Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Representing the Federation at Rotary Conference

Rotary District 1020 is one of three Rotary districts in Scotland and covers 64 clubs in and around Edinburgh, the Borders and the South West. As their contribution to the Year of Homecoming District 1020 helped sponsor the Federation’s Burns Summer School and Conference in Dumfries during the summer. It was therefore very gratifying for me to link up with these fellow Rotarians at the District Conference in York over the weekend of 23-25th October and, in particular, to relay a message of goodwill from the Federation to the President of Rotary International, John Kenny, the first Scotsman ever to hold that prestigious appointment.

I conveyed our good wishes firstly through, Colin Mailer (see right), the President of John Kenny’s home Rotary Club of Grangemouth and secondly through Virginian, Eric Adamson (see left), the RI President’s representative at the Conference. During his address to the conference Eric highlighted the strong influence of Robert Burns on the founder of Rotary, Paul Harris and, in particular his ideas of our common humanity which resonated with the ideals of the Rotary movement.

The conference also provided an opportunity for me to do a bit of international promotion of Burns through the Group Study Exchange (GSE) and the Ambassadorial Scholar programmes. The photograph above shows me with the GSE team from South Africa which the Rotary Club of Kirkcudbright hosted for a few days. Earlier in the week the team had enjoyed a comprehensive tour of Dumfries conducted by Federation Past President, Wilson Ogilvie.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Shirley’s Farewell Concert

In her usual selfless fashion the Federation Chief Executive, Shirley Bell, insisted that there should be no great fuss made of her impending retirement during the Edinburgh Conference because it would detract from the main focus of the event, the inauguration of the new President. However, the Board decided it couldn’t possibly just let her sneak off without some tangible recognition of the tremendous amount of work she had done for the Federation over the past twelve years. The result was a wonderful dinner concert on 9th October in Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries, ably organised by Past President John Haining. Shirley, husband Jack, daughter Alison and daughter Lesley with grandson Hunter, were piped in to a standing ovation from 96 of Shirley’s friends who had travelled from far and wide to join in the celebrations.

Shirley was particularly pleased to see eleven Past Presidents who had attended to pay their respects in person. I was reminded quite pointedly that I shouldn't be in the
photograph because I wasn't a Past President!

Her good friend Peter Westwood (right) had produced a beautiful programme, produced gratis by Mac Creedon of Solway Offset Printers, outlining the format of the evening.

I had the unenviable task of making a speech which would do justice to Shirley’s immense achievements as the Chief Executive over those twelve years, often in the face of hostile opposition. However, after it, I had the pleasure of handing over a farewell gift on behalf of the Federation. Senior Vice President David Baird presented her with a painting from the Federation and Jim Shields presented her with a bouquet of flowers, also from the Federation. Jim Robertson conveyed the good wishes of the Robert Burns Association North America (RBANA) and presented a gift from them.

After dinner, John Caskie acted as Master of Ceremonies for a most enjoyable evening of entertainment from singer and raconteur William Williamson, young Burnsian Holly Little, JVP Jim Shields, fiddler Ian Kirkpatrick, accordionist John Douglas and even John himself. In her gracious farewell speech Shirley thanked everyone who had supported her over the years and wished her successor Sam Judge every success as he takes the Federation forward.

‘The Whistle’ Recitation Competition

Most Burnsians will be familiar with the poem The Whistle written by Burns to record a drinking contest held on Friday 16 October 1789 at Friars’ Carse, the home of one of the three participants, Capt Robert Riddell. The winner of the contest was Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarroch. What a joy it was for me to attend the first-ever recitation competition featuring the poem, held exactly 220 years, to the day, since the original contest.

The Whistle William, Willie, and Andrew

The event was made all the more special because descendants of Alexander Fergusson, Andrew and William Fergusson-Cuninghame were present and had very kindly brought along “the little ebony whistle,” as Burns describes it, the trophy won by their doughty ancestor at the original contest.
The whistle had been brought to Scotland by a “matchless champion Bacchus” who accompanied Anne, James XI’s Danish queen in the sixteenth century. However, the Danish champ hadn’t reckoned on the drinking prowess of Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton who duly won it off him before he in turn lost it to a member of the Riddell family.

There were four competitors (see left) and the worthy winner of the recitation competition was Willie Horne (see right), past winner of both the Tam O’Shanter and John Lapraik recitation competitions.

The inspiration behind the competition was Ian Millar from the Thornhill Burns Club and he and his club colleagues are to be congratulated on organising a splendid evening compeered, in his usual good humoured and enthusiastic way, by Ronnie Cairns.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

International Connexions with Russia and Japan

One of the most satisfying links enjoyed by the Robert Burns World Federation is with the charity, The St Petersburg Forum, which has its roots in an association forged between Scotland and Russia during the 900-day siege of Leningrad in WWII. As a token of solidarity during the siege, the women of Airdrie and Coatbridge sent an Album of Friendship to the women of Leningrad (now known as St Petersburg) which had a huge impact on morale and so began the link with Scotland. In the mid-nineties the St Petersburg Forum charity was set up and one of its major initiatives is to organise schools competitions with a Scottish theme. The winners of the ‘Knowledge of Scotland’ competition are rewarded with a two-week tour of Scotland and I had the pleasure of meeting this year’s winners on two occasions. The first was in the Globe Inn, Dumfries, on Sunday 27th September, where the Russian students were joined by local Scottish youngsters for an evening concert organised by Jane Brown, the manager of the Globe Inn and an ardent supporter of the St Petersburg Forum. On the Russian side, Liza Kozunova and Veronica Shcheveleva gave their humorous take on the tradition of Hogmanay and Victor Zheltyannikakov enlightened us on the history of the Stone of Destiny, all of them displaying an impressive mastery of the English language. Corin Halliday led off the Scottish side with his stirring bagpiping followed by recitations and songs from Megan Mulgrew, Heather McCafferty and Sean McKenzie with Bethany Hanley chipping in with her spirited bagpiping. A most enjoyable evening.

Russian students with Young Burnsians and piper

The second occasion was two days later in the Eastwood Theatre, Giffnock, where the Russian students were joined by clarsach players Clara Wheeler and Cheryl Turner from St Ninians High School, both members of the East Renfrewshire Symphony Orchestra which will be touring St Petersburg next June. On this occasion Veronica gave a very moving address on the Holocaust Memorial Garden in Pushkin, Victor displayed his virtuosity on the classical guitar and Liza performed a brilliant gypsy dance which had the audience clapping enthusiastically. The photograph shows the three St Petersburg students, me, and Councillor Alan Lafferty the Education Convenor for East Renfrewshire Council. On the wall behind are some of the paintings from the Forum’s art competition organised by May McMaster. Also taking part were Helen Morrison, Anne Fawbert, and Tom and Elizabeth Clark, all doing splendid work with the Forum.

Keeping up the international theme, I spent a very enjoyable day, on Wednesday 30 September, with a Japanese journalist, Yoichi Haruyama, a staff writer on the Saturday edition of Japan’s largest selling newspaper The Asahi Shimbun which has an 8 million daily circulation. He is researching the origin of Auld Lang Syne so Burns Chronicle Editor, Peter Westwood, and I took him, and his very accomplished translator Yuko Satoh to Ellisland Farm to show him the very room in which Burns wrote his great anthem which is so popular in Japan that many people there believe it is a Japanese song! The article is due out by the end of the year and we have been promised an advance copy. We also showed them the Globe Inn, where they enjoyed the superb Cullen Skink soup, and Jane Brown kindly gave them a conducted tour of Burns’ favourite howff before we rounded of the tour with a visit to Burns House and the Mausoleum at St Michael’s Church. The photograph shows from left to right: Yoichi Katuyama, me, Yuko Satoh, Les Byers Curator at Ellisland Farm, Peter Westwood and Ronnie Cairns, Chairman of The Friends of Ellisland

Continuing the Japanese theme, my wife Pat and I were invited to a private viewing of Japanese Art and Crafts in the Dovecot Studio, Edinburgh, organised by Kozo Yoshino on behalf of the Victor Murphy Memorial Trust and opened by the Consul General of Japan, Mr Masataka Tarahara. The invitation stemmed from a guided tour I had given Kozo, and some visiting guests, of Broughton House, the National Trust of Scotland property in Kirkcudbright, with its wonderful Burns Collection and Japanese paintings by Edward Atkinson Hornel. Mixing with other guests I became even more aware of the popularity of Burns in Japan, especially his songs, yet again reinforcing the impact of Burns’ international appeal.