A night in Scotland
3 August, 2014, 12:00 am
Sean Connerys they’re not, but by the end of the evening there was a saucy swing to their kilts as they pranced through the Gay Gordons and Stripped the Willow.
It was a night when certain folk with a vague claim to highland ancestry, or who have a friend who has, dust off their tartan to celebrate the life and poetry of Scots bard Robert Burns.
Throughout the world, wherever his immortal lines have been read, slurred, mangled or blighted by bad Scots accents, they gather on or about his birthday on January 25.
So what were we doing last Saturday night celebrating the anniversary of his death on 21 July 1796?
The organisers explained that in Suva, the July weather is better for skipping around in heavy wool kilts, velvet jackets, knee socks and frilled blouses.
Besides, the Nadi Scots do their highland fling in January and some of the Suva people like to go.
Burns passed away prematurely and impoverished in Dumfries at the age of 37, but by the end of evening some of us were feeling grateful he hadn’t lived longer to write even more admittedly wonderful poetry to be recited in pseudo Scots.
Burns Night in Suva has probably been rocking on since colonial times, but to my certain knowledge since the 1970s, when the Mackenzies first responded to the call of the bagpipes in order to expose their 15-year-old son to his heritage.
Murray and Tessa have lived in Fiji since 1960 and have been involved with the Burns Committee that organises the event since at least the 1990s.
Back in the 70s it was the late Sir Ian Thompson who ran the affair.
It was held then at the old Isa Lei hotel in Lami, now the location of a worthy church school and no longer the scene of flashing hairy kneecaps, lightfooted ladies in swirling tartan skirts and shawls, skirling bagpipes and swift flowing Scotch whisky.
This year it was at the Grand Pacific Hotel, but the traditions remained the same.
Nobody, I am glad to say, turned up in the sort of thigh-hugging spandex pants that Rabbie Burns apparently affected, according to the picture on the front of the program.
It seems nobody told chaps in the 18th century that tights are not trousers.
This year they dressed in various tartans and kilts, some with just a bit of ribbon or a borrowed tartan belt around their sulu, others complete with sporran and the proper socks and dancing shoes. (Please consult the British High Commissioner, Roddy Drummond, for the correct gear; and his wife for the most stunning use of tartan this side of Edinburgh.)
The High Commissioner also did a nice line in song to go with his traditional address to the poet’s Immortal Memory.
Miraculously, yet again the committee found a South Pacific piper, John Rollston of Nadi, who played from the arrival of the haggis until his breath gave out at about 11pm.
James Sloan gave the address to the Haggis in an admirable accent, although his wife said something along the lines of “you should hear his Welsh or his Indian, it’s the same”.
It didn’t matter, us MacChettys and MacBulas can’t understand the Scots anyway. The only time I was in Bonny Scotland I could barely catch one word in 10 and that was a naughty four-letter one.
After Sloan slashed and praised the haggis we all got a serve of this Scots specialty traditionally made of something like mashed sheep eyeballs, animals’ interior parts and chopped heather stuffed in an intestine.
It used to be flown in by British Airways direct from the UK. When they stopped the Fiji route, New Zealand haggis wasn’t really a good option and no local chef will touch it because you can’t get the real ingredients, you know.
Fortunately Tessa Mackenzie has mastered the recipe and whips up a mean Fiji haggis in her home oven.
The rest of the food was pure GPH and excellent, from the cock a leekie soup that turns out to be really cock, as in chicken, and leekie, as in leek; through the fresh salmon Balmoral served with delicious mussels making a wonderfully rich seafood dish; to the raspberry crowdie, which is a pleasantly tart berry sauce on a baked custard-style base. And there was I thinking it would be something boring like apple crumble.
The Mackenzies fielded a team of kilted and tartanned dancers who trod some lively measures with complicated wheelie moves, the first being unaccountably called A Trip to Bavaria. Eventually we all got into the act with the “men chasing” dance, again unaccountably named The Flowers of Edinburgh.
Michael Brownjohn gave the traditional toast to The Lassies with wit and a charming offer to take on the blame for male oppression for the entire patriarchy. It was an offer that Solstice Middlleby said in her Lassies Reply was unnecessary, because her research showed that the Y chromosome was fading fast and men were on their way out anyway. We were a bit sad about that because although they weren’t Sean Connerys, hairy knees and swinging kilts can grow on you after a certain amount of jollity and whisky.
* Seona Smiles is a frequent writer for The Fiji Times. The opinions
expressed are hers and not of this newspaper.