A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 275

The Rabbie Burns poetry contest

FARMINGTON – Every year, round about Jan. 25, the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns is celebrated by the slaughtering of haggis and the murdering of verse, all over the world – including Farmington.

Mr. Ramgunshoch, founder and sole member of Farmington Rabbie Burns Appreciation Society for many years, opened up his event, last Saturday night, by surprisingly inducting four new members:

• Mrs. Ramgunshoch, as reward for a decade of cooking the haggis

• the bairn Ramgunshoch for memorizing the formal address to the haggis before it is passed out, like Jim Jones Kool-Aid, to the assembled guests

• bagpiper Pat Boyle of Farmington for many years’ service in piping the sacred haggis

• and Theresa Boyle for an equal number of years’ service as designated driver

After the traditional meal of scotch broth, stovies, haggis and neeps, and clootie dumplin with syllabub, the formal part of the evening proceeded to the speeches and toasts praising the dead poet Burns, and lads and lassies still full of life.

This segment of the nine-hour session was interwoven with songs and music on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and accordion, with all this as a prelude to the Grand Poetry Contest.

In recent years this has tended to become the equivalent of a gunslingers’ duel between Ramgunshoch (trying to win his own bottle of whisky) and that esteemed puppeteer from Strafford, Andrew Periale, although a spirited challenge was mounted to this duopoly by one Paddy Plastique of Ageng, in southwest France.

Each year, the set topic changes, but the verse must always be in the classic Burnsian stanza, as typified by To a Haggis or To a Mouse. In 2000, for example, all entered poems were entitled To a Monica, and in 2001, they were named To a Floridian Voter. This year, the subject was To a Postie (or To a Mail Carrier, in translation.)

Anyway, Ramgunshoch was pretty confident of carrying off the prize, having already sent his rival off in the wrong direction by falsely suggesting the subject was To a 401K, causing Periale to scramble for entirely new words just a few hours prior to the contest.

The French entry, which had arrived via the Internet, was read out first and received warm, but not ecstatic applause. Then Ramgunshoch read out his tribute to postal workers:


To a Postie

Frae John o’ Groats tae Ardnamurcher,

There’s no a mair hard-done-tae furker,

Aye gunned doon by yer fellow worker,

Or nipped by dug,

And noo ye face a far worse lurker –

Yon anthrax bug!


When Osama bashed they too’ers,

As shown upon TV for hoors,

‘Twas firemen that received the flooers

Doon at ground zero,

But postie, battlin’ poisonous spoors,

Ye’re ma new hero.


Bask ye the while in accolade,

For too soon will this glory fade,

As cameras rake doon life’s parade,

For fresh disaster

And novel heroes, freshly made

By puppetmaster.


Ramgunshoch was particularly pleased with the last verse which, he was certain the judges would recognize as an improvement upon the Rubaiyat of old Omar Khayyam, as well as getting in a jab at his chief opponent. Yet from the looks on their faces, Ramgunshoch had a sinking feeling that the judges may have missed this important dimension to his work.

Applause rippled and died, and up stepped Poet Periale, a man with numerous wins under his belt and a triumphant rank of untouched malt whisky bottles on his Strafford mantlepiece, like hunting trophies.


To a Postie

Wee sleekit, tim’rous, cow’rin postie,

What delusions were in thy boastie,

The night thy supervisor kissed thee

Without thinkin’.

You trembled, turned as white as ghostie –

She’d been drinkin’.


Your heart was light, and all men brothers,

You’d invite her tae your Mother’s,

Wed her, if you had your druthers …

‘Til, enrapt,

You saw her kissin’ wi’ another,

Something snapped.


Your hand, as clammy as a cod,

From hidden holster drew your rod,

There was nae time for prayers to God

Nor grievin’.

They always said that he was odd –

But now he’s even.


Periale’s delivery was sublime, and when he calmly blew the smoke from his imaginary pistol on the last line, Ramgunshoch experienced a rush of panic. Could a bottle of whisky be wrestled out of his hands for yet another year? The three judges stepped outside onto the wooden deck to confer. Ramgunshoch ruefully reflected on his mistake. Through sheer overconfidence, he had not thought it worthwhile to select biased adjudicators. Now he was going to pay for that blunder.

The door opened, and in the trio came to announce (oh, relief) a tie, with the bottle to be divided.

Musicians went back to singing, trenchers milled around the food benches, and dancers took to the floor.

Meanwhile, in a corner, Ramgunshoch and his nemesis became locked in a new and lengthy battle – how to divide a bottle of whisky exactly in half. The precious amber liquid flowed back and forth between the original bottle and a convenient empty, with the two constantly held up for careful comparison. This procedure would lead to outbreaks of muttering, followed by infinitesimal adjustments being made to the levels.

After half an hour, a grudging agreement was reached, and Ramgunshoch made a silent note to nobble the judges in 2003.

Jan. 31, 2002


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