Burn’s Nicht 2015

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The Scottish Referendum on independence being a little less than 6 months ago, this may be a good time to ask ourselves how Burns might have voted.  Of course, if Burns had been able to vote in the referendum, he would have been 255 years old and probably senile.

Had he been born in 1959, rather than in 1759, the age problem falls away as tonight he would be celebrating his 56th birthday.  The gutterpress and paparazzi would have ensured that he would not become Scotland’s national bard, but his Facebook status (In a relationship. It’s complicated) would be interesting; especially when the spellcheck tries to cope with “Fair fa’ yer honest sonsie face”, or “Wee sleekit, coo’rin’ tim’rous beastie”.

When Burn’s wrote ‘Scots Wha Hae’ he published it anonymously.  Patriotic song or not, it is an incitement against the crown and, therefore, treason.  Burns was, no doubt, familiar with the story of James Reid – the Jacobite piper hanged, drawn and quartered for his part in the 1745 rebellion.

While it is debatable that the court ruled that the Great Highland Bagpipe is a weapon of war (4 other Jacobite pipers were, respectively, banished, imprisoned, freed and fate unknown), art critics of the day obviously had exceptionally high standards and martyrdom for the sake of your art is not a career path with a pension scheme; not even 72 virgins waiting in Paradise.

In 1790, Burns asked “What are the boasted advantages which my country reaps from the Union that can counterbalance the annihilation of her independence, and even her very name”?

It is difficult to overstate the poverty and the hardships of the ordinary people in 18th century Scotland and much of Burns’ popularity as a poet stems from his identity with the common man and his ability to write of their lives in their vernacular.

He also, in A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation, criticised some of the tactics used to persuade the Scottish Parliament to accede to the Act of Union of 1707.

Up to this point we can confidently say that Robert Burns would have voted ‘yes’ for an independent Scotland.  And probably be completely wrong.

As Alexander Pope famously observed: A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again

Robert Burns’ public persona as the ploughman poet was carefully and deliberately crafted and enabled him to enter levels of society, both high and low, from which he might otherwise have been excluded.

Burns was well educated and, while his farming venture was not sufficient to support a family, it must be remembered that the soil was poor and crop rotation a poorly understood concept.

The romance of his poetry hides that Burns was pragmatic and a realist.  Among the options he considered was emigrating to Jamaica.  Had he done so, would he, like Thomas Jefferson, have struggled with the contradiction of declaring, as a self-evident truth, that “all men are created equal”, while living in a slave-owning society?

As Samuel Johnson noted in the years before the American Revolution, “Why do we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?” Perhaps this conundrum persuaded him against the move.

Of more immediate interest to us; if Robert Burns had crossed to the West Indies, would Burns Nicht still be celebrated with tartan and haggis, or would we be wearing Rasta beanies and puffing ganja?

In the end, needing to provide for his family, he became an Exciseman, a career that even tax collectors could find problematic.

This position, at least in UK, has its own interesting story.  Following a poor harvest in 1644, Charles 1 placed a tax on whisky and the Scottish Parliament restricted the right to distil to upper and noble classes.  The result, quite naturally, was the proliferation of illicit stills.  As you probably know, this is also the origin of the shebeen, a Gaelic word that South Africans have adopted as their own while retaining the original meaning.

After the Union Act of 1707, parliament created the Excisemen, whose task it was to end illicit distillation and the smuggling with which it had quickly become associated.  It was a difficult and dangerous, often fatal, undertaking as the Excisemen were generally outnumbered and inadequately armed.  There was also a certain sympathy towards the illicit stills and the smugglers.  Consider Rob’s poem “The De’ils awa’ wi’ the Exciseman”, with the fourth verse, as an example, reading:

There’s threesome reels, there’s foursome reels,

There’s hornpipes and strathspeys, man,

But the ae best dance ere came to the Land

Was, the deil’s awa wi’ the Exciseman.

Burns was not a supporter of the Stuarts and, writing to London’s The Star newspaper in 1788, said of the 1715 and 1745 rebellions “That they failed, I bless God, but I cannot join in the ridicule of them.”

He also endorsed the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when William of Orange deposed James VII & II.  Or, more accurately, he supported the bill of rights that finally, at least in Great Britain, forever ended absolute monarchy.  Writing to Robert Graham in 1792, Burns said “I look upon the British constitution, as settled at the revolution, to be the most glorious on Earth, or perhaps that the wit of man can frame.”

