Here is the story of a child I once knew. It is a true story.
This Child was born to Gaelic speaking parents in the Islands of Scotland. He was the youngest child in his family, his brother and sister being over a decade older in this world than him. His mother was the wife of a merchant seaman and in her early 40’s at the time of his birth.
Having borne two children over a decade earlier, and given of all her energy in raising them, the last thing she wanted to have in her 40’s was another child, particularly as she had to raise him essentially on her own.The boys father was absent for 6 to 9 months of the year.
She had hoped to be able to live a little for herself, with her elder children in their early teens, and soon to be able to look after themselves without constant oversight. The last she wanted or needed was another baby!
Thus young John came into this world,one May morning over 50 years ago.
He never knew when he came into this world that he wasn’t wished for nor wanted. He only knew that he needed his mothers love, but he never got it. Not in a way which he could understand anyway.
I am sure she did love him, she just resented the fact that she had him at all.
As soon as she was able, she handed over Johns care to her young teenage daughter. Johns sister had all the unpleasent tasks to do, such as changing his nappy. She also fed and bathed and clothed him,and looked after him, while their mother went around doing what she wanted to do.
Back in those days, Island children going into senior education had to leave home and go to the mainland for digs and education.So it was not long before both of John’s siblings left home, leaving him with his mother.
John grew up as a Gaelic speaker, and had not a word of English.So it was to come as something of a culture and linguistic shock to him when a new family home was purchased in Glasgow. From leaving the wide open sparsely populated Gaelic speaking Island, he suddenly found himself thrust into an alien metropolis full of people and speaking a language he could not understand. Imagine how terrifying that must have been for a 5 year old child.
Not only had he to adjust to his new environment, he had to leave home and go into an Institution called school.
He was frankly terrified to find himself summarily dumped in a school yard one morning, and being surrounded by hordes of children of all primary ages, running around and chattering,and shouting and creating what appeared to be general mayhem.
John had seen little of any children his own age,and had socialised and played with none. He didn’t know how to interact,nor socialise or play with any children, as up to that point, his only friend was his collie sheepdog called Roy, and Roy had been sent away back up to the Islands because he could not adjust to city life and had been knocked down and badly injured chasing a taxi.
He soon found himself the centre of curiosity and ridicule, this strange little boy who could not understand or speak to his peers in their language.
He found himself herded into a room with all the other children his age and sat down at a small desk in front of a rather ogre like battle axe of a woman, who shouted at everyone for silence!
John understood Silence very well, so it was not hard for him to be silent. After all, he was often told to bi(be) eist(silent) by his mother, when any adult was around. He was often told to bi eist if he asked for anything, or wanted to express an opinion. Being Silent was John’s natural state of being.
John also understood words like NO, as in ‘NO you cant have it’ or ‘No you can’t do that!’ , he heard it all the time, and accepted that No meant NO!
As he grew a little older, he was to learn it in different contexts, like ‘NO you will never achieve to anything’ , ‘No you are not good enough’ and when he wanted to use the wonderful Imagination he had been born with to try out new Ideas or concepts, ‘No, Stop that now,it will never work!’.
John knew the power of the words ‘No’ and ‘Silence’ and he didn’t like them one bit! But he acceded to them.
However that first morning in this very overpowering and frightening and strange new place, John’s Individuality and Rebelliousness and Resistance to all this negativity and control sprang into life, a spark within him Ignited!
At mid morning break, the children all excitedly ran into the school playground to play. There was much chasing and chattering and wonder at it all from his new peers. John was standing alone, simply watching.
He spotted steps leading down to a small basement in the playground, this was to be the Janitors dunnie (dungeon), but he didn’t know that at this point. He looked around the playground, and looked at the closed wrought Iron school gates, which appeared to his small five year old perspective to be at least 30ft tall. He looked at all of the children of all ages and observed them.
Soon the bell rang and the children all lined up in their class groups and waited to go back into the school. The older childrens line entered first, and the new childrens class were the last one standing to go into the school. Only, when Johns class line went into the school, he was not in it!
John had hidden himself down the janitors dunnie’s steps. He waited till all the line had gone in, and the prefects had checked the playground for stragglers, and he made a bolt for these huge gates!
It was a terrifying climb for a five year old, but John was no ordinary 5 year old! He had grown up in his tiny years climbing. He climbed the byre of his croft at the age of two, and would not come down, till his sister took her life in her hands to climb up and coax him down!
He had spent his first five years of life climbing small cliffs on his parents croft, no school gates, no matter how tall they seemed, were going to keep him penned in!
