Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman

…on receiving a mysterious package

A surprise cookbook delivery has our columnist musing on the sender’s identity.

Perhaps you know – or have heard of – the Selkirk Grace, a short prayer of thanks usually recited north of the border before countless mountains of neeps and tatties at a traditional Burns Night supper. It goes like this: 

 Some hae meat an’ cannae eat, 

And some wad eat that want it; 

But we hae meat an’ we can eat, 

And sae the Lord be thankit.  

 The grace has been much on my mind today, since the arrival of an unexpected parcel from Selkirk.

My mother used to get us to repeat “white rabbits” at the start of every month, to give us good luck – but also, she said, to make sure everything coming through our door that month was welcome. I had forgotten to do so on the first. I therefore received this parcel with foreboding.   

It turned out to contain two books on cooking for carnivores, including one entitled The Big Fat Surprise (which it certainly was) on the importance of having plenty of butter, cheese and meat in our diet.

Maybe my benefactor had caught a glimpse of me in profile and thought: “He looks as if he could do with a couple of strings of sausages inside him.” It is, I confess, unlikely.  

After some minutes of wistful speculation – more recollections of temple-shattering hangovers caused by toasts to the “fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face” of the “Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race” on Burns Nights past – I concluded that it was mere coincidence the package had come from an “R Paton” in Selkirk.

I know the town a little, having filmed there for part of a TV documentary series about the River Tweed and the days when every estate had its own tweed made at one of the multitude of mills in the town.  

Selkirk is still a good-looking, prosperous Scottish border town in the way of a Kelso or a Melrose, surrounded by rich-looking pastureland and lowland forest. I was lucky to meet the man in charge of one of the last surviving mills who allowed me to design and run off a bolt of cloth to be made up into a coat in “the family tweed”.  

Unfortunately, my son will have nothing to do with it. Can’t say I blame him, given the chump I looked in my own father’s hand-me-down overcoat at Cambridge.  

But the only “R Paton” I could discover from my searches online was an Irishman called Rurai in the match report of a game against the team with the most magical name in Scottish football, Queen of the South. 

Supporters used to burst forth at home games with the boast that they were the only team singled out for special mention in the Bible.  

It’s true: “the Queen of the South” appears in both Luke and Matthew, although is generally thought to be a reference to the Queen of Sheba not, sadly, a biblical endorsement of a Scottish League One football team. Mind you, she was rather famous for her gifts, albeit of spices and precious stones rather than diet books. But Queen of the South’s home ground is in Dumfries, which must be 50 miles away from Selkirk – even in an Irish footballer’s car.  

On which note, this preposterous flight of fancy about the sender of my mystery gift foundered. I shall console myself by imagining Queen of the South’s dashing footballer tearing about the place with no time for anything because he has a present to buy for a stranger.  

Meanwhile, I may even mumble the Selkirk Grace before making a thickly buttered steak sandwich and settling down to read my new book. 

Jeremy Paxman

Written by Jeremy Paxman