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Happy Burns Night!

On 25th January 1759, Robert Burns was born. 263 year later, Scotland celebrates its most famous national poet with haggis, neeps, tatties, poetry, song and more than a small amount of decent single malt.

Whoever runs the Scottish Government digital comms for today is probably going to be feeling a bit sheepish tonight:

 

I got to wondering how Burns would deal with social media. Imagine the Twitter pile on the lady with the louse on her bonnet would get if Rabbie had live tweeted from the church service. The wider points Burns was trying to make about social justice and the importance of all life would have been entirely lost.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Burns’ poetry. You might have the vividness of Tam o’Shanter, the tenderness of Ae Fond Kiss and the humour of odes to mice and lice, but there’s the dark side. Telling henpecked husbands to charm their wives with the magic of a switch is never going to spark joy in my feminist heart. And he also advises the guy to kiss her maids and kick the perverse….well, it rhymes with switch.

And in the Rights of Women, he said women should have protection, decorum and admiration. You know, the vote would have been nice. You know, some actual political power. If I was writing this in Burns’ time, the copyright would have belonged to my husband. 

Nevertheless, the Edinburgh South Burns Supper is one of the highlights of my year. On Saturday, I gave the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies in a virtual event. It was bittersweet to be doing it over Zoom.

I had never been to a Burns Supper before about 2012 when I first went to the South one. Since then, I’ve been on the Naughty Table every year.

For those of you who don’t know, a traditional Burns Supper goes something like this:

The Selkirk Grace kicks off the proceedings. It’s simple:

Some hae meat and canna eat,And some wad eat that want it,But we hae meat and we can eat,Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

The Haggis is piped in and someone does a dramatic reading of Burns 1786 Address to a Haggis. On Saturday this was performed by Edinburgh South’s Rebecca Wright with so much spirit and passion. She really needs to think about a career in acting. And I am a bit scared of her, having seen her wield that knife.

Then the Chief Guest of Honour delivers the Immortal Memory, a personal reflection on Burns’ life and relevance to the modern day. On Saturday night that was delivered by Alex Cole-Hamilton and was one of the best that I have heard. He had us all in stitches with his Burns Style account of the Downing Street parties.

Then there’s a Toast to the Lassies. In the not too distant past, Burns Suppers were all male affairs and this element was served with a large amount of cringeworthy sexism. In these more progressive times, Angus Councillor Ben Lawrie, also the Scottish Party’s Spokesperson on the Drugs emergency was absolutely brilliant  He talked abut his love of Tam O’Shanter:

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