Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Memory of the Year, 2016

There have been some great trips this year. Orkney in February. Mull in October. A washed out walk in pissing rain across Rannoch Moor, great mainly in retrospect. Solo backpacking in Fisherfield.

But the year has been marked by trips I didn't do for various reasons... the pub to pub traverse of Glencoe. A trip to the Cuillin of Skye. Bad weather seems to have dogged my plans all year.

The Edinburgh touch squad:


But the big memory from 2016 is not an individual event, more an ongoing process of change. I got a new job, had a taste of touch rugby at a higher level, smashed all my race PBs, made positive progress for the first time in years on my next book, trained in digital leadership and meditation, stopped getting hangovers, gained focus on my goals, ditched other commitments that weren't working for me, started mentoring others and am being mentored myself. The seeds have been sown for 2017 being an amazing year.

So this is more a forward projection into 2017 than a memory. I'd love to bring all my various interests into harmony. I am interested in history, the outdoors, writing, citizen engagement, Scotland, and new digital technologies. And I'd love to get together with you to talk through ideas in any of these areas. If that sounds like you, drop me a line in the comments or email me craig at loveofscotland dot com and let's do something amazing together!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Presidents of the United States

How many Presidents of the United States of America have Scottish ancestry? It is perhaps both more, yet fewer, than you think.
For example there is a list that states that an incredible 23 of 43 US Presidents have Scottish ancestry. But most of the bloodlines are pretty thin. Whilst a number have Scottish great-grandparents, or grandparents whose families had settled in Ulster from Scotland, only two US Presidents qualify for the honour of representing Scotland at international football through FIFA's grandfather rule. Those two Presidents are Woodrow Wilson - and Donald Trump.

The Donald does not even have to go back to his grandparents to pull on the dark blue jersey with the lion rampant. Trump's mother was from Tong in Lewis, which makes him the most Scottish person ever to lead the USA.
 
No need to thank us.

Now Trump's own relationship with Scotland has been mixed. All seemed great at first when he visited the maternal homeland with a business plan. First Jack McConnell, then Alex Salmond were swept off their feet by Trump's considerable dynamism, allowing the best golf course in the world to be built on the dunes of Balmedie, despite opposition from environmentalists and the people who were already living on the land. But Salmond fell foul of Trump when the toupéd Twitterer discovered plans for an offshore wind farm visible from Balmedie. And well before then, questions were asked about how keen the government had been to please the American tycoon, whose unneighbourly behaviour was documented in You've Been Trumped.

Trump's second golf course in Scotland - Turnberry:


Then Nicola Sturgeon antagonised relations further, publicly castigating Trump's election stump comments about women, Muslims and Mexicans. She removed his Global Scot status. The President-Elect was undeterred, who by now had also bought the famous old golf course Royal Turnberry. (Renaming it Trump Turnberry.) When Trump visited the course in a blizzard of publicity on 24 June this year, he congratulated Scotland in voting for Brexit, despite the opposite being the case. 'Scottish Twitter' replied with ripely surreal insults.

When Barack Obama became president, the people of Kenya's pride was piqued that his father was one of them. By contrast the people of Mary Anne MacLeod, mother of the next President of the USA, have elected to brand her son a 'cheeto-faced shitgibbon'. But you know, insults like that aren't meted out to just anybody.

It's almost a tribute.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

How Welsh is Scotland?

One of the earliest surviving Welsh texts, Y Gododdin, describes a war raid on the Angles. 300 warriors under Mynyddog Mwynfawr feasted for a year, fell on an overwhelmingly superior army of Angles near the Pennines, and were slaughtered.

But here's the thing. You're probably imagining this war band riding out from a mountain eyrie like Snowdownia. I did when I first heard of it. But no! The first Welsh text was written by a man called Aneirin from Din Eidyn. Din Eidyn is better known today as Edinburgh. Today Aneirin would be considered a Scot!

But there was no such thing as Scotland in those days. Up to the middle of the 7th century, the Ancient Britons were the dominant culture in what is now Southern Scotland. The language that most closely matches their old Brythonic tounge is not Scots, Gaelic, or English, but modern-day Welsh. It is found in place names like Penicuik, Lanark, Penrith, Glasgow, Cramond, Caerlaverock, Traquhair, or Carlisle.

The story of Scotland is sometimes told as a cultural battle between two opposing factions, the English-speaking Lowlands and the Gaelic-speaking Highlands. Told like this, other stories are silenced. The Vikings of the islands. The Picts north of the Forth. But the most forgotten voice is an Old Welsh one. It is the voice of the Lowlands before the Angles came.

Glasgow Cathedral: founded by a 'Welshman'.


Yet the stories are arguably the most colourful in the whole legendary history of Britain, able to stand comparison with the rich lore of old Ireland. Old King Cole? Arthur and Merlin? The Three Futile Battles of Britain? The Praise of Urien and the Excoration of Maelgwn? These are the stories of what is now Southern Scotland and the English border. The three great named early writers were Aneirin, Taliesin, Gildas, who came from Edinburgh, Carlisle, and Dumbarton.

You will struggle to find Scots aware of any of these stories except perhaps the later, medieval retellings of Arthurian legend which relocate the action to the West Country. But if you are Scottish (or indeed English), these stories of the native Britons are as much your heritage as they are of the people of Wales...