Joan McAlpine is coming to get me

126
780

By Kenneth Roy

Gerry Hassan, that tireless commentator on where we were, where we are and where we could be, came to the airport yesterday to interview me. It seems I am one of 50 people whose impressions of life in Scotland he is gathering. His subjects are to be given a transcript of what they said. Please, don’t bother on my account.

We are in the last weeks of the winter timetable down here, so I expected to have the bar to ourselves. Instead it was full of jolly certain-age Scotswomen preparing for a midweek jaunt to Tenerife.

By Kenneth Roy

Gerry Hassan, that tireless commentator on where we were, where we are and where we could be, came to the airport yesterday to interview me. It seems I am one of 50 people whose impressions of life in Scotland he is gathering. His subjects are to be given a transcript of what they said. Please, don’t bother on my account.

We are in the last weeks of the winter timetable down here, so I expected to have the bar to ourselves. Instead it was full of jolly certain-age Scotswomen preparing for a midweek jaunt to Tenerife. I asked my inquisitor if he would care for a small alcoholic refreshment to ease the pain of these incongruous surroundings. ‘Not in the middle of the day,’ he replied briskly. A man who meant business, clearly. The smokers’ door burst open, admitting an icy draught from the Firth of Clyde nearby, and I thought nostalgically of Tenerife. Not that I’ve ever been there, and it’s a bit late to start now.

Gerry had with him one of those worrying tick-box sheets, but I was relieved to note that it contained only two questions. The first was to establish if I saw myself as British, Scottish, British-Scottish, Scottish-British, or something else. ‘Scottish-British,’ I replied without thinking about it. It seemed a broadly accurate description of my present vulnerable position on these confusing islands.

Gerry ringed my choice before I had a chance to reflect on the folly of this decision. I suspect that I will go down in the party records – the section headed ‘Dodgy Characters’ – as ‘anti-Scottish’ rather than ‘Scottish-British’, the two terms being more or less interchangeable. But it may be rather worse for me. Joan McAlpine, the woman with the ear of the first minister, sees the UK as an abusive relationship, the nice wee lassie called Scotland being knocked about by that domestic bully England. As a Scottish-British person, am I not likely to be viewed as one of the neighbours who knows what’s going on but does nothing about it?

I sensed that it was too late to change this self-description so fatal to the few prospects I have left. Gerry was poised menacingly over his next question.

Did I (he asked) consider myself working class or middle class or something else – I’ve forgotten what.

‘Middle class,’ I replied with a suspicious lack of hesitation.

Two women were still on the terrace beyond the smokers’ door, having a last drag before the flight. I could imagine them an hour from now ‘sharing a joke’ as the captions say, half-way to the sun, the first voddies draining nicely from Ryanair’s plastic cups.

‘Ah,’ said Gerry, ‘that’s quite interesting. You’re one of the very few people who’s answered “middle class” without any qualifications’. He might even have said ‘the only one’, and if he did I must remember to feel more isolated than I do already.


My friend Ian Jack is next on Gerry’s list of targets (Saturday, I believe). Because I know Ian reads this, I have an opportunity to warn him about the ethnic trap, the class trick, and the vision thing.


Get this. In the time it took for these nice Glasgow women to puff their way through an Embassy Regal, I had condemned myself twice. I was not only anti-Scottish, and possibly homicidally violent in the unforgiving mind of Joan McAlpine, I was also a traitor to my working-class origins in that citadel of the proletariat, Bonnybridge. What was I to do? Plead for an independent inquiry by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and risk my secret relationship with the middle class leaking all over the BBC?

Anti-Scottish Roy ‘went to the middle class for comfort’

I decided to tough it out. Gerry had me as comprehensively ringed as a Dunipace homing pigeon. It would have seemed wimpish to admit I’d got it all wrong, that I was doing my fading reputation no good with these answers.

Gerry also wanted to know, among many other things, if I had a vision for Scotland. In something of a panic – because I have no vision, still recovering from the eye test, but that’s no excuse – but I could just about see the smokers heading for the departure lounge, and the bar emptying rapidly, leaving only Gerry and me – in something of a panic I rattled off all sorts of wild, impractical dreams – the reintroduction of Maybole Town Council, a humane prison policy, a theatre in every town, compulsory education for children; impossible stuff.

Gerry looked quite amused. I really couldn’t blame him.

By the time I had finished my demented manifesto for the future of Scotland, the women were airborne and the next flight was hours away, to the shipyards of Poland it was going, and I didn’t fancy Gdansk in March. We walked from the bar through the silent, deserted concourse, speculating happily that this would be a wonderful space for a theatrical happening: an epic play about Scotland, a family tragedy of missed opportunities, abusive relationships, and partially successful smoking bans.

For an inspired moment I saw Joan McAlpine suspended in space, just above ‘Information’, pointing her deadly wand at anyone suspected of being anti-Scottish, while the central character, a deceptively amiable chap by the name of Eck, wandered in the crowd picking off the few remaining subversives.

My friend Ian Jack is next on Gerry’s list of targets (Saturday, I believe). Because I know Ian reads this, I have an opportunity to warn him about the ethnic trap, the class trick, and the vision thing. But since I’ve already bagged anti-Scottish, the middle class and the return of Maybole Town Council, he had best think of something else to say – while there’s still time.

 

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review