When I was in my twenties I used to make a big deal of it. Clinging to scraps and memories of my father, and having inherited his kilt. Dad liked poetry. I remember reading Keats to him as he lay dying. I was never sure if it helped or made it worse. But my childhood was punctuated by moments where he would be caught by a memory and would quote a scrap of a poem. I found a good number of poets through this shared interest with my father. He left me books to find. Other Men’s Flowers.
Burns Night felt like the best opportunity to have a regular annual blast, as none of my other friends had staked it out and it isn’t one that people tend to make private plans for. Dad liked poems, liked parties and Dad was very Scottish. Back in my twenties I was still trying to work out who I was in relation to his loss. A Scottish party poem night was a place to start. With haggis both meaty and vegetarian. I realised I could coerce my brother into addressing the haggis and he would do it with vigour to the applause of all my young friends who, like me, were definitely going to make it big in the acting world.
I would procure a vast haggis some days beforehand. I would ask people to bring a poem they liked. After dinner there would be a soiree. I’d break out the absinthe and the whisky. If for shyness you didn’t want to read the poem you had brought you had no shortage of people to nominate. There would be a mix of my old friends and the crowd of complicated misfits who I have met through my line of work. One year Steve swore blind that this was genuine Burns:
Ode to a Hangover
I stand upon the pier at Leith. Spewing through my arse and shitting through my teeth.
I haven’t done a Burns Night for so long now. That sort of thing seems harder now somehow. Time was I was plugged in to a big crowd of noisy friends. Every night there’d be something to decide whether or not to go to. Sometimes we’d leave one party halfway and go across town to catch another two or three in one night. Remember those days? Man. Now it didn’t even occur to me to ask a few friends over for a spot of haggis and shouting of a Tuesday evening. I just put a fish pie in the oven and then ran myself a bath and now I’m off to bed.
I even saved some Victorian Burns memorabilia specially. Two busts and a wee plate, perfect for going on the table and holding the veggie haggis.
I might just have to have a big bash in a years time. Get the kilt out of mothballs. Surely by then this shitshow will be starting to make a bit more sense.