We are in Scotland for HogMOOnay, the very best way to celebrate the New Year. In some Scottish communities the "Hogmanay" was a blazing stick wrapped in cow's or sheep's skin, the smoke from which was believed to ward off Evil Spirits. Nowadays, "First Footing" involves carrying a lump of coal and a dram of whisky when you visit your neighbours in the early hours of January 1st, but in years gone by groups of young boys would First Foot together, with the leader dressed as a sheep. He would walk clockwise around the fire whilst being hit with a stick, all then being rewarded with bannocks (scones) before moving on to the next house. Meanwhile, in the farmyard, a pudding would be placed on the horn of a cow. The farmer and his family would sing and dance around the cow, waiting for it to toss the pudding to the ground. If it fell forwards, prosperity was guaranteed for the coming year, but if it fell backwards, bad times were on their way. The cow, of course, was actually trying to get the pudding off it's horn and into it's mouth, a festive achievement nowadays replicated as the "After Eight Game", or "Chocolate Face Painting!" If you have never played this one, Hogmanay would be a good time to try it! Talking to your animals is still a New Year tradition in Romania, apparently, with a positive response foretelling a prosperous future. Back in Scotland, the singing of Auld Lang Syne is obligatory at Hogmanay parties. This song was written by the famous Scottish Bard, Rabbie Burns. Born into a poor farming family at Burn's Cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire, Rabbie later became a farmer himself (poetry did not pay, it seems). He converted Ellisland Farm near Dumfries from arable to dairying, keeping 9 or 10 cows and producing sheep's milk cheese. However, his heart was never in farming, and he soon abandoned Ellisland in favour of a less arduous career as an Exciseman, or tax collector. Which takes us naturally to "Hogmanay Tipples". Not many miles from Alloway lies the site of the Hannah Research Institute, once an active research community but now, alas, a housing estate. Afficionados of the original cream liquers may recall that the bottle, once opened, had a shelf life measured in days, and it was only as a result of groundbreaking Hannah research that stable emulsions of alcohol and cream became possible. The UK government's policy at the time dictated that new knowledge generated in it's research institutes was public property, so the discovery was never patented. Had it been, royalties from the seasonal imbibing of whisky and cream combinations would quite possibly have been sufficient to keep the Hannah open for posterity. Every cloud has a silver lining, and what was once my office at the Hannah is now the beautifully-decorated spare bedroom of our niece and her partner. On that happy note, I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year; Cheers, Skål and, of course, do dheagh shlàinte or "Your Good Health" in Gaelic.