Sunday night. Just returned from a Burns Supper – haggis without the mawkish sentimentality. I was called upon to render the Selkirk Grace. I looked to the ceiling and intoned “Some hae meat” and left it at that. The purveyor of the offal intoned “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face” and left it at that. We tucked in.
I like peasant food. I think of the Address to a Haggis as the antidote to all these foodie programmes on the TV. Cookery shows are very fin de siècle. Imperial Rome was obsessed with matters culinary just before the fall of the Empire. Surely the ultimate in decadence is captured in the recurrent reportage of money men, masters of the universe, going out to dinner at £5000 a head. Fillet of bruised spatchcock phoenix drizzled in a cabriolated coulis of emblazoned pitchblended mud, drowned in a nuclear-wintered farce. (£3000 surcharge). Chateau Rubbische Swipes throughout.
They don’t even know how to boil a Brussels sprout. To capture the charisma of a sprout, you must leave it for longer than you think, until it’s quite soft. Then the flavour comes out. This has got nothing to do with money. Boiled cabbage is the same. Add pepper.
In this context, I’m particularly fond of the fifth stanza of the Address to a Haggis:
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornful view
On sic a dinner?
Notice that curious construction of the first line. Burns is fond of this. He means: “Is there (anybody) who, over his French ragout…”
He does the same thing in A Man’s a Man for A’ That:
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
That is to say, is there anybody that hangs his head for honest poverty? Unthinkable.
En route, I caught “Words and Music” on Radio 3. Just a snippet. I was able to figure that the programme’s theme was “dreams”. I heard the opening to Rebecca –
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
Then, some of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe.
Then, Winston. The close of the first volume of his history of the Second World War. “I felt as if I were walking with destiny…. Facts are better than dreams.”
And then Yeats. “Tread softly…”
I’m not sure that Words and Music is a successful programme. What I have noticed is that the music transcends the literature, at least in terms of performance. Somehow the translucence of the music makes the thespian luvvies sound completely over the top. The secret of acting (Michael Caine has said as much) is not to act. “Speak the speech trippingly…” I found myself wondering what I would have included if I’d had to compile a programme about dreams. I would certainly have included Martin Luther King.
“I have a dream…”
There is no greater orator than Martin Luther King. He is a greater orator than Churchill and that is saying something. He shares something with Churchill: substance.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification…
It’s Biblical. He makes the governor sound like Herod. What on earth are the words of interposition and nullification? I’m not exactly sure, but I think in the broadest sense they refer to what we would now term, in a technical sense, “bullshit”. Despite the fact that Burns contemplated more than once going to the Caribbean to run a plantation, I have a sense Burns and Martin Luther King might have got on quite well. After all, Burns never actually went. God bless him.