I took several planes from Narita, via Helsinki and Heathrow to Glasgow and with a heavy head and that stench that emanates from your armpits during and after long-haul flights, I crashed in the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn Express. The next day I moved to the Rennie Mackintosh hotel in the centre of Glasgow on Union St, found a hairdresser, got a haircut (including my first ever eyebrow trim! – it’s come to this), and then went in search of food.
It’s unfair to judge a place comparatively to where you’ve just been – but I did it anyway. From Japan, where every formal human transaction is a cause for celebration, much smiling and bowing, I was alarmed, though not surprised (as I’d lived with it before) by the big fuck-you greeting that meets you in Britain. I had to collect my baggage and change terminals in Heathrow, and encountered nothing but what seemed like open hostility from staff. This included the passport control officer who pointed out how awful my passport photo was, not to mention his rude impatience with the South Asians before me in line. Then there were the security officers who continued their conversation through me as I passed under the metal detector:
“I’ve given up phoning her when she can’t afford to call me and texts me asking to call her like I’m the one with money to just call her whenever she can’t afford to call me, and it’s not like I don’t pay for other things in her life like the groceries and the diapers for my nephew, which cost a fortune these days, though I’m not going to spend anything less than six pounds on Jeremy…”
Or something just as inane. Which I guess is the beauty of travelling through countries where you don’t speak the language. You can colour in every person’s conversation with subjects that interest you, or tune out completely.
Then there’s the customer service, which on the whole lacks service for customers. I went into a small supermarket in Glasgow and approaching the checkout, no one was there to greet me. After about a minute a woman sidled up and instead of saying “sorry” or “good morrow, good fellow” she said, “Put them down here,” and stubbed her finger on the register. You get this a lot in Britain. You’re presence in a store seems to be a burden for staff, and when they finally do serve you, there’s always an undertone of “don’t be so cheerful, you schmuck” to their voices.
Oh, it is fun to generalise, isn’t it?
Another sore point I’ve always had with Britain (I lived in Bath eight years ago) is their child-like tolerance of foreign food. I’ve travelled with Brits in Spain who didn’t dare drink the water, even after I explained it was OK to drink – that in the town where I lived we had pure, spring water flowing from all the taps. But no – bottled water anywhere past the Channel.
I shouldn’t have done it, but fresh from Japan, I wasn’t willing to give up the impeccable diet I had there so quickly, so I went in search of sushi. In Marks and Spencer I found some “Ready to Eat” but was dismayed when the packaging alerted buyers several times that All The Fish Is Cooked, Don’t Worry. I reluctantly bought it anyway, and sure enough decided, not ten minutes later, that I’d give up on “that foreign muck” and try to find a healthyish Scottish alternative. (Ho ho ho.)
This all led me to a wee existential crisis: what was I really doing back in Britain? This was my fourth time in Scotland. Fourth! (Firth of Forth?) My heart beats faster when I think of the USA and Mexico leg of this trip, so why am I stalling in the UK? Well, for a number of reasons; mainly to catch up with some old and dear friends and family. And to revisit places that have shaped me into the person I am today… Geography as nurturer.
Where do you live?
Does it *feel* like home?
Has your family always lived there?
On my second day in Glasgow it dawned on me that my Mum’s dad was from there. Like, he had lived there and had had a Glaswegian accent and had probably eaten tattie scones and haggis. He died when my Mum was 14, so I never knew him, but that’s a blood line – I have Glaswegian blood! With this in mind, I decided to make the trip to Scotland about blood. And lines. Basically, I’m clumsily making a segue to ley lines.
Ley lines are alignments (or arbitrary straight lines) that link geographical places of interest, like churches or monuments or spiritual footprints in nature. Amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins suggested their existence in his 1921 book The Old Straight Track, and ever since has had cynics cocking one eyebrow, and hippies playing bongos and lighting incense on sites where the ley lines intersect one another. Watkins apparently wasn’t suggesting anything mystical about the lines; he came from a more mathematical and geophysical approach. But nonetheless the patchouli dream-catcher set has created a stigma that persists today.
I don’t mind it though. I like looking for esoteric meaning. I like the idea that the water and blood in our bodies can connect with or is affected by the land.
After staying with my cousin Lily in Glasgow, I bussed it to Edinburgh to catch up with my friends Miki, Lisa, and Ruth. But that’s for another blog. Then, after Edinburgh, Ruth and her friend Travis drove me up to Aberdeen, and on the way we stopped at a secret den – which I’m on pains of death not to divulge its whereabouts – where several ley lines are supposed to cross. A Scottish-Australian friend who’d been there a couple months before said she felt a connection with the place, so I was curious to see if I would too.
But I didn’t.
Not that I couldn’t appreciate the beauty or the history of the den. Ruth and Travis had a better frame of reference for it than me and were moved. We then continued on to Aberdeen, the grey granite city of the north, and I had a lovely week walking through forests and around lochs with Ruth.
During my time in Scotland I forced myself to find a connection with the place. Both sides of the family have Scottish heritage, not just my grandfather, and I do admire the Scottish landscape and the awe-inspiring gothic and Victorian architecture. I also look like a Scot – I’d say I fit in there physically more than anywhere else I’ve been – I’m tall and broad, with clear eyes and a naturally dour expression. But I don’t feel a connection to it – in the same way I don’t feel connected to Australia.
All this turned my thoughts to religion. The way I approach it is to take the teachings and meditations that appeal to me from each belief system to form my own spirituality. I approach nationality the same way, though feel a profound longing to subscribe to one, which I think is ridiculous if applied to religion.
Nationality and religion affect the life you’re born into: the paradigm therefore for me was “Australian” and “Christian”. (I don’t think that the idea of a bloody hot Christmas will ever change.) But as I’ve got older, I’ve lost my blind belief in the Christian calendar, and after my travels around the world I’ve also lost my blind belief in an Australian identity. On the other hand, I wish that not having a nationalistic dogma (ie patriotism) didn’t mean I lost a strong sense of ‘home’.
My surname Rodgers is also of Scottish descent, though the furthest we’ve tracked my family back is to Armagh, Northern Ireland. It has a Teutonic origin, from the name Hrothgar, which meant “Fame and Spear”. The Ro(d)gers family crest has three stags on a black, white and gold background. My grandmother’s tartan is of the Farquharson clan, blue, green, red and yellow. And yet, like the ley lines, these linear pathways into my history don’t seem to mean anything at all to me; though with all my heart I wished that they did.