The scene: darkness dropped hours ago and there is still much of the evening yet untested. A thin, steady straggle of unfortunately dressed characters filter into a damp church hall, the exterior sparsely lit by two bargain basement, and therefore insufficient security lights; insurance for the off chance there will ever be a day that it holds anything worth stealing. Inside are trestle tables covered in sheets of thin tissue paper that, much later, will offer little resistance to the abundant, drunken spillages that are safely on the side of inevitable. Big bearded men with blue rugby shirts and kilts swagger around, their rotund, hardened bellies offering more than just a glimpse of lives lived a carefree variety of unwisely. The air is thick with the smell of stomach lining and cheap mince and somewhere an ongoing argument about the virtues of heavily peated whisky. A man stands and with a safety script clutched in his clammy palm begins to bellow utter shit, disguised as poetry. Utter shit disguised as poetry that will multiply yet further as the night creeps on. Eventually some women might be invited in but by then most of the men will be rolling around on the floor and flashing their little willies. This is a big night in Scotland. This is Burns Night. There will be headaches.
There are people with too little time on their hands and then there are people who celebrate Burns Night. It is a pointer to how little of interest happens in Scotland that Burns Night is seen as some kind of highlight and it is also worth noting that it is perfectly acceptable to have a Burns Night pretty much any time of the year, which then makes it……well, just another night. There are many wonderful things about Scotland yet the thought of that petty little Shiba Inu, Nicola Sturgeon cracking open the union to satisfy her own bloated ambition makes me very sad, but if there’s one thing I wouldn’t miss it would be the desire amongst some to sit around a draughty Scout hut in dire need of roofing repairs, eating a questionable mince dish and getting smashed on Famous Grouse.
I have a few shot glasses worth of Scotch blood plodding through my veins but I have not the slightest interest in Burns Night; I’d rather be in the burns unit of a condemned hospital but, as is more than often the case, I speak without having experienced a single one of them. Sometimes you just know the things you’re not going to enjoy and even if you try them they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. But I have demurred, in the name of experimentation – one cannot claim to find something a bore unless you have tried it at least once – and this weekend I will spend my Saturday night silently picking people, most of them strangers, apart as I raise a dram to one of the most overrated poets to have ever walked the earth.
There is a chance, a slight one, that tomorrow evening will be a triumph and thus I shall stand corrected. If this is the case then I will gladly gulp down rancid humble pie and might even say so in writing, but in my heart I sense there will be more than enough fault to find. That said it’s probably my fault that I’m too cynical about these things or that I have lazily cast my proud Ogilvie roots out to sea in a storm and I’ll never find them again. It’s probably my fault that I don’t always see the fun in things and that I’m not a great one for people spouting rubbish as an excuse for a get together: if you want to get together then just do it, but please leave the book of poems behind. And it’s definitely my fault that I can’t resist whisky but that I also don’t want to wake up with a rotten head and a bad mood. I expect that’s why I’m writing this now. This is the nice stuff. Out of pocket and with haggis and Laphroaig coating my tongue on Sunday morning it’s unlikely I’ll come up with anything more glowing than what you’re reading here. I’m doing it as a gesture. For Wifey and dementia and building bridges. Sod it, here we go. My first Burns Night. Who knows, but bugger be to bonnie Rabbie and his blathering babble if it turns out I was right all along. Wish me luck or gi mae a wee Glasgae kiss.
G B Hewitt. 24.01.2020