In Other News — International Celebrations

Let’s step away from these dismal snowy shores for a couple of days because there’s lots to celebrate around the world, especially in Scotland and Australia.

On January 25th, Scotland celebrates Burns Night — the real birthdate of one of its favorite sons. People there had been celebrating it on the wrong date for quite a few years before discovering their error, but hey, a party’s a party’s a party on any day. Or night.

Said favorite son is the first posthumously appointed Honorary Chartered Surveyor. He was also a flax dresser — whatever that may have been — an excise officer and somewhere in there he also worked as a bookkeeper on a slave plantation in Jamaica for a spell.

The first country to issue a commemorative postage stamp to mark his influence on the modern world was the then USSR, back in 1956.

We’re talking here, of course, about Robert Burns, known somewhat for fathering many more children than absolutely necessary (twelve at last count) but better known for his poetry.

Who isn’t familiar with “My love is like a red, red rose” — even if few of us know the lines that come next?

He seemed to have a thing about mice, for whatever reason. Two of his most famous mouse-related poems include these lines:

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”, and “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie / O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!”

And there’s always: “Gin a body meet a body / Coming thro’ the rye”.

We’re not sure about the gin, and although rye might be more of an American whiskey as opposed to the malt whiskies distilled in Scotland, everyone here could be forgiven for choosing their favourite brand of Scotch, Rye or Bourbon to celebrate Burns night.

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Because that’s really what it’s all about. A bit of Scottish culture, and a lot of scotch culture. But anyone bringing the other famous Burns Night feature — the haggis — home to the USA faces imprisonment.

It’s totally illegal and has been banned since 1971 because of certain ingredients which we won’t go into here, in case people are sensitive about such things.

Haggis is a traditional Burns Night meal, served with “tatties and neeps”, or, in plain English, potatoes and turnips, and like the cruise-ship Baked Alaska parade the Burns Night haggis should be brought into the dining area with as much ceremony as possible.

Bagpipes are optional but not advisable in thin-walled apartment buildings. Likewise dancing over crossed swords on the floor.

And, of course, guests should be wearing as much tartan as possible and knocking back as much whisky as possible during recitations of Burns’ poetic output before, during and after the slicing, serving and consumption of the haggis.

After more than just a few wee drams plus a seriously whisky-based dessert, revellers are expected to join in a chorus or two of what could be Burns’ best-known work. You might already be familiar with it — it starts “Should auld acquaintance be forgot”.

And talking of burns, for those who just can’t get enough of national celebrations there’s another one at the other end of the world the following day: Australia Day, when many, many people are too busy celebrating to remember to reapply their sun cream, and end up suffering from a bad case of sunburn.

Australia Day celebrates the arrival, in 1788, of the First Fleet of British Ships and the raising of the flag of Great Britain over Sydney Cove. It’s a public holiday and therefore an excellent excuse for day-long outdoor activities that include concerts, community barbecues and various sporting events.

Wearing a thick layer of tartan to any of these activities, though, is definitely not recommended: they may still be clearing up after Storm Jonas up here, but Down Under it’s currently the highest of high summer, and the day after Australia Day sees a whopping 22% of the annual total of heat stress related deaths throughout the continent.

That’s because everyone gets as relaxed as humanly possible on their favorite tipple, as one does. But then they stay out and get cooked in the blazing sunshine for far, far longer than is good for them … and then succumb to the resultant heart attack or kidney failure the following day.

At least in Scotland (and the upper part of the northern hemisphere) there’s little danger of heatstroke at this time of year. In fact, this kind of cold could be precisely what whisky was invented for.

Well, that’s our excuse, anyway.

Another dram? Whyever not…

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