Burns night came and went ...celebrated on Granny's Canary Island in ways she doubts were ever seen north of Carlisle. But what can you expect of a Burns night dinner held in a tacky cabaret hall at the tackiest end of the tackiest resort on this island, sited next door to The Red Lion Pub ('Good English Food as Mother Makes It') and a cavernous, not to say gloomy Chinese restaurant both more or less empty both times Granny and Beloved went past, before and after their tartan party?
1. "Wee Haggis" appeared alright, to the sound of pipe music: except that it was canned pipe music, simulated on an electric organ. It then appeared on the plates of the diners. Beloved said it was the only edible thing on his plate. Granny wouldn't know, she opted for vegetarian and an innocuous stuffed pepper. Beloved, by the way, having stated indignantly, as a good Scot, that he was not going to nip down to some tourist emporium for any old tartan ribbon in response to the request 'to wear a little tartan', printed up a sample of his own clan's plaid from the internet, and glued it to his (borrowed tie.) Also probably a first.
2. The Gay Gordon in an interpretation entirely new to Granny was presented as 'Scottish Line Dancing.
3, The entire evening was compered by the trendy - and rich -Scots estate agent - the one with the long and curly hair and the trophy Belgian wife. She was decked out in a tartan mini dress. He had exchanged his usual black leather for full Highland kit, kilt, sporran, the lot. His kilt was too low, complained Beloved, who should know. Too-low-kilted Scottish estate agent waxed fulsome (Granny has always wanted an excuse to use that expression) on our Rabbie, etc, reciting poems in impenetrable Scots dialect. In betweenwhiles he performed a brief one man Wilson Keppel and Betty act (Granny has kindly put a link to a site featuring them, in case you don't know of these marvels; she herself regrets being too young to have seen W, K &B except on film) and subsequently, between courses, a not bad series of Elvis impersonations...can't imagine performances of 'Be my teddy bear' have ever before featured a sporran. It proved quite as suggestive if not more suggestive than a guitar. Really.
4. The Moira Anderson sing-alike - in a tartan sash - could have encorporated, physically, three of the real thing. At least. In between performing genuine Burns, Scottish folk songs, traditional and sentimental/pastiche both, in between demonstrating she wasn't Harry Lauder, she led a sing-song in which Loch Lomond was followed by She'll be Coming Round the Mountain; etc. Granny always glad of an excuse to be allowed to sing - a rare thing - did so lustily. Beloved sat looking appalled - it was almost worth the entire evening just to see his face.
Granny enjoyed herself on the whole. Once in a while she has a penchant of sorts for genuine, unashamed - at times sentimental - tacky. This was real, echt, advanced tacky. And how. Beloved does not share this penchant - just as well probably. She might herself get tired of it if he did.
Then this too. The evening also at one point made her cry. Quietly but deeply.
She's been sad the last few days. It is one of the - many - drawbacks of ageing; that one by one your friends are likely to fall sick, in due course start dying off. She remembers, sadly, her old dad at 80 odd proclaiming, mournfully, 'all my friends are either dead or totally decrepit.' She watches even now some of her friends having problems with diabetes, others with crumbling knees and hips, others with blood pressure, bad hearts, so on and so forth. Some of them have had strokes, already. Some are in danger of having strokes. Each night she cuddles her Beloved knowing she is lucky still, knowing that he is - relatively - praying things go on that way. Nothing can be certain. Except that people age and die.
Sometimes they die before they age. She thinks of her own mother, of her twin, both fallen prey to the family devil at not much over 50. She thinks of her dear friend H, died in her early 60's, of complications from cancer nominally, in fact much more, from many years of mismanagement by the National Health Service - that lottery which does some of us proud, others anything but. And now she has to think of her friend J, younger than her by quite a bit; who, it is true, was overweight, somewhat, smoked, a lot, drank red wine, copiously enough, and who might, in due course have suffered in result of such minor vices. But no, mini vices did not get her. She was a woman who spent her life writing - wonderfully - for the young, and if not doing that, visiting schools, talking to their children, teaching them, running courses in creative writing. Granny once partnered J in a residential writing course for 6th formers; a precious experience she wouldn't have missed for anything. And this was the cruellest of cruel things, given J's profession, not just profession, her vocation. That it was not a disease of ageing got her; that instead it was one of the most savage of all diseases, more usually visited on the young. Killing her almost as soon as it reached her. God may be love - or so they say - Granny wishes - but what is certain is that Fate isn't. Fate is anything but love. Fate is a cruel joker, fond of the most savage ironies; as this was.
Granny only heard of her death, belatedly, via the internet. It is one of the penalties of being swept into a new partnership - let alone of being swept away to live across the sea - that you see less of your old friends; that is all too easy to lose touch. She hadn't, lately, been in touch with J; though there had been talk of her coming to this island, to run a course from Granny's house. Granny hadn't yet followed this up. 'Tomorrow' she thought - 'tomorrow' - with what insoucience - no that's much too grand a word - with what idiocy - we assume there will be a tomorrow, not realising that tomorrow may be gone today, may be gone now, already, swept away by fate. Too late, too late, too late. A friend of Granny's told her years ago, after her twin died, that when someone dies 'there is always unfinished business.' The unfinished business with her twin was awful; that in this case was minor, comparatively. But it still feels dreadfully sad. Ever since Friday Granny has heard friend J's voice in her head, found herself weeping for it. She has been angry too; furious; raged raged against her cruel fate. Dylan Thomas may have got it wrong in some respects - it is not always right to 'rage against the dying of the light' - you must in some respects, for your own sanity come to terms with it. But in this case, to rage against the dying of J's light - the manner of it - seems appropriate, entirely.
Do you get used to all this loss - resigned to it? - probably not. Probably till your own last day you mourn it, no matter how accepting of the inevitable. Granny's dad seemed to her to pipe his ever more rheumy eye ever more copiously the older he got; weeping for everyone. As for her, years younger still, on Burns night 2006, she piped her own not yet quite rheumy eye most definitely. It was the love song that did it. Love songs at their best may be joyful but they are also the saddest of all human outcries, most heartbreaking, far more heartbreaking than dirges, celebrating life at its most fragile, most elusive, most transient. The petals of the rose fall even as you watch them; the seas never 'gang dry' nor ever will - the singer and the sung-to are gone aeons and aeons before such a thing is likely.
The song in question, on Burns night, was of course that most perfect and most lovely of all love poems, 'My love is like a red red rose...' 'And I will love thee still my dear till the sands of life shall run..' You don't have to compare someone to a red red rose - you don't have to love them the way Burns loved the lady he wrote for - mere friendship will do it; at the so tender so perfect, so melancholy cadences of that tune you start crying anyway. It's like that.
Granny has heard the song better sung. in less doubtful - not to say less tacky - circumstances; but on this Burns night she thought of lost friendship, of J and piped her eye anyway.
She is making herself cry all over again; oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. She will stop piping soon, wipe her still not yet but potentially rheumy eye, and resume normal service very shortly.