To have a farmer stand here and complain about the weather will raise few eyebrows amongst the audience tonight – in fact, you should almost expect weather to be top of the list should you ever choose to engage in conversation with a son of the soil.
There are few industries where weather is so crucial to its wellbeing or, indeed, few industries so well place to inform the current climate change debate.
My own father is typical – since he was a teenager, everyday he has kept a diary, and for almost sixty years he has been recording his daily grind on the farm as well as such key seasonal events as the date on which the first snowdrops pop their heads out, the arrival of the first swallow in the byre or the date at which pastures have sufficient grass to allow the cows to be turned out of their winter barns and back into their summer fields.
For Burns, weather was regular feature in his work but it was winter that truly seemed to capture him at his most melancholic and inspirational.
In To A Mouse, you can feel the poor wee beastie’s exposure to the elements – the sleety dribble and Cranreugh Cauld – when the coulter cut through its cozie nest and exposed it to the blast.
In the Jolly Beggars, you can almost feel the sting in your face when the hailstanes drive wae bitter skyte
and in Winter: A Dirge Burns confesses that he feels more at ease in the rigours of a December day than the warmth of spring.
“The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,”
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to jine;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!
So would Burns have recognised climate change, would he have been in global warming denial and what would Burns have made of the winter’s we have just endured. This is the man who wrote “Up in the mornin’s no for me, up in the mornin early, when a the hills are covered wi snaw, I’m sure its winter fairly” Not wanting to get up on a winter’s mornin may explain a lot about his ability or otherwise as a farmer.
Maybe, like me, he is better writing about the weather than relying on it to glean an earning.
Greetin’ aboot the Weather
Whit muse could inspiration fire
Our yearly greetin’ tae inspire
When blindin’ sleet an’ snaw befell
December win’s blew cauld an’ snell
Maist fierce for four score years an’ ten
An’ froze the ink in this scribe’s pen
Whit rhyme could onie man compose
When dreeps are hingin’ aff his nose
An’ mornin’s start is slow an’ stutterin’
Wae phlegmy retches, coughs an’ splutterin’
Nae usquebae nor roarin’ fire
Could keep us frae this winter’s ire
I ken I wert in the cauld blast
Ootside ma door the black ice cast
Horsepowr’d carts tae birl roon
An’ those on shank’s pony were foun’
Skitterin’ aboot like new-born fawns
Wae first steps taken on frozen ponds
The papers cry it GLOBAL WARMIN’
But Bardie may hae found it charmin’
As cranreuch cauld oft fired his bluid
Thro’ dreich an’ mirk, he oft found guid
“Let others fear the winter’s day
It’s mair dear tae me than the pride o’ May”
Janwar may bring a bitter skyte
An sleety dribble start tae bite
But five an’ twenty days will pass
An cozie here beneath the blast
We tak oor seats in Paisley ha’
Tho’ win’s frae east tae west may blaw
So should we hear the tempest’s howl
We mind such sounds soothed Burns’ soul
So this nicht, should nature seek us harm
It is not wrath that keeps us warm
But sangs, an’ clatter, mirth an’ cheer
As we toast our Bard fur anither year.