25th January 2020 – Today sees Scots around the world marking the birthday of 18th century Caledonian poet and lyricist Rabbie (Robert) Burns.
Incorporated within these global Burns Night celebrations revellers will feast on haggis, neeps and tatties; along with partaking in a wee dram to toast the national poet of Scotland. In some cases, recitals of the Bard of Argyll’s poetry will also be given a perennial airing.
I don’t recall ever celebrating Burns Night when residing in my adult domains of Bedfordshire and Yorkshire. However, as a lad growing up in the north east of England, we Strachan’s ordinarily celebrated Burns Night with a Scottish couple (Jimmy & Moira) and their daughters – Neighbours within the quiet Low Fell cul-de-sac of Dorchester Gardens where we resided.
Being English, I assume my family participated in celebrating Burn’s birthday as a consequence of our surname originating from the north east Scottish village of Strachan. That being said, I was never inquisitive enough to confirm that theory…… In all likelihood our attendance at the evening was probably the result of my dad wishing to partake in a glass of whisky or two with Jimmy.
Recollections of these evenings are sketchy at best. Although misty memories are evoked of tasting haggis for the first time and, much to my mum’s chagrin, belching repeatedly after imbibing swigs from my can of Irn Bru. The latter a carbonated soft drink which I learned recently actually bore the name Strachan’s Brew on it’s introduction by manufacturers Barr, in 1901.
As a kid I was initially put off haggis by it’s aesthetically displeasing appearance and a lack of clarity as to what I was actually eating. However after a tentatively sampled first forkful, during a 1970’s Burns Night celebration, realised it bore the taste and texture of a dry, heavily spiced sausage meat. Being a fan of sausage meat, I never had a problem with the dish following that hesitant induction.
Our Scottish neighbour Jimmy was a short affable guy from Kirkcaldy, who laughed like Barney Rubble and had a look of Doberman. To clarify, he had a resemblance of Private Doberman from the 1950’s US comedy Bilko, not a likeness to 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 significantly better host than 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 their take on his hosting skills would’ve been a tad less complimentary than mine.
It’s got to be said that after a few beers or whiskies Jimmy’s broad Scottish accent became more and more incomprehensible; consequently diminishing his raconteur skills. During these scenarios I felt I’d little option but to disingenuously smile and nod back at our host; hoping it’d fool him into believing I was absorbing his every word…… In this state of acquiesce, I just had to hope he wasn’t saying something like “Can I give you a Chinese Burn or Donkey Bite, Gary?”
Our affable neighbour’s 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 delivered in a quiet, calm and collected manner.
In my half century on this planet, I’ve never seen anyone berate people in such a soft and calming manner. My mum was a warm, loving and caring person, however, her rollockings could be off the Sphincter scale at times. This measurement similar to the Richter scale, only it doesn’t measure earth tremors, it captures sphincter tremors while being severely admonished.
Although, struggling to recall many elements of those Burns Nights in the company of our Scottish neighbours, I still recollect them with fondness. Without hesitation, they’re included within the good times section my life tapestry.
To close, I include the final verse of the Bard of Argylle’s poem ‘To A Louse’. A sonnet that relays the story of a louse that resides on the bonnet of an upper class lady in kerk. Prose initially chastising the louse for it’s ignorance of the hosts importance. However, goes on to reflects that to a louse we are all equal prey, and the kirk’s congregation would shed it’s pretensions if they saw themselves through the eyes of others.
To those celebrating the Argylle poet’s birthday this evening, have a great Burns Night – A good wish I particularly extend to fellow members of 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)