Spectrums of Scottishness
I have now been living in Edinburgh for 20 years. Given that I am, ahem, *nearly forty*, that means I have been here more than half my life. So, in a way, I can consider myself half Scottish.
Is there a spectrum of Scottishness I wonder? I would certainly prefer to identify as Scottish, but then, I do have a funny accent. Back in Bradford, it was considered a very mild Yorkshire accent. I was even teased for not having a proper accent at all. But up here people tend to be staggered that it has remained so strong after two decades.
I have other limits on my assimilation. I find it difficult when people pronounce ‘sandwich’ with a ‘g’ (sorry, all you sangwich lovers out there). I don’t like Irn Bru but have produced two Scottish children who love the stuff, and one of them also likes lorne sausage, so its swings and roundabouts I suppose. I will probably never understand Scottish politics, have no interest in Scottish football, but then I have no interest in English football either so that doesn’t really count.
Somewhere over the last couple of years one of the biggest transitions has happened: I now call a neep a neep. For many years I was puzzled that swedes were called turnips, moreover, I was desperate to find out what Scottish people called an actual turnip.
I have never really received a satisfactory answer, but if any English people are reading, I think Scottish people call swedes (turnips) and turnips (white turnips), despite them being entirely different vegetables. Everyone seems to rub along happily like this, so maybe it doesn’t matter.
I make my pancakes small, round, and thick now. I put jam on my toast, but not butter. “Outwith” is one of my favourite adopted words, with “skooshy cream” a close second (instead of squirty). But my bacon is ‘in a roll’ not ‘on a roll’, and that roll is still ‘mine’, not ‘mines’.
There is also a whole host of phrases I don’t know how I survived without. How did I articulate a foosty smell, or a dreich day and, most of all, what did I mean when I said I was “doing away”? I feel like doing away should be the strapline for all of us at the moment:
>>> Scotland: Doing Away >>>
Rather shamefully perhaps I’m not overly familiar with any Scots dialects, and my Gaelic is limited to what I learned in my years spent going to Gaelic playgroup. So if ever a major diplomatic incident occurs where a Gaelic speaker is needed to offer everyone some dried fruit or sing a little song about squirrels then I will be on it like a bonaid.
Of course, all this silliness aside, it has never felt so much like I had moved to a foreign country as it has done in the past couple of years. Never seemed so separate and other.
Often in a good way, as I found that the response to the pandemic here has been saner, more measured and adult, and very often something to actually be proud of.
But to have had times where I actually wasn’t allowed to cross the border and see family, as so many others couldn’t, was not a scenario I could have ever imagined 20 years ago when my mum’s car drove me into Pollock Halls and I looked up to see Arthur’s Seat for the first time under a huge rainbow.
This sense of separateness has brought the very idea of home, home to me. This really is home now. That day I saw the rainbow I said to myself: I hope I can stay here. I have been so lucky to put down roots in a city and a country I love.
To those who say you can’t be a Leither unless you were born here, well, I have been writing a column in a magazine called The Leither for several years now, and I don’t usually leave my house without bumping into someone I know, so maybe I am as much of a Leither as I will ever be. Leith is a community that welcomes even an Englishwoman with a funny accent.
So this year – if I am allowed to cross the border into England in December – I won’t be driving home for Christmas, I will be driving home after it.
A Monarch of the Glen for our times