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Author: Julie Drybrough

After a lifetime of Scottishness being a questionable thing, becoming Scottish was not a given. Making it home took years.

Born in Dundee – raised for the first two years of my life in Angus by parents with Fife/ Glaswegian lineage – I was formed in England. My first school was in Nottinghamshire. I returned home on day one announcing I no longer liked my name. In our Scots tongue, my name was short: Julie. In the midland mining dialect, it doubled in length. I did not know who “Juuuuuleh” was. I was not sure I wanted to.

In my formative years, I learned I was tartan and shortbread and probably tight with money. I learned I was likely to be crap at sport, get a taste for booze and potentially headbutt others. I learned that Scottish people said “Och Aye the Noo”.

Sometimes, at school, this was a party piece: “Speak Scotch!” my friends would implore. This confused me: how was I to converse in whisky?

I know there are a small number of people near Mansfield who learned at school that “Scotch” people regularly greet each other with: it’s a braw bricht moonlit nicht, the nicht, ya ken? I’m not proud of my contribution to my own stereotypes.

Children long to fit in, so my brothers and I developed dialect-perfect Nottingham accents at school. This involved dropping h’s and developing an acceptance of poultry-shift pet names from “Hiya Hen”, to ”’ey yup ma duck”. Yet, with some sense of ourselves, we held on to our burr, our lilt, our mother tongue at home.

My Scottishness was otherness. I was not English, but I did not belong to Scotland either.

Scotland was a holiday place, a suitcase destination for a week or two. It was where our family resided, but it was not home. Scotland was relentless visiting; bundled into whichever 1980’s car-bus my father had purchased and driven North every school holiday.

Scotland was winding Borders roads that made me car sick. It was running on Dunbar beach with cousins in breath-stealing winds. Scotland was crossing the Forth Road Bridge. It was Grampa, surrounded by men, in the smoke-filled Cupar Arms on a Saturday, sending my brothers to the bookies and giving me 50p for the fruit machine. It was Grandma, cooking bacon, suspicious of the quality of English butchers.

Scotland was eccentric Auntie Mary in Newport, serving knickerbocker glories in glasses taller than my face, leading me to ask too loudly: Why does Auntie Mary give us Ice cream when it’s so cold?

We moved further south to Dorset. Here in the depths of southern English sensibilities, Scotland seemed even stranger. In Dorset, there were long hot summers, village fetes to bake for and maypole dances to learn. Our village had Morris Dancers and a pub where you could order something called a Ploughman’s.

My accent shifted again. Northern English was frowned upon, so I smoothed every vowel in my mouth, rediscovered the letter “h” and fitted in. But at home, we resolutely spoke to each other with Scottish accents. At home the weather could be driech. Your face could be tripping itsel’. It could be a braw day. You could have a wee bit of cake. You could wail at your homework “I canny dae it”. The response was: “dinnae say canny”. My brothers were eejits. Our house was filled with a secret language, unknown out there.

Next was Wales. Late 1980’s Aberystwyth faced a reckoning. The Welsh Nationalists were burning holiday cottages in Anglesey and supergluing the slots of the brand new cash machine things in town, because the brand new cash machine things were not bilingual.

In my compulsory Welsh lessons in school, I learned that I didn’t speak Scottish, I spoke English… with an accent. When Nerys Evans told me my proper language was something called Gaelic, I was indignant: Duh! Everyone knows no one in Scotland speaks Gaelic.

In Wales, I became Celtic. Where Scottishness had been gently mocked, it now had currency. I was now not-English. Somehow this was good. My accent wandered west from Dorset, to find a fine Welsh form. My English voice could say locks and books, but my mother tongue knew lochs and “booooks”. It was easy, then, to effortlessly pronounce Pwyll Novio or Llandudno. Wales suited me well.

We returned to Fife when I was 13 – a horrible age to be anywhere. Returning home did not bring me home. I was an errant Scot – devoid of her own culture or heritage. I hated school and the weird curriculum. I hated Irn Bru and did not view chips as lunch food.

Ceilidhs meant “social dancing” lessons in the gym hall in the weeks before the school disco and the very death of my teenage soul and dignity. I was chosen by boys with acne and sweaty palms to dance a thing called a Gay Gordons – something I knew my non-Scottish friends would snigger at… I hated Fife. I hated Scotland.

The reconciliation took years. It took sitting with seals on Tentsmuir beach and climbing the Lomonds and staring out over the Forth; seeing filthy grey clouds and brilliant sunshine in one beautiful vista. It took gigs in Glasgow pubs. It took studying at Aberdeen, discovering Liz Lochhead, Janice Galloway, AL Kennedy, Edwin Morgan, McIlvanney, Grey... It took getting interested in politics and revisiting history. It took working and discovering Edinburgh. My Edinburgh. Not the tourist one or the pub-crawl one, but the one with a shoreline and winter sunrises from Blackford Hill and Pentlands to explore. It took climbing munros and loch swimming and roaming Shetland and talking with strangers. It took time to believe there was more here than “och aye the noo” and tartan shortbread.

And sometimes now, I stand in clear frosty darkness in the dead of winter and sigh up at the braw bricht moon lit nicht… my Englishness and Welshness faded… and I ken… I ken mysel hame.