A friend told me about a week or so before we left that he couldn't quite believe it was actually happening and weren't we concerned about racism.
I recall frowning with genuine confusion. It wasn't as though John had ever been one to over-dramatise, that always fell to his wife, Lucy, and even as we had this conversation, she was frantically talking to her mother, advising her where the 'Meningitis Glass' was kept and urging her to roll it across the their new baby boy's newly pimpled backside, with the sort of feverish intensity you would expect between 0300 hours and 0400 hours, shortly before some thermonuclear catastrophe is identified, averted and subsequently found to only actually be the pre-cursor to a far more catastrophic event.
"John," I said while still keeping one ear on one side of his wife's conversation, fully expecting to hear a request for medical evac, "It's probably only temporary; it's just something we feel we ought to try before the kids get to a point where it's no longer an easy option."
"Yeah but Scotland; the Highlands, it's a different country; or near enough. They don't like us much either; and that's at the best of times but right now, on the brink of that referendum on independence thingamajig, aren't you worried at all about being, well, English?"
I was of course aware of the referendum and the independence debate but only in very general terms. In fact such was my ignorance I assumed that the SNP was merely a Scottish arm of the BNP and as such could be soundly disregarded as a minority fringe I was unlikely to ever actually encounter.
"No, not at all. I'm British. And so is someone born in Scotland, unless I'm mistaken; United Kingdom, remember; clearly with that shared identity I can't imagine it being an issue. Surely it's only an isolated minority who hold a grudge and I am not just pitching up with a flag, a red uniform and an army in tow. I'll be in a silver Citroen Picasso with the wife, two kids and a senile red-setter; although, come to think of it, she does have a somewhat regal bearing that might offend the older native. Perhaps a disguise is in order, a West Highland Terrier wig might do the trick."
"Not a problem, she's Irish - Celtic allegiance and all that - she'll be welcomed with open arms even if you aren't."
"Simon, sorry to interrupt, I need to speak to John quickly."
"Go ahead," I said to Lucy in response, knowing that despite the fact that the glass test would have been clear (it was the last dozen occasions at least) it would still herald, as ever, the end of my low-key leaving do - Little Lucifer would need his mummy to attend to the nappy rash no-one else (in heaven, hell or earth) was equipped to deal with.
While I drained the last of my London Pride and sought to drown out the debate next to me (loosely along the lines of, 'it may be clear but how do we know she's doing it right' countered with, 'It's always clear, he'll be fine, don't over-react - Simon's leaving tomorrow!') I thought about what John had just said. We, as in my wife and I, had decided to move to Scotland from Southern England. North Hampshire to Highland Perthshire, to be exact.
It was considered a lifestyle move, one that would, first and foremost, enable a better work-life balance, but also an opportunity to step away from the great, grey hamster wheel that was living in Basingstoke and working in Staines while embracing the splendour of some unspoilt, mountainous scenery.
We were under a few healthy delusions, certainly, but while we weren't anticipating the grass to be any greener, we had hoped for a less complicated form of existence where the heather was at least more purple.
That was two years ago. Since that time I've been, openly ostracised, routinely insulted, and heartily discriminated against.
I have also had property stolen from me, criminally damaged and, worse still, returned to me and, to cap it all, I have been violently assaulted on at least three occasions.
Why? Because I'm English.
Granted, they didn't happen all at once and and I am exaggerating for dramatic effect; some of those haven't actually happened in the strictest literal sense (I helped out at a toddler group for a while and those kids can be really mean) but I can, nevertheless, report that a hitherto unexpected form of racism is alive and well up in the land of the caber tossers. Not the threatening, hostile kind (outwardly at least) but the more insouciant, jocular form of racism that persists, well, just about everywhere actually, to be fair.
Nonetheless, the first overheard 'English w***er' was still a wee bit upsetting. The second and third marginally less so but the fourth and fifth could be considered a full pendulum swing back up to down-right riled, resulting in the invocation of, what I am given to understand to be, the gravest of all insults to a Scots native... but more about that later.
Shortly after our arrival, and sometime after our nosebleeds had abated, we collectively decided the best way to make at least a reasonable fist of embracing our new life would be to lay down some roots of our own; so we bought a plot of land and proceeded to build a house in a small settlement to the north-east of the Victorian town of Pitlochry.
Such an enterprise brought us very close to a dizzying cross-section of the local population ranging from bricklayers, delivery drivers, roofers, plumbers, architects, joiners (carpenters), window-cleaners, road-workers, structural engineers, property developers, electricians, counsellors, shopkeepers and bar staff, to name several off the top.
All were, by and large, welcoming at first but I soon encountered a more insidious underbelly beneath the community sporran.
Now leaving creative licence aside, I can confirm that such exposure has led to me directly witnessing at least five references to the masturbating anglo-saxon fraternity of which I am, happily, a member - so to speak, I mean I am English, anyway, moving on.
I'll give a few examples in the interests of putting these slights into proper context:
One of the decorators working on the house claimed, while accounting for plasterboard shrinkage cracks, that this was a problem with the parent company who supplied the plasterboard. The company, being English, simply didn't allow for the harsher Scottish climate. This explanation was supported by a curse from his colleague who murmured, 'English w***ers', clearly not quite under his breath.
