Tam O’Shanter’s big day out

In 2012 I entered a competition to re-imagine Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter in the 21st century. I had so much fun – and then I came 1st equal in the competition. Here it is. Enjoy. And if you can, make a donation to Dementia UK by clicking on the Justgiving link at the top.

Tam O’Shanter’s Big Day Out       By Fiona Dorchester


Tam got drunk and disorderly, just about every night;

a happy drunk for a couple of hours but then he’d pick a fight.

He could fight about football or fishing, fight that a king was an ace.

He could fight right into a paper bag, fight in an empty space.

He fought wi’ a lamp post in Cumnock, then staggered and fell in the street.

He was picking a fight wi’ the gutter when he spotted the policeman’s feet.


This isn’t the first time you’ve been here, said the Sheriff when Tam went to court.

It’s time you learned to hold your drink, or cut your drinking short.

I could impose a prison term, he said, as he glared at Tam.

But you might do better with counselling, to learn to keep your calm.

He fitted Tam with a tagging device – imposed an eight o’clock curfew.

Our man would have to leave the pub, no later than quarter-to.


The guy from Anger Management said, Count to ten, and then,

just turn around, walk away, and count to ten again.

His Drink Awareness buddy said Think about the cost;

every pound poured down your throat is another pound you’ve lost.

He’d been a drinker just like Tam, and what he said was true

for half Tam’s wages went on drink – Whisky and Special Brew.


Tam grumbled for the first few weeks; he missed his late night drinking.

Then settled through the winter months and did a bit of thinking.

Tam’s wife Kate was most impressed at the change she saw in her man

and spent the money he saved on drink on a fridge and a new divan.

There was a wee slip up at Christmas – he got in at five past eight,

but apart from that the months flew by and Tam was doing great.


Coylton Agricultural Show was the day that Kate had dreaded.

Tam set off with his cronies, and down the road they headed,

for a day of beasts and boozing with maybe a bet on the side;

while Kate stayed home and fretted that her man would get pie-eyed.

They’d hired themselves a minibus, so nobody had to think

how they’d get home, at the end of the day, tired and full o’ drink.


The beer tent opened at half past ten. The lads soon formed a queue

and Johnny Soutar ordered – Ten Grouse – Ten Special Brew.

Tam planned on staying sober, but it’s not an easy task

when your pals are flashing cash around, you’re awfy embarrassed to ask

for just a half of shandy – they’d have said he was being a girl,

so he knocked it back like the old days and the tent began to birl.


They took a break from drinking, to watch the Tug o’ War.

Tam cheered the boys from Auchinleck – a sturdy team of four.

Gawn yersel’ he screamed, as the boys began to pull

and then he spotted Bobby – Fat Bobby fae the school –

huffing away at the end of the rope, sweat pouring down his cheeks.

Yer losing yer troosers Fatty!  The weans can see yer breeks.


Tam thought it was hilarious, when Bobby dropped the rope,

to pull his trackie bottoms up. The team had lost all hope

of winning their heat in the contest.  Fat Bob was mortified

but full of drink and bravado, Tam was fortified.

Bob shook his fists and glowered at Tam, then tore across the field,

I’ll get you Tam O’Shanter! You’ve lost us the bloody shield.


It was clearly time to leg it, for though Tam was a brawler

Bob weighed four stone more than him and stood six inches taller.

He was known to have a temper that was just as bad as Tam’s

but he’d not been to counselling to learn to keep his calm.

They ducked behind the Ayrshire Cows and past the Charollais,

catching their breaths for a minute, by the Clydesdale ploughing display.


They lost the boys from Auchinleck, so they settled down to watch

the judging in the produce tent.  Johnny had some Scotch

disguised in a tartan thermos flask that they all took turns to slug.

When he spied the third placed carrots Tam was looking smug.

He’d raised them in his garden, when he spent his nights at home

and found he had a gift for it, loving them as they’d grown.


A strange thing happened, when they reached the runner beans.

(Tam had a Highly Commended for his favourite little greens)

He said, No thanks to Johnny, when he offered him the flask.

Johnny shrugged and turned away. He very nearly asked,

if Tam was getting soft these days, turning down good whisky,

but Tam still had a temper and mocking him was risky.


The lads went back to the beer tent when Johnny’s drink was finished.

It was a hot and humid afternoon – fluids needed replenished.

Tam had started to sober up and was feeling kind of mellow,

so he hung around in the produce tent to chat with some gardening fellow.

They talked about mulch and compost, and the best time to thin out your crop.

Shared some tales about pest control and tips they were willing to swap.


