Yesterday morning I found myself sheltering from the hammering rain and humming Caledonia to myself (one song likely to make even non-Scots homesick for the country, and a sure fire way to ensure everyone else awaiting the bus keeps their distance). Rain reminds me of home – it’s a cliché, but it’s true. Here is Amy McDonald singing the song to which I refer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJGQ7_2g4E0 I obviously don’t sound remotely like her when I sing, but then neither would I refer to a song written in the 1970s as ‘traditional’… Just saying.
I’ve been feeling massively homesick for a few days now, ever since a friend posted some photos on Facebook. I can usually scroll past photographs of Scotland with an air of detachment – I can appreciate the aesthetics, and am reminded of happy times in places I’ve lived and visited, but it’s almost as if I’m looking at illustrations in a guide book. I guess the fact that so many pictures are over-produced – a view of Edinburgh Castle, a panorama of the Cairngorms, a west coast seascape – means that although these are places I love to visit, they are also images that I have become somewhat immune to as a result of this over-exposure. Also, lets face it – I know that the hoards of people walking painfully slowly around the castle grounds have been painstakingly photoshopped out, and as pretty as that wee stream looks, I’m aware it’s sure to be a breeding ground for midges.
The photographs that were a bit different and whacked me with a massive dose of melancholia were from a cheerful set taken in Culzean by my friend Adriana. Culzean is a castle and country park – complete with woods, deer and a swan pond – atop a cliff close to where I grew up. It was the scene of numerous family days out and yearly school trips. It was in Culzean that a dog tripped up my wee sister (hilarious, but you’d probably have to have been there) and it was there that my friend Zoe and I got hopelessly lost after ill-advisedly venturing into the woods. This was probably the first indication of my truly hopeless sense of direction. I now abide by the rule that if my gut is telling me to go left, then chances are that’s going to be wrong, so against my instincts, I turn right. As unusual as this approach to navigation may sound, it has actually proven to be pretty effective (alas, that fateful day in the woods was before I had acquired such wisdom).
Above is a sample of the photographs to which I am referring. I have no idea why I couldn’t crop the last one, I gave up after about an hour. Apologies. Upon looking at these pictures, I imagine that the majority of viewers probably won’t be able to smell the combination of plant life and sea air specific to that spot of coast. I don’t think they will be able to hear the gulls, or feel the breeze (or gale force wind as is more common). I, however, can close my eyes and imagine I am there. It’s seldom that I view a photograph that evokes such strong memories of a place, and it took me by surprise. I was shocked by the strength of my longing to be there in Culzean (possibly that was because I was about to set off for work when I first scrolled through them, but where’s the romance in that?). Typically, it is not a place I even thought to visit when I was up in Scotland over the holidays, despite it being only a few miles up the coast from my Dad’s house – close enough that we have actually walked in, on occasion (an occasion when we were feeling exceedingly energetic, but nevertheless). It’s only now that I am 400-odd miles away that I’m wishing I was there. Typical.
If you like these pictures as much as I do, you can find all of Adriana’s fantastic work here: http://instagram.com/adriana_polito1
Bizarrely, I returned from a lovely week in Scotland (friends, family, the sea, green space, Edinburgh, Aberdeen Angus steaks, the novelty of cups of tea without crunchy bits, meeting various friends’ new offspring for the first time, 35ml measures sold as standard in pubs, Irn Bru readily available for the morning after those 35ml measures, morning rolls, people who know what a morning roll is, etc.) and didn’t feel remotely homesick – I was merely glad to get back to my own bed. This longing to be home has only just crept up on me and today I’m cursing the fact that those weather Gods didn’t cause all trains in Scotland to be cancelled this time last week – I can think of worse places to be stranded, stormy or not.
It’s certainly the case that I was not fully appreciative of the country during the years I lived there. For the first eighteen years of my life, I was not grateful for the fact that I was able to look out of the window and see the sea; I merely focussed on the horizontal rain that alternatively hurt my face or rendered it completely numb. I complained bitterly that we lived 60 miles from the closest city; I didn’t focus on the amazing wide open space all around me. When I moved to Edinburgh I quickly stopped seeing the beautiful architecture and stunning views; I saw instead the hordes of irritating tourists who didn’t seem to understand the intricacies of travelling my bus or ordering a pint. It wasn’t until I moved down south and returned as a visitor that I started seeing the place through different eyes. I believe if (when) I were to move back, I would (will!) continue to be awed and thankful. I will also concede that Edinburgh is not remotely busy if you’ve ever been to London during rush hour. I’m beginning to see why some people who have lived down here all their lives but have holidayed across the border are almost accusatory when they ask me how I could have left such a beautiful place. In the past I used to get defensive (or tell them I moved down here because the hard water ensures that my hair is less frizzy) but now I just tend to let them witter on for a bit about their most wonderful visit to the Highlands and the excellent hospitality they encountered (before telling them that yes Scotland is not very populated, and yes it is rather friendly, but no I definitely do not know their great aunt Morag).
I sometimes feel that I am more Scottish now than when I actually lived there, it’s almost like I have to keep reaffirming it to myself. I have friends coming over tomorrow and am making cranachan for dessert (Google it, English friends – it’s AMAZING). I will be cooking haggis on Burns’ night, I regularly knock up a pot of Cullen skink or a batch of Balmoral chicken, and I miss nothing more than a real cooked breakfast or decent fish supper. Let’s face it, I had to get round to talking about food at some point, but these are not dishes I ever cooked or even ate on a very regular basis when I actually resided North of the border. I really don’t like to imagine what my reaction would have been had my mum ever announced that she would be serving a fish and potato soup for our evening meal…
A few months ago, I was in the centre of Reading one Saturday and a pipe band was playing. One of the things that used to annoy me most about Edinburgh was the incessant pipers and the swarms of tourists hanging around them, mesmerised, seemingly oblivious to my attempts to storm past. But on this occasion I stopped to listen. I stayed for a few tunes. I even took a leaflet and seriously considered going to see them play in a hall the following week. Ridiculous! If this ever happens again, I will see it as a definite sign that I am long overdue a visit to Auld Reekie.
To be honest, the only time I don’t feel remotely patriotic is when Scotland are involved in any sporting event. Down here, it’s somehow assumed I’m going to be cheering on my national team (or any Scottish team who happen to be playing any sport) despite the fact that I have no interest whatsoever in any sporting event. I don’t even mind a bit of casual racism – a customer at my real job (i.e. not the pub) once told me that I was being ‘as stubborn as a concrete haggis’ which could have been perceived as a little controversial but which amused me greatly. I don’t mind that certain people have expressed the belief that I choose to walk to work because Scots apparently don’t like paying for the bus, and I don’t mind explaining myself when people don’t grasp the meaning of words such as ‘boke’ or ‘fusty’, ‘crabbit’ or ‘jobby’. I don’t even really mind when I minute a meeting and all my outwiths are removed before the minutes are distributed. The only time I really wished I could have toned down my accent was in the run up the Referendum – firstly, it’s downright rude to ask someone how they’re planning to vote. Secondly, if you’d done your homework, you’d know I didn’t get a vote. Thirdly, once I’ve informed you of this, it is even ruder to argue that point with me.
I should probably finish here, it’s getting late and I can hear the wind picking up a bit. I’d better get some sleep because I’m going to need it if I’m to endure (i.e. not be crabbit towards) people who didn’t grow up on the west coast of Scotland complaining about the terrible weather…