. Gey few warkin men cuid afford tae hae a bottle o whisky in the hoose at this time, sae tae hae yer ain bottle ower the New Year celebration added tae the glamour o the occasion. When ye gaed Furst Fuitin, ye cairried yer bottle wi ye, an the tradeition wis that ye got a dram fae the host an you in turn gied him or her a dram oot yer bottle. When I got intae maut whisky in ma twinties, again as a student in Embro, I aye walit ma Neuerday bottle, takin tent tae choose ane that I thocht wad bring guid cheer for the rest o the year. I lue the peat tang o the Islay drams sae I can mind braw bottles o Lagavulin an Laphroaig; classic mauts fae the kenspeckle Speyside distilleries o the Macallan an Glenlivet; a licht, perfumed and fruity lawland dram fae Rosebank, as weel as the great ­Campbelltoon maut wi its speirit o prood independence, Springbank.

I still wale ma Neuerday bottle wi thocht an care in the hope o getting it richt for the year tae come, and I am mair than gled that I can afford tae buy aw thir guid mauts. It wisnae ayeways sae, an back when I stairtit feelin that I shuid hae ma ain bottle for gaun Furst Fuitin – roun aboot 17 or 18 years auld, I wad jalouse – aw I cuid afford wis the chaipest alcoholic drinks available.

Ae year, the ane I fund that fulfilled aw ma late teenage criteria – aff dry or sweet, chaip and alcoholic – wis a French vermouth cried Noilly Prat. I can still see the open ee’d astonishment an the ­dumbfoonert luik on the faces o ma ­aunties an uncles when they saw whit I wis offerin thaim fae ma ­Neuerday ­bottle baith at the Hogmanay pairty in oor hoose or in their hooses aw ower ­Gawston when I did the roons o the ­extendit faimily efter breakfast on New Year’s Day.

Noo the Kays were legion in Gawston, sae in the heyday, I probably Furst Fuited up tae ten hooses on the ae day – fae Gran Kay tae Uncle Albert, an fae auld neebours like Annie Murray tae Uncle Shug an Aunt Helen. I mention Aunt Helen because she wis a character that lued tae daff an dance, an lauch and enjoy hersel when she could, which wis onywhaur awa fae her wark in the store butcher. She also had a guid Scots tongue in her heid, and a gleg wit aboot her. Sae when I offered Helen a drink oot o ma unco-luikin bottle wi its fremmit-luikin label, Helen luikit quizzical an spiered wi a sceptical froun on her face: “Whit the hell is this?”

When I replied: “It’s Noilly Prat, Aunt Helen,” an haundit her the bottle, she tuik wan luik at it an said: “Noilly Preuch, mair like it,” haundit me back ma bottle, and stuck tae her ain tipple! Preuch is a great Scots word that means ocht-gotten for dodgy gain or pauchled in a sleekit, underhaund or illegal wey! I’m no shuir ma Noilly Prat quite deserved that description, but ilka time sinsyne that I see it on a booze shop shelf, I aye think o Aunt Helen and her puit-doun o ma Noilly Preuch!