Thursday, January 22, 2009
All too soon it was time to leave Scotland. Being here has reminded us of much that we value about being Scottish. We are not alone in this. In the last Canadian census 4.2 million described their ethnic group as Scottish. Australians claiming Scottish Heritage trebled between the 2001 and 2006 censuses. (probably including a few McLarens and the odd MacSantich)
The bid document for the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow was titled "People, Place and Passion" and that more or less sums up what Scotland means to me. So in no particular order, my top 5 things I appreciate about Scotland.
Number 1 - Our heritage of faith. From Columba and Ninian to John Knox and the reformers, the Covenanters, the Edinburgh Missions Conferece, Mary Slessor and David Livingston, the Hebridean revivals and a host of other people and events the threads of faith have woven through the fabric of Scottish life through history and over the world. The Highland Tolbooth is my favourite spire, the highest point in the city of Edinburgh and visible for miles it is no longer a church which grieves me but it is still aspirational and inspirational.
Number 2 - The Light. Scotland has an extraordinary quality of light. In the winter it hardly gets light and in the summer it hardly gets dark. Perhaps one extreme makes you appreciate the other more. The light and the water, the water and the land - it is not just the landscape but the way it is illuminated that enhances the beauty of the scenery.
Number 3 - Our ingenuity. Graeme Obree broke cycling world records through innovative riding positions, thoughtful engineering adjustments and some bearings from his washing machine. This is in a fine heritage of Scottish invention that includes the steam engine gas lighting, the modern tyre, the bicycle, rain jacket, chloroform, television, telephone and radar. It may be the long winter nights made necessity the mother of invention. It may also partly explain the number 8 wire mentality in New Zealand.
Number 4 - Our history. There is a great line at the end of "Braveheart" where the narrator says "They fought like warrior poets, they fought like Scotsmen!".I guess the concept comes from David, King of Israel and writer of Psalms. The warrior and the poet are both part of our character. We have gone into battle against machine guns playing the bagpipes. Walking through the Scottish War museum and thinking about the thin red line, the right of the line, the Highland Division and the Scottish regiments, names and events etched in history. Walking through the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in the Museum of Scotland; Eric Liddle, Kenny Dalglish, Andy Irvine, Alan Wells names which inspired me as a child and now Chris Hoy and others for a new generation. Someone once said of supporting Scotland "It's not the despair I can't stand, it's the hope". All I can say is that it has been excellent preparation for supporting the Hurricanes. Walking the cobbled streets, thinking of all those who have tread this way before, working folk, musicians, writers leaders, wearing the stone away with the slow erosion of daily ritual. There is something special about being surrounded by this and being a part of this.
Number 5 - Our neighbours. They do make me smile. In general English comedians leave me a little cold but we watched Michael McIntyre over the holidays and parts of it were very funny indeed.
In leaving Scotland we are profoundly thankful for all our friends and family, a gratitude for our dual identity as Scots and Kiwis and some great memories. Leaving was not easy. There is much that pulls our hearts. Unlike many of our country folk we did not leave Scotland to seek a better life, we moved in response to a call. Caledonia is a special place and we continue to have a vision for our nation in the north.
The boys have coped amazingly well with being in Scotland and it seemed a little strange just being the 5 of us again. We flew to London and then on to Los Angeles.
While we were filling in the paper work for our rental car at LAX, Marcia (the service assistant at Alamo) was interrupted by a man coming in to the facility. The conversation went like this:
Man: "Have you any free cars?"
Man: "You have no free cars at all?"
Marcia: "Definitely not!"
Man: "So you have absolutely nothing available"
Marcia: "We have cars available"
Man: "You said you had nothing free"
Marcia: "We have cars available but they are not free, you have to pay for them"
Man decides to get in line.
Obviously a little linguistic misunderstanding, a bit of cultural disconnect. But it did make me wonder how often people come into the Car Rental Centre and just ask if they can borrow one. I may try it myself next time.
As well as her name tag Marcia was wearing a badge saying "Let me make your day"
She certainly made mine. You can't make this stuff up.
But one of the strangest things about travelling is that you keep bumping into people and things that remind you of people that you know from other contexts.
And yes. If you were wondering the picture of Stephen was taken a couple of weeks before we encountered Jiminy Cricket.
Just before we left Scotland Sheila Johnston left too. She was a woman who lived with Hope. (that being the name of her husband) and coninued to live with hope after his death. They were a couple who welcomed me when I first went to Davidsons Mains almost 30 years ago and she was a lively old lady with a great sense of humour who will be missed. We were glad to see her on Christmas day on one of her last outings. She walked in that heritage of faith mentioned above.