Stanza lone

I KNOW this is heresy but I’ve never got Burns, certainly not the reverence and the annual theatre around him. He was a second-rate poet at best in my view, but certainly not as bad as John Keats at worst.

Rabbie was apparently one of Keats’s heroes and, as English poets seemed to do in those days, he went on a walking tour of Scotland with his pal Charles Brown in the summer of 1818. Burns had been dead for some 22 years then, around the same age as Keats was as he stravaiged the country.

The pre-digital young poet was in the habit of sending letters back to relatives as he went so we can pretty much plot his journey.

On July 11, he and Charles walked from Maybole to Burns’s cottage in Alloway, which was part museum and part whisky shop, presided over, according to Keats, by a “mahogany-faced old Jackass who knew Burns” and who proceeded then to “Bore” him “with his anecdotes’” as he knocked back innumerable drams.

Perhaps he shared few – Keats certainly admitted to having a “toddy” – or was overcome with emotion, so he then wrote a poem in the cottage. Which he really shouldn’t have. It was called, unoriginally, Written In The Cottage Where Burns Was Born. And as soon as he had it all down he knew it was rubbish so he destroyed it.

Unfortunately, for his legacy, his pal Chic had taken a note of it and has left it for posterity. Some friend. Here’s the opening stanza, and it really does get worse.

“This mortal body of a thousand days

Now fills, O Burns, a space in thine own room,

Where thou didst dream alone on budded bays,

Happy and thoughtless of thy day of doom!”

Likewise Keats, unknowing of his own day of doom, died less than three years later of tuberculosis, unaware that his late mother, who also went the same way, had apparently left him a share of a fortune worth more than half a million quid today.

Rat trap

SOME years ago, when the all-star TV-am launched and almost immediately disappeared down the cathode-ray tube, they imported the puppet Roland Rat to save the station. I wrote at the time that this must be the only recorded instance of a rat joining a sinking ship. Now I see that the Mary Rose Trust has accepted Dr David Starkey’s resignation from its board after his racist outburst.

Surely the first instance of a sunken ship jettisoning a rat?

Summing it up

I WON’T say ours was a tough school but we had our own coroner. We used to write essays like: What I want to be if I grow up. That was the late Lenny Bruce, with one of the few quotes that can be safely published in a Sunday newspaper. But if it’s bad for the kids, what’s it like for the teachers?

You can’t blame them for the sliding education results, particularly in secondary schools, but we know that, particularly in maths and science, they are extremely poor and that reading is back to the standard of seven years ago, but below what it was in 2003 – and we’re struggling behind England, never mind a host of other countries.

Lindsay Paterson, education professor at Edinburgh University, reckoned we were stagnating in mediocrity.

The First Minister, four years past, said that education would be “front and centre” of the Scottish Government’s policies. And spending has gone up, no doubt.

The problems are immense, there’s no gainsaying. My daughter, a couple of years back, did placements at Annette Street Primary School in the heart of Nicola Sturgeon’s Govanhill constituency where none of the more than 200 pupils had English as a first language.

The so-called Curriculum for Excellence plainly isn’t.

I don’t claim to have answers but it’s shocking that there was no debate on education in more than two years at Holyrood and that in January the Government was forced, when it lost the vote, to agree to a wider inquiry into what’s wrong.

Last week, I asked for figures about class sizes in secondary schools because, as even an innumerate like me knows, it counts in attainment.

The answer was that, unlike in England, they don’t do class numbers, because it varies according to subject. Of course it does. So what are they afraid of?


Does anyone in the Rangers PR department have even a Standard Grade in English?

The club sent out a midweek press release about the imminent opening of the new Ibrox retail store. Rarely has grammar and punctuation been as comprehensively abused.

The gibberish begins in the first paragraph – “the clubs official retail partner” – and meanders blunderingly to its 0/10 conclusion. It’s an embarrassment to the club. Stevie G, send them all to night school!

Post judgment

I DON'T want to tear open the psychic wounds of 1978 and Scotland’s risible performance at the World Cup in Argentina but it had always puzzled me why the goalposts had black circles painted around the bottom of them.

Was it to help the forwards’ aim? Or was it perhaps to mesmerise the opposition?

At the time Argentina was ruled by a brutal right-wing junta. Scotland, just to acclimatise themselves to playing on blood-soaked turf, had enjoyed a warm-up in Chile, also under the rule of a fascist junta. The stadium in Santiago had been used as a concentration camp for supporters of the overthrown, democratically-elected president Salvador Allende.

Goalkeeper Alan Rough recalls the bullet holes in the dressing room walls where people had been executed.

I was Glasgow branch secretary of the NUJ at the time and a motion was on the agenda for reporters to boycott the game. Football journos never went to meetings but, of course, this time they turned up en masse and sacked me and the entire committee. They went, claiming they would report on what was going on, but they never did.

Enough of my war wounds. In Argentina, thousands of government opponents had been "disappeared". Somehow the generals were persuaded that painting the posts with the black loop was a tradition, when in fact it was a symbol of commemoration, like a black armband, and defiance over the disappeared. You can see it in pictures of the final.