Getting Burned by Burns Night by JULIE PöRKSEN


DIVVYING up the jobs for Burns Night always catches me off guard. It shouldn’t; January 25th is like a forgotten Christmas, exactly one month later.

For the (few?) who don’t know, Burns Night celebrates the birth, life and poetry of Scotland’s leading ladies’ man, Robert Burns, with everything the great poet would have appreciated: haggis, neeps, tatties and, most importantly, endless whisky toasts delivered by great orators talking for hours (and I mean HOURS) about the man himself, his poetry and his specialist subject: women! 

  Then, if there’s time left, to some snappier speeches followed by music and dancing. That’s where I went wrong. Volunteering, you see, is one of those habits that has always come as second nature so the week before Rabbie’s birthday bash is the time when I try to avoid catching anyone’s eye. I absolutely will others to jump in. 


  ‘Make a speech? M-m-me? Thanks for asking, but, er, English was never my strong point, especially poetry,’ I hear myself stuttering as I spout a series of excuses such as my claim to be “one of the Seventies generation who didn’t actually learn grammar”. Truth is, I much preferred maths and science to Chaucer, Shakespeare and Tam O’Shanter. 



  Anyway, to cut a long apology short, I can’t actually remember volunteering this year but there I sat, the Monday before Burns, staring helplessly at a blank Word document open on the screen in front of me and my even blanker mind. 
My mission – should I really have chosen to accept it? – was to write a single speech encompassing what are normally two speeches: the Toast to the Lasses (usually a gentlemanly thank-you to women for being wonderful and an apology for men’s inadequacies) and the Reply from the Lasses, in which a member of my un-fairer sex takes the mickey out of the men). There being no chance of help from Google (Lord knows I tried) hours of task avoidance kicked in, although not to the extent that I cleaned the house. 
Inspiration might be hard to come by but surely, I reasoned,  some logical rules would help. So I invented a few. . . 
  A POEM is better than a speech; lets the audience know you are not going to go off-piste and waffle on endlessly. 
  RUDENESS is fun and oh-so-tempting, but beware! There are bound to be churchgoers in the audience, and as many as a third of those present will be designated drivers and therefore sober, with memories intact the following day. 
  CRITICISING men is easy but a wise woman keeps the fellers onside, so tone it down – keep in just enough to make them self-aware. 
  Making this list of  ‘musts and must-nots’ started the words flowing. Soon I was flying. . . 
“This bit is where a man gives praise 
With jokes delivered in wine-filled haze 
To the lassies, polite in traditional role, 
Waiting for him to dig a big hole” 
  More tips for making monkeys out of the men came to mind. . . 
  RHYMING can be scary for me (I shiver at the memory of my English O-Level) Surely there is a thesaurus that specialises in words that rhyme? 
  HUMOUR is always a problem unless you are sat in a pub, pint in hand. And I wasn’t But somehow making my list of tips worked, especially the one about the pub and a pint. 
  Rather surprisingly, I was done before lunch. I’ll spare you the full monty until next January 25th but here’s how it ended up: 
“So please stand up and raise a glass 
To women now, and in the past, 
To whom we now, in honesty, 
Toast the lassies and equality!” 
 Julie Pörksen, an agricultural economist, worked with smallholders in Peru and in the health sector in countries from Afghanistan to Yemen. A sheep farmer’s daughter who grew up in Belsay, Northumberland, she represented the Liberal Democrats in Berwick at the 2015 general election.


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