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Immortal memories: just an ordinary Burns’ Night

January 26, 2010

Asking around the other school mums yesterday morning, I was impressed that almost everyone was planning on haggis for their tea. Burns’ Night is not just for tourists and ex-pats, then. How many of us actually read or recited any of the poems of Robert Burns last night, I couldn’t say; but we all appreciate the excuse that he gives us to have a wee bit of a celebration in these dark, dreich January days.

We had no guests staying, and no plans to be changing into kilts and tartan and go rushing off to some manufactured Burns’ Supper, thank goodness. Since my husband had his last day’s shooting of the season yesterday, he was in tweed plus-twos (breeks) anyway and looked pretty ‘ethnic’ already! We four sat down together for haggis by candlelight. I gave a truncated recital of Burns’ address to the haggis – years ago I learned it by heart  to recite at a university Burns’ Supper, but I didn’t think that our small boys would sit through the whole thing – stapped the creature with my peever (i.e. stuck a knife into it) and served it out to enjoyment all round. Even the littlest discovered that he liked it. We told the boys all about haggis-catching: how their legs on one side are shorter than the other for running around hills so that, if you drive them in the other direction, they lose their footing and roll down the hill into the haggis traps set at the bottom. The children lapped this up with wide eyes. I asked my husband if there were any wild haggis still to be found on the grouse moor on the estate, but he thought that, like the grouse, there were very few left in our patch these days.  I am now feeling a twinge of guilt, wondering what reception the boys’ retelling of these stories will receive at school today…

A traditional pudding for Burns’ night is cranachan, a fattening and delicious mixture of whipped cream, raspberries, whisky, honey and toasted oatmeal: each ingredient is an example of the bounty of food and drink to be found in Scotland. As a change from this, however, I decided to try a recipe by Lady Claire Macdonald, a wonderful Scottish cook. It was a syllabub made with cream, whisky, chopped ginger in syrup and grated lemon rind. Absolutely delicious and definitely one to make again – when our cholesterol levels have recovered from this year’s Burns’ Supper!

The toasts were drunk in the Balvenie Doublewood, a particularly mellow single malt which is a favourite of mine. We toasted the haggis, of course, and the Immortal Memory (of Rabbie Burns). We also drank a toast to another great Scot, the irreplaceable Bill McLaren, the voice of rugby for years to so many Scottish fans, whose funeral took place yesterday in Hawick and who is remembered by many, many people with respect and affection.

After supper, at the end of which my elder son very sweetly proposed a toast to Mummy/ ‘The Lassies’, my husband tuned up his pipes at the boys’ request and went outside to ‘gie ’em a blaw’, as my father used to say. There is a story there. My dad played the pipes occasionally, an appreciative amateur, and used sometimes to let me try to blow a strangled note from his beautiful Indian-made chanter. The chanter had been given to him as a boy by a friend of his father. When my parents were first getting to know the young man who was to become my husband, I persuaded the latter to bring his own set of bagpipes to our house to play them for Dad. As I predicted, Dad was hugely impressed and decided very quickly that this was a most suitable young man for his daughter! Eventually he presented the Indian chanter to my husband – a treasured bequest – and it is now our own children who enjoy struggling to blow a note or two out of it. So, last night after supper, my husband played ‘Lochanside’ as a tribute to his own father, and ‘The Black Bear’ as a tribute to mine, while elder son played a drone on the chanter and younger son capered and danced on the icy remains of the pre-Christmas snow.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2010 2:11 am

    Someone else who knows what a palimpsest is! 😉 I remember that from Greek class, maaaaaaaaany years ago. I don’t think i’ve heard it said since. Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving such a lovely comment. Now that i have found your wonderful blog, i shall be a frequent visitor. Lizzy

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      January 28, 2010 11:18 am

      Thank you, Lizzy. It’s a word that I first came across when studying medieval manuscripts at university, but it works so well in an artistic context too. I’m not a philologist in the professional sense but I do love good words!

  2. February 23, 2011 12:42 am

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found this blog. The post on trees drew me in, and these posts are going to keep me. My husband is a serious collector of single malt scotch, I have spent time in the Caithness area (Thurso and Dunnet, where I have friends living), and I’ve been a Scottish Country dancer for years and years. And finally, as a writer, I love the way you write. I’m happy that there are many posts here for me to walk through. On a more serious note I also understand in a way how a head injury can mess with you for long after. First because I was a firefighter/medical responder for years, but mainly because I went through radiation that messed me up afterwards in a lot of similar ways. Killed writing for a long time, too. But it’s slowly coming back. Looking forward to more of your writing. I’ve got to quit here before I ramble on so much you get worried and ban me from your site, but are you familiar with the Tannahill Weavers or Wicked Tinkers?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      February 23, 2011 10:29 am

      If I have managed to connect with one or two kindred spirits out of the hundreds who have visited DB since its being ‘Freshly Pressed’, then I feel very blessed. Thank you for your generous comments, Lisa.

      How interesting – though horrible for you – that radiation should have had similar effects to brain injury. I would be very interested to hear more. Have you written about it at all? I do hope your recovery continues.

      Don’t know the Wicked Tinkers (great name!) but the Tannahill Weavers, yes; not least because Dougie MacLean, who used to sing with them, is a local lad and a big name hereabouts.

      • February 24, 2011 4:47 pm

        Radiation was done to the right side of my head because of lymphoma (all gone now). I haven’t written about it much because the ‘fallout’ seems to have killed writing. Writing was such a major part of my life, too. But I see it tentatively coming back. A big thing for me was the emotional aspect. I’ve always been one of these very responsible, take care of everyone, tears and anger are a sign of weakness types. And then there I was crying all the time, really and truly losing my temper at these unimportant things. I felt like I needed to hibernate like the bears around here; just crawl into a hole, curl up and hunker down while I tried to heal. The doctor said the radiation messed with the chemistry of my brain and suggested a low dose pill to take for a short while to get things firing right again. Of course I think taking pills is a sign of weakness, too. It finally took me losing it one day when my husband and son were asking some questions, and me screaming, ‘quit asking me things! I can’t make decisions anymore!’ with a few profanities thrown in. I then cried, they hovered, and I told them to make the decision for me about the pills. I’ve been taking them for about four months now, and am starting to feel ‘normal’ again. The doctor says I’ll be able to go off them in the spring. I think it helps to have a great doctor. He knows me very well, and has been very good about pushing me gently toward realizing that I have to take time for myself now, leave dirty dishes to sit and read with a cup of tea, etc. I’m now a work in progress, just like my mysteries! On other notes, my son was born to Tannahill Weavers music. When I told the guys that once, they said, ‘and he didn’t come out screaming?’. Now they always sign CD’s to my son. Wicked Tinkers are an American band, and this is going to sound odd, but they combine bagpipes with a didgeredoo (sp?) for a very unique, yet still traditional sound. They are just wild to see live. Tons of fun. And how funny that you like Sean Bean! Great minds think alike. Feel free to email me off site if you ever want to chat less publicly: I live in an area with , believe it or not, no internet service so I’m not online every day, but I’m around. Looking forward to your posts here.


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