Category Archives: history

Rabbie Burns and a first Burns Supper

Robert Burns

Robert Burns by Alexander Naysmith

Having lived in The Scottish Highlands now for four years, I thought it was time to celebrate Burns Night in traditional style. A Burns Supper, no less.

Now, I know I am not the first one to write about Burns on this blog. Scotswoman  Joanna  gave the lowdown on Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) and his comic poem Tam O’Shanter in an earlier post, which you can read here. She also gave us her own modern take on it, in a short story.

The first “supper”

This was in fact a memorial dinner. It was held on 21st July 1801 at Burns Cottage (built by Burns’ father and where the bard was born) in Alloway, South Ayrshire. The idea obviously caught on. A Burns Club was formed in Greenock and held a Burns Supper in 1802, and in 1810 London held its very own Burns Supper. Rabbie was doing well!

the first Burns Supper

So, when our local pub, the Badachro Inn, decided to hold a Burns Supper, we had to sign up for it!

For starters, what to wear?

In honour of the occasion the Other Half decided it was time to gird his loins. Literally. That meant a trip to Inverness to buy a “proper Highland dress.” He opted for the Black Watch tartan, one of the universal tartans that anyone can wear. Since it matches my own outfit, we looked a fine pair, don’t you think?

Black Watch tartan for Burns Supper

We arrived early

a Burns Supper welcomeIt was a full house!

The inn’s eating area was decked out in readiness, with place names, tartan napkins and even a wee dram from the neighbouring Badachro Distillery for each of us! However we weren’t allowed to the tables until the appointed time, when local piper Fraser Wotherspoon arrived to pipe us in.

Once everyone was seated and our host had welcomed us with a few words, one of our resident clergy said the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Let the feast begin

After a first course of soup, Fraser Bagpipes, piper at Burns Supperpiped in the Haggis.

I have been told that, in the past, Burns Suppers were all male events and could be pretty rowdy affairs, more like a stag party.  Not so on this occasion.

Ladies were not only invited, they played a major role! Beginning with the Address to the Haggis. This was delivered with great verve and assurance by Ruthie.
(I was particularly impressed by the way she wielded the knife to stab the beastie!) Now, the bard might have written in Light Scots, but it can be hard going. So here’s a link to the whole poem AND a translation. (Very useful for some of us!)

After raising our whisky glasses in a toast to the haggis, we all settled down to enjoy our meal.

Then came the speeches

Glasses recharged, we listened to the keynote “Immortal Memory” address. This is a rather more serious consideration of the art and life of Robert Burns, which ended with everyone rising for a toast to the immortal memory of the Bard of Ayr. Another of our lassies then gave a spirited rendition of Tam O’Shanter. (Quite a feat of memory, it’s a very long poem!)

Even more hilarity followed with the Toast to the Lassies and a Reply from the Lassie, before the evening wound up with a few closing remarks and – of course – a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Farewell with Auld Lang Syne

Carriages were called and everyone began to wend their way home. We were weary, but very happy.

Reflections on my first Burns Supper?

Larger and more formal suppers took place around Scotland that week (and indeed the world) I am sure. Our small Highland community celebrated in the best Scottish tradition of friendship and hospitality. The Bard’s life was celebrated with music, song, laughter and consideration.

I think we did him proud.

Sarah

The Duke's Family for Christmas Sarah Mallory

Underwear: what was worn under Regency gowns?

petticoat-gathered-back-flounced-hem-closeup

See-through petticoat with flounced hem

What underwear did ladies have beneath their Regency gowns? Generally, not much. I’ve blogged before about see-through gowns and the Regency petticoat but what else was underneath?

The go-to reference book for underwear is The History of Underclothes by C. Willet and Phillis Cunnington which starts at the medieval period and finishes at 1939. The History of Underclothes by C Willet and Phillis Cunnington

 

 

As you can see from the cover, it includes corsets and bustles and much, much more. And it includes underwear for men. That gent in the middle of the cover is wearing a Jaeger nightgown, dating from the early 1880s.

The lady to his right is wearing “cami-knickers in crêpe-de-chine” from 1922. (No, they didn’t look like knickers to me either!) The lady to his left is much earlier, of course. She may look fully dressed, but she isn’t. That’s corset, chemise and underskirt, dating from about 1780. And French!

Regency underwear

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The Devil and the postman

Sarah home after meeting the devilHome again, and celebrating another voyage of discovery, complete with devil and postman. Don’t you just love it when you are driving along and suddenly discover something new?

That is what happened to me when I recently travelled back from my writers’ retreat with the Liberta Hivies (and a few others).

It was a dreich day…

raincloudsDespite the weather, we were taking the scenic route home…

mailcoach print

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the old coaching road. Mailcoaches used this road in the 19th century to carry the mail between Dumfries and Edinburgh.

We have all seen pictures of the mailcoach dashing through the countryside, horn blaring, but did you know there is a monument? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out more about that. Continue reading

Whisky, Chessmen and Bonnie Prince Charlie

In May this year we booked a holiday. To explore the scenery, landscape and, of course, the history of the Outer Hebrides. It was not intended as a Jacobite tour, but from the very start we kept bumping into Charlie! I knew some of his story, of course, because I researched much of it while writing my Highland Trilogy. Two of the books actually mention Bonnie Prince Charlie.

