Monday, 3 January 2011


There’s one man from whom I’m having terrible trouble keeping away. I hadn’t realized this until last year, but the more I write, the more this man crops up. At Hogmanay, his image is especially strong, which is odd, considering I never met him. Maybe it’s the Scot in me, but try as I might, and despite the fact that he’s been dead for over 200 years, there he is, bright as a button, a bonny lad resplendent in his cravat and tartan breeks, popping into my mind as though I’d just been having a chat with him the other day.

You will have guessed by now the gentleman in question is our national bard, a certain Robbie Burns, to whom we shall all drink a toast on Burns Night later this month. But at Hogmanay his poetic brilliance cuts me to the quick, every year and without fail, the minute I hear his big festive hit, ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

There we all were, dressed in red and tinsel, partying towards midnight. The teenagers, more stylishly clad, were at one end of the room, artfully draped across several sofas, beautiful, young, in love and oh so cool. Across the room, we parents were dancing, letting rip across the wooden floorboards in a hideous display of Dad-and-Mum-Dancing, marvellous to take part in but truly ghastly to behold. The teenagers stared, eyes glazed in horror, jaws on the floor, while their parents gyrated, shimmied, polkaed and pretselled around the Christmas tree. Limbs were cast up to the rafters, buttons burst off clothing, sweat poured from many a non-smooth brow as we made the most of our 80’s time warp. Pah, how good were we at showing those beautiful young things how to party?

And soon the moment arrived....the bells, the bells, the New Year was upon us, multiple kissing of anyone handy, and it was time to stand in a big circle and join hands for ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

And that’s when it always happens. The weeping. It’s not just me, so don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s part of being Scottish at Hogmanay, or for that matter, whenever the strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ start up, it’s natural to indulge in a wee weep. As the lyrics press upon our sentimental old hearts, we think of those we are with, of those we are without, of those around us, of those we miss and of those we have loved, and before you can say ‘my trusty fiere’, big globular tears are forming like balloons behind the eyelids.

Did Robbie know what he was doing when he first penned this one? Did he know how affecting it would still be decades, hundreds of years later? Did he know it would travel the world and persuade all manner of men to join hands in a moment of cumulative appreciation and forgiving reflection?

Although I am absolutely sure he knew exactly what he was doing in terms of poetry, he would most likely have been amazed at the lasting, world-wide fame of his lyrics. How could he ever guess that this little song would be used for so many occasions? It is sung at farewells and endings of all kinds, funerals, graduations, end of parties, Last Night of the Proms... from the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s funeral, to the formal resignation of Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf as his country’s Chief of Army Staff, to the video version of ‘Winnie the Pooh’. Its uses are wide and wondrous, but I can’t believe Burns wasn’t canny enough to know that his words would at least survive and remain popular to some extent. Scottish literature is littered with this particular brand of honest sentimentality, and no matter how hard, dour and gloomy we Scots might pretend to be, we’re absolute suckers for this kind of stuff. We’re a bunch of old softies and he knew it well. His mastery ensured his immortality.

When one writes, there is no knowing exactly where it might lead. And so it is with this blog. I am at a loss as to what, if anything, it has achieved so far. I hope at least it has brought a little entertainment to my greatly cherished readers in 2010. But as the New Year has dawned, other projects are beckoning, time is of the essence, and so I shall be moving into new, literary pastures. Besides which, I’m sure you all have something more interesting to be getting on the TA’s granny would have pointed out, ‘it’s not buttering any parsnips.’ It seems a ‘farewell’ and an ‘ending’ of some kind is on the cards.

I cannot begin to say how grateful I have been for the polite, charming, inspired, brilliant enthusiasm with which you readers have followed this blog. Without readers, we are nothing, so if ever I have a book published, (goodness me, I spy one sitting on my desk here simply itching for the magic dust of publication to be sprinkled across its pages), you will be the first to hear, of course. So, cross your digits...I can’t help feeling it might be easier to find oil beneath the North Sea than a publisher willing to publish a new writer’s work, but there we are.

I hope you won’t forget this blog completely, and pass it on to anyone you suspect might find it even mildly interesting. Perhaps it will be restarted in a different form one day, or perhaps a new one will take its place. But for now, for auld lang syne, for old time’s sake, to those who know me and to those who are only acquainted through this blog, I thank you for your enthusiasm, and wish you all peace and every blessing for 2011.

You will be relieved to know, Returning Scot has finally arrived home.