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What Scotsmen do in Eastern Europe: Burns Night on March 9th in Ukraine

A bizarre but effective Burns Night last night in Kiev

Burns Night celebrations in Kyiv were also in March last year

Burns Night was on 25th January this year. It is every year. It is Rabbie Burns’ birthday.

But I am allegedly going over to the Ukraine for a Burns Night charity event in Kiev – or in Kyiv, depending on your spelling – on 9th March.

Kiev was the Russian-approved spelling in the Soviet era. So, obviously, since independence, the officially-approved Ukrainian spelling is Kyiv, just to be different.

But this does not explain why Burns Night is being celebrated on 9th March.

Last year in Kyiv, it was celebrated on 31st March.

The explanation is that it is being organised by a canny Scotsman.

Stuart McKenzie at the 2012 Burns Night

Stuart McKenzie at 2012 Burns Night in the Ukraine

Stuart McKenzie owns a company in the Ukraine which handles events, PR, marketing, training, e-commerce and research. He also owns hotels and restaurants. And he is also the late Scottish comedian Jimmy Logan’s stepson.

“I organise the Burns Night event with other Kyiv Lions Club members as part of our contribution of time to the club,” Stuart tells me. “Most Kyiv business people are away from 20th December to the 15th of January. So it’s therefore better for me to push the date of Burns Night forward to give me more time to speak to these companies and get sponsorship support. It simply means we can raise more money. Also pipers and entertainers are a lot cheaper to bring over to Kyiv if I’m not competing with the 25th January date.”

Canny and successful.

Sponsors for this year’s Burns Night in Kyiv include Coca Cola, Hyatt Regency, Radisson and Ukraine International Airlines.

“It’s our 18th anniversary this year,” Stuart tells me, “and, over the last eight years, we’ve raised over $700,000 for Kyiv Lions Club projects.”

This year, the Burns Night celebration also coincides with a Women’s Day Celebration.

I suspect Rabbie Burns would have approved.

Stuart certainly knows how to put on a party.

Part of the entertainment on Burns Night in Kyiv will be the Red Hot Chilli Pipers:

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Filed under Entertainment, Scotland, Ukraine

The truth about piping in the haggis on Burns Night and about the dancing fish

Martin Soan about to eat a fish last night

Comedian Martin Soan prepares to eat a fish last night

“I just don’t like putting holes in walls any more,” said Martin Soan last night. “If there’s a hole, there has to be a screw in it.”

I have no idea why he said this… Then we had a general knowledge quiz.

“How many barbels are on a barbel?” he asked.

“42,” I said confidently. “That’s the answer to everything.”

“Two,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Lots of things come in twos.”

“Amazing!” said Martin. “That’s right. Well actually it’s four, because it’s two pairs. The barbel is a fish.”

He then told a true story about how, years ago, when his two daughters were younger, the whole family had gone on a boating holiday on a river and pulled up at a jetty where a man pulled a net out of the water and photographed the fish he had caught.

He then threw the fish one-by-one on the sloping ground by the river.

“They were barbel fish,” said Martin. “Barbels are very very strong, because they have to swim through really strong river currents and they search for things on the river bed with their noses.

“They up-ended themselves on the grass so they were standing upright on their noses and they danced back down into the river on their noses.

“That’s true,” he said.

I was at Martin’s home last night because there had been going to be a small comedy show in Greenwich pub The Lord Hood in memory of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. But it was cancelled because of the heavy snow.

“I was going to do an act at the show,” Martin told me. “A one-off. It can’t be repeated. Well, it CAN be repeated, but only every six months or so. Maybe I’ll do it at our next show.” (Martin and his wife Vivienne run a twice-a-month comedy club called Pull The Other One.)

“When is the next Pull The Other One?” I asked.

“This Friday,” Vivienne said.

“That’s Burns Night,” I said. “You should pipe in the haggis.”

“It’s not supposed to be a haggis,” Martin said. “Everyone thinks that you are supposed to pipe in the haggis on Burns Night, but that’s not true. It’s just a Sassenach English interpretation of a Scottish tradition. What the Scots traditionally piped in was a herring.”

“A red herring?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“Piped in from the North Sea like the gas?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “it’s true. Traditionally, it was the herring that was piped in on Burns Night.”

“Not kippers?” Martin’s wife Vivienne asked. “Am I not allowed to tell the story about the piper and the kippers?… The piper and the kippers and the Action Man.”

“What happened,” said Martin, “it was Oram & Meeton, Dr Brown and me finishing off the whole evening.”

“With the piper and the kippers and the Action Man,” said Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin.

“With the piper and the kippers and the Action Man,” Vivienne sang.

“Vivienne’s told you that one story,” Martin said to me, “But you are never going to hear the story of the perfect National Health comedy sketch that I was involved in and it was real and it happened and it obeyed every single rule of comedy and echoed one of the greatest sketches in TV comedy.”

“Never?” I asked.

“Never,” said Martin.

“What about the dancing barbel fish?” I asked.

“That’s true,” said Martin. “Totally true. I am thinking of writing a short story about the dancing barbel fish and Izaak Walton, who wrote The Compleat Anger and Issac Newton. Or it could be a story for the radio. But I’ll never get round to it.”

Last night was, in theory, slightly sad, because today Martin & Vivienne’s daughter Sydney is moving to Australia with her boyfriend Charlie, an Apple Genius who has packed light to move to Oz and, in fact, seemed to have packed little except his surf board.

“But Charlie don’t surf,” I said.

“He does,” I was told.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Scotland

I dreamt last night of a green gash…

My mouth with a cough sweet in it.

I am still coughing in the night and I must have woken myself up again, because I remember I dreamt last night about being in a car in a city. I had just arrived by plane. The car was driving through the streets and there was a strange horizontal glowing gash in the sky, like a horizontal slash with an intense dark green inside it.

A vertical column of various cloudy greys – whooshed up from among the buildings to join the green gash.

And then, looking over, I saw between high buildings, the top of another tall building falling at 45 degrees; it was toppling over. It had a pyramidal top, like the Canary Wharf tower in London, but I was not in London; I was abroad somewhere.

It was not a nightmare, just a dream.

“Oh, that’s interesting,” I thought.

In a couple of weeks, I am probably going to Kiev for the weekend, to attend a Burns Supper on 31st March, despite the fact Burns Night is 25th January.

Kiev is 62 miles south of Chernobyl.

I drove to Greenwich last night and passed through the Blackwall Tunnel with the Canary Wharf tower’s pyramidal top flashing its white light in the night.

I don’t know which is stranger – the way the mind twists reality into surreality or the fact that a Burns Night is being held in Kiev on 31st March.


Filed under Dreams