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Inconstancy -

A Reply to The Toast to the Lassies


Antonia Mochan sent us her "Reply from the Lassies" delivered at last years Brussels Caledonian Society Burns Supper. Many thanks Antonia.

"Firstly I would like to thank Stuart for his kind words. I shall endeavour to give as good as we got, girls. I'd also like to thank our toastmaster for giving a novice like me a shot at this. I hope his trust in me will not be misplaced.

For those of you who don't know me, I should perhaps explain my credentials for this. I might sound like a wee Sassenach, but I come from fine Glaswegian stock, through my father. In fact a Mochan played for Celtic in the 50s and coached the Lisbon Lions side in 67 and given the lack of success of the blue raffle tickets at the St Andrews Ball, I get the impression that could go down quite well round here!

I'm afraid I have to admit that until I was asked to do these wee words, my knowledge of Burns just about stretched to the Selkirk grace and telling Americans on New Years Eve that the song doesn't go 'for the sake of Auld Lang Syne'. But since my conversation with Alec I have struck up something of an acquaintance with oor Rab. And in the course of this short friendship it has occurred to me that Rabbie Burns epitomises in some way - bad or good - every single man I have ever come across. Every identifiable male characteristic, positive and negative can be found in there somewhere. Let me give you some examples. And as this is a speech for the girls, let me start with the bad things!

Firstly, what Rabbie himself calls 'Inconstancy'

Considering that his poems tend to be about real women, there is a giddying array of them! You have a Burns poem about you if your name is (big breath) Anna, Alison, Katie, Mary, Jeanie, Chloris, Clarinda, Nancy, Nell, Molly, Polly, Peggy, Bessie, Jessie, Eliza, Maria, Delia and - rather weirdly - Davies. And the thing is, he admits he's inconstant. So much so that he writes a poem explaining why. Typical bloke, really, getting his excuses in first.

Secondly, Robert Burns is really quite an arrogant chap. Check this out:

Louis what reck I by thee
Or Geordie in his ocean
Dyvor, beggar louns to me
I reign in Jeanie's bosom
Let her crown my love her law
And in her breast enthrone me
Kings and nations - swith awa
Reif randies, I disown ye.

And this would be the Jeanie that had four children by him before they got married, 5 more after and on whom he cheated several times, fathering yet more children? Oh aye, I'll bet he reigned there…

Or how about the Country lass, where he takes the voice of 'Blythe Bessie', who I assume is the mother of his first child:

For Johnnie of the Buskie-Glen
I dinna care a single flie
He lo'es sae weel his craps and kye
He has nae love to spare for me
But blythe's the blink of robie's e'e
A weel I wat he lo'es me dear
Ae blink o him I wad na gie
For Buskie-Glen and a his gear

And I tell you girls, Johnnie of the Buskie-glen had a full barn AND a full byre and sounded a much better bet to me than a carousing taxman come songwriter who married someone else anyway.

Thirdly, men are apt to lack imagination. Picture the scene. Your man has forgotten your anniversary and brings you a present to make it up to you. Now, picture to yourself what it'll be….I'll bet most of you are thinking flowers or chocolates. Except those of you lucky enough to be with a senior Commission official, who probably get diamond necklaces or small Caribbean islands.

Anyway, Rabbie Burns sometimes suffered from a similar lack of inspiration. For example, of his daughters who lived long enough to actually get names, 3 were called Elizabeth. Could have got confusing if they hadn't all had different mothers…

Lastly, Burns was the original silver-tongued devil, bordering on smarmy git. Check out these epigrams:

The first is to Miss Davies on being asked why she had been formed so little, and Mrs. A so big

Ask why God made the gem so small?
And why so huge the granite?
Because God meant mankind should set
That higher value on it.

Or this epigram to Miss Ainslie who was looking up the text during the sermon:

Fair maid you need not take the hint,
Nor idle texts pursue
Twas guilty sinners that he meant,
Not Angels such as you.

I mean these are the 18th Century equivalent of sidling up to a woman and saying 'Get your coat love you've pulled'.

But for all that Robert Burns does also represent the finer points of the Y chromosome and in fairness I should show both sides of the coin.

Burns certainly demonstrated what for me is the most attractive trait a man can possess and that's humour. Often this was quite gentle, as in I'm Oer Young to Marry Yet or A lass wi' a Tocher, extolling the charms of a girl with a decent dowry: 'oh gie me the lass that has acres of charms, o gie me the lass with the weel stockit farms.' But it could also be quite pithy, like this epigram to Miss Jean Scott 'O had each Scot of ancient times, been Jeanie Scott as thou art, The bravest heart on English ground had yielded like a coward.'

Another attribute he possessed in spades was romance. Now I know I made a dig at the flowers and chocolates earlier, but I just meant use your imagination, not stop the romantic gestures, cos, on the whole, we really like those. I'm not even going to begin quoting his run of the mill romantic stuff, but he even took it up a level. I mean, yeah there was all that "cheeks like lilies dipt in wine" and "flaxen ringlets" stuff. But how much more romantic are lines like 'My Peggy's worth, my Peggy's mind might charm the first of humankind' or

It is na Jean thy bonie face
Nor shape that I admire
Although thy beauty and thy grace
Might weel awauk desire

Something in ilka part of thee
To praise, to love I find
But dear as is thy form to me
Still dearer is thy mind

Now that's romantic.

Of course the list goes on, but my time has run out. So from us mountainous lassies I'd just like to say thanks to Stuart and Happy Birthday to inconstant, unimaginative, arrogant, humorous, romantic Robert Burns."

Antonia Mochan


2008 The Robert Burns World Federation