Category Archives: Poetry

Poetry in Motion


Last night we attended the magnificent untraditional Burns Supper at Giffordtown Village Hall. It was every bit as good as anticipated. For readers from afar I should point out that the point of a Burns Supper isn’t really the supper itself, but the celebration of the bard’s contribution. As I have said before (see my last post), I think the celebration tips over all too often into adulation, and the formula can become tired and boring.

Doug and Jan Wightman and the Giffordtown Village Hall committee put a marvellous event together. What I’m going to do in this post is perhaps a little cheaty; but it was so good I want to share the joy! This is a selection of the inspired ‘slides’ that went into their shadow puppet rendition of Burns’ epic poem, Tam O’Shanter. Doug read the poem, Jan made the puppets, unseen helpers backstage manipulated the puppets and Steve Gellatly (silent movie pianist) did a dashing accompaniment on the keyboard. The poem title link takes you to Brian Cox reading the whole poem. This will have to do you until Doug gets a recording contract!


When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors, meet;
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate ….


While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An’ getting fou and unco happy …


O Tam! had’st thou but been sae wise,
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder wi’ the Miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on
The Smith and thee gat roarin’ fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday,
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou wad be found, deep drown’d in Doon,
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk.


… And at his elbow, Souter Johnnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
Tam lo’ed him like a very brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs an’ clatter;
And aye the ale was growing better …


… Weel-mounted on his grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet,
Whiles glow’rin round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares;
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Where ghaists and houlets nightly cry …


… The lightnings flash from pole to pole,
Near and more near the thunders roll,
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze,
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing …


… As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The Piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit …


… To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jade she was and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d …


Now, do thy speedy-utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stone o’ the brig;
There, at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross…


For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump…


The performance was ace. So were the haggis and neeps and the Tunnocks Teacakes and the alternative address to the haggis; and all the music; and finally, as if we hadn’t had enough pleasure to last a fortnight, a wee dram gifted by an absent friend. Matured in sherry casks so less peaty than you’d expect of a fine Islay. Bliss. Happy Bardic Celebrations, everybody. Keep it fresh.


Jean Armour Supper

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This is the time of year when everyone in Scotland starts honing their recitations of Tam O’Shanter and the Address to a Haggis, Holy Willie’s Prayer and the like. It hardly seems a year since we last celebrated Robert Burns’ birth. And if I’m honest, I’d say a year is perhaps not quite long enough. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Burns’ work (most of it anyway) and a good plate of haggis and neeps is a fine thing on a winter’s night. But in my humble opinion, we should all be showing a bit more creativity in setting out our Burns night parties.

The standard programme (Selkirk Grace, Toast to the Haggis, Immortal Memory, Toast to the Lasses and Reply etc.) certainly offers a good dose of the Bard’s best work. But it’s a hard thing to keep fresh year after year. So for Burns Night 2019, I’m delighted to say I’ll be at Giffordtown Village Hall watching a shadow puppet rendition of Tam O’Shanter and raising a glass as various musicians and poets give us their best. By order of the organiser, there are to be No Speeches. Sounds good to me.Image result for burns poems

A good number of years ago, I helped devise a Jean Armour Supper. Jean Armour was Burns’ long-suffering wife and it seemed like a good idea to give her centre stage for a change. Sadly I haven’t kept any record of those proceedings but I do remember it was a great event, in the best Harpie tradition.

This year I’m thinking cocktails, having read an inspiring book recently entitled ‘Free the Tipple: Kickass Cocktails Inspired by Iconic Women’. What would JA like to drink to enhance her enjoyment of her supper? Well I have a few suggestions and will be glad to hear yours too. How about:

tomato breakfastBLOODY MARY: Basically vodka and tomato juice with a bit of spice, and maybe a dash of dry sherry. It’s one of my favourites as it feels so healthy! Especially with a nice long stick of celery to stir it with. It feels like at least two of your five a day, with a good alcoholic undertow to brace you for whatever life has in store. Obviously Jean Armour had a lot to contend with, and I reckon a good Bloody Mary or two would help her put her philandering husband in his place. All those vitamins!

