Boswell's Diary

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Turf love is best send-off for Scots boys

SCOTLAND’S rugby team were given a rousing send-off before they fly out to Australia next week for the World Cup campaign, but it seems some habits die hard.

Wives and girlfriends, including Diane Hastings, wife of former Scotland captain Gavin, duly took up the invitation from the Scottish Rugby Union to invade the Murrayfield pitch on a balmy evening enlivened by a heady mix of Famous Grouse cocktails and a three-course dinner, in a marquee set up on the famous turf.

Despite the current crop of players looking relaxed and ready for duty as they mingled with guests, Diane’s other half seemed unimpressed with some of the modern advances since he hung up his boots.

"I’m not so sure about these hi-tech tight-fitting rugby shirts that the teams, especially England, France and New Zealand, now swear by," said Gav, for once wearing his black tie rather than dark blue shirt as he stood on the pitch he graced so often for his country.

"The players seem to think they do help and make tackling harder, but I’m not so sure how well they would have gone down had they been tossed in our direction during my playing days.

"Just looking at the Scottish squad today, the players are all in such good shape they’ll no doubt wear them well down under, for what is pretty much the first real trial of the new design. In our time, all they would have shown off was a lot of curves and beer bellies, I fear."

Despite the players’ other halves being given a rare Murrayfield run-out, once the team head off next week they will not be following their beloveds to Australia. Fortunately, Viv Mackay, an Edinburgh PR consultant who is also the other half of Mike Blair, is plotting her own fun. "I’m going to be heading off with Chris Paterson’s girlfriend for a week in the Canaries," she explained, clutching a Martini-style whisky and grapefruit concoction.

"Why shouldn’t we have a bit of fun while they are away, but all the wives and girlfriends will get together again to watch Scotland’s World Cup progress here at Murrayfield. There’s a good group of us, and it makes the boys’ absence a bit easier to bear when we get together."

Viv was joined by Anna Wood - the current squeeze of Ross Beattie - who was looking radiant in a black and white dress.

"It’s a bit different for me as I’m based down at university in Newcastle doing sports management," said Anna. "But I hope to meet up with everyone once it all kicks off."

Scotland fans will be relieved to know that, despite his recent injury scare, Scotland and British Lions stand-off Gregor Townsend is raring to go, though he did admit it was touch and go whether he would make the plane.

"Had the knee operation happened a week later, there’s no doubt I’d be out of the reckoning," said the former politics student at Edinburgh University.

"But I’ve been doing my best to get fit, including spending time in an underground oxygen unit in Leith, which I certainly would not recommend to anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. At the moment, the boys are just dying to get there and no-one wants to injure themselves at training."

Fellow player Simon Taylor added: "We’ve been training really hard for it, including doing stuff in the greenhouses at Royal Botanics, which should help us acclimatise."

Not such good news for Scottish Olympic 400m runner Lee McConnell, who was a guest at the dinner and enjoying a two-week holiday.

"I’ve found out one of my races in Athens is at 9:30 in the morning, and knowing the infrastructure out there I’ll probably have to get up really early, which I hate. I may well have to be wheeled there in my bed!"

All of which left guests to sup SRU wine long into a very enjoyable night.

Overhaul for nation's least likely charity

TO DUNDAS Castle for the launch of Scotland’s most unlikely new charity ... but nonetheless a 19th century cause close to Boswell’s heart: the care of distressed gentlefolk.

Although not quite yet in need of their services, the Elizabeth Finn Trust has decided to move with the times and do away with its former moniker of the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association, though unsurprisingly the Great Hall of the Firth of Forth pile was stuffed with socialites rather than socialists.

"Now we describe ourselves as an organisation that helps out with professionals rather than gentlefolk," explained Jonathan Welfare, the chief executive of the trust, at the champagne reception.

"We were founded in 1897 by Elizabeth Finn, who hailed from the same school of 19th-century social campaigners as Florence Nightingale, but at a time when the term ‘gentlefolk’ was clearly understood.

"The charity was set up to help those from professional or service backgrounds who have fallen on hard times, and now we help a range of professions from teachers to accountants. We have 12 care homes across the country. Although we have not opened one in Scotland, which we used to serve, but if anyone has a spare 5 million we’d be delighted."

Midway through proceedings, Sir Jack Stewart-Clark gave Boswell an impromptu art tour of the former servants’ quarters, below stairs, where the genial laird of the castle indulges his secret passion.

"Down here is the only place I can display newer art, as upstairs it’s obviously got to be the traditional stuff in keeping with the history of the castle," explained Sir Jack.

