A Special Report by The Photographer’s Assistant
“Where drouthy neebours neebours meet” (Burns)
We all know what it is like. It is a dark, windy, rainy night, and quite frankly, you would rather stay in. If you had the prospect of collecting the £500 you were always due on the lottery, you’d still rather light the fire and get a bottle and a couple of glasses out. Tonight however, you have arranged a family outing. This is always rare. These days, when the young go to work, they might as well have a camp bed there, they have to work so hard. Tonight, though, is a treat for us all.
One of our dearest friends is holding an event. She has worked incredibly hard at it and we are all going. When I say “all”, I mean it. The event is way oversubscribed and not everyone can be squeezed in, so we are lucky. Efforts have been made to create the right atmosphere. The boyfriend has been to great lengths to secure a sporran. He has a kilt in his family’s tartan and is taking this event very seriously. It’s not every day that the chance arises to show your origins within this very English enclave.
The Boyfriend is so keen on attendance that he has offered to drive and off we go. After twenty minutes of muddy lanes, we are there. We are at a village hall in the heart of Devon and, just for one night, it has become Scotland. Outside, amidst driving rain, a piper stands piping the guests as they enter in. For a moment, when you see him there, so tall and erect, all sorts of thoughts come to mind. You think of the beauty of the Highlands and of past battle fields, where pipers have piped men to war, a proud and brave tradition this.
In the hall, long tables have been laid with tartan coverings, and there are beautiful bunches of heather. There is much chatter and clamour. The Boyfriend is proud to be approached by various gentlemen in tartan, who all shake his hand in acknowledgement of a kindred spirit. The Daughter is pleased too, she has her own celtic back ground.We find that within only a metre of one another, two apparently English people have come from families, who were cleared in the Highland Clearances in the 19th century. Wounds which strangely remain unhealed, not surprising if you have ever returned and seen the beauty of the land, which your family has been so violently deprived of.
It is, of course, a Burns Night Celebration. Everyone has smartened themselves up. People who only ever wear jeans are splendidly dressed, some even wear bow ties. Efforts have been made. We are all humbled by being able to join in someone else’s celebrations.
There is a very posh programme of events for everyone to read and there is a music sheet for that part of the celebration. Burns, himself dominates the proceedings. There is a beautiful portrait of him on the front of the programme and someone has dared to climb a ladder and replace the portrait of the Queen with a picture of the man himself.
What an evening we all had and for so little money, the profits going to the village hall car park fund. The programme was introduced by Mr. Alan Stockel and Mr. Joe McKinley said grace. Grace, something most institutions had done away with and what a shame that is. This Selkirk Grace was splendidly spoken and meant, giving thanks for the splendid food that was about to be put before us. Next, the haggis was processed in and a speech was made to it, which somehow seemed entirely appropriate to the solemnity of the evening. Many of us had never had haggis before ( The photographer had once had one out of a very old tin, when in the Sudan, but he felt that this really didn’t count ). What a wonderful feast, the haggis had the most beautiful flavour and the tatties and neeps had been lovingly cooked to perfection. Small glasses of whisky were continually topped up. Volunteers serving tables were very considerate and thoughtful.
The Immortal Memory was read by Mr. Stuart Maude, who read modestly and with much feeling about his poor country man, Robert Burns, who died so young and in such poverty. This was followed by the Clootie dumpling, which is similar to a Christmas pudding, but fruitier and more delicious! The Girlfriend is cooking one instead of Christmas pudding this year, and we are all looking forward to it.
James Hudson, a brave Englishman, as he was surrounded by kilts, read a charming address to the ladies and Dolores Mulkerrins made a lovely poetic speech to the gentlemen.
The music was played with much cheer and many joined in the songs.
Mr Douglas Howie had been a wonderful piper, all you would expect of a true Scotsman.
We must thank our dear friend, Kate, who gave everything she had to this evening. It must have been such a massive job to arrange it all. So many people, who are always busy, gave up so much time and we all felt humbled by their efforts. Surely all these Scots must have wanted to be amongst their own on such an evening, instead they sacrificed to give we English a taste of their home country. It is just a personal view, but how we shall miss them if we are not all part of the same country, for nothing will be quite the same if we are all using passports and can’t even have the same money in common. Let’s hope we can all still stick together, whatever fate brings.