It’s the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s birth. As Scotland rightly comes to grips with its part in this terrible chapter of humanity’s collective history, it is important to remember that even in a time where slavery was legal and state-supported, there was defiance against inequity and compassion for our fellow humans.
Wheesht, wheesht, my foolish hert,
For weel ye ken
I widna ha’e ye stert
Auld ploys again.
It’s guid to see her lie
Sae snod an’ cool,
A’lust o’ lovin’ by –
Wheesht, wheesht, ye fule!
– Hugh MacDiarmid
Valentine’s Day has a bad rap. Too often, it’s an excuse to engage in cynical commercialism – and even if not, the celebration of love is too often the genteel, shallow, milequetoast sentiment that’s barely worth the tree that died to make ten thousand greeting cards. The original story of St. Valentine was full of defiant relationships, clandestine passions, and daring commitments, with the bittersweet tragedy and triumph of any Shakespeare romance. Love can so strongly be associated with other strong emotions – fear, anger, hate, sorrow, joy – that you wonder how it became so diluted and saccharine in the public consciousness.
A bit like Scotland, really.
One of the blessings of friends in international places is being their guide to Scotland. A while back, a group of friends I knew from my Howard Days were visiting, and naturally enquired as to where are the best places to go and see in my homeland. Since they were literary folk, one of the must-visit locations was Burns Country.
Scotland wouldn’t be what it is today without England. That much is obvious: England is our neighbour on the largest of these islands; we’re more or less the same age; a northern branch of their ancestors, the Angles, are among the four peoples who founded Scotland.
It’s nigh impossible to live in Scotland and not have some sort of regular encounter with England. Our public broadcaster is primarily focused on England, with English opinions and interests and accents on the main news, the continuity announcements, all the way to the soap operas and property shows; we elect MPs to a Parliament in Westminster which controls a great number of our laws, frequently against our own representatives’ wishes; the vast majority of newspapers are owned outside Scotland, and regularly headquartered in England. While most folk in England can live their lives largely untroubled by Scottish opinions and interests and accents, we in Scotland cannot avoid England and the English even if we wanted to.
That’s our lot as part of a United Kingdom of England Plus Three.
One of my most cherished memories of London was visiting the Natural History Museum to see my favourite dinosaur – or, rather, the famous cast of it – Diplodocus carnegii. I’ve been twice: once as a wee guy, and once as a not-so-wee guy. Both occasions filled me with the same sense of wonder, history, and awe regardless of the gulf in space and time. And soon, many wee Scots who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dippy will have their chance!
Jings, it’s been a year, hasn’t it?
It’s been a quiet year in the Wilderness, but there were still some fond memories and popular enough posts. I aim to do better next year, as always. For now, I’ll take a look back on the most popular blog posts of each month from the year that was.
Merry Christmas! Or Happy Holidays! Or Gledelig Jul! Or Secular Solstice! Or happy Hannukah, lovely Lohri, kwazy Kwanzaa, swinging Saturnalia, dandy Dōngzhì, or whatever dedication to that prehistoric practise of warding away the darkest winter nights with warmth, fire, food, and cheer. Such observations transcend tradition, region, nationality, even continents, as the Longest Night is something that affects every creature on earth, and has done for hundreds of millions of years.
Christmas is the most visible iteration of this primordial thing, and most Christian countries observe it. Some, such as Orthodox countries, celebrate it slightly later, in January, but the general idea was still there. Generally speaking, if a nation’s primary faith was Christianity, then you celebrated Christmas.
Except, there was one country where every winter was without Christmas…