The Conan Doyle Case Book

The Conan Doyle Case Book EP5: Susan Cohen

November 25, 2021 Ewan Irvine Season 1 Episode 5
The Conan Doyle Case Book
The Conan Doyle Case Book EP5: Susan Cohen
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ewan Irvine stays closer to home in this episode as he interviews Susan Cohen, director of The Wee Book Company. They discuss Scotland's most famous bard, Robert Burns.  

Burns' work often has supernatural themes as you'll know from Address to the Deil, The Vision and of course, Tam O' Shanter. In 2020 Susan published,  The Wee Book O'Burns, which is a series of quotes from the bard's work.  As with all Wee Book Company publications, its intent is to uplift and inspire readers with a Scottish twist. 

Ewan has known Susan for a long time. He even wrote for The Wee Book Company - a title called, Scotland's Witches and Wizards.   Listen in as they reminisce about old times and revisit some of their own supernatural experiences.

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Ewan Irvine  0:04  
Welcome to the Conan Doyle case book where there's always a story to tell.

Unknown Speaker  0:29  
Welcome to

Ewan Irvine  0:30  
the Conan Doyle case bukan. This week we are talking about Robert Barnes. And as we're Susan Cohen, founder and owner of the weed company, and an interest in Robert Barnes who was actually born in the 21st of January 1759, and each of them later men, but also the timer's superstition and the belief in the supernatural were intertwined with everyday life. And today, we will be exploring some of these stories. Hello, sue them.

Susan Cohen  1:06  
Hello, how are you?

Ewan Irvine  1:08  
Not bad at all? No, your interest in Robert Burns Tell me more.

Susan Cohen  1:15  
I love Robert Burns, there's that I don't think I've ever made a secret about that. And I and millions of other people around the world. Do you know he's one of our most famous experts. And during his life, he was the first poet in the English speaking world to reach the status of a rock star. And it was all the word remarkable because he was born into poverty. He was referred to during his lifetime as the heaven taught ploughman. Isn't that amazing? And in fact, you know, hot one of his pieces of work is the most performed piece of work, poetic work in the world which think that is

Ewan Irvine  2:05  
someone Shantha

Susan Cohen  2:07  
note something that we all sing every year. Auld Lang zine? Auld Lang zine is the most performed poetic work around the world. And can you think of any other poets in the world where we get together once a year to celebrate his life and work? That's Translate is his is a phenomenon, and it grows and grows and grows every year into something truly special. So yeah, he lifted your legacy when you talk about bone, so you're cured. Because there's a lot of debate readers about his life, the way he lived it, and the way he treated people, particularly women. So when we talk about burns and his work, it's really important to make sure that you say, You know what, you can be a fan of his work without making any judgement call, model or other words, on his life choices. And just the statistics talk alone, the man had 12, noon children, by four women in and countless others were discarded by the recites. So it is really important to add that caveat when you're talking about birth.

Ewan Irvine  3:26  
So there was a sentence of Robert Barnes and today possibly, absolutely.

Susan Cohen  3:31  
One of the very famous Yeah, one of the very famous, multi millionaire designers in the world whose name escapes me, quite frankly, at the moment, he discovered that he was a descendant of Robert Burns is somebody like Hugo Boss or somebody like that. And he kept it secret for a long time because the family regarded it as a deep shame.

Ewan Irvine  3:56  
And yet, he's one of the most celebrated poets. No.

