Serious Burns

Tartan © John MacPherson
Tartan © John MacPherson

I was born surrounded by mountains.

One year the Polish mountaineers came to visit, hosted by our local mountaineering club and Mountain Rescue Team, to enjoy the experience of our difficult if relatively small mountains (small compared to Europe that is).

Although Burns Night had passed months earlier, it was decided to give them a Burns Supper, the full haggis and turnip, whisky and bagpipe extravaganza as a treat. So the local hotel was tasked with the job.

Dinner began, my friend Kenny was Master of Ceremony and went to see how preparations were coming on in the kitchen.

AAAARGH! The haggis had been cut open and was lying in a large tin tray.

“What have you done?”
he gasped to the chef. “We were going to do the full piping in of the haggis on a silver tray, a proper Burns Supper!”

“Nobody told me” said the chef “it’s not anywhere near Burns Night so how the hell was I supposed to know?”

But thinking hard the chef had a brainwave. “I’ve still got a haggis in the freezer. I’ll get it out, pour boiling water over it to take the ice off it, and you can shove it on a tray and take it out, do the ceremony, bring it back and we can serve the hot stuff out of the tray”.

Excellent, thought Kenny.

The ice-encrusted haggis arrived, was doused in boiling water, stuck on a tray with some tartan and a large sharp dirk (dagger) and Kenny set off into the dining room with it, bagpiper giving it with gusto in front of him.

The Polish contingent were cheering, already well filled with whisky and delighted at the unfolding spectacle.

Kenny carried the tray in and Simon his co-consiprator in the ceremony, himself already well-drammed up and glowing, steadied himself to deliver the address to the haggis:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

and so on for the whole eight verses.

And then he grasped the dirk and went to plunge it deep into the haggis, as is the tradition.

Alas no-one had told Simon the haggis was as hard as a bullet, fresh from the freezer, and the dirk, having stalled briefly on the solid ice, then skidded off and stabbed Kenny in the bare arm sending a spurt of blood skywards across the haggis, the tray and Simon.

The Polish contingent cheered raucously!

Never having seen a Burns Supper before they were convinced this was the real thing. One Pole shouting “Hooray you Scots are reputed to be tough people, now we know it is true! You stab each other for entertainment!”

Which is actually so far from the truth.

Every other nation worships, and holds in high esteem, their generals. We Scots, well we worship our poets. We just also happen to be a wee bit irresponsible with anything sharp, pointy and dangerous.

But please don’t let that put you off visiting us.


And if you want a good read with some sublime photography that underlines the importance of Robert Burns to we Scots you should look at AS OTHERS SEE US

Or pop over to The Bard – a thoughtful contribution on the theme of Burns from those incredibly talented folks at Document Scotland.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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