Driving down from Aberdeen today (where I was visiting lovely nephew), I got irritated at the discussion on Woman’s Hour and switched over to Radio 2 at just the point that Ken Bruce was introducing Frankie Miller’s version of Caledonia.
When I was growing up I thought that this song was kind of cheesy. In the 90s, it was associated with a very popular advert (which I had to look up to find that it was Tennent’s Lager. I didn’t remember the visuals at all, except for the very last bit where he walks into the bar.) It was just one of those tracks that drunk men sing along to.
I went away to St Andrews University, proud not to be one of the vast majority of my class who stayed closer to home (I think something like 9 out of the 11 people in my sixth year chemistry class sat together in Glasgow’s lectures the next year).
After St Andrews, I crossed the border to study in Durham. Durham didn’t feel all that much like a different country, other than having an even higher proportion of Oxbridge wannabes than St Andrews (I’m sure St Andrews has got posher since I was there).
It was when I moved down to Worcestershire that I started getting a funny reaction to Caledonia. A bit of wistfulness. Ah, the old country. After a couple of years, it would make me a bit teary. After 5 years, I actually cried when it came on the radio as I was crossing the border the ‘wrong’ way.
Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire and Herefordshire where we also lived, are really beautiful and we loved a lot about living there. I still miss the Malvern Hills now. But we never really settled. We would talk about buying a house, and then put it off because “what if we wanted to move back to Scotland one day”. At each possible career turning-point, we’d weigh up whether it would be too complicated to move back to Scotland.
Finally in 2008 we made the leap and moved back. It wasn’t entirely easy – Mr Woodsmoke gave up a job that he really liked to make the move.
Today, on St Andrew’s Day, I heard Caledonia come on the radio and I turned up the radio and sang along at the top of my voice. There may have been the odd wee tear (although nothing to worry other drivers).
I am still 100% delighted with coming back to Scotland. The proximity to family and friends that I scorned in my teens and early 20s turns out to be incredibly important. I love that it only takes me 2.5 hours to drive up to see my nephew. That I can make last minute decisions to see people at the weekend, rather than planning flights months in advance. That I can get a call from a friend or a sister saying “I’ve got a meeting in Edinburgh tomorrow, can I come and stay?”
Of course we also left some lovely friends behind (we have resorted to advising them to move to Scotland at every possible opportunity). The weather is shocking godawful: if I didn’t have such strong roots and connections I would just not tolerate living somewhere where 18C is a hot summer’s day and it gets dark at 3:30 in winter.
But today I’m raising a glass (NOT Tennent’s!) to my Caledonia. Lang may yer lum reek.