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.