Susan Cohen  3:59  
But you know, I think that's the thing about burns. He is an absolute paradox when you read through his work so. So what would you do during COVID lockdown apart from just sit down and read the whole of the poetic works, which I did last year when I was writing the book about it, and writing a book about his work and paraphrasing some of his work, to be perfectly honest with you. And when you start reading through his work, poem after poem, letter after letter, song after song, you realise that the mud is a was I always speak about it with the present tense because to me, he's alive, you know, his work lives underneath. But actually such a paradox. You know, if you met him on a good night, he was probably the best fun in the pub ever. Up there given it so I'm leaving the community sinning but if you met when a bad day, he'd be in the corner probably weeping into his beer, and you'd have to carry him home because he'd be in the depths of despair. He oscillated between love and hate, and joy and despair, and pride and shame, all of those things we know because what he left behind, he wrote with his heart on a sleeve. And he wrote with a bravery and an honesty that, to be honest with you would meet your eyes, water,

Ewan Irvine  5:20  
and acid. Because, you know, he was brought up in a time where we're talking about superstitions and superstitions handed down through family, and that belief in the supernatural, so he must have been brought up with that, and some of the stories he would have heard all these stories at the time.

Susan Cohen  5:38  
Yeah, that's to say, didn't mean to cut you out there. So he carry on.

Ewan Irvine  5:44  
So he would have been brought up with these very much at the time. And these stories handed down through family, which I understand affected them in life and appearance, and then the odd poem or two that he has.

Susan Cohen  5:58  
Yeah, that's absolutely true. So I think there's there's two things there. The first thing is that religious imagery in that time, in that time occurred, constant was a constant in terms of literature that's been left behind. And so as you know, and I know that without when you you, it was church, or you go to your place of worship, you talk about life and death, as easy as breathing. So there's no small conference, no small conversation to be had around religion, that's for sure. The concept of life and death, death is always going to be there. In terms of a folklore, which car goals, and the concept of the living demo, actually. And those were concepts that were very much ingrained in the society of the tape, and burns his mother, and his childhood nurse, actually, a lady called Betty Davidson. And she she regaled the child heavily with the family heavy heavily with tales of witchcraft, which is the word warlocks. And as he was growing up, and so for certain, he also lived in times, of course, when you do the witch hunts and northern Scotland, so So yes, that is something that is certainly sort of circulating as he was leading. such thing as historical fact. All we're talking about here is the interpretation of the work he left behind. But you can see that there's a degree of spirituality in the way in which he writes that's for sure.

Ewan Irvine  7:51  
So once you cite a religious man,

Susan Cohen  7:55  
you know, he did talk about legend, how long, there's a point called holy Willie's clear. And you would think just from the title, it was, it was all about the sort of celebration, if you like, of religion, in fact, that particular point is all about the, to face nature, the duplicitous nature, sometimes of people who hold my sails out to be religious, and then imply that they're not, in what he hated most of all, was, was somebody who was to feast, they presented themselves to the world one way, and in fact, that's not what they were at all. And he certainly was somebody who talked about God, who talked about the release of death. Sometimes, when he was in despair. He talked about the spectre of death, sometimes when he was, you know, buying the joy, how he felt as a person who knows, but certainly, he talks about religion. And he wrote about religion, almost as easy as, as being, to be honest with you. Yeah.

Ewan Irvine  9:03  
And he had a normal feature in these forms, WhatsApp thread that comes through them from his child to these beliefs and these experiences.

Susan Cohen  9:13  
Well, you know, that's really interesting. I've looked at a couple of points in CC reaching for their book. I'm still one of those people, you and it still has got hardcopy books.

