Abandoning Paradise

Chapter Six     Crossing Scotland


While there hasn’t been an awe-inspiring spiritual epiphany in coming home to my birthplace, was it worth it doesn’t mean anything. Of course it was worth it as I’ve seen and done things I had never imagined; I’ve met people I didn’t know I would ever meet and others I never imagined I would meet.

Even without an epiphany, this is still the homeland of my ancestors and it has been for about a thousand years. The depth of this history is a weighty thing to behold even though I don’t know any specifics beyond the last three generations. There is certain knowledge of Clan Fraser being here for all that time although the Sopers were not originally Scots but rather came here from around Cornwall in England. Nevertheless, that side of the family has been in Scotland for donkey's years as well.

One thing I know now is both sides of my family hated it. My father was born in London but the family soon moved to Hong Kong where they stayed until just before the Japanese attacked in World War II when they went to New Zealand. He didn’t go back to the U.K. until he took his post-graduate degree in Edinburgh and he only chose that school because that’s where he could work with some of the best geneticists in the world.

My mother was born in China and the family went back to Scotland after that but as soon as she and my father married they went to Australia. My grandparents on both sides also ended up in Australia. My paternal grandparents never went back to Scotland but my maternal grandparents did and, according to Gillian, my grandmother hated it. It seems the call to return to Scotland has spanned multiple generations but the first reaction on getting here has been to turn around to go somewhere else.

It’s been an extraordinary thing to meet Gillian as we had never met at any time in our lives nor had we ever even spoken with each other yet she greeted me as family and has been very generous in helping me get situated here. I couldn’t get a prescription for my blood pressure medication in four years in the United States but, with her help, I had it in my hand after less than a week in Scotland. She’s broke too and yet she has had me over for tea time (i.e. dinner) several times. Meeting her has been a surprise and a great pleasure.

I’m living in Leith, the area of Edinburgh with the docks, which has been hard working class for generations. This is not a part of the city that would attract tourists but I’m on rather less than a tourist budget. My cousin has asked me a few times about going to see museums but I’m already in one. For me there’s much more to be learned from Leith than would ever come from going to a museum as, for me, the whole world is a museum.

The biggest surprise has been the emptiness of it here. Walking the working class streets of Leith has felt very much as it must have been for the bands coming out of Liverpool in the sixties. People take joy in their friends but there is a prevailing hopelessness in which people don’t look at strangers and instead blend with the grey overall. While the risks from hooligans seem overstated, life here very much typifies what Pink Floyd meant when they sang that ‘quiet desperation is the English way.’

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