James Christie’s blog: Scots and British? Still Shifnal’s Son!

Scots and British? Still Shifnal’s Son!

I sent myself and Mum down to a town called Shifnal in Shropshire’s east a week last Wednesday or so. The purpose, publicly, to talk of my book in the local library of the town where I grew up.

Privately, it was my mother’s 86th birthday present, taking her back to the place she’d lived in from 1961 to 1967 to bear witness to the sometime Shropshire lad who’d come good in the world but been sure to remember his roots. For her part in the tale that led to a vampire flatmate and a trek across America to be told by their erstwhile bard in the library by the tandoori and the Plough.

We’d been through not long before, visiting friends in Albrighton and asking directions at that very pub. I’d talked of my book to the bartender, picking up in passing that Shifnal seemed able only to claim Thomas Beddoes as a noted son.

“You can have me if you want,” I said, half in jest.

“We’ll take anyone!” he replied.

And so, once I’d first seen the library, the idea was born.

We talked of far countries and California to townspeople around the North Shropshire Plain, walking carefully over the Iron Bridge above the Severn and to the Royal Oak’s son, in whose father Charles II hid. I took a pint of beer shandy, Oxford Gold by name, in a red brick pub (the Bell at Tong) to which my father, once also, had come.

The trip started and ended with tea and coffee at Weston Park’s café on Salop’s border; and only then did it come clear to me that, reconnecting with my roots and history, I’d coincidentally reminded myself of my own Scottish and British identity. A fact as straightforward as breathing, so totally unrelated to the oncoming Scottish referendum there could not even be comment.

Lanarkshire lug and Shropshire lad, a combination that’s not for changing.

And as if to accentuate the parallels of place and identity (Shropshire and the Upper Clyde Valley both being rural areas near new towns with too many roundabouts, and both my home towns close to Welcome Break services), a new mapping technique confirmed that, sans Scotland, the new centre of a smaller England would fall in a field near High Ercall, not seven miles from Shifnal.

So it truly can be said, by accident or design, that I have a foot in both fields and a face, which fits both camps.

That should be cause for celebration, but in this sick and weary circumstance I am not fain to choose between the two.

September, 2014.

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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