ESPRESSO MARTINI: Coffee was well known in Scotland by the late 18th ceImage result for espresso martini images�ntury. Many coffee houses had a No Women rule, but our Jean I’m sure would have challenged this absurdity. Or she might have taken the opposite tack, as a 1674 ‘Women’s Petition Against Coffee’ complained that

… the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE …has…Eunucht our Husbands…

In Jean Armour’s shoes, a eunuched husband would probably have been a better behaved husband. A difficult call to make? Sex or loyalty? Nowadays of course we know she shouldn’t have to choose. In any case, a smoothly bittersweet blend of Aqua Vitae, Kahlua, cold espresso and sugar syrup would lend a sophisticated edge to Jean’s revenge.

SILVER BULLET: the only kind of bullet effective against a werewolf. Or any other howling macho  charmer. The sort of thing that might prove useful in your handbag when you read in the paper that your husband has written a prizewinning love poem for some other floozie. Or meet the mother of his other brace of children down at the school gates. The Silver Bullet cocktail takes no prisoners – a bracing mix of gin and whisky with a wedge of lemon, shaken with ice – and that’s it. No mixers. No messing.


Other poets are available …

P1020867.JPGGreetings on Burns night! We’re not having haggis at home tonight because we’re going to a Burns Supper on Friday; however I was inspired to shell out £9.99  for this bottle of wine which, apparently, ‘gangs wi haggis’, and will report back on whether it does what it says on the label. The wine is made, from local brambles and oak leaves, by Cairn O’Mhor, that great Scottish winery on the north banks of the Tay, maybe 20 minutes’ drive from here. I wrote previously about our visit there; it was hugely enjoyable and I’m looking forward to our next foray.

Meantime, in remembrance of the Bard’s birth, I just want to say:

  1. Yes I like Burns’ poems and songs, or at least most of them  No poet or songwriter gets it right all the time, and undoubtedly some of his work can fairly be consigned to the doggerel-and-drivel bucket. But then he penned such stirring stuff as ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’, and poked such fun at the powers that be (‘O Thou who in the heavens dost dwell…’) and regaled us with great stories (‘… and shouted, Weel done, Cutty Sark!/ and in an instant, all was dark …’) and gave us lots of tender wee odes to fieldmice and mountain daisies and headlice. It’s a great thing for Scotland to have a bard who has travelled the world in terms of popularity and raises our flag in all sorts of good ways. However
  2. You’d think Robert Burns was the only poet we ever produced. What about Edwin Morgan? Liz Lochhead? Norman McCaig? Kathleen Jamie? and so on and so on. Next week the troubadour and I are going to a Celtic Connections event to see the Hazey Janes, a Dundee band, perform alongside Liz Lochhead reading some of her poems, and it promises to be a great night. And finally ….
  3. Haggis is not the only foodstuff to have inspired a poem. I’m sure you all know that. tomato-breakfastRecently I read a brilliant blogpost, which I’ve linked to here, which addressed a juicy poem about tomatoes, by Pablo Neruda. Here’s a tiny extract: ‘It sheds its own light, benign majesty. Unfortunately, we must murder it: the knife sinks into living flesh, red …’

So there you go. Let’s celebrate poets tonight, living and dead; and here’s a prayer in Burns’ own words:

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.



And still I rise …

The title of today’s post comes from Maya Angelou, and is a wonderful rallying-call for all the times I’ve felt oppressed. However I’m using it as a shameless pun in this instance. You get double joy – my deathless prose and Maya Angelou’s inspirational verse!

Two of the cookery books I’ve read recently share a word in their titles – but apart from that they have very little in common.

The first is ‘One Souffle at a Time’ by Anne Willans. I picked the book up in a charity shop as the subtitle – ‘a memoir of food and France’ intrigued me. I’d never come across her before, despite her enormous body of writing – I think she might be better known in AProduct Detailsmerica. Her book tells her personal story – in a nutshell, rich English child grows up with all the trappings of privilege; discovers her love of cooking; uses her contacts and her undoubted talents and builds an impressive foodie empire based on teaching people how to cook like the French; receives lots of awards; writes her memoir. There are manyexcellent, detailed recipes along the way and I will return and try some of them. This book wasn’t a riveting read but it was fascinating to see how an energetic entrepreneur goes about the job of realising her dream.

The second book is ‘Killing Me Soufflé’ by Lachlan Hayman. This is basically a book of good recipes renamed using rock and roll puns, with numbers by the likes of the Ketchup Boys, Deli Parton, Harry Connick Tuna and Napkin Cole. You would think the theme would get a bit tired but instead I found myself browsing through the book and humming all the little tunes as I went along. This book would be a great gift for anyone who is keen on both food and music. The recipes are well written, and would offer an enticing repertoire to someone who hasn’t already got loads of experience and/or cookery books.

