Ian Jack Protests Too Much

For some reason I found myself reading Ian Jack’s column in the Guardian on Saturday which you can read here if you’re interested. It’s a bit of a long ramble about Anglophilia/phobia and Scottish independence amongst other things.

I have to say that I do like England and have lots of English friends and family, but I really can’t stand the sort of Scots who go down to England and have the attitude that they have somehow got one up on the rest of us who weren’t successful enough to get ourselves to the south. We tried it and didnae like it – so we took oorselves aff hame again.

Not for the first time I wondered to myself why Ian Jack is given space in the Guardian at all but this article seemed to be even more silly than usual. I think he feels guilty for being a Scot living in England, I can’t see why else he would write about famous Scots who found themselves living/dying in England. You don’t have to be brilliant to realise that lots of Scots have had to go to England at some point for work or career reasons. Most of us do want to get back home as soon as we can, especially if we’ve had the misfortune to pitch up in the very over-crowded south-east.

Poor R.L. Stevenson was in Bournemouth at one point apparently and Lewis Grassic Gibbon died in Welwyn Garden City (I managed to survive it – just!) It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Ian Jack that doctors routinely told their patients to move to a warmer climate when they had poor health, generally TB/consumption. The doctors knew that there was nothing they could do for them. If they were wealthy they took themselves off to Italy and died a wee bit slower than they would have in Scotland’s colder climate. Otherwise they went to the south of England where the weather was marginally better in the summer. However the worst two winters which I have lived through were way down south in Essex.

R.L. Stevenson who had been sickly even as a child, went all over the place trying to prolong his life in hot climates, but to no avail. John Buchan lived in Oxfordshire (shock horror) he had graduated from Oxford University but as a career diplomat he spent most of his life in Canada and became the Governor General there, he was steeped in all things Scottish as far as I can see.

But it was when Ian Jack mentions that Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows and describes it as “one of greatest Anglophile novels” – I thought to myself Ian Jack has lost it completely!

Kenneth Grahame had an idyllic childhood with his siblings in rural Perthshire, until the death of their mother. It wasn’t long after that shock that they were all moved down to England, where Kenneth was badly bullied at school because of his Scottish accent. I know that people who should know better point to a stretch of river and say that it is where Kenneth Grahame set the book. In reality the setting was his childhood, the characters his siblings and yes THE WEASELS were the English. They were the people who had pushed him around as a child – and he was getting his own back. It suited him at that very class conscious time to see the good guys – Mole, Ratty, Toad and Badger as English gentlemen and the weasels as common riff-raff, and no doubt for commercial reasons that was the right thing to do because the book wouldn’t have been published otherwise. Perhaps Ian Jack should read some books on children’s literature of the early 20th century.

By the way – the people I know who are the most ardent supporters
of Scottish independence just happen to come from Surrey and Oregon, but they live in Scotland so they’ll be voting, which is just as it should be. I have no idea what’s going on in the minds of the ex-pat Scots many of whom apparently want a vote when the time comes. Whoever heard of people having a vote in a country they don’t live in!

8 thoughts on “Ian Jack Protests Too Much

  1. Living in the colonies (my ancestors left Scotland in the eighteenth century) I can’t –and wouldn’t dare–comment on the bulk of this post.

    But I very much enjoyed the insight into Kenneth Grahame’s writing – thank you!

    • Debbie,
      They left such a long time ago, I wonder if they were victims of the highland clearances. I bet they were pining for the hills of home. Often ex-pat Scots are more Scottish than the ones who have never left!

  2. The main clearances were in the 19th century, but maybe Debbie’s folks left Scotland in the wake of Culloden. I used to be amazed at the lack of geographical knowledge of Scotland by the English, mainly southerners, till it struck me that a Scot will probably have to go to England sometime in their lives even if it is just to fly from Newcastle, Manchester or London to somewhere outside the UK, but an Englishman need never come to Scotland ever in his life. Still, I do wonder sometimes what they are taught at school about Scotland. My B&B guests (years ago) used to have the weirdest notions! “There’s no point in going beyond Edinburgh,” some told me. “There’s nothing there!” Excuse me? “Yes, we’ve been right up to the top! Inverness!” (There’s another 100 miles and more of the mainland beyond Inverness!) “It’s very flat, Scotland!” This from someone who had been as far as the southwest of Scotland, and she was totally amazed when I told her we have Britain’s highest mountains in the north and west. Another group asked me to book them accommodation in Edinburgh for that night. I asked them what they were planning on doing in Scotland. Pitlochry, Inverness, Loch Ness, Fort William, Glencoe, Loch Lomond… “Great. How long will you take?” They looked at me like I was crazy woman and said, you’ve just booked us a place for tonight in Edinburgh. They reckoned to do the tour and take in a few castles and a distillery, in one day, and they weren’t exactly rushing away early in the morning! They wouldn’t believe me when I told them they couldn’t do all they planned in one day! I’d like to have been a fly on the wall in their car, as they obviously were going to go on with their planned route!

    • Evee,
      Yes there was a lot of movement in the 19thC but it started in the 1760s and a lot were cleared to make way for sheep in the 1790s, of course a lot of people just left of their own accord, hoping for a better life elsewhere. Owning a B&B you seem to have met a lot of very ignorant people. I thought it was bad enough when a woman I worked with in Essex asked me if we had TV in Scotland!! Most English people seem to have been to Florida and all over but hardly any have been to Scotland and the ones that do make it here seem amazed that it’s different from England and have to tell you – as if you didn’t already know.

        • Evee,
          That website has some amount of info on it! It has taken me quite a while to get through it. I was also interested in that list of people who own large swathes of Scotland now. There don’t seem to be many Scots!

  3. People cleared of the land in 1760! Amazing. People were being cleared off the land away down in England in the days of “Good Queen Bess”.

    Not because the landlords were English (well, of course they were) but because they were rich, and had the power.

    English, Scots/Scotch/Scottish whatever – gie’s a brek, eh?

    • Jack Oliver,
      The landlords clearing folk off the land in Scotland were actually Scottish, usually clan chiefs – parcel o’ rogues in a nation – and all that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *