It was Burns Night on Tuesday, so here are some musings on haggis.

South of the border were all a bit sceptical we have a suspicion that these grungy-looking brown balls contain something vaguely intestinal. Perhaps theyre distantly related to a black pudding.

Or so we thought. In fact, haggis ignorance runs far deeper. A 2010 survey by takeaway service revealed that 18% of Brits believe haggis is a small beast which roams the Highlands. Another 15% hazard that its a type of Scottish musical instrument, while 4% plump for a Harry Potter character. Some 800 of the 1,623 people interviewed were Scottish, and 14% of them had no idea what a haggis was either (oh the shame).
A flavour to savour... if you’ve got the stomach for it
In fact, the venerated haggis is a concoction of sheeps heart, liver and lungs minced with onions, oatmeal, suet and spices, all stuffed into a sheep stomach. As the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour.

And it is utterly Scottish unlike a few other national icons we could mention.

I researched and wrote the following for the 2009 Royal Mail Year Book, and it appeared in a celebratory chapter on Burns (although the last sentence didn’t make the final edit):
 Theres nothing more Scottish than whisky, is there? Its called Scotch, after all. Actually, whisky was originally invented in China, and was distilled by 15th-century Irish monks before finding its way to Scotland some 100 years later.
 And get this kilts, tartans and bagpipes may not be entirely Scottish either. Theres some evidence that kilts originated in Ireland. Tartan cloth was unearthed in Hallstatt, upper Austria, some of which date to 1200 BC, while 3000-year-old tartan-wearing mummies were found in a Chinese desert. Some historians believe the first bagpipes came from Sumaria.
 Recent genetic studies show that the mutation for red hair may have originated in Central Asia too.

It’s a strange time for luxury brands. Of course they want to be seen out and about as usual, but flaunting it too brazenly could be deemed bad taste in these straitened times. Hence the notion of ‘stealth wealth’, a phrase I came across for the first time this week working for (you guessed it) a luxury brand.

It’s the idea that you’re so utterly comfortable in your millionaire skin that you’re happy to draw a discreet veil over what you’re worth. With your mahogany tan and slightly grizzled sideburns, you dress down in pastel polo shirt, pressed chinos and artfully distressed deck shoes. You may eschew San Tropez, Costa Smeralda, and the other more flashy-trashy Euro hotspots, but you still find a way to quietly enjoy the finer things in life.

Plane sailing... may you be stealthy, weathly and wise
Oddly, the word ‘stealth’ also cropped up on BBC2’s ‘Stargazing Live’, the astronomy programme fronted by the rather unlikely double act of pop-star-turned-professor Brian Cox and physicist-turned-comedian Dara O’Briain. Cox observed that UFO sightings suddenly changed from the traditional flying-saucer shape to triangular after the US military’s introduction of the Stealth Bomber in 1997. But I was probably more intrigued by the thought that they might actually have a Pentagon employee responsible for naming. Or perhaps they draft in the Central Naming Agency (CNA)? Whatever, hat’s off... it’s brilliant.

There’s something wonderfully onomatopoeic and sneaky about the word. It’s redolent of underhandedness and skulduggery. Maybe it’s because the first five letters spell ‘steal’, and you almost seem to be telling someone to ‘shhh!’ when you say it.

Well, probably time to make a stealthy exit.

ace in the hole.

Looking for the perfect Valentines Day gift for the designer man in your life? Something with a bit of sauce but not too much cheese? Never mind the bollocks, heres the Sex Pistol stretch boxer trunk from Bjorn Börg. You dont have to mind your Ps and Qs in these beauties. Just the job for well heeled-punks and anyone whos read Simon Garfields Just My Type. And available until stocks last with 40% off at New balls please.

Great news, HS2, the new £32m high-speed railway is going full-steam ahead. There’s nothing like progress, I always say. No one can ever call me a NIMBY again, because, whether I want it or not, it’s going literally right through my back yard — about 500 metres away, in fact. It’ll be great… whenever I’m dozing off, editing some turgid copy, a proud symbol of 21-st century Britain will zip past and wake me from my stupor. And regular too, every four minutes, I’ve been told. Just think of the productivity, the positive effect on the GDP.

