How the Scottish Highlands Changed Me

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The first time I visited Glencoe

Throughout the centuries, much has been written about the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands. Just thinking about them, and what they mean to me, conjures up such overwhelming feelings that I don’t think I could ever properly put it all into coherent words. But July marks three years since I first did a trip around this part of Scotland, and I want to write about how this landscape monumentally impacted upon my own soul.

This is not a travel log, but an attempt at making sense of these complicated feelings I experienced when I first visited the Highlands.

A landscape full of contrasts

I’m an atheist, but I’ve always been a romantic, finding great spiritual fulfillment in the sight of a crescent moon, throwing skipping stones on the calm waters of a loch, or hiking up a hill and basking in the extraordinary landscapes around me. The thing about the Highlands of Scotland is that you end up experiencing all of these awe-inspiring emotions on an perpetual basis, soaking your brain in some special soup of endorphins that are not quite like anything else.

The Highlands are a landscape of vivid contrasts, all packed with a punch. You can lose yourself in the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the largest areas of the ancient pine forest that covered much of Scotland, but you can also be presented with barren stretches of land that have been spoiled of all trees, and yet they are not dead at all if you look close enough, and have a beauty of their own.

Worst of all is to gaze upon the old remnants of cleared Straths, places where families and whole communities once thrived in their own unique and rich culture, but which now bear only the scars of what was nothing short of ethnic cleansing. These landscapes are haunted by the injustices inflicted on humans by those of their own kind, for the sake of some twisted notion of progress. I have no Scottish family that I know of, and yet my throat clenched at the sight of cleared Straths in Sutherland. My blood boiled when I first set my eyes upon the Mannie on the Hill and picked up my phone to read about what it represented. No adjective other than scunnered can quite describe that feeling.

Where there is dark, there is light

And yet, despite the darkness that makes up an undeniable part of the Highlands’ history, it is also a land that inspires good. Standing in Glencoe and looking upon the Three Sisters, it was a relief to feel so meaningless in this world, for how does our fleeting human life matter when you gaze upon the natural beauty that has stood eternally?

The Highlands humble you. They teach you that where there is beauty, there is hardship. They epitomise the fact that nature can be perfectly balanced in how generous and cruel it is, how it can be bountiful and merciless, how its breathtaking allure can be the end of you.

The Highlands allow you to revel in the enjoyment of seeing wild deer, but also contemplate the fact that these majestic animals must be culled, for all their natural predators have long been driven extinct. They let you marvel in the sight of beautifully fat salmons making their way up the rivers, whilst appreciating that these fishes have brought incredible sustenance to many communities. They show you your place in the world, as but a link in a great chain, and remind you of the threats that we face if we don’t fight back against the impending ecological catastrophe.

Finding our place in the world

As individuals, we’re all living a life where we try to figure our place in the world. Some of us like to inflate that place and imagine it to be much bigger than it is. Others don’t value themselves highly enough, living a life under the shadow of the Cù Sìth, the Black Dog.

In the Highlands, I’m reminded of the things that matter in life. We can let ourselves get lost in so many things that, once we’re gone, won’t matter in the slightest. I’m not immune to that, particularly with my issues around anxiety. But I look upon the white sands and crystalline blue waters of Achmelvich beach, the streams of water running down from the hills of Bealach na Bà, the ruins of once-mighty castles littered across the landscape, and I feel nothing but a tidal wave of serenity.

I don’t know exactly what magical means, but would I use it to describe the Scottish Highlands? Probably. When I’m there, I feel something reaching deeper into my soul, something I’ve never felt anywhere else, and it feels like I am finally in tune with the rhythm of life. More importantly, I feel like I’m exactly where I belong. It feels like home, feels like love. It feels all of this and so much more, and I know that many of the people reading this will know exactly what I mean.

