Friday, September 14, 2007

Scotland and kitteh thieving

(I is stealin' my neighbour's kitteh.)

As I child, I assumed I was Scottish.
There were two reasons for this.
Firstly, the mother did highland dancing. There were photographs of her, with her lovely hair in long curls, wearing Scottish national dress. In one, a portrait, close up you can see her hat and brooch and her dreamy smile, the one she had before her world was turned upside down. In the other, she is dancing, and you can see the kilt, and shoes.

Secondly, my name is Celtic, from Fionn. (Yes, its not really a French name, though it is my nickname and many call me by that name exclusively).
It means fair, and white, which I am. There are a string of us stretching way back, fair haired, blue eyed, long of face.

When I used to travel to London, I stayed with friends in a lovely house, in which also resided two scottish girls, both named Fiona. We had a lot of fun with the two Fionas, mainly playing tricks on the small Fiona. Of the four Scots in the house, only the smaller Fiona had an actual accent: the others had these improbable English accents which they assured me they had acquired at Stirling University. Being an Australian idiot I didn’t get the joke, but I did like leaving notes for the smaller Fiona to find upon returning from a night out: along the lines of “another Australian has called in to stay and I am bonking him in your bed” just to listen to her torrent of rapid-fire scottish accented fury.

one time I travelled up to Edinburgh. By train.
It was raining, but I was excited to think I would be among my forebears.
I phoned Sydney from a phone booth, feeling the homesickness one gets on the other side of the world, to be greeted by a long pause and the electronic hum of thousand of miles in a cable. News that the friend with whom I was hoping to meet back in London had been killed in a road accident.

I went and ate soup in a little café and cried, which seemed to drape Edinburgh in a gauze of sorrow: I walked around dazed, in veils of rain. When I returned to London, back to the scottish Fionas and the English others, I told them I had to leave unexpectedly. I booked a flight to Venice, and fled to a convent on the Guidecca, where there was sun and camomile to lighten the haze.
I saw the Scottish Fionas back in London a year later: piling towels in Small Fiona’s bed to make a hump, leaving a note to say that some guy I had met was asleep in her bed, but we had finished carousing. She still fell for it, amazingly. This consistency was soothing in a world of flux.

I am going to Scotland in October.
I asked the mother where in Scotland I might find some ancestors.
“Nowhere”, she said. “We aren’t Scottish.
I have just always liked Scottish things.”

(My cousin, a history professor later produced the family history, which told me that I was descended from an eccentric who came straight to Australia from England and populated the eastern seaboard with his 14 children, all of whom he named after Homeric and Shakespearean characters. Seventh generation Australian.)

In a consolatory gesture, mother dug about and found me an Irish ancestor who had been jailed for subversion, and a French Huguenot with the surname, L’Andre, which at least is patron saint of Scotland.

This time in Scotland I will walk with my eyes to the skies and the hills, I will look at the buildings. I will be going to the Glasgow School of Art, not as an Art Student, as I had always dreamed, but to speak. To speak of cakes, of dolls, of cars. Of memory and dancing, of childhood and land and The Dreaming.

Of many things from my land in the sun, I will speak, in Scotland.


meli said...

that kitteh is hilarious - can you steal one for me too?

poor little fiona...

ganching said...

I liked this post very much. I went to university in Scotland and am very familar with the English-accented Scots. I myself sound more Scottish than many of them.

Are you coming to London as well?

Anonymous said...

loved this post...

no doubt you'll see scotland through new eyes this time around.

was there a degree of melancholy when your mum told you of your true ancestry, but then a feeling liberation knowing you'd be going back to scotland with a new perspective?

shula said...


Arcturus said...

Excellent post. I wish I could be there to hear your talk.

But just do I'm clear, there were actually a total of 5 people in that house -- four Scottish girls and you. And there were three Fionas, one of whom is yourself.

it's the little things... said...

Oh, so now I know why we look so much alike, we both hail, kind of, from the old country.
It is funny to me that my ancestors were good, pious, religious Irish folk.
Don't know where I went wrong, but I literally crave a visit to Ireland and Scotland. The day I go will be one of the happiest of my life.

meggie said...

