The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Mar 9, 2012

Burns Night

A little while ago, RBS invited a bunch of its favourite clients over to its capacious headquarters on Bishopsgate to thank them for their business over the preceding year and to celebrate Burns' Night. You know, Robbie Burns, the only poet the Scots ever had. And because RBS's imagination ran fecund, the night was filled to the brim with every other manner of Scottishness. Which, when you think about it, is just four things. Haggis. Whisky. Tartan. Oats.

I jest, I jest. I'm as big a fan of Scotland as anyone who has ever visited Edinburgh only. At least I understood why RBS would organise festivities in honour of Burns. Unlike that one particularly thick client who sidled up to the global head of sales and said, 'This is just an excuse for a binge, isn't it? What's the connection between RBS and Burns?'

The sales head was incredulous. After gaping for a second or two, she replied, 'Er, the last letter in RBS?'

The RBS sales men were all in kilts. I asked one of them if he got to choose his tartan. No, he said. The colours were handed out at random. 'Damn,' he added. 'It itches like you won't believe.' 

Several drinks later, he revealed that he had a new-found appreciation for women. 'It is impossible to pee standing up in this thing!' he said. One of his colleagues accused him of copping out. 'Don't tell me you actually sat on the toilet,' he said, his voice rising in indignation. 

From all this you can infer that the atmosphere was fairly laddish. There were quite a few women around, and their hearts would probably have sunk into their heels when the entertainment for the evening was announced. This comprised two Scottish rugby players who would address the guests and answer any questions they might have about the soon-to-start Six Nations rugby championships. I'm no rugby fan myself, and I found myself blanching at the thought of sitting through technical talk and blokey chummery. 

But that was in the future. First, we had the bagpiper. That was a seriously sweaty man. Despite the blast of air conditioning, the effort of playing the pipes caused him to perspire in streams. I fervently hoped he went to freshen up, for a little while later he appeared in our midst and began to address the haggis, which was placed on a large trencher before him by a minion. He thrust himself about and strained and perorated in Scots. 

We couldn't understand a thing except when he took the opportunity to belittle the Italians and French. Scotland, he claimed, had in the haggis a far nobler food than anything those pusillanimous Europeans ever managed.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm :
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o'need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin', rich!
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.
Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!

(Listen to a recitation here.)

And then he shoved his hands into the haggis and crumbled it and tossed it about and breathed all over it. And later it was taken table to table and some people were brave enough to try it.

I shall say no more of the haggis, save that in small quantities, it is quite flavourful.

The rugby fellows who jogged up to our midst had both played for Scotland in the last few years. The first fellow was a jokey man. I don't remember his name, so let's call him Derek. He talked about the general lack of intelligence amongst rugby players. He told stories about his sporting life. He had us in genteel splits.

He talked about Jonah Lomu, the great Kiwi player. On one occasion, he was to be the man marking Jonah. This was not a task for the faint-hearted. He asked his coach for advice.

'How do I stop him when he is charging with the ball?' he said.

The coach said, 'You should grab him from behind and bring him down.'

'But, Coach, what if I'm to his side and he hands me off on my face?' he said.

'Well then you should get under his arm and knock the ball away,' said the coach.

'But, Coach, what if I'm in front of him and he is heading my way?' said Derek.

'Well, in that case, all I can suggest is that you grab some shit and chuck it in his eyes to blind him,' replied the coach.

'But, Coach,' moaned Derek. 'Where am I going to find shit on the playing field?'

'Just reach behind you, son,' said the coach.

Jonah Lomu was that fearsome, said Derek. Then he introduced the second rugby player, Kenny Logan.

'Kenny,' he said, 'played against Jonah as well. But there are notable differences between the two. Jonah is 6 foot 7 tall. Kenny is only 5 foot 10. Jonah's weight is 125 kilogrammes. Kenny weighs 90. Jonah can run a hundred metres in 10.6 seconds. Kenny can't.'

Kenny managed to get a riposte in later. Derek was once Scotland captain, he said. He liked to get his players into a huddle and inspire them with some lavish exhortations. 'Boys,' he would say. 'We are fighters. We are raiders. We do not know the meaning of defeat. We shall rise from the flames like a pheasant.'

'Er,' Kenny would say to Derek. 'That should be "phoenix".'

'Whatever,' Derek would reply. 'I knew it was some word beginning with an 'f'.'

After this, it was downhill. The talk turned technical. The future of the English rugby team was debated, and judgments cast on various players and coaches. Half a bloody boring hour later, finally, we were told we could start the whisky tasting. I tried one, but by then I had lost the will to continue. So I went home.


Post a Comment