Bitter Together..?

wullie It started over breakfast one day, I suppose. My little love affair, that is. We were having porridge to be precise.. Yes, that’s where my fascination with Scotland began. When I was growing up, in the north of England in the 60’s, there were two types of porridge on offer. Quaker Oats and Scot’s Porridge Oats. Was I more drawn to kindly gentleman with long white hair and big hat, or the muscle-man with in the vest and skirt? It was a no brainer, my not so very old brain decided. Muscleman in vest beats old man in hat, every time..

Then there was the kid at primary school who I was pals with for a bit. Tommy, who spoke funny. He said that he had ‘bay-cun en ay-ags fi bray-akfust’. I loved how he spoke.. And I envied his fried bray-akfust. He’s moved here from Scotland, my mum said. And no, you can’t, you’ll have porridge.. I was also extremely fond of an album that we had in the house, 20 Scottish Melodies. I listened to it often, relishing the cheery jauntiness of Roamin’ in the Gloamin’, and the sad-sounding Loch Lomond, as a prelude to the silly stuff,  Stop Your Tickling, Jock! and Donald Where’s Your Troosers?, then I would get flushed and giddy, dancing around, and, of course, dropping my troosers..

My growing fascination with things north of the border, was further fuelled and nurtured by my mum’s love of crosswords. The regular newspaper in our house, was the Daily Mirror. But come the weekend, a strange and exotic thing called The Sunday Post, would arrive. My mum had put it on regular order, because, she said,  it had a good crossword. I liked it too,  for the great comic strips, Oor Wullie and The Broons, and for the funny expressions and words they used, like that kid, Tommy at school. As I got a bit older, I began to dip in to some of the  Sunday Post’s, folksy brand of news stories. A neighbourly dispute about a dog and a garden, in Motherwell, or a local pub’s collection for an old lady who’d been robbed, in Airdrie. It was full of  heart-warming stories, that breathed life into place names that I’d heard read out loud every Saturday tea-times, during the ‘Classified Football Results’

But it was during my mid-teens that my imagination got really fired up about Scotland. Then my ideas of the place started to change, becoming informed by the comedy of Billy Connolly, (his early stuff, like The Crucifixion) and the bleak, but compelling TV Play For Todays, written by Peter McDougall. (Just a Boy’s Game, The Elephant’s Graveyard etc). The quaint, homespun stories, gentle advice columns and shortbread recipes of The Sunday Post, became overwritten by more exciting tales, told of a crackling, thrilling, and yes, dangerous, landscape, full of hard-bitten, often witty and sharp, characters, that reminded me of where I came from myself, but with another edge, which I was very much drawn towards.

Also noteworthy around this time, was one particular school speech day, when our guest speaker was the late, straight talking, trade union activist, Jimmy Reid, who I remember being much more inspiring than the speaker the following year, Edward Heath! And right at the top of my Scottish influences, was my musical idol, the sensational Alex Harvey. I hung on every glottal stop and rolled R sound of his Glaswegian accent. I was lucky enough to see him live a couple of times and he made me wish that I actually was from Scotland . By the age of 16,  Scotland, had become a richly characterful and tantalising prospect in the mind of this northern English kid. It was cool, it was edgy..

However, when I eventually did visit for the first time, in the early 80s, to do a gig on Glasgow’s fabled Sauchiehall St, it was a bit of an anti-climax. The venue was a somewhat twee arts centre, The Third Eye Centre. Don’t get me wrong, they were a lovely, appreciative audience, but Glasgow wasn’t quite what I’d built it up in my mind to be. It would be a year or so before I would return, and that time, and many many more times after that, to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen etc, the place and it’s people met all my youthful expectations. I had some of my funniest, warmest, drunkenist and most memorable times there. And a few scary ones, too..

I always felt I fitted in, after all, I have the hair and skin colour to pass for a local, and although I’ve never gone into it, I have heard tell that there is some Celtic on my dad’s side. Maybe one day i’ll check.. Scotland has always felt independant to me, and as an Englishman, I would never presume to tell a native which way they should vote on the 18th. I know people on both sides of the Yes/No divide and they are equally as passionate and well-meaning in their arguments. But amongst some English folk now, there seems to be a kind of Steptoe and Son-like inter-dependence thing going on, with a sort of resentment of the idea of Scotland leaving, for slightly fearful and selfish reasons perhaps? Stay Scotland, they seem to be saying, stay and we can be bitter together..

Well, whatever happens, Scotland, I will always feel the same about you. We have a lot of history after all. So, if I wake up after the final vote count, and you’re gone, I know we’ll always be freinds and there will be no hard feelings. But if you’re still here, well, how about I make you bray-akfust? I’ll make whatever you want, be it fried, or something healthier. Oats maybe? From the box with the muscleman man in the vest and skirt on, of course.

P.S. Though you wouldn’t have seen a nod to him at the Commonwealth Games ceremony recently, nevertheless, Alex Harvey  is undoubtedly one of Glasgow’s greatest sons. You may have heard tracks like Faith Healer or Framed, but allow me to offer you this lesser known track, No Complaints Department. It’s Alex at his most guttural, sardonic, wailing best. The song, a painfully personal one,  (..saw my best friend die in a plane crash, my brother was killed on the stage..) was reputedly his last ever studio recording with SAHB, and the story goes that Alex broke down in tears afterwards. The sentiment of the song seems to be that, at the end of the day, shit happens, and you just have to get on with it and count your blessings. But to me, the idea of there being no complaints department, chimes with the political climate and feeling in the U.K. at the moment, that none of the mainstream political parties are really representing common people at all. Who can they turn to? No complaints department, indeed..


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