Who am I? I don’t mean I’ve lost my memory – well, not exactly, more on that later. But I know who I am in the sense of remembering my name and address. I can remember my age though, these days, in my fifties, I have to stop and work it out.
I can also remember my past – sort of. Do you ever read autobiographies? How do people remember that level of detail about their lives? Unless they have kept detailed diaries they surely can’t.
But I can remember my past – in parts. I remember the broad outline of where I was born, where I went to school, where I have worked. I can remember where I’ve taken holidays (mostly).
Here’s where it gets tricky, and I struggle to recall everything about my past. Let me give you a couple of random examples.
One, have I ever been to Nottingham? I pluck this place out of the air as somewhere I might have been. I’m sure it has much to recommend it but I just don’t know if I’ve been to Nottingham, though I once lived within two or three hours of the city and I’ve certainly visited other places not far away.
Second example. What was the name of that girlfriend who…? Well, no need to go into details about her personality but I can remember the nick-name she was unknowingly given by my friend yet not her real name.
If our past contributes to who we are, as surely it does, there are many parts of my past which seem to be missing. I could give you lots more examples. I suppose you could say they contribute to who I am without me being aware of it.
Let’s look at this another way. What sort of person am I? That must be a big part of who I am.
Well, I think I’m a friendly, easy-going sort of chap, hard-working when I need to be but easily distracted if work can be put off. What else? I don’t know. I’m not even sure about the little bit of personality I’ve committed to print.
How about national identity? That must be straightforward. I’m a UK citizen. Yeah, we can all agree on that. But if we dig deeper?
Up until perhaps ten years ago – there goes that memory again – I’d have said I was British Full Stop. Then devolution came along and I started to re-think. If the Scots and Welsh have their own identities what about me?
I started to think of myself more as English, particularly when I saw Scottish MPs at Westminster voting on English social policy while English MPs had no say on similar issues in the Scottish Parliament. Let’s have an English Parliament I said.
But then in April 2010 my wife and I moved away from London – see, I can remember some facts and dates – to Orkney.
For those who don’t know, the Orkney Isles number about 70, of which maybe a dozen are inhabited. They are situated off the north-east coast of Scotland. Beyond Orkney, well, not much, there’s Fair Isle and then Shetland and then the Arctic.
So now I am an Englishmen living in Scotland. Well, yes and no. Technically that is correct but it isn’t really like that. Orkney falls within Scotland, of course, but it is not what I would call “of Scotland”.
Yes you do see the Saltire, the Scottish flag, flying in Orkney but it’s not that common. If you come here expecting to buy traditional Scottish holiday souvenirs featuring kilts, bagpipes and terrier dogs you’ll have to look harder than in Edinburgh or the Highlands.
If you ask folk who grew up in Orkney how they regard themselves they will say Orcadian first. To be honest, I’m not sure what they would say second.
Remember that Orkney was part of Norway until 1468 when it came to Scotland through a marriage dowry.
In the 1997 referendum on Scottish devolution Orkney did vote in favour of a Scottish parliament but by the smallest margin of all areas – just 57.3 per cent.
And on the second vote within the referendum, whether the Scottish parliament should have income tax varying powers, Orkney, along with Dumfries & Galloway, voted against.
So I am an Englishman living in Orkney and, kind of, living in Scotland. Am I an Orcadian? No, you have to be born here for that but “incomers” are made very welcome. Orcadians realise they play an important part in the make-up of the islands’ economic and social fabric.
Of course, there is another Scottish referendum on the horizon which will decide whether the nation becomes independent. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Orkney will vote against and that Scotland-wide the result will run very close.
If there is a yes vote I will find myself a citizen of a new country that is not England, or Britain, or the UK, and I may be even more unsure about who I am. Goodness.
Another ingredient in the mix is my wife who is American, from California. I don’t think she has directly influenced whether I feel English, or British, or whatever, but living with attitudes from another continent has helped show-up some of the daft assumptions that any nation’s inhabitants grow up with.
You might think all this sounds as though I am unhappy and unsure. That’s not true. I’m mostly happy, no-one is happy all the time. I’m reasonably content with my life, though with dreams to pursue. I live in a wonderful part of the world, I am privileged compared to many.
But I am unsure about who I am. Any thoughts on identity anyone?
PS: I’ve been thinking some more about Nottingham. I now believe I went, once or twice, to football matches at Nottingham Forest. Sorry Notts County fans, I’ve not been there yet. And it’s a long way from Orkney. One day perhaps.