My life-partner came from Glasgow and we made many trips to Scotland during our time on Earth together, and I made a few since. Although he came to London when he was in his teens and lost his Glaswegian accent, we of course kept in touch with his relatives who we visited, and who came down to visit us.
On our trips to Scotland we visited his many relatives in Easterhouse and Drumchapel, vast council housing schemes built after the Second World War to replace the bombed-out buildings and the slums. Unfortunately these areas were not exactly Welwyn Garden City or Hampstead Garden Suburb. Gangs roamed the streets – on my first visit up there George’s nephews told me if stopped in the street to say I was a member of such-and-such gang. As if I with my London accent would be believed, though now after many visits with his relatives I could at least attempt a Glaswegian accent.
On my first visit I could hardly understand a word they said. Not just the broad Glaswegian accent (think Rab C. Nesbitt from the TV sitcom), but the local slang. Talking of Rab C. Nesbitt, George’s brother-in-law Chick was the spitting image complete with string vest, and his son Charles took after him.
Glaswegians have a language all their own so at first I couldn’t understand what on Earth they meant by ‘the weans’re greetin” or ‘Ah’m away oot fer messages’. I didn’t know what a ‘fish supper’ was, nor ‘tatty scones’ or ‘a piece’n'gammon’.
Visiting his cousin Margaret and her husband John in Dalmuir, a kind of suburb of Clydebank just outside Glasgow, she’d talk of being ‘away up the factor to complain about the middens’ or come out with phrases like ’he’s a query!’ At first I thought she meant the neighbor was a gay man, but she just meant a misfit or someone she couldn’t make out – a mystery man who she didn’t like because she thought he was up to no good.
Dogs were ‘fly’, meaning clever. Everyone was a republican and a Socialist it seemed, which suited me and George as so were we. All except cousin Margaret who actually admired Maggie Thatcher. Cousin Margaret had a heart of gold, however, and would help anyone in need. She and John always made us very welcome in their home, as indeed did all George’s relations.
Just outside Glasgow, easily accessible by local train to Balloch, is beautiful Loch Lomond dominated by Ben Lomond. We had trips to Inverness, Loch Ness, Oban and Fort William in the Highlands, also to The Trossachs, but nothing could beat the beauty of Loch Lomond.
I’d also been on a CND march to Faslane on Gare Loch, sleeping the night on a school floor in Dumbarton, but this was before I’d met George or his relations. This march was to protest the British Polaris base at Faslane. An American Polaris base was situated on the Holy Loch. Why Scotland should be made a target for Soviet nuclear missiles was a source of great anger for Glaswegians and the surrounding area especially, for these two nuclear armed submarine bases were quite near Scotland’s second city.
George often took me to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. That is the real Scottish city of culture with its Edinburgh Festival and much more refined culture. True Glasgow has a fine art gallery and its Citizens Theatre, both of which we also visited, but if you wanted culture you headed East to Edinburgh. There you had the historic Royal Mile around the Castle, Holyrood House, and Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano rising in the center of the city, which we climbed on at least one occasion. Also in Edinburgh was Miller’s Walk, not named after my partner’s family apparently. It led to a delightful countryfied pathway along by a river, one of our favorite Edinburgh walks.
On one holiday we stayed in George’s nephew’s caravan at Kinghorn, the other side of the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. We went into Edinburgh by train for the Festival, and after seeing a fringe production missed the last train back and had to await the first train in the morning. After a night without sleep we almost missed our stop and ended up in the Highlands.
Dundee was another place we visited, home of the Beano and Dandy, and also The Broons, a cartoon strip from a Scottish Sunday paper which George liked. All written in the local dialect of course.
So I still feel an affinity to Scotland. George once took me to Crawford Street in Partick, West of the city center, where he was brought up. His whole family lived in tenement blocks in that street, including his cousin Margaret. I once saw a reproduction of a typical Glasgow tenement flat in the local museum, complete with a bed which pulled down from the wall. The entrances to the blocks, and the more modern ones in Easterhouse and Drumchapel, are known as ‘closes’. Not much was left of Crawford Street as a new housing estate had been built, but his old school was still there in ruins, about to be demolished, so I saw the playground where young George used to play. Also still standing was the old Orange Lodge building which his father was a member of. Like Belfast and Liverpool, there is a strong Protestant/Catholic rivalry in Glasgow and Orange marches. This rivalry is also kept alive by the two big football teams, Celtic and Rangers. What George’s father thought when his daughter Betty married a Catholic, and all the children were confirmed in that faith, I don’t know. He did die when George was still a teenager, and George’s mother had died when he was very young.
Unfortunately longevity is not helped by the local lifestyle of heavy drinking and poor diet, fried food being the staple diet. ‘Weans’ visting us in London would turn their noses up at meat, two veg and gravy, not at all liking this foreign muck. They much preferred sausage and fritters (basically hamburger and chips) or ginger (fizzy drinks) and sweets from the local Indian shop.
I still keep in touch with George’s relatives, though he died 20 years ago. I have not, however, been up to Scotland for a long while. His nephew and some others visit me occasionally, and I’m referred to as his uncle, which is nice.
I’ve always found the Scots a very friendly people who always made me feel welcome, and also my mother who has visited up there as well. Many of George’s relatives have now died, but those that remain keep in touch in various ways.
Scotland now has its own Parliament and a more progressive national government than the UK as a whole. Once a supporter of independence for countries like Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, the Basque region, etc. I now am more of an internationalist, so would prefer these all become member states along with England of a United States of Europe. Northern Ireland should, of course, be reunited with the Republic and become a unitary state of the EU.
This brings me, finally, to other countries which I feel an affinity for, and in the EU these include France and Germany. I’ve always got on with the people from both these countries, and learnt a few words of their respective languages. Paris is one of my favorite cities, and was George’s (he lived there for a time). The Germans are just so efficient and straightforward. They are the ones who made imperfect Soviet-style Socialism work best in the old GDR (East Germany) which I visited twice.
Scotland, Germany, France, USA and the old USSR – these are all countries or super-states I felt an affinity with for various reasons. Scotland, however, is the place I have family connexions with thru my ‘out-laws’. There were no civil partnerships while George was alive, so they can’t legally be described as ‘in-laws’, but they were more friendly than some of my legal English ‘in-laws’!
Best of all was to experience an old-fashoned Scottish Hogmanay back in the early 1970s. The partying went on for two or three days, and having black hair at the time I was sent to neighbors ‘first-footing’. It was a wonderful experience, with neighbors dropping in, and an old granny from next door who they kept putting to bed and who kept getting up again to drink some more and carry on partying. Happy memories, though George drew the line at neighbors dragging us out of bed early the next morning to carry on drinking in the local pub. He said Scottish pubs at New Year of all times were not the place to be, especially as the drinking there and at home went on all day and thru the next night.
‘Youse Sassenachs cannae keep up wi’ us!’ Ha ha! George had lived in London so long he was often mistaken for being English, but always retained a love for Scottish delicacies like tatty scones and Scottish black pudding, which I developed a liking for too. I’ll ask my nephew to bring some down next time he comes – oh and a big Scottish meat pie from the local butcher – you don’t get food like that down here. The only butcher near me is Hal-al, and the local meat stall at the Saturday market doesn’t sell meat pies.