Posted on | July 9, 2012 | 1 Comment
Scotland. Tartan. Shortbread. Whisky trails. Wee furry animals called haggis that roam the hills (yes really, it’s true). Getting blootered (for which read drunk… Scotland boasts an extraordinarily wide vocabulary when it comes to describing getting drunk. Wonder why?). Getting rained on. Eating pies, pasties, butteries, deep-fried pizza, the best strawberries in the world, scones and butter and jam. Laughing a lot. Getting laughed at a lot. Getting taken down a peg or fifty when you get above your station.
There, that last point, is a point I gave a lot of thought to (again) as I watched Scotland’s Andy Murray lose the Wimbledon men’s singles final. There had been an excellent article that morning in the Sunday Herald about how Murray “speaks to and for a new Scotland”. In the opinion of Hugh McDonald, a middle-aged hack who admits he was moulded by Old Scotland, Murray “has self-belief and is not afraid to articulate it… The voice of Old Caledonia fears such confidence, reacts with an almost angry confusion to such an open invitation to success. The New Scot proclaims that Murray has every right to have faith in himself.”
My nation is a curious one, to put it mildly. It drove out such geniuses as Billy Connolly for getting above himself, being successful. When I was a student at Edinburgh University in 1988, Connolly wasn’t even talking to the Scottish press. He talked to us, though, a lowly weekly student rag. We snagged one of the most exclusive interviews ever, backstage at Edinburgh’s Playhouse Theatre hours before he went on-stage. And then I called all the real ‘rags’ and they sent taxis along to our offices to pick up early copies of the paper. That way I knew we’d get a good splash on all the front pages the next day.
I feel it coming ‘home’. You temper your tales of warm weather and private pools and parties on the patio. You cringe when you see them cringe if you talk about it all too much. It’s vulgar to a people who were born to work hard, play hard, be the friendliest, most reliable people on Earth, yet complain and take the piss out of you and be cruel in their kindness. They can’t help themselves. Sarcasm and stamping on people’s confidence is the yin to the yang. They might throw you a bone by way of a kind word, but they’ll even it out with a sarcastic put-down, just to keep you in your place. And so one grows up with self-deprecatiion in spades; you learn to put yourself down quick before others get to you first. And my American friends don’t get it. Some of them truly hate it. They feel I’m being cruel to myself.
I witnessed a different Old Scot versus New Scot thing altogether this weekend. My parents had a mini family reunion at Crieff Hydro, a hotel that’s been around as long as I have and much, much more, and always had a great reputation (so I was excited to visit). It fascinated me, this huge stone building that thrives on traditional in its setting, history, surroundings, yet has succeeded – I think, anyway – to cross a divide between Old and New.
Rather than faded old leather sofas, there are cool new red ones.
Rather than a stag’s head, there’s subtlety in the antlers’ horns.
Rather than over-sized paintings of game and men in kilts, there are modern versions thereof.
It was dreich (for which read damp and miserable), but it didn’t stop the staff or guests. Of course not. Scots don’t let something like weather stop them. The horses were out, a giant zip-line was up, we played tennis in drizzle, and there were plastic bubbles you could secure a child into that bobbed on a pond, hamster’s-ball-like, to provide ‘watersports’.
And then home to watch the tennis and to slag off Andy Murray’s mother every time the cameras came round to her. Just because she didn’t look very friendly. Because she looked a bit arrogant. A bit above her station. How bloody dare she.
A friend of my dad’s phoned this morning while dad was out mowing his lawn.
“He’s mowing the lawn,” I said. “Shall I get him for you?”
“No, no, leave him,” his pal said. “The lawn’s badly needing it.”
I chuckled. One of my neighbors in Tucson would have said, “That’s awesome! I’m so impressed!” with exclamation marks firmly ringing in one’s ear. Not the Scots. Or not the old Scots anyway.