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What is right, what is wrong, by the law?

Been away for a couple of days conducting some business.

I had an interesting chat yesterday with a man involved in a branch of the financial services industry at director level. He said that his business had been complicated somewhat by the implementation of Europe wide laws and regulations governing his particular field.

His view was that the regulations themselves took no cognisance of the way that transactions were conducted differently in different member states. He said furthermore that so much of the new law was open to interpretation that he and a competitor had implemented them in a different way.

He can receive no guidance whatsoever from the various relevant government departments and trade bodies because they cannot give a definitive opinion of many of the laws. He says it will probably take some prosecutions for the situation to become a bit clearer.

He said he thought the laws had been more diligently applied here than in other European countries.

I simply don’t know if that’s the case so I had a look here at the European Commission’s own figures (most recent available 2011) for infringements on implementation of laws by member states. I note that the UK is level with Germany as having the eighth highest number of infringements against them. The worst four are Italy, Greece, Belgium (!) and Spain.

The ‘best’ country for implementation is Latvia. Of course there are probably many anomalies in these figures, and much will be down to the awareness of the Commission in knowing about certain infringements. However, isn’t this yet another illustration of how difficult applying EU wide laws and regulation is?

Why is it that a friend of mine who was married to a Danish woman and has a Danish son has to put up a bond with the Danish government to live there? Spain quite openly charge people who wish to live there and use government services. That infringes the most basic tenet of the single market i.e. the free movement of citizens from one member state to another and the receipt by EU citizens of benefits and services available to citizens of that state.

France’s recent tax hikes perhaps illustrate how awkward and difficult fiscal union will be to achieve – and yet that looks like the last chance saloon for the Euro.

I don’t want to pre empt what David Cameron is going to say in his much anticipated speech on Europe. We all know it is as much about the Tory party as it is for any genuine desire to highlight problems with this member state’s continued relationship with the EU.

However if it stimulates debate then that has to be a good thing.


Mauchline Holy Fair

Here stands a shed to fend the show’rs,
An’ screen our countra gentry;
There Racer Jess, an’ twa-three whores,
Are blinkin at the entry.
Here sits a raw o’ tittlin jads,
Wi’ heaving breast an’ bare neck;
An’ there a batch o’ wabster lads,
Blackguarding frae Kilmarnock,
For fun this day.

Robert Burns “The Holy Fair” 1786

There were over 70 stalls, street theatre, concerts and exhibitions.

Mauchline, where Burns lived for four years is a treasure chest of history for anyone interested in the bard. For example this is Poosie Nansie’s

In Poosie-Nansie’s held the splore,
To drink their orra duddies;
Wi’ quaffing an’ laughing,
They ranted an’ they sang,
Wi’ jumping an’ thumping,
The vera girdle rang,

The Jolly Beggars (For Love and Liberty)

In the churchyard, there were several graves bearing familiar names

The grave of William Fisher, aka Holy Willie

The grave of Mary Morrison who died when she was only 20 years old.

Oh Mary wouldst thou wreck his peace who for thy sake would gladly die
Or wouldst thou break that heart o’ his wha’s only faut was lovin’ thee
If love for love thou wiltnae gie at least be pity to me shown
A thocht ungentle cannae be the thocht o’ Mary Morrison

Burns wrote the poem/song about Mary when she was only 16.

One of the most poignant graves was that of Jean Armour and four Burns children (two sets of twin girls) who died  in infancy. The eldest of the four was not yet three when she died.

Capercaillie played an excellent version of this at the end of their one hour show:

Anyone within travelling distance should put this event in their diaries for next year.

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Mr Burns

I’m off today for a piss up on a cultural odyssey of discovery to Mauchline in deepest Ayrshire. At the Mauchline Holy Fair, some other sad middle aged reprobates Burns aficionados and I will be getting fou’ immersing ourselves in the music, theatre and poetry