I will never know why a Portuguese-born lad feels so incredibly comforted in a place as remote to him as the Highlands of Scotland. Some people have told me that I may simply have a Scottish soul, although I don’t know what that means. What I know is that Scotland is a country with incredible landscapes, and that these landscapes have shaped her people for centuries.

glencoe

Glencoe

Scotland is every wean born in the most deprived parts of Glasgow, Scotland is every song and poem written here, Scotland is the water of every stream and every stream is Scotland. Scotland is the blood-soaked memory of those cleared Straths and Glens, and Scotland is the promise of what we can do with our future in our hands. No matter where life ends up taking me, no matter what is to come, I may not have been born in Scotland, but that doesn’t mean Scotland hasn’t taken root in me. I feel just as connected to this country and its people as those born here, and I will always consider myself the luckiest man in the world to have found this fulfillment, which many spend a lifetime searching for without success.

Thank you, Scotland, for being so uniquely, profoundly, and beautifully Scottish. Thank you for the lessons you’ve taught me, and for those yet to come. Thank you allowing me to be myself, for the first time in my life, and to know what contentment means. I will never wish to be anywhere else, with no other people, other than in Scotland with my fellow Scots, auld and new.

Announcing My Art Website

Thought I’d write a wee post here to announce that today I have launched a website for myself as a professional artist, at wgsaraband.com.

I have been building up a wide and varied catalogue of my own original art for some time, and finally feel ready to share it in a more professional capacity, since I’ve started making a few sales.

As for BrawBlether, don’t worry – all my political rants will still find their way here!

Make sure you check out wgsaraband.com if you’re interested, or are just curious to have a look! You can also follow all the updates on my instagram.com/wgsaraband!

My Coming Out Story

gay pride

June is Pride month, and to break from the usual political shenanigans, I thought I’d share the story of when I first came out as a gay man.

The first thing you should realise is that there isn’t a single coming out for queer people. It usually involves first doing so to a sibling or best friend, before expanding that circle: coming out to your family, work colleagues, and every new acquaintance you make throughout your life. Whenever small talk gets rolling, and one is asked about wives/husbands/partners/etc, we usually have to offer a quick clarification. The most seminal moment for most people, however, remains the moment we tell our parents who we really are.

My parents are extremely liberal. We’re an atheistic household, my Mum was born in Angola, my Dad’s father was a political prisoner during the Fascist dictatorship of Salazar in Portugal. I grew up seeing loads of different people as their friends, including gay men (which I had no idea about, by the way). This might make you think that I had the easiest coming out in the world, no?

Well, not entirely. I was very gender-conforming growing up, and whilst I always knew that I liked other boys, I made an effort not to fall into any stereotypes that could give me away. Girl colleagues of mine would hang out during breaks, rehearsing some Britney Spears’s choreography, and although I’d want to be with them, I just went away to do something else with the boys. Not sports, though, I never went that far – I was always severely overweight and vastly uninterested in anything physically demanding.

Mum and Dad had no suspicions (my Mum likes to say that she always knew, but I’m not too sure; she only started saying it after I came out, so we’ll never know). Forward to a few years later, when I finally go to university, and move from the small fishing village of Santa Luzia in the South of Portugal, to Lisbon.  As I became increasingly comfortable with the idea of who I was, during my first year of uni (having loads of gay people as friends helped immensely), not even my friends suspected a thing. I genuinely believe that this was to do with me being so overweight and apparently thoughtless when it came to my image, not conforming to anyone’s prejudices of what a gay guy was. Zero interest in fashion, zero interest in talking about pop music (I listened to it secretly), zero mannerisms that could be perceived as effeminate. I went under everyone’s radar, including my gay friends.

I should also point out that I was living in a fraternity, with about a dozen other guys, and homophobia and misogyny were rampant. Their conversations were disgusting. And I knew that I couldn’t dare to come out there, because I’d face a lot of crap.

I first ended up coming out to one of my gay friends. I’d arranged coffee with him, saying that I needed to tell him something, and only then did it first click in his head. He was brilliant about it, and incredibly excited for me to tell everyone else. I’d also painted my hair blonde, by the way, and I think he was more excited about them seeing it than the fact that I was coming out. Anyway, I did, the following morning, before a uni lecture. Most of them thought it was a prank, and some didn’t believe me until months later, that was how entrenched their prejudices were (none of them were ill-meaning, by the way). Yet, as the months went by, I grew in confidence, even if I never came out in my fraternity.

