We are all thinking about how best to have a safe Christmas. Here in Ayrshire, my plan is a virtual dinner for the ghosts of Christmas past – famous people either from Ayrshire or who have left their imprint on it – all temporally distant of course.
My first guest would be James Keir Hardie from Cumnock, the founder of the Labour Party. You might think his companion would be one of the Pankhursts (he brought Emmeline to an ILP meeting in Cumnock in 1906) but if you listen to her accent you will notice she is from Glasgow. She is Catherine Taylor, a cinema cashier from Govan and suffragette, who came to Ayr in 1913 and burned down the grandstand at Ayr Racecourse in support of Votes for Women.
Next to them, I would seat Sir Alexander Fleming from Darvel, the inventor of penicillin and well-deserved Nobel Laureate (named after Alfred Nobel who based his explosives factory in Stevenston). Then I would have the odd couple – Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. They finished their celebrated tour of Scotland's coasts and the islands at Boswell's father's estate in Auchenleck.
Looking a bit worse for drink and feeding crumbs to his pet raven is a disheveled Edgar Allan Poe. This is his first visit back here since his school days in Irvine. Next to him is William McIlvanney, possibly Kilmarnock's most famous son, nursing a whisky and wishing he was in his favourite Goldberry Arms.
Then we have two football greats – a gruff Bill Shankly from Glenbuck who went on to huge success with Liverpool and his companion the ebullient Ally MacLeod – not from Ayr, but manager of Ayr United three times and Ayr Citizen of the Year 1973.
It probably wasn't my cleverest idea to sit Ally next to the 'old basso profundo' himself, Willie Ross, Secretary of State for Scotland in Harold Wilson's Cabinet. Lord Ross of Marnock maintains his trademark stern schoolmaster expression even when on the receiving end of Ally's cheery banter on the one hand and some musical grunts from the guest on his other side. That seat is taken by the King himself, Elvis Presley. Not many people know this but he was born in Tarbolton. Well not really, but he does have a unique Ayrshire connection. Prestwick Airport was the only spot in the UK where he ever set foot, stopping off and chatting to fans on his way home from military service in Germany.
Finally, I would reserve a place for the iconic figure of our national bard, Robert Burns, with his long-suffering wife Jean Armour alongside him. Must remember to ask him for a recitation after dinner.
History hasn't been kind to the memory of great Ayrshire women, but thanks to the efforts of people like Catherine Taylor and the suffragettes, a similar gathering 100 years from now would look quite different, with Ayrshire women like journalist Kirsty Wark, violinist Nicola Benedetti, footballer Rose Reilly and politician Nicola Sturgeon all competing for places at the table. Somehow I just don't think there will ever be room for the owner of a certain Ayrshire hotel and golf course who served briefly as President of the United States.