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Saturday, 28 June 2014

   I had just the slightest twinge of regret afterwards. This was owing to the fact that I’d been in and out of Scotland for the last six or seven weeks, but had not managed to partake of so much as a single wee dram of Scotch; and I was due to sail to Belfast on the next day. I considered mooching back into town to patronise a tavern, but it seemed a bit extravagant, not to mention a bit too reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Rick, drowning his sorrows after hours in his gin joint in Casablanca. Besides, my going without whisky didn’t add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world. With the time nudging 10pm I took the chance to update my diary in the common room where, at one end, the manager was shooting the breeze with two other guests. I could hear they were on the subject of the independence referendum, and there seemed to be some uncertainty about the exact wording of the question that Scots will be asked. I thought I knew this (at least approximately), so I said it out loud:

‘Do you think Scotland should be an independent country?'[1]
 
After this interjection, what happened was, they invited me over to join them – and in the twinkling of an eye I found myself being offered a glass of 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky! The two guys with this bottle of recherché refreshment hailed from the county of Yorkshire. Obviously I made some effort to convey my appreciation for this, before discussion of Scotland’s separatist stirrings was resumed. One thing that came up was the fact that the referendum would take place in 2014, the year of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, in spite of there being at least one decidedly unhappy precedent for this type of malarkey, within fairly recent memory. In 1989, when Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic sought to exploit the anniversary of a 14th century battle, in his case the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, to push forward a present-day political agenda, the outcome could easily be portrayed in a negative light. One of the Yorkshiremen provided the following great refinement of the well-known phrase, more commonly formulated ‘Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them’;

“Those who learn the lessons of history haphazardly will repeat its mistakes meticulously”

…attributing this to Blaise Pascal, the 17th century Renaissance man.The Geordie manager of the hostel meanwhile, having lived in Scotland since the early 1970s, tended to believe that Scots would vote ‘No’, but said the biggest threat came from the government’s plans to levy a so-called Bedroom Tax, since this raised the spectre of the Poll Tax, which is even more toxic in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain. Firstly, this is because Margaret Thatcher’s government effectively used Scots as guinea pigs, imposing it on them from 1989, a year before the rest of the UK. No less wrath-generating however, was the fact that when English and Welsh Poll Tax-payers turned out in their hundreds of thousands to demonstrate their opposition, the iniquitous exaction was scrapped – yet Scottish protests had fallen on deaf ears! Before turning in, our attentions were also turned to various high-profile Westminster politicians, and to the close proximity to each other of Leeds, Bradford and the other municipalities of the so-called West Yorkshire Conurbation. In the course of these
stimulating exchanges I was treated to one and a half generous measures of the sublime amber-tinged spirit.
 
   At breakfast next morning, Monday 13th May 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I remembered that, amazingly really, earlier in the season I’d been at the Memorial Stadium to see Bristol Rovers vs Bradford City, a pulsating encounter which finished 3:3, and mentioned this to the two Yorkshiremen. The Gospel reading at 10am Mass at Our Lady and St Ninian’s in Newton Stewart was from John chapter 16;

“In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”[Jn 16:33]
 
   Another driver-operated passenger vehicle took me by road from Newton Stewart to Stranraer – perhaps slightly suspect from the ‘walking to Africa’ point of view, but I had a ferry to catch. I then thought there was plenty of time to walk round the shore of Loch Ryan to the terminal at Cairnryan, but was reduced to another state of panic on realising my ship would depart from a quay that is a full mile beyond the one I’d nonchalantly been strolling towards, taking a few holiday snaps on the way. Knowing I’d have to hitch-hike, I was practically on my knees in a manner of speaking – the chap who mercifully stopped, the first person to pass in fact, must have gathered that I was in danger of missing a boat. Needless to say, I was extremely relieved and grateful, and glad to be able to leave a small tartan-decorated packet of shortbread on the back seat of his car.

[1] Actually it is ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

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