I’m so glad I decided to fly over for Paul’s graduation even if it meant interrupting our roadtrip and leaving Roddy all alone in the van! Paul, my ‘favourite son’ as I like to call him, and I had some treasured one-on-one time together the day before the graduation, as well as time spent with Alan and Annette on the actual day and the next morning. I go away feeling at peace with the way things are. Paul is not one to enjoy taking centre stage but he really should be proud of himself. Secretly I am sure he is applauding himself, celebrating with a soy latte. I am curious to find out what he will make of himself in the future just as I am curious, even nosy, about Tina and Jane’s paths. I have loved every stage of my children’s lives, however, now that they are adults, things are becoming more unpredictable as there are no more everyday observations and they have become captains of their own ships. Sometimes I don’t hear from Paul for months – literally – or only when I contact him, and as much as I would like to hear from him more often, I know that he has found his way and has a passion for and understanding of his field. This makes me feel quite relaxed about him, knowing that he is happy and self-actualising. He was awarded a first class Honours degree, the only graduate to attain a first on his course. He had 100% for all assignments this year for god’s sake! He stood tall and proud in his Black Watch kilt and academic gown, always awkward having his photo taken but compliant nonetheless. The kilt was a gift from Roddy, a real Black Watch army kilt that had seen service before Roddy bought it.
He will now do a one-year Masters in Dundee and hopes to perhaps move to Berlin to embark upon his career. I’d love that, of course. He would perfect his German and would have the advantage of being a little bit different, an advantage that I have had both in Scotland and in Australia. Being a little bit different allows you to get noticed just enough so people don’t forget you even if they can’t pronounce or spell you name. I am still Rannatta Druaz to many Christmas card senders. In Australia people see ‘Renate’ but say ‘Renee’. Somehow the Australian brain does not allow for phonetic follow-through but looks instead for the vaguely familiar.
Tina and Jane could not be there, unfortunately, as Jane was working in Australia while Tina was travelling in Malaysia but I am sure they thought of him.
During the graduation ceremony I was in internet contact with Roddy and the contrast between our situations could not have been more stark. Sitting with Alan and Annette (Paul’s dad and his fiancée) in the Caird Hall in Dundee, I was listening to the very famous, grand organ playing Gaudiamus Igitur, which in itself was reminiscent of my dad who would sing this song with his Männerchor, watching the procession of the Abertay University’s Honourables onto the podium – while Roddy had just arrived in Leinster, a rough WA mining town where “Hiedi” was the skimpy of the day in the hotel bar!
Split identity disorder afflicts me thus at times. Am I mainly German? Scottish? Australian? My passport tells me I am German and I was born and grew up there until age 22. My sister and her family live there and my parents lived and died there. I can trace my German ancestry back to 1545 so I am clearly very much from there. Germany, my original home and childhood country has 4 distinct seasons, is academic, ambitious, philosophical, well equipped, fertile, pragmatic, logical, environmentally- friendly, punctual, sorted, rich, direct and outspoken, green, historically endowed and European.
However, there is Scotland where I lived for 28 years, where I finished my degree, had my 3 children, got married, got divorced, became a teacher, remarried, where I became an adult and lived most of my adult life. A land of mushy seasons, driech, cold, rainy, grey, beautiful, glorious, rough, erudite, drunk, funny, unhealthy, inventive, melancholy, sympathetic, socialist with a small c conservative heart, green, lochy, hilly, ancient, cultured, bebagpiped and Roddy; Scotland that tugs at my heart strings and has always felt like home. Now there is Australia, dry, hot, sunny, loud, gung-ho, efficient, clean, glitzy, brash, rough, beautiful, vast, up-beat, grand, untamed, red, venomous, wild, free, far away and Roddy. So different from both my other homes, yet becoming more and more home #3. Roddy and I see ourselves as citizens of the world but sometimes I feel compelled to decide on a cultural identity and stick with it. Occasionally people have voiced their disapproval about my expressing opinions regarding Scottish Independence and Brexit or the fact that I voted YES in the last Scottish referendum when I was going to emigrate. Can you only have an opinion if you are a resident or a native? What about all those people who fought in the Spanish Civil War? They formed an international army fighting for a cause that did not affect their home country.
