Immortal Memory | PAMIS 6th Annual Burns Supper
I was really proud when Kirsty Thomson from Along Came Kirsty asked me to deliver the Immortal Memory at the PAMIS 6th Annual Burns Supper. It was an honour to be part of an amazing evening that was all about raising funds for an incredibly important cause. You can find out more about the work they do at www.pamis.org.uk.
For those that don’t know what an Immortal Memory is – it’s essentially a personal reflection on Rabbie Burns that shares why Burns is still relevant today. Here’s what I delivered.
Kevin Anderson’s Immortal Memory | 28th January 2017
Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you to Kirsty and PAMIS for the opportunity to speak here tonight. I’ll be honest, I feel a bit of a fraud. I’d love to say that I’ve been a passionate follower of Rabbie Burns all my life, but I can’t. In fact my earliest recollection of Burns is from my school days and of being forced to recite poems I neither understood nor enjoyed.
And that’s largely how it remained until my Grandad died. You see my Grandad was a book lover and a book hoarder. When my dad had the unenviable task of sorting through his father’s belongings, the mountain of books represented his biggest challenge. I looked through the books, each page turn releasing the unmistakable smell of tobacco from my Grandads pipe.
As I was finishing up my search through a lifetime of books, a small blue book caught my attention. I thought it was a Bible at first. It wasn’t. It was a collection of Burns poetry. It looked old. I possibly would have dismissed it if it wasn’t for the fact that it had his military service number neatly written in pencil at the top of one of the pages. I added it to the growing pile of books.
That evening it was that book that I picked up. It was old and the pages delicate. I gently flicked through the pages trying to find any connection to my Grandad. I hoped to find more pencil marks or something that told me the story of Grandad and Rabbie Burns. I couldn’t find anything. Then I noticed something. Two corners had been deliberately turned. One at the start and one at the end of The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer.
It’s the poem that Burns addressed to the ‘Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons’ to challenge the excessive taxation of Scottish Whisky. My Grandad wasn’t a big drinker, but he was, unquestionably a passionate Scotsman. His interest in that poem remains a mystery as does the book itself.
What I know is that it was probably published in 1935 and, given the existence of his military number, it’s possible that Rabbie Burns joined him on his adventure in France, Singapore and Ceylon during the 2nd World War.
So Grandad left a mystery. But that wasn’t all he left me. He left me a love of golf. He left me a love of books. He left me an inquiring mind. And, he left a manuscript of his life. A treasure trove of stories that give us a unique insight into his life, especially his war years. Jim Anderson showed himself to be a natural and entertaining storyteller.
And that, to me is what Rabbie Burns was. He’s often described as the bard, a poet, a lyricist and a romantic. Burns is all of these things, and so much more. But to me, the word that describes him best of all is storyteller. He packed a lot into his 37 years, and, yes – that includes lady friends. In his lifetime he produced over 700 works. Some short, some long. Some good, some not quite so good. Some clear. Some cryptic. But he gifted us a legacy. We know the man because of the stories he left.
It comforts me that my great, great, great grandchildren will know two great men – Rabbie Burns and Jim Anderson, because of the stories they’ve left behind.
In fact, my favourite verse of the Bards poetry reflects beautifully on that very point…
The verse is from Tam O’ Shanter
But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You sieze the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white–then melts for ever;
That reminds us that unless we capture these stories, the moments that form our collective history are inevitably lost forever.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I captured one of those moments in a poem of my own. When my Grandad succumbed to vascular dementia at the age of 90, the feelings of grief were joined by regret. Regret that I didn’t visit him in the last few months of his remarkable life.
I did what we’re advised to do – to remember the good times. To remember a moment that makes me smile.
This is that moment.
It’s called – The Nicotine Mint
It was around hole seven or eight
That my language did degenerate
Disapproving glances fell my way
As grandad continued to play.
My wee white ball went left and right.
As grandad produced near perfect flight
As frustration grew I threw my club
As my ball disappeared into a nearby shrub
Grandad didn’t know what to say.
He’d never before seen me this way.
“I know what you need.” he said
“A mint will help you clear your head”.
He reached into his pocket and rumbled about.
I stood and waited with my grumpy pout.
The treasure was revealed amongst some lint.
The answer to my prayers? – a nicotine mint.
When I say nicotine I’m talking pure yellow
For grandad was a pipe smoking fellow
It must have lived there for many a year
I just stared at it, frozen by fear.
He watched me and waited
The outcome was so clearly fated
With a deep breath, it went in my gob
Grandad said, “that’ll do the job.”
I sooked and sooked and he was spot on
Within a few minutes, my grump was gone.
My golf was still rubbish but I didn’t care.
Life’s about these moments we share.
And, the moments Rabbie Burns shared are timeless. Moments captured over 200 years ago that are still as relevant today. Universal themes of love, women, regret, pain, loss and yes, PASSION will never go out of fashion.
Rabbie Burns is unquestionably more relevant than ever. Why? Because in an age of cynicism, political uncertainty, fear, prejudice and yes – Donald Trump – we need a heritage to fall back on. We need stories that ignite our sense of much needed national pride.
I’d like to finish with a poem I penned in honour of Oor Rabbie.
The One and Only Bard
It’s that time of year
That we’d all fear
When we’d take turns
To murder Burns
When we’d stumble
Hesitate and mumble
Through the words of the bard.
The foreign tongue
It wasn’t fun
It made no sense
In our defence
It was a chore
And a bore
The words of the bard.
And he strains
But we can’t comprehend
We pray for an end
ppTeaching the words of the bard
Years go by
In the blink of an eye
Burns is history
Remains a mystery
I’m chasing lasses
I don’t miss the words of the bard
Then I get a book
Take a second look
In Rabbie Burns
I see his wit
His steely grit
Embracing the words of the bard
What can I say
I was wrong
That is our bard
A song sung
The one and only bard
We should rejoice at the annual returns
Of a true Scottish hero Rabbie Burns
So lads & lasses
Charge your glasses
For the one and only bard
Thanks once again to Kirsty, the ACK team (including Mum, Dad and of course Charlie!), PAMIS, the Apex Hotel and my fellow speakers Alasdair McGill and Susan Watt MSP for making it such a wonderful event. It was an absolute pleasure to be a small part of such a memorable evening.