Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stars shining bright above you

'Look at that!’ cried the Scottish cousins, standing in the middle of our street and craning their necks upwards.
‘The Big Dipper!’ I said.
‘Naw, it’s the Plough.’
‘I think they’re the s…’
‘Och, it’s that great to see it, the wee plough, large as life and twice as sparkly.’
‘And see here,’ cried another, ‘it’s yon chap Sirius, brightest star in the firmament.’
I wanted to tell them it was actually Venus, identifiable by its lack of twinkle. But I was too discombobulated by ‘firmament,’ a word I rarely encounter outside bible class.
‘Don’t you get stars then?’ I asked. Perhaps stars were like sunshine and the Guardian – not available in Glasgow.
‘Not like this hen, it’s the light pollution. Here, it’s black as Rabbie Burns’ waistcoat.’
‘Living in Barcombe was even better,’ I bragged. ‘No streetlights. You could see the Milky Way.’
Thing Two perked up briefly, but after being assured that no chocolate was in the offing he went back to climbing his tall relatives as though they were trees.
‘Shouldn’t this bairn be abed?’ a cousin/tree asked, as Thing Two sat on his head carelessly waving his skean dhu, the traditional knife that had accompanied his present of a kilt. The kilt itself was currently at the bottom of the bin, as I discovered a few days later, after feral cats had shredded the bin-bag to access the haggis therein.
The cousins had tried to deter Man of the House from making haggis (‘dinnae fash yersel, we’re happy wi’ a McDonalds’) but you can’t stop an expat Scotsman making an eejit of himself when it comes to the land of his fathers. I’d hidden his bagpipes in the interests of damage limitation. Actually I’d already hidden them years ago.
The cousins were commendably happy to immerse themselves in local culture. Charleston, the heartland of soft southern Englishness, was declared ‘right bonny,’ whilst a pint supped outside the John Harvey Tavern was a fine wee drop (if a tad warm). Whenever Man of the House tried to tempt them with a dram, or a piece for lunch, they stoutly asked for the English equivalent. It was impressive. I asked Man of the House if I’d been quite so when-in-Rome during my Glasgow sojourns, and he libellously insisted I’d spent an entire June week there wearing a sleeping bag and complaining about the cold.
Back outside, Thing Two was cutting holes out of the neighbour’s fence with his knife, and one of the cousins had spotted Orion’s Belt.
‘Won’t anyone say what a braw bricht moonlicht nicht it is?’ I asked, and they head-butted me affectionately around the forehead.
‘It really is gallus here,’ sighed a cousin. ‘Warm weather, starry skies, a choice of paper other than the Daily Record. Fine place indeed.’
‘Would you ever think of moving here?’ I asked. The night sky darkened momentarily.
‘Whit?’ they all cried. ‘Live in England? Are you aff yer heid?’

Beth Miller, 28th September 2011

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