Before we start the following year of uni, something finally clicked in me and I started addressing my obesity. I lost weight at an incredible rate, as I was inhumanely determined to fix myself, after I’d reached a point of loneliness and unhappiness I couldn’t bear any longer. I was an out gay man, and I wanted to have my first boyfriend, I wanted to dress in the clothes that I liked and not those that fitted me. I wanted to feel attractive.

As my weight almost evaporated, through a discipline and strength of purpose that I haven’t been able to recapture since, I started becoming a little vain for the first time in my life. I stopped hating the person I saw in the mirror, and started seeing the potential of who I could become if I kept at it. And so I did, and I started changing my style, and then I got my ear pierced. And then I got my second one, and this is when my Dad had a strange reaction that forced me to come out.

You see, as liberal as my parents were (and are), my Dad has some weird fixations about the body. He hates any adornments, because he thinks a healthy body doesn’t need anything; tattoos, piercings, even necklaces and bracelets. They’re unnecessary. So when I pierced my left ear, it was kind of alright, but when he saw the first picture of both my ears pierced, as he was having dinner with my Mum and brother, he called me. He wanted to know what the hell I was thinking, and if I was unaware that having both ears pierced could leave people thinking “that I belonged to certain groups”. This was a weirdly judgemental sentence for my Dad, I never heard him saying anything remotely close to that before or since. But that was the prompt I needed.

“Maybe I do belong to certain groups,” I replied. “In fact, I’m gay.” Slight pause. “You’re what?” he asks. “I’m a homosexual. Now pass the phone to Mum.” He hesitated slightly, and then I heard him tell her “Zézinha, it’s better that you’re sitting down for this.” My Mum picked up the phone, slightly anxious by the introduction that my Dad gave her, and I told her: “I’m gay.” She paused for a bit. “You’re what? What does that mean?” This was so weird, because of course my Mum knew what gay meant, but I guess it was her brain telling her that maybe she misheard something. “I’m a homosexual,” clarified, knowing how unambiguous that word was.

To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how that phone call ended. I had left the fraternity by that time, and was renting an apartment with three other friends, and they were all next to me then. I knew I was shaking, I could feel my face burning, and then we just celebrated as I felt a huge wave of relief.

My Dad called me the next day, and we didn’t talk about what had happened last night at all. It was all normal. It took me a couple of weeks to visit them, as I went back to the Algarve one weekend every two months or so. I went to have dinner with my Mum on the night I arrived, at the shopping centre of the nearby town, and she talked to me about HIV, how I should just make sure that I was safe, and then we weirdly talked about how she had cried so much when Freddie Mercury died. She also told me that she’d always known, but had waited for me to tell her. I’m sure that’s partly true.

Everything was normal. My Mum told my Granny and the rest of the family (it’s a small family), no one made a fuss whatsoever. Nothing changed between me and my parents, at least not negatively – if anything it just allowed me own my breath with confidence, when I was next to them. I was no longer playing any character.

I continued on my journey to lose weight, and it would actually take me a few more months before I even started looking for someone to date. It was okay, I took as long as I needed to feel comfortable enough so that I was ready to share it with someone else. I was 21 years old when this finally happened. My first sexual encounter turned out, unfortunately, to be one where I participated without consent, although that didn’t scar me at all, I was simply freaked out and ran out of his flat as quickly as I could. Took me a couple more months to find another man that I felt like I could date, and it turned out to be the love of my life, the man I’m still with, since the 20th of May, 2012.

As I said in the beginning, you spend your life coming out, if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s okay, we get used and better at it. And each coming out is very different. Overall, my experience was nothing but an immensely positive one. My partner, on the other hand, is still almost entirely estranged from his family since coming out. But that’s his story to tell.

Love your kids for who they are. Sometimes, they don’t grow up according to your expectations. It’s not their fault, they never asked for those expectations. The only thing you should expect is that they live a long, healthy and happy life, and that you do everything in your capacity to guarantee that you’re a positive part of it all.

And if you’re reading this because you don’t know how to come out, because you’re afraid of being thrown out of your house or being beaten: I will not lie, and tell you that everything will be alright. Maybe it won’t. Maybe your parents have been drinking from a poisoned cup for years and years, and they will react badly. But they can also surprise you. Never be too certain. The most important thing is that you are honest with yourself, and that you have someone who you can count on, come what may. If the storm gets rough, you’ll need help navigating it. But you’ll survive, and as you lighten your burden, you’ll become stronger than you’ve ever known. And you’ll never be alone – the LGBTQ+ community is a family, and we’ve all been there. We will always understand you.