In the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Almost)

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Normans in Sicily : the Golden Age

I left my previous blog on the Normans in Sicily in 1108, at the point where Roger II became Count of Sicily, aged 9. He was an astonishing character and began to rule for himself when only 16. He expanded his rule through conquest and, in 1130, became King of Sicily. This is how John Julius Norwich describes Roger’s Sicily by the 1140s:

Cover of Kingdom-Sun-1130-1194-Normans-SicilySicily, first of all, has grown steadily richer; and as her prosperity has increased, so too has her political stability. In contrast to the endemic confusion of the Italian peninsula, the island has become a paragon of just and enlightened government, peaceable and law-abiding, an amalgam of races and languages which seems to give strength rather than weakness; and, as its reputation grows, more and more churchmen and administrators, scholars and merchants and unashamed adventurers are drawn across the sea from England, France and Italy to settle in what must have seemed to many of them a veritable Eldorado, a Kingdom in the sun.

Sadly, the Kingdom in the sun lasted only until 1194. But it has left wonders behind.

The Normans’ Greek Admiral of Sicily

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Sicily and the Normans

green Sicily en route Palermo © Joanna Maitland

© Joanna Maitland 2022

Sicily was a surprise to me when I visited last month. It’s amazingly green and lush. Not at all what I expected.

My mental image of Sicily was derived from watching the arid backdrop to the Montalbano TV series. Wrong 😉

I snapped this picture from our moving bus. It shows the road through the mountainous interior as we travelled from the airport at Catania in the east of the island to Palermo on the north coast.

Green Sicily with citrus trees

© Joanna Maitland 2022

And there was more. Lush citrus groves as shown left. Plus lots of olive trees and vineyards.

I arrived just at the beginning of the hot season. There wasn’t a spot of rain during the 10 days I was there and it was hot. So I can understand how the dry and dusty backdrop to Montalbano comes about.

History of Sicily?

Too complicated to describe in detail here. Except that, since Sicily was strategically important in the Mediterranean, all sorts of peoples strove to control it. It was colonised by, among others, the Phoenicians (also known as Carthaginians) and the Greeks. The two groups were rivals there from the 8th century BC.

Temple E (5th c. BC) at Selinunte

Temple E at Selinunte, built 460-450 BC, rebuilt 1950s © Joanna Maitland 2022

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Foodie ramblings: gardening? anyone for beetroot?

Following Joanna’s wonderful blog on pheasants the other week, another food-related post. About gardening. Sort of.Well, more a ramble, really, but there is some (vaguely) writerly stuff at the end. Promise.

Confession time

Gardening? I am “NotAGardener”. There,  I have said it.

NotAGardeners” will know how inadequate they feel when they see a well tended veg patch, straight lines of leeks standing to attention, beans and peas running riot over a network of canes. Lettuces, cabbages, potatoes – to say nothing of herbaceous borders bursting with colour, flowers waiting to be picked to adorn the dining table. It would be (naturally) groaning under the weight of food I have grown, harvested and prepared with my own fair hands.

Gardening? Nah

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Conveniences: Shampoo, Toothpaste, Electric Light?

If you found yourself translated back to a previous era, what modern conveniences would you miss? It’s a question I often think about when I turn on a light, for example, or when I read a book or watch a TV documentary about how things were, way back then.1900 House book cover, a story with few conveniences

I am reminded of the Channel 4 documentary, The 1900 House, the first of several such re-enactments. The whole family had signed up for the project, but they met problems and lack of conveniences that none of them had expected.

Shampoo?

One of the most contentious problems was the lack of shampoo which hadn’t then been invented. Continue reading

Regency food and characters

fabulous hotel foodRegency food is really interesting and characters’ preferences tell us a lot about them. Their preferences for drink do too, as I tried to show in my earlier blog about what characters (Regency and modern) drank.

But this week, I’m blogging about food in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Sometimes, food in glamorous surroundings, too…

Where Regency food came from…? Meat, fish, game

Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennet at the danceThere isn’t much detail of food and drink in Pride and Prejudice, but Mrs Bennet does mention preparations being made for dinners to fête Mr Bingley’s return to Netherfield.

“Mrs Nicholls…was going to the butcher’s, she told me, on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and she had got three couple of ducks, just fit to be killed.”

That shows that meat wasn’t instantly available from a butcher’s as it is now. And a hostess knew and accepted that providing meat entailed killing animals. Continue reading

Drink and characters, Regency and modern

Modern Drink (well, modernish)

Vodka Martini drink for James BondDrink can tell us a lot about characters in the books we read. This image shows a martini, with olives.

Remind you of anyone?

For me, it’s James Bond and his famous vodka martini, shaken not stirred.

Bond drinks booze

Bond drinks a lot. He’s never seen to be the worse for wear, though.
Interesting, don’t you think?

In fact, his martini recipe (in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale) is quite something and not mainly vodka, either: 3 measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken till very cold and served with a long strip of lemon peel (rather than olives). He does say he only ever has one. Just as well, I’d say 😉 That’s most of a man’s weekly alcohol allowance right there in one glass. Continue reading