Just a Wee Blether…

About my first full year in the US of A

It’s just over a year – one year and one month to be accurate – since we waved goodbye to our flat in Glasgow’s West End, took a taxi to the airport, a plane to Heathrow, then caught a transatlantic flight to Phoenix, Arizona, for what has been without question the biggest upheaval and adventure of my life.

The first 12 months in America have been a lot of things – exciting, eye-opening, interesting, a culture shock. But I should get the confession side of things out of the way first. I do find myself saying zee instead of zed all the time. I ask for tom-ay-to and bay-zil soup. Home Depot (pron. Dee-po) is a major home improvement store. I have tried to maintain ‘correct’ pronunciation but sometimes it’s easier to follow the crowd.

Another thing I have come to realise is that it’s impossible for me to say I like the United States. All I can say is that I like Arizona. Every state here is like a different country. It’s like an American spending time in Iceland and telling his friends what a wonderful place Europe is.

Arizona is part of the old Wild West and that culture is still very much alive. Go to bars and there are signs saying ‘Doc Holliday drank here’ – or Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid. They all hung out here and there are memorials to them everywhere.

007

When I arrived here there were two major stories dominating the headlines. One was the revelation that Josh Duggar, the eldest son of the uber-religious family and subject of the TV show 19 Kids and Counting, had molested a number of his sisters. The other was ‘Deflategate’, the story about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady deliberately letting air out of footballs.

They were on the front page of every paper until June when Donald Trump announced he was running for President. Since then Trump has dominated every single news agenda on every single day. America has gone Trump crazy. Part of me wishes I was having a final news fling covering this election – it is journalistic manna from heaven.

One morning I was at a pharmacy – needing Gaviscon would you believe – when I saw a guy in his 30s walking towards me in the same aisle. He was a normal looking guy – until I spotted his belt, complete with holster and handgun. This was about 10am in an urban chemist shop.

My initial thought was ‘Christ, this person could shoot me here’. Of course he didn’t, in fact he acknowledged me in a perfectly friendly way as he walked past. And he was breaking no law, it’s perfectly legal in Arizona for a law-abiding citizen to openly carry a handgun. I’ve had a few similar experiences since. I’ve become used to it but I don’t think I’ll feel ever feel comfortable about it.

The stereotype of Americans as loud, brash, ultra-religious, in your face, warmongering and arrogant is just that – a stereotype. I have found the vast majority of the people I’ve met to be extremely friendly, no talk about religion, little talk about politics. They are outgoing, easy to talk with, always happy to meet new people and share stories. They are a lot of fun, with a great sense of humour.

Perhaps if I lived elsewhere – a rural part of the Bible Belt for example – I might be saying something different. But my experience of American people so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

I have spent time explaining to people how we are more tolerant in the UK than America. Then this week the upper-class buffoon who masquerades as Lord Mayor of London opened his fat, bigoted mouth and proved me wrong. Mind you, even Americans don’t think Boris Johnson speaks for the rest of the country.

If you’ve read this blog then you’ll know I’m far too young to be a grandfather. A step-grandfather of two boys – one aged two, the other seven weeks – is one step removed but no less delightful.

Before we left Scotland I had a discussion with my wife about what the older boy, Ford, should call me, given that he had two grandfathers in the US. I suggested Iain – that was dismissed as silly. So I suggested he call me dude – equally silly. So I said, seeing as I’m Scottish, what about MacDude?

So there is a two-year old running around Arizona shouting ‘MacDude…MacDude, take me to the big park’. It doesn’t get much better really.

Just a Wee Blether…

About celebrating what birthday???

Back in 1980, when I was a fresh-faced 24-year old newspaper reporter, I was dispatched to that most happening of Aberdeenshire towns – Inverurie – after a tip-off that a couple had been thrown out of their home for non-payment of rent and were sitting on the street with their belongings.

Ok, maybe fresh-faced is pushing it a bit – but the story was true enough. I interviewed the couple, came back to the office and wrote up my account of this pulsating, human-interest tale. In it I described the couple as “elderly”. They were in fact 51. Thankfully the deputy editor – who was well into his 50s – took his red pen through the offending word.

The reason this story springs to mind is because last week I reached one of those landmark birthdays – you know the kind that come around every 10 years, when you enter a new “decade”. Last Thursday, unbelievably, I turned 60.

Do I feel elderly? No I don’t, not in the slightest. I certainly don’t behave the way I’ve always imagined a 60-year old should. I’m still reasonably fit, live an active, outdoor life, and even attend rock concerts, for god’s sake. Whether I look 60 is for others to say. But I’m very proud of the fact I still have a full head of hair even though it is now a curious shade of silver.

60th

Mixing with many younger people – which I do, both in and out of the workplace – means I keep a fresh perspective on life. It’s been said to me a few times this week that 60 is the new 40. To be honest that doesn’t seem too far from the truth. I really don’t really feel much more than 45.

But somewhere, without question, is a spotty-faced 24-year old who knows me and thinks I am “elderly”.

It’s an oddly strange feeling because, if I don’t think I’m elderly, then why should anyone else? Even someone younger. There are obvious bullets I have to bite. My next big birthday is 70 which doesn’t sound so good. My eyesight is not quite what it was, I have to wear glasses more often than not. And I often have to ask people to repeat themselves as I reach for my ear trumpet.

Other things work perfectly well of course – although a gammy knee means I’ll never score the winning goal at Hampden Park.

But if the next 10 years are anything like my 50s – that decade I once thought was reserved for old codgers – then I am in for a great time. I accomplished and achieved a lot as a 50-something in both my personal and professional lives.

Landmark birthdays have never bothered me or scared me. Some people I know became paranoid or depressed when their 20s and 30s came to an end. I have always regarded a new decade as simply a continuation of the one that went before.

Many of my friends have been turning 60 since the beginning of the year and a lot of others will break through the barrier in the next few months. We are all Baby Boomers, that generation whose members supposedly will never grow old.

After five days I don’t feel old at all, I still have a lot to do and see and achieve. So I plan to carry on behaving more like a 40-something, staying up late, eating well, drinking better – and secretly hoping that wrinkles don’t start to appear on my neck.

For the record, I toasted my 60th with a large glass of 12-year old Lochnagar malt whisky. So that’s how the decade will continue.