Susan Morrison: O, what a panic is in thy double breastie-d suit...
THERE is a great painting at the Writers' Museum of Burns storming a salon with a pair of thighs on him that wouldn't look out of place on the front row of a particularly powerful Scottish rugby squad, geared up to grind the All Blacks into the dirt.
Various gentlemen of the city are looking on at the entering genius with varying expressions of “oh jings, what’s this, a poet is it? From Ayrshire? No kiddin’!’
In the background there is a lady, reclining, gazing upon this majestic creature with an air of thoughtful appraisal. The painter has depicted this intelligent woman with a sort of detached manner, as if she is weighing up his magnificent talent as a poet and thinker.
We have a phrase for this in Scotland: “Away and boil your heid.” In reality, thon lassie would have clocked them breeches and given careful consideration as to how she could have parted him from his cloth. Which, in the case of Robert Burns, was not really that difficult.
The painting might be a bit fast and loose with the actual detail, but it does capture the impact the man had when he tore his way through the city literati. The ladies were positivity aflutter when the man of the soil strode in.
Burns hit Edinburgh like a rock ‘n’ roll superstar. Clarinda wasn’t the only one reaching for her fan when she saw those farm lad thighs coming through the door, but she was the one who reached for her pen, and so did he, which is a good thing, since we got Ae Fond Kiss out of it, to be sung with varying degrees of warbliness throughout the world on Burns Night, which is not such a good thing.
Burns is wearing a broadcloth jacket, which seems to be struggling a tad to contain all that talent and muscle. It wouldn’t actually look that out of place today. But those mighty thighs are clad in breeches, just the thing to show off the curve of the calves. They were the skinny jeans of the age.
What happened to breeches?
Beau Brummel, in a word, or two. Single-handedly, he invented the suit as we know it today and took away from men silk, brocade, lace and colour, and those breeches that hugged the shapely leg. The suit swept the world. American presidents, Russian billionaires and nervous 19-year-old job applicants from Wester Hailes all wear the same uniform of jacket and trousers.
There are things to admire about the suit. I have always envied the number of pockets men had, for one thing, and knowing what you’re wearing every day to work is at least one decision taken care of.
It seems terribly dull for you chaps. There are some men out there who do flirt with colour and sashay a blue shirt at times, or perhaps brown shoes with a blue suit (tip: don’t), or go all Jon Snow on Channel 4 News and rock a funky tie.
Why not give back to men a bit of colour, and as many dizzying choices as the women?
I couldn’t face up to the challenge of listening intently at poetry night
No way I’d have been drooped across a chaise longue in the salon gazing thoughtfully at a hunky poet. I’d have been hauling coal up one stair and full chamber pots down the other. Peasant stock, me.
Not for me that “ruminative listening” thing. Can’t do it anyway. I found that out a few years ago, when I was asked to host a poetry evening.
The poets were mainly of the twee English variety, a lot of verse about twilights and faerie dells. Don’t ask why they thought that I, a sort of short female human equivalent of the tank, would be good for this.
What they needed was an ethereal sort of a gal who looked good in chiffon and could be described as wan and palely loitering. Anyway, I figured I could pull it off until I realised to my horror that I would have to sit on the stage whilst the poets did the versifying. The audience could see me. And my face . . .
What is the correct “listening to poetry” expression? I tried out several options until I settled on “thoughtful but intense, with a slightly concerned look”. I also ventured into “considered nodding” and “gentle smile at simile/metaphor/reference to anything King Arthury or folklorey”.
Turns out, I needn’t have bothered. Half the front row were asleep and the other half off their faces on whisky.
Bet they paid more attention to Burns.
A view to a kilt
Meet Humza Yousaf, new champion of men’s colourful fashion, and an MSP to boot. When he was sworn in at the Scottish Parliament in a fabulous brocade and gold jacket teamed with a kilt, it was a beautiful blow for a splash of colour in menswear. More of this, chaps!