On Saturday night we held – or staged – a Burns Night for two and a half Scots,* five Spaniards and one American. Clearly my life in a foreign country as a mum, English teacher, translator and aspiring writer isn´t complex enough; I just had to have a party for a dead poet writing in a language I can barely decipher myself (Scots). I just had to serve up a soup containing prunes, eighteen small haggi (six veggie) and a “clootie” dumpling, flown in from the Braveheart territory of Stirling itself, to friends used to the superior Mediterranean diet.
The underlying psychology of this endeavour remains rather fuzzy to me. Did I want to share Rabbie Burns with my friends? Did I want to shore up my own identity? Did I just want a bit of attention? Whatever the deep-seated motivation was, I went at the preparations like Wallace against Proud Edward´s Army. There just had to be a proper Burns Supper, Scottish drink, traditional music, themed invitations and decorations. Easy enough in Scotland. But here? How did I go about it?
Food. Burns Night revolves around the haggis. No haggis, no Burns Night. This was the biggest problem to solve. I could (a) make it myself, which would be cheap, but daunting, (b) ask a butcher to make it for me and risk the finished product being more chorizo than Chieftain o´the Puddin´ Race, or (c) order it online from Scotland and pay the outrageous postage for the sake of peace of mind. I decided on (c) and Scottish Foods Overseas did the rest. The whopping £40 delivery fee meant I threw in tinned neeps, oatcakes, a clootie dumpling and some whisky fudge to make it worthwhile. Then I had a wee lie-down to recover.
Fortunately, the rest of the food was easy to get, especially the whisky, of course. El Corte Inglés had all the ingredients for cock-a-leekie soup, a veggie lentil broth, Scotch trifle and Scotch eggs. We also got smoked salmon and cheddar cheese (English) there for canapés and shortbread petticoat tails. The cheap and easy mashed tatties were no problem.
Decorations. Having decimated my meagre budget on the haggis delivery, I couldn´t justify spending another forty quid on having a Scottish party pack sent (though the online tartan and Scottish flag bunting were really cute!). So I eschewed the kind of company that made Kate Middleton´s parents rich and tackled the decorations myself. It´s amazing what you can do with eight metres of tartan ribbon from your local mercería (haberdashery), two packs of serviettes from Carrefour (blue and white) and two packs of balloons from the chinos, also blue and white. I picked up two large sheets of blue cardboard and made a Scottish flag out of one of them with white poster paint and cut out little flag bunting from the other. I stuck a big X on each rectangle from a roll of cheap paper ribbon and strung them up on blue thread.
By this time my enthusiasm was running away with me like the De´il Awa´ Wi´ Th´Exciseman and I bought cheap tartan material to make a tablecloth at Alcalá´s fantastic fancy dress shop, Christys. Incredibly, I was able to get three fabulous Jimmy bunnets there! It seems we Scots are a source of mirth the world over.
I decided to make a portrait of Burns as a welcome message on my front door. This was easy. I downloaded a silhouette of his face, blew it up, printed it, cropped it and coloured it with a black felt tip pen and stuck it on a blue background. A wee ribbon bow, FAÍLTE copied in Kelt script and one paper curlicue later and my guests were welcomed in (very amateur) style by the handsome rascal himself.
I used a glass jug full of lavender as a table centrepiece and Rab´s your uncle. Finally, I realised I had a number of Scottish knick knacks I´d forgotten about – a pair of salt and pepper thistles such as your granny might have – and requisitioned them for the rerr terr.
Music. This was also easy, thanks to my portable computer, Spotify and a small cable lent to me by my friend Antonio. (I´ll get the cable number from him tomorrow in case any of you are as technologically inept as myself). I took out a month´s free subscription to Spotify Premium so as not to have adverts and made up a long list of Scottish music. Via the cable, the computer was connected to the TV and again, Rab´s your, well, DJ. We had Jimmy Shand and His Band, Runrig, The Proclaimers, The Corries, Paolo Nutini, The Tannahill Weavers, Simple Minds, and even nonsense like “Campbeltown Loch I Wish You Were Whisky”, “Donald Where´s Your Troosers?” and “Hoots Mon, There´s a Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose.” Not to mention a lot of musicians I´d never heard of. (I´ll probably keep the Spotify Premium subscription for its breathtaking, advert-free store of music from all cultures and countries.).
Invitations. Again, easy peasy as well as freesy! I copied some lovely Celtic freeware clipart from Aon Celtic Art, pasted it into a Word document, wrote out my invitation in Kelt and sent them by email. Fired up with proselytising intent, I decided to compose an “Order of the Supper” since, let´s face it, how many Spaniards have the tiniest clue of what a Burns Night is? So I listed the Selkirk Grace, Address to a Haggis, The Immortal Memory, a “Best of Burns” section and of course, Auld Lang Syne. I´m sure it all remained about as clear as clabber to them but don´t say I didn´t try!
As you can probably imagine, dear reader, the over all effect was definitely of the kitsch, shortbread tin kind … but that was what I was aiming for! Check in tomorrow to read how the Nicht itself went.
*Malassie, of course, half-Scottish.