Norms, signs and reflections in public space

Although maybe not for long, and still to the disliking of many here, Scotland is still a part of the UK. This means a particular relationship with public space and regulation of public spaces are in place. The British combination of political correctness and politeness, combined with a stiff upper-lip makes for very a peculiar way of doing things, at least in the eyes of us continentals. For one, the UK has a very strict division of land and (non) right of overpass. This stems from feudal times and methods of controlling the land to make sure that crops would not be eaten or stolen by people roaming the lands for free. The famous brick walls in the English countryside are a not-to-miss reminder of that. In Scotland, they do things a bit different. Being a bit more open (and to be honest, also being far less populated than their Southern neighbours), there exists a general right of overpass on virtually all Scottish land. However, in proper British tradition, you need to be made ware of this via a sign:


This ‘right of way’ literally means you are allowed to cross the muddy and slippery field full of sheep (at own risk, of course). It seems like a minor thing, but actually it is not – it means that the land is seen as property of the commons, rather than of restrictive land-owners or corporations. It actually says ‘go, and and roam our lands – and don’t be afraid of being chased by dogs or shot at for no reason’. How different from the wall-mongering neighbours on the other side of the pond.

So is it all happy and good then, in Scottish public space? Well, no, for one, since I’ve rented a bike here and am cycling a round quite a bit, I come to think that here they are even worse than Belgians when it comes to respecting cyclists (and believe, me, that says something) . The university is actively promoting cyclists to wear high-visibility vests and invest in bike-lights (it does get dark early), but in a discussion with one of the people connected to this policy (we were in a car, actually), I opposed this strategy, because it puts the ‘blame’ or the fault of being in public space on cyclist. They could have also campaigned for cars to be more careful, or invest in public lighting and cycle lanes and infrastructure. My Dutch-ness here was taking over, obviously, also because there countryside is screaming to be discovered by bike. This is me in mud with my bike and a nice view:


However, things did improve for equality in public space. I visited the McManus galleries in Dundee. This cathedral-rebuilt-to-art-museum covers a history of Dundee, some personal collections of former rich Scotsmen and a small modern art section filled with local artists’ work. Personally, after seeing a historical collection of paintings and artefacts, I find ‘modern’ art collections tediously disappointing. (please, first learn how to paint, and the experiment, NOT the other way around!). Anyways, in the history of Dundee, I found a terrible case of masking in public space. The masks below are not entirely clear because behind glass, but the point of these ‘branks’ as they were called,  was to publicly shame and ‘shut up’ women (and of course only women) who had been accused of slander or bad-mouthing in the 17th century. Imagine that! The museum did not say for how lang they had to wear these masks, but it did say this tradition came from the Netherlands or Belgium.. Such horrible people we are!


Well, to end nice, there was one modern-art panting that I did actually like , was that of a sort-of Northern light. Of course, it cannot compete with views from Oslo, but this local artists stated that the evening glow in winter reflected on the ocean created this weirdly outer – worldy reflection.





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