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30th January 2009

Toast to The Lassies and Reply at Exeter’s Burns Night Dinner

On January 21st, Exeter Hall was the scene for a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, culminating in the traditional Toast to The Lassies and the Reply.

This year, the Toast to The Lassies was led by JCR President Ed Moores, while JCR Secretary Katie McGettigan countered with The Reply.

The Toast to The Lassies

“I have been a devil
the feck of my life,
but never was I enheld
til I met with a wife”

Robbie Burns, Scotland’s favourite son, certainly had an eye for the ladies, although usually this ‘aye’ was in response to the question, ‘Oi, poor boy, fancy a quick one?’!

It has long been observed,

“A woman can make an average man great, and a great man average.”

Burns could not have attained the status he has so long enjoyed, were it not for the fact that he was surrounded by remarkable women. They raised him from the man he was, to be the iconic Scotsman whose poems have rung down the ages. He held them very dear to his heart and looked at them as a source of comfort, a source of inspiration and a source of strength – none more so than Burns’ only bride, Jean Armour, who bore him 2 sets of twins, before their wedding, and a total of 9 children in all, inspiration for A Wife’s a Winsome Wee Thing.

The irresistible beauty, and the sensuality, of the women who inhabited the world of Burns is evidenced by the fact that he was responsible for, or heartily irresponsible for, no fewer than 13 children through liaisons with at least 5 women whose names are known to us, and all this over the course of only 11 years. Quick work indeed for any man!

But the relationships were not always as sweet as all that. One can imagine the scenes that led to Robbie writing these lines in Tam O’Shanter:

“Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
To think how many counsels sweet,
How many lengthen’d, sage advices,
The husband from the wife despises!”

And isn’t it true that whilst we love ladies, which man here has not had cause to curse them at some point in his life. They infuriate us with what we see as a lack of logic, they astonish us as they can change their minds in an instant, but above all this the most maddening thing is that we will go along with whatever they say because we adore them and would do anything to please them.

And how well Burns knew this. He knew that man, for all our faults would ever be in thrall to women:

“To see her is to love her,
and love but her forever,
for nature made her what she is,
and never made another.”

Women must acknowledge that men, who when we try our hardest to please you all and keep you happy, are worth persevering with, though it may not seem it all the time!

We for our part acknowledge that we will ever be in debt to the fairer sex for it is to you that we owe everything, our wealth, our health and our happiness and Burns knew that we were never going to match up to you all:

“Auld Nature swears the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes;
Her ‘prentice han’ she tried on man,
And then She made the lasses!”

So I ask all the Gentlemen here present to please stand, and raise your glasses in a toast “To the Lasses”.

The Reply

Ladies and Gentlemen, it falls to me, your allocated Lassie for this evening, to take up the challenge of replying to Ed’s toast. And what a great toast it was, so I’d like to thank him very much for being so lovely about us Lassies. Unfortunately it falls to me to lower the tone and talk about men – not that I’m in any way suggesting those two things might go hand in hand.

But no, Ed was absolutely right when he said men try to please us women. Yes, they try… But like Sigmund Frued, most men don’t know what women want. Some of them get very strange ideas indeed, including Roberts Burns. He wrote a poem called ‘Nine Inch Will Please a Lady’ – I can’t imagine what that’s about… Then there’s the other lot, with less inches, who think they can compensate by driving a really big car.

No, sometimes men just don’t get it right. Women might be accused of lack of logic, but we are quite good at dealing with the unexpected. Men sometimes flounder. Burns’ father-in-law, for example, who upon hearing that his daughter was pregnant with Burns’ illegitimate child promptly fainted. His wife had to go and get the cordial to revive him.

I’m going to stop comparing men and women now, because I actually don’t believe in this Mars and Venus stuff. You know the sort of thing I mean, women can’t read maps and men don’t listen. I think women and men can be equally good at the same things. Multi-tasking for example. Men can’t multi-task, so people say. Well, I think that Robert Burns’ impressive record, as quoted by Ed, of 11 children by 5 women in 13 years shows that men most certainly can multitask, especially if it’s something that’s important to them. Burns’s wife Jean, however, for going to Burns’s funeral and giving birth to his last child on the same day probably wins the multitasking prize in that family.

But no, I’m certainly not going to mock Burns, because I think he’s a wonderful example, even 250 years after his birth, of what women want in a man. As Ed showed us, Burns not only wrote wonderful poetry, but he was honest with it too – we women know our faults, and don’t mind having them pointed out to us with good humour. He might have been monogamously challenged, but he looked after all his women, working hard to provide for his family. In fact, Burns is such a great example of a man that they’ve put him on the Clydesdale Bank £5 note to symbolise all Scottish men – cheap.

You know I’m only joking… For all their shortcomings, we women couldn’t get along without men. If nothing else, we’d need someone to boss around. And your little foibles are usually why we like you so much – as Burns himself said ‘A Man’s a Man For A’That’. So, although as a woman, it pains me, I’m going to give the last word to a man – the man of the hour – Robert Burns, before we toast the Laddies. It’s Burns who gives the best picture of the perfect harmony of men and women getting along:

We will big a wee, wee house,
And we will live like king and queen;
Sae blythe and merry’s we will be,
When ye set by the wheel at e’en.
A man may drink, and no be drunk;
A man may fight, and no be slain;
A man may kiss a bonie lass,
And aye be welcome back again!

So please, raise your glasses ‘To the Laddies’.

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