You might not have heard, but today a chap won the tennis. In essence, this is what happened. According to the rules of the game, he beat his opponent in the last round of the tournament.
We choose to report it in different ways.
A Scottish chap won the final of Wimbledon for the first time in over 100 years.
A British chap won the final of Wimbledon for the first time in 77 years.
A boy from Dunblane, whose classmates were killed in a horrific massacre when he was a small child, grew up and won one of sport’s biggest prizes.
And what’s the biggest conversation on everyone’s lips? Is he Scottish or British.
I’ve lived in Scotland for 9 months now. When I drive north on the M6, as it turns into the A74(M), I see this sign just past Gretna and think, I’m 90 miles from home.
But what do I mean by ‘home’?
I find the whole question of identity very difficult. By birth, I am a Geordie lass, born in Gateshead. I’ve lived in Orpington (South East London), 2 different areas of Milton Keynes, Stratford on Avon, 3 different areas of Manchester, Chelmsford, and 2 different areas of Colchester. Now I live just outside Glasgow.
I’m just about the last person to be talking confidently about cultural identity and where I feel I’m from. I never know how to answer this question, and I never know how to respond when I’m asked where home is. This sounds a bit sad, but it’s not really, I’m used to it.
Things are different here in Scotland to where I lived before in Essex.
I talked a little about big red Ts on the side of pubs and funny coloured money in my 6 months in post. The language is mostly the same, but with lots of new words to learn. I was afraid of anti-English bias (and worse) but was warned the religious divide was more of an issue. By and large I find this to be true, although the religion issue hasn’t affected me personally.
I don’t live in the city, but I do live in an area associated strongly with one of the city’s big teams. One morning while waiting for the bus, I noticed that all over the bus stop there was some particularly unpleasant and very violent graffiti related to the divide between the two teams.
I’m glad that my dogs have a coat in each colour so I don’t upset anyone. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s just what they happened to arrive with when they came home from the greyhound rescue kennel. Home. There I go again.
I guess I use ‘home’ to describe where I currently live, where my possessions are, where I receive post and lay my head each night.
Before I moved here, I lived about 8-10 miles from the seaside at Clacton in an area which was not at all culturally diverse. I lived 5 miles outside Colchester town centre, 60 miles from London, which was about an hour away on a train. My old house is 450 miles from where I live now, at the bottom of the Campsies and a few miles north of a large multicultural multifaith city.
In my first few weeks up here, I was in a large DIY store buying bits to do some things on my new house. My dad was with me and we asked for some help from the assistant. He was a retired plumber and we got chatting about what had brought me here. I stand out like a sore thumb here, an English accent is very unusual particularly once you get outside the city centre.
My own prejudices were exposed as he talked about his own opinions of English people, immigrants stealing jobs, young people. I had thought he would be very negative, when in fact he was anything but. He talked about his frustration at people forming their opinions from trashy newspapers and lazy sensationalist journalism. He’d had a big argument with his son, who was currently looking for work and complaining that Polish people were taking all the work. He felt embarrassed because of how his son thought. I felt embarrassed as I had judged him incorrectly.
I attended my first Burns night celebration, with my Brownie pack. Somehow I had to teach a ceilidh dance to a room full of Scottish people. I was clueless, but was enough steps ahead to do a decent job. The physicality of the ceilidh meant I got to know a lot of people of all ages very quickly, as I was whirled and twirled around the room, holding hands, grasping arms and shoulders at a pace that was suitable for grannies and babies alike.
I find Scottish people to be very open in general, or at least compared to people from the south of England, and I wonder whether the ceilidh and the ingrained musical tradition is responsible for this. Traditional Scottish music is a very social experience which I wrote about here. After the ceilidh, the girls shared poems (including the marvellous Mrs Nae Offence by Gregor Steele) and sang songs. I’d never heard the full version of The Skye Boat Song – it’s quite a bloody, feisty battle song and I didn’t know this. I have a lot to learn about my new adopted homeland.
A few months later, at my weekly Brownie pack meeting, I was exasperated as we were discussing the current Brownie promise as part of a consultation process. The part of the promise they all struggled with the most was about loyalty to the Queen. One of the girls had been told by her father that the Queen was responsible for him going to prison for drink driving. It took every bit of diplomacy I had to listen carefully to what she was saying about how she had formed her opinion regarding the Queen, and I wondered what she would think of what her dad had said to her when she was older.
Even within Scotland, people’s concept of their own identity and nationality is very different. Highlanders and Islanders are very different to town and city dwellers. The North is different to the South, the East different to the West. I can distinguish regional accents already.
I have been made immensely welcome here. “While you’re here, you’re a Scot” has been the overwhelming attitude.
No one has make unpleasant remarks about my accent, which is mostly Essex after almost 12 years there. There have been two references to it, one of which involved me teaching a Polish song to Brownies and Rainbows. Because they learned the song by ear, they sang it with my accent which my Brownie leader found hilarious.
I identify myself as British. This is because I have an Irish maternal grandad, a Northern Irish/Welsh maternal grandma, an English paternal grandad and a Scottish paternal grandma. I was born in England just about, but there is no doubt that I have influences of all of these countries from my family. I don’t really feel English, but then I don’t really feel specifically anything else either.
I feel how we identify ourselves is incredibly personal. It depends on our life, our heritage, our experiences. My aunt is English by birth but is now a Canadian citizen, having lived there longer than I have been alive.
In the recent BBC documentary, there was some explanation of the context behind Andy Murray’s misquoted comment about supporting any team that wasn’t England, which has sadly been used against him frequently. He chooses to identify himself as Scottish because this is what he feels he is.
Many English people describe themselves as British, until the Five Nations is on and then they are English. At the Olympics last year, we were all Team GB (or GB and NI, which didn’t fit so nicely on the branding). With the recent Lions victory, nobody really cared as they beat Australia. Many English people moved to (and still move to) Australia. Next year, at the Commonwealth Games, we will separate again.
My nationality isn’t how I choose to define myself. English/British are interchangeable for me. Some Scottish people feel differently. Others don’t. We shouldn’t impose this on people. We certainly shouldn’t allow it to overshadow their achievements.