I am worried about Brexit. On a political, social and economic level it is bonkers. Batshit crazy. Inward looking, divisive and isolationist. On a personal level, I don’t know how it will affect me: I have my house there, paid taxes for all these years and my kids are both Scottish and German. I am married to a Scottish and Australian man so, hopefully, this would be enough should we decide to move back to Scotland one day but who knows? There have been enough scare stories in the media. I try not to pay too much attention to these and will just wait and see but things will not be as easy as they have been and I might have to sell my house due to Brexit once everything is sorted. It makes me sad to think that this might have to happen because it’s like your home country telling you you can fuck off now, thank you very much. I have friends here, good, old, deeply ingrained friends. The same goes for Germany, my old school friends and some from uni days; and now I have newer yet very good friends in Australia too. I can’t decide, nor do I want to decide where I belong. I want it all and hope to keep it all forever.
During this trip Glasgow meant two visits to see ‘wee maw’, Roddy’s mum Lillias in Beardsen. She is 90 years old, getting frailer but very clear despite deteriorating eyesight and hearing. She is the head of her family and I was lucky to be reunited with all of Roddy’s siblings and most of their families: Colin, Shiona and Alastair. I always enjoy the warmth of Larchfield Rd and started to cook for Lillias when I am there, making enough food for the freezer to last her a few meals. She enjoys the home cooking as well as the company and we had a wee love-fest happening. Shiona, living locally, looks after her the most but Colin is in Glasgow regularly through his job and even Alastair and Roddy see her relatively often despite living in Sweden and Australia. Still, I always think that loneliness is the worst aspect of old age and any time we can spend with her is precious.
In Troon I managed to visit my old neighbours Angela and Des ‘next door’. They were my neighbours for 24 years and saw all my kids grow up. One of the nicest things Des ever said to me was last Christmas when he told me that me being back made Christmas feel ‘normal.” Several years after my divorce he also told me he was proud of the way I had handled myself after the separation and how we had managed things with the kids, spending Christmases and birthdays together, always. That meant a lot. Des is, of course, right. I am proud of the ongoing good relationship Alan and I have and am very aware of the positive effect this has had on the kids. Alan and Annette even came to our wedding 3 years ago and we regularly have social get togethers. Angela and I have talked a lot over the years about our families and shared the major ups and downs they and I have gone through. I couldn’t have wished for better neighbours.
I stayed with Barbara and saw a lot of her, as well as Kath, Anna and Linda, my friends of many years. It felt very inclusive staying at a friend’s house and I even got my dog-fix with Charlie. Dog walks on the golfie and the beach were just like before. One rainy highlight was our trip to Culzean to see a production of Pride and Prejudice there in the courtyard. ‘Twas a nice idea but we gave up during the interval when the rain had snaked its way through our waterproofs and the witty aspect of the situation gradually disappeared.
I love my old friends and being with them reinforced everything I mentioned earlier in this blog. We have been through thick and thin, bringing up the kids together and supporting each other through separations, divorces, comings out, dating and teenage worries. One of our nick-names was ‘The witches and lesbians’ but we preferred to call ourselves the ‘Welly-Gang’ due to one particularly sodden camping trip to Loch Lomond and an assortment of wellies at Akeld Manor where we spent a week. For my kids these girls are extended family and always will be. We spent several short holidays together, had murder mysteries, Secret Santas and shared Hogmanay celebrations. Every year we would take off in our assorted cars with dogs and trailers and camp in Kirkudbright during the last weekend of the summer holidays for years and the kids, all 12 of them, see each other as cousins.
