Today, on St. Andrew’s Day, I turn my mind to some of the everyday things that I like about Scotland and, in particular, Edinburgh. I love morning rolls, those soft white bread rolls that stay fresh for just a few hours. Delicious filled with crispy bacon, they were becoming a bad habit of mine, so I have reduced my intake to Saturday mornings only! Unlike many, I (occasionally) like to eat haggis and sometimes I will even have it in a morning roll – as I did when my Canadian family came to stay. It’s said the Scots sometimes have a Tunnocks caramel wafer for breakfast, as far as I can see, though, this is a porridge-eating nation and I love how takeaway bowls of porridge are sold to morning commuters from re-fashioned police boxes on street corners. I love how, almost every day, I will see men and boys in kilts; bound for a formal occasion, off to the rugby, or just because they feel like it. I love the majesty and beauty of the city’s buildings, green spaces and views: spires and monuments, Calton Hill, the Crags, Arthur’s Seat, the Firth of Forth. I love the undiluted but unaggressive national pride, like when I was served a coffee in Morningside and the milky froth bore the outline of a thistle imprinted onto the foam – now how on earth did he do that? I love hearing bagpipes in the open air as I walk the streets. I love the crazy energy of August when the city gets its annual injection of global artistry. I love the words and phrases that are unique to Scotland. How staff in shops and cafés say, ‘see you later’ as you leave, a gentler form of ‘goodbye’, one that has an intrinsic expectation of friendship. I’m tickled when someone say, ‘jings’, a lovely word of exclamation and surprise. I love to be asked, ‘where do you stay?’ which does not assume – as I had first thought – that I am just passing through; it actually means, ‘where do you live?’ I loved going into a rather posh shop on York Place where the lady sold me what she called ‘a smart pair of trews that would take me through the season.’ I love how Scots proudly wear their tartan, and tweed, and Fair Isle knitwear. This is just a start, there is still a lot to learn and appreciate.
Then there is Saint Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint. He was one of the twelve apostles and his attributes included fairness, kindness and generosity – qualities any nation might aspire to. It is said that he believed himself unworthy to be crucified on a cross as Jesus was, and so he died on a ‘saltire’, or X-shaped (St Andrew’s) cross, which became his symbol. Scotland officially adopted him as its Patron Saint in 1320, however, legend links him to Scotland well before that, back to 832 in fact.
The story goes that Óengus II led his Pict / Scots army into battle against marauding invaders. Óengus knew he was heavily outnumbered and did what we all do when the going gets tough – he prayed, pledging that, if victorious, Saint Andrew would become Scotland’s Patron Saint. On the morning of the battle, white clouds appeared in the sky forming an X shape – the shape of St Andrew’s Cross. Óengus took this as a portentous sign and pushed his way to victory. Óengus honoured his pre-battle pledge and Saint Andrew became Patron Saint. Scotland’s flag, the Saltire, a white cross on blue background is said to symbolise this legend.
This morning I am taking a road trip outside of the city. The forecast is for a clear, bright, and cold morning. A. assures me that there will be a blue sky, and at some point on today’s journey – she tells me with certainty – I will look up to see clouds forming a white cross in the blue sky.