Burns Night: Toast to 'the Lassies'
The toast to the lassies is one of the essential speeches at any Burns’ Supper, and along with the lassies’ reply, now performs an important role which adds to the rich theatre of the whole event. Originally principally intended as a “thank you” for cooking the meal, a modern audience looks forward to a witty and amusing speech poking fun – ever so affectionately – at the foibles and idiosyncrasies (real and imagined) of the fairer sex, followed by a robust return of fire when the tables are turned!
Today’s exchange deliberately changes the tone from the earlier and often erudite appreciation of the finer points of Burns’ writing and signals the beginning of a good old Scottish party, so if you’ve been asked to toast the lassies, you’ve a vital part to play. At least a few references to the poet’s work will be expected which is obviously no problem if you’re familiar with it, but if you’re no Burns expert – relax, there are a few “cheats” here to help you.
1. Hook Your AudienceThis is one of the rare occasions in speech writing where you can deliberately set out to cause just the barest touch of mild offence – so enjoy the opportunity. Play to the men in the audience and don’t be afraid to ham it up a bit; ‘the lassies’ are supposed to seethe a bit and look irate – it’s all part of the game!
- Try to kick off with a contentious or provocative statement.
- Without getting too personal, include some of the lassies present if you can.
- Begin to highlight some of the differences between the sexes.
Example: When I sat down to write this speech, I couldn’t help thinking about how different lads and lassies really are, and not just in all those interesting and rather obvious ways. Take personal grooming, for instance. The average bachelor bathroom contains six items – a toothbrush with rather too few bristles, a tube of toothpaste – squeezed from the middle, naturally – a razor, some shaving crème, a grimy bit of soap and an old grey towel. The lassies – 497 items on average, 492 of which the average man cannot even name, let alone guess what they’re used for. You don’t believe me? Look in (name of hostess) bathroom before you leave; I checked earlier – 502!
2. Develop Your ThemeNow’s a good time to introduce some of Burns words, and refer to one or two of the (many) lassies in his life as you develop your theme.
- Try to mix modern observations in with thoughts about Burns’ day.
- Keep the fun coming.
- Use some suitable quotations from the man himself.
- Useful Cheats – a few notable Burns’ lassies to mention include his own wife Jean Armour, Clarinda (in reality Agnes (Nancy) McLehose, to whom he wrote a series of famous love letters) Willie Wastle’s (fictional) wife and Kate (the fictional wife of Tam O’Shanter).
Example: And then there’s “the look.” Every man here knows what I mean – but just imagine the one that was waiting for Tam O’Shanter on that fateful night. Here’s our hero on his way home – admittedly stopping off at the pub first, as you do – and while he’s being chased over hill and dale by a bunch of deranged witches and the Devil himself, what’s his Missus up to? Kate’s just sitting there “Gathering her brows like gathering storm, Nursing her wrath, to keep it warm.” You can almost see that foot tapping, can’t you? I mean, it’s not as if Tam got a bit too merry and forgot to tape Eastenders is it? Now that, I am reliably informed by my own dear lady wife, apparently IS a sin – and had she been a better shot with that frying pan, quite possibly a mortal one!
3. Wind Up to the ToastBear in mind that ‘the toast’ and ‘the reply’ are both supposed to be fairly short speeches – and certainly no longer than ten minutes at most – which makes a good ending very important.
- Draw everything together, perhaps comparing Burns’ day with modern times.
- Having enjoyed all the ribbing, end on a conciliatory note.
- Don’t forget to propose the toast. Believe it or not, it has been known!
Now sit down and hope the ‘lassie’ who replies is going to be kind!