A good person with bagpipes?
That’s it – Christmas and New Year and the End of the World (as we knew it) all gone. What’s next?
Answer: My official retirement birthday and of course– Burns Night: The annual celebration of the birth and life of Robert Burns; born January 25, 1759,in Alloway, Scotland; died 1796 at the age of only 37 – he had a weak heart caused by a ‘strenuous farmer’s life’. He was however the rock star poet of his day publishing his first book in 1786.When he died, Scotland went into mourning; ten thousand people attended his funeral and he was later named national poet and latterly the most famous Scot of all time. The Scots refer to him as The Bard; in Russia he’s the people’s poet; in Australia he is the nation’s role model.
Burns, naturally, exploited his fame and celebrity, (like rock stars of today?), fathering fourteen children by six different mothers. He was Mick Jagger (without the moves) and Keith Richards and the rest of the Rolling Stones rolled into one – except he only lived about half as long as Mick has. Robert was a letch, a hell raiser and a drunkard really. Come to think of it I seem to know quite a few poets.
His poems and lyric songs were generally written in Scottish dialect – although familiar to most Scots is incomprehensible to all other English speakers. We sing Auld Lang Syne at New Year oblivious to the words. Scots dialect is still in common use by football team managers. I have never been able to understand a single word that Sir Alex Ferguson utters: “Och the wee boy dun auld lang moosie begs and trenchen baw thru reekin goalies legs – the noo” (‘just noo?’(tr-South African?))
In my corporate – collared shirt and tie days – my company hosted an annual Burns supper for staff and clients. It was a cheap night – haggis, turnips and potatoes- offal and starch and nobody can take more than 3 cheap whiskys!
Burns Night – started in 1801. Burns Clubs now all over the world host annual Burns Suppers. Look – you can get all of this from t’internet – so I will not copy and paste any more than is needed.
*’Burns Night procedure is highly structured. After the guests take their seats, the chairman asks them to stand and receive the haggis, The entrée of entrails — haggis is made by stuffing a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs along with oatmeal and spices into the stomach lining, so that it looks like an oddly distended football — arrives on a platter, with a bagpipe band following behind. Someone then gives a boisterous rendition of one of Burns’ poems, “Address to a Haggis.” When he recites the line about cutting the … thing (“An cut you up wi ready slight”) he stabs dramatically and holds the err thing aloft and concludes with the line, “Gie her a haggis!” Then everyone toasts the haggis, which is subsequently served and eaten with side dishes of neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Men give a sarcastic, sexist toast “to the lassies” and the women (most dinners now allow women) reply with a sarcastic toast about how much they hate men. More poems are recited, songs are sung, and everyone drinks a lot of whisky.’ (*see Whiskipedia)
In the 20th year of my annual company Burns Supper, a staff member asked me if his dad Peter could pipe in the haggis. He, his dad, had taken up the bagpipes at retirement and was now, sixteen years on, fairly competent (according to his mother) to play in public. With a little trepidation I agreed – especially has he had his own kilt and he (his son) said his two tune repertoire was excellent.
On the night, our octogenarian piper arrived looking very much like Billy Connolly does now in that film about Queen Victoria. He was a wee bit tense and nervous as this was his first public appearance. (He wasn’t a Scot either and had also requested the vegetarian option).
The poetry lovers rose to their feet and, in the corridor off the hall, Peter pressed the starter on the pipes, or whatever they do to get the damn things squealing. However the extra effort, on top of his already elevated blood pressure, caused a nose bleed (which we, the poetry lovers, could not see). There was a scream and a dull thud or two as the waitress presenting the haggis fainted at the sight of the bloodied Peter and his pipes.
We had a break in proceedings whilst Peter and the haggis were cleaned up in the gents’ and a replacement trauma seasoned waitress was coerced. A barely recognisable version of Obla Di Obla Da struck up and Peter entered resplendent with a blood-stained tissue stuffed up his right nostril.
Best Burns Supper I’ve ever been to. I just wish I’d had the presence of mind to film it.
PS: Recently I heard the most ridiculous argument. I heard that the only defence against a bad person with bagpipes was a good person with bagpipes. In my opinion it is time we decommissioned all bagpipes (and accordions).
PPS: vegetarian option haggis (Ingredients for 10)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 medium onion; 1 small carrot; 5 fresh mushrooms – ALL finely chopped 250ml vegetable stock 5 tablespoons dried red lentils; 2 tablespoons canned kidney beans, mashed; 3 tablespoons finely ground peanuts; 2 tablespoons finely ground hazelnuts; 1 tablespoon soy sauce; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme; 1 teaspoon dried rosemary; 1 pinch ground cayenne pepper 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice; 1 egg, beaten
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the onion 2. Mix in carrot and mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. 3. Stir in the stock, lentils, kidney beans, peanuts, hazelnuts, soy sauce and lemon juice. Season with thyme, rosemary, cayenne pepper and mixed spice. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in oats, cover and simmer 20 minutes. 4. Preheat oven to 190C; Lightly grease a 23x13cm loaf tin. 5. Stir the egg in . Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf tin. Bake 30 minutes until firm.