Monday, 28 October 2013

Captain Europe, or, How my British Adventure Began

As threatened promised last week here is the first chapter of my memoir, entitled Captain Europe. I've uploaded it onto the My Memoir page as well.
The year is 1989. I am 20 years old.  It’s a September morning (rainy, no doubt) and I have just arrived in Edinburgh where I have transferred to the second year of a Sociology and Politics degree course.

I’ve spent my first few days wondering up and down the city’s cobbled streets, beaten into a trance of ecstatic submission by the gothic fairytale of its dark buildings, like a foreign princess lost in a petrified forest.  I’ve spent Freshers’ week not descending into oblivion down smoky beer cellars but climbing dusty staircases to introduce myself to tutors with messy offices tucked away in the recesses of old buildings.

I’ve joined the library and experienced the shock of seeing my first computer ever. I’m supposed to search for the books I need on this machine and the wild impossibility of this task temporarily defeats me. For the first and only time I concede to myself I might have made a huge mistake.

I’ve sat in silence and in awe in the massive lecture rooms where professors deliver their lessons from a lectern, with the unheard of (to me) accompaniment of projectors and slides. Finally I have gathered what is left of my courage and my energy and climbed one more set of stairs, to reach the office of the student newspaper - which is economically called ‘Student’….Dum Dum DUUUM! What do you think will happen next?

Anyway, I’m actually heading back to Edinburgh later this week, as it turns out, for a business trip which will segue into a week-end with old friends from Uni, many mentioned in this very chapter, sometimes under their real name. Who knew then that the rest of my life would be spent in this country and that they would very much be part of it still, nearly a quarter of a century later? Not I.

I came for a year, people!

A year is all I intended to stay for. I can’t think what can possibly have stopped me (aside from happiness, freedom, friends, plentiful jobs opportunities and generalized good-time-having) from fleeing these drizzly shores and returning to the sunshine and blue skies of home.

Still, I’m incredibly grateful that Scotland was my gateway to what turned out to me a whole new life in the UK. 

I'm following the independence debate from down south, witnessing the earnest conversations about what kind of country Scotland wants to be, how it wants to position itself in the world and towards its own citizens and my heart swells with pride. 

Martin Kettle put this very well in his Guardian piece last week. To paraphrase: whilst the existence of a distinctly Scottish social democratic consensus is up for debate, it's hard to challenge the fact that a lot of Scots believe their political culture is very different (from the Westminster toff-dominated waffle-fest). I believe they are right. I think it is.

Nowhere does this different political culture manifest itself more starkly, in my opinion,  than in the way Europe and 'abroad' are viewed and discussed. Down in London I increasingly feel like one of those EU scroungers the Telegraph and the Express hand-wring about. You know, the ones who came over here, paid student fees, bought a house and paid tax all their lives and then have the audacity to want to see an NHS dentist. 

But in Edinburgh I always felt and still feel welcome, with no need to intermittently justify my existence and right to be here. I’m not a foreigner – or at the very least I’m not English, which is all that matters really.

And every time I step off the train at Waverley station and look up at the gothic fairytale of the city's dark building (to coin a phrase) I am 20 again, and hopeful, and fearless and strong again, and the world is smiling at me even as the rain and the gale force winds bitch-slap me in the face.


  1. Ha ha ha! Wonderful. So I can be 16 all over again...

  2. I love it - you took me right back. 'hopeful, and fearless and strong again' how wonderful we should all try and regain that feeling. xxxx

  3. Pathetically I've only just figured out how to open chapter one! I love it! (especially 'I made friends, sold Student in the rain, learned to drink. I was happy.') That young, Edinburgh euphoria - I remember standing on North Bridge and thinking 'I am so Happy!' - I hardly think of it these days, but this brings it all back! Such intense, intense discussions we had, Paola! You seemed so worldy, smart, confident, intrepid to me! When you get to the Euro chapter, I still have (somewhere...) the most hilarious letter you wrote me in a low moment in a Brussels laundrette.... xxx

  4. Oh, those low moments in Brussels launderettes....I've had a few. I'm glad it brought back nice memories. I was in Edinburgh just last week, on a freak sunny day and it was so beautiful I was smiling and talking to myself and, yes, I was feeling 20 again. XXX