Thinking of Burns and The Lassies

Back in the summer Dee and I were invited to become members of the Wester-Ross Burns Club, a singular honour for those adopted by rather than born in Scotland.

I was already pretty well steeped in Burnsmania, having visited his cottage near Ayr at age 19 (all the way back in 1954!)and a few months ago Dee and I had the opportunity afforded by our hosts, Meron and Sandy, to re-visit that same cottage. I often talk about a passion to write. But as I sit here at my keyboard and screen, cup of tea to hand 'midst warm air and electric lighting, with the black of night and the wind and the rain kept well at bay, I am imagining that young farmer, quill poised, baby crying, candle guttering in cold, wet air under leaky thatch. He has just returned from a hard day in those difficult fields of his but he is assembling some of the finest thoughts, committing them to some of the most powerful, most beautiful words ever written by anybody in any language since Man first marked the dried skin of an animal.

I've read a couple of Burns biogs and like most if not all of us I've listened often to his songs - even attempted, as have many of us, to sing some of them when refreshed enough to throw our customary caution to the winds. Here's a lesson for songwriters today; if the words aren't hearable and if they don't make you want to laugh or to cry then you're wasting your own and your listeners' time. You're 'shuffling smoke' as my American boss used, derisively, to say.

Our first meeting with the Wester-Ross Burnsians was fully reported on this site. Amongst other memorable events we danced the reels on Ian's lawn, our pace increasing from feverish to frenzied under attack from that monstrous battalion of midges. (I am convinced that highland dancing is the outward and visible sign of an inward pre-disposition to the most violent forms of cattle reiving and clan warfare.) But now has come a greater honour yet. I have been invited to propose the Toast To The Lassies at our upcoming Burns Supper.

It will be an honour and a pleasure and it will not be difficult. Leaving aside any personal knowledge on the object of the Toast I have looked for inspiration to The Man himself. I believe there are some five hundred and forty eight Burns attributed works, and of these at least a third are on the subject of The Lassies. So I shall simply follow the leader.

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