Scotland Is Not for the Squeamish by Bill Watkins is an immensely readable and thoroughly enjoyable account of a short period in the life of the author. Bill Watkins was born in England in 1950 to Welsh/Irish parents and considers himself Irish. We meet Bill in 1969 at the age of 18 in the Straits of Gibraltar where he is serving as the radio officer on board an ageing cargo ship heading for Tangier. We leave him as he departs Scotland three years later at the age of 21.
A short period to be covered by an entire volume of autobiography, you might think. But the way Bill Watkins carries us with him through his adventures and misadventures is enthralling, often amusing, sometimes emotional, and always extremely well written. This is one of those rare books which keep you turning the page not through plot devices, but simply by keeping the reader engaged. The book was originally published in 2000, but is republished in expanded form as a companion to Watkins' account of his childhood, "A Celtic Childhood", and his third book "The Once and Future Celt".
In the book we follow Watkins from Tangier to London, where, after nearly sinking a friend's boat he is helping restore on the Thames, he heads for Scotland, arriving in Aberdeen after a month on a trawler in the North Atlantic during which he discovers just how much he hates fish. Once there he becomes an unofficial student at Aberdeen University and stays with a Scot he helped in Tangier. Together they explore the country Watkins always wanted to visit, on a motorcycle and sidecar, and when the money runs out he again joins a trawler, a journey that nearly becomes his last as a hurricane strikes in the open North Atlantic. Watkins shows he can write movingly as he recounts listening to desperate radio calls from ships sinking in the storm.
Moving on to Edinburgh, Watkins pays his way as an electrician and musician between periods on the dole, and before making a life-changing journey to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. For modern Scots, one of the most surprising moments of the book comes after Watkins helps form the folk group Silly Wizard. After a gig he is approached by two young boys who want to be taught some fiddle tunes. These turn out to be Johnny Cunningham and his wee brother, who introduces himself as: "Phil. I'm Phil Cunningham, fae Portobello".