“Robert Burns is the only man to have a statue on every continent – Shakespeare doesn’t,” proudly proclaimed the Chairman of the evening, Eric Brown of the Scores Hotel. Did you know that? I didn’t. It was just one of many things I learned last night at the Belated Burns Supper held by St Andrews’ very own Fine Food & Dining Society and the At Home and Abroad Society at the Best Western Scores Hotel.
Traditionally held on 25th January, Burns Night celebrates famed Scottish poet Robert Burns (Rabbie, as I now know him) through feasting, singing, poetry recitation and whisky. I was slightly hesitant going into the night, expecting to be bombarded with all things stereotypically Scottish: haggis, kilts, bagpipes and tricky accents. While all these things made an appearance, really, I should have known better – after two years in Scotland, what I’ve come to love about the place is the warmth people seem to exude, and this joyous spirit was in no short supply. As AHA committee member and one of the event's chief organizers Claire Rampen explained, “Burns Night is the quintessential Scottish event, but it’s not put on,” going on to explain that even though she goes to four Burns Suppers every year, she learns something new from each Immortal Memory she hears.
The event catered largely to JSAs who are here just for a short time and want to experience something genuinely Scottish in a town crammed full of English and American students. William Ozbun, an Italian who attends university in the States, seemed particularly keen, enjoying the night’s “whisky before everything” (referring to the dram of whisky each guest received after the Toast to the Haggis) and wearing a kilt he had rented for the evening.
The food was hearty and satisfying, appropriate for both the occasion and the day’s blustery weather. Haggis with neeps and tatties and a whisky sauce provided a warm start to the meal, followed by a succulent pork belly dish. Dessert was a raspberry cheesecake twist on cranachan, followed by light, house-made macaroons.
It was the entertainment, though, that really made the night. Harold Burr, the vice president of FFDS, inaugurated the meal with a beautiful Selkirk Grace, Eric Brown’s speeches were witty and powerful, and the Immortal Memory was both funny and poignant. The university's own student groups also shaped the evening: The Alleycats lifted everyone’s spirits after a rich meal an a cappella rendition of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’. Blind Mirth cleverly performed both the Toast to the Lassies and the reply, the Toast to the Lads, congratulating women for doing everything better than men poking fun at St Andrews’ increasingly problematic gender ratios.
St Andrews’ Burns Club is the oldest in Scotland, and I think last night’s event would have done it and the poet proud. As the night dwindled down every guest seemed full of food, happiness – and I certainly felt just a little bit more Scottish than I did yesterday.