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4 July 2018updated 02 Sep 2021 5:23pm

When I think of England alongside Scotland, it suffers by comparison

I googled “repulsive Scottish public figures” and absolutely nothing came up of any use.

By Nicholas Lezard

Kutkh the jackdaw has flown the cage: s/he managed, after some trial and error, to fly into the horse chestnut tree and we hope her or his gammy leg has recovered enough to prevent the rest of her or him being eaten by something.

As I sit on the lawn, I fancy I hear Kutkh calling from the branches. And there has been quite a bit of lawn-sitting. Yesterday, in Alyth’s chip shop (it is, officially, the best one in all of Scotland) the boss and I looked up at the TV screen and both boggled at the weather forecast, indicating that today the temperature in our area would be 29C. I wondered if it was a misprint; he said, “What’s the world coming to?” Earlier in the day, I had driven in to Blairgowrie to fill the pick-up with diesel and I bought sunglasses. Sunglasses.

I also had to buy some basic stuff for my living quarters. The previous inhabitants had stripped it bare. They hadn’t quite taken all the light bulbs but that might have been an oversight. I thought they’d left the fridge but, after I noticed that things that I put in it went all hard, it turned out to be a freezer. They also left the Rawlplugs in the wall that used to hold up the mirror above the loo, but unless I find a mirror that fits with exactly matching screws, they’re not much use to me.

Living without a mirror has been much less painful for me than I thought it would be. I am both unusually vain (oh! Those gentle brown eyes!) and undeceived about my physical failings (oh! Those gentle brown teeth!), so on the whole my desire to gaze, as Molesworth puts it, on my strange unatural (sic) beauty is cancelled out by my desire to spare myself the sight of a once-young man sliding fast down his fifties.

Also: no curtains, tea-towels, oven gloves, cutlery, or bog roll. I mean, I can understand taking away your curtains if you bought them yourself, but bog roll? Also also: the toilet seat had been unscrewed from the bowl, but what that was about I don’t know. Had they planned to make off with that, too, but been disturbed at the last moment by a knock on the door? We shall never know.

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I mention this to the master of the house, who has a somewhat impish sense of humour. (He introduced me, one evening at dinner to his guests, as the Suffragan Bishop of Mayfair. “Marylebone,” I corrected him.)

“Ah well,” he said as I expostulated on the removal of the bog roll, and speculated as to what kind of people did that, “the thing to remember about the previous occupants of the flat is that they are English.”

“I’m only a quarter English,” I said, much in the way that Withnail insists he is not from London.

But I am beginning to feel very much at home in this country. There’s something about driving beneath a sun-dappled canopy of trees with road signs saying “red squirrels” (when I was here with the children a couple of years ago I saw one sitting by the road, bold as you like).

Also, social interactions are conducted with a breezy geniality that is most cheering. And then, of course, there is, or are, the politics. When I think of England now and set it alongside Scotland, it suffers by comparison. If there is a figure in Scottish public life the equivalent of, oh, let’s pick some names out of a hat, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Paul Dacre, Jacob Rees-Mogg, then I haven’t heard of them. (I’ve actually done some research on this. I googled “repulsive Scottish public figures” and absolutely nothing came up of any use.)

If there is a downside, it is the isolation. I do not want for company, as there are plenty of people around the place, and the chickens have welcomed me with open beaks. I throw little bits of bread at them from my window, and practise my bold, fiery flights of oratory on them; we will, one day, become a force to be reckoned with. (The cockerel is not exactly the brains of the operation, despite being called Enkidu, and finds himself being outsmarted every time by the hens when it comes to finding the little bits of bread. I had hitherto thought “henpecked” was a purely figurative term; it is not.)

But I am aware, very much so, of the distance between me and my friends. I try to persuade them to visit but it’s a tall order. I invited the woman who introduced me to this house to visit, and she said she’d dearly love to, but added, “I won’t be going anywhere near the place while you’re there,” which is a strong contender for the nastiest thing anybody has ever said to me. I asked her which dates she’d like to come, and I’d absent myself, but have yet to receive a reply.

But the worst thing is being so far away from my children, the youngest of whom turned 18 yesterday. Good God, I miss my children. I thought that was the kind of thing only mothers said; but apparently not.

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This article appears in the 04 Jul 2018 issue of the New Statesman, England in the age of Brexit