Hey everyone It is now Burns day and I am looking back on the events of Friday afternoon when I was down at Shettleston Tesco. Normally, the idea of a middle aged transwoman going to Tesco on a Friday afternoon would not be headline news but this Friday however was no ordinary day.
As it was the Friday before Burns night, when Scotland and the world celebrates the birthday of our national bard Robert Burns Shettleston Tesco decided to play their part in this year’s commemorations by staging a Burns themed event involving both a poetry reading and a haggis eating competition. As a member of the local Tollcross writers group and also the local Bards in the Park performance group I was invited to attend this event on Thursday night by my good friend and fellow member of both groups Derek Read who described it as another one of Colin Storrie’s hair brained schemes during a short telephone conversation on the issue.
I smiled on hearing this and said to Derek that this was either genius or insanity or maybe a combination of both. After a bit of debate I decided to go for it as I thought why not, well there is more than a grain of truth in the saying nothing ventured nothing gained. So at 11.30 on Friday morning Colin picked me up in his car and chauffeured me for the 10 minute journey from my home in Baillieston to the venue.
As we made our way to the supermarket I asked Colin how he got involved in the event and he explained that he heard of it from another poet friend of ours Sandy Hutchison. As it turns out it was Sandy who had been initially approached for the gig but he contacted Colin as he had another event and he isn’t really much of a Burns fan. As we reached the Tesco car park Colin said to myself and our fellow performer Damo Bullen this was poetry on the frontline and brought back memories of nights at the bars such as the Waverley and the Prince Charlie and community events like the Peace and Jam festival of which Colin was the main driving force for two great and glorious years.
On arriving at Tesco, Derek joined our small but happy band and were we met by members of the customer service team who took us to a private area until the staff set up our performance space which was as close to the haggis tasting stand as was physically possible. At 12 noon the event kicked off and we were welcomed in by Hayley the piper who was a very welcome addition to the team. This is a team which will from now on, forever be known as the Tesco five.
The day opened with each of us performing a selection of Burns poems in the lead up to the piping in of the haggis and the start of the first of two haggis eating competitions where the object of the exercise was to eat a pound of the bard’s favourite dish in the shortest available time before collapsing in a heap. For those who are struggling to imagine what this would be like I can only say it’s a wee bit like that man vs food programme you sometimes see on the food network where the presenter is given a food based challenge which would defeat 99% of ordinary mortals including Rocky, Rambo, and the SAS. This however is a food challenge Glasgow style and there is one major difference between that and any TV challenge, that being that Glaswegians are not easily defeated.
Noting the seriousness of the event not to mention the hunger of the contestants I decided this was worthy of a prayer and what better prayer than written by the bard himself. Mercifully The Selkirk Grace is only four lines long but when your starving four lines is long enough. I think however these words say all that need said on such occasions.
‘Some hae meat a canna eat
and some would eat but want it
but we hae meat and we can eat sae let the lord be thank it’
This is poetry at its best short, sharp and straight to the point. Oh don’t get me wrong, Mr Burns could use flowery language as and when required but he could on occasion hit the target in just one verse. After all he was a busy farmer as well as a ladies man and his poems reflected that.
At the end of the competition of which Alastair was declared the winner we performed some of our own poems and some of the bards as we began to operate in the traditional East End style for which Tollcross is renowned. This meant we operated the rotating stage idea so popular at Bards over the years.
After Derek had played a tune on his recorder Colin was the first of the poets to take the stage performing his classic the Day I Went To Taynault. This poem about the value of real friendship shows that making promises after indulging and a glass or two of your favourite is not always the wisest thing to do. I love this poem as it gives Colin the chance to show his natural flair of good phrases which when combined with his ability as a performer makes him a force to be reckoned with.
When my first turn came I read two Burns themed poems based on my view of a 21st bard and what he would have written about or been up to were alive at the moment. In the opening section of the day I had read one of his classic works My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose and introduced as a poem even though it’s a song. I did this because such was the Bards lyrical quality that it can and does work when read in this style. On reminding them of this fact, I had said that the Rabbie as he is called in the press and media was very good at multi-tasking.
This is a fact to which the women of Ayrshire and Dumfrieshire would had they had the technology to do so, all too readily have testified as his multi-tasking often involved him dating more than one female friend at a time. I do have to say however that I couldn’t help but wonder if he had been so randy today that he may have had his own regular chair on a very known chat show. So my first poem from my own work Guest Appearance, was based on the bard’s potential appearance on the Jeremy Kyle show.
This seemed to go down with amongst those who were listening and there were a few which isn’t bad when you consider that this is a busy supermarket and many people were in to get their weekend or weekly shop and seeing poets ranting raving and rhyming their work as well that of bard did lead to some very bemused looks. Undaunted we carried on regardless and I performed my second poem of the day which was written in true Burns style as a tribute to his address to the haggis. However, instead of attempting a poem to the haggis supper I read one I had written for a multi-cultural Burns night at the African-Caribbean Centre when I honoured Scotland’s other national dish with To A Curry.
At the end of my set I handed the stage to whoever was on next which on this occasion was Damo and for a Lancashire lad this boy does a mean Burns recital. Yes this Burnley boy did the bard proud and his rendition of To A Haggis was both heartwarming and brilliant.
As for Derek our Wirral born Tollcross lad reading out Burns thoughts on strong drink, this was both enjoyable and ironic. Enjoyable because I always enjoy it when Derek reads and ironic because some of us have seen Derek when he’s had a few strong drinks.
As the stage rotated thick and fast all of us read a number of our poems. Amongst my selection was Lost The Plot which shows what we ladies get up to on a girls night out whilst Colin entertained us with tales family life Glasgow style including a humorous one on his gran and his take on neighbourhood values. We also performed those of Burns and enjoyed Hayley’s piping. This was not just because it gave us a break but because this is a seriously talented young piper who really plays and plays well.