Ewan Irvine  9:26  
I love that feel of turning the pages,

Susan Cohen  9:29  
turning the pages? Well, you know, there are collections of poems which had been grouped into certain headings, and one of the headings is in Burns and the supernatural. And I think, I'm not quite sure if I'm being honest with you, but I look through them I'm not quite sure whether in fact, the Supernaturals we we would interpret them you know, we would interpret ghosts and Spectres and also Again it is an interpretation thing but certainly with deeply spiritual nature of the world with a sixth dimension, if you like, I think possibly does doesn't occur in it and nothing more obvious than in Tableau O'Shanter in Tableau centres that Bemis nada to blame, isn't it? Where Tom has one too many, and then goes home on his horse. And then on his horse when it comes past Halloween turn, he encounters witches and warlocks in the dance. And those want to be just me but it's just to see this. This is, I think very evocative of the belief of another world. And I'll touch on that other worldliness the minute Warlocks and witches in a dance knee Kati on Brent knew from France, but hornpipes jigs, strategies and reels put life and metal in their heels or when it bunker in the east, there's that old Nick in the sheep of a beast. A Tozi take black and lo to be the music was his charge. He screwed the pipes and garden Scotto to and rafters. coffins stood around like open places that showed the dead in their last dresses. There is nothing more evocative is there than see all 10 coffins with dead people living in their last dresses. But casting up of spirit, I think does feel that we but you will have preparation for today. I did come across a study which I wonder what you think of it. But it seems that in fact, when he was writing timeless Shanter, he was touching upon the notion of what used to be called and still is called still are called thin places. Have you heard of those?

Ewan Irvine  12:24  
The thin places I've heard of such things as the thin veil and and we talk about Halloween in the feelers than us.

Susan Cohen  12:33  
Well, you know what, in ancient times the notion of thin places was used to describe those places where the distance between this world Yeah, and another collapses. And it was often used in a religious sense to Scotland but Anala we were Robert Burns was born. But when he said even with Thomas Shanta, the real and the imaginary for him, felt very close together. And I find that absolutely fascinating, don't you because there's still that debate about standing stones, for example. And we've talked about the way we've talked about how certain your cows in certain places feel different. And it's not using a conventional five senses use taste and your your your your your sense of smell wherever that sixth sense, you can't put your finger on it. But you know, that there is something spiritually different from that place compared to others. Do you feel that?

Ewan Irvine  13:36  
Yes, exactly. And

Susan Cohen  13:39  
examples of being in what you would think of 10 places?

Ewan Irvine  13:44  
Yes, you have places that are very, very atmospheric and it's very difficult to explain some of the feelings that you get or to put them into words, if that makes sense. And certainly I'm thinking of such places, as you know, a year ago visited the standing stones that come out and on the West Coast. And for something, it was very peaceful. But there was something very atmospheric and kind of went through your sort of speak towards

Susan Cohen  14:21  
Yeah, I have to say, I think one of the theories about something like Thomas Shanta is that when he comes across Halloween, in the middle of the night, and even though you know, Thomas shanties had a few just when too many ankle foo, I think was the word ankle boot, awfully happy. And there was just something which was almost a portal to the other world and that that sense of other worldliness often does underscore Burns's writing and you He does talk about in depth sometimes being a release for the poor man, the working man, he was, he was a great person talking about the struggles of poverty, and the struggles of men and women simply to survive those days. And he does talk about, you know, the sense of, of death being released. Now, you would only really talk about death being reliefs, if you had a deep sense of spirituality. And so I think that in itself, perhaps, for me, is the most persuasive evidence that he was a deeply spiritual.

Ewan Irvine  15:38  
And so I was reading as well that those are format, I'm not going to address the devil, but I know the devil is not pronounced as that but as a poem that pokes fun at folk beliefs about the devil and as common poetic framework of the time. So he really does go out to pick, he does,

Susan Cohen  16:00  
he does he, he cast the deals, he put the deals or whatever the excise man perhaps is the one that you're thinking of, he worked as an excise running because the deals a lot of deals, deals a lot with the excitement. The deal, that the devil the deal is is is quite a Spectre, you know, it lurks through his poetic words, and all that sort of Verity and Thomas Shan turn, that, of course, is the deal. Who see those are casting at the scale of the pipes. And so it's, it's a sensory thing as well. He's hearing things, he's seeing things. He's writing for his life that, you know, the witches that coming out, and then one of the witches he becomes attracted to because she's really in a really short skirt. And, you know, it's just relentless, relentless, relentless, something extraordinary about this work, always, always, always, always, always, extraordinarily. You have found the passage about death as well in terms of spirituality again, extraordinary, you wrote something called a man was made to mourn. And he says, this last part as last as last stanza, he says, All death the poor man's deepest pain, the kindest, the best will come the hour our My Aged limbs are lead with lead with the heart rate. So to embrace the concept of death, I think is interesting.

