January 29th, 2017


Burns Night 2017

It somehow feels so self-indulgent and even wrong to write about anything that isn't "WTF is going on in this country" but sadly I think this is going to be going on for a while and I gotta pace myself.

So, indulgently, while my country was going to hell in a handbasket, I spent yesterday preparing for a Burn's Night Dinner. My ex-husband and his wife host one every year and it's such a joy to show up at someone else's house, with them having done all of the work. I don't get off scot-free (ha, see what I did there?) as I've been going for 9 years now and am generally on the hook for making dessert and with the exception of one year, been asked to give the Lassie's Reply.

There's a long history of celebrating Robert Burn's birthday with a very traditional, formulaic dinner. Generally speaking, there's whisky and poetry reading and haggis and speechifying and toasting. We say the Grace he wrote before we eat, we pipe in (or in our cases, since no one plays bagpipes, we all do a very, very bad imitation of piping) the haggis as it comes out to the table, then read Burns' Address to a Haggis before serving it, we randomly read Burn's poems during dinner, each toasted from one of the 7 or 8 bottles of whisky on the table, there's a Toast to the Lassies - a speech written by one of the male attendees, that is a gentle roasting of the ladies, referencing Burn's body of work. And then the Lassie's Reply, which is me. When I say speech, or technically toast, you need to understand that we're talking about a good 8-12 minutes long, so it does require some prep. The Lassie's reply is not as gentle as the men's toast to the women and meant to be bawdier and meaner, before circling back to why men are wonderful and toastworthy.

I have to admit that I'm fond of recycling material from one year to the next - pulling bits from several previous speeches. After all, it'd been a year and lots of whisky so who would know...except a lot of the other folks have been coming for years as well, so it really was time to start fresh and write some more original stuff.

So, here, in its entirety, is this year's Lassie's Reply. There was definitely some more ad libbing and a couple of other bits that played off the Toast to the Lasses but there was also a lot of whisky going on, so that material's sort of lost.

This year, for the first time, I really had a hard time trying to write this. I’d be fine and then I’d come across a reference to Burns standing up for women’s rights

"While Europe’s eye is fixed on mighty things, the fate of empires and the fall of kings.
While quacks of state must each produce his plan, and even children lisp the Rights of Man.
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention, The Rights of Women merit some attention"

and I’d think “fuck me, it’s been 200 years how is this still a thing?”. But let’s not talk politics, for I’ve had whisky and I’m already feeling a bit fractious.

Luckily for you guys, I’m a New England WASP so I will channel my fury into humor. There may be more swearing.

So, my neighbor works for the Smithsonian and she was giving me a tour of their storage facility out in Suitland and she was showing me all sorts of cool stuff, freezers full of decomposing dolphins, closets full of elephant tusks, drawers full of whale penises. Did you know that the blue whale’s penis is ten feet long, a foot in diameter? At least when it’s not all dried up in a drawer. I can’t even make a joke about that. It’s that amazing. Anyway, we were moving into the storage area for hominids and on one shelf there were two brains in two jars. One was smaller and sort of tired looking, the other was big and plump and shiny. My feminist ire fired up when I saw that the shrunken one was female and the bigger one was labelled male. Kerry put her hand on my shoulder and said “hey, let’s face it, only one of them got used a lot in its lifetime.”

But back to Rabbie Burns who wrote “Mither Nature, her prentice hand she tried on man and then she made the lasses.” And we know that Rabbie loved the lasses. I know that most of you, certainly those who’ve been here before, are familiar with the list of women with whom we know that he had relationships, never mind all of the possible ones we just don’t have evidence for. So I ask you to think on this: Rabbie Burns on Tinder.

He wrote:
To see her is to love her,
And love but her for ever;
For Nature made her what she is,
And never made anither!

Seriously, that Dude NEVER swiped left. "Never made anither"Rabbie, darling, c’mon Nature made a lot. And you tried out as many as you could. You yourself wrote, "The sweetest hours that e’er I spend are spent among the lassies". And there was definitely an “s” on the end of lassies. If Burns had been born during the time of Tinder, I have no doubt he’d be wearing a wrist brace from all of the swiping right.

Although with 13 children in 11 years, and well over 700 poems, essays and songs, Burns could be one of the few men throughout history that could successfully multitask.

Now I’d already be fond of Burns because he gives us an excuse to get together once a year and have fun and he gets some of you men into kilts, which is always nice eye candy. But in addition to writing poems in honor of all sorts of women, he wrote a poem in honor of food. And not just fabulous food, which is easy, but to Haggis, of all things.

Hey, when is a man like a Haggis? After a Burns dinner when he’s a stuffed paunch reeking of whisky. Raise your hand if you were worried I was going to reference the stabbing it with a knife and it was going to be all “Trenching your gushing entrails bright”.

Speaking of which, I don’t understand why some people think that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. The place that houses knives and fire.

But back to Burns and his women. I say I’m fond of him, but probably more fond of him because he’s dead and I’m not dating him. Although, who knows, maybe all of his women knew about the others and was okay with it. After all, he wrote:

Let not Woman e’er complain of inconstancy in love;
Let not woman e’er complain – fickle Man is apt to rove.
Look abroad through Nature’s range, Nature’s might law is change…
Mark the winds and mark the skies, oceans ebb and oceans flow
Sun and Moon but set to rise, round and round the seasons go
Why ask then of Silly Man to oppose great nature’s plan
We be constant while we can.

Oooh, I can’t help it, it’s nature’s way!

Yeah, that sort of makes me feel stabby again. But wait, let’s talk about nature for a minute, Rabbie. I mean, you’ve got black widow spiders where the female regularly eats the male after copulation. Heck, most spiders worth this way, although some male spiders are smart enough to bring a little packet of food, tide her over, keep her from being hangry. (Valentine’s Day is coming, gentlemen, so if you haven’t ordered your mate a packet of lovely chocolates, word to the wise, be a smart little spiderboy)

And praying mantis. Once they’re done...sometimes not even finished...munch, she’ll just eat his head while his poor little body keeps going. Although actually, true fact, they only do that if they’re being observed by a human, and rarely in the wild. Can you imagine, a mantis says to her partner “oooh, there’s that damn peeping tom entomologist again. I have an idea, this is going to be great, he’s totally going to freak out, let’s just start doing it and then I’m going to...oh, just roll with it, it’s going to be hysterical, I can’t wait to see the look on his face.”

Even Octopus females will often eat a couple of the male’s arms, sometimes just dragging the poor dude off to her cave like a female Blackbeard.

Komodo dragons don’t even need a male, they can fertilize their own damn eggs, thank you very much.

Topi antelope only come into heat one day a year and on that day, the female becomes extremely aggressive and spend 24 hours hounding all of the males in the area into exhaustion.

Female anglerfish are much bigger than the males which are just inches long. The male finds a female, attaches himself to her body and then just atrophies until all that’s left are his sex organs hanging off her that she uses whenever she wants fertilized eggs.

Sorry, clearly I’m enjoying this too much. And poor Rabbie didn’t have the benefit of Animal Planet and the internet, otherwise he never would have leaned that hard on Nature’s Plan.

Look, the man was a fine poet. “I never had the least thought or inclination of turning poet until I got heartily in love. Then rhyme and song became the spontaneous language of my heart.”

We may not be poets at this table, but we know love. And tonight we honor a man who gave us such wonderful words, and toast to the men in our lives who have brought so much love into our hearts. To Burns and the laddies!