By Stuart Crawford
Bashing our transatlantic cousins has been a popular sport for as long as I can remember, whether it be for their extraordinary dress sense, extraordinary appetites, or extraordinary rendition – or perhaps all three and everything else in between. But I’ve always rather liked Americans in general terms, and thought perhaps we should remind ourselves of some of the good things that have come out of the good ol’ USA over the years. So here are some of the things I think we should be grateful for, in no particular order.
Nobody does breakfast like the Americans. Down to the diner at some unearthly hour in the morning, sit up at the counter, and immerse yourself in the experience. Good coffee, crispy bacon, eggs over easy, pancakes with maple syrup, ye cannae whack it. Kippers aside, it knocks spots anything we can offer over here. Here’s one tradition we should adopt wholeheartedly in Scotland; why haven’t we already?
Hey, I know I’m showing my age here, but what Julie Christie was to the 60s Meg was to the 90s – and still is for the whatever age we’re in now as far as I’m concerned. Every bloke’s (well, almost) favourite actress was America’s sweetheart for a while and no wonder. We just can’t produce them like that over here, so thank you, Uncle Sam.
“What?”, I hear you say. The funny tasting stuff which, according to my late mother, was “full of dye” and rots kids’ teeth? And which was the most popular soft drink in the civilised world apart from here in sunny ol’ Scotland, where the indigenous Irn Bru pipped it at the post year after year? Yep, the very same, but not for its thirst quenching qualities, such as they may be. For its medicinal applications, that’s what for. Migraine sufferers have long recognised that two soluble aspirin dissolved in a glass of Coke from a glass bottle and consumed at the onset of a migraine can sometimes stop it dead in its tracks. It must be from a glass bottle, mind, tin can or plastic containers won’t work. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know the answer, but work it does.
Going back in history a little bit here to 1941, when Hitler had conquered Europe and was looking across the Channel at Britain, whose back was very definitely against the wall. And running out of money to continue the war very quickly. Across the Pond, the US President, Franklin D Roosevelt, was sympathetic but hampered in his desire to assist by the Neutrality Acts of the 30s. In March 1941 he signed the Lend Lease Bill, which enabled him to help Britain (and also other Allied countries like Russia and China) by providing military materiel and supplies. Without it, Britain’s struggle would have been infinitely more difficult and might not have succeeded at all. Lend lease material was not a gift and there was repayment required, but much of it was discounted by up to 90%. Britain finally repaid the debt in 1996.
Rock ‘n’ roll
Funny one this one, because the Americans, or white Americans anyroads, didn’t really wake up to the fact they’d invented rock and roll until we Brits repackaged it in the form of the Beatles and their many imitators and exported it to back to them. But invent it they did, emerging in the southern states from a mixture of rhythm and blues, country, soul, gospel, folk and jazz music in the 1940s and 50s, espoused by musicians and singers like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino et al. Its development went hand in hand with the adoption of the electric guitar as instrument of choice for the young. Then the Beatles got hold of it and changed it forever, in the same way as they changed more or less everything they touched in that period in the 60s when the world changed from monochrome to colour. But hats off to our US cousins for letting us have it to play around with.
Scotland has a long standing love affair with the automobile, and those of us driving around in our Volvo estates (Edinburgh)*/white BMW X5 four wheel drives with tinted windows and personalised numberplates (Glasgow)* (*delete as applicable) have Mr Ford to thank for our motoring joy and freedom. The Americans didn’t invent the motor car, but they brought it to the masses via industrial scale production, even if initially Henry would let you have any colour of his Model T Ford as long as it was black. Before him, motoring was the preserve of an elite few; after his intervention any gangster, ned or ne’er do well can afford a set of wheels. Thanks, Henry…
History hasn’t always been kind to President John F Kennedy, what with his philandering, Bay of Pigs fiasco etc etc, but for anyone alive at the time he was in office he signified one thing; hope. He signified for many people the beginning of leaving the post war austerity behind and facing a bright new future, and few of us can forget where we were when news of his assassination reached us. His presidency was, for lots of folk, when the sun began to shine again, and for that all too short interlude we should be grateful.
Making Us Look Thin
This one came from one of my offspring, and it might just still hold water in 2012. America’s pole position in the obesity stakes is now under threat – from us as well as from elsewhere – but I think they still have a comfortable claim to top the fatness table. It’s one of life’s great paradoxes that a certain portliness was once the mark of wealth and now it is the mark of poverty. Junk food, once a semi luxury for the relatively well off, now provides sustenance mainly for the disadvantaged. Yes, the Americans still, just, make us look thin(ner), but only just. Be warned.
A bit of an odd one but I was lucky enough to spend a year in Kansas whilst a student at the US Army’s Command and General Staff School in 1990/91 and have many fond memories of the state and its people. My eldest was born there, in Providence St Margaret hospital in Kansas City, so I own my very own American, complete with dual nationality and US passport. I also learnt to fly there, a lifelong ambition, thanks to the patience and generosity of my instructor Bob Drennan and the Fort Leavenworth Flying Club, something I could never have afforded to do back home. And I’m still in touch with many of the folk I met there, both within the military establishment and the wider community. So, a personal thanks to Kansas for looking after me and my family so well and, in the words of General McArthur, “I shall return.”
Finally, we’re stretching the definition of “American” a little bit here, because lacrosse was probably invented by Native American Indians in Canada – but, hey. As you may be aware, the game is very much a minority sport in Scotland, mainly played in girls’ independent schools. Apparently the first modern women’s game in Scotland was played at St Leonard’s School in St Andrews in 1890. I had never seen the game before my two daughters started playing it, but I must say it’s great fun to watch. I also saw the Scotland Women’s international squad training once and it was pretty frightening too at that standard, such was the speed and athleticism of play. A real pity it’s only played by private school kids here as far as I know.
There we are then, a personal list of nine and a bit things to thank our American cousins for, and I’m sure I could have thunk up many more. I plan to return to the fray at a later date with some things which we’re not so grateful for, just to bring a bit of balance to the debate, but this’ll have to do for now.