Reply to Lassies’ Toast 2016
Mr Chairman, Lassies – and Lads
Thanks are due to Alistair for his gracious toast. Alistair set forth his stall at the commencement of his speech – he ‘doesn’t do banter’
Now, I expect that everyone here – including myself – has been to enough Burns Suppers to know that it now falls to me – as tonight’s token Lass – to lower the tone a little and poke some gentle fun at the Lads!
So I shall be equally frank – I do, do banter! But even the Bard himself was not averse to it – and mine won’t venture nearly as far as his could – and on many occasions did!
I think we all realize that Robert Burns in many ways was a Lad typical of his time. He loved the fairer sex and appreciated their beauty. He wrote about Bonnie Peg:
Her air sae sweet and shape complete
Wi’ nae proportion wantin’
The queen of love did never move
Wi’ motion mair enchantin’.
And about another – unamed lassie:
My girl – she’s airy, she’s buxom and gay
Her breath is as sweet as the blossoms in May;
A touch of her lips it ravishes quite.
She’s always good-natured, good-humor’d and free
She dances, she glances, she smiles wi’ a glee;
Her eyes are the lightening of joy and delight:
Her slender neck, her handsome waist
Her hair weel buckled, her stays weel laced…
(Song – Tune Black Joke)
…and hence to points further south – over which we shall draw a discreet veil !
Yes – a lad typical of his time! … or a typical lad – of any time?
Burns appreciated the fairer sex and attributed much of his inspiration to them. He credits lassies with his first forays into verse. He writes in his First Commonplace Book (a kind of diary you could say):
For my own part I never had the least thought or inclination of turning Poet – till I got heartily in Love, and then Rhyme and Song were – in a manner – the spontaneous language of my heart.
(First Commonplace Book, 1783)
Later he writes that:
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend are spent amang the lassies-o.
(Green Grow the Rashes O)
When writing to William Simpson of Ochiltree he confessed:
Yet when a tale comes in my heed
Or lasses gie my heart a screed
As whiles they’re like to be my dead
(O sad disease!)
I kittle up my rustic reed –
It gies me ease.
So he loved the company of Lassies. And it is obvious that Burns’ amours were many and various. Lassies, if you are called … Anna, Alison, Katie, Mary, Jeanie, Chloris, Clarinda, Nancy, Nell, Molly, Polly, Peggy, Bessie, Jessie, Eliza, Maria or even Delia – there is a poem about you or to you!.
Burns does actually admit to inconstancy – but he justifies it by pointing to Nature….a dangerous precedent I think – if we were to take our example there lassies, we might choose to copy the female Black Widow spider – who kills her male after mating – to stop the snoring before it starts I imagine!
But back to Burns’ example from Nature. He starts off:
Let not Woman e’er complain (an example of wishful thinking perhaps!)
Let not Woman e’er complain
Of inconstancy in love;
Let not Woman e’er complain –
Fickle Man is apt to rove:
Look abroad through Nature’s range,
Nature’s mighty law is Change …
Mark the winds and mark the skies
Oceans ebb and oceans flow:
Sun and moon but set to rise;
Round and round the seasons go:
Why then ask of silly Man,
To oppose great Nature’s plan?
We’ll be constant – while we can –
You can be no more, you know.
(Song – to the tune of Duncan Gray)
Typical lad – getting his excuses in first!
It’s often said that Burns was an advocate for women’s rights – indeed he wrote a poem in which he states:
The Rights of Woman merit some attention…
These rights are – unsurprisingly – NOT equal pay and opportunities – nor the right to vote – but the right to Protection, Decorum and Adoration. He mentions that:
There was indeed, in far less polished days,
A time when rough, rude men had naughty ways:
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay even thus invade a lady’s quiet. –
Now, thank our stars these Gothic times are fled,
Now well-bred men – (and you are all well-bred)
Most justly think – (and we (lassies) are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit nor manners.
(The Rights of Woman – spoken by Miss Fontanelle on her Benefit Night)
So – a typical lad then …knows on which side his bread is buttered!
And yet I wonder – is there a ‘typical lad’? After all not every lad needs to buy an electric lawn mower …some of them can find their own way back home!
(Didn’t get it? Don’t worry – neither did I at first. Just think about it – follow the lead!)
Yes lads are all different – as another of Burns short poems illustrates very clearly:
Twa bonny lads were Sandy and Jockie;
Jockie was lo’ed but – Sandie unlucky;
Jockie was laird baith of hills and of vallies,
But Sandy was nocht but the king o’ gude fellows.
Jockie lo’ed Madgie, for Madgie had money,
And Sandy lo’ed Mary, for Mary was bonny:
Ane wedded for Love, ane wedded for treasure
So Jockie had siller, and Sandy had pleasure.
(Sandie and Jockie)
So maybe we can’t lump all lads together then. Horses for courses I think!
Yet I must confess that for all his faults I cannot think anything but good of a lad who writes this:
Husband, husband, cease your strife,
Nor longer idly rave, Sir:
Tho’ I am your wedded wife,
Yet I am not your slave, Sir.
(Song – to the tune of My Joe Janet)
And so in spite of all I think we Lassies can truthfully say – you’re not all bad! And the best of the bunch are here tonight! With Burns we say:
O whistle and I’ll come tae ye, my lad;
Tho’ faither and mither and a’ should gae mad,
O whistle and I’ll come tae ye, my lad.
So lassies if you will be upstanding and join me … here’s a toast to Oor Lads, in the Bard’s own words:
Guid speed an furder to you Johnny
Guid health, hale han’s – an weather bony!
(Third Epistle to John Lapraik)