The First HWGE? Burns Night Supper

Last week’s game coincided with Burns Night [Burns--for our foreign readers--is to Shakespeare as Scotland is to England]; and to mark the occasion we had a traditional Burns Night Supper, the authenticity of which was guaranteed by our having as our Master of Ceremonies a genuine, full-blooded, lowland ethnic Scot who can trace his ancestory (on his mother’s side) as far back as the middle of the last century.

As a mark of respect to our hosts for this year’s international 5-a-side tournament, we invited the famous Czech anthropologist, Profesor Čertůvhnůj (a cousin of Professor Teufelsdröckh’s), not only to join the celebrations but to write for our benefit a short monograph on what they meant to him as a Cultural Experience. It is, of course, highly beneficial, morally speaking, to see ourselves as others see us (especially when the others are from a small, faraway country of which we know nothing). As soon as the Profesor lets me have his report, I shall get the webmaster to put it up.

High Master

Prolegomena
I am, of course, highly flattered to be asked to explain you to yourselves. It shows an admirable modesty on your part which, alas, I am not able to reciprocate, having also to explain to you how and why the anthropology of our Central European tradition is so much superior to your own Anglo-saxon one. (For a penetating instance of the superiority, see Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bemerkungen über Frazers Golden Bough, The Brynmill Press, 1979).

Our anthropology makes no use of statistics and makes no claims to what you like to call ‘objectivity’. (Is the ‘objective/subjective’ distinction itself objective or subjective? Or cannot you say?) Regarding it as self-evident that anthropology does not permit of experimentation, we cannot see how it can pretend to be a science or legitimately make use of the paraphernalia of science. “Science stupifies,” as we say. [The actual Czech saying--for politness' sake, bowderlised here--is "Science make the Englishman stupid." Ed.]

We try to understand the social phenomena we observe from the inside, as the participants do. What sense do these practices make to the practitioners themselves? That is our great question. It commits me, of course, to something very immodest: showing you that I understand your Burns Night celebrations better than (some of) you do yourselves.

[To be continued]

Profesor Čertůvhnůj

(I can see we have let ourselves in for something (long) here. High Master)

As the learned Profesor Čertůvhnůj never did continue his monograph, I have been obliged to provide my own account of the evening (below). I did manage to have a last word with him just before he died though, and he told me that, really, everything he would have had to say is summed up in my own last sentence.

The first HWGE? Burns Night was a tremendous success, as those who were present are still saying: “great”, “terrific”, “brilliant” (or “brrrillyunt”, as Volka can now say in Squattish—along with “modrrrr”). We drank beer (the Rat’s) and whisky (some the Rat’s, some John’s). We ate deep-fried, haggis-neeps-and-tatties pekora accompanied by a mint-yoghurt sauce (Jum’s) and Dundee cake (Johns’s). And we did so—being in the Rat—like anarchists and conspirators or, because of the forms Jum had us observe, like members of a secret society. We began with the Selkirk Grace (one with a very Scottish sincerity about it): “Some hae meat and cannot eat./Some cannot eat that want it:/But we hae meat and we can eat,/Sae let the Lord be thankit.” Then, while Volka practised saying “brrrillyunt” and “modrrrr”, Jum led the rest of us in reading aloud Burns’ “To a Mouse”. Then we dined; and as we dined we passed around the uisge beathe in the ancient solid silver drinking bowl handed down the Harvey generations and consecrated to this purpose and this purpose only; and as we drank from the bowl we intoned, in the correct Squattish tones Jum had taught us, “Slange tae th’Pekora”, “Slange tae th’Dundee cake” and, finally, “Slange tae th’dram”. The only thing missing was a rounding off of the evening by Glen Graham leading us all in “Auld Lang Syne” the way he’d led us in “The Lambton Worm” in Madrid.

It was great fun at the time but I have thought, since, “‘Slange tae th’Pekora’? Was Jim taking the piss?”