Burns Night: a rat & a poem

Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, was born on this day in 1759 – two hundred years ago. A query came in from a Telegraph reader…. as follows:

We always have a big celebration in our house on Burns Night (25th January). Would it be OK to include my pet rats in the festivities by giving them a wee bit of haggis and some Irn Bru for supper?

From JM, Edinburgh

Interesting one… and here’s my answer:

Rats are omnivores, and it’s a good idea to supplement a standard pet shop dry mix with small amounts of table scraps from time to time. Haggis – a tasty mix of offal, oatmeal, onion and spices – would be an interesting novelty for them, but you may find that, like some humans, they don’t enjoy it as much as yourself. Don’t give them any Irn Bru – carbonated drinks should never be given to rats as they cannot burp, and the build-up of gas in the stomach could be fatal.

To finish with, here’s one of Robbie Burns’ best loved poems, appropriately enough about an animal:

To a Mouse

(Whilst ploughing on a November day, Burns ruined the nest of a field mouse. He ponders why the creature runs away in such terror)

Oh, tiny timorous forlorn beast,
Oh why the panic in your breast ?
You need not dart away in haste
To some corn-rick
I’d never run and chase thee,
With murdering stick.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
And fellow mortal.

I do not doubt you have to thieve;
What then? Poor beastie you must live;
One ear of corn that’s scarcely missed
Is small enough:
I’ll share with you all this year’s grist,
Without rebuff.

Thy wee bit housie too in ruin,
Its fragile walls the winds have strewn,
And you’ve nothing new to build a new one,
Of grasses green;
And bleak December winds ensuing,
Both cold and keen.

You saw the fields laid bare and waste,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cosy there beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash; the cruel ploughman crushed
Thy little cell.

Your wee bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Had cost thee many a weary nibble.
Now you’re turned out for all thy trouble
Of house and home
To bear the winter’s sleety drizzle,
And hoar frost cold.

But, mousie, thou art not alane,
In proving foresight may be in vain,
The best laid schemes of mice and men,
Go oft astray,
And leave us nought but grief and pain,
To rend our day.

Still thou art blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches thee,
But, oh, I backward cast my eye
On prospects drear,
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear.

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