The Qatar World Cup and Highland Dancing

I’m not really a football fan.  I did play competitively in my teens for Edinburgh Thistle on Saturday afternoons when I’d finished my morning game of rugby.  I did sign ‘forms’ but so did everyone in these leagues, on the rare chance that someone would make it.  Since I’m writing this, you guess it, I didn’t! Rugby was my game, and when my school found out I was playing football on Saturday afternoons, they soon put a stop to it.  I like to think I was an undiscovered ‘Kenny Dalglish’ left on the football pitches of Saughton Park, Edinburgh. 

I do support a club in Scotland, and England, but it’s too tribal, and in Scotland, too sectarian for my liking.  These attitudes still hold our nation back.  But I love to follow the Scottish national team, and they are improving of late, nowhere near the heady days of Bremmer, Jordan, Law and McGrain, when world cup qualification was a given.

Like Scots over the last twenty years, I’ve been a bystander to what’s going on at World Cups, always rooting for the most exciting team. And contrary to folklore, I’m not one of the admittedly many in these lands that support ‘anyone but England’. However, at the Qatar World Cup in 2022, I was a critical witness to the tournament, not the games, they were magnificent, but of Qatar, their record on human rights, attitudes to sexuality, and employment laws that saw many foreign nationals losing their lives during the construction of the stadiums.

However, life has a great way of knocking me off high perches and sanctimonious positions.  This week we had a guest who is traveling around Scotland, and he is our first visitor from Qatar.  Hamad couldn’t have picked a colder start to spring than this week, yet his warmth and friendship was striking.  He is completing a master’s degree at Portsmouth University, and he had some spare time to explore the UK.  He asked politely if he could fly his drone around the grounds, as he was recording his trip for posterity.  He showed us his video at breakfast the next morning and offered to share it with us, via Airdrop.  I had no idea how to do this, but he patiently showed me, and in a nano second, it was on my phone and now here on the web site.  I marvel at the young, so technically astute, and capable.

‘I must be your first Qatari to visit Powdermills,’ he said.

‘Here, yes,’ I replied, ‘but you’re not the first Qatari that I’ve met.’

‘Not many people in Scotland have met someone from Qatar.’

‘Well, I know how to pronounce Qatar properly,’ I said.

He squinted his eyes.

‘It’s Qaaaataar.’

He laughed out loud, ‘yes, that hard “aaah” sound,’ it’s the same sound I hear in Scotland. Like Locccch!’

I turned to Sue, ‘she’s been here over twenty-five years, and still says lock,’ I laughed.

I’m often asked why we decided to open a Bed and Breakfast, and is the lifestyle a shock?  And the answer is no.  Well, that’s not strictly true, the lifestyle wasn’t a surprise, the relentless workload was! 

I was brought up in a Guest House, it was our family home.  My Mum operated a Bed and Breakfast in Portobello, Edinburgh, for tourists in the summer and she took students in from the universities and colleges throughout the year.  She provided evening meals, so our dining room table, sometimes had as many as fourteen people squeezed in, especially if family friends were eating with us. It was a noisy eclectic assortment of people from around the globe.  Mostly, there were Europeans, Asians, and visitors from the Middle East in particular.  During the oil boom of the seventies there was an influx of youngsters wanting to learn English before they moved on to university or more commonly the Leith Nautical College.

My elder sisters would often join us, and my memories are littered with hysterics, fun and adventure.  These guests were my friends.  Which brings me to Sadiq and Moyse who were from Qatar.  They were of slight build, friendly, charming, and kind, much like my impression of Hamad.  They were the stars of a Ceilidh night that my mum had organised at a hotel one night.  I have a vivid vision still today of them burling around to an Eightsome Reel and being taught the Dashing White Sergeant and jigging to a Gay Gordons.  It showed me then how international, life, culture and human happiness can be.  And it took the visit of Hamad to remind me of good times past and the need for tolerance today.

However, my teenage years weren’t all good.  Scotland qualified for the 1978 football world cup in Argentina.  We had qualified in style and were respected with a good chance of doing well.  Of course, us Scots thought we were going to win the world cup with Ally’s (Ally Macleod was the manager) army!  Our first match in the pool stage was against Peru. The Scottish fans thought this would be a walkover.  Everything was going according to plan. Joe Jordan scored after fifteen minutes, but Peru scored to make it 1-1.  Then we missed a penalty and Peru immediately scored their second. I had a sense of foreboding as Teófilo Juan Cubillas, their star midfielder strolled up to take a free kick outside the box.  He struck the ball on the outside of his right foot like a bullet and it raced into the top corner of the Scottish goal.  We had been beaten 3-1.

I must have been the only person in Scotland, who was watching the match in our front room with two Peruvian doctors, complete with Chullos; colourful knitted headgear with ear flaps and playing their panpipes.  The air in my living room was not filled with bagpipes but the folk tunes of the pan pipes of two delirious doctors.  Sometimes, life can be too international, and I often pondered, perhaps if I’d decided on football, I might have made a difference that night!