We'll drink tae Rabbie, but whae's payin'?

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Apparently, the bicentenary of Burns's death has not run smoothly in Scotland - what should have been a great chance to promote a bumper season of Scottish tourism has run into difficulties over lack of money and unclear management. I can't say I'm totally surprised. After all, it is one of the charms of the Scottish character that, though great as individuals, almost anything they attempt as a concerted national effort runs into trouble through lack of management and lack of money. Witness every World Cup football foray, Bonnie Prince Charlie, etc, etc. I sometimes think that Sir Walter Scott can stand as an emblem for the whole nation, with his huge international success followed by his business collapse and gruesome final financial ordeal.

Poor old Robbie Burns followed the same sort of path - an early back- breaking struggle, a short period of literary success and comfort, then poverty, ill health and death at an early age. He was only 37 when he died in 1796 on July 21 - in fact, things were so bad that he reluctantly embraced that most shameful of all professions, an exciseman or, as we would now say, a VAT inspector. Can you imagine, say, Seamus Heaney or Ted Hughes sending out your VAT returns? Well, perhaps you can. I don't know the gentlemen personally.

Anyway, as 25 Jan approached, they tried to rescue things a bit in Scotland with the publication of a hitherto unknown and recently rediscovered poem by Robbie Burns. Things are always pretty desperate when this happens. For a start, people generally are unacquainted with the known and well- discovered works of poets, so they are likely to be unimpressed when someone prints out a new, very minor example of the man. For another thing, a suppressed piece of a poet usually has a good reason to be suppressed, and for a third thing, it usually turns out to be fake all along.

For all these reasons, I am somewhat hesitant to bring to the public notice a poem I recently came across in an old notebook which I have every reason to believe to be a hitherto forgotten piece by Burns. I cannot prove it is genuine. What I do claim is that it is hard going, and makes use of disused Scottish words and is therefore highly likely to be a genuine piece of Burns. But I leave it to the judgement of my readers as to what they think of:

Twa Hundred Years On


Whaur Has All the Money Gane?

When I am dead and live nae more

I trust my fellow Scots will store

Some siller away

To put inside a savings bank

Or hide in yon brae's flowery flank

Against this day.

Aye, when I'm deid and put away, Twa centuries from this day,

Let's hae a party!

With folk that like tae write and think, But better still, tae tak a drink

- The literati!

Frae all the world the folk will run

Frae Russia and frae Japan

(They love me there!)

To celebrate my life and verse

By getting fou, or even worse,

Fall doun the stair!

When midnicht sounds, let all folk meet

In the middle of Princes Street

And halt the traffic!

We'll tak a glass in either hand

And dance until we cannae stand,

And then we'll maffick*!

(*Dialect word, probably meaning "to lie down on the grass until sobriety returns")

We'll hae sic a muckle bash

As long as we have got the cash

That folks will say

"Do you remember how ye and I

Drank the toun of Edinburgh dry?"

"Aye, I mind the day!"

But what is this bad news I hear?

What message fills my heart wi' fear

And total sconner?

The folks that kept the party dosh

Cannot be seen? Oh, jings, oh, losh!

They've done a runner!

Alas! the money's deid and gone!

And now we cannae have oor fun

Or not a lot.

In this, my anniversary year,

I think the message's unco clear:

Don't trust a Scot.

My bicentenary's run aground!

We cannae even buy a round Of low-strength beers.

Let's hope they make a better go

Of getting the alcohol tae flow

In three hundred years!