At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

North of Hadrian's Wall

This past weekend, our family spent a few hours at Missouri Tartan Day at Frontier Park in St. Charles. While we also enjoy Oktoberfest (also celebrated there in September), I had been anticipating this Scottish festival quite eagerly, and not just because my publisher is Scottish. The outstanding memories included the clan tents, several stone-and-weight throwing demonstrations, tossing the caber, the music and dancing tent, and the St. Louis Caledonian Pipe Band. The band especially knocked the socks off the crowd with renditions such as "Scotland the Brave" and "Amazing Grace."

Immersing ourselves into Scottish culture was quite enjoyable, even if we were doing so on this side of the Atlantic Ocean and not in the land north of Hadrian's Wall (Yes, a trip to Scotland is on my bucket list). And it didn't end there. I have been reflecting on Scottish heritage lately--part of my own ancestry is Scottish, though the majority share of my bloodstream is owned by Welsh platelets.

In America, we tend to think we have shaped a good deal of the world around us. And yes, we are movers and shakers, but if you want to look at a culture that has set in motion a great deal of what we enjoy and in which we partake, consider the Scots. To wit:

- Consider the Scots when it comes to our American system of representative government. The Protestant Reformer John Knox studied under John Calvin at Geneva and brought reformation to the Scottish Kirk (church). Part of the reform consisted in a new approach to church leadership. Knox taught that God had ordained power into the governed, not the government, and the parishioners elect their represented spiritual leaders. This, when combined with Scottish Common Sense Realism within the Scottish Enlightenment, later influenced thinkers such as John Locke, whose writings formed the philosophical basis for much of our American constitutional republic.

- Consider that Scotland was the first nation to make education compulsory (in 1490). This could be done in local schools or at home or by other means, but the result was a highly educated, extremely literate population that produced economic authors like Adam Smith, historical novelists like Sir Walter Scott, and poets like Robert Burns.

- Consider that Scotland and Scottish sport has been imported into the modern Olympic games. The stone-throwing and weight-throwing competitions in the Highlands are the forerunners of the shot put and hammer throw we watch every four years.

- Consider that Scotland gave us James Watt, the man behind the steam engine, which transformed the world in the Industrial Age and opened roads, literally and figuratively.

- Consider this: Do you like math? Scotsman and mathematician John Napier discovered logarithms as a method of simplifying more complex calculations. Also, he encouraged the common use of the decimal point.

- Consider this: Do you like coffee? Do you like to keep hot chocolate hot, or your soup warm? You might want to thank the Scottish chemist and physicist Sir James Dewar, who invented the vacuum flask, also known as the Thermos.

- Consider this: Do you have a television? All hail Scottish inventor John Logie Baird, whose scanning disk enabled the first true modern version of the TV.

- Consider this: Do you use an alarm clock or a plug-in clock of any type? Have you ever had to send a fax? Give it up for Scottish inventor Alexander Bain, who came up with the electric clock and the first facsimile machine.

- Consider this: Have you had helium-filled balloons at a party? Truly aye, Sir William Ramsay, the Scottish chemist, was the first to isolate helium.

- Consider this: Have you ever needed to get a shot or have blood drawn? The Scotsman, Dr. Alexander Wood, invented the hypodermic syringe in 1853. And if you've been sick and been prescribed penicillin (provided you aren't allergic to it)? Thank Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist and pharmacologist, who nailed down that antibiotic in 1928.

- Consider this: Do you love watching Sherlock on the BBC or previous episodes on Netflix? Have you been enraptured by reading any of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes? You guessed it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland!

- Consider this: Have you played golf? Scottish invention. Do you love watching curling in the Winter Olympics? That started in Scotland, too.

Little wonder that Winston Churchill himself once pontificated, "Of all the small nations on earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind."

Selfishly, I'd edge the Scots ahead. Let's face it: They beat the British at Bannockburn. They didn't go down at Thermopylae.

No comments: