Wednesday 18 November 2009

First Minister Meets Burns Essay Competition Winner

On Thursday 5th November I had the pleasure of meeting the winner of the Robert Burns Essay Competition Russia 2009 during her visit to the Scottish Parliament. Organised by the St Petersburg Forum, in conjunction with the Federation's Schools' Committee, the competition took as its theme Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot.

Freda, me, Seraphima and First Minister

Following a comprehensive tour of the Paliament building, fourteen year-old Seraphima Nechaeva met the First Minister, Alec Salmond, and delivered an abridged version of her essay in perfect English, and occasional Scots, and demonstrated powerfully why she had been chosen as the winner. Without a note in sight, she spoke with a passion and an understanding of the poetry of Burns way beyond her years and had the audience spellbound by her use of language. Her essay was printed in the Spring Chronicle and is well worth a close read. If anyone has doubts about the impact Burns’ poetry and songs can have on people from outside Scotland this essay must surely dispel them.

As a token of his appreciation the First Minister presented Seraphima with a signed copy of a book on Burns and she in return presented him with an illustrated copy of her essay.
During their conversation it emerged
that her favourite Burns poem was John Barleycorn, which she knew off by heart, as she did several of his other poems and songs.

Seraphima was accompanied by her teacher Freda Zeitseva who had one of those ‘I can’t believe it’ moments during her visit to Ellisland Farm. One of the exhibits on display was a letter bearing the 1956 Russian ‘Burns’ stamps and the address on the letter was none other than that of Freda’s closest friend in St Petersburg. The phrase 'small world' springs to mind.

Meeting with Solway Offset Printers

On 10th November I joined Federation Chief Executive, Sam Judge, in meeting Mac Creedon and his staff at Solway Offset, the printers who produce the Chronicle and other Burns’ publications including the forthcoming ‘Big Issue’ which will chronicle all the Homecoming events. Following an enjoyable lunch in the Globe Inn, Peter Westwood and I gave Sam a conducted tour of Burns’ sites in Dumfries including Burns House and the Mausoleum.

Father of the Bard Project

On 13th November I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the launch of the second ‘Father of the Bard’ DVD in Mackie Academy, Stonehaven. The aim of the project is to promote a greater understanding of the life of the poet’s father, William Burnes, and also the poet’s links with Kincardineshire.
The project had a dynamic leader in Dave Ramsay (see photo above) and he achieved wonders in getting actors with severe mental and physical disabilities to play the leading roles in the DVDs. Local primary school children also took part as extras and they were thrilled to be driven to the event in stretched limos in true Hollywood style. During the morning Dave and I addressed the senior pupils at the Academy and hosted a most enjoyable question and answer session on the life and works of Burns.

Lanarkshire Association of Burns Clubs Meeting

On 14th November I attended a meeting of the Lanarkshire Association of Burns Clubs in Fir Park Social Club. Chaired by President Archie Cowie, the meeting highlighted the busy programme of events being undertaken by the Association and they are to be commended for their inter-club visitation programme with provides an opportunity for fellow Burnsians to mix at a social level. On display at the meeting was the glass trophy awarded by Super County in recognition of the work done by the Association in promoting Burns through the schools’ competition. The meeting highlighted to me yet again the importance of the work that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to put the aims of the Federation into practice at grass roots level.

I was delighted to be presented with a paper-weight, specially commissioned for the Year of Homecoming, as a reminder of my visit.