Rules serves its guests little that has not worn fur or feathers and left this life in a violent torrent of lead shot. I'd thought it just the sort of place for an aristocratic-looking rightwing minister, little knowing that, apart from being a keen vegetarian, Alan Clark is also passionately hostile to blood sports (except, of course, those involving heavily armoured military formations). He let me order first - the usual assortment of stamped-to-death young grouse, executed deer and so on - before quietly asking for spotted dick and custard as his starter ... followed by spotted dick and custard ... and then possibly the same for pudding. Red-faced, mortified, and wholly off-balance, I was of course completely unable to remember the clever questions I had thought up for him.
Traditional Burns Nights have tended to be all-male, ponderous, self- congratulatory and cloyingly sentimental affairs - a bad, pompous way of celebrating a great and subversive poet of politics and sex. It was the pleasure of the week, therefore, to be invited to a sort of anti-Burns Night Burns Night thought up by a motley collection of London Scots. Apart from being on the ``wrong'' day, it was a pubby, informal affair, with a good, mixed crowd, some real Scottish poets, readings, and a spirited address by the poetry-loving Sir James Naughtie, of the BBC Today programme. No pipers; no tartan or quaichs; no manly blubbing over ``Rabbie''. Hugh MacDiarmid himself, the greatest European poet of this century, and a hater of Burnsiana, would have approved.
Mind you, modernisation can be overdone. Among the food handed round was a plate of something red on toast. It was only with a full mouth that I realised it was sun-dried tomato. Now, that was going too far. Tonight, I am equally happy to say, I will be strapping on an ancient kilt for a quiet and proper haggis-killing among friends. No photographers or pesto will be present.
Still on matters traditional, the most intriguing letter I've had this week came from (wait for it) King Arthur Pendragon, Honoured Pendragon, Glastonbury Order of Druids, Titular Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, Champion of the Free Gorsedd of Caer Abiri ... and so on, though he signs himself simply Arthur, Rex. He was asking us to finance him to stand for Aldershot in the election, and pointed out that money-raising is ``a rather strange problem for me as I am in point of fact a religious renunciate having neither savings nor income ... ''
A ticklish problem. On the one hand, in this week of royal yachtery one wouldn't like to be thought churlishly unpatriotic - the ``Loyal Arthurian Warband'' sounds the sort of no-nonsense, anti-namby-pamby outfit that would have Michael Portillo warbling on the morning radio. But then again, I'm afraid this paper takes its political independence very seriously and so, I regret, we won't be funding this interesting campaign. But readers who are concerned to see the Warband properly represented in the next Parliament can send donations to his majesty at 10, Sine Close, Farnborough, Hampshire, GU14 8HG.Reuse content