The world can be a very dark place. I still experience homophobia on a more regular basis than it should be accepted. But how we react to that darkness is by making sure that we shine brightly. There’s no power like owning your body and who you are.

Love is love. Happy Pride month.

My Journey To Yes

The title of the video above is quite self-explanatory. My “Journey To Yes” is part of a series of videos by the brilliantly talented Phantom Power, detailing the various paths taken by different people to support Scottish independence. I was honoured to be invited to collaborate on one of these videos, and share with you a bit more of how I ended up as a passionate believer in Scotland.

This is part of a personally gratifying week, as I also had the pleasure of being invited to attend an SNP event in Leith, focusing on EU Scots living in Scotland in the context of tomorrow’s European Parliamentary elections. It was an opportunity to meet a few others EU Scots, get to know our MEP hopeful (and super charming and warm) Christian Allard a wee bit more, and also meet Alyn Smith. There was also a certain someone there.

Nicola and I

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon next to a wee silly bampot with too many opinions

Not going to lie, meeting Nicola Sturgeon was quite a moment. The complete madness of it all was compounded by the fact that, when I introduced myself to her, she immediately reciprocated with a “Oh, hi – it’s always a bit strange to meet someone you only follow on Twitter.” Yes, I obviously screamed inside – a silly Portuguese-born guy on Twitter, pretty much spouting nonsense on a regular basis, made enough of a blip for the First Minister to notice, so I’ll dine on that one for a bit. She’s followed me for a while, but I didn’t know *she followed me* like she meant to, I always thought it had been a misclick or something. Apparently not.

Had a chance to exchange a few words with Nicola, including about Portugal, and take that endearing photo which left my parents in happy tears, as they saw how happy I was.

I also changed my SNP branch this week and hope to attend my new branch’s meeting next month, in order to get more involved at local level. It’s been a challenge tackling my anxiety, but the rewards have meant that I have accrued some incredible experiences under my belt. May many more be forthcoming.

So, I’m happy. Life is good, my partner and I are healthy and as in love as ever, and things are going well at a manageable rhythm. I’m also grateful – don’t know exactly to whom, as an atheist – and appreciate these things with measured optimism.

By the way, don’t forget to vote tomorrow. Don’t ever take your right to vote for granted. Your vote *always* matters.

I was destined to become Scottish

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Me with a few of my own paintings

Okay, I must come clean – the title of this post may not be entirely honest, because I don’t believe in destiny. However, I can’t find any another word that quite captures what I want to tell you, so forgive me on this one occasion. I promise that everything else you’ll read here to be written with the utmost honesty.

Following the massively positive response my love letter to Scotland received, with hundreds upon hundreds of tweets, comments and messages that I got both here and over at Wings Over Scotland, where I was invited to share that blog post, I thought I’d expand a bit more about my relationship with Scotland, and how it started very early in my life, when I was just a wean back in Portugal.

My first novel was Scottish

I have an older brother, Tiago, who was born six years before me, in 1985. As a child of the mid-80’s, he started collecting comics from a very early age, and from as long as I can remember, I would take his comics into bed with me and look at the pictures, because I couldn’t yet read. I’m sure I made my own stories about what went on, as most children would’ve done. But the habit of going to bed at night, with a book, something which my I saw my dad doing every single day of his life, is a habit that has never abandoned me.

Transitioning from short comics to my first novel, however, was a huge deal. So huge, in fact, that I will forever remember the moment I first saw that novel, where I was, what I felt, and the excitement of wanting to get home so I could get started. I was around 9 or 10 years old, and I was with my dad at this shop in Vilamoura’s marina, where he used to get the newspapers, cigarettes and stuff. The shop also had a few books, and although I usually went to look at the magazines and comics, on this occasion, I went to the literature section, where I saw a bright blue spine sticking out. I pulled the book and looked at the most awesome cover I’d ever seen: two knights jousting, mounted on their horses, with a medieval castle standing in the background. That book was Ivanhoe, by Walter Scott.

Ivanhoe

The old Portuguese edition of Ivanhoe that I first read

I remember my dad asking if I was really going to read it, and me promising to do so. So he bought me the book without any resistance at all. I had no idea what it would be about, or who Walter Scott was. In fact, I read Ivanhoe and liked it so much, that I got my dad to buy me Rob Roy afterward. When I tried reading that one, I hated it. It took me until I was a teen to pick it up again and actually enjoy the book. And it was only then, when the internet was already thing, that I googled who Walter Scott was and learned more about this Scottish author who would forever be the person behind my first novel.

Ivanhoe may also be the seed for my love of history, and why I later graduated in this area at University. So this is a story whose ripples have far extended into my life.

I grew up with a “borrowed” Scottish auntie

One of my best friends while growing up was a boy named Luís, a year younger than me. His father is Portuguese, but his mother, Carol, is a Scottish lass born and raised in Edinburgh, who later moved to Portugal. In fact, Luís’s parents became best friends with my own parents, and so we were together all the time. I called him cousin, and his parents were like an aunt and an uncle.

As a young kid, you don’t think too much about these things, so I never took any notice of Carol’s peculiar accent in Portuguese, how she constantly messed up with the gender of the words, or paid any attention to what her being Scottish actually meant. But there were a few things which I markedly remember about her, aside from being a genuinely loving person and to this day and someone I regard very dearly as a family member. It was the way in which she pronounced the name of a brand of cereals: Golden Grahams. I had never quite heard anyone pronounce the name in that manner, with such music. Me and her son loved asking her to say it repeatedly, I assume, much to her despair – but she always indulged us.

Another thing about Carol is that she used to cook Shepherd’s Pie a lot when my parents went over for dinner, especially because my dad loved it. Again, I couldn’t imagine that a part of Scotland’s culture and heritage was literally nourishing me as I grew up. It was something I only realised later, looking back all these years, and which doesn’t fail to amaze me.

carol photo

My partner Roger, auntie Carol and I in Edinburgh, last year

A love of Celtic music, myth and history

Another weird thing about me growing up, was that I have always been drawn to Celtic music, for no reason in particular. It’s not something that my parents ever heard, it wasn’t something that I was introduced to. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but it was probably with something like Enya, moved on to Celtic Woman, and later Loreena McKennitt. These were mostly Irish songs that I heard, but then, as I matured and also grew out of Enya and Celtic Woman, which I no longer enjoy much. I discovered traditional bagpipes songs from Scotland, and the Runrig songs sung in Scottish Gaelic – An Toll Dubh being my favourite to this day. Braveheart’s soundtrack was also one of those that I went on listening to throughout the years.

Thank goodness for the internet, and how it allowed a young teenager in the south of Portugal to grow up with access to all of this. There were so many songs in Gaelic that I listened to, both Irish and Scottish, some of their lyrics imprinted eternally in my mind, even though I don’t speak the languages.

I guess this love of Celtic culture was borne out of my initial fascination of things like Neo-paganism and Wicca, which I discovered in my teens. As an atheist growing up in an atheist household, I’ve always been fascinated by the mythological and lore-rich aspects of certain religions, and I was deeply fascinanted by these New Age movements that drew influence from Celtic mythology. Alas, I never managed to actually become a believer – the concept of god, even if female, remained utterly bizarre and irrational to me – but I read a lot of books on Irish & Scottish mythology, which perhaps helped me better understand part of the Scottish soul which I now experience on a daily basis.

We must not forget, also, that the Celts migrated through the Iberian Peninsula, and indeed there is some heritage from that culture within Portuguese traditions, particularly in the North. Could that help explain any of this? Who knows.

Life has a way of being constantly fascinating

There are two things in my life, two loves, that grip my soul in profound ways. One, is the love I have for my partner, a love whose flame was ignited on the moment I first laid my eyes upon him, and which hasn’t flickered in the slightest in these almost seven years. I can never rationally explain how I feel like we were meant to be together, because I don’t believe in those things – but, all I can say is that Plato’s theory of the souls being divided by the gods, and us spending a life looking for our other half, is the one that best captures how I feel about Roger, my best friend and love of my life. The one who makes me whole.

The other thing I cannot rationally explain is why I felt like I had finally come home, almost in the same moment I first breathed Scotland’s air after arriving here. I don’t believe in a soul or anything of the sort, but the only way I can describe that feeling, is that it felt like my soul, who had never felt at home in Portugal, could finally breath, for it was now where it belonged. And since that first moment, back in November of 2015, that feeling has remained unchanged.

In fact, when I fly back to Portugal once a year, and although I love to visit the folks back there, I feel sad. Because I am going away from where I want to be, away from the one place where truly feel like myself.

Perhaps it is best that I cannot rationalise these feelings. That they are so deeply emotional may explain their overwhelming power. But the fact is that, in a way, something of Scotland’s spirit grabbed me from a very young age, thousands of kilometers away, and in my hear of hearts I know that this will never cease to be. I may have a Portuguese complexion, and my accent may never be like a native, but I have no doubts that these elements don’t make my soul any less Celtic. Any less Scottish.

Twitter can bring out the worst in people

This is not one of the posts I usually write for this blog. But something so remarkably fun (and sad) happened on Twitter, tonight, that I couldn’t but feel the need of putting it up here, not least for my future reference.

You see, I’m an optimist, and so I look very positively at Twitter. Yeah, sure, it’s full of disgustingly vile people who will fight over anything. But I’ve also met many a fine people in whose lives I’ve grown genuinely interested, and who I care about to various extents. And, crucially, most people tend to be polite, funny and warm – like in the real world.

However, had a particular interaction tonight that encapsulates the pettiness of this social media bubble. I’ll let the below image speak for itself, but let me just end by saying this: if your immediate response, when confronted with your own smugness, is not to laugh at yourself and recognise your error, but instead to double down and lash out in a horribly xenophobic manner, you’re just a vile, nasty, ignorant little shit, and it will always be a pleasure to put in your place.

Especially when English is not even my native language.

 

Screenshot 2019-03-06 at 21.06.10

A lesson in smugness

If anyone is wondering, deprecating and denigrating are synonyms when used in this context:

Screenshot 2019-03-06 at 21.02.18

Dictionary reference

How a Portuguese laddie became a new Scot

Yesterday, the Tory government published its white paper on EU migration post-Brexit. As a result, I spent my day arguing positively for immigration on social media, sharing fact-based articles showing that EU migration has had a very positive impact on the UK’s economy in the last decade. However, one tweet in particular was particularly popular, in which I specifically mentioned my personal experience with Scottish attitudes towards immigration.

Twitter is meant to be short and brief, leaving little room for telling long, nuanced stories. But the story behind this tweet is one I find worth telling, and I think it reflects incredibly well on the fact that there’s a bright, open future ahead of Scotland. I hope you find what follows to be worthwhile.

Where I come from

I was born in 1991, in Faro, the largest city of the Algarve – Portugal’s southernmost region. Like many people my age, I faced the blunt of the 2008 financial crisis when I went to university the following year, and when the Portuguese right-wing government adopted increasingly destructive austerity measures, little hope was left for middle-aged people, let alone us young ones trying to make a life of our own. I was determined that I would emigrate after I finished my Master’s Degree in Medieval History of the Islamic Mediterranean, especially because in 2012 I had started dating the most wonderful man in the world. He was studying to become a dentist, and he too had no real prospects of staying in Portugal.

In 2014 I finished my Master’s and he finished his Dentistry Degree, and so we moved from Lisbon back to the Algarve, to live with my mother. She owned a wee restaurant in Tavira, and my partner got an offer of work at a local practice, so we packed our bags and in early 2015 started saving up money to go abroad.

It wasn’t easy. Working with my mother, despite the love between us, was incredibly stressful. I was earning about €100 (around £75) a week, because I didn’t want to take wages from her as she was struggling at the time; I chose to rely exclusively on tips. My partner was working 5 days a week, full-time, as a dentist, and earning about €600 (£450) A MONTH. Yes, you read that right. That is the Portuguese reality, with a minimum monthly wage at the time of €550, a lot of people survived however they had to.