Up and over he went, and gone in a whisper. Freedom had called, and he was off like a rocket! But where was this small boy to go in this massive, populated, noisy, strange, hectic new world, where nobody knew him, and nobody cared? Would he maybe have been better off staying in this new prison they had put him in? At least, if not free, he would be looked after to some degree, possibly? He would have had to subject himself to having to do what he was told,and not to do what he wanted. He maybe had to play by their overbearing rules, and regulations, and authority which to his developing mind, they assumed for themselves, and not for his benefit. He would have to say yes,when they wanted yes, and no when they wanted no, yes ma’am no ma’am, but he preferred three bags full ma’am,as long as he could choose the bags and what to fill them with!
John wanted his freedom, and nothing else mattered!
So what to do? He quickly asserted that they would soon be looking for him, and they would be wanting to drag him back to that horrible place. He knew if he went home, that would be the first place they would look for him, so he could not go there, not yet. After school finished possibly, but not before.
He made the mile back to the Glasgow tenement where he lived on the top floor, but didn’t go there. He went instead to a neighbour,a woman from Skye who lived on the floor below, as he knew her, and could talk to her in his own language. A Mrs MacDonald was her name, and surely she would understand and help?
So he presented himself at her door, and asked for refuge and shelter. She was somewhat taken aback, but took him inside immediately and sat him down. She then proceeded to enquire what had come to pass, so he told her the whole story, leaving nothing out.
After listening to him,she assured him that he would not be going back to that dreadful place that day,and that he was safe with her.
Sometime later, people came to her door looking for John, did she know where he was, had she seen him? He never heard what she said because she closed the door. However, when she came back in, she told John that it was indeed the school looking for him, but not to worry, she had told them that John was with her, and that he was safe, but he would not be going back to that place on this day.
Naturally, we do know that John had to go back, there was no choice in that matter for him, and he would just have to accept it.
The next shock for John was that he had to attend a class after school to learn this new language called English. There were quite a few in this class, but he was the only Caucasian amongst them. They came from places like Africa,India,Pakistan and China. He got on with these class mates very well, and made good friends with them over the years. He and they had a lot more in commmon and could learn from each other, more than they ever were divided in the minor differences of colour or culture or religion. They developed understanding and appreciation and learning of each others differences, and grew to be firm friends, some even to this day.
The other major difference for John, was going home to the Island every summer, and staying on for part of each school year in the Island primary school. He could speak his own language in the playground but not in the classroom! He never understood why he should get belted for speaking in Gaelic, why was it so wrong? He didn’t know? He was just told it was not allowed and no explanation given. He had to accept that word NO again!
There are many other stories from Johns primary days, but this will have to do for now. His Secondary school story will be in my next article.
But what is the significance of this story to Scotlands Story?
Scotland as part of the Union, has had very little say in what decisions the Union makes, they are reserved for Westminster. Scotland even now can have no say in the Big decisions of what happens to it.
Scotlands different culture and traditions and languages are almost entirely overlooked as being Insignificant and matter not to the British State, they have no Interest or care for understanding as to why we may be different, we have to shut up and put up and do as we are told. They tried to kill our languages, Gaelic could not be spoken in public at one point in pain of imprisonment and beatings.
Scots and Doric frowned upon and we were forced to speak the Kings English.
They have continually told us that NO we can’t! No we can’t make it on our own! No, you must do what we tell you! No, you must adhere to our Laws and Our orders! No,You cannot make friends for yourselves and cannot speak to anyone else on your own behalf! No, you cannot try any new ideas, unless we can benefit from them and take the money for! No, you cannot aspire to do the best for your people, because you must give to us!
They have also told us to be Silent! We are fed up hearing your complaints of unfairness, be Silent! Shut up, you are just carping moaning Jocks! Silence! We will not allow you to speak for yourselves in the Council of Nations!
Do as you are told, and what we tell you!
But no matter what they tell us we can’t do. No matter if they continually tell us we are not good enough. No matter that they tell us we will never amount to anything! We know them to be Liars and Parasites and the Blood Suckers of our Nation.
We know that they use those of our own against us, to enforce their will. We know those among us who feather their own nests of privilege in a capricious State to the detriment of our well being,and health and wealth, and we mark them well!
For within every Scot, there is a desire for Freedom. Freedom of thought, Freedom of Opinion, Freedom Liberty. Freedom of Expression.Freedom of Culture. Freedom of Education,Freedom of Enterprise. Our own Freedom!
And we will climb Mountains that are larger than the Gates of Imprisonment meant to contain us. We may be sometimes daunted, but we have a spark within us that says, We can do this! You will not stop us, you will not deny us, and we shall succeed!
It is then that we speak to our friends among our own Celtic and Nordic cultures and they are with us for they understand our language. It is then that we speak to all the Nations of the world and they accept us readily, because beneath it all, they really are the same as us, and some of them too have been where we are under Imperialist rule, and broke out for their freedom. They would never ever go back!
There is a whole World out there waiting to welcome us, and we have a great desire to be in amongst it, and we should know no Fear, for we are Nation who stands tall in the Worlds esteem.
Johns Story is a mirror in many ways of Scotlands story in the Union.
And Scotlands story is as much Johns story as his own is.