Well, far be it from me to get all metaphysical and deep, but I’m doing a bit of travel writing without really going anywhere on this one (actually I’m writing on a train, but that’s sort of irrelevant to this story). After all, isn’t life just one big journey, one long travel experience, where we all just plonk down in one spot or other for a bit longer than the others?
Well, at least that might be what I’ve done…
Anyway, since moving to Scotland, I’ve learnt of this strange extra holiday of which I had no conception when living 200 miles to the other side of the border: Burns Night, it turns out, is an(other) excuse to have a big piss-up in January, eat some reasonable food and generally talk gibberish at a piece of sheep which is still (I believe) illegal in several developing and backwards countries (read: the US).
This little session of an event is, incidentally, the poshest/most dressed up event I’ve attended so far at the rugby club – involving tartan skirts (or trousers, shirts and ties for those of us not of the ginger persuasion), compared to the usual fancy dress. It all started off in a fairly standard way – get beaten at rugby on a saturday, have a couple of beers, wander to the pub to watch the Saxons lose to Ireland A, then wander back to the club for a few more beers, but this time in a slightly nicer tie and a jacket.
Then it’s a sit-down-for-dinner job, and a welcoming speech (all very formal!), a soup starter, and then where it starts to go slightly stranger…The main course of a Burns Night Supper is haggis, neeps and tatties – thats general sheep innards, oats barley etc. stuffed into a bit of gut or a sausage casing, served with mashed turnip and potato. Now, once you get past the fact that you’re eating bits of an animal that most of western society considers to be dog food, it’s actually quite nice (bloody amazing!).
But that’s all fine enough, we all eat our oddities – the weird bit is the processional into and around the room where the haggis is piped in: literally marched around the room by the chef and a piper. Then someone else stands up, and recites a longish Robert Burns poem called Address to a Haggis, which after about the third line, blurs into a sort of giberishy mess of anglo-gaelic sounds – it sounds nice, I just had no bloody clue what was going on after ‘Chieftain ‘o the puddin’ race…’
After that, we ate, which as previously mentioned, was various parts of sheep with mashed root vegetables (haggis, neeps and tatties), and that was lovely. You get some odd food while travelling, but I’ve never tried anything I could truly say I regret trying at least once (although living up here, I do actually eat haggis from time to time anyway – really good on burgers!).
After that were a couple more speeches, interspersed with the pudding. The first of the speeches, given by a man who can only be described as the rugby club’s resident drunkard (and known ‘caringly’ as Pikey Mikey) is known as The Immortal Memory, and is a mix of light-hearted homage and history-lesson-with-gravitas to Burns. The two that followed were a Toast to the Lassies, and the Reply to the Toast.
After that followed much drinking – of beer, wine, port (it’s a rugby club after all) and whisky (it’s Scotland after all), and one of the most painful two day hangovers I’ve had since university.
All in all it was a strange little celebration – there aren’t many countries in the world that do that kind of celebration for their national poet (well, there may be, but I’ve not come across many…) but it was a good night; a chance to see something new and slightly alien, a chance to eat good food, average wine, and hang out with a blend of good, odd and interesting people, and most of all, something I wouldn’t have seen ‘back home’ (although if anyone can actually explain where that is, I’d be most grateful). Despite the fact that it all took place about half a mile from my flat, what else could you describe this as but travelling?