This evening Scots around the world will celebrate Burns Night to mark the birthday of 18th century Scottish poet and lyricist Rabbie (Robert) Burns.
Among the celebrations will be feasting on haggis, neeps and tatties, drinking a wee dram to toast the national poet of Scotland and, in some cases, a recital of the Bard of Argylle’s poetry.
As a lad growing up in the north east of England, we would generally celebrate ‘Burns Night’ with a Scottish couple (Jimmy & Moira) and their daughters, who lived across the street.
I never asked my dad, but I assumed we participated in this celebration of the Bard of Argylle due to Scottish roots and our surname originating from the Aberdeenshire village of Strachan.
I don’t recollect a great deal about these evenings, other than tasting haggis for the first time and belching repeatedly from drinking too much dandelion and burdoch soda or Irn Bru.
Haggis was a strange bed fellow. As a kid I was initially put off by it aesthetically displeasing appearance and that I wasn’t sure what animal it was!
However, after I’d reluctantly jemmied the first forkful into my mouth I realised it tasted like a dry, heavily spiced sausage meat. Being a fan of sausage meat I never had a problem with it following that experience.
Jimmy was a short affable guy from Kirkcaldy, who laughed like Barney Rubble and looked a little bit like Doberman. To clarify, that’s Private Doberman from the 1950’s US comedy Bilko. He didn’t resemble a menacing black, long limbed canine!
If I recall correctly he hedged his bets with the football teams he supported by following Raith Rovers, Rangers and Newcastle United. Thankfully he was a better host than he was at picking football teams.
He was never short of a humorous yarn, wise crack and drink of Irn Bru. By the way, the Irn Bru was for the kids. If it had have been served to the adults I suspect my compliment on his hosting skills would have nose dived rapidly!
It’s got to be said that after a few beers or whiskies Jimmy stories weren’t that easy to comprehend. It was a case of just nodding and smiling at them after he reached a certain level of inebriation! …… I just had to hope he wasn’t saying something like “Can I give you a Chinese Burn or Donkey Bite?!”
His wife Moira resembled Scottish actress Geraldine McEwan, of Miss Marple and Prime of Miss Jean Brodie fame. She also spoke in the same soft Scottish lilt as Ms McEwan. Even when she scolded Jimmy for being out late with Fred Flintstone and Sgt Bilko, it would be done so in a quiet, calm and collected manner.
At the time, I’d never seen anyone berate people in such a soft and calming manner and I don’t think I have to this day. Our mum was a warm, loving and caring person, however, her rollockings could be off the Sphincter scale at times!
The sphincter scale is like the Richter scale, only it doesn’t measure earth tremors it captures tremors of an altogether different nature!
Although, I struggle to recall many elements of those ‘Burns Nights’ with our Scottish neighbours, I recollect them with fondness. As I look back I, without hesitation, include them in the good times section on my life’s tapestry!
Bearing in mind ‘Burns Night’ is predominantly a celebration aimed at an adult demographic, I look at it that they must have been good nights for me to have any recollection of the occasions.
To the uninitiated, Burns will bring to mind a frail, spiteful old man in the Fox TV animation The Simpsons!
As much as I laugh at the exploits of Homer and his family, I suspect two hundred years from now ‘Burns Night’ will still be Rabbie’s day. An occasion where Scots and people of Scottish descent congregate to toast the man who wrote, among many other literally important pieces, ‘Auld Lang’s Syne’.
I suspect it won’t be in honour of an old cartoon character whose less artistic orations include “Release the hounds, Smithers!!”
To close, I include the final verse of ‘To A Louse’, a poem by the Bard of Argylle. This full narrative tells of a louse that resides on the bonnet a upper class lady in kerk.
An online analysis of the poem states “The poet chastises the louse for not realising how important his host is, and then reflects that, to a louse, we are all equal prey, and that we would be disabused of our pretensions if we were to see ourselves through each other’s eyes.”
Have a great Burns Night all, especially clan Strachan!
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us, And ev’n Devotion!
(Robert Burns, 1786)