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Saturday, January 19, 2013


What follows is a slightly edited version of the Toast To The Lassies I delivered on Burns Night in 2011. I have either removed or changed all the names I originally mentioned in the speech to protect the innocent (all, that is except my good friend John - who deserves everything he gets).
Robert Burns 1759 - 1796

When I first agreed to do the Toast to the Lassies I thought, how difficult could it be? I mean all I would have to do was read some stuff about Robert Burns and all the rest would fall into place. That would be easy – wouldn’t it? I like reading. I consider it one of my primary skills and I often labour that point whenever I write one of my fictional CVs for prospective employers.

I decided that the first person I needed to speak to was the oracle of all things Scottish, my friend John.  He reminded me of Inspector Taggart because he could make the word pearl sound like peril. He told me that I should start by insulting all the women in the room and then backtrack frantically for the rest of the speech in the hope that they would all forgive me by the end of the night. I replied that I do that most nights anyway. I wanted to do something different. “Well, charm them,” he said, and then he very kindly told me the title of Burns’s most famous love song, informing me at the same time that the majority of his work was written in the Scottish dialect and that, being an English chooktah bastad (whatever that means), I may experience some difficulty in understanding what he was going on about.

During my research on Robert Burns I discovered that, above all else, he was a serial womaniser of epic proportions. He was an unmitigated ladies man who loved lassies that came in all shapes and sizes and who hailed from all kinds of social circles. He was inspired to write many of his famous love songs through his weakness for chasing anything in a skirt – men in kilts being the obvious exception.

Meanwhile I discovered, to my delight, that the song John had put me on to contained not one hint of Scottish dialect and, far from being difficult to understand, I found it surprisingly easy, as English is my first (and being English, my only) language.

What on earth had John been talking about? Was he being elitist? Did he think he was better than me just because he lives in a bigger house? Did he think I was stupid or something?

It was only when I smugly told him that I had had no problem interpreting the song that he pointed out the bleeding obvious and I  realised I had spent my time researching the wrong song.

A Red Red Rose by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) is a beautiful song about romantic love and yearning.

Red Red Wine, however, by Neil Diamond (1941 – present) is a song about getting really pissed and falling over, Not quite the sort of thing I had in mind to make the girls go weak at the knees.

So, what was I to do? I had desperately wanted to charm all the lassies here tonight with witty one-liners and pithy comments about Burns’ most famous song, but instead I had wasted valuable seconds of my own free time researching a song that hadn’t even been written by the great man. But it did get me thinking – why waste all that hard research that I had carried out into the wee hours of the afternoon when I should have been at work? Neil Diamond was just as famous as Robert Burns – perhaps more so – at least he was still alive. Like Burns he has written some great love songs for the lassies.

And I doubt very much if Burns had women throwing their knickers at him when he was singing his songs. Neil Diamond did. It must be great to be so adored by women that they throw their knickers at you. The only time Jackie throws her knickers at me is when she wants me to put them in the washing machine. Most of the time she throws heavy things at me.

And so I thought, what if, for my Address to the Lassies, I re-imagined a Neil Diamond song as if it had been written by Robert Burns?

It would work, wouldn’t it? Obviously, I couldn’t use Red Red Wine, so for this experiment – just for the lassies – I’m going to recite to you – as it might have been written by Robbie Burns – Neil Diamond’s most famous love song – I’m a Believer .

Ah thought love was ainly true in fairy tales
Meant fur some-ain else but nae fur me.
Love wiz oot tae gie me
Tha’s th’ way it seemed.
Disappointment haunted aw mah dreams.

Hen Ah clocked her coopon,
Noo am a beliver,
No a trace ay doot in ma mind.
Ahm in love – aye – Ahm a beliver
I couldnae lee her if ah tried.

Ah thought love wiz mair ur less a given hing,
Seems the mair I gae, the less ah goat.
Whit’s th’ use in tryin’
Aw ye gie is pain
Whin ah needed sunshine, Ah goat rain.

Hen Ah clocked her coopon,
Noo am a beliver,
No a trace ay doot in ma mind.
Ahm in love – aye – Ahm a beliver
I couldnae lee her if ah tried.
Aye, aye, aye, aye.

Just to be serious for a moment – During my research I came across a site on the internet run by the Burns Foundation and it appears that a whole batch of previously unseen documents have recently been discovered in the cellar of the Town Hall in Edinburgh, and amongst those documents was a handwritten first draft of A Red Red Rose. This earlier version contains four extra lines and one minor difference to the extant song. Experts have stated that the extra lines were probably cut out by Burns to give the song a more uniform structure before its final publication in his great work The Scots Musical Museum published by James Johnson and George Thomson in 1792.

It is this longer version that I would like to recite to you now, and I think you will agree that it is testament to the influence Burns has over many of the Scottish musicians that are recording today.

So, here goes, just for the lassies – A Red Red Rose (the extended version) by Robert Burns.

O my luve’s like a red red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my love’s like a melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will love thee still my Dear,
Till a’the seas gang dry.
Till a’the seas gang dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still my Dear,
While the sands o’life still run.
And fare thee weel my only Luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were five hundred mile!

And I would walk five hundred mile
And I would walk five hundred mair
Just to be the man that walked a thousand mile
To be outside your door.

But here’s the thing, as I look around the room and see all the beautiful lassies assembled here – I would walk a thousand miles to be outside your doors.

Gentlemen, please be upstanding for a toast to the lassies!

Apologies to the The Proclaimers.

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