Although I am Scottish born and bred, I have never been bound to Scotland or by it.
In our family line, as in our next-door neighbours, there were those who worked abroad all their lives and often died there. There were uncles and aunts in India, Africa and Malaya, returning on furlough by boat at three-year intervals. Tanned, at ease they sailed home, replete with tales.
A great uncle skippered a sailing ship to trade with Archangel. Twice, the harbour froze over and he had to winter over there. It made me oddly proud to be told that I resembled him, as if I too, had shared in unimaginable White Sea adventures.
My mother’s grandfather sailed for Argentina with two sons in 1887 to build a railroad there. Never was he heard from again. Two resolute aunts emigrated to Boston after the first World War taking their husbands with them. The Dundee Courier always carried offers of alluring posts on tea estates in Nepal, Hudson’s Bay trading posts along the Arctic Circle and on sheep farms in Australia, New Zealand and the Falklands. For those unwilling to commit their entire lives, these was seasonal work out of South Georgia on Salvesen’s whale-catchers.
Our school atlas was a menu of where we might spend part or all of our lives after school. Derring-do flowed in our blood, rattled our genes. Not tourism, since it barely existed, but ‘working abroad’. That kind of travel.
At 18, I left Scotland bound for Argentina, made it as far as the Canary Islands and worked in the banana plantations for a year there. It wasn’t a ‘gap year’, just the first year of my post-school working life when I took responsibility for everything I did and earned my way.
At 22 I emigrated to the US with my bagpipes and might still be there, a second Andrew Carnegie, had I not been drafted.
My two years with the 3rdBattalion Gordons had given me the confidence to decide what battles I would fight, where, and for whom.
Two years later I was behind the Iron Curtain in Ceausescu’s Romania as a cultural ambassador for Britain. At least that’s what I thought I was until, at a memorable dinner in the Athenée Palace, I was advised by the Head of Mission that my role was to be the sharp-end of trade.
Wanderlust persisted. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Singapore, Denmark, Israel, Sweden and Mexico with a bit of England thrown in for good measure.
Canada claimed me and I stayed put for 14 years. ‘Stayed put’ in the sense that, during that time, I never left the country. From my base in Montreal, however, I undertook projects from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island and throughout the Canadian Arctic. But staying quite so put was difficult, so then it was Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and India. Even an eight-month contract in Edinburgh. From my office window, I could see the sun set over the Castle at 3.30 in the afternoon.
Then Latin America became my bailiwick because its time-zones were so close to that of my base in Canada that jet-lag was eliminated.
Although I’m Scottish born and bred, I have never been bound to Scotland. Wherever I live, whatever the skin-shade or the language, the voice of plea or prayer, I am at home because, like the swallow, I carry my sense of home inside.