In honour of Burns Night, the birthday of my Dad’s favourite poet Robert Burns, here are some whisky glasses. These 3 are the last survivors of a set of 6 that I bought for my parents at the Morning Star Bazaar when I was about 10 or 12. They came with their own sweet little carousel stand and I think I liked the pretty colours and patterns (these days I keep them here). My parents weren’t drinkers – they had both experienced alcoholism in their families, and disapproved of drinking (Dad, as a young boy, discovered his grandmother dead after she had drunk disinfectant). However, they would make an exception on special occasions, and Burns Night was always one of those in our house (see here). Dad would even get a little merry on his favourite tipple and recite Burns perfectly, even the epic poems such as Tam O’Shanter:
“Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!”
Around the time I left home, aged 18, under a cloud (partly due to my enthusiasm for drinking!), my parents bought a brand new fine china dinner service and set of crystal glasses. We had grown up with odd bits and pieces of china left over from various wedding presents and inherited sets that had been broken up over the years, with some pieces saved for “best”. I was appalled at the extravagance of the new dinner service and crystal. Although our family home lacked for nothing, we had always had to economise and lived quite frugally with no money for extravagances. This purchase seemed, to me, a huge and unnecessary extravagance. I resented it and, with typically youthful arrogance, told them so. My Dad looked as if he my have understood or even agreed with me; but with a gentle shrug he just said “This sort of thing means a lot to your mother”. In later years I realised what he meant. Mum had been born to relative wealth, an upper middle class household of best china and silver service, which was lost when her father’s bad habits and later desertion plunged them into near destitution. Ultimately this experience brought her to Communism and to happiness with my Dad, and she would not have changed places for anything. But deep down, she must have missed some of the finer trappings of her early life. She loved to entertain guests, from all over the world, and serve them her home cooked dinners on the best china. After the hard life she’d lived, she deserved this bit of “extravagance”.
I now have some of those lovely crystal glasses, the few survivors from that set. On Burns Night I will be serving my friends some vegan haggis and raising a toast to my Mum and Dad, with their own special glasses.