It’s a narrow lens, some may say a whisky goggle, but through it I glimpse my own ancestry. Sure, I’m hunting for metaphors, but the affiliation I feel to this innovative, earthy, street-smart, close-knit culture is real. It runs deep. Scotland has always been in me, I just needed some Scottish spirit to help me realise it. Hic!
As I’m sitting in Mansfield Park in Glasgow a few days later, waiting to meet, for the first time, my cousin Julie, bags bulging with enough alcohol to put customs on high alert, I have a fleeting twitch of self-reflection: am I imposing? I didn’t really give my relatives an option. I told them I was coming; I expected to be fed and housed. It’s what family does, right? But in truth, I’m a stranger: a distant, barely there acquaintance from the southernmost tip of Africa, sodden and tired after 50-odd hours of whisky. But that’s the thing with connections: they’re there when needed. And they’re hard to break.
I drive back up north with Julie, passing pretty much every distillery I visited, heading for a house made in retro heaven, where my aunt and uncle live a few kilometres outside of Dornoch. Aunt Anna is astutely humorous, like dad, and most of the clan pop in over the next few days. We catch up on common interests, compare living conditions and share Liverpool’s humiliation in the Champions League Final. Quirkiness abounds. I discover more of it on my runs: a historic trail with Neolithic hut circles and the cathedral where Guy Ritchie married some American pop star.
It all feels weirdly predestined, as if Scotland would welcome me only once I’d found my access point. That’s giving whisky quite a lot of credit, but perhaps, subconsciously, that initial connection was needed for us to bond further. On the coach back to Glasgow I glimpse Bill and Jimmy in the distance, chuckling affably while they nod their approval. At the airport, I’m offered hummus with my meal. I decline. That’s for my next quest, for my other half. Lebanon, stand by… a few more chickpeas and I’m coming to connect.