A VARIETY OF BURNS SUPPERS!
Ah! that’s the first weekend of Burns Suppers under the belt. Friday the 18th January had me bound for the Knaresborough area to pipe for a community in a local village hall, which I have done for several years. With the four large tables set out like a St Andrew’s saltire and the tables and chairs decorated with blue and white, the scene was wonderfully enchanting. All looked good until about twenty minutes past seven, when all of a sudden, the lights went out and the building lost all electrical power. However, no panic ensued, but the organiser began lighting all the candles dispersed around the room and on the tables, achieving a soft romantic aspect to the atmosphere. Nevertheless, the first course of the evening was smoked salmon and prawns on a bed of lettuce, so no cooking was needed in the beginning. Other members of the organising team tackled the issue with the electricity and happy to say, the lights came back on during the drinks reception and the problem averted. Guests were all sat down to dinner for the second course which of course, was the haggis. It was a splendid beast which, after piping it in, was dispatched in company with all eight verses of Burn’s “Address to the Haggis” by yours truly, which was exceptionally well received by the company. The rest of the meal was indeed a feast as on the menu was lamb shank, roast pork and fresh Scottish salmon. Many of the guests I had met on previous Burns Suppers and I felt at home in good company where a good blether was had and a few raunchy jokes were shared. A few tune sets were interspersed during the evening and an odd rendition of one of Burn’s poems was read and the company hit high spirits as the evening wore on. However, I have to record a rare but rather pleasing incident, where the organiser told me that I needed to increase my fee - now that’s no bad thing, but it doesn’t happen too often!
Saturday the 19th January was a bit like ‘dé-jâ vu’ in that I was bound for yet another community hall in the Ripon district, this time on a second visit. Here I was sharing the spotlight with a ceilidh band who were there to provide an evening of dancing, interspersed of course with the Burn’s ceremonial surrounding the Haggis and a few spots on the pipes. Another splendid beast was presented for our delight, but I fear that this one was not acquired with the due sanction of a hunting licence and the necessary CITES certificate for this endangered species. This, as I explained, put everyone in the position of ‘aiding and abetting’ an illegal consumption and would render them liable to prosecution if the polis’ ever found out (so don’t tell anybody!). Very few guests were left sitting around the sides of the room whenever there was a dance, with which to get involved. Youngsters (some as young as six or seven), and not so young, all appeared to enjoy the whirly-birly of the dance floor which created a somewhat cachophonous sound level. Appetites were obviously sharpened by the exertions, as when it came to dish out the repast, the queue formed quicker than the blink of an eye to fill their plates with Haggis, champit tatties and bashed neeps. Nevertheless, all were suitably quiet for the haggis ceremony and the subsequent speeches. My performances went down extremely well and the organisers clocked up another very successful evening of fun and tradition.
MORE BURNS SUPPERS
Friday 25th January had me on a long drive out to the local golf club in Louth, North Lincolnshire, to attend their Burns celebrations. This was my first visit to this venue and some 75 members and guests sat down to a sumptuous meal, which outfaced many of the diners - not because it wasn’t wholesome, but because the portions were so huge. I was not just doing the piping and address to the haggis on this occasion, but also presenting the “Immortal Memory” with the toast to Burns, which was very well received by all. There was also an extra reason for celebration on this occasion, as one club member had reached the ripe old age of ninety years having been born on the same day as Robert Burns. He was a popular chap, with the same forename as yours truly, and I had the privilege of piping ‘Happy Birthday’ as the ubiquitous cake was carried into the room and the company sang to him. I cannot recall any previous Burns Suppers that I have done where so many of the guests came up to shake my hand and congratulate me on a job well done. Most gratifying and pleasing! As per my usual ‘modus operandi’ when I’m driving, I do not drink alcohol during a gig, but the Club Captain sent me home with a welcome gift of a litre of ‘Famous Grouse’ Scotch Whisky, which dear reader, I can assure you, will be put to a very good use. An enjoyable evening which saw me drive home with a satisfactory glow.
