Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Burns’

Pre-empting Rabbie Burns

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd January, 2012

Burns Night has become an even more quintessentially Scottish celebration than Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). It is normally celebrated on the 25th of January up and down the country with haggis, tatties (potatos) and neeps (swede), usually washed down with great quantities of alcohol, not least the whisky used in toasts. Apart from the wonderfully theatrical address to the haggis and its belabouring with a dagger, the toasts to the lassies (girls) and the lads (boys) are a great opportunity for a fine mixture of gallantry and sexist jokes. Burns himself was, of course, a great ladies’ man, a seducer with his poetic words as well as with his looks, though as fickle as a bumble bee flitting from one ripe blossom to the next. Given the migration of Scots worldwide over the centuries, it is not surprising that Burns Night is celebrated almost everywhere, from Buenos Aires to Dubai, but what is maybe astonishing is the relish with which Sassenachs (English) have taken the ceremony and the celebration to their hearts. It is not only in the grand London Clubs, such  the Caledonian (predictably) and the National Liberal Club, that Burns Night features in the annual calendar with due pomp. Even local Liberal Democrat parties have got in on the act. Merton LibDems’ Burns Night is famous for its authentic food and traditions and they usually get a Scottish MP to make one of the speeches. Haringey LibDems are also starting to make a reputation for themselves in similar vein. But Lewisham LibDems’ Burns Night, which I joined (for at least the third time) last evening, is unique. Apart from the fact that it occurs on a convenient Saturday, rather than on the day itself, it is a totally English (or at least, Scots-free) affair, albeit with the requisite food and drink. Local activists and visitors (me included) act out the toasts and readings of poems by the Master in accents that would make any true Scotsman weep, but a great time is had by all. And if by any chance Alex Salmond does hoodwink the Scots into opting for independence, I trust the English Burns Nights will continue to flourish.

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Michael Crockart’s Love Story

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th January, 2011

Edinburgh West’s MP Michael Crockart gave an unusual spin to his Toast to the Immortal Memory at the 20th annual Burns Night Supper hosted by Merton Liberal Democrats in South West London last night when he drew on images from love poems of Robert Burns to illustrate what had happened last May following the General Election. It was not so much My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose but rather My Love is Like a Green, Green Tree, Mike declared, as the slightly reduced band of LibDem MPs were ‘love-bombed’ by the Tories. It was whirlwind romance, but the proposition was one that could not be turned down. However, as within all relationships, there has to be give and take — but also there are limits to one’s tolerance. The line that could not be crossed came as early as last month for Mike Crickart, when he felt he had to vote against the raising of university tuition fees, and therefore to resign from his government position as PPS to the Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore. He was, of course, not alone; amongst his fellow rebels was Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central, whose mother, Alison — who had come up from Cardiff specially for last night’s occasion — gave the reply from the Lassies (to Councillor Iain Dysart’s Toast) at the Merton dinner, reprising a script she used at the very first dinner 20 years ago — still as fresh and witty now as then.

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Elspeth Attwooll’s Merton Burns Night

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 27th January, 2010

Merton Liberal Democrats’ Burns Night suppers have become something of an institution; odd, really, when one considers that the Willott family that has for so long been heavily involved in the organisation of the event has far stronger roots in Wales. But year after year, local party volunteers put on a splendid three course haggis supper, with copious wine (and of course whisky), a piper and this year, as an innovation, an excellent musical rendition of some Burns songs, arranged for piano and tenor. The star of the evening last night was former LibDem MEP for Scotland, Elspeth Attwooll, who proposed the toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns with erudition and wit; she could not only pronounce the dialect of some of the quotes but clearly understood it all as well! She even had a saucy anecdote about a canvasser campaigning for the late George Mackie and his encounter with a pipe-smoking old woman way up north — a useful reminder that puritanism does not have a monopoly among Scottish Highland souls. I suppose the reason so many Brits — by no means only the Scots — love Burns is because he was a raffish rebel, a bit of a cad in some ways, but essentially a romantic and a free thinker (though his Whig friends in Edinburgh liked to think he was one of them). Of course, dying so young only embellished his reputation. In the 19th century, that was what poets were meant to do.


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