In the twilight of his life, Donald Sutherland compiled his memoirs. Published in the 1960s, entitled ‘Highland Childhood’, it recalled his formative years growing up in Oban at the turn of the 20th century. He spins tales of Kings, Empresses of France and local lairds plotting murder from Barcaldine Castle. He lends memories of a once free Argyll. Highland hospitality ensured that as a young boy he could ride by horse through the hills, guaranteed a bale of hay to sleep on and bread with butter and jam to sustain him wherever he went. Payment was dismissed and his knowledge of the land was developed from there.
At the turn of the 21st century, Scotland is a changed place when I move to Oban. Reeling from being pulled out the city with her material pleasures of Pizza Hut and the 45 bus, I proved resistant to change and took a long while to adapt. As I turned further into myself, the bounty of awesome lochs and twin peaked mountains became invisible to me. At the same time in Glasgow, seven girls my age at Drumchapel High School were being more productive. They were refusing to go to school and were striking against the pitiful use of dawn raids on immigrant families. These were enacted to enforce detention and deportation in the area. Many of these girls were refugees themselves and had only been in the country for a number of years. They could not be separated from their surroundings and rose to the challenge. Because of this, they would change their community and alter the law.
Where I felt disengaged from anything like the experience of Oban that Donald had, the Glasgow Girls showed an adaptability to their landscape that I feel he would have greatly appreciated. Obvious differences to their childhoods aside, they shared an integrity in their youth that speaks effusively of the human condition. When so much of personal experience is based on distant fears, they are inspiring tales for how to reconnect and recreate community.
I notice my own lack of recourse from being taken to a new place much more readily now. It was displacement at its most mild, but still, I relied on family and the goodwill of people in Oban who gave me a place to call home. I am grateful to all in the town and try to repay that by learning from my obstinance and helping others help them self.
The world has interconnected greatly since Donald’s day. Individuals thread cultures together in their own interactions and I think that is fascinating. Last October I watched two friends part each other in Fountainbridge across the Union Canal. One of them was moving to a croft in the Outer Hebrides, the other heading home to Santiago to support the revolution in Chile. One action inspires another.
I had to come up with this for a storytelling exercise as part of a weekend of training with a group called Green New Deal UK. The idea is that personal stories can be effective ways of creating understanding and explaining social positions. I hope this managed in some way.
And if you aren’t so sure that the world really is so interconnected, there’s a wee bug going about that might try change your mind.