Burns Supper

The Burns Supper Friday last at The Myrtle Bank Hotel in Gairloch was a sell out. The much kilted throng had a good and very merrie time until after midnight, celebrating the birth of Scotland’s very own Bard.

Our Wester-Ross Burns Club Chair, Ian Macmillan, executed the haggis with his usual savage aplomb, interjecting ongoing proceedings now and then with his jokes and anecdotes. 

Founder member Tony Davies delivered an excellent Immortal Memory, majoring on the full sweep of the poet’s life - his mostly hard and sometimes reckless times as well as his death and his legacy. 

I proposed the toast to the lassies, my comments, very tongue in cheek, causing I hope no offence. My friend Jackie West surreptitiously filmed me in full flow and has published the outcome with her own musical and pictorial additions - on YouTube. See http://youtu.be/D6vwD4UNWLU , Text below.

The reverend Pam Shinkins toasted the laddies in response - she took no prisoners! Good on you, Pam.

Toast: ‘To The Lassies’
Burns Supper 23rd January

1. April 6th, 1793 Burns wrote a letter; in it … ‘Woman is the blood-royal of life … let them all be sacred.' Gentleman, I shall begin by agreeing with him. I too have put the female of our species on a pedestal. It’s not my fault they fall off.
2. I might attribute this pedestal fixation to having grown up through my pre-teen, WW2 years in pretty much an all female society. Father was away on ‘War Department business’. Just me, mother and three little sisters who were useless at conkers and didn’t want to play with my toy soldiers. I couldn’t understand that. Grown up girls seemed to play all the time with real soldiers - mostly of the Yankee variety!

3. By contrast, from aged eleven to fifteen I was consigned - some might say confined - to a boys only boarding school. (Public school, not Borstal by the way!) Consequently my first ‘free’ adolescent contact with young females made a major impression on me … It’s January 1, 1949, a large Boots the Chemist store in central Cambridge, not yet open for business. In walks a youth of barely fifteen, Boots’s brand new apprentice pharmacist.  There are many females of his own age and upwards busily dusting off their counters, now stopping to examine the crimson faced newcomer. Painful! Barely able to speak, I asked the nearest girl for the manager’s office. That girl was Heather Wolfe.

4. I remember her name because she was to become my first, sort-of, girlfriend. We used to spend our lunch breaks across the road in the record shop. In those days such places had sound proofed booths where you could listen to the record you might want to purchase. I remember our favourite record, too; Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson singing There’s a small hotel. It goes on … with a wishing well, I wish that we were there, together.  Boy, did I ever wish! The booth was just large enough for two and Heather was well gifted in the female department. No chance, of course, of any small hotel or even much of a cuddle. Later on, as a newly recruited R.A.F. National Serviceman I hitch-hiked all the way from South Wales on a 48 hour pass back to Cambridge to see her, only to learn that she was ‘going out’ with a USAF staff sergeant. My first hard lesson in the fickleness of my pedestalised female.

5. Now, it is politically correct these days to speak of the equality of the sexes as if it is an unarguable truth, but I have learned that there are many differences or inequalities in understanding and logic between human males and females. If I may illustrate that, not long ago one of my sons told me that, following an extensive session in a local pub he had been well and truly put in the doghouse by his wife. “Please understand”, he’d  pleaded, “It was because I work so hard and long for you and the family, and under such pressure whilst you are working three days, going to the gym and having your hair done all the time.” But for some reason she still hadn’t understood, he told me. My fatherly advice was never to use fact or logic in such an exchange. Just say how sorry you are and look as woebegone as you can. It’s the only way to avoid that female punishment of last resort - the much dreaded stony silence.

6. Logic? I told my son to forget it, and about how I remembered a business logistics expert telling us how he’d watched his wife at breakfast time making lots of trips between the refrigerator, stove, table and cabinets, often carrying a single item at a time. It seems that one morning he told her, why don't you try carrying several things at once? At that point I put up my hand, asked him if it had saved time. He’d nodded "Actually, yes. It used to take her 20 minutes. Now I do it in seven."

