When it comes to Scottish suppers honoring Robert Burns, an Englishman muddles though.
Ah well, another of my potential careers appears to have bitten the dust.
Admittedly, this was among the less likely ones to take off in a big way. After all, I am English.
If I had been born Scottish, I suppose there might have been a greater chance of becoming established as a Burns Supper Speaker or Entertainer. Who knows, I might have been on the roster and called upon annually anytime between mid-January and late May to propose The Immortal Memory, to sing "My Luve Is Like A Red, Red Rose" or "Rantin, Rovin Robin," to recite the whole of "Tam O' Shanter" or "Holy Willie's Prayer." I might even have been asked to "address the haggis." And I might moreover have commanded a surprising fee for such Burnsian services rendered.
I have now lived in Scotland longer than I have anywhere else, and I have long known that in this small country, the words The Bard do not apply to Shakespeare.
Robert Burns is held in high regard here all right, and Burns Suppers traditionally celebrate his birth with a uniquely Scottish blend of boisterous humor, nostalgia, sentimentality, and solemn respect.
I can describe the peculiar medley that makes up these occasions because I have now attended two of them, by invitation, in 2006 and 2007. It looks, however, as if this year I am not to be so favored, and next year – the 250th anniversary of The Bard's birth – who can tell?
My first Burns Supper was the one given by and for the drama club of which I'm a member. Paola was the organizer that year and she showed herself prepared to break daring new ground by inviting (or perhaps I should more accurately say, by charmingly press-ganging) an Englishman to perform one of the essential functions of this indelibly Scottish event. "Darling," she purred, "I'd like you to propose the Toast to the Lasses. Would you?"
"But I can think of three reasons right off why I can't and shouldn't," I protested, knowing that I had probably lost the argument anyway.
I was right. Paola had thought of all my possible objections, not to mention a few I hadn't come up with yet, and had discarded them as entirely irrelevant. My Englishness would only make my speech fresher and funnier. The fact that I had never been to a Burns Supper before only meant it was high time I did. And she was quite sure that my being a teetotaller would not be noticed at all, precisely because nobody else there would be one.