Top marks for rector charlie as rabbie’s memory burns brightly

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RABBIE Burns may never have set foot in Hawick during his tour of the Borders in 1787, but if last Friday night’s Burns Club Supper is anything to go by, there’s no doubt Scotland’s national bard would have been welcomed to the grey auld toon with open arms.

Indeed, right from the eagerly anticipated moment when committeeman Billy Hinton proudly carried the haggis into the Pringle Hall, to the final strains of a rousing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, the club had done the ploughman poet proud. His timeless works aired once again with great gusto, his achievements celebrated in fine style and his legacy safeguarded for another year.

Chairman for the evening was club president George MacDonald, and one of his first duties was to introduce the main speaker, Charlie Robertson, who addressed the company for ‘The Immortal Memory’.

Charlie, who is rector at Kelso High School, gave an insightful, thought-provoking and often humorous speech, through which there was a constant educational theme. “Contrary to popular belief, Burns was well educated,” asserted Charlie. “He had pre-school education from his mother; nursery education from Betty Davidson, a friend of his mother’s; primary education with a great teacher by the name of William Murdoch; secondary education at Dalrymple and Kirkoswald; and then on to college.

“But what did he do with it?” continued Charlie. “He failed as a farmer, he failed as a flax dresser, he had woman problems, he fell out with the church, and he died young and poor.

“Although apparently not much to go on, we sometimes lose sight of the greatness of Burns when we attempt to analyse his life too intensely. His politics, his religion, his Masonic connections, his womanising, his drinking. Burns had the type of upbringing – loving and caring – that was all that we should be proud of in our society, and he had an education.”

And while Burns used all the experience and background he had gained in his life and education to produce some truly magnificent work, Charlie said that, above all, Burns taught us two great lessons. “He taught us to be proud of our language and heritage . . . And that his work is deceptively simple. Like a good teacher, he takes complex ideas and themes and expresses them in a comprehensible fashion. So many writers do this the other way round! Burns, at his best, writes about mice and lice and mountain daisies and dugs. And we can all identify with that.”

Charlie’s firms grasp of all things Burns was much in evidence throughout his speech, and he was warmly applauded for a first-class oratory.

In keeping with tradition, secretary John Goldie was asked to read out the Greetings from Kindred Clubs. And this year best wishes came from such far-flung organisations as the Auckland Burns Association in Howick, New Zealand, the Calgary Burns Club in Canada, and the Scottish Society and Burns Club of Australia. Closer to home, messages of goodwill were received from Burns clubs up and down the country, including Alloway, Dundee, Greenock, Kilmarnock and Stonehaven.

Burns Club stalwart Bob Muirhead then gave a humorous toast to Our Guests, during which he aimed a few jibes in the direction of the company. Among those who found themselves the butt of Bob’s jests was the Ex-Service Club’s Ian Young, about whom Bob made a light-hearted remark over his somewhat ubiquitous presence at club dinners around the town.

It was all good-natured fun but the mood was about to change to one of sombre reflection and, with lights dimmed and a hush descending over the hall, secretary Goldie was called upon to address the company again, this time with the toast to Absent Friends.

“This is a sad part of the night,” admitted Mr Goldie as he announced the names of club members and friends who had died over the past year. They were: Phil Marsden, Wattie Riddell, Dan Riddell, Jimmy White, Bill ‘Hoot’ Gibson, Jimmy Hope, Danny May, Robin Trimby, Bill Boardman, John Bouglas, Les Johnstone, Bert Howden, Charlie Aitken, Tam Halfpenny, Harry Douglas, Harry Jnr Bell and Keith ‘Boff’ Richardson. And alluding to the first anniversary of the death of Bill McLaren, the secretary added: “Hawick lost a true friend that day.”

The club’s reputation for securing the very best speakers for its big night was reinforced with the introduction of David Scott, the Hawick-born Burns aficionado, who was charged with making the toast to The Lassies.

David, who was recently crowned world champion ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ reciter, is always a hugely popular guest at Burns suppers across the region, and he didn’t disappoint with a side-splitting account of his “abject misery with the so-called fairer sex”.

It may have been “misery” for David, but the company enjoyed every minute of his toast, from “the plight of the tortured husband” to his hilarious take on lonely hearts columns. It was vintage stuff and he fully deserved the warm applause accorded him.

Brewery rep Steff Russo, a regular attendee at the club’s supper, gave the reply From Our Guests, and made special mention of the mouthwatering fare from Brydon’s Bakery Restaurant as well as the warm hospitality from committee members and bar staff.

The night’s entertainers were of the highest order, and setting the benchmark were Scocha’s Iain Scott and Davie Chapman, with several cracking numbers which included a haunting rendition of Burns’ ‘Sweet Tibbie Dunbar’. Also hitting the high notes were Common-Riding stalwarts Bernie Armstrong and Ian Scott, while Ian Rutherford’s ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ and ex-Cornet Derek Inglis’ ‘Holy Wullie’s Prayer’ saw the talented pair throwing themselves into their respective characters, and both performances were warmly received. As always, pianist Dave Mackay provided superb accompaniment.

Of course, no Burns supper is complete without the skirl of the pipes, and pipe major Brian Gillies was in great form, treating the company to one of two superb medleys. The other was performed by youngsters from Hawick Pipe Band, whose toe-tapping tunes were rewarded with a £300 donation as the company dug deep to show its appreciation.

Appreciation was also shown to ex-club secretary Michael Hogg, who was presented with a tankard in recognition of more than two decades in the post.