Robbie Burn’s Night at George and Dragon
Although I’m from ‘up north’ as the southerners like to say, I was born sufficiently far enough away from the Scottish border to be completely oblivious to most things Caledonian (the Latin name given by the Romans to the land in today’s Scotland, north of their province of Britannia, beyond the frontier of their empire).
Indeed, your average Englishman (of a certain age, to be found in and around Shekou), when asked to recall famous Scottish folk, will likely come up with Andy Murray (some tennis player apparently), Billy Connolly (quite possibly the world’s funniest man), Rab C Nesbitt (actually a fictitious Glaswegian played by Gregor Fisher, famous for his ‘comb over’) and…er…Jocky Wilson, the talented but wayward darts player, now sadly departed.
Ahem…a distinct lack of cultural awareness, so with the imminent arrival of Burn’s Night, I needed some expert tuition on the subject. Clearly, only one place to go then…I took myself off to Sea World’s Tavern (on the third floor above The Bombay Indian Restaurant for the uninitiated), for a chat with Shekou’s resident expert on all things Scottish…Gavin Mackenzie.
So, who is ‘Rabbie’ Burns? ‘Born in 1759, he’s Scotland’s most famous Bard’ (poet) says Gav. ‘every 25th January (his birthday), or thereabouts, we celebrate his life and poetry by means of a ‘Burn’s supper’, which, for around 200 years has followed a traditional course.’ One thing I do associate with Burns is haggis, but I’m not sure why…’well’, muses Gav, ‘Burns immortalised the Haggis in one of his poems , and the association developed from there.’
I enquire as to what path the traditional evening will take…Gavin is now in his element.
‘The ritual was started by close friends of Burns a few years after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory. The basic format for the evening has remained unchanged since that time and begins when the chairman invites the company to receive the haggis.’
This year, Burn’s night is to be celebrated in the George & Dragon on Wednesday 23rd January, so as to avoid the weekend…are you going to be the chairman of the evening? I ask.
‘Of course…I’ll give a few welcoming words start the evening and the meal commences with the ‘Selkirk Grace’, which is a well known thanks giving.
The company are asked to stand to receive the haggis. A piper usually then leads the chef, carrying the haggis to the top table, while the guests accompany them with a slow handclap. I then recite Burns’ famous poem ‘To a Haggis’ and when I reach the line ‘an cut you up wi’ ready slight’, I cut open the haggis with a sharp knife. It’s customary for the company to applaud the speaker then stand and toast the haggis with a glass of whisky. I take a wee dram (a small drink) and throw the rest over the dish.
The company will then dine. The Bill o’ Fare (menu) will be:
Haggis warm reeking, rich wi’ Champit Tatties, (mashed potatoes)
Bashed Neeps (mashed swedes)
Cranachan (Scottish cheesecake in a glass).
A Tassie o’ Coffee
The Immortal Memory
I will give a short speech on Burns. There are many different types of Immortal Memory speeches, from light-hearted to literary, but the aim is the same – to outline the greatness and relevance of the poet today.
Toast To the Lasses (women)
The main speech is followed by a more light-hearted address to the women in the audience. Originally this was a thank you to the ladies for preparing the food and a time to toast the ‘lasses’ in Burns’ life. The tone should be witty, but never offensive, and should always end on a conciliatory note.
The turn of the lasses to detail men’s foibles; again, should be humorous but not insulting.
Poem and Songs
Once the speeches are complete the evening continues with songs and poems.
The evening will culminate with the company standing, linking hands and singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to conclude the programme.’
I have one final question: ‘Obviously, you’ll be in full Scottish regalia, which means a kilt and sporran, but what about the legend of what Scots wear (or don’t wear) underneath? Gav gives a wry smile…’that’s for me to know and the ladies to find out…’
To get a real taste of this most vibrant of Scottish evenings, take yourself down to the George & Dragon this coming Wednesday 23rd January, to catch Gavin in full costume and in full flow…it should be a really special night, not to be missed.
Watch this space for a follow up on how it went…
To book a table, please call 0755 26698564