On another occasion a site meeting between various parties involved in the build process, innocently turned to the weather. At the time southern England was experiencing a third week of drought-like conditions and hosepipe bans were becoming increasingly draconian, while guerrilla watering warfare was being waged by many a suburban denizen in flannelette dressing-gown and Hunter wellies in the dead of night.
In contrast, Scotland had enjoyed a reasonably dry April but was, at the time, mid monsoon season and paddling. Much is, I now believe, the norm. Anyway a brick layer, clearly in ear shot but not part of the general conversation, chipped in helpfully with, 'Serves them right, English w***ers' , which prompted unbridled mirth from all the natives present and polite smiles from those who weren't.
In my next example I was, arguably, guiltily party to this all encompassing, disgruntled, Anglophobic stance. Having only just moved into our newly completed house, we were struck with freak winds that knocked out all power to all of the houses in the small settlement in which we live.
I noticed a small gathering of men-folk on the road and reasoning that this was to be a gathering of clan leaders to discuss our shared predicament, I pulled on my Hunters and grabbed my Barbour from the peg and casually wandered over.
After a few nods of greeting, the conversation returned to what one of the elderly residents had gleaned following contact with the energy supplier:
'Na', he growled, 'daedna unnerstaund me.'
'Aye, that'l be yon caw-centre oot o Indie.'
'Na, it wisna, waurs, it wis a sootherner!'
We all nodded, shook our heads in disgust and I chipped in with, 'Aye, Inglesh w***ers.'
They all looked at me suddenly as though suddenly caught with their kilts round their ankles and, noticing the traitor in their midst, they all clamoured to reassure me I wasn't the object of their derogatory remarks and with a cheery, 'Nae offence takkin', I wondered back to my own castle and pondered whether I should be grateful I was initially included in the ritual, anglo-saxon bashing or offended as perhaps any self-respecting Englishman should be.
In the end, though, my most recent brush was what really caused my hackles to stand-up, set lips to firm and chin to an appropriately disdainful height.
I was with a group of new acquaintances in the local pub when the conversation turned to an independent Scotland. An area, and political arena, in which I remain steadfastly and blissfully, albeit marginally ashamedly, ignorant.
The conversation took in North Sea Oil reserves and revenue, the RBS debt, military defence capability with newfound independence and so on.
The thing is, they were all on the same side; never constructive for a debate on just about anything - at the best of times - but, interestingly, from my vantage point as impartial observer, despite several attempts to elicit an opinion from the only 'honorary scot' present, I noticed that after an initial drive to sell themselves on the benefits of an independent Scotland, they were by the end floundering and, unless I was much mistaken, talking themselves out of the very thing they claimed to be so invested in.
Clearly this wouldn't do, so as the debate began to peter out the main proponent for independence on economic grounds, whom ironically was a city banker; concluded by boldly saying,
'Still, castin oot the bluidy sootherners ez oor neist priority'.
Now it is fair to say I hadn't especially warmed to Jock whom, looks-wise, was not five-hundred miles from Ron Weasley styled by Jedward and, personality-wise, one might think of just about any of the male candidates on The Apprentice. But even so, at this point my level of disgust rocketed further still and could be equated to the time I found out precisely what ingredients were used to make traditional haggis; really, you're better off not knowing; trust me.
Everyone else laughed; some even snorted; there was even a guffaw as I rose silently from my chair and made my way to the gents.
I found I was angry, I'd reached the end of my tether and needed to vent spleen but to what end I didn't know. After several deep breaths a degree of composure returned. Perhaps I was over-reacting, maybe it was the alcohol, I was a little over-tired too, come to think of it.
As I braced myself to return and smile politely the door to the toilet opened suddenly and a man wearing a pinstripe suit and bowler hat entered and as his eyes locked onto my own I felt something prodding me in the sternum and looked down to see the tip of his umbrella. He started to speak quickly in the precise, clipped tone of someone from my homeland. I found myself nodding in agreement; his words made sense - I wasn't alone and now I felt empowered, better equipped to defend myself.
The good Samaritan left as quickly as he arrived and before I had time to even ponder the unlikelihood of such an encounter I marched back out to the table where my acquaintances were sitting and, directing my comments at the ginger weasel, said:
"You do know there isn't enough north sea oil left to fry the national chip on your shoulder," and, while red, tufted eyebrows shot up and single malts sloshed out of glasses hastily returned to the table with unnecessary force, I concluded by taking in the whole table as I said, " Alex Salmond would do well to remember Panama."
That was a month ago. I haven't been back to the same pub or spoken to any of the acquaintances who were present.
Nor have I encountered the strange Englishman whom I encountered in the toilet so I never did get the chance to query his reference to Scotland and Panama; think I'll Google it sometime.
I have, however, resolved to no longer take these slights lying down but neither do I intend to let them bother me. I like living in the Highlands and I'm quite sure we can all get along.
My wife and I do have a back-up plan should things not work out, we have friends in Cornwall and think it might be refreshing to live somewhere unburdened by the need to feverishly pursue a national identity, but enough of this; I have work to do - the Queen's Jubilee is just around the corner and we have a party to prepare for. I have bunting to make and need to start thinking about the catering; it's complicated by the fact that to date we have had no RSVP's from our new Scottish friends but I'm quite certain it's merely an oversight, I mean who wouldn't want to join in the royal festivities in honour of Her Majesty..?