Ten years ago, if you had asked me to describe Scotland in three words I probably would have said something along the lines of “worst place ever” or “fucking shit fuck” or, if I was particularly pre-menstrual, “worse than rape”. This is because for most of my adult life I have not been Scotland’s biggest fan. I was removed from here at an early age and as a result don’t really have that strong sense of patriotism you get when you have lived in the same country all of your life. Recently, however, there have been some interesting developments which I suspect could signify a thaw in our frosty relationship.
When I lived overseas, I was the most die-hard Scottish person you could find, probably because I was the only Scottish person you could find. I’m not going to lie, the release of Braveheart in Malta when I was 15 did nothing to hurt me and I milked that fictional motherfucker for all it was worth. For weeks I had American kids coming up to me at school saying “Wow, I did not realise you guys went through so much”, to which I replied “Yeah (*sigh*), if I’m honest you know, yes, it has been a long and arduous journey fraught with repression and violence but I like to think we’ve come out of it a better, stronger nation” whilst shakily pointing to a scar on my forehead I got from a rollerblading accident – or as I liked to call it “the English”.
In Tunis, at around the same time, I distinctly remember welling up during a St Andrews day party when a bagpiper came into the room (I was totally shit-wrecked on wine and could hardly see, but let’s just say for the sake of discussion that they were the tears of national pride) proving that I did have it in me back then, Scottish was something I wanted to be. Little did I realise that this was because I had unwittingly adopted some sort of foreign, romantic image of our country: “We have hills n’ shit, people carry fish around in baskets, awesome!”, etc.
It was with these fantastical notions that I returned permanently to Scotland at the age of 19. I was excited about it, I could go into town and buy decent clothes, things would generally work as opposed to be broken, life was going to be good. I think it took about 3 days before I realised that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. I got a job at a local pub and in the space of a couple of days someone had called me a “yankee cunt”, a junkie had stolen my wallet and I had seen my first ever ecstasy pill. Bearing in mind that at the time I had the street-wisdom of a Fritzl sister, this was a highly confusing environment for me. Up until that point, I thought heroin was a fictional substance made up by Irvine Welsh to make Trainspotting an interesting read.
Looking back now, I can see that I must have been pretty annoying. I sounded like a Californian cheerleader (really did not look like one) but was telling people I was born in Torry. Bar a few of the locals at the pub, people were generally not very convinced by me and I don’t blame them, I was a fucking weirdo. To make matters worse I was struggling to adjust to a life where suddenly I didn’t have any of my friends around me. I tried to do things like go to college and speak to people in the bar I worked in but at the end of the day I had nothing in common with anyone, turns out no one is interested in talking about Maltese bus drivers or this one time at the British Club. I think people may have mistakenly thought I was posh too, which is fucking hilarious/offensive – I would be lying if I said that I haven’t pissed in a bottle at T in the Park and put it inside my jacket as a kind of make-shift heating device. I don’t think Kate Middleton has ever done that. Anyway, the fact of the matter was I had to get some friends, and if they all happened to be cats then that was just the way it was going to have to be.
It was right around this time that I met Billy (thank God, I fucking hate cats) and Christ knows what made him able to withstand what must have been the excruciating embarrassment of introducing me to his friends and family (I want to say it was my shimmering personality but I did have sex with him, so it was probably that). For the first year or so, I don’t think much of his friends were clambering over each other to start a fan club; I didn’t take any drugs, I talked a lot, nothing I said was very useful, I dressed weird, I loved the Eurovision Song Contest, I swore constantly and was generally not very feminine but unfortunately for them I wasn’t going away. Through perseverance I discovered that people can change their minds if you literally give them no other option and now I look upon a lot of them as my good friends.
Over time, my accent slowly began to return to a semblance of Scottish which made everything a bit easier and after about five years I had the foundations of a social life. Despite this, I still absolutely hated the place and used to dream about leaving every day. The weather was terrible, there was nothing to do, there were drugs everywhere, they were expensive, people moaned constantly (a bit like what I’m doing now) and no one really spoke to each other. All of these things made me want to get the hell out of here and to top it off, I fucking hated my job at the time.
When I turned 25 I decided to do something about the situation. I applied to Aberdeen University in the hope of getting a job in the oil industry with the sole intention of getting the fuck out of this hell-hole and back into the comforting arms of an obscure foreign country. I got accepted and began what was to be four years of good times. In our class there were people from all over the UK and abroad, none of whom knew each other so we were all in the same awkward boat. For the first time since returning to Aberdeen, I was considered a local. It was a very weird feeling because I still felt like a dirty immigrant but it was a good weird feeling.
During the course of my degree I made quite a few friends and was relieved to discover that I didn’t have to force myself upon them like I did with Billy’s poor friends. We went on numerous field trips together and these were tremendous. Not only was the banter so good that it was, at times, physically painful but I was starting to see all the hills and people carrying fish around in baskets that I had imagined all those years ago. I had been so preoccupied with not killing myself I had forgotten that there were parts of Scotland better than literally anywhere else in the world. I spent seven weeks on the Isle of Skye for one of my uni projects, for example, and it is now possibly my favourite place in the universe. If you had told me a decade ago that out of everywhere I had been I would like a cold, remote Scottish island the best, I would have taken an angry shit in your front garden.
I now work offshore and get to spend two weeks of every month at home in Aberdeen with Billy and my dog, an arrangement I am pretty happy with. Over the past few years I have found myself fantasising about leaving this country less and less and looking forward to the Wizard Festival and my annual trips to Skye more and more. Billy and I want to buy a house this summer and because we are old, crusty and beginning to smell of death, we have been thinking about getting somewhere in the countryside. The other day he said to me “The way you’re talking you would think that you were happy to hang around here for the next ten years” and, after swallowing some sick, I told him that I think I am.