Politically, Burns was a supporter of Charles James Fox, the Whig politician who opposed Pitt the Younger in parliament.  His waistcoat was even in the same colours as Fox’s, which in turn were the colours of General George Washington and the American colonists.  Burns supported the colonists’ call for independence.

At the same time, he never called for the dissolution of the Scottish / English Union.  Scotland’s economic hardship after the failed Darien Scheme (the ill-conceived, ill-planned and badly executed Scottish attempt at colonisation on the Isthmus of Panama) played an important role in uniting the parliaments.

England was prepared to rescue its northern neighbour, but the price was Scotland’s independence.  A. G. Macdonell in “My Scotland” notes the Scottish tendency to flamboyance and the irrational belief that a glorious defeat is preferable to a pedestrian victory.  We probably caught it from the English.

Incidentally, the Macdonell to whom I refer is not the Chief of the Society, but is famous for another book “England Their England” and especially his description of the village cricket match. If you have not read it, your education is incomplete.

I like to think that Burns, carefully considering all the factors, would have concluded that the ‘yes’ campaign was an invitation to yet another Darien Scheme.  Or maybe to display the reckless courage that drove the clansmen to attack the government army at Culloden, when the Redcoats clearly held all the advantages.

When France declared war on Britain in 1793, Burns let go of his intellectual support of the French Revolution and joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers when it was formed in 1795. As much as he criticised the union, he was prepared to risk his life in its defence.

Burns’ eldest son, also Robert, became a civil servant in the Treasury in London, while sons William and James both achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the East India Company’s army.  There is much truth in the story of the Scot who visited London.  Asked on his return what he thought of the English he replied “I didn’t meet any. I only dealt with management.”

That the Scottish National Party timed the referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary year of the Battle of Bannockburn shows a praiseworthy grasp of good marketing. Perhaps they should have remembered the (most likely apocryphal) story of the Royal Navy as it lay off Trafalgar.  When Nelson flew his famous signal, an English sailor nudged his shipmate and said “Do you hear?  ENGLAND expects that every man shall do his duty”.  To which he received the reply “Aye.  Scotland’s lads do not need reminding.”

Yes for independence or yes for the Union.  Which what Robert Burns have seen as his duty?

 

 

St Andrew – 01 December 2014

St Andrews - 01 December 2014

The Saltire flying at East London City Hall

Highland Fling - 01 December 2014

The Saltire flying at East London City Hall

Hoisting the flag - 01 December 2014

The Saltire flying at East London City Hall

Hoisting the flag - 01 December 2014

The Saltire flying at East London City Hall

01 December 2014

Tanya Munung, Dave Rankin, Emily Frauenstein Tumaini Macdonell with Archbishop Emeritus Desmand Tutu at East London City Hall

Highland Fling - 01 December 2014

Tanya Munung, Dave Rankin, Emily Frauenstein Tumaini Macdonell with Archbishop Emeritus Desmand Tutu at East London City Hall

Highland Fling - 01 December 2014

Tanya Munung, Dave Rankin, Emily Frauenstein Tumaini Macdonell with Archbishop Emeritus Desmand Tutu at East London City Hall

St Andrews - 01 December 2014

The Saltire flying at East London City Hall

Highland Fling - 01 December 2014

Tanya Munung, Emily Frauenstein and Tumaini Macdonell dance the Highland Fling in celebration of St Andrew’s day. The Highland Fling is the oldest known Scottish dance (first recorded AD 1000) and is danced after victory in battle. Traditionally the soldier would dance on his shield, making this the only Scottish dance danced ‘on the spot’. Dave Rankin on bagpipes. The Great Highland Bagpipe is the only musical instrument ever declared a weapon of war, which legal technicality saw piper James Reid hanged, drawn and quartered in 1746 for joining the 1745 Scottish rebellion against the crown.

Highland Fling - 01 December 2014

Tanya Munung, Emily Frauenstein and Tumaini Macdonell dance the Highland Fling in celebration of St Andrew’s day. The Highland Fling is the oldest known Scottish dance (first recorded AD 1000) and is danced after victory in battle. Traditionally the soldier would dance on his shield, making this the only Scottish dance danced ‘on the spot’. Dave Rankin on bagpipes. The Great Highland Bagpipe is the only musical instrument ever declared a weapon of war, which legal technicality saw piper James Reid hanged, drawn and quartered in 1746 for joining the 1745 Scottish rebellion against the crown.

