EVERY year at this time I look forward to attending a series of Burns suppers. The Bard’s birthday is so well timed: in the downward dip of late January when the lights and merriment of the festive season are a memory and the weariness of winter and dark nights is taking its toll.

‘Burns time’ for me has always been a community get-together, a time to enjoy the company of others with dance, music and of course poetry, and a good dose of humour and philosophy about life.

I had hoped this year would have opened a new beginning of togetherness but, of course, that was over-optimistic. So a lockdown Burns supper it will have to be, maybe with an ‘Ode to Zoom’ as part of it.

This is the time that schools often have a Scots language theme and kids are encouraged to learn a poem in Scots.

To a Mouse is a favourite Burns poem for children, as it was for me when I was young. If it’s learnt in your younger years it never really leaves your memory, so I have tried to pass it on to my own kids.

But not just the poem, the story behind it too. I think part of the genius of the poem is the way it unfolds in deeper meaning as you grow older. But, as with much of Burns’ work, it has remained powerfully relevant and speaks to our time as much as his.

My younger kids are re-learning parts of it as part of their home learning in preparation for their school online Scots poem recitation.

Some words are unfamiliar and a bit tricky, of course, but they open the imagination to that scene on a cold winter’s day when Robert Burns inadvertently destroyed the nest of a tiny field mouse while ploughing.

I still have my own childhood image of Burns standing over the shivering and terrified wee creature and feeling remorse and affinity with its plight. As I grew older, I began to realise that the poem was as much about Burns’ fears and insecurity. We could all potentially be that wee mouse.

But the second verse of the poem gives this connection a deeper meaning:

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion

Has broken Nature’s social union,

An’ justifies that ill opinion,

Which makes thee startle,

At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,

An’ fellow-mortal!

I love the term “earth-born companion” and “fellow mortal” to describe the field mouse. If our society truly took this view, how different would our world be? And to the benefit of humans as much as our fellow creatures. Of course there are societies throughout the world which understand this, but sadly their wisdom is ignored and often their very existence is under threat.

But the voice of Burns in this poem echoes that wisdom and it’s one of the reasons I adore his work. I love the language, the image it conveys and the compassion. But it has such a powerful message for us in our current state. We have well and truly “broken Nature’s social union” on a global scale and made not only our planet sick but ourselves as well. For we are Nature’s children too.

The question is, will we learn, understand and act to change? Can we celebrate Burns, not just by having a supper on his birthday once a year and reciting his words, but by taking their meaning on board and acting on them? I hope so, and if this is to happen it will be the generation of my children who will heal the break with nature that my and previous generations are responsible for.

Some Burns suppers can be very formal affairs but, of course, the whole family can enjoy his poems, the Scots language as well as the music and stories connected to them. More recently, family-friendly Burns events have been brilliant and we will miss them this year.

We will also miss our usual visit to Bolton to visit the grave of Burns’ mother, Agnes Broun, and then walk in her footsteps to the well she used close to her house by the Tyne.

But I’m going to see this as an opportunity to make a bigger meal of Burns at home: decorate the house and have a full-on Burns supper with the family; poems, dancing, stories, music and song. Skye has drawn a sad-looking mouse for this but she assures me there will be a happy ending when she tells the story of what the mouse did afterwards. And the kids are rehearsing a re-enactment of the story of Tam o’ Shanter!

I hope if you celebrate it, you can enjoy Burns Night your way, and here’s hoping that next year we can meet together once again. Whatever happens, I suspect that our enhanced at home Burns supper may become a new family tradition!

As they say, every cloud has a silver lining!

Happy Burns Night.