Ewan Irvine  17:42  
Like he had that deep belief that there was something else there the release a better life, whether it was that fitness place, or what he described.

Susan Cohen  17:57  
A little bit of the Vedran Diane Jolie, isn't it? Or at least

Ewan Irvine  18:04  
he has, of course, connections with Edinburgh, but we often talk about it being such a small world and the spooky scenarios that happen. And of course, a few weeks you were doing a video on Robert Barnes. And some of them that was fairly associated in his life was that of Clarinda. And if you were doing this video from him, I remember watching the sunrise, this is where my grandparents lift. This was in the very host the very spot the state and so who was Clinton.

Susan Cohen  18:38  
But then there was a lady called Agnes Mackel horse. The reason that she's so and part of our culture is because she is Burns's, Nancy and Nancy was referred to in one of the greatest lab rooms out volt ain't called he formed kits. And a phone case was written as a farewell to Nancy and Nancy lived on Carlton hill at one point Yeah, and you're in your you're gonna impedance but I believe

Ewan Irvine  19:13  
Yeah, just at the bottom when we was speeding to flats No, but such an old an old building and I never knew that until after we moved down

Susan Cohen  19:23  
yet suddenly our piece of history just there I was filming couldn't that couldn't does graveside reasonably refer to as Clarinda was that she burns exchanged love letters and poems. She was very educated, very smart lady. And she she really didn't match him word for word sometimes. And, and the pet names, which is which is something that happened at time. So Miranda and Clarinda would relate to one another. So her headstone, which to be honest with you, and I don't mean missa but it did, we will accommodate Kurt one night we were kirkyard we were filming there were groups of visitors being shown around the kirkyard you know this and we were standing there the whole time and nobody came near clynder It's a very small, very, you know, quiet to be like good eat but extremely important to their culture. Yeah so so that beautiful and passage where burns right on there blame my parcel fancy. Nothing could resist my Nancy. But to see her was to love her love but her love for ever. Beautiful

Ewan Irvine  20:46  
is that. So that's absolutely I mean, when you look at his poetry, it's just something it kind of hits that mirror if it hurts the inside. And you can help to be carried away with the emotion at times as timeless as

Susan Cohen  21:03  
you can get. On the other hand, they talk about the poetry that he was absolutely poetry from the heart. Every bit was wrapping with a motion. I mean, the Selkirk grease for example, you know, some heavy meat and kind of eat and some would eat that want it but we hear meat and we can eat so little The Lord be thanking, you know, the depth in for lights. Just for you know, for at least it's it's it's extraordinary. The man was artists, the likes of which possibly we haven't seen since possibly, we'll never see again. Not that bias Dylan.

Ewan Irvine  21:49  
Do you think to say 200 years time when you're long gone? And there's other generations? Do you think bonds will be just as important then?

Susan Cohen  21:56  
That's a lovely question. I genuinely believe so. Jamie, you know, I honestly honestly do believe so I believe that his poetry is timeless because it addresses the fundamental human emotions of love, loss, and pain, and shame, and depression, and elation and pride in your country. And the suspicion of people really pretend to be something they're not all these basic things I should imagine are going to be timeless. When he died in 1796. And we're in you know, 2021 You know, I, he's going strong. I think probably Elon Musk was strong.

Ewan Irvine  22:45  
I mean, he said that about life and how he looks at that he really takes life back to its bare bones, in many ways, all the emotions and what everybody deals with. It definitely hits it on the head. And he really does as well.

Susan Cohen  23:01  
He really does. And he was, he was many different people, which which, that that matters, a theory that I've got about myself and all sorts of, you know, everybody else and like you and I both know that the person is not fixed. So you're not one personality type. You are many personalities wrapped up in one piece of humanity here, you know, so Benz was both card and bounder, but also killing lover. He was great friend, but also he was, you know, he was a loner. He was sociable yet he was shy, he was so many different things. And I think what marks the most different was the fact that he was believed enough to protect completely all out there warts and all.

