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October 28, 2012

Just back from a flying trip to Edinburgh -which I love dearly. I love the west too, of course, but I suspect at heart I’m an east-coaster and of all the cities in the UK Edinburgh is my favourite. Had I not washed up here -it would have been Fife, the Black Isle of somewhere like that. I’m a foreigner abroad, an east coaster in the western heartlands. In this part of the world, Glasgow is King: come from there, sing its praises -and you’re in, come from Edinburgh -and you’re fated to be a bit of a toff, a Sassenach, an Englishman in disguise…

It’s all to do with the history. For a long time Glasgow was a Gaelic city and full of Highlanders and the Irish, powering the Industrial Revolution and weeping into their cups for their home-country (if you are to believe their songs). The Glaswegian self-myth was (and lingers) that Edinburgh was the richer and unfriendly city while Glasgow was full of muscular, gallus workers and with a socialist poor of golden hearts. Red Clydeside, John Maclean, la-la. This geriatric self-image, turning to un-truth with the passing of the years, was quietly slipping away until abruptly dragged upright by west coast Scottish artists, writers and marketing-men of the ’70’s onwards. ‘GLASGOWS MILES BETTER ! Michael Spring, in his book ‘Phantom City’ described this process well. In retrospect, a lot of this was easy and lazy and safe -to opt for a half-true, heroic nostagia rather than try to imagine and inspire something new and perhaps more challenging and relevant. It was so seductive, so economically and culturally successful, that I think it stopped the collective Glaswegian sense-of-becoming dead in its tracks for 30 years. Embalmed it intellectually. Glasgow got Howson and Edinburgh got Vettriano. Who says we don’t get the artist we deserve… Interestingly, Edinburgh doesn’t seem to have had a populist and cohesive self-myth but does, palpably, have a sense-of-becoming. It maybe never needed a self-myth. Was it more self-confident, socially coherent, too busy closing the deal to worry about such things ? It’s certainly an awful lot older. I suppose it’s true that mass migration and social dislocation such as that experienced by Glasgow in the 18th and 19th centuries might create a cultural need for an overarching creation-myth. Something to give meaning, to unite. It is afterall, a relatively new city in a British context, with all the creativity, challenges and insecurities that that brings.

I really enjoy accents, voices, and trying to work out where people come from and who they are. They are a patina of experience, of place and of circumstance and speak volumes. The predominant accent up here, now that the lovely, soft, old Gaelic Mull accent has virtually gone, is a sort of generic west coast / Glaswegian. The old Mull accent, when you still hear it is a treat. Born in Findhorn (the village) and growing up around central Scotland I have a mongrel accent: a bit of this and a bit of that. A lot of folk seem to think I’m Irish -which I’ve never really understood. Twenty five years in Edinburgh (until I moved up here 12 years ago) and its angicising overlay has left its mark and it has a new layer of west coast now, spreading, like lichen on a rock. I quite like it really, I inhabit it. Mightn’t be beautiful, but it’s mine.

Went off to Tobermory a few days ago with Nathalie and Snuffy. I was doing a Sawdays inspection so we made a day of it. Misty, moisty Mull looking lovely and the autumn colours clinging to the hills. Delicious lunch at the friendly Western Isles Hotel, overlooking the Bay (they welcomed Snuffy in -top marks !), then a potter around the village. We had three hours to spend between leaving Tobs and taking the last ferry to Iona so we took the slow road home, pootering around by Gribun. There was a fabulous timeless quality to the day and Nathalie was astonished by my actually being able to drive slowly. No rush, and anyway, Snuffy was enjoying the smells. Met Minty Mackay as of Ardalanish in a passing place so stopped for a blether and catch-up. She now lives in the lovely croft of High Lee. Made the Iona boat with plenty time, having had a relaxing afternoon of it.

Snuffy had a joyful time hanging out the window as we crossed Mull. For the Snuffy groupies, I add these pictures of a happy dog:

For those of you who don’t know them, I suggest you take a look at the website of ‘Medecins Sans Frontieres’ ( They are a remarkable bunch of people doing brave and important work. Going to places that most folk would sensibly avoid like the plague, they volunteer their services in offering emergency medical aid -and save lives. It’s humbling -and it can’t get much more real and direct than this. Please send them your money for Christmas. They need it and know what to do with it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Anni permalink
    November 13, 2012 7:08 pm

    Nice to see you are well!!! I love the snuffy-pics! What a lady she is! Lots of love to you all. xxxx

  2. Margaret Stirling permalink
    October 7, 2013 9:24 pm

    We used to have a Bearded Collie and your Dog looks similar though his face is more like a Peke. What breed is it

    • October 8, 2013 2:24 pm

      Hello Margaret,

      Snuffy is a ‘Cavachon’, a cross between a Cavalier King Charles and a Bichon Frise. It’s a lovely combination with the elegant good manners of the Bichon and the rufty-tuftyness of the cavalier. She’s much loved by many of the guests and has huge presence for such a little dog.

      Best wishes,


      • Margaret Stirling permalink
        October 8, 2013 5:03 pm

        Hello John. Maybe next year my friend and I will visit you and I will see this lovely Dog we are both Hostel members for over 60 years I didn’t know there was a youth hostel in Iona it wasn’t until I was reading up about the work that had been done to the Abbey that I stumbled on the hostel I am also a member of the National Trust for Scotland Your Dog remind me of our Bearded Collie who was the same colour Dark Grey and white Chester is sadly missed. Thanks John for answering my email I hope you have many more people visiting the hostel enjoying your hospitally and using their time to catch up on the history of the Island. Thanks again. Margaret

      • Iona Hostel permalink
        October 9, 2013 8:48 pm

        Hello Margaret,

        It’ll be a pleasure to meet you if you visit Iona.

        Kind regards,


  3. Margaret Stirling permalink
    October 8, 2013 5:05 pm

    Hope 2014. To visit the Island

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