Every self-respecting citizen of the world should undoubtedly have, in his genealogical cupboard, at least one Scotsman. I have never, myself, had that fascination for brushing the accumulated lichen of the centuries from churchyards which preoccupies so many moderns in search of their ancient progenitors. But even I -- particularly since coming to live in Glasgow -- have an acute respect for my Scottish paternal grandmother.
Not that I ever met her, so I can't indulge in accurate sweet memories. But she was, I believe, a lovely and graceful lady, with fine features and quite possibly a pointed nose (if later generations are anything to go by). My failure to meet her was not because, as a child, I didn't visit Scotland. I did. The country I didn't visit was New Zealand: and this was where my father's mother, whose maiden name was Burn, lived. (Like most of the Scots in the world, she did not actually live in Scotland.)
By birth I am a Yorkshireman, and proud of it, but in Glasgow, as an alien and a sassenach, I have found it quite useful to now and then remind the surrounding natives that my Grandmother was a Burn. It stops them in their tracks for a moment.
''A Burns?'' comes the inevitable question.
''No,'' say I. ''A Burn, singular.''
This can produce incredulous laughter, because as everyone knows, anything to do with Burns comes in the plural. The Scottish poet himself of that name was prolific in uncounted ways, and if an indubitable Scotsman has a genealogical bent, his search will be for a relationship to the great Robert, as likely as not.
But my grandmother was a Burn, singular. ''Far more exclusive,'' I point out, and, grabbing the Glasgow telephone directory, clinch the argument by indicating the three full pages of Burnses with an ''s,'' compared with the highly specialized collection of Burns without an ''s,'' of which there are exactly and scrupulously fifteen.
Of course my highhanded advice at the start of this writing is in fact rather redundant, because most self-respecting citizens of the world have at least one Scottish forebear. I have yet, for example, to meet an American who hasn't. Argentina, I am assured, is filled to the brim with those of Scottish blood. The clans are rife in Canada, Outer Mongolia, Croatia, the sands of the Gobi. Even the remotest islanders in the Arafura Sea have, I am positive, at least one Campbell, MacDonald, Kerr, Duncan or Currie proudly dangling like a choice fruit from their family tree. . . .
Talking of trees puts me in mind (not inappropriately, as you will see) of a local episode. Just over our garden wall is an area of rough grass which is public land and an open invitation to dog walkers, sledgers, picnickers and small boys taking the day off school. This last temptation (for which some of the greatest and best of most cultures have fallen in their childhood) brought me into an encounter with three carefree lads one hot day last summer. Two of them had apparently dared the third to hop over our wall and snatch some plums from a tree loaded with them. Unfortunately he was caught in the act (an act I found hard to take with quite the grim seriousness I should have, since both climbing walls and plum-picking are delightful pastimes -- and besides he generously said, ''I'll gi' ye yer peaches back, if you like''). I put on my gruffest voice and asked them where they were from. The spokesman said, ''We're from London. Just visiting for the day.'' (They were by no means professionals). ''What?'' I said, laughing. ''From London? With that accent?''
''Aye, we are!''
But the wind had rather gone out of the lie. He spoke as only a Glaswegian schoolboy can. And it was this fact that set me thinking; because this small boy , vocally an indelible Scot, had a mother and father who must indelibly have come from India or Pakistan.
Glasgow is a marvellous multiculture. If not by birth, at least by voice and adoption, it contains Italian Scots, Irish Scots, Polish Scots, Bangladeshi Scots, Greek, Jamaican, Jewish, French and Spanish Scots (not to mention the occasional Scottish Scot).
I mean, I was speaking only yesterday to a woman (also over the garden wall where she was supervising the planting of some trees for the City Parks Department, though none I believe producing plums). She spoke impeccably clear English, but with an intonation which suggested to me that she might have originally come from Austria. However, instead of the English word ''Oh,'' it was the great Scottish word ''Och'' which she used - and with a perfect guttural termination which I have been trying to master ever since coming over the border. She used it naturally: it had become part and parcel of her speech. So here was an Austrian Scot. And why not?
My only lingering question is: is it possible for there to be any such thing as an English Scot? Och. I canna see why not. Though, speaking as a Scot mysel' (my granny, you'll recall, was a Burn), I'm none too sure that any such thing should be rashly encouraged. Y'know.