Saturday 26th January was to another Burns Supper, this time in North Yorkshire. On arrival, getting from the car to the venue became a tad tricky as the heavens had decided to open with a strong downpour. Eventually, a lull allowed the transfer and I was welcomed by my client at the ‘Harrogate Gentlemen’s Club.’ Black tie and posh frocks was the dress code with which I duly complied - black tie highland evening dress I mean, I don’t wear posh frocks (well, not often anyway). The company looked splendid and numbered around fifty or so, whilst proving to be a friendly bunch. The formalities ran smoothly as I piped in the haggis and performed the address with as much gusto as I could muster. Another splendid meal was put in front of us, the company having one or two “haggis virgins” amongst them, who were pleasantly surprised at the taste. You could hear a pin drop when I gave the ‘Immortal Memory’ speech and toast, which is always a bonus for any speaker. Members of the company rounded things up with the ‘toast to the lassies,’ and a response from a lady guest. Come the end of a very enjoyable evening, I played ‘Auld Lang Syne’’ for all to sing together in the usual manner. And so it was farewell to the new found friends that I had made during the evening, promising to return on a future occasion.
I know we all get one of those weeks from time to time, but to get a month of miseries is unusual for me. Not only did I pick up a cold virus in February that’s taken weeks to disappear. This meant trying to clearly annunciate when giving an ‘Immortal Memory’ speech at a recent Burns Supper in Wakefield, proved somewhat demanding. My car was damaged in a York car park and I’ve been without transport for a whole week as a consequence, plus being down £200 for my insurance excess. Problems ensued as I had a band practice to attend at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh, with the Scots Guards Association Pipe Band, which unfortunately, I had to cry off. I also managed to get lost (a rare event for me!) on the way to a function near Burnley, Lancashire, which I found immensely irritating. News came in that a close relative had been urgently admitted to hospital with kidney failure. This developed into a hurriedly arranged trip down to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading to visit with him. He’s on three days of dialysis, but there are hopes that his kidneys will eventually regain function again. To cap it all, my pipe bag gave up the ghost and I had to send for a new bag which cost me £103 - a stretch when all the issues and travelling in the month had bitten heavily into my finances - it didn’t help to lose two quoted gigs as well!!
A recent visit to Vimy Barracks at Catterick Garrison to see my regimental tailor, had me being measured up for a new piper’s tunic. The old one has done good service for the last decade or so, but is now showing it’s age. I am always keen to maintain the best and smartest turn-out possible when piping for various events - even though it can get a tad expensive from time to time. However, I am still struggling to find old style piper’s spats. The latest offerings are not a patch on the older kit and in my opinion, don’t look right. Watching a batch of new recruits being kitted out for the first time had me thinking. Perhaps few of them are aware that if Britain does not exit the EU, then, according to the Treaty of Lisbon, they will be under the authority of the new European army and no longer will the UK have armed forces or even a nuclear deterrent.
One recent wedding held near Peterborough that I attended, had a very interesting Scottish connection in that the hotel was a former English seat of the Marquis of Huntly. Orton Hall in Orton Longville is a beautiful house, the site of which has a long history going back to the Roman period in Briain. The estate was acquired in 1791 by the Lord Strathavon (the Marquis’ heir) after he married Catherine Cope (daughter of Sir Charles Cope) who was the co-heiress to the Orton Estates. It became a convenient home whilst easing the commute to Parliament in London when the Marquis sat in the House of Lords. The main part of Orton Hall was built in 1835 to the design of G. H. Smith of London. The substantial West Wing, the “Great Hall,” was added in 1861 by the tenth Marquis as a wedding present for his wife Maria. As a descendant of the Gordons and a distant cousin of the Marquis, it was of particular interest for me to see the house, and bring back a bit of Scottish culture to the old place for a ‘MacKenzie’ wedding..