Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

I'm rubbish at public speaking and detest it. Even the thought of reciting an English poem of my choice at a Burns Night Supper cast a long shadow beforehand, in spite of the strong probability that everyone at the table would be blootered when the time came for me to get to my feet. A further problem was: which poem should an Englishman choose to read at a celebration of Scottishness, if not of Scottish nationalism? Should it perhaps be an English riposte? Or would something amiable and irrelevant be more politic? A comic poem maybe? A comic poem in a comic dialect? Lewis Carroll? ''Twas brillig', and so on? On the train up I took a doorstep anthology and speed-read English poetry, from Thomas Traherne to Ted Hughes, from one end of England to the other, unsuccessfully.

The males at the dinner wore the kilt, sporran, sock flashes, sgian-dubh (sock dagger) and ghillies. But they were a macho crowd even without the proud tartan. The first pre-supper drinks conversation I had was with a third-generation communist who demanded to know how we in England have allowed such an effeminate individual to take control of the party of Labour? Does anybody honestly expect a working-class Scotsman to vote for that very antithesis of a working man; a man with hands like those? This broad-shouldered giant in a skirt was genuinely puzzled. Moreover, he seemed to be blaming me personally. I enjoyed his assumption that I was a serious-minded person of the left.

Supper was announced. Twelve of us sat down around the candlelit dining table. The meal commenced with the traditional and very tasty cock-a-leekie soup. This was followed by haggis, neeps (turnip) and tatties (potatoes). The haggis was ceremoniously borne in from the kitchen on a silver platter. One of the men stood and gave the 'Address to a Haggis', which is a Burns poem. He had the verses off by heart and recited them with passionate intensity. The address began: 'Fair and full your honest face/ Great chieftain of the sausage race.' At the words: 'Trenching your gushing entrails bright', he dramatically flourished the knife and sliced the haggis in two so that we might see them.

After that another chap stood up and gave the Toast to the Lassies. Burns fathered 13 known children by five partners and has 600 living descendants. He loved the lassies and wrote of sex and love with frankness and simplicity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.