The Write Stuff: To Be Continued... by James Robertson

Author James Robertson. Picture: Marianne Mitchelson
Author James Robertson. Picture: Marianne Mitchelson
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Welcome to our regular feature showcasing the talents of the nation’s best writers

I am sitting on the upper deck of a number 11 bus, stuck in traffic on Lothian Road, Edinburgh, when I turn 50. I check my watch: it is 12:15pm. This is it. Exactly half a century ago, I entered the world.

A small cheer rises in me, which I elect to quash.

I am able to mark the occasion with such confidence and precision because, last night, I looked out my birth certificate and examined it closely. Scottish birth certificates specify not only the place and date of birth but also the time. In this, I believe, we differ from the modus operandi of Our Friends in the South. I am uninformed as to what practices prevail in other jurisdictions.

(My chest swelled with patriotic pride when I saw that attention to detail. We may not be perfect, I said to myself, we may fall short of expectations in other departments, but by God we know how to fill out a birth certificate.)

It occurs to me now, in my deflated mode, that we are a nation of record-­keepers, not of record-­breakers.

Immediately I am ashamed of the paucity of this observation and the feebleness of my wordplay.

Returning to the matter of my birthday, I consider standing up and making an announcement to the other passengers. I could ask them to stop – just for one moment – texting, surfing, reading the free comic disguised as a newspaper, or gazing through the window, as I have something to tell them: “Fifty years ago, to this very minute, I arrived. I was born. Is that not amazing? I don’t remember it myself, but it’s recorded fact and I want to share it with you.”


James Robertson has published five novels, including The Testament of Gideon Mack, which was long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. His new book, To Be Continued... is out now from Hamish Hamilton, £16.99. He is appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 25 August