A few months back I went to see King Creosote (aka Kenny Anderson) with my pal Simon. It was a matinee performance in the Queens Hall in Edinburgh and I found myself right up leaning on the barrier in front of the stage (I don’t know what they thought was going to kick off in that audience, but I appreciated something to rest my aching bones on).
There were visuals to accompany the music, many of which were drawn from the landscapes around Fife. I remember standing transfixed by one in particular with a slowly morphing, changing, distorting view of a house on a shoreline that was quintessentially East Neuk.
Being home has been wonderful. Where I live out in countryside in West Lothian is a good place to be every day. Fields and trees and paths to follow and big skies with whole weather fronts. Edinburgh is the city I moved to at 17 and lived in for 10 years, not realising just quite how extraordinary a gift that was. But Fife, the Kingdom of Fife, is where I was born.
I grew up by, on, and in water. I paddled and swam and sailed all along that coastline. I sat on beaches there, and walked in woodlands and fields with family and friends. Days out at Tentsmuir with wide sand dunes, the North Carr lightship in Anstruther with the creepy posed plastic people that scared me as a child, surprise lunchboxes full of whelks, lobster from Crail, sea-glass from Kinghorn, silver sands in Aberdour. The remnants of Second World War gun emplacements hidden in woods, 12th century abbeys and kirks. The Lomond hills. Falkland. Culross.
I’ve been back over the bridges a few times to visit. Family and friends are still there. So is my dentist. I don’t think I’ll ever live there again (though I dream of a wee East Neuk cottage), but it’s in my bones. Watching that film and listening to a voice singing in a familiar accent was comforting and connecting in a way that caught me off guard.
Who knows what 2024 will bring. I hope for another adventure. Robert Louis Stevenson writes about how the Scot’s are never more Scottish than when abroad, but I’m not so sure. I feel more certain of who I am when I’m here.
The Republic of Fife by Kathleen Jamie
Higher than the craw-stepped
gables of our institutes – chess-clubs,
fanciers, reels & Strathspeys –
the old kingdom of lum, with crowns agley.
All birds will be citizens: banners
of starlings; Jacobin crows – also:
Sonny Jim Aitken, Special P.C.
whose red face closed in polis cars
utters terrible, ridiculous
at his brogher and sister citizens
but we’re no feart, not of anyone
with a tartan nameplate screwed to his door.
Citizen also: the tall fellow I watched
lash his yurt to the leafy earth,
who lifted his chin
to my greeting, roared AYE!
as in YES! FOREVER! MYSELF!
The very woods where my friend Isabel
once saw a fairy, blue as a gas flame
dancing on trees. All this
close to the motorway
where a citizen has dangled.
maybe with a friend clutching
his/her ankles to spray
PAY NO POLL TAX on a flyover
near to Abernethy, in whose tea rooms
old Scots kings and bishops in mitres
supped wi a lang spoon. Citizens:
our spires and doocoots
institutes and tinkies’ benders,
old Scots kings and dancing fairies
give strength to my house
on whose roof we can balance,
carefully stand and see
clear to the far off mountains,
cities, rigs and gardens,
Europe, Africa, the Forth and Tay bridges,
even dare let go, lift our hands
and wave to the waving citizens
of all those other countries.