Dirty Bo’ness

I lived in Scotland for 18 months in my early 20’s.

My undergraduate program at the University of Bath strongly recommended all students take an intern year, and they made it pretty easy to place students, since they had relationships with many companies and government labs in the UK. My department found me a place at BP Chemicals in Grangemouth and so, in the late spring of 1988, I packed all my worldly belongings into my micro-sized car and headed North.

I had arranged accomodation ahead of time: I was to live with the outgoing interns in their house in the town of Bo’ness. I arrived late in the afternoon, unpacked my stuff and headed down the hill into town to check out my new surroundings.

I was delighted to hear the sound of drumming as a neared the town center. A pipe band, I thought. Well, yes, but not the kind of pipes I was hoping for. Around the corner came an Orangemen’s march. I knew immediately what it was, having seen such marches on the news, usually accompanied by riots and petrol bombs. I nervously watched the march go by. Had I mistakenly moved to Ulster?

The presence of the Orange Order was later explained to me as I began to understand the complex religio-political life of central Scotland. I learned too that the expression “Dirty Bo’ness” referred not to the town town itself (an easy assumption to make), but to the soccer team. Intriguingly, in the age of electronic communication this dirtiness is now public for all to read.

This was all before I began piping. Had I been a piper at the time I probably would have made my way to the Bo’ness Pipe Band. But I didn’t have to worry about a shortage of music back then – there was plenty else to chose from. The Cocteau Twins were living in Grangemouth, I went to live shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow probably twice a week and were befriended by an Edinburgh band called AVO-8.

It was a wonderful time, and who knew that 18 years later I would be writing about a baby born in Bo’ness while I was living there. Callum Beaumont won the Silver Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering this year.

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