Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Robert Burns Anniversary BIrthday Weekend - 2

As Scotland celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of their bard, Robert Burns...see previous two blogs...not a sign of the occasion was evident in Princes Street, Edinburgh, heart of the capital.

The 250th anniversary was meant to be the start of a year-long spectacular entitled 'Homecoming Scotland 2009', a celebration of Scotland's contributions to the world designed to attract people, especially those with Scottish ancestry, to visit the country, trace their roots and embrace their ancestral culture.

Finlay, a man in his fifties, who works in the tourist industry didn't celebrate Burns Night 'because it's not something I'm used to doing, although I've nothing against him! I think it's fantastic the way it's been celebrated. It's known around the world. It's absolutely brilliant,' he enthused.

But regarding this 250th anniversary weekend, he said, 'I think there should have been more publicity about it because he (Burns) did stay in Edinburgh for a time.'

Finlay knew about the Homecoming Programme, because, he said, he takes an interest in such things. But he was critical of the way it was being run.

'There's no publicity. Local people don't know about it although there's lots of brilliant events,' he said.

How effective did he think it would be?

'As far as moving back to Scotland, I don't think so, but it should encourage tourism,' he said.

I told him about a new quest to establish a DNA profile of Burns that might then be used in a search for his descendants, reported in the Times Online - Burns fathered 12 children known to him by four women, six of whom died in infancy, but it is thought there could well be others.

The study is being conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University, who have been given permission by the National Trust for Scotland to collect the DNA from artefacts. They are doing this not only out of academic interest but also with the idea that it might draw more Scots back to the country this year.

'From what one hears, he (Burns) was a "bit of a lad",' said Finlay. 'It's interesting for me to find out more about Burns. I find it fascinating.'

Further along the street, Elizabeth was one of the staff in Romanes and Paterson, one of a pair of tourist shops selling plenty of gifts with Burn's picture on them.

Did she celebrate Burns Night?

'I didn't, but normally I would,' she said. 'Haggis isn't something we normally have on a Sunday. I had the family coming and I'm the only one who likes it!'

She knew about the year-long celebrations, but to my criticism that there was no information about the festival in the centre of Edinburgh, she said, 'You're right. We actually had great difficulty getting posters or anything to advertise it.'

It seems that while suppliers for shops have plenty of general souvenirs on the poet - Romanes and Paterson has a table laden with them - they have not prepared for this event.

'We did think about it,' said Elizabeth, and shops in general are struggling (to get anything). I don't even think anything happened here in the city. There was a picture in the newspaper of George Square and one of the buildings was lit up with a picture of Burns.'

I thanked her and left, and then wandered into Waterstones. Suddenly, I found a glimmer of what I had been searching for. In a fairly prominent position near the checkout desk were two displays of books on Robert Burns, with purple cardboard signs above them announcing, albeit in small print, the 250TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF THE BARD!!!

Tessa MacGregor, their Marketing Manager said, about the lack of publicity on Princes Street, 'it must seem odd that it's the 250th anniversary of the birth of Burns!'

She explained that the Scottish government have already come under criticism for lack of publicity in Edinburgh, but with a £500 million marketing budget, they have realised it's not enough.

'A lot of literary festivals will be programming events,' she added.

The Princes Street branch of Waterstones, she said, were enjoying success in promoting Burns' titles separately, with two books selling particularly well: A Night Out with Robert Burns: The Greatest Poems by Andrew O'Hagan, award-winning novelist and Scottish essayist writing about his favourite poems, and a biography, The Bard, by award-winning novelist Morgan Llywelyn and eminent poet and creative writer, Robert Crawford.

'Normally we have a very small window to promote Burns titles, but this year we'll continue to promote some of the titles and continue to see an uplift in sales,' Tessa said.

On another positive note she said there had been a lot of press coverage on Burns and that one of the concerns of Homecoming Scotland was 'not to burn - no pun intended, I'm sure - out too quickly, while admitting that the campaign had been 'very much marketed abroad rather than at home.'

Which made the point succinctly. For I discovered that if you look up the official website,, you are welcomed to a vibrant site with not only a feast of info but the sight and sound of Lulu singing in Argyll and Sean Connery singing in front of Edinburgh Castle.

You can browse a mini-biography of Burns, details of the birthday anniversary celebration in his home town of Alloway, and information on hundreds of other events planned so far that reflect Scotland's culture, heritage and intellectual achievements and the nation's contributions to golf and whisky. For lovers of the 'wee dram' there is a 'whisky month' coming up in May!

To my disappointment, though, I also learnt that I had missed a major touring exhibition of the national collection of Burns' memorabilia; only some 36,000 manuscripts, books, art and artefacts that had been in the National Library of Scotland behind Princes Street!

But the biggest disappointment remains the lack of any sense of a giant birthday anniversary party for the nation's Bard in its capital. The party in Alloway, Burns' birthplace, seen on the news that night was far away and the majority of tourists, I would guess, are in Edinburgh and at some point on Princes Street!

Edinburgh should be awash with the hundreds of poems and songs that Robert Burns wrote. His words should be streaming from lampposts, and filling shops windows and tourist sites. They should be printed on buses and shopping bags and inscribed on plaques on pavements.

The country should be celebrating...on the streets!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

pics show Waterstones displays; Princes Street; Burns on a tea towel in Romanes and Paterson

No comments: