Susan Morrison: Space - the true Scot’s final frontier

Explorer David Livingstone
Explorer David Livingstone
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Personal space, for most Scots, is approximately 1.6 nautical miles in all directions. We operate best in a tight and tightly controlled exclusion zone. I have known Scots in an empty railway carriage sigh pointedly if people sit on the seats opposite. And by Scots, I mean me. And by people, I mean Americans.

Scots will look into a half empty lift and decide to wait for the next one. Cinema seats are prized for their isolation. Tables in bars, restaurants and coffee shops are ours, and ours alone.

We can cope with crowds, if they are moving, but god help the moving statue who causes a bottleneck on Princes Street. That brass quartet from St Petersburg was nearly drowned out this year by a chorus of tuts, sighs and ruthlessly rattled carrier bags. None of it was directed at the musicians. It was aimed at those who had slowed to hear, thus forcing us to get closer.

Fascism would have a hard time taking hold in Scotland. They seem terribly keen on those big rallies. Scots just wouldn’t put up with it. All that standing about next to someone you don’t even know? Worse, some balloon telling you when to lift up a wee card to make a big picture of the Great Leader? On yer bike, pal. Not even a football match to watch.

It’s no surprise to me that we have produced adventurers and explorers like David Livingstone, John Rae the Long Strider, Mungo Park and Mary Slessor. Basically, that’s just Scots trying to get away from other Scots. The minute we clocked the wide open spaces of Australia, Canada and anywhere west of the Pecos, we were off like a shot. And frequently didn’t come back.

Greeting one another is a tricky manoeuvre for a nation that is simultaneously friendly and cagey. Some have overcome their aversion to the European fashion and are giving quick hugs. We do occasionally run to a cheek kiss, but only if we know you. I have seen the outcome of a sudden smacker on the face of an unprepared deckhand on a Calmac ferry. Messy.

In the tactile 21st century, we are still uncomfortable with full body-on-body impact, unnecessary hand holding, or unexpected lip action, unless, of course, it’s during a high speed impact during Strip the Willow.

And then Hogmanay works its strange magic, and for about an hour, Scots binge snog anything in sight. We’ll grab anyone and crush the life out of them, like Kong hugging his dame. We liplock strangers with the wild abandon of a flamboyant Californian interior designer. We greet people we have never met as newly-found family members who are found to be obscenely wealthy.

We become practically Mediterranean, if you swap wine for whisky. It’s like Zorba meets Macallan.