Burns Night Formal Hall Toast Speeches

Burns Night Toast to the Lassies

Sam Thomas

Mr President, Distinguished Guests, Lassies & Laddies,

I am going to address you tonight on a mysterious topic, at least to us Laddies – the Lassies.  I realise, by the way, that not being Scottish it would’ve been improper for me to wear a kilt… But that left a toss-up between the trousers and nothing and I wasn’t entirely sure the second option would make a great opening gag. 

It wasn’t actually all that long ago that here, within the inner walls of a Cambridge College, enjoying the fair company of a lassie would’ve been deemed ludicrous.  Unthinkable even. 

How times have indeed changed.  Today we can all dine in a College that prides itself on its equal ratio of men to women… 70-30.

And women are devious devils to dine with anyway.  Laddies, no doubt you’re all only too familiar with the fickleness of a woman at dinnertime.  How often have you heard the regular words from a woman at dinner: “Oh no, it’s ok.  I’m full.  You make yourself something but nothing for me”, only to have half of your food pillaged the minute it’s cooked anyway!

In fact, my girlfriend and I had to introduce a rule recently of ‘no open questions’ at dinnertime because she had become so skilled at baiting me into long-winded answers only to finish all of my pudding!

And laddies, how well Burns knew of our capacities to endure this.  He knew that men, for all our faults would ever be in thrall to women:

To see her is to love her,
and love but her forever,
for nature made her what she is,
and never made another.

The great Robert Burns’ relationship with women is a confusing one.  Despite being incredibly promiscuous it was not purely a physical pleasure.  Burns appears to genuinely have adored women.  In his work he mentions, by name, a number of women, and his declarations of love are still some of the most famous ever written in English,

O, my luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June. 
O, my luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune. 

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my Dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till ALL the seas gang dry!

Now, that’s a long time.  This guy is in for the long haul.  And just try to remember all this, laddies, at your next May Ball when, mysteriously, you’re walking home freezing cold with a hang-over and your red, red rose is all toasty inside your dinner jacket!

Now many men since Burns have been inspired by the lassies in their lives.  Poured their hearts out into the beautiful lyrics that we’ve all come to know.  All you need is love, Paul McCartney, How wonderful life is, now you’re in the world, Elton John… (though it’s debateable just how much of that is actually about a woman…), You’re my first, my last, my everything, Barry White. 

But, what do us guys get in return?  Does he wash up?  He never washes up.  Does he clean up?  No he never cleans up.  Does he brush up?  No he never brushed up.  He does nothing.  The boy does nothing. Alesha Dixon.

Does she ever stop moaning?  No, she never stops moaning.

We even know the names of some of the women that Burns came to adore… Nancy Maclehose, Mary Campbell, Ann Park, and all the others mentioned in his verses, and Jean Armour who many think was the real love of his life. 

She was the epitome of womanhood: she loved him all her life, she bore his children, she cared for his children by other women and she cared for him as he died, choosing to ignore indignities heaped upon her.

But it was for Clarinda or Mrs Maclehose that he wrote the song, much admired to this day that glorifies the power of love, and tells us that grieving is the price to be paid for love.

 In Ae Fond Kiss, he said:

Had we never loved sae kindly
Had we never loved sae blindly
Never met  – or never parted
We had ne'er be broken hearted

So he was romantic and loving and not afraid to say so.  Perhaps he has a lesson for some of us men...

Robert Burns argued consistently that women were the intellectual and social equals of men.  But are they?

I often think he was doing them an injustice and they are in fact our intellectual and social superiors.  Look at the relationship between men and dolphins.  Dolphins are a bit like ladies, extremely intelligent, fun to be with, sleek, good movers...  It's absolutely incredible how in only a few weeks the dolphins can train a man to stand at the side of a pool and throw fish at them.

I know...  My sister, mother, auntie, insist that whatever women do they must do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good.  If you're ever in any doubt, look at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: she did everything he did, only backwards and in high heeled shoes...


Burns Night Reply to the Toast to the Lassies

Lorna Moore

My lords, ladies, gentlemen, distinguished guests, Scottish folk (to whom this ritual is familiar) and everyone else (who is still trying to work out what was in the haggis), it is my pleasure to attempt to deliver what is known as ‘the reply to the toast to the lassies’.

Now, traditionally women were not even invited to occasions such as this, let alone allowed to stand up and air their views...  However as we all know, women will always fight tooth and nail to have the final word, and so, on behalf of the fairer sex here this evening, and for all those years before we got the final word...  I’ll do my best.

Now as Sam mentioned, there is a somewhat uneven distribution of men and women at Wolfson and it would be short-sighted of me as a woman and former student at Wolfson not to take this opportunity to comment on this hugely disproportionate split of laddies to lassies.  The Bursar informs me that the current split is two-thirds to one-third but reassures me that the College is always looking into new ways to address this imbalance.  I’m sure if he were here today, that the infamous womaniser Robert Burns would’ve had plenty of ideas on this matter, but in his absence do please see the Bursar after dinner if you have any ideas of your own.

Now in a College of few women, there come a multitude of challenges not just to you guys but also for us gals: firstly, you have to actively search out that fellow lassie whose bladder is in sync in order to avoid that lonely bathroom trip.  Now quite what it is that requires us fair ladies to attend the bathroom in couples baffles me probably as much as it does the laddies.  If anything we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot by doubling the inevitable queue for the ladies’ toilets.  I had a look through Burns’ work but sadly, in all his wisdom on the fairer sex, he shines no light on this mystery either, though no doubt like most self confident men he would’ve believed that the purpose of this ritual is solely to discuss the men of the night in private...  Sorry lads, not true. 

The only solid advantage I can see as a woman of ensuring there are other lassies in the bathroom with you is to ensure that when that inevitable moment comes - “Is there any loo roll in yours?” - that there is someone to pass some under the door to you.  And if this isn’t good enough reason to get more women into Wolfson, then the weekly salsa night should be.  The evident trauma for the men of finding a mate whose toes you can stand on inspires images of a disorganised mating season in the Sahara and should have commentary from David Attenborough.

Now Robert Burns would’ve had no trouble in finding a mate for Salsa night – although I can’t imagine how well a kilt would go down...  He was a huge champion of women.  He adored them, some would say adoring too many at any one time.  But adore them he did, with poem after poem dedicated to us lassies.  In fact he could be seen as the shining example that men can indeed multitask; with an impressive record of 12 children by 4 women in 13 years, Burns certainly achieved more proliferation than most men can boast in a lifetime, and sadly Burns only lived for 37 years.  Just imagine how many more children he could’ve fathered had he lived longer. 

But for all this jesting, Burns truly was a wonderful and inspiring poet.  Scotland’s national hero no less.  I’d like to share a small snippet with you, which would be delivered far better if I was capable of a Scottish accent.  However, despite my Scottish appearance, my ‘Scottish’ accent is more reliably ‘Jamaican’ so I’ll hold off.

Had we never loved sae kindly
Had we never loved sae blindly

Never met  – or never parted –
We had ne'er be broken hearted

So, lassies of the room, I invite you to stand and raise your glasses to those gentlemen in the room without whom we would ne’er be broken hearted, but without whom we would also never love or be loved so kindly.  To the laddies!