When he said Cheerio, to his new best friend Tam’s head was full of plans

for the bit of ground at the back of the house that he’d dug with his own two hands.

He thought about planting broccoli, he’d love to give marrow a go.

He’d maybe save up for a greenhouse and encourage tomatoes to grow.

He’d never done much to be proud of so it came as a pleasant surprise

to be thinking ahead to next year’s show with dreams of winning first prize.



Meanwhile, back at the beer tent, the lads were getting lairy.

They were well on the way to wellied, and Tam was right to be wary.

He’d just popped in to tell them all about his Highly Commended,

when Johnny groped the barmaid, who was young and clearly offended.

Ah wis only being friendly, Johnny moaned when she slapped his face.

Well no’ wi’ me, she countered. Ya drunken waste o’space.


Fat Bob was propping up the bar along with the rest of his team

from the Tug o’ War that ended, with Tam’s untimely scream.

They took great delight in seeing Johnny Soutar getting slapped.

They cheered the lass behind the bar and everybody clapped.

Whit dae ye dae fir an encore? Bobby boldly asked.

So Johnny staggered over, and hit him with his flask.


Oh Tam if you had listened, to Kate, your loving wife,

you’d be back home in Auchinleck away from all this strife.

She’d said, Ye know ah love you Tam. Now, dinnae be a prat.

You’ll get the jail the next time, and I couldnae cope wi’ that.

He pictured Kate in the kitchen, frying eggs and grilling bacon,

then walked away from his cronies, and the trouble they were making.


He sauntered round the show ground, patted some Highland Cows;

spent some time in the heritage tent, studying ancient ploughs.

There was a demonstration of wickerwork and a chap who was whittling wood.

There was so much more than the beer tent and Tam now understood

that he’d wasted more than money when he spent his time in the boozer.

He’d wasted more than half his life as a drinker and a bruiser.


By this time Tam was sober though his head was fit to burst

from the beer and whisky chasers and the heat just made it worse.

The pipers played Highland Cathedral to entertain the crowd

as the sun burned through a clear blue sky with barely a hint of cloud.

Tam had always loved that tune but it didn’t do much for his head,

which was pounding away in time to the beat. He wished he was home in his bed.


Right behind the portaloos was hardly the ideal choice,

but it was shaded, cool and peaceful, a haven from all the noise.

He shut his eyes to ease the pain. Twenty winks would be enough

to take the edge off his headache; he was feeling awful rough.

It came as a bit of shock, when the toilets began to shake.

He had slept for three whole hours and was only half awake.


The source of the commotion was the man from Andy’s Loos

who had come to shift the toilets. He was wearing rubber shoes

and one of those scarfs like the cowboys wear, covering up his nose.

Tam scrambled up bewildered, straightening up his clothes.

He rubbed his eyes and looked around; the field was lush and green,

but his pals, and the minibus, were nowhere to be seen.



Andy said it was half past six and the show had finished at four.

As if on cue the sky turned black – thunder began to roar.

While great big drops of summer rain came falling from the sky

Tam crumpled down upon his knees, and asked the heavens, Why?

Ah sobered up, ah did ma best. Ah didnae pick a fight

but ah’ve no’ got enough for the bus fare and ah’ll never get home the night.


I’ll give you a lift, said Andy. If you give me a hand wi’ the loos.

Despite the smell Tam jumped at the chance; an offer he couldn’t refuse.

By the time they’d finished loading he was soaked right through to his vest.

The lightning flashed and thunder roared but Tam was feeling blessed.

It was half past seven when they drove out past the gates;

dripping wet and stinking, Tam was heading home to Kate.


Sydney Devine was singing Tiny Bubbles In The Wine.

Andy sang along with him – Feeling mighty fine.

He claimed to be Sydney’s biggest fan, while crunching through the gears,

and said his all-time favourite was The Chrystal Chandeliers.

The windscreen wipers kept the beat as they drove on through the storm.

In Auchinleck Tam’s tea was in the oven, keeping warm.


They’d just turned on the Barony Road when they saw a breakdown truck

hoisting the infamous minibus. Tam couldnae believe his luck.

His cronies stood there stranded – between a puddle and a ditch,

looking somewhat worse for wear; trying to hitch a lift.

Is that the lot that left you? said Andy, with a grin

and drove right through the puddle, soaking them through to the skin.


And so we come to the end of the tale, for Tam got home on time

at the end of a day that had been both ridiculous and sublime.

Kate was black affronted when the toilets turned up at her door,

till she saw that Tam was with them, and she realised he was sober.

He looked and smelt like something else, as he dawdled up the path,

but Kate just smiled and sent him, up the stairs, to have a bath.


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