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by Greg Hemphill
31 January 2023
Greg Hemphill: I moved to Scotland aged 18, and was instantly at home

Greg Hemphill: I moved to Scotland aged 18, and was instantly at home

Growing up in Canada I always felt very Scottish. My dad was from Maryhill, my mum was from St George’s Cross, and it seemed that everyone on the West Island of Montreal was from somewhere else.

My mum and dad used to have incredible parties where all mum's fellow French class colleagues would come to the house to eat, drink and natter away, and I had never seen such a diverse group of people gathered together in my life. I remember standing in my pyjamas, aged about seven, staring at the United Nations, right there in my living room. Everyone was from some far-flung country, bonded by a need to learn French.

I think North Americans take great pride in their heritage precisely because they are removed from it. If you live in a place where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, then it’s good to know that you’re from somewhere too. We were the Scottish family, but other than my parents' accents our house didn’t feel very Scottish. We didn’t do Burns nights, although my parents used to put on Billy Connolly records for guests. If people laughed, they got invited back. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t see them again. (I’m stretching the truth here, but I think that’s how it should have gone.)

So, my tangible links to Scotland were my parents’ beautiful and unique accents (I used to laugh at my friends tortured attempts at imitating them) The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals (alternating each year, of course) that my gran used to send over, and watching and cheering for Scotland in the World Cup. It never occurred to me that Scotland had to qualify for the World Cup finals when I was young. I thought they just got invited. Imagine a team so good you could make such a wrong assumption about them.

But in 1988, I moved to Scotland to study at Glasgow University. The shortbread tin Scottishness of my youth was replaced with living, breathing, day-to-day actual Scotland. Why does everybody speak so loud here? Why are all the buildings black? Why are the streets always wet and why did the sun sit so low in the sky in December? I loved it.

At this point, my parents and younger brother lived in London and my older brother lived in Ontario so I was able to boast and rib my Scottish family that I was the only one who who lived here, therefore I was the only true Scottish member of my family. I would remind them of this often. I was like a lone lighthouse keeper, watching over my family’s Scottish identity, while they were all at sea.

You can imagine how this patter went down. “Shut it, Gregory.” “Ye're talking out yer arse, son.” A spectacular line of patter that was only cut short when my parents moved home. And there it is. Scotland is home.

At the age of 18, it was instantaneously home for me. It’s where I met my wife, it’s in the bones of everything I write, it’s where I’m watching my kids grow up.

My hopes for Scotland’s future are that for every single person who comes here, wherever they arrive from, I want them to feel what I felt. That right away, they are in a place they can call home too.

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