Early on during my stay I caught up with old school friends Fiona, Helen and Claire W. who filled me in with the latest school and education gossip and it was great to hear their news. To round things off I stayed with Pauline and Willie in Prestwick. Pauline’s sister Marion was also there and we had a great night with lots of wine and food. Pauline was my first friend when I arrived in Glasgow in 1987. She was my flatmate in Alan’s flat and, through her, I met loads of other people so she is one of the most important people in my life even though sometimes we don’t see each other for ages.
A very sudden and sad event happened during my stay: Douglas Cotter’s sudden passing. Douglas was my first ever PT English at Marr. I always liked him a lot on a personal level and had great respect for his subject knowledge. He had an old fashioned approach to his teaching, expecting students to listen and to think. I had the privilege of observing his teaching of Gatsby to a slightly lack-lustre Higher class. Pearls and swine came to mind watching Douglas trying to convey the finer points but I was drooling. My friend Linda was taught by him and she always commented on how they were struck by Cupid when young Douglas drove up in his open-top sports car, flashing his wrap-around smile. Early on during my stay I heard that Douglas had acute leukaemia and bought a card to send to Crosshouse Hospital but, unfortunately, before I could send it, I found out that he had passed away. Very sad and very unreal.
Travelling both ways, I stayed in the Premier Inn at Dubai airport for the first time. Roddy and I both love our overnights in Dubai as it makes the overall journey so much more pleasant as regards acclimatisation. On the way out I had 18 hours there which meant I arrived in Glasgow not really worse for wear at all and felt no real jetlag the next day. On the way back I only had 8 hours there which meant only 5 hours sleep but it was worth it nonetheless. In the hotel shuttle bus I made friends with a very bright and beautiful 6 year old Afghani girl called Zarah, who was travelling back to Afghanistan. She couldn’t remember which town she lived in but she did speak fluent English as well as Pashtun and Farsi. Quite impressive really. We talked about her two brothers, our favourite colours, sparkly things and her brother’s talent for farting as well as the many applications of this skill of his.
Coming back to Perth I stayed again with Kate, Tim and their family as well as my other favourite dog, Atticus. Kate and Tim are old friend of Roddy’s from before his emigration as they all lived in London at the time but came to Australia in the same year. I think it’s fair to say that Kate is my oldest friend in Perth. Together we met Alex, Roddy’s daughter as well as my Jane and Karina in Freo. Happy days all round! On my last day in Perth I met up on my own with Jane. I love having her here as I know that she loves me being here too as we are a wee outpost of the D-Bs here down under and family for each other. Jane’s future plans are percolating inside her head and we have to wait and see what will emerge. I met up with Angela and Lis, my Shenton friends. I have only known them for a year and a half but feel so close with them, too. They are very special friends and I am sure we will remain close. Angela is from Glasgow and Lis from Bergen in Norway and I sometimes wonder if it’s the common northern gene that makes us feel so close.
So, after stashing such essentials as 8kg of rye and spelt flour, an electric bread slicer (to prevent Roddy from slicing his fingers again) and a longer grey water hose for the van, I embarked on the Prospector Train from East Perth to Kalgoorlie on my way to rejoin Roddy in the motorhome. This trip was exciting in itself. A typical Australian train journey – there are not many trains, which makes them all iconic. The prospector travels circa 600km and takes just over 7 hours. At Northam, our friend Nicki ran up to the train and handed me a flat white much to the amusement of the train staff and passengers. Nicki is a nurse who works in Northam as a rural oncology care coordinator.
Now I am back in the van and it’s great! It feels like home and Roddy and I had much fun reacquainting ourselves. Upwards and onwards – there are more adventures to be had and we must now travel north again to resume our exploration of the north coast. I will seek work soon as my account is depleting and we need to be a bit mindful of our timing as we will fly to Rio in October for Felipe and Renata’s wedding. That’s about the level of my stress these days and I can cope with that.