Saturday, June 2, 2007

Guinea pig schnitzel … fine and dandy in Peru, but a pet hate in Germany

I RECENTLY attended a charity dinner (in Grangemouth, of all places, or the posh part which is known as Polmont) for the Vine Trust. More than £30,000 was raised, there was an auction and an excellent meal, but the highlight was hearing Paul Clark speak of his work with street children in Peru. It was intensely moving.

Afterwards, Paul told me that the national dish of Peru was guinea pig. Something I found particularly interesting, given the news this week that a couple in Germany had split up after the "chicken" served to Lara Hochner by boyfriend Werner Brenner during a candlelit dinner turned out to be her pet guinea pig, Rudi.

"She lavished more love on that damned thing than me," said Werner, from Darmstadt. So he turned Rudi into a schnitzel. Lara found out after the meal when she discovered Rudi's cage was empty.

Lara is currently living with her parents. Werner is, presumably, writing a recipe book.

That's one nifty little fund razor
As Gordon glints toothily and appears to grow ever more jolly and rotund as the premiership approaches, it's interesting to note the incredibly youthful appearance of his elder and predecessor in the toppermost of top jobs. I speak of course of Dr Jonathan Wills, who was student rector of Edinburgh University before his good friend Gordon took on that role.

Dr Wills, erstwhile editor of The Shetland Times, now naturalist, tour boat skipper and guide, has of course led a healthy outdoor life, for the most part. However, his perennial youth has for 42 years been disguised by a beard of Birds Eye (Captain) proportions, although it has remained resolutely and, a few have claimed, suspiciously unsilvered.

Next Saturday, though, the Wills fizog will be revealed in its pristine nakedness for the first time since October 10, 1965. Along with Alan Longmuir, his fellow beardie and crewmember of the good ship Dunter III, he is removing his whiskers to raise funds for charity. The aim is to buy a school bus for a tsunami-wrecked Indian village.

The last close shave was, said Dr Wills, in a failed attempt to gain entrance to the Edinburgh University air squadron. Neither his wife nor any of his children have ever seen him without a beard.

Benefits over the years from having a protected chin have been legion, he said, including the fact that he had enjoyed "several weeks longer in bed" than most men his age.

If you wish to help the children of the Hope Foundation School in Tamil Nadu get their bus, and watch the appearance of Dr Wills's cheeks, the place to be is the Victoria Pier, Lerwick, Shetland, on Saturday at 5.15pm. There will be no soft soap involved. Styptic pencils at the ready!

They've finally seen the light Doubtless Jonathan will have taken some lessons in shaving from his near neighbour, the Young Laird of Bressay, former Libocrat minister Tavish Scott. Tavish of course sported a beard until recently, grown for the Viking festival of Up-Helly-Aa, in which he was cavorting as a member of the Jarl's Squad, the leading group of celebrants.

Alas, the Scott beard vanished for the election, leaving Tavish looking not a day older than his 18-and-a-half years. And posing a few problems during the recent trip by members of the Jarl's Squad, including Tavish, to Cannes for the film festival. Why, you may ask, were various Vikings whisked to the French Riviera from Shetland? Why, to publicise Shetland's potential as a centre for film production, apparently. They'll be flocking to the northern isles, I'm sure, those movie moguls, having had a few velvet Vikings wave axes in their faces.

Actually, a film - The Blackening - is in the process of being shot in the northernmost island of Unst. Or was, until the producers realised that the script demanded scenes of dark and wintry gloom, and that Shetland in the summer is light, even at midnight. They're coming back when the weather gets nasty and Dr Wills's beard has grown again.

Talking about the regeneration Another famous Shetland beard is worn by the islands' archivist, legendary Marxist historian and Scottish Socialist Party stalwart Brian Smith. There was some consternation abroad on seeing the front page of this week's Shetland Times, which bore a photograph of the isles' uber-socialist in deep conversation with The Earl of Rothesay, aka the Prince of Wales, during the opening of the new £10.6 million museum and archives.

What could Brian have been saying to the King in Waiting? Suggestions (printable ones) include: Have you got a minute, Charlie, for me to tell you what that Tommy Sheridan is really like; Come the revolution, you and your kind will become the inevitable victims of history's inexorable progress towards a true socialist state; and jings, can I just complement you and Camilla on the fact that your kilt matches her collar?

Quay changes at the Beeb I arrived back in Shetland last week after a couple of weeks in Glasgow, where I was given a tour of the new BBC building at Pacific Quay. I can't get over the story that the name was chosen over the more historic and accurate Plantation Quay for reasons of political correctness.

Still, it's an impressive edifice. The commitment is to "hot desking", so staff are being told they cannot adorn workstations with pot plants or, indeed, cannabis plants. Especially not cannabis plants. Family photos and teddy bears are also banned.

Interestingly, I had cause to visit STV's adjoining glass-and-steel HQ, where similar strictures were in place and technically still are. However, all kinds of decorations now make STV's desks look impressively human. It's only a matter of time, surely, before the same happens at the Beeb.

All is brand spanking new in PQ, as it's called, apart from one or two significant objects. I had the chance to sit, for example, at Lord Reith's original desk, impressively austere and ink-stained. "You shall broadcast wearing a dinner suit!" I bellowed at Bill Whiteford. But then, he always does.

Most impressive is the rooftop canteen which becomes a licensed bar (with terrace) in the evenings, and is attracting envious glances from the STV staff. Expect some kind of reciprocity agreement. Stephen Jardine knocking back Bacardi Breezers with the likes of BBC Radio Scotland's Shereen Nanjiani

A perfect command of English, and plenty polish
Head of Radio Scotland Jeff Zycinski, right, who lives in Inverness, suffered a health scare which, fortunately, proved not to be serious. Struck by a mystery affliction that left him with a violently painful neck, and unable to move his head or swallow, Jeff phoned the NHS helpline last Saturday night. He was told to report to the out-of-hours doctor at Raigmore Hospital.

After five minutes in the waiting room, a stethoscope-laden medic appeared and called his name. She led the patient into a private consulting room where he spent five minutes explaining his symptoms. "To be fair," Jeff told me later, "my throat problems were having an impact on my voice."

"I have to say, Mr Zycinski," said the doc, "that your English is remarkably good."

BBC Radio's top man in Scotland gazed at the sawbones.

"Er I'm not Polish " he explained, "I just have a Polish surname."

"Oh I'm sorry. It's just that we have so many Polish people in Inverness these days."

"I understand," said Jeff. "Actually, I'm Glaswegian."

According to the (now almost recovered) patient: "Somehow she looked even more impressed with my command of English after that."

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