In 1997 I was invited by the Singapore St. Andrew’s Society to speak at their Annual St. Andrew’s Night Ball. It was a wonderful experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. Accordingly when I got an invitation to come back to Singapore to propose the Immortal Memory at the Society's Burns Supper I had no hesitation in accepting.
Singapore is a beautiful city, the nicest I have ever seen, the cleanest I have ever seen and the most orderly of them all. It has an area of less than 300 square miles yet it has a population roughly the same as Scotland, the majority of whom live in high rise flats. It has increased its population and its buildings beyond all recognition from 1997 yet it has maintained its breath-taking architecture, its cleanliness and all those other things which I loved about it. Probably the first thing to strike a visitor, apart from the spotlessly clean airport of Changi, is the complete absence of litter. There is just none to be seen.
The historical connections between Singapore and Scotland stretch back for nearly two hundred years and Scots have contributed much to Singapore since then. Sir Stamford Raffles is generally acknowledged as the founder of colonial Singapore, but he had in fact a co-founder, a Scot, by the name of William Farquhar. The first Governor, in 1823, John Crawfurd, was a Scot and ever since then the Scottish influence has been considerable in all aspects of life in Singapore.
Incidentally, I paid the mandatory visit to Raffles Hotel, one of the most famous hotels in the world, visited over the years by royalty and world-renowned figures and declared a National Monument by the Government of Singapore in 1987. I paid £18 for a glass of sauvignon blanc. You will understand why I had only one!
The St. Andrew's Society, which currently has a membership of around 300, was founded as far back as 1836 and has continued without interruption since then. Its objects are "to ensure the presence of a regularly constituted body of Scots to control celebrations relating to St Andrews Day, Robbie Burns' birthday and any other holidays & celebrations." It may also "relieve distressed & deserving Scots in so far as Society funds permit." There must surely have been more than just a Scots influence in the name given to our national Bard in their constitution!
The Supper was held in the Tanglin Club, an old colonial club in the heart of the City with nearly two hundred years of history. The night itself, appropriately on 25th January, was a most enjoyable one. The haggis was not imported lest there were problems with Singapore customs, but was home-made and to a particularly high standard. It was addressed in traditional mode by Derek Maggs, the Society's Chieftain, an Englishman who is eligible for membership by virtue of the fact that Alison, his wife, is a Scot. I had the honour of proposing the Immortal Memory while the Toast to the Lassies was given by Graham Hunter, a former Chieftain. The
reply, and a hilarious one at that, was given by Anne McMillan, an Ayrshire lass from Kilwinning who has been in Singapore for only the past two years.
The entertainment was provided by a musical trio called The Three Tones who had a wide ranging repertoire of not just Burns songs but of Scottish music. After the formalities were over, and when we assembled in less formal mode, we were joined by some Welshmen and some Irishmen who had been guests and a brilliant night of Celtic music ensued.
One other matter. Singapore is a meeting place for all colours, all races and all creeds yet they all live in harmony. The position was put very nicely to me by Caroleann Coventry, the Burnside-born Vice Chieftain when she told me that her daughters were metaphorically "colour blind". Would that that could be said of the rest of the world.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience and I cannot help but feel a touch of envy for the person lucky enough to be the Society's guest next year.