Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

How best to honour Rabbie Burns?

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Robert Burns
Growing up in Dumfries the image of Burns was never far away

I never thought about it at the time, but my chip rolls used to be liberally sprinkled with poetry.

My school lunchtime forays for food took me past the burial site of Rabbie Burns, his former home, a favourite pub and a statue in his honour.

All that AND salt and vinegar.

It was almost impossible to grow up in Dumfries without feeling the influence of Scotland's bard as his image, verse or reputation seemed to lurk round every corner.

Everybody appears to lay claim to having the inside track on what the man was really like.

The only thing which seems certain is that, as the 250th anniversary of his birth approaches, he remains a much discussed man

Countless claims inevitably begin: "If Rabbie were alive today...".

And then, of course, there are the Burns suppers.

As my 40th birthday fast approaches I admit that I have more or less studiously avoided such occasions.

I have tended to subscribe to the view that they are the last kind of event where Burns would have felt at home.

However, I have succumbed this year.

My problem is that, having dodged this particular literary bullet for so long, I have no idea what to expect.

Humorous highlight?

I am down to give the Toast to the Lassies.

I know, in general, it is supposed to be a "humorous highlight" of any Burns supper but beyond that my knowledge is limited.

Do I quote the Bard? How rude can I be? Does it have to rhyme? And, most importantly, how do I conquer my inevitable nerves.

Giancarlo Rinaldi
Giancarlo hopes to do justice to the Bard in his first Burns' toast

Among my fellow speakers is Alex Fergusson MSP, currently presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament.

So, no pressure there then.

What makes it particularly difficult is the fact that everyone seems to have a different opinion about Burns.

Some have dismissed his poetic ability, others describe him as a womaniser while many praise him for his political views.

The only thing which seems certain is that, as the 250th anniversary of his birth approaches, he remains a much discussed man.

In my own small way, I would like to pay tribute to him properly when I come to deliver my toast.

That, to be honest, is where I need all the assistance I can get.

Fortunately for me my Burnsian debut is not until 13 February so I still have a little time to prepare.

I hope to turn to a few experts for help but all advice from BBC news website readers would be gratefully received.

You can contact me at dumfries@bbc.co.uk or click here.

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