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REVIEW: Burns Night at RDYC

18th February 2020

Burns’ Night at Royal Dart Yacht Club – Saturday 1 February 2020

A REVIEW

South of the Border (and Torquay) we recently gathered here at the Royal Dart Yacht Club for a birthday party - albeit 260 plus years late for Scottish National hero Robert “Rabbie” Burns: poet, lover of the countryside and humanity; particularly, the females.

Traditionally fêted as a poetic pretext to feast and frolic and recite sweet nothings, this year’s Burns’ night was held on Saturday 1 February 2020 (a week after his birthday). Dressed for the occasion, the club was all tartan comeliness: kilts, skirts, troosers, ties, scarfs, brooches, and even what resembled the odd travel rug. The dining room was similarly dressed-up for the occasion. Pretty tartan table cloths, with tartan ribboned serviettes added to the ambiance and eyes on the prize - a ribboned-up whisky decanter sitting prim and pretty on every table.

Let the merriment begin.

Time to bring on the dancing piper. At 7.15pm we were piped into the dining room by dashing David Macdonald dressed to kilt, and license to thrill as the bagpipes with their uniquely-screechy-musical-charm got us in the mood. Followed by Chef Hayden, almost in the way of an Italian religious street procession, carrying the VIP guest of the feast, the haggis beastie, adorned on a Scottified decorative platter.

Harking back to 1780s Edinburgh, David Ion took up the mantle, with a RADA-worthy performance of the "Address to a Haggis" recited in convincing Scottish dialect. “The great chieftan o’ the puddin’ race.” Then, reminiscent of a certain antihero from The Scottish Play (gulp!), with blood-thirsty gusto David brandished a knife and stabbed the beastie. Talk about working up an appetite.

Poetic-sounding Cock-a-Leekie soup was our foodie opening. Faultlessly seasoned and deeply satisfying with nourishing eponymous chicken and leeks. Worthy of a sonnet about the countryside. Every mouthful was warming and cosy on that winter’s evening.

Peasant food to some. A feast to others. Synonymous with Burns night, main course was the wholesome Holy Trinity of peppery Haggis, and unctuously smooth co-conspirators Neeps and Tatties. Seemingly simple. Fancy food critics will always seek something at which to pick. But for me, smart simplicity is very often the best food. It might not be food you have to think about. Yet when something is so carefully cooked with good ingredients it does not need to be thinky food. It needs to be devoured. And with a nip of fiery whisky on the side, the Muse within me was definitely moved.

After our savoury two stanzas, to sweet thoughts. The traditional sweet Scottish Fool, Cranachan. A deceptively dainty glass layered with whipped cream, raspberry puree, and as if dipping with hope in an edible tombola, dotted with hidden treasures. Sharp-sweet blueberries, raspberries, textured oatmeal infused with sugar and vanilla; before the boozy point culminant – a generous drizzle of Drambuie. I have a feeling Rabbie Burns would have approved. It was his birthday, after all. On the side, two pieces of homemade oatmeal buttery shortbread biscuits that I – shh! – snaffled in my handbag for a bedtime nightcap.

And then as if it could not get any better, pieces of tablet – taking Barbara back to her Scottish school days. For sweet tooth aficionados, the pleasing medicinal-sounding “tablet” was a delightful discovery. A hard-sweet sort-of fudge reminiscent for this sturdy northern girl of sturdy Kendal Mint Cake. Minus the mint.

Pleasantly replete, it was time for the birthday party fun and games. I led the Toast to Burns’ Immortal Memory and presented a few reminders of why our hero was voted Greatest Scot in 2009. Born in 1759, Burns penned his first poem aged 15 and died at 37 having fathered 13 children and many more poems, inspiring statues, musicians, lines in movies and even the poetry book of choice in space for an astronaut.Champion of social inequality and the countryside, he was almost lost to a new life in Jamaica until he found poetic success in Edinburgh. We were proud to raise our glasses!

Fellow members were encouraged to feel his spirit that evening through his poetry, recalling a few of his best-loved lines:

“But to see her was to love her…”

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an ‘ men…”

And this loveable rogue reminded us to look forward to the summer:

“My love is like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June…”

Commodore Richard Haycock led the Toast to the Lassies with a confession that his online research initially shocked him as he considered the differences between men and women. He was clearly treading “on dangerous ground” as he mused on differences between male/female parallel parking, navigation skills and shopping expeditions; before concluding that Google must be a woman given she comes back with a recommendation before you’ve finished a sentence! Hmph - careful!

But this poetic night was still young as Richardconceded by toasting his own red rose – “the girl with the sparkling eyes,” Mrs Commodore. Yes, the lovely Judi. As romantic as the Scottish Bard himself.

One good toast deserves another and next up was Cruising Section Leader Rosemary Tomison to reply on behalf of the Lassies with her cunningly-crafted “The Twa Sailors” poem read in genuine Scottish accent (and not affected for the evening’s entertainment). Written in flowing rhyming couplets, this highly amusing ditty was imaginative and irreverent in parts on this lingering literary evening and had members laughing out loud:

“It happens upon a bonnie day in June

And Boys in Boats is due to start soon

Twa sailors Rob n Bert ur next aff tae sea

Their hearts are sae happy and sae fu’ of glee”

[…]

Rob and Bert they looked aghast

Is gentlemen only a thing of the past?

She’ll talk tae much; she’ll be tae slow

Oh whit a terrible, terrible blow

Those dirty jokes we want tae tell

Oh never mind, whit the hell

So through gritted teeth they did say

“We’ll tak ye for a trip rood the bay”

See here for a full version.

Time to think of others less fortunate with fundraising for worthy charity, Dart Sailability, supporting disabled sailors (www.dartsailability.org) and the raffle that brought some unexpected entertainment. To start off, raffle administrators Peter Boote and Hilary Featherstone picked out their own tickets. Oops!

But the Scottish-themed bountiful basket donated by Hilary of the Kingswear Coffee Co. stashed with porridge oats, Tunnocks tea cakes, caramel wafers, oat biscuits – and the Scottish equivalent of the Famous Five’s ginger beer, Iron Bru (made from gurrders) was the star of the show. Generous member Sarah Knight auctioned it and ended up raising a whopping £200, thanks to donations from the Commodore - and Hilary herself!

Back to the literature lesson and to complete our Scottish surfeit, an opportunity to decipher Burns’ “Tam o’ Shanter” poem… Pens at the ready, one hour, starting now.

But to conclude the evening, and befitting the mischievous Rabbie Burns the rebel, events were to end on a naughty note. So, look away now and hold your nose if you are of a delicate disposition, as Hayden recited “Ode to a F*rt.” Yes, you deduce correctly. But then Burns’ was a man of the world - especially the countryside. “Let yer wind gang free.” Such liberating lyrical loveliness. Not least after dinner.

Burns night made a winter’s evening at the Royal Dart Yacht Club edifyingly entertaining and enjoyable and will almost certainly be immortalised in members’ memory like a fine poem.

With grateful thanks to the Social Committee for their expressive inspiration and of course, thank you to Hayden and the Bar and Catering Team for doing us proud with the food and their poetically kind attentions.

By Jude Owens

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