Outside, beyond the window beside me as I write, the wide, lazy calm of the Firth of Clyde drifts by. The long punctuations of the sandbars is hidden beneath the blue. Safe passage markers are now all the more important with the tide in. But the stillness is deceptive. Beyond the broad water the hills rise gently, gradually getting taller, like the staggering of a high school photo. The munros of the Trossachs are still clinging to their rags of winter white caps, now little more than tassels. The ghostly echos of The Bruce’s calls for freedom can almost be heard bouncing down from those peaks. This spring is turning into quite a remarkable one, the weather calm and clear after a winter of wet and wind that nearly shook the windows from this solid, Victorian, stone house. Life has begun to return to the river. The birds are in ever increasing number, guillemots coolly float along before suddenly upending like a synchronised swimming team, the occasional stuka dive of a gannet can be seen and cormorants gang together on the remaining pier structures from the old docks.
Inverclyde is hardly the most famous, nor most impressive, area of Scotland. What it has going for it is possibly fairly few and far between. Sure the Clyde can be beautiful but it can be difficult to find a sense of belonging here and even more difficult to find decent work. This simply isn’t always an easy home. There is a lack of opportunity in such an economically dead area; the pitiful charade of an income the UK government calls Universal Credit does little to help many; the expense of getting anywhere work may be available makes it even harder and the impossibility of getting any kind of assistance with first month’s rent and deposit then holds people in place. These are real issues that are crippling to people’s lives. Yet for many this is home and they wouldn’t move anyway. On days like this it’s hard to blame them either.
All of this is now exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many more are out of work and, even with the assistance being provided by the UK government, many are having to turn to the Universal Credit system that has always been less than fit for purpose. People for whom this wasn’t previously an issue will find themselves facing the grim reality of what a trap unemployment relief can actually be. Local businesses will not just suffer from having to keep their doors shut but will have to contend with the decreased purchasing power of the customers they once relied on in the aftermath. Yet, through it all, this is a community pulling together.
As the river calmly ebbs by the threat is invisible but the clapping neighbours are clear and present. The strength to be found in communal action and shared vulnerability is proving to be greater than any singular leader can hope to obtain, no matter how amazing they may try and convince us they are. The most important people are demonstrating themselves every day as they serve us in stores, collect our trash and save lives in the local hospital. Government is proving to be a necessity for enacting and supporting the social good whilst markets are proving to be the slaves of the consumer and worker, not the master. Clear information from those in authority, putting party politics aside, is ever more valuable. With that said it is with the people the story really lives.
The wonders of those who are putting others ahead of themselves, no matter who they are, can be witnessed everywhere. There are local volunteers who are working to package up the produce of a community kitchen-garden, sending the packages to the most vulnerable in the community here. The operators of a favourite food truck, down by the marina at James Watt Docks, are helping the volunteers and vulnerable by cooking meals to go in those packages. Then there’s cafes that, although closed, are freely sharing their cake recipes on social media and turning to some of their loyal customer base to lead action in raising money or awareness. And of course those, like my sister, who are going into work at the local hospital every day. The people of Inverclyde and around the world are proving themselves remarkable, caring and heroic.
There is much more to this place than meets the eye. Much more to Scotland than is often expressed. As such this is the beginning of a continuing daily series: Slice of Scotland. Follow me for a little laid back calm, beauty, history and wonder.