I have had my head bowed three times this week: first at a funeral to say farewell to a favourite family member. Dear Uncle Cliff made it to eighty-six. Which is a good age, but not that old in the modern scheme of things.
We comfort ourselves with the fact that he led a full life. He saw the world and he liked a party.
I do a reading. A friend gives a rendition of ‘Ave Maria’. We sing hymns, mostly rousing, but one is sombre and it chokes the throat. The tears come – with not enough paper hankies to go round.
But the final music cheers. As the coffin is taken back down the aisle, the theme ‘Test Match Special’ blasts out of the speakers. Cliff was a life-long sportsman and, in particular, a dedicated cricketer.
A few days later comes another service, this time to welcome a new ‘Parish Nurse’ to the Scottish Christian fold. Catriona Logan has worked with NHS Tayside for 35 years. Now she is down in the south-west of the country with a different role.
She is a Church of Scotland nurse who encourages physical and spiritual health. I did not know such people existed. Yet Catriona is the 11th Parish Nurse in Scotland – and her aim is make a difference to the lives of parishioners.
And last but not least was a service at St. Michael’s and South Church in Dumfries. There has been a Christian building on this site for 1300 years, but age is not the main claim to fame for this red-sandstone building. Since the end of the eighteenth century there has been a lyrical link to this spiritual site. St. Michaels is the resting place of Scotland’s Bard.
Robert Burns lived locally. He worked as a tax collector and drank frequently in the town’s pub. In between times he produced some of the world’s greatest poetry.
When he died in 1796 his body was placed in a modest grave in the Dumfries kirkyard. But as his genius became more widely recognised, demands grew for a more fitting remembrance.
An ambitious fund-raising campaign ensued. People from far and wide sent money. Funds arrived from India and America. The novelist Walter Scott got involved. Hundred of pounds were raised. In 1817 Robert Burns was re-buried in a Grecian-domed mausoleum.
Fittingly, Scotland’s national poet lies in state. And after a service to remember his life and work, we gather around his stone. I have never seen so many Burns Clubs presidents, complete with chains of office. I have never heard such beautiful readings from children. Then it was the occasion of his birthday.
Getting home, the theme continues. The chief and I eat haggis truffles with neeps and tatties. The MacNaughties’ prayers are answered when they, too, get a taste of minced heart, liver and lungs. The Spaniel gobbles it down. The Norfolk smacks his lips. Strong flavours are their thing. A vegetarian haggis just wouldn’t do the trick…