Soufflé is of course a delight to make and eat, and easier than it sounds. If you can make a béchamel sauce you can make a soufflé. Just add cheese to your sauce; then 3 egg yolks; then fold in the beaten egg whites; then, as Mel and Sue would say – bake! Here are some instructions from the BBC if you would like to have a go. Willans says to run your finger and thumb round the top of the dish before you put it in the oven, to make it rise evenly – I’ve never tried that before but it sounds logical.

So today is Friday … very nearly the weekend … another day, another dollar. And still we rise! Have a great weekend everybody.


The Hairst

[Title inspired by a you-tube  of a kirk minister in Inverurie giving a sermon on ‘The Hairst’ – or harvest – in broad Doric – like a scene from Sunset Song, except they wouldn’t have had women in the pulpit in those days.]

p1020709So there we were on Sunday night dressing the church hall floor for a wee Taize event. We met the main dresser by chance in the street outside and I was given a massive branch of hawthorn to carry in – it was like Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane. I also had to read out a poem by Elizabeth Barratt Browning – ‘The Autumn’ – which I found pretty moving. We had a good evening, and then I was given a bag of mixed windfall apples to take home.

p1020713Before going on to the jelly-making, I just want to show you these gourmet tatties – ‘Shetland Blacks’, apparently – when boiled, the skins go purple and the surrounding water goes turquoise. I haven’t witnessed this myself because there were only three and they weren’t on offer! Will be pleased to hear from anyone who has sampled same.

So – making apples into jelly is a great idea for loads of reasons, but one of the best is that you don’t have to peel the wee buggers, you just give them a good wash and chop them up a bit, and simmer to a mush. That was yesterday, and I rigged up a pillowcase dangling from a kitchen stool at work to let it drip overnight. Today I boiled them up and made the jelly – as before, using the probe thermometer and boiling to 105 degrees. Brilliant. I wish I’d learned to use the technology years ago, and save myself from making all those jars of toffee …

The set on my jelly is great, the flavour is lovely, the colour is a little pale – apparently the p1020723best colour comes from crab apples but I don’t think my collection contained any of those. However I didn’t clear the scum off the top properly, thinking it would just sink or rise or magically disappear in some other helpful way – it didn’t. It lurks in the jars in whitish streaks, so it’s just as well I’m not planning to enter it for a competition. Next time I will be more careful. I’m telling you this so that you don’t make the same mistake! Skim carefully, my friends, and your jelly may well be perfect.

Scotland Small?

Yesterday, Lieutenant Wunderkind and I hit the August Edinburgh Frenzy, and finding it too noisy, escaped down the Canongate for a bit of contemplation.  En route we visited Scotland’s Map Heritage Centre which was a wonderful discovery, and I made a modest purchase – but more of that anon as it’s a present which hasn’t been given yet!

The Scottish Parliament building is at the foot of the Royal Mile, of course, just opposite Holyrood Palace.  We had thought we might visit the palace, never having called in before.  However, call us true Scots if you like, at £16.50 for entry there was no way!  We’ll just have to hope for a personal invitation some time.  So instead we crossed back over and queued through the security system for a wee stroll around the Parliament building.

There was of course huge controversy about this building a few years back, to do with the length of time it took to complete; the escalating costs; and indeed its design which is far from Scottish Vernacular.  But actually, I love it.  Edwin Morgan’s poem ‘Open the Doors’ says it well:

‘Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A 
growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box? 
Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but

curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and
heavens, syncopations and surprises.

I love the ‘syncopations and surprises’.  If a government can also be open to syncopations and surprises from its people, that’s a good thing.  LW and I had a wee seat in the debating chamber, which was empty at the time, and enjoyed the light spikes and whorls of its architecture.  Yes, on a cynical day we all know that public chambers are full of posturing and grandstanding and enough hot air to fuel the national grid.  But hey!  I’m proud that Scotland has created for herself such an assertively original and modern parliamentary home.

The title of this blog, incidentally, is courtesy of Hugh Macdiarmid and his brilliant poem, ‘Nothing but Heather’:

‘ Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland  small?/  Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner/   To a fool who cries “Nothing but heather!

…How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!’

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