During one of our breaks I had the opportunity to chat to Hayley and I found out that our by now adopted honorary member of Tollcross Writers is a member of Shotts and Dykehead pipe band. This is one of the most famous pipe bands in both Scotland and the World and believe me the youngest member of the Tesco five certainly has the talent to take them to the top again.
This time was also good social time to catch up with each others comings and goings and not only that I also caught up with a former colleague who used to set up the training room for me when I delivered training on disability issues for health and social work staff and another friend I hadn’t seen in years who knew before my transition and now works at Shettleston Tesco. On chatting to her she said that before we spoke she kinda did a double take and thought to herself I’m sure I know that lassie. When I told her she did, and in what way, she said was both pleased and surprised, and that she had never even thought of me in my previous gender just as one of the girls. This pleased me greatly as good positive feedback is always very satisfying particularly when it comes from people you haven’t seen in a while.
At this we got back to the main event of the day which was of course celebrating the bard and his work. During this period Derek read To A Mouse which Colin had performed in the opening set. I have to say this poem showed Burns at his most humane and I especially like the lines ‘ I’m truly sorry man’s dominion has broken nature’s social union. This demonstrates that Burns had like all farmers an understanding of nature which many others among us seem to be lacking. I wonder if he would were he alive today be in the process of joining the Green Party? It certainly isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.
When it was Demo’s turn to read he selected the Bard’s Address to the Toothache which correctly called ‘the hell o aw diseases’ Only a Jim Murphy speech could l think leave one in greater need of a painkiller and that’s because such a speech would be mind numbingly boring.
Now I don’t know if any of the customers were bored or not but we certainly attracted a fair bit of attention throughout the day and this section produced a few interesting choices of material. I selected Burns short stanza on hearing a church minister give for a military victory and to say he wasn’t impressed would I think be putting it mildly, as yet again the master craftsman proves you can say an awful lot in just a few lines when the lines are as deadly as these. ‘Ye hypocrites are these your pranks? To murder men and give god thanks. for if they are proceed no further god won’t accept your thanks for murder. Fine anti-war sentiments which many of today’s politicians would do well to heed. Are you listening Mr Blair? No I didn’t think you were and neither it seems are your party when they vote to keep nuclear weapons on the Clyde. It was with this in mind that I read my anti war poem Tights Before Trident which using the genius of the Legally Blonde School Of Economic Theory proves that the price of a pair of tights is of more significant value to Scottish economy than deadly weapons we can never afford to use. And of course it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t read Scots Wha Hae which I think is a strong contender for any future Scottish National Anthem.
It was during this section Derek read Burns Farewell poem which was written at the time when he thought he may have had to have taken a job in Jamaica to support his family and in this poem Burns shows that he was no different to any other Scot when it comes to leaving the homeland and got a wee bit misty eyed and sentimental at the prospect of having to take his leave of us.
In a busy day for but enjoyable day I performed two of my more personal poems to inform any readers that I am a woman in that finest Glaswegian tradition a gab with a heart A Day For Donegal which speaks with pride of my cultural identity and Thorn Among The Roses which was written for a young lesbian friend show I think the more gentle softer side to my nature.
As we moved towards the second haggis eating contest Derek performed Hip Gip a poem about his pain before his hip operation Colin then decided to stick to the Glasgow themed poems which had served him so well throughout a day in which he had previously performed his classic The Sparra’s Appeal in which he tells the story of who really killed Cock Robin. This time however he read poems on
the tale of a midgie raker and a rather unusual meeting at Glasgow Green. At this Colin I thought it would be an appropriate moment to take stage and give a reading of two of my favourite poems both themed round a Glasgow Saturday Night. The poems I selected were To A Curry to which I gave its second reading of the day only this time to a much bigger crowd and Karaoke Queen both of these were well received but particularly Karaoke Queen which had some of the girls on the staff breaking into either giggles or knowing smiles.
After one or two more poems it was time for the piping in of the haggis, the Selkirk Grace, and the second of the haggis eating competitions. This time we had an entrant in our very own Damo, who I think may have finished last but he certainly didn’t disgrace himself in a event which was I think a two horse race between eventual winner Paul and bookies favourite Madge.
With the Scottish version of man vs food finally complete it was finally time for us to take our leave from Tesco if not from our senses, many including myself would say we had done that years ago. At the end of the set, and indeed the session I took some feedback from staff members as to which style of poetry they had preferred and on this momentous occasion I have to say that they preferred the community poetry of the Tollcross Writers to that of our national bard with a number of those I spoke to saying that they liked the fact it spoke on issues or situations they themselves had faced or been in citing Karaoke Queen as one such example.
Before finishing a post which I hope has captured the spirit of the day I would however like to say a few very well deserved thank yous. Firstly to Sandy Hutchison for politely declining the offer taking the event and passing it on to ourselves to represent our local writers group. Also to MacIntosh Foods for the haggis tasting sessions for customers. I have to say I buy the company products on a regular basis and believe me when I say my stomach highly recommends them. Last but by no means least my thanks to Tesco for staging such an innovative event and supplying thirsty poets with much needed sustenance during the during the event. Well all this talking can be seriously thirsty work you know. I would also like the staff in particular Lisa, Louise, and Kerry for providing the performers with a very generous Burns themed goodie bag which not only contained haggis, neeps, and tatties, the essential ingredients for any Burns Supper but also two litre bottles of Irn Bru to wash it down with. This was a magnificent gesture which was appreciated by all. So on the day world celebrates the birth of our national bard, I’m sure Robert Burns would be proud of the day the Tesco five made their own immortal memories and just like the bard we did it with tunes from our tradition and words from the heart.
Love And Best Wishes