Page last updated at 01:28 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Best plans laid for Burns supper

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

Haggis on a plate
Giancarlo will have to speak in order to earn his supper

The Robert Burns industry is about to go into overdrive.

Haggis piping, whisky supping and toasting lasses will be the order of the day on and around the 250th anniversary of the bard's birth this Sunday.

Recent figures show there will be a couple of thousand Burns suppers across Scotland and England this year.

One of them - and one of them alone - will involve a Scottish-Italian BBC News website reporter in Dumfries named Giancarlo Rinaldi.

I recently made an appeal for help via the internet on advice for how to approach my first speaking role at a Burns supper.

Advice notes came in from as close to home as Annan, and as far afield as Russia.

You can get away with just about anything as long as it is funny!
Brian Henson
They contained poetic offerings, relevant Burns extracts and a lengthy correction of my spelling of "Lassies".

However, they all seemed to offer the same first commandment for a Toast to the Lasses.

Make 'em laugh, my boy, make 'em laugh.

It is clear to me now that my role is to be something of the jester - a little bit rude, perhaps, but never crude.

In addition, I should be sentimental, affectionate, humorous, entertaining - and relaxed.

It sounds like a tall order but, overall, I have to say the e-mails helped.

Brian Henson wrote in from Glasgow saying he had gone through a similar problem to my own and approached a contact in the Burns Federation for advice.

The reply was: "You can get away with just about anything as long as it is funny!

Robert Burns
The tributes to Burns will come thick and fast in the days ahead

"Remember, that the 'serious' part of the programme is the Immortal Memory that comes before you get on your feet."

There was a more straightforward tip from Alan Jennings of Tayport in Fife.

"Ach, just go for it: tell it like it is," he recommended.

"We all know what the lassies are really like!

"You'll be fine - may the spirit of the Bard rest upon ye!"

Although, as one correspondent reminded me, that does not mean trying to be too smart or taking too much Dutch courage.

"Do not overdo the clever clogs in terms of quoting (or misquoting) as there will be those present delighted to put you right just after you breathe the sigh of relief that it's all over," I was warned.

"Above all, do not 'conquer your nerves' with a too liberal imbibing of the golden liquid or you will definitely make a cock-up of some sort."

The final word, however, goes to Jim Buchan who gave me two absolute rules for my toast.

"Number one - play it strictly for laughs," he said.

"Number two - avoid gratuitous coarseness, even at an all-male supper."

That is advice I will definitely be sticking to, especially since there will be a female presence at my Burns debut.

Suddenly, the prospect of speaking on 13 February does not seem quite so scary, and I reckon I've got a winning opening line.

"My love is like a red, red... Now, how does it go again?"

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