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Happy 250th birthday, Rabbie

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Our Burns Night supper of 2009 takes place this weekend. It should be an unforgettable occasion as we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert “Rabbie” Burns.

Burns was born on 25 January 1759 into the family of a struggling Ayrshire farmer who was nevertheless determined that his son should have the best education he could provide. Rabbie was a bright, lively lad who grew up to gain immortality for his writing, especially of poems and folk songs in the Scottish vernacular.

Rabbie was a handsome, charming and genuine man. He loved the ladies, had a fondness for drink, respected even the lowly down-and-out and displayed a complete lack of business sense. He failed at everything he tried except writing and he died, in debt, at 37 years of age.

Until this weekend I had only attended one Burns Night supper. My blurred memory of that occasion begins with me standing (dithering, really) in the doorway of a hot, crowded room. An atmosphere thick with the aroma of cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, champit tatties, bashed neeps and whisky drew me in.

I had been told that everyone had to participate in the entertainment, one way or another, so I was feeling on a par with that other wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie.

I was welcomed by a group of large, friendly and mostly kilt-wearing men and some beautiful ladies in glamorous evening gowns. They seated me beside Mary. She had long dark hair and the sort of eyes that make you think of misty hills and sun-sparkled sea lochs. (Steady lad!)

I can recall speeches, toasts, poems, toasts, songs — then more toasts followed by a boisterous rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”.

So what is Robert Burns doing on this page? I have to confess that I could not find the remotest connection with pharmacy to justify his inclusion here. However, it seemed a shame to miss an opportunity for raising our spirits, not to mention a glass of the same, in his memory.

Even this hard-hearted old Sassenach might shed a tear or two when someone recites, as they inevitably will, “Jean”, or “O, My Luve” or “My Bonnie Mary”.

Ah … my bonnie Mary.

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