I never got around to reading the BBC’s cyber advice on how to conduct a Burns' Night celebration and I suspect that MacCallums didn’t either.
Joe and I met after work with no fixed plans in mind. We walked past an Indian restaurant and decided to retrace out steps if nothing else appealed. There was a restaurant around the corner that was hosting a fiddler, but looking in at the window it was very packed, standing room only.
“We could pop around to MacCallums.” He showed me the ticket. It promised haggis, neeps and tatties and live music. It was in aid of a charity. If the food was merely a mouthful or two, there was always the chippy to visit afterwards.
I wouldn’t say that we are experts at Burns' Nights. We have done s few – mostly low key, without speeches. I think we have the edge on MacCallums.
A work colleague of Joe’s was holding up the bar, clutching a brace of Burns' poetry books. He didn’t just read them, but knew a few by heart. He was looking a bit doleful as the woman behind the bar was doubtful that anything “cultural” was going to happen. The juke box was blaring out music and lights pulsated around the dance floor.
It wasn’t the biggest of public bars and seating was kept to a minimum, so we stood at the bar. There wasn’t anywhere to put a jacket and a scarf so I kept them on. I suppose I had all the appearance of someone not staying.
Joe and his work friend swapped Burns' trivia while I stood nearby. I was hot and working my way through a glass of the guest whisky – not a single malt, I suspect. I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime and the whisky had nothing to mop up. The trials and tribulations of the day were becoming fuzzy around the edges.
An hour or so later, the barman asked Joe is he was willing to address the haggis. There would be a piper, the haggis would be paraded around the room, Joe was to wipe the wee sword on a napkin, address the haggis and then kill it. This was all new to Joe. An hour and a half ago we were looking in the window of a restaurant and addressing haggises was not on the agenda. It says something about the confidence that Joe exudes – he is a man that steps in.
Joe’s work friend lent one of his books to Joe. It had the address to the haggis in it, and Joe took a while to read through and practice.
He stood beside the table while the piper piped and the haggis was taken around the room. Then, with the barman holding the microphone, Joe did his bit.
He was impressive. No one looking on would have known that…an hour and a half ago we were looking in the window of a restaurant and addressing haggises was not on the agenda.
He did the business and was wildly applauded. He caught the tone perfectly. He has a tendency to rush through things when he has an audience and a microphone – but the boy did good.
Not a mouthful, but piled high, the haggis, tatties and neeps were wonderful. I passed on the red wine and onion gravy because I have a habit of missing the mouth sometimes and hitting the front of the jumper.
We were off…live music? Apart from the piper, there was still nothing. The juke box was back to blaring out music.
Someone really needed to step up and take the night by the horns and give it a good shake. It was all rather a bit disorganised. Joe’s friend volunteered to recite a Burn’s poem. Perhaps “Tam O’ Shanter” was not the best choice. It’s a bit long. I don’t know whether there is a link between how much alcohol you consume and how quickly your attention span deteriorates – but the crowd were not really listening. I thought that just the feat of reciting the poem was awesome, but there was a lot of talking. The longer the poem went on, the less confident he was in his delivery. He cast a couple of desperate glances in our direction. I think he regretted stepping forward. But he reached the end and was applauded – not quite the rapturous applause that Joe got.
Half an hour later, the live music began. There was a man and a guitar and a microphone and a well known folk song that people could dance to and join in the chorus. That, to my mind, was the right time to introduce “Tam O’ Shanter”. He would have got a hearing then. It’s all about timing.
So, what about “One of the Mels”?
Big George is a friend of ours. He works at the recycling centre. A week or two ago Joe has been in MacCallums after a day away in Edinburgh at a union meeting. He and another colleague, Joan, had just arrived back in Inverness on the train. They stopped off for a quick drink before heading their separate ways.
“Hi, Joe…Hi, Mel,” said Big George, assuming it was me standing there, with glass in hand.
Tonight I was introduced to Big George as “one of the Mels”. I guess you had to be there to appreciate the humour.
A very good night was had by all...apart from the friend of Joe's who recited the poem.