"I’m a great admirer of some slightly more contemporary Scottish landscape painters, like Douglas Davies from the Borders and Caroline Bailey. It’s quite a hobby of mine.

"Otherwise, the house is more and more being hired out for weddings. We started doing it six years ago, and we’re on to our 93rd, which isn’t bad going. Luckily, the layout of the house allows us to put them on without too much disruption to our night’s sleep. These days, you have to look beyond traditional ways of generating an income from an estate."

Musical entertainment was provided by St Mary’s Music School, but Elyssa von Habsburg had more pressing matters on her mind - her young daughter, Tatiana, who is only a matter of weeks old.

"She is very well behaved at the moment, but that could all rapidly change," said Elyssa.

The charity is headed north of the Border by Lady Downe, who explained its purpose.

"Financial hardship can happen to anyone of any age at any time," added Lady Downe. Taking the hint, Boswell scribbled down the details of the charity, should he ever fall on hard times and his port account at Berry Brothers be curtailed.

Gow's party rock the joint

A GLORIOUS evening was hosted by furniture restorer and antiques expert Jeremy Gow.

Gow swapped his dungarees for black tie in order to entertain 22 guests - including K - before heading off to the annual Angus Ball, held at Glamis Castle, home of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore.

The party was greeted by a lone piper, and the champagne flowed until 5am.

There had been champagne at his workshop and showroom, too, before the guests sat down to a slap-up dinner, surrounded by sawdust, ormolu mounts, marquetry and mahogany.

This unusual venue provided much entertainment, though Gow looked on nervously as some of the guests, including Beth Passey and Lisa Cameron, eyed up his selection of chainsaws and chisels.

For furniture enthusiasts, Gow’s handiwork is on display there, with a recently restored pair of 18th-century Dutch tortoiseshell cabinets for the Earl of Strathmore.

He is currently keeping busy with a stand at London’s alternative investment fair in the Docklands.

In his spare time, Gow runs antiques and restoration courses in Forfar. He teaches how to fake antiques and divulges the secrets of the trade, which K may well sign up to before checking the family silver.

The ice-man cometh

BEN Fogle may have emerged unscathed from a year on the island of Taransay as a BBC castaway, but the 29-year-old clearly feels ready for stiffer challenges - including following the trail of the legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Visiting Edinburgh to promote his latest book, The Teatime Islands, an account of his recent visit to some of Britain’s last and remote outposts, Fogle admitted that he sometimes felt he had been born in the wrong century.

"I am currently in talks about embarking on a project that would follow in Shackleton’s 1915 footsteps from Elephant Island to South Georgia," he said.

"Obviously, it would be difficult to live on the ice, but there is potential for an epic walk to the whale-hunting station he finally reached."

Boswell's dog house

BOSWELL is surely not alone in longing for a return to the good old days of gin shops and late-night drinking laws so this week he is casting MSP Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, into the doghouse for objecting to the idea of 24-hour opening for bars.

It is high time that the nanny state was brought to an end and drinking was permitted when and where residents want, including Murrayfield stadium.

Caledonian Truffles - Scotland's best

NORMALLY, truffle hunting is the domain of Dudley the pig, but K was delighted to rub shoulders with Edinburgh epicurean mycophiles for a gourmet tasting session at Harvey Nichols. Stuart Muir, head chef at the Fourth Floor Restaurant, showed guests how to knock up a mean mushroom risotto as well as tucking into Britain’s first batch of truffles this season, courtesy of Gianpaolo la Greca.

His company, Sapori, is Scotland’s biggest truffle supplier, and clutching his 800 basket he explained: "Truffles are normally found in the south of France and central Italy. Whilst dry weather has sent the cost prezzi alle stelle [sky high] in Italy, damp weather has proved beneficial in more unlikely places.

"It is possible to find them in certain damp, chalky conditions. They are very sensitive to their surroundings and rely on specific soil types and symbiotic relationships with trees such as oak and chestnut."

The event was co-hosted by Danielle Ellis, who has started Discover the Taste to celebrate local produce, but would-be truffle-hunters be warned, the whereabouts of this edible gold are secret and neither she nor Gianpaolo were telling K where to start sniffing.

Anything Calendar Girls can do, the good burghers of West Linton can do better.

No less than 50 male residents of the Borders village have volunteered to bare all in the name of raising funds for cancer research.

"The 2004 calendar features the men going about their daily business except without any clothes on," explains organiser Maggie Smith.

"It includes the cricket team and woodcutters working away on ladders in the snow. It should prove popular with the female residents round here."

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