I’ll cheer and wave when the Birmingham fat cats purr by in a flash of wheels and steel. I may even hoist my best red knickers on a stick like Jenny Agutter in the Railway Children. And I’ll do the same when London mob crash past the other way — although I have a feeling that won’t be quite so often.

A consultation paper of 55,000 people almost unanimously disagreed with everything about the new line. But what do they know? — this will make Britain great again. Though perhaps there’ll be a few less furry creatures and green bits than we used to have.

We’ve been railroaded, no question.

Train drain... not so much a white knight as a white elephant  

The Design Museum this week announced its longlist for  ‘Designs of the Year’. Maybe their description of these awards as the ‘Oscars of the design world’ is pushing it, but the five-year old-scheme comes with enough glitter and gravitas to mean people sit up and take notice.

There are a couple of things that set Designs of the Year apart. 

Firstly, you cant enter work you have to be chosen by a panel of experts. The names of these wise heads havent been revealed yet, but they are usually desperately starry types from different corners of the design universe (and last year, Will Self). The nominations are, as usual, mind-blowingly diverse from Hopkins Architects 2012 Olympic Velodrome, to the BBC websites latest home page, to the Duchess of Cambridges McQueen wedding dress.

Next, its really international buildings in Haiti, Japanese fashion, German furniture, US magazines. Last years winner was Samuel Wilkinsons sculptural Plumen Lightbulb 001, dubbed the worlds first designer eco-bulb. In 2009, Sheperd Fairey’s ‘Hope’ Barack Obama poster got the vote.

Finally, Designs of the Year has its own six-month long exhibition at the Design Museum, running from 8 February to 15 July. Now thats what you call exposure.

So it was with some delight that I found out that three designs close to my heart have made it on to the longlist. Here’s my totally biased opinion, and part in their success (just kidding).

1 Mark Porters iPad app for the Guardian.
Impeccably considered, and downloaded nearly 150,000 times in its first week of release, this sets a new standard in ‘newspaper’ apps. Mark is an old mate of mine — I worked with him many years ago on a design and advertising magazine called Direction, where he was art director. He then went on to greater things, most notably becoming CD of the Guardian and overseeing its redesign to Berliner format in 2005. More recently, I helped craft some words for Mark Porter Associates website, which are going live soon.

Apps off... digging Mark Porter’s digital design  

2 Why Not Associates’ Comedy Carpet in Blackpool.
A collaboration with artist Gordon Young, this beauty was five years in the making and lies in the shadow of the famous Blackpool Tower. It is an exquisitely realized, 1880-square-metre typographic compendium of jokes and catchphrases, cut from solid granite or cobalt blue concrete, arranged into over 300 slabs and then cast into concrete. Lovingly set in the style of a traditional music-hall style playbill, the ‘Comedy Carpet’ is an example of accessible graphic design at its very best. It’s already (and deservedly) picked up the Grand Prix at the prestigious Tokyo Art Directors Club. Ive known Andy Altmann and David Ellis who founded WNA for over 20 years, and collaborate with them fairly regularly (though unfortunately not on this one).

Cutting a rug... Why Not Associates and artist Gordon Young have a laugh in Blackpool

3 Nokia Pure typeface by Dalton Maag
Nokia is my main client at the moment, so Ive been working closely with this font for six months now. I interviewed typographer Bruno Maag about the design process for Uusi, the Nokia brand magazine, so Im fully aware of the effort and rationale behind it. At first I thought it might be a bit safe, but now Im starting to see little quirks and subtleties that I hadnt noticed before. Its definitely grown on me.
It’s a Maag world... purity of idea and execution

I wish everyone good luck on 24 April when the winners are announced. But especially these three.

Its Epiphany, 6 January. The day when all the Christmas decs are consigned to their dark cubbyholes for another year. Free from the gaudy glare of glitter and gew-gaws, rooms are stripped back once more to their bare minimalist bones. Trees, sad and sparse, wait to join the pile-up at the local tip. Cards are shuffled away. The last vestiges of the old year are laid reverentially to rest. Denuded, stark naked once more, we face forward and step gingerly, but properly, into the New Year.

Fir dues... it’s that time of year every Christmas tree dreads