The Caley - a Grand Venue
My next Burns Supper was a much grander affair (but also arranged indirectly by my father). How this all happened is now a mystery to me. I had just moved to London in late-1968 so I think the occasion must have been January, 1969. The venue was the Caledonian Club - that bastion of Conservative Scots located in a fine old building near Hyde Park Corner. My recollection is that my father, through his contacts in the motor trade, offered my services to someone involved in organising one of the many Burns Suppers that are held in the "Caley" in late January every year. I don't remember much about the evening. Was I wearing a kilt? If so, it must have been hired unless I still had my Rutherglen pipe band uniform, because I did not buy my own until 20 years later. But I do remember the impressive dining room, round which I marched to pipe in the haggis, though the next time I visited this room (for a Scottish dance sometime around 2007) I found that my memory had exaggerated both its size and its splendour.
Burns suppers have undoubtedly been the main reason for me to play in public ever since. The week of 25th January is the one time in the year when I suddenly become very popular. Many if not most of these events are related to Scottish dancing (Surbiton, Richmond, Pont Street, Wallington). Others were organised by a Japanese restaurant in the West End (of London), schools, golf clubs, a retirement home, the local lib-dems, or private individuals (including by me and my good and Scotophile friend, Martin Stokes). And that is without advertising my services.
To a Haggis
This brings us to the very core of a Burns Supper - the haggis and the address to it. My participation in these events sometimes includes eating a portion of haggis (for which I am willing to pause my vegetarianism for a night or two). This year (2020) I had haggis five times out of six evenings during the week. But it nearly always involves me having to listen to a usually dreadful recitation of Burns' famous poem "To a Haggis" often by an Englishman who has no idea about what the words mean or how they should be delivered (and who rarely bothers to learn them off by heart). You can find my version of the poem and a translation here.
On the other hand, when the food and company are good and when the meal is followed by some vigorous Scottish Dancing, a Burns Supper is one of the highlights of my year.