10 Jan, 1990

A brief personal memoir of Scotland

By John Ray

While I was in Britain in 1977 I went up to Scotland a couple of times. The first time a group of us hired a car and went sightseeing. We drove all the way from London via Edinburgh, the Western Highlands and Skye to the Outer Hebrides.

The most beautiful scenery I have ever seen was Scotland's Western Highlands. I have never been much of a one for scenery but this even got to me. The only thing in Australia that I know of which comes close is the road from Cairns to Port Douglas.

We made a detour to visit the Isle of Skye. I was glad we did. It too was really beautiful. One morning I looked out the window of the bed and breakfast in which we were staying and literally saw "a bright golden haze on the meadow" there.

"The far Cuillins", on Skye

After Skye, we drove further up the coast and eventually took a Caledonian McBrayne ferry across to Harris and then drove straight up the island to Lewis. When we got to the main centre on Lewis it was 11pm but still broad daylight and we had no trouble getting accommodation at a bed and breakfast place (i.e. a private home). At the Northern tip of Lewis was a nice white sandy beach and I decided the next morning that a swim in Sub-Arctic waters would be worth a try. By the time I got in up to my knees I could not feel my toes so thought the better of it. Nobody else tried. I later did the same thing off a beach at Herm in the Channel Islands -- with similar results.

I felt rather at home on Lewis. Everyone seemed to have skin that was as fair as mine.

We broke a windscreen on Lewis so next had to get back to the mainland and drive all the way across Scotland to Inverness (on Loch Ness) to get it replaced. We did of course look for the monster on the way but what really stays in mind was what an attractive place the Loch was in summer.

The Granite City (Aberdeen) was impressive too. My wife had family there whom we visited -- complete with the old family watermill. I learned a bit about Aberdeen dialect from them. It was a fairly emotional occasion for Joy and her relatives as we were not expected and many years had passed since they had last seen one-another: The universal Scottish lament.

On the way back South, we also stopped in Dundee and we saw St Andrew's golf-course ("The home of golf").

My wife also had relatives in Glasgow whom we visited: Quite a nice occasion. I got to know a fair bit about Glaswegians and really got to like them. They are incredibly status-conscious, however. My being a Doctor went down exceedingly well! Education is, of course, the thing Scots most respect.

The most notable thing about Glasgow was that it looked as if it had just been heavily bombed. Whole suburbs were in rubble. But it wasn't the Luftwaffe that did it. It was smart-arse town-planners and Leftist social engineers. They bulldozed the "slums" such as the Gorbals. Beautiful old stone terrace houses which would have been snapped up for renovation in Australia were witlessly destroyed.

They moved the slum-dwellers out to new estates such as Easterhouse which then also became pretty slum-like. I know. I did my social survey there.

The Scots are great lovers of ritual and "the done thing". They seem to love rules. They have a custom for every occasion. I went to a party in Glasgow and it was some occasion (Halloween?) on which "Apple Dooking" was practiced. You have to grab an apple with your teeth only while it is bobbing in a pail of water. Being a rather dour sort, I did not think much of the idea so said "No thanks". To an English person that would have been it. They would have been embarrassed to press me further. Not the Scots. In the most friendly way they simply insisted. They just did not understand the idea of not doing something that was customary.

That aside I felt very much at ease among the Scots. Australians are popular there. Scots see Australians as being "enemies" or "victims" of the English -- which is also how they see themselves. As my wife and I moved around Scotland it was interesting to see how our reception changed when Scots discovered that we were not English. It was a transformation: From correct formality to warmth. I think I slightly prefer the Scots to the English. I like their greater spontaneity. Though I appreciate English reserve too. I am pretty reserved most of the time. The only thing I dislike about the Scots is their ingrained Socialism. When Mrs Thatcher came to power in a landslide, Scotland actually at the same time swung away from the Tories.

Still, Edinburgh is a lot more conservative than Glasgow (where 50% of the Scots live), so maybe I would enjoy living in Edinburgh if I could hack the climate. Glasgow has a reputation for ugliness which is undeserved. There are quite a lot of nice places in Glasgow.

When I was doing my survey in Glasgow (mainly concerned with Scottish nationalism) I tried to look up various books on Scottish nationalism in the various libraries there. One I could not find anywhere. No library had bought it, I gathered. Because of funding limits, a lot of books are hard to find in British libraries, even University libraries. When I got back to Australia the book I had been seeking was just sitting there on the shelf at the University of N.S.W. library! They could afford a book on Scottish nationalism that the Scots themselves could not. Wealth and poverty do make a difference and socialist Scotland certainly was poor when I was there.

I say a little more about my Scottish connections here