God, you pick your moments.
‘I can tell just by lookin’ at ye…’
I don’t mean it’s been a bad day. Quite the opposite. My work for the day done, I’d been congratulating myself, standing on the porch, winding down, the sun still warm upon my face.
‘The clothes you wear…’
You loom, casting shadows, banishing light: sucking the joy from the end of the day.
You’ve been waiting for this opportunity, haven’t you? The chance to have a go, to cut me down. Your time, your time to shine.
Ok, before we go any further - a bit of context. Last week, you – our neighbour of three years – asked a guy to do some work. That guy then decided to come into our garden, without asking, and left a mess.
Yeah, I know, first world problems. But we – my partner and I – were just plain confused, coming home, as we did, to endless branches and leaves scattered across our patio.
So we knocked on your door and asked your wife if she had any idea what had happened.
‘Oh, we just can’t win with you, can we?’
That’s her now, the wife. ‘Win’?
Anyway, that brief conversation really put the cat among the pigeons, making it apparent that the problem went way beyond your hedge, the untidy workman you employed to cut it, or his extraordinary bill,
‘I paid him 300 quid.’
(A fee apparently sufficient to render all attempts to discuss the situation null and void)
Anyway, back to you, the male neighbour, in our garden.
‘I can tell you’re odd just by looking at you, by the clothes you wear’.
But what concerns me most is not your juvenile approach to discourse. It’s what lies beneath: what do my clothes, my questions, my accent, say about me?
‘You’re not from here, are ye?’
Really? You can tell?
Of course you can.
You can because you're The Guy Who Knows Stuff, the expert on all and sundry: acceptable behaviour, good practice, dress code. You, I infer, regard yourself as speaking with authority, because you are from ‘here’.
‘People around here, we…’
‘Around here’? Around where? This neighbourhood? This town? Where? How far does this land of unbending convention stretch? I would hope, for your sake, that ‘here’ is big enough for you to consider its protection worth falling out with your neighbour over. But how long? How wide? What are we talking?
My conclusion, after much deliberation, is that the ‘here’ you are talking about stretches beyond this town, beyond the next village, even across the dual carriageway and over those hills. It’s the place they keep talking about on the news. Your 'here’ is Scotland – or a version of it.
It's a lovely thought, but one flaw in your grand plan is that, despite my clothes, my fancy ways and my soft, 'incomer' accent, I am actually also from this ‘here’.
I grew up 40 miles to the north of where we’re standing. Yes, north – in Scottish terms, you're a soft southerner by comparison.
My parents still live there. They have done so for over 50 years, working hard, paying their taxes, buying into the liberal, tolerant project they thought of as Scotland: welcoming; outward-looking; good.
Their ‘here’ is not yours. It about positive values, high standards, hard choices.
Your ‘here’, in contrast, is actually all about ‘there’ – about opposing something, something else, something different. It’s negative, it’s fearful and it defines itself only in relation to its imagined foe. It is dependent.
I want to tell you this, to counter your nonsense, to shout, to declaim, fight fire with fire.
(My unremitting righteous anger: what more proof do you need that I am truly Scottish?)
I want to stand firm and argue, to burst your laughable, Jacobin bubble. I want to pull the carpet of heather from under your feet. But I don’t, because I’ve learned other ways.
The last of the sun has faded and still you judder on – your brutal, confused diatribe. My response – tonight – begins in silent exasperation. I see your ‘here’ clearly now. I see all its limitations. I see, more than ever, the true value of ‘other’, of ‘difference’, even of ‘odd’. I reflect. And decide that my act of rebellion will be to leave.