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Burns Supper will be waiting – after the poetry

By Barbara Henderson

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ArtyNess by Barbara Henderson

Robert Burns
Robert Burns

Scotland is the only country to have a railway station named after a fictional character in a novel. Did you know that? Waverley Station takes its name from Walter Scott’s iconic hero.

Forget railway stations. Think festivals. Our festivals tend to be religious, or seasonal, don’t they? Guess what, Scotland has a literary one too!

By January, we are generally done with feasting aren’t we – our indulgences over Christmas and Hogmanay give way to fun stuff like diets and Dry January.

The beginning of February is reputedly the point of the nation’s lowest mood – dark and damp, a seemingly endless, wet, dank winter. No doubt about it, the early months of the year can be challenging.

But wait, there is always Burns Day, when the nation stops to celebrate the written word. Our iconic Scottish national bard has his memorial day all to himself – even poor William Shakespeare has to share his (likely) birthday with St George’s Day. There is no dedicated ‘Shakespeare Day’, or ‘Wordsworth Day’.

Burns, on the other hand, suffers no competition on his birthday. Iconic words, memorable tunes and a celebration of the Scots language all combine to make it a real occasion, marked with a meal of haggis, neeps and tatties.

The man and I began hosting Burns Suppers as students. We would calculate how many people we could physically fit into our tiny flat, we bought a rickety trestle table and set to work. The meal was secondary (and of questionable culinary standard) – but we asked everyone who attended to prepare a recital, a poem or a song.

Two of the guests were always tasked with the addresses to the lads and the lassies. The Address to the Haggis, however, was reserved for my husband – his default setting is reserved, but that particular text seems to unleash a thespian instinct of legend!

I have wonderful memories of these occasions. One of my husband’s fellow medics had hinted that he liked one of my teacher training pals. We gave them the addresses to the lads and lassies to prepare and arranged for him to drive her home. They have been married for over 20 years now. Our Burns Supper was the beginning.

It is regrettable that the current pandemic will make get-togethers like our Burns Suppers of old harder to pull off. But I urge you to seek out that old, battered copy of Burns poetry on your shelf and have a read – you’ll be surprised at the treasures you’ll unearth.

I’ll be spending the afternoon of Burns Day in an online school event about ‘The Real Robert Burns’ alongside author Victoria Williamson.

The haggis will be in the slow cooker, you can rest assured.

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