Tuesday, 14 September 2010


The following conversation took place yesterday between me and my agent:

          You know Neil Oliver?

The archaeologist – the guy who did that ‘History of Scotland’ on the TV? He of the flowing locks and high cheekbones?

          Uh huh.

Yes I know him, or of him. Why?

          I bumped into him today.

Oh really! What did he say?


 picture - copyright unknown


In Scotland we have the most dreary national anthem of anywhere in the world – Flower of Scotland. It isn’t even our official national anthem – no one took a vote on it or passed a law – and it's a bloody dirge in triple time. Who the hell wants a national anthem you can only waltz to?

Well, half the country does, it seems. The brain-dead half that goes to soccer and rugby matches. They’re the ones that seem to sing it. The rest of us think it’s a “hale load-eh keech”; we’d much rather have something like "500 Miles" by the Proclaimers. That might have bugger-all national sentiment, but at least you can pogo like crazy to it.

You can tell the ones who like F of S. They’re usually men, and they usually have beards, and they usually have a “pint-eh heavy” in their mitts. They usually fix their eyes on some misty, far horizon and stick their chests out to sing it. Oh and they usually do the silent stomp to it. That’s something peculiarly Scottish, and I will describe it to you:

You raise your right foot a couple of inches off the floor, simultaneously bending your left knee slightly so that you appear to sink down slightly. Then you straighten your left leg, simultaneously bringing your right foot back in contact with the floor in a way that produces a minimal percussive effect, if any at all. The contact of the right foot with the floor should occur on the first beat of any bar of triple time, thusly:

Oh flower of Scotland…
      ^                ^         ^       ^
When will we see… your like again?
            ^             ^    ^           ^          ^

And so on. The effect is bloody silly. Can you imagine this:

The action takes place in Rick’s Café Americain… in Stranraer! All the usual characters are there, the refugees waiting for a ticket out, the shady dealers willing to get one for them at a high price, and round the piano are Major Strasser and his Wehrmacht cronies. They’re giving a rousing rendition of Die Wacht Am Rhein, one of German nationalism’s more singable drinking-songs.

Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall,

wie Schwertgeklirr und Wogenprall:
Zum Rhein, zum Rhein, zum deutschen Rhein,

wer will des Stromes Hüter sein…

Enter Victor Glasgo, the resistance leader. He looks over to the carousing Nazis. He knits his brows. He walks over to the café band.

“Play Flower of Scotland. Play it!”

The band look over to where the café-owner, Rick McBlain, is sitting. He nods. They begin to play.

Nyur-nyur nyur-NYAH-nyur… nyur-nyur-nyur-NYAH… nyur-nyur-nyur-NYUR…

A couple of guys go misty-eyed and start doing the silent stomp… a few half-hearted voices join in, but don’t make it to the second verse.

For a brief moment the Nazis look over to see where the faltering din is coming from. Then they piss themselves laughing and continue to sing lustily.

Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!
Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!

Victor Glasgo slinks out, a defeated man. Rick McBlain pours himself three fingers of Famous Grouse… he holds his head in his hands…

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