The upside of staying with my mother was that we didn’t pay a rent. We helped out with bills and food, but could put the rest apart and save up for the big move. Emigration was the light at the end of a dark, hopeless tunnel.

Where life took us

At my mother’s restaurant, 95% of our customers were tourists visiting the Algarve, or people born in another country who now resided there. And from those, about 60% were from the UK & Ireland, with the rest coming mainly from the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavian countries. Given that my mother speaks very basic English, she was quite happy to have me as a Front of House waiter – I can hold a conversation in a few languages besides Portuguese and English, including Dutch. And I will tell you why that is relevant.

From a very young age, I had thought about moving abroad (the reasons for that merit its own blog post, but let’s just say that I never felt like I fitted in Portugal). I always thought it was either going to be the UK or a Scandinavian country (Yes, I hate hot weather). But my partner wasn’t so keen about the idea of a cold country, and so we compromised on somewhere a bit less extreme – the Netherlands. We started teaching ourselves Dutch with apps like Duolingo, my partner prepared the paperwork to register on their General Dental Council equivalent, and we started preparing mentally for the move, reading about the country and all of that.

Now, on one particular evening, we had a couple of customers who had flown in from Amsterdam. I proudly practised my Dutch, and they were interested in knowing why the hell had a Portuguese waiter learned to speak Dutch. I told them I intended to move there. I will never forget their response. They exchanged a quick glance, and then the lady said to me, in English: “We have a small country. Not everyone has to go there, you know. The sky is blue everywhere.”

Yes, she sounded that much like a cunt. I was lost for words, telling my partner what had happened, and for the rest of the evening I was ruminating on how horrible she’d been. (She’d also left me a €1 tip on a €60 bill, to top it all off)

Because life finds a way of spicing things up, and as I grew increasingly depressed about the idea of the Netherlands, we had a table of three magnificent Scottish folks later that week. They were our only clients that night – a middle-aged couple with a female friend of theirs. Since it was a small and very intimate restaurant, they warmly started making conversation with me, which I was always happy to do with our customers. It started being about food and how they liked their steaks cooked, and me telling them about how we typically cooked them in Portugal, developing to them asking more and more questions about myself, why I spoke English fluently, my degree, and all of that. My mother was in the kitchen, cooking, but my partner was behind the bar that evening, and he joined in too. One of the ladies had a niece who was a dentist in Scotland, and as we became more familiar with each other, they started asking my partner a lot of questions about being a dentist in Portugal, including wages and work conditions, and were quite shocked to hear the truth.

That’s when they started telling us how Scotland needed young folk like us, how I would love Edinburgh and maybe even go to Uni there, and how my partner could lead a much more dignified life with wages that reflected the skill required for his work. I cannot tell you how lovely they were. The warmest, friendliest group of people, who were genuinely interested in hearing our stories and wanting us to have a better future. Before they left, they actually made a reservation for the night prior to leaving Portugal, so I got the name of one of them: Mrs. Pamela Speirs, from Glasgow. (I haven’t spoken to her since, but I would love her to know the impact she’s had on our life, so if you have any idea who this might be, do tell).

When we got home that evening, me and my partner looked at each other, and we didn’t need to say much. The Netherlands’ plan had died – Scotland it would be.

Now, this didn’t all happen in a vacuum. As I said before, we worked with a lot of UK & Ireland folk, and I had already began forming a few impressions. While our English & Welsh clientele tended to be more reserved, less generous in tipping, Scottish and Irish customers were the absolute opposite. They were always incredibly polite, very appreciative of my dedication to good service, complimentary about my mother’s food, and deeply generous when it came to tipping. (As with any generalisation, there were exceptions to all have this, I’m just outlining my overall impressions)

After that night with the Speirs and their friend, I started telling Scottish folks who came to the restaurant that I was planning to move to Scotland, and not once did I hear a negative comment. To the contrary. Mrs. Speirs’ attitude seemed to be replicated, as if all the Scots had been passed the same memo – telling me how Scotland needed young folk like me and my partner, that I would love the country. Some joked that I should take a picture of the sun with me, however, lest I forget what it looks like amidst the constant dreich weather. They talked to me about their own sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and how they were all doing so well back home, and how they already had so many foreign friends who had moved there and were happy.

