I am having to begin to think properly about setting up home in Scotland. I left London in something of a hurry, so arrived here with only three shirts, two undershirts, two pairs of trousers and one hat (it’s a baseball cap bought in Antigua, and it says “Antigua WI” on it. When I play cricket in it, I hope to fool at least some of the opposition into thinking I have played for Antigua, and that the stains on it are faded blood, and not red wine).
I have two pairs of shoes: the knock-off Timberlands that are essential for walking in these parts, and a pair of ancient brogues, older than me possibly, one of which has split up the back and so is technically more of a slipper with laces than a proper shoe. However, they are comfy as heck. (I once got refused admission to the Pavilion at Lord’s because of them, and their battered state. You only get one shot with the security at Lord’s and I didn’t quite have the chutzpah to say, with a tear in my eye, “these were my father’s shoes”, largely because they weren’t. So I went in through another door.)
My suede desert boots, long an essential part of my summer plumage, are too far gone in decrepitude to be much good here, so I didn’t take them.
As I said last week, I am expecting a visitor and I would like to give her the impression that I am actually a civilised man, and not some kind of ape who has been trained to dress himself in a fashion comically like that of Homo sapiens. During the worst of the heatwave I bought a 50 per cent polyester short-sleeved shirt from the charity shop for a quid but it’s now too cool, weather-wise, to wear it; also, it is not quite the garment with which one impresses a lady.
I drove to the nearest Big Tesco, the kind that is big enough to sell clothes, but they didn’t have a shirt I liked (I need a darker one, all-cotton, because I have learned that wearing a white or pale blue shirt isn’t the cleverest fashion statement when you’re lighting a coal fire every evening) and the smallest-waisted trousers were 32”, which is a couple of inches too big for me. There were plenty of trousers with my inside leg measurement, but their waists suggested different bodily proportions to mine, and I will have to eat a lot of haggis before I fit into even the slenderest of them.
Meanwhile, Scotland continues to entrance, and if I said before that I have fallen in love with the country, that was nothing. This is the Real Thing. News from south of the border, and indeed from the rest of the world, makes me feel as though the best place to be right now is sheltering under the protection of the Cairngorms.
Also, as the internet noted, the Scots have the best anti-Trump slogans, and they voted Remain. I love them, and although sometimes the accent falls somewhat heavily on my ears – I had to ask for three repetitions from a passer-by who had kindly informed me that the pick-up truck’s bonnet wasn’t properly shut – I get by, and no one mocks or disparages me for mine. I am also having to check myself from saying “aye” instead of “yes”, in case anyone thinks I’m taking the mickey. I am not.
I have noticed, by the way, that drivers are considerably more courteous here than in the south: when pulling over to one side to let another car pass on the winding hill roads, there is always, always, an exchange of waves between the two drivers, friendly almost to the point where it seems we are about to stop, get out and exchange phone numbers. I also like driving the pick-up truck because it makes me look as though I have a proper job here, something manly like timber management or fence-mending, instead of writing book reviews and whimsical accounts of my shenanigans for a venerable left-wing magazine.
Oh, and the beauty of the place. This is what heaven must look like – well, maybe a little further north than I am, but only a short drive. The trick is persuading people to come up here. I can’t say “this is how you find out who your friends really are” because only the strongest of motives could get someone to spend £150 on a return train ticket, or make an eight-hour drive, however much they will realise it was worth it when they arrive.
Actually, it so happens that I have recently met someone who is prepared to make that journey, and I am, I must admit, getting all in a tizz about it. A very pleasant tizz. I have yet to give her a nickname appropriate for use in this column – it is early days yet – but I have a feeling that the auguries are good.
After all, you don’t spend nine hours chatting on the phone to someone you won’t get on with once she’s stepped out of the car. (I bet you haven’t spoken to someone for nine hours on the phone. Well, it’s a record for me.) So cautiously, and without wanting to jinx anything, I can at least say right now that I am still happier than I have been for years.
This article appears in the 22 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special