Ewan Irvine  23:51  
And that's the thing about now you have a broken bones however you

Susan Cohen  23:57  
have. It's called the Book of burns the Bard, and it's published by the book company. You can find us at the new book And we're on Facebook constantly. Are we constantly constantly

Ewan Irvine  24:14  
on Facebook the whole constantly

Susan Cohen  24:16  
on Facebook? And yeah, I was lucky enough to ask him to be asked by the National Library of Scotland to do a talk on Scottish humour which touched upon burns for burns night last year. So that's on YouTube, so yeah. All over that. Did you have

Ewan Irvine  24:36  
your burn speech? Sure. To the bonus software, I seem to remember as well, haven't you?

Susan Cohen  24:41  
I have a new and I once the world opens up again, I've been talking about doing burns, suppose Heather and did there are all sorts of people. Because one of the real the real conundrums, I think, is that you know, it's certainly done and you know, once a year but to perfectly honest with you why he celebrated all year he kicked up his heels. That just was the year all year. I don't know why our celebrations should always just be confined to one

Ewan Irvine  25:16  
day and yet we sang as for say one of his popular ones, Hogmanay and, and also other points during the year we seem to sing online zine as well at times.

Susan Cohen  25:28  
Such an emotive thing. You know, shoot all the Queens up forgot. It's such an emotive thing, or binding people together, we even know that we hold hands. And then it's not enough for us to wardens, we actually get closer and we cross her arms, and we pull people closer to us.

Ewan Irvine  25:48  
I was about to ask that very question. Because always wondered why we hold hands. And then we crossed the hands and bring everybody

Susan Cohen  25:55  
it's bringing people in. And that I think, is, is a very burns thing. You know, you're never going to be able to read burns at a distance, there's no such thing as being able to hold him at arm's length. And that's translating into our anxiety. And I, I feel that somewhere. He is watching See, and you know, look at me, I'm still alive in different ways. I'm still there.

Ewan Irvine  26:25  
And again, 200 years time, we may still be singing that song, every hope, money and other times through the year. It's quite a, it's quite a thought, actually,

Susan Cohen  26:35  
such an achievement, isn't it such a legacy, fortunate legacy for someone who lives such a short life to have left such or not. And I have to say it's a real life lesson because he was very ill. He experienced real ill health and his life and he was an artist in a hurry. In the same way, as I remember David Bowie, when he knew he was dying, started writing and writing and producing his art because he knew his time was limited. Burns knew that from an early age, he had rheumatic fever when he was a child, was actually quite weak disposition. So he really he wrote so much, he wrote on all sorts of things, you know, notebooks and he even even had a diamond pen and he would write on windowpanes. He wrote, he wrote, he wrote, he wrote, therefore, he has given us this massive volume of work,

Ewan Irvine  27:26  
and wonders of he realised quite the legacy he would leave

Susan Cohen  27:31  
you. That's a really brilliant, brilliant point. He, I think, there is evidence to suggest that he was very much aware of his own brilliance. And I love the fact that he was called the BART.

Ewan Irvine  27:47  
And that's a lovely thing

Susan Cohen  27:48  
is that even though he died, poverty, the fact that he was aware that he was in some way, going to be celebrated after he was gone. That's, that's that gift? I think. So. And we,

Ewan Irvine  28:04  
again, a fascinating subject. Well, thank you very much. Welcome. And I know there's so much we could talk about. And I know there's other subjects, you're interested in spirituality, hypnotherapy, everything's would be great to talk about that in the future as well. Lovely, Susan's really good company. Thank you very much.

Susan Cohen  28:27  
You're welcome. Take care.

Transcribed by

Robert Burns
Tam O'Shanter
Burns and Spirituality
Love and Poetry