A few more months of work until we felt like we had a financially robust safety net for the move, and on the 10th of November 2015, we took a plane from Faro and landed in Edinburgh.

What these three years have meant

Some of you might say that I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to come, due to the Brexit shitestorm. But I disagree . As the Brexit campaign exposed the terrible winds of xenophobia taking over England & Wales, it also showed how Scotland was a very different country. Of course, I am a white European, so I am still very much a privileged immigrant – Black and Asian people may have different experiences to tell from mine, especially since Scotland is a very white country.

But the thing is that I felt like the vast majority of Scottish folks didn’t swallow the anti-immigration rhetoric coming from down south, and that was confirmed with the overwhelming vote for Remain. While some of my friends in England despaired at the result (I admit that, in the morning of the referendum result, I felt genuine grief for how small and self-centred the UK had just become), I was energised by Scotland’s adamant rejection of that kind of nationalism that wants to put up impassable border and scapegoats the “other” for faults that aren’t theirs.

AUOB March Edinburgh

Taking part at the AUOB Independence March in Edinburgh, October 2018

In these three years, I have joined the Scottish National Party (and recently Plaid Cymru, the biggest Welsh pro-indy party), I have marched amongst my new Scottish brothers and sisters, I have voted in Holyrood & council elections. I have worked, I have lived, I have adopted two beautiful cats, and with every day, Scotland has seeped deeper into my bones. I have travelled widely across “this wee country of oors“, as I like to call it, met many a different folk, visited countless historical sites via my Historic Scotland membership.

Staple Scottish foods have become part of my diet, and I’ve fused many elements of my Portuguese roots with my newfound Scottish ones – I assure you that my Cranachan recipe with a hint of Port wine is to die for.

None of this would have happened if I didn’t feel like I had the Scottish people behind my back in these troubled times. Xenophobia is sweeping all over the West, but somehow Scotland has shone a light against that darkness. Our nationalism, if it can even be called that, comes from a place of acceptance, of a want for justice, of seeking a better future for the young folk that can do better without the cruelty of countless Tory governments we never voted for.

Of course, Scotland is not a place of exception. It has plenty of numpties and bawbags walking around, it has profound issues with alcohol and drugs, sectarianism, obesity, and I wish it were less white and more diverse, but that’s just a reflection of its history. And I love Scotland with all of these things to – for it wouldn’t be this beacon of light without the dark side, and I hope that I can contribute to strike another match, to make it all a bit better.

I can’t vote in UK-wide elections, but I can’t separate myself from this sense of belonging to Scotland any more – I always talk about our country, our people, our voice. Sure, I open my mouth with my Portuguese accent and it is clear that I wasn’t born here – and I don’t mind that people ask and are interested about where I come from. I’m always happy to tell all the good things about Portugal, about the food and the wonderful places to visit, and all of that. But it doesn’t feel like I’m talking about home, like it feels when I talk about Scotland.

At the risk of sounding really corny, and bear in mind that this comes from an atheist with no time for superstitious silliness, I do think that I was born with a Scottish soul. Its flame just brightens up at the sound of the bagpipes (or the Proclaimers, for that matter), its spirit is lifted when I smell the freshness of our cold winter mornings, and it is fuelled by the affection and love of the many folks I have crossed paths with here. Nowhere else on earth do I feel the peace I do when walking around the Trossachs, or setting my sights on the majesty of the Highlands, or when I’m walking around the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, my favourite museum in the world after London’s Tate Modern. I love the historical atmosphere of Edinburgh, as I love the working class spirit of Glasgow, and how genuine Glaswegians can be, especially compared with some Edinburgh folk who come off as slightly more… stiffer (they’re sweethearts once you get to crack their shell).

And there’s still so much about Scotland that I don’t know, and I look forward to it all – as long as the nasty Government from Westminster doesn’t try to get rid of me post-Brexit. Regardless, I’ll be fighting the good fight for this country to be independent, a sovereign nation within the European Union, which is a true equal union, not this little, narcissistic, inward-looking United Kingdom that is becoming increasingly less United with each day its glaring injustices are exposed.

What matters is that we’re all human beings, all one clan. We’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

Me (left) and my partner Roger basking in the elusive Scottish sun