Burns Night

Saturday we celebrated Burns Night, this year being the 250th anniversary of the Scottish poet’s birth. It’s the first time I’ve done so during my tenure in the UK, so I consider it another rite of passage in my journey to becoming a British citizen, which is now scheduled for the 22nd of February. I am, as they say, chuffed to bits to be a part of a country that turns out in full bagpipe and family tartan regalia to celebrate a poet each year. Husband points out that the British will use any excuse for a piss up. Still I think it’s a nice idea. Perhaps the US could come up with it’s own annual drunken celebration of a poet—Bukowski day seems fitting.

We attended our Burns Night supper accompanied by R. and R., the only gays in the village. We haven’t been out with them since last spring and I was worried something horrible had happened like they had split up or been driven out of the Cotswolds by right wing locals brandishing torches made out of the Telegraph. Thankfully this was not the case and they were available to join us at the pub in the next village over. The choice of pub was a tactical decision based on the availability of a “vegetarian” haggis option, a requirement for husband.

Haggis, sheep stomach lining stuffed with bits of offal, is a central feature of Burns Night. The meal starts with the recitation of a poem, during which the slick, frisbee sized disc of haggis—easily mistaken for a grey jello mold—is sliced open with great pomp and circumstance. There are real bagpipes if you’re lucky, we had a cd of—groan now—The Red Hot Chili Pipers. Unlike cowardly husband, the gays and I went for the real thing, which arrived following our cockaleekie (chicken and leek) soup and was accompanied by neeps and tatties (parsnips and mashed potatoes). In case you’re wondering, it was worthy of school cafeteria mystery meat status yet delicious. It tasted like a spicy veggie burger, and everyone in the immediate vicinity who had eaten haggis before claimed it was the best they’d ever had, with a surprisingly pleasant firmness to it. It disturbed me that we had lapsed into discussing our meal in the language of bowel movements, but a wee dram helped distract me.
In case you want to try your own haggis at home, here’s a link to the proper poetic accompaniment. Clue to translating the Scottish dialect: slice in stanza three. I am far from being an expert in Scottish dialect, i.e., I needed the subtitles in Trainspotting and I had to concentrate really hard while reading Marabou Stork Nightmares, but this is as vivid a cue as one is ever likely to get:

Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

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