Hey everyone On Saturday I had the honour of attending what must surely be the Tollcross Writers social event of the year. This is otherwise known as the McGonagall Supper in which those present pay homage, not to the man who was known as Scotland’s and perhaps the world’s finest poet of all time Robert Burns but to the man who was his total opposite that man being one William Topaz McGonagall. A man who must surely rank as the world’s worst poet of all time if the critics are to be believed.
The Idea behind the event came in February 2006 when Colin Storrie who is a fine topical poet of the early millenium was chatting to myself and Derek Read at our monthly gathering at Bards in the Park in February 2006. Colin was if memory serves me well saying that though he appreciated some of the work of Burns that too high an estimation was given too him at the expense of other Scottish poets. Derek and I much too his surprise agreed with him in the respect that Burns was not the only poet Scotland has ever produced, though this would appear to be the case if you ever listened to the inane sycophantic whitterings of the press and media. So when Colin suggested that we as a community based writers group should honour someone like McGonagall whose work was often mocked by establishment the seeds were sown and in June of that year we held our first ever McGonagall Supper.
Saturday’s McGonagall was the 8th such event and its hard to believe what started with an informal chat between has now become an annual event. hosted every year by Colin in partnership with his wife Irene. Make no mistake this is a day where pay tribute to a man who we believe may not have been quite so bad as some people think. After all he was kind enough to set the bar far lower than Burns as to what constitutes a poet and without being too unkind this is a bar most of us can easily pass.
The format of event is that the poets and performers will first pay tribute to the man in whose memory we gather and read a poem written by McGonagall. After this, comes the real test of our poetic skill as we have to perform a poem we have written in the McGonagall style. In other words it not has to rhyme it has to rhyme badly. Believe me, this is not easy and may actually more of a test of your poetic ability than you had first thought.
Needless to say I kept up my time honoured tradition of arriving late for this event, well it wouldn’t be me if I was on time. I mean we can’t be having that now can we? no we cannot I mean what would McGonagall think? Anyway I just in time for the feast which i always seem to manage and after we all got tucked in to a fantastic spread each taking more than our bodies can handle We got to down what the event is really about. This is of course celebrating the man and his work.
As Colin welcomed us to the 8th annual McGonagall supper he handed over to Marc Shetland who declared that the event was now officially under way. As the first poet took the stage it was time for Colin to remind everyone that the dried peas and barley were now available to throw at those taking part. This is a fine tradition of McGonagall suppers as McGonagall often had to endure this torment whilst performing his poetry to what he viewed as an ungrateful public.
During this round those brave souls amongst who were mad enough to read the work of our bard performed poems on temperance, Glasgow, New York, the burning of Exeter theatre, Forget me not’s, and of course those annuals which always seem to make an appearance namely the sun, the moon, and of course the queen, with whom McGonagall seems to have had an absolute fixation
Amongst those attending the gathering were Colin and Irene well it is held in their home so they can’t not attend, myself, The well kent and highly respected Ayrshire trio of Andy Fleming, Alex Frew, Jane Overton. Chris Young Freddie Fingers, Monica Pitman Susan Milligan, Paddy and Mary Hannrahan ,Chic and Robert from the Glasgow band The Untitled and McGonagall virgins Sarah Cassidy and Lesley McKay. This is i’m sure you’ll agree a decent quality line up by anyone’s standard though not everyone managed to write a McGonagall poem. I along with First timers Lesley and Sarah and more seasoned regulars such as Chris, Alex, Andy, Marc , and Fred Fingers who gave us two for the price of one, did manage to undertake the task at hand though it has to be said it was written by hand in the Garden of Colin and Irene’s home just a few minutes before taking the stage, Now some people may say this was showing due commitment. diligence and determination to honour the great man. Others, aka the more truthful amongst the company would say that this last minute was typical of me and my luck. My reply as that just like my football team the glorious Glasgow Celtic I am known for my ability to score last minute winners.
Amongst the topics covered in the tributes section were the invention of Bike or to be accurate it’s prototype and predecessor which was performed by Chris School Inspections which was the topic chosen by Lesley, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and The McGonagall Supper itself were the topics selected By Fred in his two for one offer and I decided to offer McGonagall’s take on refugee week as my contribution for this year. However whether people managed to write a poem in the style of McGonagall or not, I think it is very safe to say that all entered in to the spirit of the day.
I think this spirit was best summed up by Chic from that excellent Glasgow band the Untitled when he said that the hospitality was second to none and he knows of no other family who open would their doors in such a way where it feels like you are wearing a pair of comfy slippers. I have to say i agree 100 per cent with him on this and know of no other family who makes you feel so welcome.
As the evening wore on, it developed as the McGonagall always does in to a bit of a sing-a long With everyone enjoying good company good and quality music what’s not to love about such an excellent day It truly was a feast in every sense of the word. Eventually at just before 10 o’ clock I left the gathering and along with Monica and Susan made my way in to town to start my journey home.
As I finally got back to my wee flat in Baillieston I reflected on a day which will live in my memory as good events always do and reminded myself that the reason Colin initially came up the idea of the McGonagall supper was that though it was only fair that If Burns was acclaimed for setting high standards, we had to recognise that the story of the man who set the bar low enough so the rest of our nation would have the chance to pen our poetic rhymes and musings has to be a tale worth telling.
Love and Best Wishes