The Burns Monument, Mauchline

Burns leased Mossgiel Farm on the outskirts Mauchline from Gavin Hamilton from 1784 to 1788 which coincided with his most prolific period (on several levels)
During this time Burns was to become a father for the first time (Elizabeth Paton, a farm servant at both Lochlie & Mossgiel, gave birth to a daughter “Dear Bought Bess”). He was to meet and marry Jean Armour, only for her father to cut up the marriage contract. Jean Armour subsequently gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl (Jean & Robert. Jean died aged four and is buried in the churchyard).
He was to meet and also marry “Highland” Mary Campbell, who was a nursemaid for Gavin Hamilton’s children. She and Burns planned to emigrate to Jamaica, but unfortunately she died at Greenock before this could take place.
Burns set out and had published his Kilmarnock Edition, and then planned to have an Edinburgh Edition published. Jean Armour then fell pregnant to Burns again, and subsequently had a second set of twins, both of which died within 10 days. They are also buried in the churchyard. Previous to this on 23rd February 1788 Burns had bought Jean a mahogany bed and had set up house with her in a room in what is now the “Burns House Museum” in Castle Street. On the 5th August 1788 the Reverend William “Daddy” Auld and Mauchline Kirk session recognise the authenticity of Burns’s marriage to Jean.
Burns also at this time had begun preparations to move to Ellisland Farm on the outskirts of Dumfries, and also became an excise man. In December 1788 Jean moved to Nithsdale to join Robert, thereby ending their association with Mauchline.

It was whilst living and having local connections with Mauchline that Burns wrote some of his finest works. He wrote approximately 56 poems among which were “The Holy Fair” “Holy Willies Prayer” “Holy Willies Epitaph” “The Kirks Alarm” “The Belles of Mauchline” “Man Was Made To Mourn” and many of his major works. He wrote at least 15 epistles (verse letters) to among others J. Lapraik, D. Sillars and the Reverand John McMath. He also wrote whilst in Mauchline, “The Jolly Beggars Cantata”, a major work in every manner, and one of his finest works “The Cotters Saturday Night” which is felt to be his tribute to his father.

This is a friend of mine, Sam Smillie, performing Holy Willie’s prayer, a poem about a hypocritical church elder from Mauchline, Willie Fisher. Some with Dumbarton connections may remember Sam as proprietor of Newtown Furnishers in the 80s and 90s

The text of the poem is here

The Raggle Taggle Gypsy

Busy week for me. After the Sons first leg play off on Wednesday, I have a solo gig to do on Friday night. Just me, a guitar and a harmonica rack. One of the songs I’ll be doing is Raggle Taggle Gypsy.

This is Mike Scott and Steve Wickham performing the song:

It is the story of gypsies arriving at a nobleman’s hall and one of them charming the lady of the house to run away with him. The lord, on discovering what has happened rides on his “milk white steed” until he finds his lady.

When he locates her he asks plaintively how she could leave her house, land, money, comfort and her husband to lie in a field with a “raggle taggle gypsy”. The lady is scornful and retorts that she doesn’t care and that “I’m away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy oh!”

I’ve been familiar with the song, originally through the Waterboys, for years but I have never checked on its origins before. When I did I found that it started life as another song and is based on a historical event in the Scottish Borders.

That song was The Gypsy Laddie and it dates to around 1720. However the tale it tells is from many years previous to that.

Nick Tosches, in his Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ‘N’ Roll, spends part of his first chapter examining the song’s history. He compares the song’s narrative to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The ballad, according to Tosches, retells the story of John Faw or Faa, a 17th century outlaw, described as a Scottish Gypsy, and Lady Jane Hamilton, wife of John Kennedy, 6th Earl of Cassilis.

Lord Cassilis led a band of men to abduct her.

The story goes that the gypsies (possibly as many as 16) were hanged by the lord and his men and that Lady Jane spent the rest of her life imprisoned.

Robert Burns recorded his love of the song in the Reliques of Robert Burns which was a collection of traditional poems and letters and critiques of traditional songs. It is believed that the Burns songs Leezie Lindsay and Tibbie Dunbar were inspired by The Gypsy Laddie.

The Raggle Taggle Gypsy would therefore seem to be a somewhat romanticised if not sanitised version of the story but that is the one I’ll be sticking to on Friday. However the introduction could be longer than the song!

Supper Finished

I performed and spoke at my fourth and final Burns Supper of the season on Friday night. A friend of mine had asked me a few weeks ago if I could do this one. As there was the promise of a seat at the top table, complimentary hospitality and a hotel bed to fall into afterwards, it was as they say a no brainer.

Jim had asked me to do a “Toast to the Lassies” which is a traditional part of such occasions. This entails preparing a speech in praise of women and toasting them at the end. Of course any such venture will go down a few humorous by ways and have to turn at a few culs de sac en route.

Mine was a very eco-friendly toast as almost all of the jokes were recycled. I sang three songs, one Burns solo effort, another traditional one which Burns modified, and another traditional Scots folk song.

