Prompted by Ms Mac’s Things I Love about Switzerland, I thought I’d do the same thing about Scotland.
We’ve got lots of leg room in Scotland: we’ve around half the population of London, and an entire country to spread out in. As a result we tend to have fairly roomy towns and streets, and while there are certainly a few ugly bits we don’t really suffer from the urban sprawl you find elsewhere. I tend to feel quite claustrophobic when I’m in some bits of England, and I’ve noticed that the places in the UK and Ireland I tend to like are the ones with Georgian architecture – which is all about space and status, rather than the industrial revolution “let’s cram a thousand people into a few terraces” red-brick that to me typifies a lot of English towns.
We call them cities, but the rest of the world would call them towns.
Not all of Scots architecture is attractive, but almost all of it’s interesting. A quick wander round Glasgow demonstrates that: impossibly detailed Victorian buildings, giant sandstone mansions, 1930s housing with strong art deco influences, some brutal tower blocks and identikit glass and chrome office blocks. In the space of two or three streets you can explore two centuries of styles, and while it’s a cliche if you’re ever in the centre of Glasgow you should look up: you’ll see all kinds of mad things, from gargoyles to ridiculous flourishes. Thanks to rising house prices there are a lot more indentikit commuter boxes springing up in gap sites (and the waterfront is starting to resemble any other city’s riverside), but there’s still plenty to feast your eyes on.
It’s something we tend to take for granted, but no matter where you live in Scotland you’re never more than half an hour away from some jaw-dropping scenery, whether it’s the rolling hills of the borders or the alien landscapes of parts of the highlands.
Well, tourists unless they’re in front of me when I’m driving somewhere in a hurry. Although this also ties in with one of the things I hate about Scotland: our tendency to screw tourists out of as much cash as possible, whether it’s excessive admission prices to tatty tourist attractions or silly money for a cup of tea in a nearby cafe.
We’re funny buggers in Scotland: there’s a definite dour, fatalistic side to us, but it’s laced with the sort of dark humour that means everyone’s a comedian. Which ties in with…
7. William McGonagall
McGonagall was a poet, although I use the term loosely: he was rubbish – do a google for his Tay Bridge Disaster poem for some terrifying proof. Naturally, his very rubbishness made him something of a national hero. “Fans” used to organise readings for the sheer pleasure of taking the piss out of him, and as Billy Connolly points out, he was deeply eccentric: for example, he hated publicans on the grounds that “the first man to hit me in the face with a plate of peas was a publican”. Not “a publican hit me in the face with a plate of peas”, but a publican was the first to do it. Which of course suggests that hitting McGonagall in the face with a plate of peas was a pastime for many Scots.
8. Cost of living
It’s a cheap place to live. Even the bits of Scotland that seem desperately expensive – bits of Glasgow, most of Edinburgh – pale into insignificance when you look at the price of a house or the price of a pint in southern England.
9. The Tom Morton show
Tom Morton broadcasts weekday afternoons on BBC Radio Scotland, and he’s a national treasure: his show plays anything and everything, whether it’s musty old rock or electro-pop from up-and-coming Scots bands. Imagine a Scots John Peel with a less abrasive taste in music and you’ll get the idea. He’s all the more remarkable when you flick through the dial and realise that Scots commercial radio stations (with the honourable exception of Beat 106 when Jim Gellatly’s on) are even worse than their English counterparts.
10. Folk music
Good folk music, that is: there’s plenty of maudlin crap and jiggy nonsense. But decent Scots traditional music is fantastic stuff, especially when it’s performed by a bunch of drunks to an audience consisting of a bunch of drunks.