“Nick!” I cried in mock disbelief, “No-one has signed your stookie!” The room turned and faced me. Slowly, and as one, they repeated the strange, new word. I was baffled, they were baffled. The joke had been that no-one signs broken limbs any more, at least not after the age of 14, but that wasn’t it.
My London colleagues genuinely didn’t seem to know which part of Nick I was proposing we sign. Once the nervous laughter had died down, I calmly explained that I was of course referring to the pristine plaster cast holding his arm together (Nick, a committed cyclist, had come a cropper on the Hammersmith roundabout).
It had never crossed my mind that the wonderful sounding stookie was not universally loved and widely used in TV newsrooms across the land. I had planted the Saltire in one small corner of Shepherd’s Bush but marked myself out as a rustic, a sort of yokel-cum-journalist prone to using odd words – descriptive though they were.
Over the years other Scots words and phrases caused similar consternation. “Where do you stay?” (not “live”) was another one that Londoners found confusing.
In a city with such a large transient population, it seemed rather appropriate, but to English ears this sounded as though I was passing through and resided in a hotel.
I also discovered that only weather presenters were familiar with the words dreich and smirr but galoot, stramash and eejit were all welcome additions – off-air. I even came across a make-up lady from Up North, who had lived in London for 25 years but still referred to putting on “the big light” when detailed painting and powdering was required. Small linguistic tics can be enormously comforting.
But of course, like many Scots who have lived and worked in London, I like to think we blend in pretty well.
Our customs are not so quaint, our diet not so different and our accents not so broad.
Indeed, I make my living as a broadcaster, which I have always taken as sign that people understand me perfectly well. This is not to say that I haven’t had to put up with unflattering comparisons.
At various points I have been accused of sounding like a young Jean Brodie in the style of Maggie Smith, an extra from Taggart and a female Billy Connolly.
And to be fair to some viewers, even I can understand why my pronunciation of president bush could cause annoyance. As one viewer kindly pointed out, “It’s Bush with a ‘u’ dear, not with an ‘oo’.” I was very glad indeed when Obama was elected.
Murder is another word which jars with anyone outside of Scotland – which may explain the link with Taggart.
Now that I come to think about it, with such high levels of joshing, Scots abroad would be justified in sticking together, but no, we prefer to mix. As we mark St Andrews Day it is worth reflecting on the fact there are no Scots enclaves in London that spring to mind, no theme bars and only a handful of tartan clad restaurants.
Perhaps we simply feel at home – safe in the knowledge that the Scots have contributed more than their share to national life and there is no need to mark ourselves out as different. Without wishing to reel-off the tea-towel Scots we all know and love, we have nothing to prove. We are already part of the picture.
If anything, living in London cemented my view that the English, whoever they may be, aren’t so very different from you and me.
And they seem to like us too, even if they don’t always understand us. Their shoulders are remarkably chip free and their belief that deep down we really do support England, is endearing if a little naive.
This is not to say that a small rush of excitement wouldn’t course through me when taking off at Heathrow for Edinburgh. Coming in to land over the Forth and glimpsing the bridges almost always made the heart swell.
And then, on a clear bright day, few things lift the spirits more than seeing the Saltire flutter in a stiff, east-coast wind.
That, and signing a stookie of course.