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Coleen from Iraq wins Golden Spurtle

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

Sgt. Coleen Hayward MacLeod
with her Golden Spurtle.
Photo courtesy

Sergeant Coleen Hayward MacLeod, a British Army cook back home after service in Iraq, was the surprise (and surprised) winner of the much-prized Golden Spurtle at the 2006 World Porridge Making Championship in Carrbridge, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

The BBC reported that the sergeant, who used to live in Stornoway, Western Isles, had served in the armed forces for 18 years. She's in charge of making porridge every day for up to 400 troops from the 1st Royal Irish Regiment stationed at Fort George, near Inverness.

"Sgt MacLeod should know her oats, having served up tonnes of Scotlandís national dish to her colleagues in the 1st Royal Irish Regiment, who recently returned from service in Iraq," the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald reported next day.

"The chef, who has been with the Army for the past 18 years, includes porridge on the daily breakfast menu for the soldiers and believes it is the perfect way to start their day."

Coleen said ďI really didnít expect to do so well. There was some very strong competition and a lot of very good professional chefs taking part."

In addition to the Golden Trophy she received a £350 hotel voucher and £250 spending money from the event's main sponsors, oatmeal producers Hamlyns of Scotland.

Addy Daggert, a Dutch chef working at The Cock and Bull restaurant and bar at Balmedie, produced an appetising bowl of white chocolate porridge with stewed autumn fruits and whisky cream. That concoction won him a Quaich (a two-handled drinking cup) awarded by liqueur marketers Columba Cream. The trophy was "named in honour of porridge making legend and four times world champion Duncan Hilditch."

Among the contestants were professional chefs and caterers, a former boarding-school cook, guest house owners and housewives, all eager to show they could make perfect porridge.

A retired farmer, Alec Coutts (81) from Inverness, represented Australian porridge-lovers Velvet Perston (70), and her husband Alastair (80), who, to their sorrow, couldn't get to Scotland for the event. (Last year, Velvet confided to The Sydney Morning Herald that she had used her husband's spurtle every day of her married life).

The porridge-making championship was only one of many attractions in Carrbridge that day. The Sydney couple also missed seeing the Challenge Fun Run sponsored by Nairn's Oatcakes, an aerobic warm-up led by local fitness instructor Sam Bain, the Cairngorms Farmers' Market, product tastings, Stoat's Porridge Bar, and a belly-dancing demonstration by Sisters of the Desert.

FOOTNOTE. Don't you know what a spurtle is? Nor did we. Here's a definition from the official championship website:

Some say porridge should only be stirred in a clock wise direction using the right hand so you don't evoke the 'Devil'. The stirring is done with a straight wooden spoon /stick without a moulded or flat end and known is Scotland as a 'Spurtle' or 'Theevil'. Porridge should always be spoken of as 'they' and an old custom states that it should be eaten standing up. A bone spoon should always be used for eating porridge.

This story has also been published by the UK daily literary webzine Open Writing.

Story first posted November 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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