An Aussie pal told me a joke the other day. I won’t trouble you with the details, you’ve almost certainly heard it before and it isn’t all that funny anyway.
The basis of the joke is that Scots are not the most romantic nation in the world. The punch line, if you can call it that, entails a simple re-arrangement of the words, ‘Agnes’, ‘yourself’ and ‘brace’. Oh, my aching ribs.
Now, you might think that Australians accusing us of being brutish, insensitive barbarians is a bit of a liberty 0 after all, this is the country where the romantic approach of the average male is routinely compared to the habits of wombats (‘eats, roots and leaves’) but we’ll allow that to pass.
Let’s be open to the charge. Could there be a grain of truth hidden away in there? Hard to believe I know, but are we, the Scots, somewhat lacking when it comes to matters of the heart?
Like many men of my generation, I learned my skills in the noble art of seduction – such as they are – in upmarket establishments such as the Tuxedo Princess and Cleopatra’s Nightclub – known to its habitués, for the most obvious of reasons, as Clatty Pat’s.
Many’s the night, invigorated by a combination of dreamy expectation and a few pints of the amber gargle, was I walloped by an arrow shot from that Old Devil Called Love, leaving me feeling like I was floating on air – no small feat when you consider that the carpets in Clatty’s were stickier than a tube of heavy duty Evostick.
Duly emboldened, I eventually made my move, my head spinning with an evening of romantic promise which usually ended, if I was lucky, in a spot of face sucking and a shared bag of chips as I put my new honey into a Joe Baxi. (Which in case you don’t know, is Glasgow slang for a taxi, not an obscure, debilitating wrestling hold.)
Classy seduction runs in my family. A bit like noses.
My younger brother once invited his girlfriend for a meal, promising her that choicest, most celebrated delight of the Scottish palate - she was a London girl – mince and potatoes.
Not being altogether up to speed with the culinary minutiae, he purchased the ingredients, 3 tins, one of mince, one of spuds and one of peas, which he then emptied into a saucepan – no draining – serving up this undoubtedly tasty treat in an enormous soup bowl.
Perhaps it says a lot for his other talents that they later married and in fact, remain so, though I understand Mrs Johnston does all of the cooking.
My parents, both now sadly deceased, were actually quite famous around our way for being rather cavalier with their feelings. Out for a stroll on a summer evening or even doing the messages at the local Presto, it was actually possible to see them – shock horror – holding hands!
This was, of course, a great source of embarrassment to me as a youngster, having to deal with the invective of the local troglodytes who were firmly of the belief that holding hands with a woman, and even worse, your own wife – was unmanly and quite possibly the behaviour of a lemonade shandy drinker. (Not that they would have expressed this viewpoint to my Dad directly since he was, paradoxically, known as a man’s man and as a burly boilermaker, might react to the disparagers in a distinctly non effete manner.)
Apart from Mum and Dad, the only other couple who made public their affection for each other was a pair known in the vicinity as George and Mildred, due to their mutual antipathy, commonly exhibited on a Friday night when he’d been in the pub and she’d been home waiting for him, nursing her wrath to keep it warm with a half dozen cans of Carlsberg Special Brew.
So often did barneys erupt in their house, it was known locally as Madison Square Garden, but on the Saturday morning, George and Mildred habitually made a defiant show of their solidarity and temporary cessation of hostilities, by ostentatiously strolling around the district arm-in-arm, billing and cooing like a working class Burton and Taylor, black eyes and head lumps notwithstanding.
Received wisdom has it that domestic violence has only recently become abhorrent in contemporary society and that, in the past, was, if not exactly condoned, certainly tolerated and considered unremarkable.
Not down our way it wasn’t, as George and Mildred’s embarrassment and the palpable levels of public disapproval clearly demonstrated.
Indeed, such was the level of condemnation, George’s conduct often resulted in him becoming the recipient of a sore face, though to be honest, this might have been partially because, not only was he a violent wife beater, he was also an belligerent, argumentative, irksome nyaff.
Actually, rough justice in such situations was often practised – I know for a fact that a highly-respected local Doctor once physically upbraided the husband of one of his patients who’d had her head put through a window by her loving man.
How do I know? The couple were my grandparents.
Gran, a tough cookie who operated a crane during the war, eventually left him, a decision not taken lighty in those days when being a single parent brought with it a stack of pious judgment and self righteous ire.
Perhaps this is why my Dad, who I can assure you was no Pop Walton, totally rejected family violence and strove to resolve disputes, arguments and tensions – which, as in all families there were plenty - in a reasonable, rational and respectful manner.
And with humour. Always with humour.
A hard man in some ways, Dad was also, I’m proud to say, a romantic, forever marking Mum’s birthday with a huge bouquet of flowers, a practice which continued even after she passed away, 62 years after they married.
So, Scotsman. Unromantic?
Well, no doubt some of them are - as are some Australians, Americans, Italians, Afghanis and no doubt, every other nation on earth.
More fool them, I say. Be a lover, not a fighter. The bruises take longer to heal but the pain is far exceeded by the pleasure.
It’s become quite fashionable these days to rubbish every word in the Bible, but there are some things in there which, even for absolute non believers like me, are just perfect in their simplicity.
One such example is contained in Corinthians 13.13.
‘Three things will last forever. Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love’.
Hopefully it’s a bit early for an epitaph, but, come the day, that’ll do me.