Burns night : such a parcel of rogues in a nation

One of the problems with this time of year (the period between Christmas and Easter) is the lack of festivals, high days and holy days to celebrate.  There is Candlemass, which is no longer widely celebrated and, a little later, I suppose,  Ash Wednesday which has its own austere beauty but does not lend itself well to theme nights in the local pub (though I’d be interested to see someone try).

The commercial world does its best.  According to Cadbury’s (R.I.P.) the creme egg season starts on January 1st and continues until Easter.  Valentine’s day is made much of and Shrove Tuesday is a boon to the supermarkets.

One possible opportunity for revelry, though, is Burns night (which is tonight) and I have noticed that – rather in the way that we English have latched on to St Patrick’s day – various pubs and restaurants have started to offer Burns night events which can’t really be aimed primarily at those of Scottish extraction.  One of my local pubs, for instance, is offering a Burns night menu at £25.00 for 5 courses.  I personally have about enough Scots blood to fill my left calf, but have never really felt entitled to break out the tatties and the neeps and get slaughtered on whisky.  But any excuse will do, I suppose, in these dark days.

Burns is a poet I always like when I read him, but I’ve never really got round to reading him properly.  I thought I’d offer this, though, in commemoration – it’s a song of  his – Such a parcel of rogues in a Nation, sung  by the electric folkies Steeleye Span.

The object of Burns’s wrath was the 1707 Treaty of Union (though he wrote it in 1791).  It’s hard not to think of P.G. Wodehouse’s observation that “it is never hard to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine”.  It could, too, be seen as an early manifestation of that perennial Scots football-related complaint “We wuz robbed”.  As a sustained expression of contempt (something the Scots seem particularly good at), though, it’s exemplary and I can feel my left foot tapping resentfully as I listen to it.  I also find the phrase “Such a parcel of rogues in a nation” comes to mind quite frequently these days – particularly when watching the news.

Some authorities ( basically me), believe that Parcel of Rogues is a play on words relating to the popular eighteenth century collective noun Parcel of Hogs.  Another expression that could come in handy.

This can also stand as a tribute to Tim Hart – a multi-instrumentalist founder of Steeleye Span (and another son of the vicarage)  – who died recently.  The Spanners (as I’m sure no-one at all called them) could sometimes be twee, clodhopping or gimmicky, but they did also make some truly wonderful recordings of traditional music (usually when the instrumentation was reined in a bit) and I was interested to see the Fleet Foxes citing them as a primary influence, even though, as their singer says “British people think this band is dorky”.  Well, I don’t.



8 thoughts on “Burns night : such a parcel of rogues in a nation

  1. Good to hear from you ToG. Still in the Church calendar, of course, we just don’t get a holiday any more. Not here in Leicestershire anyway.

  2. My copy was on a pre-recorded cassette which, in its old age, kept jamming and getting wrapped around the tape heads. I tried straightening it out with a pencil but about thirty seconds’ worth always ended up coming out backwards (I think it was half way through Cam ye o’er frae France). Must get a replacement.

    Have you ever tried haggis? I’ve never had the stomach for it, as it were.

  3. Ha ha. A good haggis is a beautiful thing. It’s somewhere between sausagemeat and stuffing, quite peppery and quite rich, which is why you need the mash and neeps to neutralise it. If eaten on a daily basis you would grow big and fat, unless of course your job in London is herding Highland Cattle across a windswept Hampstead Heath. Which, somehow, I doubt.

  4. Unfortunately not. I actually work in a library. A useful occupation, but not a big burner of calories.

    I lived quite close to the Heath for a while (Parliament Hill way). Can’t remember seeing any herds of cattle, though I do remember packs of dogs being herded there (on leads, mostly).

  5. My sister used to live on Parliament Hill in the late 70’s – but you’re right, no cattle at all. And my other sister lived in Belsize Park and used to take her ginger Persian (Fluff) walking on the heath as well. Happy times.

    Do you work in a real library with books or a company archive? I can never decide whether I would love to work in a library (books AND cataloguing – hurrah) or whether it would be too frustrating not being able to take them home with me or spend all day reading them. I never dare use libraries in real life as I merely end up being their most generous benefactor. Thank goodness for Age Concern and book fairs.

  6. A real library with books – and certainly plenty of cataloguing (this is mostly what I do). It is potentially a very enjoyable job but often isn’t, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here.

    It isn’t necessarily a good job for a book-lover, for the reasons you suggest. In fact, if you don’t watch out it can put you off the things altogther – rather like someone with a sweet tooth working in a chocolate factory.

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