I've been thinking about national identity. I realise I'm on slightly sticky ground here, as there are certain things expected of me as a Scot; things which I may no longer really be able to feel. And there's an undercurrent of nationalism about, what with the World Cup coming up. I have been asked who I will support this year; the answer has surprised me.
I am more fervently, patriotically Scottish than ever I was when I lived there. I've been in England for 12 years now, and I don't suppose I'll ever return 'home' - certainly not to Aberdeen; perhaps we'll achieve our dream of retiring to a Georgian town house in Edinburgh. I moved down here in the middle of the 1990 World Cup (my life is no more measured out by football tournaments than it is by coffespoons, but it's symbolic). One of the first things which happened was that I was invited to watch that semi-final in the home of my new boss and her husband - I was living in a hotel at this point, and was glad of the company. I spent the evening being uncomfortable; I enjoyed the game, as I am wont to do under almost any circumstances, but I did not react the way I would have at home. My sympathies, such as they were, were with the English that night, but no more than they were with the Italians in the other semi. My own team having found another inventive way of failing, I was truly neutral for the remainder of the competition.
Gradually, over the years I have lived here, I have become more English. My accent is almost entirely gone; I can still hear it, but most people cannot - given that it is fairly chameleonic at the best of times, this is no great surprise. My friends are English or Italian; my children are English (I hope they feel pride in their Scottish and Irish blood, but they're English. I have the birth cirtificates); they will go to school here; they will know no other way of life. All their friends will support England, and I know, with a sigh, that they will, too. I hope I can take one of them to watch Scotland play in Germany in 4 years time; if it happens I might manage to convince an 8-year-old Cameron that it's more fun this way. But I'm realistic.
So, what of me? Well, I'm still Scottish; I'm still unrealistically hopeful whenever there's an international match at almost any sport; and I'm used to the slings and arrows by now. If ever I need to feel part of something, I only need to think back to that magical afternoon in St Etienne four years ago, when the Tartan Army took over the town; drank it dry, and had the best party I've ever been to, or ever expect to go to. As we gathered in our tartan to march round the square to the sound of the pipes, and the cheers and handshakes of the locals; I felt a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat which is easily summoned to this day. That afternoon, we had Englishmen in our party belting out 'Flower of Scotland' with the best of them, and I will always treasure the remarks of the restaurant owner, on presenting us with several bottles of the house white. He said "Thank you for coming here. You should have this, and you are our friends always." We overtipped, of course, but that wasn't the point. That day, I felt a security in my identity as a Scot which has not left me, and which I think allows me to answer the World Cup question honestly, for once.
I shall not really be supporting anyone in the forthcoming tournament. Not to weasel out of the answer, but because the only nation I have the right to support will not be taking part. But I will wish the Irish well - my children are half-Irish, after all; and I will want Italy to do well - I cherish my Italian friends, and they're no fun to work with if Italy do badly; and I shan't be cheering England's opponents; as is expected of me. I have lived here for nearly a third of my life; I have no reason other than blind 'tradition' to do so; and it's easy to fall into cliché. No, I should be happy to see England do well, I shall watch all their matches with engagement and interest - will the players who I see every week be up to the standard of the rest of the world? And should they be drawing with Argentina, say, in the final minute of the match, and David Beckham curls one of those free kicks into the top left hand corner; I'll be yelling as loudly as anyone. And I'm not going to feel in any way guilty or ashamed of it. Maybe it's advancing middle age, but I feel I've grown out of all that stuff.
Mind you, next time we play them...