Highland Fling - 01 December 2014

Tanya Munung, Emily Frauenstein and Tumaini Macdonell dance the Highland Fling in celebration of St Andrew’s day. The Highland Fling is the oldest known Scottish dance (first recorded AD 1000) and is danced after victory in battle. Traditionally the soldier would dance on his shield, making this the only Scottish dance danced ‘on the spot’. Dave Rankin on bagpipes. The Great Highland Bagpipe is the only musical instrument ever declared a weapon of war, which legal technicality saw piper James Reid hanged, drawn and quartered in 1746 for joining the 1745 Scottish rebellion against the crown.

Highland Fling - 01 December 2014

Tanya Munung, Emily Frauenstein and Tumaini Macdonell dance the Highland Fling in celebration of St Andrew’s day. The Highland Fling is the oldest known Scottish dance (first recorded AD 1000) and is danced after victory in battle. Traditionally the soldier would dance on his shield, making this the only Scottish dance danced ‘on the spot’. Dave Rankin on bagpipes. The Great Highland Bagpipe is the only musical instrument ever declared a weapon of war, which legal technicality saw piper James Reid hanged, drawn and quartered in 1746 for joining the 1745 Scottish rebellion against the crown.

Every year on St Andrew’s Day (30 November) or the nearest weekday if 30 November falls on a weekend, the East London Caledonian Society flies the Saltire at East London City Hall

I have no idea who the newest member of my fan club is, but he likes bagpipe music and that's good enough for me.  The smart salute when he left suggests that he has military experience in his life.

I have no idea who the newest member of my fan club is, but he likes bagpipe music and that’s good enough for me. The smart salute when he left suggests that he has military experience in his life.

So tell me, your Grace, do you have any favourite bagpipe tunes?

So tell me, your Grace, do you have any favourite bagpipe tunes?

St Andrew’s Day – 30 November

St Andrew, a.k.a St Endres or St Andreas, as in the geological fault that makes Californian property such a risky investment, was born in Bethsaida on the shores of Lake Galilee.

Like his father, Jonas, and brother, Simon (later called Peter), he was a fisherman and, according to the Gospels, the family lived and worked in Capernaum.

Apart from mention of Simon’s mother-in-law, this is all we reliably know about the family, although various traditions exist that Andrew and Simon were cousins of Zebedee’s sons, James & John and possibly even of Jesus Himself.  Less ambitious is that they were childhood playmates.

The Bible sums up Andrew’s life by naming him as an Apostle.  This title was reserved for those men who were founders of the church and who had accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry.  The exception, of course, was Saul of Tarsus – who qualified via the supplementary exam.

What can we surmise about the man?

Galilee was the junction of major trade routes, boosted by the port of Caesarea, the Coega project of the day, and young Andy grew up in a bustling, cosmopolitan society.  As his family were boat owners, he appears to come from a middle-class background and, like many others, probably spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin.

Jews have always been known for their respect for learning and Andrew’s desire to learn led him to become a disciple of John the Baptist.

The defining moment of his life was when John pointed at Jesus and said “Behold the Lamb of God”.  Andrew went to talk to Jesus and then went to tell Simon of his conviction that he had met the Messiah.  The first Disciple’s faith was born in that meeting and would endure for the rest of his life.

Andrew was a man who looked for solutions, as can be seen at the feeding of the five thousand, when he was the only Disciple who did not stand around saying “We can’t do this, Jesus, it’ll blow the budget.”

This is a controversial episode.  Ministers point to the five loaves and two fish and praise Andrew’s great faith in believing that his Lord could do something with them.  Boards of management point to the twelve baskets of left-overs and criticise Andrew’s extravagance.

Andrew’s leadership position, as shown by fellow-Disciple, Philip, deferring to him when some Greeks wished to be introduced to Jesus, is eclipsed in literature by events over which he had no control.

Peter, whose charge sheet includes assault with a deadly weapon, perjury, inciting civil disobedience and escaping from prison, simply scans better for popular readership.  Thomas is remembered for his reaction to the resurrection, “Pull this one.  It’s got bells.”  And Paul wrote lots of letters telling people of his modesty and listing, in great detail, all the things he could boast about if only he wasn’t so humble.

Andrew took the great commission to go into all the world seriously and his missionary travels are said to have covered Greece, Turkey, Asia Minor, Russia, Ukraine and eastern Europe up to Poland.

During the reign of Nero, Andrew incurred the enmity of the proconsul (governor) of Patras and was crucified on 30 November 69 AD.  Feeling unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, Andrew asked to be crucified on an X-shaped cross.

He was tied, not nailed, to the cross in order to prolong his suffering.  It took him two days to die. During this time he lived up to his name, which means “manhood” or “valour” and, making the best of a bad situation, continued to preach the Gospel.

His cross is said to have arrived at the abbey of St Victor in Marseilles before 1250 AD and is still there.

Sceptics point out that the shape of the cross is probably a 14th century invention as earliest depictions show a conventional cross and early versions of the story say Andrew was nailed to an olive tree.

Andrew is the patron of: Scotland. Russia. Romania. Norway. Achaia & Patras (Greece). University of Patras. Amalfi (Italy). Lampertheim (Germany). Burgundy. Diocese of Constantinople. Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA;

As befits his occupation he is patron of: fish dealers; fish mongers; fishermen and anglers and (a ladies man) of maidens; old maids; spinsters; unmarried women and women who wish to become mothers.

By way of variety, his portfolio concludes with gout, singers and sore throats.

What is the Scottish connection?

In 369 AD. St Rule a.k.a. St Regulus was told in a dream to take Andrew’s bones from Constantinople to “the ends of the earth.”  St Regulus is believed to be a Greek monk or an Irish assistant to St Columba.

St Columba, you will recall, is the fellow who told Nessie to “Get back in yon loch and stop being such a silly monster!” That there have been no reliable monster sightings since is proof that the early churchmen were not fat and jovial Friar Tucks.

St Regulus took a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap and some fingers.  He was shipwrecked where St Andrew’s is now sited and, instead of a quick 9 holes at the Royal and Ancient, he built a church and preached to the heathen.

In 832 AD the Pictish King, Angus McFergus, was not a happy camper.  Together with the Scots, the Picts had been raiding Northumbria and the Saxon Warlord – Athelstane – was not prepared to see this as “the-lads-having-a-wee-bit-fun.”

Just as Angus was concluding that he had bitten off the proverbial, St Andrew appeared, in a dream, promising victory.   When Angus awoke he saw a white X-shaped cloud formation against the blue dawn sky.   The Picts and Scots won a great, if bloody, victory over the Northumbrians by trapping them in a bottleneck at the only way across the River Peffer, in East Lothian.  The town is known as Athelstaneford to this day.

A grateful Angus gave the church 10% of all the land in his dominions.

By 845 AD Kenneth II, king of the Scots, had appropriated the other 90% and the Picts faded into history.  Taking no chances on patronage, Kenneth also repaired and richly endowed the church where Andrew’s arm was kept.  The relics were probably destroyed during the Scottish Reformation and a plaque in the ruins of St Andrew’s cathedral marks the spot where they were kept.

In 1320 St Andrew was officially recognised as Patron Saint in the “Declaration of Arbroath” which asserted Scotland’s independence from England and was signed by Robert the Bruce and many of Scotland’s nobles.

In 1879 a small part of St Andrew’s shoulder blade was sent by the Archbishop of Amalfi to the re-established Roman Catholic community in Scotland and in 1969 Pope Pius VI gave Gordon Gray, newly appointed as the first Scottish Cardinal since the Reformation, further relics of St Andrew with the words “St Peter gives you his brother.”  These are in St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh.

A sceptic has remarked:  “If every church around the world that claims to have a piece of St Andrew were to get together and assemble his collected remains, St Andrew would probably prove to be a remarkable man of 12 legs, 9 hands, 300 teeth and more ribs than a woolly mammoth.”

In the final analysis, which of the stories of St Andrew are true and which are myth is not important.  What matters is that he was an ordinary man of ordinary circumstances whose unwavering faith has made his memory immortal.

Like his Lord, he left no personal records of his life.  In serving his Lord, the impact of his life has changed history and encouraged many to serve as he served.

Armistice Day – 09 November 2014

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Ex-servicemen squad

Ex-servicemen squad

Ex-servicemen squad

Ex-servicemen squad

Ex-servicemen squad

Ex-servicemen squad

Pipe Band

Pipe Band

Pipe Band

Pipe Band

Pipe Band

Pipe Band

Buffalo Volunteer Rifles (formerly Kaffrarian Rifles)

Buffalo Volunteer Rifles (formerly Kaffrarian Rifles)

Taking the salute

Taking the salute

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The last post

The last post

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The Buffalo Volunteer Rifles

The Buffalo Volunteer Rifles

Kaffrarian Rifles Association

Kaffrarian Rifles Association

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East London Caledonian Society

East London Caledonian Society

Port Rex Naval Association

Port Rex Naval Association

Missions to Seamen

Missions to Seamen

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