Burns Night

I’m convinced that Burns Night is Scotland’s practical joke on the world. If you were writing a list of three ways to spoil a perfectly good dinner party, it would be hard to beat:

1) serve haggis and swedes
2) recite incomprehensible poetry
3) have bagpipe music

No wonder people drink whisky with it – it’s the only thing strong enough to dull the pain.

8 Comments

  1. 27 January 2006 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    Numbers 1 and 2 are OK in my book. I like haggis. And I like Burns. I don’t like the bagpipe though, although I can play it.

    You missed out the cock-a-leekie soup. And the oatcakes and cheese.

    But really, it’s just an another excuse for Masons to get drunk together.

  2. Harry
    27 January 2006 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I like Burns, too, but not performed at me during dinner.

    As to haggis, I have to admit I found it almost inedible. I was really keen to try it, as well, it was just that it tasted revolting. Apparently you can’t buy authentic haggis the US, because the authorities don’t regard sheep’s lungs as fit for human consumption. Lucky them.

    Whisky, cock-a-leekie soup and cheese and oatcakes all sound pretty good, though.

  3. 28 January 2006 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    Harry, the recitals come after the dinner, other than “To a Haggis”, which comes before. Afterwards, there’s usually an off-by-heart “Tam O’Shanter”, and an Immortal Memory, which can be a gripping set of ideas loosely based on Burns, or a boring biography, depending on the Supper. Most times, other poems will be recited too. I can do a mean “To a Louse”.

    I once tried to take a haggis into Canada (an ex-girlfriend was there a long, long time ago), and it was discovered by the customs officials. They confiscated it, and for a few minutes, I almost thought they were going to send me back to Scotland. They gave me a long lecture on the dangers of Foot and Mouth disease.

    All haggises are different. I had a really good, spicy one a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday, the haggis was bland as mince. Tinned haggis is the pits. I admit to tasting it once.

  4. Harry
    28 January 2006 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    The only haggis I’ve had was sold as especially authentic. I suspect a less authentic one made of minced lamb instead of heart, liver and lungs would have been a bit easier to face.

    Being English, I tend to associate Burns Night with once-a-year sentimental Scots. We Rutherfords share a tartan with this nice Australian lady, you know, and my father has the kilt to prove it. This chap in Mississippi explains why it’s damn sassenach propoganda to suggest that the Rutherfords have no tartan, but also an insult to our honoured forebears to make the mistake of wearing the Roxburghshire district tartan. Nec sorte nec fato, as the clan motto so eloquently puts it. I wonder if I could get that printed on a tin of shortbread or a tea-towel?

  5. 12 March 2006 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Incomprehensible poetry? Surely not always,Harry.

    Take a moment to read and consider-

    But pleasures are like poppies spread,
    You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
    Or like the snow falls in the river,
    A moment white-then melts forever;
    Or like the Borealis race,
    That flit ere you can point their place;
    Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
    Evanishing amid the storm……

    Burns- not just a Couthy Rhymer!

  6. Harry
    12 March 2006 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I actually like Burns’s poetry.

  7. 29 November 2006 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    “Haggises”: Obviously a Sassenach – Haggi (Hagg-eye) Plural: more than one Haggis.

    If people can’t spell it they’ve got no chance eating it. To try one and winge about eating a fabulous dish is OK, but hey, I once went in a Rolls Royce and it was crap (doesn’t mean they all are though). Keep trying and you’ll find a gorgeous one.

    You can’t be proper Scottish if you don’t like Burns nights. Although you’re entitled to your opinion for sure, you’ve obviously been to some poor Burns Night’s. I’ve been to and organised and play the pipes at Burns Nights, and every year the audience love it and always come back for more. What a brilliant way to encourage people into poetry and be educated….the whisky’s not bad either!!!

  8. Harry
    29 November 2006 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I am indeed English. I’m not claiming to be a Scot, and in fact I thought I made it pretty clear above that I am impatient with people who invest in some peculiar romantic idea of Scottishness after their family has lived for several generations in another country. Fortunately it’s a large planet with plenty of room for people who have different tastes.

    As to your linguistic claim:

    “Haggises”: Obviously a Sassenach – Haggi (Hagg-eye) Plural: more than one Haggis.

    There’s a plausible argument that the plural is ‘haggis’ but it certainly isn’t ‘haggi’, which is obviously a whimsical plural invented as a a joke by analogy with Latin. The etymology of ‘haggis’ is unknown, but it sure as hell isn’t from Latin; the ‘-is’ ending is suggestive of a French word ending ‘-ice’, but according to the OED no plausible candidate has been found.

    I’d be amazed if you could find a pre-C20th source to testify to the use of ‘haggi’ as a plural for haggis. It wouldn’t surprise me to find it was much more recent even than that.

    I don’t personally enjoy haggis very much as a foodstuff, but at least it’s a good honest traditional bit of Scotland’s culinary heritage. All the dreadful laboured humour around the idea of ‘haggis hunting’ and ‘haggi’, on the other hand, sets my teeth on edge.

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