The one which Burns modified was Killiecrankie performed here in a 1966 film by the Corries:

The battle was fought on a traditional Scottish subject i.e. religion. It had the additional element of competing claims to the English/British throne with the Highland Jacobite Roman Catholic and Episcopal supporting King James VII (II) and the Presbyterian Lowland government forces supporting William of Orange and his wife Mary.

The European Royals in those days were quite an incestuous lot as William was not only James’s nephew but also his son-in-law. Just for added spice, the Jacobite highland army was led by a lowlander, John Graham of Claverhouse aka Viscount (Bonnie) Dundee and the lowland government troops were led by a highlander, General Hugh McKay of Scourie.

The battle resulted in a victory for the vastly outnumbered Jacobite army and the song is written from the point of view of a returning government soldier who meets a young lad kitted out and ready for service in the government army.

The version above includes the Burns verses and some of the traditional ones.

The full story of the Battle of Killiecrankie is here

The supper, under the auspices of a trade association and attended by folk from all over the UK, included a reply to Tam O’Shanter by his wife Kate O’Shanter.

Here is a beautiful verse from Tam O’Shanter

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white-then melts for ever;
Or like the Borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the Rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. –
Nae man can tether Time nor Tide,
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic a night he taks the road in,
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

The poem is about ne’er do well drunkard Tam O’Shanter who gives his wife Kate a hard time. It involves Tam’s drunken night-time trip home through the countryside on his horse an encounter with some witches, ghosts and ghouls.

The last lines of Kate’s reply (Not a Burns poem incidentally) are as follows:

What the Hell!!
Kate had gone, the twins as well.
But she had left a note for him `
I’ve sailed tae Canada wi’ Jim
And we expect tae settle doon
In a nice wee farm near Saskatoon !

Forgive me, Tam, and don’t be sore
I couldna take it any more
I have tae find a better day
Before I slave my life away
Don’t fash yersel’ aboot the twins
I might as well confess – they’re Jim’s

Now wha this tale o’ truth shall read
Ilk man and mothers son tak heed
Just try tae live a sober life
Remember Tam O’Shanter’s wife.

Anyway, a good time was had by all with a rendition of the Star o Rabbie Burns (including standing and singing on chairs) finishing off the evening.

This was the view from the top floor of the hotel. That’s the River Clyde with Clydebank and Knightswood on the other side and Glasgow in the distance:

A matter of taste

Address To A Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
“Bethankit!” ‘hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

There’s a two fold reason for my publishing this. Number one was my seeing this fine cartoon published in the Telegraph a few days ago.

The other was just to record how much I like haggis!
There is an excellent information page on Burns and haggis here as well as a translation of the poem. It tells how haggis became an integral part of Burns suppers through that poem.

Two suppers down for me and two to go.

Here I am in action last Friday night.

Blogger does Burns - photo Bill Kean

A Penitential thought, in the hour of Remorse

It was Kate at Burdz Eye View who drew my attention to this Burns poem

All devil as I am, a damned wretch,
A harden’d, stubborn, unrepenting villain,
Still my heart melts at human wretchedness;
And with sincere tho’ unavailing sighs
I view the helpless children of Distress.
With tears indignant I behold th’ Oppressor,
Rejoicing in the honest man’s destruction,
Whose unsubmitting heart was all his crime.

Even you, ye hapless crew, I pity you;
Ye, whom the Seeming good think sin to pity;
Ye poor, despis’d, abandon’d vagabonds,
Whom Vice, as usual, has turn’d o’er to Ruin.
O, but for kind, tho’ ill-requited,
I had been driven forth like you forlorn,
The most detested, worthless wretch among you!

O injured God! Thy goodness has endow’d me
With talents passing most of my compeers,
Which I in just proportion have abus’d;
As far surpassing other common villains
As Thou in natural parts hadst given me more.

The information at the Beeb site that I’ve linked to above, says the following on the poem:

“This poem is thought to have been written sometime during 1777 when Burns was at Mount Oliphant with his family.

The tone of the poem reflects the misery which the Burnes family endured on the farm during this time, and before the family managed to move to Lochlie later in the year.

The poem was first published in the Scots Magazine, November, 1803.

The opening lines are reminiscent of lines found in Thomas Otway’s play Venice Preserv’d: ‘Yes a most notorious Villain: / To see the suffring’s of my fellow Creatures, / and own my self a Man’. The poem is also notable because it demonstrates a keen awareness of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which Burns had read early in his life.”

Written in 1777 eh?

That’ll be when the bard was eighteen then.