I loved this post. A glimpse into you, as it were.
Shame about the 'lost' ancestry. A lot of my ancestors were Scottish, & the bagpipes can still make me cry.

fifi said...

oh, meli, today he came to visit wearing a glittery collar, and I in trouble for the thieving!!!

Yes, Ganching, I am coming to London so you had better prepare me a social map, lest I disgrace myself. Have already been denied access to Tooting Bec Lido, can you believe.

Laughing Boy. its OK, I'm good with it. I think it's funny- I like that I am from here.

Arc: I wish you could, too! A friendly face. At least I will make a welcome rest from academic rigour, ha ha ha.
The House: the scottish Fionas,
English Maryann and jamie,
scottish Neil,
Australian SANDY (ha, geddit!!!) and dave.

The house belonged to Jamie, who lost the plot and last I heard the roof fell in. Such a nice house too. Near Greenwich.

Little: I felt no sudden overwhelmingness of belonging in the UK at all. It made me aware that being Australian is something altogether different, though returning to England after 10 months of non-english speaking was very comforting.

The only place I ever felt a physical bond with was Crete. The light shining on the dust betwen my toes, and the people there very much like australians in many ways.
And here, of course

Wouldn't it be funny if the same branch of Irish made you and me....

jellyhead said...

That photo is brilliant!

I can't believe you always *thought* you were Scottish and you weren't!!! Too funny!

Pavlov's Cat said...

My dad's middle name is McAlpine (his mother's maiden name) and he had her Scottish accent till he was five and went to school. His great-grandfather was a Highlands tailor who spoke only Gaelic. When I finally made it to Scotland in 1993 I felt eerily at home.

Everything is made of wool and everyone is funny. Also, Scotland is full of people making things. You go into shops and see people making fine-wool kilts and silver jewellery; you stand in queues and hear teenage girls behind you talking about making bread, or strolling old men chatting about how their wives make lace.

It's lovely. You will love it.

Make sure you check out the Edinburgh Gallery of Modern Art as well as the Art Gallery proper.

Pavlov's Cat said...

If you haven't already, I mean.

Molly said...

I wish I could be there to hear. Maybe Isabelle could represent us all?!

Isabelle said...

Yes, indeed, I'd love to go and hear you speak about those things. Are you doing it on a Saturday, by any chance, and is it open to the gen. pub. or does one have to be an art student or something? I could go along and cheer.

Glasgow, by the way, is about 50 miles from Edinburgh and (whisper it) not so pretty. I was there today. Lots of towerblocks and a motorway through the middle of the town - though lots of handsome buildings too and of course everywhere has some grotty bits.

It's getting a bit chilly here. Bring woollies! And a mac.

Suse said...

What a fabulous happy sad poignant funny post.

My husband's family are Scottish. I have to concentrate really hard to understand them, and after a few drinks it's nigh impossible.

Just smile broadly and nod sagely when in doubt.

Shauna said...

ooohhh i love your writing so much. still so pouty that our paths won't cross... :(

fifi said...

Pavlov, that is amazing, one must respond to blood ties or body-memories or something. I am sure I have some scottish sensibility, of some kind, deep down.
I don't remember the conversations about making things, but my recollection is more one of majesty, if I could use the word without sounding like an idiot. And the sheep much more noble looking than our round clouds on legs.
I have bben to Glasgow too. I had an academic pass which allowed me to march ito any museum and demand to see whatever I liked, brought to me with white gloves. I went mad in Glasgow, and examined every Renaissance etching in their collection. In my hands.

(It was so cold outside)

And yes, It is ugly, compared to Edinburgh, but to me, cobbled streets look pretty. I found the energy exciting, even the greyness.
It also made me regard my bright blue world in a completely new way when I came home, and I need that.

Isabelle, I can send you the details if you like, there is a fee, and I am on almost FIRST, I think, I'll check the timetable but I am on the saturday morning.

I will be the one throwing up with nervousness.

fifi said...

oh yesss Shauny, pouts all round. Bah!

Princess Banter said...

I've always wanted to go to Scotland! I just get a bit wary as I've gotten some warnings as to how difficult it may get to understand people's accents ;) Do tell us how your trip went :)

I've the opposite problem. Everyone thinks I'm Chinese... it's been a constant in my life. So much so that I don't bother correcting people anymore and let them think it ;)