7  There’s another thing about the ladies that puzzles me; what about the legendary female multi tasking? If that’s true, I’ve wondered, why can’t women have a headache and make love at the same time? Or, as a friend of mine complained; What’s their head got to do with it?
8. But ladies, we do love you, and none more so than the subject of our gathering this evening. A random glance through the Burns archives yields a multitude of proofs … these amongst them …
9. Isabella of Jedburgh was one of Rabbie’s less celebrated loves, a young lady already well engaged to another when she met the poet during his tour of the Borders in 1787. A ‘meeting’, by the way, that earned her considerable local approbation. After his visit he went merrily on his way, later writing her a letter including this remarkable tribute; 'Sweet Isabella Lindsay, may Peace dwell in thy bosom, uninterrupted, except by the tumultuous throbbings of rapturous Love! That love-kindling eye must beam on another not me; that graceful form must bless another's arms, not mine.' ... Nice one, Rabbie!
10. Then there was Margaret (Peggy) Thompson who Burns first met at Kirkoswald when of school age. He met her again much later, shortly before his eventually aborted departure for the West Indies. In the Glenriddell Manuscript there is a note in Burns's hand: '... Poor Peggy! Her husband is an old acquaintance and a most worthy fellow. When I was taking leave, intending to go to the West Indies, neither she nor I could speak a syllable. Her husband escorted me three miles on my road, and we both parted with tears.' Such wonderful understanding, although if one is in any way cynical maybe the husband’s tears were of joy now that the impassioned bard had really gone!

11. Of course our Rabbie was not always successful with the ladies. He wrote a song about the group of local girls he called ‘The Tarbolton Lassies’. One of them with whom he obviously tried his luck was named Bessy. It seems he may have missed his mark with her, for the verse goes …

"There's few sae bonie, nane sae guid,
In a' King George' dominion;
If ye should doubt the truth o' this —
It's Bessy's ain opinion!"… So, Bessy, here’s to you as well.

12. But, ladies, I really cannot propose this toast without mentioning that most important of human functions: procreation. It is after all the name of the game of life. But ah, its joys and its agonies! A female patient asks her doctor: ‘Should I have a baby after 35?’ ‘No,’ replies doctor; ‘35 children is enough.’

13. A more mature lady had an appointment at the surgery with one of the new doctors but burst out of his office, screaming. An older doctor stopped her and asked what the problem was. He listened then marched in to the new doctor "What's the matter with you? he demanded. Mrs. Terry is 63 years old, she has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and you told her she was pregnant?" The new doctor looked up. "Cured her hiccups though, didn't I?"
14. Talking about doctors, ladies, have you heard of this new medication? Peptobimbo, it’s called; the liquid silicone for single women. Apparently two full cups swallowed before an evening out increases breast size, decreases intelligence, and improves male relationships.
15. Sticking with medical matters, a husband has been in hospital, slipping in and out of a coma for several weeks, yet his wife has stayed by his bedside all the time. Suddenly he comes to, motions her to come nearer and whispers, his eyes full of tears, "My love, you’ve been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you never complained. When I got shot, you were by my side and even when we lost the house, you stayed right here. You know what?" "What dear?" she asks gently, “I think you're bad luck," he whispers.
16. But behind the joking I have to say, ladies, that love can and does indeed conquer all. Boy meets girl, the stuff of life. Thousands of songs and poems endorse it. When people tell me they have no time for poetry I have to smile. I ask them, but you like pop music? Yes? Well, it’s only poetry set to music. Anyway here are very brief extracts from just two poems. Each is, I think, a rather lovely form of marriage proposal.

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

Those verses were from Christopher Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd’, written four hundred years ago and this is from Robert Burns’ ballad ‘Bonie Jean’, written two centuries later …

There was a lass, and she was fair,
At kirk or market to be seen;
When a' our fairest maids were met,
The fairest maid was bonie Jean.

… Burns goes on to describe in some detail the courtship, and then …

"O Jeanie fair, I lo'e thee dear;
O canst thou think to fancy me,
Or wilt thou leave thy mammie's cot,
And learn to tent the farms wi' me?

"At barn or byre thou shalt na drudge,
Or naething else to trouble thee;
But stray amang the heather-bells,
And tent the waving corn wi' me."

he promise of that age old Utopian ideal … and why not? We all know that real life can never be that way but we can all wish, we can all pretend.

18. In closing, I think that Rabbie would have approved of the following lines from Franz Leh├ír’s operetta Paganini. Sexist it may be, therefore possibly illegal, but as Brett Butler in Gone With the Wind remarked, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Besides, my good friend the reverend Pam Shinkins will remind me that we are all as the one upstairs made us.
Girls were made to love and kiss
And who am I to interfere with this?
Is it well?  Who can tell?
I’m a man and I kiss them when I can.
‘When I can’; that is, when they’re not out of reach up there on that pedestal. 
Gentlemen please be upstanding … 

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