The Ninth-Biggest Island in the World

By a coffee machine in a hotel in Chicago, I talk to a Hair Designer from Vegas. His hair rises in a four-inch-high, determinedly chestnut pompadour and he is wearing an inadvisably tight, sequin-studded sweatshirt that is remarkably similar to one I once unsuccessfully attempted to dress an unimpressed tabby in. The Hair Designer is late 50-ish and portly.

He asks where I’m from and then tells me, in a confidential tone, “I’ve done a lot of hair for both British and Scottish people”.

Possibly the swiftest way anyone can incense a Scot, other than shouting “Freedom!” or quoting any other part of Braveheart at us, is by using “British” when meaning “English” or by saying “English” when meaning “British”. Great Britain is an island. A big island. The ninth biggest island in the world, in fact.

This island has a lot of sheep on it, many of the world’s best Indian restaurants and staggering numbers of teen binge drinkers. Scotland, home of many of those sheep, an impressive proportion of the Indian restaurants and gallons of those teen binge drinkers, is on that island. So is Wales. So is England. Geographically, speaking, Scotland plus England plus Wales equals Britain. Politically speaking, when “Britain” is used as shorthand for the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is added to the sum of Britain’s parts. I’m thinking of printing out a wee card that explains this calculation and carrying it alongside my allergy card. Until then, I will have to make do with scowling at Nevadan hair designers, several Daily Telegraph journalists and some deliberately provocative Irish cousins.

Well, at least, I reason as my frown begins to recede, our hairdos are covered from both angles and I need not fear that my country people will be roaming the streets of Vegas with unruly locks. One can’t say the same for those one-shot English folks.

“Oh, hey, Scotland…” calls the Hair Designer as he leaves the breakfast room.

I look at him exquiringly.

“Freedom!” he bellows, his paunch twinkling under the orange hotel lights.

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