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Feature Commentary February 15th, 2007


Two Great Men and a Pudding
by lyle e. davis

Man, The First

photoThere is a Scottish tradition that Scots have kept alive for about 200 years. It's called the Burns Supper and it's a tribute to . . . . a pudding!

But why have a tribute to a pudding, for heaven's sake? Are the Scots daft?

And just what's this pudding made of that makes it so special?

Well, truth be told, the tribute is not only to the pudding . . . but to one of Scotland's greatest national treasures, the legendary Robert Burns.
Robert, or as the Scots call him, Rabbie, was a simple and poor farm boy, born in Alloway, Ayrshire, in 1759. His tutor, John Murdoch, would say that he was a student who "made rapid progress in reading and was just tolerable at writing.' This 'tolerable writer' would go on to become Scotland's national poet and write songs and poems that you and I recite to this day . . . "Auld Lang Syne" being just one of them.

He was the eldest of seven . . . and even though he spent his youth working on his father's farm, he was extremely well read. His father, seeing this, got him a tutor. Burns began to write. At age 15 he wrote his first verse . . . "My Handsome Nell," which was a poem to the other subjects in his life . . . namely scotch and women.

Yes, Rabbie Burns was quite the womanizer . . . even at the tender age of 15. By the time he was 25 he had become the father of several children born out of wedlock, including twins to the woman who would become his wife, Jean Armour.
Indeed, his first published collection "Poems - Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect - Kilmarnock Edition," was a set of poems basically based on a broken love affair. This publication earned him almost overnight acclaim from his peers as well as the landed gentry.

Soon, he arrived in Edinburgh where he became the toast of the town. And of the ladies. Rabbie's gift of the gab and the written word always assured him of the company of beautiful ladies.

In a matter of weeks he had gone from a local hero to a national celebrity. Jean Armour's father now allowed her to marry him, now that he was no longer a lowly "farm-boy poet."

But poets have never made much money . . . at least not while they were living. The fortunes of his writing would come much later . . . and be enjoyed by others . . . not him. He became a tax collector in order to augment the meager income he earned as a poet. But he still wrote. Today, there are more than 400 of Burns' songs.

Rabbie Burns died at the way too young age of 37. Cause of death was heart disease. He died on the same day that his wife Jean gave birth to his last son, Maxwell.

More than 10,000 people came to watch and pay their respect. But those 10,000 people were nothing compared to the millions who have enjoyed Burns' work since.

The Pudding

photoThe Scottish peasant farmers had a pudding that they called a haggis. It was a simple food . . quite tasty but if most of us knew what all went into it we would likely not eat it. Haggis, traditionally, is made up of sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, mixed with stock and boiled in the animal's stomach for about one hour. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than the actual stomach. To round out the tradition, one serves haggis with "neeps and tatties" (turnip and potatoes), each of these being mashed. In America the 'turnip' is what we would call rutabaga.

So why do the Scots, rich and poor alike, savor such an ugly food that was, after all, just cheap peasant fare in its day? Many are put off simply by the ingredients. One local Scot had this to say about the haggis . . . "Do you know why a haggis is shaped like a football? You can't tell if you should eat it or kick it. After you have eaten it, you wish you had kicked it!"

It's largely because Rabbie Burns immortalized haggis in verse . . . and his verse touched the national pride and memory of the nation's culture . . . literally at the grass roots level. His verse not only created a link from the past to the present, it also gave a pretty good excuse to have impassioned dinner speeches and an equally great reason to sip a great deal of scotch whiskey. (For, remember, Scotch is a drink. Scots are a people.)

The Burns Supper

The tradition of the Burns Supper began a few years after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory. There is a certain format one follows, be it a formal or informal dinner.

Following the welcoming address the meal commences with the Selkirk Grace, another of Rabbie's immortal verses:

Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and cannot eat.
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

And then the show begins. A kilted bagpiper pipes the chef into the room, carrying the haggis. At that time the chairman or invited guests recites Burns' famous poem
. . .
Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

It is, of course, a longer address but those are the opening lines.

Upon completion, the haggis is then toasted with a glass of whiskey, followed by the actual Burns Dinner where great plates of haggis are consumed and probably just a drop or two more of whiskey.

The typical menu for a Burns Dinner would be:
Cock-a-leekie soup
Haggis warm reeking, rich wi' Champit Tatties,
Bashed Neeps
Tyspy Laird (sherry trifle)
A Tassie o' coffee

This dinner is followed by a short speech on Burns, titled the The Immortal Memory. There is then the traditional Toast To the Lasses (for, remember, Rabbie Burns did love the lasses!)

The evening rounds out with songs and poems. Typically, recitations from Tam o' Shanter, Address to the Unco Guid, To A Mouse and Holy Willie's Prayer. To close the evening the group stands, links hands and sings Auld Lang Syne.

Man, The Second

Jim Clark was a retired Chief Inspector for Scotland Yard. He had worked on both domestic, national and international law enforcement and had enjoyed a brilliant career.

But now he was retired. And enjoying his life.

He and his wife, Lily, had raised their son, Gary. They now had the time and the desire to travel, to see the world, to visit family and friends worldwide.

But one thing Jim Clark never missed . . . was the annual Burns Supper, usually held on or about January 25th, the traditional date for the Supper.

He had done this for many years.

Jim Clark was a popular guest at the Burns Dinner. His broad gaelic could crack the grandest jokes and bring the entire room to laughter. He was probably the closest thing Scotland had to America's late Johnny Carson. He knew how to work a room. He could have you laughing one moment . . . and the next, touch your heart with a lovely recitation of a tender Burns poem. He could talk 'posh' one minute and then fall right into the traditional Scots brogue the next.

He had a ready smile, a good joke, and was loved by all. He played golf three times a week . . . Lily was recovering from what appeared to be a successful battle with cancer; life was good for Jim and Lily.

This year, he bade farewell to Lily as he left for the hall to once again celebrate the Burns Supper. It was only about a ten minute walk to the Brigadoon Hotel where the Burns Supper was to be held. As he walked he went over the speech he would be giving. Upon arriving at the hotel he met a friend who offered him a drink. "No," said Jim, "I never drink before I give my speech." And having said that, Jim collapsed.

In that short period of time, Jim Clark was gone.

Not too long after Jim had left, Lily received a phone call asking her to come to the local hospital. She couldn't imagine why they wanted her. She knew everything was fine . . . and Jim had only been gone about twenty minutes. But, she went.

Upon arrival Lily was shown into a side room and at that time learned the horrible news.

And so it was that this one year Jim Clark would not be giving the Address to a Haggis. The gathered folk at the Burns Supper would miss Jim’s conviviality . . . his oratory, his jokes.

And his family would be missing this great man . . . this braw’ Scotsman.

They tell me Jim Clark had a magnificent funeral. Seems everyone in and about Prestwick and Ayr knew Jim Clark. The church was packed with Scottish folk from near and far. It was a lovely send off to a lovely man.

I would rather imagine, though, if Jim would have had his druthers . . .he may well have wanted to recite just one more Burns poem. And to dedicate it to his lovely Lily.

A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns

O my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only luve!
And fare-thee-weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.





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