Scotsman’s love of Montana tempered by misgivings

Snake

Brighty

How is living Montana difficult to imagine? Let Roger Kettle count the ways.

I first visited Montana, from my home in Scotland, in 1993, and it’s fair to say that I fell in love with the place. So much so that, over the next 21 years, I would return another five times.

At one stage, I seriously considered crossing the Atlantic and living there permanently. My career presented no problems. I was a creator and writer of newspaper comic strips and, theoretically, could work from anywhere in the world.

Even in those primitive, pre-internet days, the fax machine meant that I could send my scripts instantly to anywhere on the globe. In the end, having weighed up everything, I decided to remain in Scotland but, oh, it was close.

My children were young and settled in our local school, which would have meant a huge upheaval for them. My wife’s mother, not long widowed, would have been left a LONG way from her family. I made the correct and logical decision.

However, to console myself and convince myself I’d done exactly that, I compiled a list of reasons for not making the move. And here’s why I wouldn’t live in Montana:

Weather

Your weather is just silly: 100 degrees in the summer and minus 30 in the winter. I’m even led to believe that this ridiculous range of temperatures can be achieved in a couple of days. This is plainly ludicrous. In Scotland, we know that summer is coming when the rain gets warmer.

And let’s talk about hailstones. In the normal world, these are, at worst, pea-sized. For some reason, Montana has opted for hailstones the size of baseballs that could smash through the top layer of Donald Trump’s hair. When you throw in the tornado that swept through Billings a few years back, I’m quite happy to frolic in the Scottish drizzle.

Transport

I’m sorry to point this out, but you all drive on the wrong side of the road.

Bigness (1)

Like your weather, the vastness of Montana is just silly. You could fit Scotland into it eight times over. My country, at its widest, is about 180 miles across, which is roughly the distance some of you guys will happily drive for a pizza.

If you tried driving 100 miles west or east from the center of Scotland, you’d end up being rescued by a lifeboat, 10 miles out to sea. The sheer size of Montana is difficult for me to comprehend and your relaxed attitude towards distance baffles me. I once drove from Billings to Hardin and back in a day and suffered the road equivalent of jet-lag.

Bigness (2)

You like your vehicles big. Somewhere near Red Lodge, I was once overtaken going up a hill by a truck the size of that mothership in “Close Encounters.” As it rumbled by, it blocked out the sun for fully 10 minutes and all I could hear in my head were those five pivotal notes from the movie.

Your pickup trucks have roughly the same dimensions as aircraft carriers and your motor homes could comfortably accommodate the entire population of the village I live in. Good grief, you’d need a fully extended firefighter’s ladder just to clean the windshields on some of those things. I’d be far too intimidated to drive around in traffic like that. It would be like being in a bumper car at a monster truck rally.

Bitey things

In Scotland, we have one poisonous snake, called an adder.  As it lives in remote places, you would have to be extremely unfortunate to be bitten by one and even then it would be fatal only to someone weak or frail.

In Montana, you have rattlesnakes, the stars of many a Western movie I watched as a kid. While I realize they might not be as deadly as portrayed on screen, they still have an ominous presence. Anything that plays the maracas on its tail before biting you is worthy of your attention

You also have grizzly bears. We have annoyed hamsters. The former can rip your head off and the latter can give you a nasty nip on the finger. Not much of a contest.

Then there are your wolves and mountain lions. I’m distinctly uncomfortable with any large carnivores that can outrun me. Here at home, I’m a bit wary of our neighbour’s cat (it has one eye and a menacing hiss), but that’s about it.

Sport

Quite frankly, the sports you seem to enjoy in Montana are largely a mystery to me. Your football appears to be some form of licensed gang warfare. As far as I can see, most of the participants completely ignore the ball and indulge in pushing contests with each other while wearing crash helmets and tight trousers.

In basketball, several very tall gentlemen in squeaky shoes run backward and forward in a gymnasium. This goes on for quite a while.

To be honest, I haven’t a clue what baseball is all about. I think you get points for chewing gum, spitting and adjusting your crotch. No, give me a sleety January afternoon in Scotland watching my local soccer team lose yet again.

Hats

I look stupid in a baseball cap and even more stupid in a Stetson. In Scotland, the need to protect my head from the sun is limited to a few days annually, usually a weekend in August. Therefore, the Montana summers would have been far too stressful for me. I don’t think I could have coped with the reaction to my bowler hat.

Chewing tobacco

Despite the current public opinion, I have nothing against tobacco. From time to time, I will buy myself some which has been pre-wrapped in paper tubes and sold in packs of 20. I will then take out one of these tubes, set fire to the end of it and puff away contentedly. This seems like an eminently sensible and sophisticated way to poison myself.

Why on earth would you want to stick a greasy chunk of it in your mouth and chew it? The whole process seems to involve an awful lot of gurgling and dribbling and is virtually unheard of in Scotland. I suppose, if I’d moved to Montana, I’d have taken up the habit in an effort to blend in, but I would have needed a portable version of one of those drool-sucking devices that dentist use.

Beer

If you think I’m about to complain about the quality of Montana beer, then you’re wrong. Quite the opposite. Since my first visit to Billings all those years ago, the growth in the micro-brewing industry has been incredible and the resultant products are wonderful. I’d find it very difficult to avoid sampling the glories on offer on a daily basis. “Darling, I’m just going out to do some further research for my book about Montana beers.” Nah, I don’t see that working.

So that’s it. Those are the reasons I used to convince myself that moving to Montana was a bad idea. But who knows? Maybe it will still happen. Maybe I’ll realize that dream of one day living in Big Sky country.

I’m sure none of you will object to loud bagpipe music coming from the house next door.

Roger Kettle lives in Newport-on-Tay, Scotland, near St. Andrews. He has been a comic strip writer for more than 35 years. He has two long-running strips in the U.K., “Beau Peep,” a Foreign Legion spoof, and “A Man Called Horace,” a Western spoof based on Dorothy M. Johnson’s short story “A Man Called Horse,” later made into a movie. Kettle also wrote “Andy Capp” for 11 years after the death of creator Reg Smythe. He has used Billings as a base of operations to explore the American West on several vacation trips. He also wrote one of our favorite installments in the Last Best News series Lay of the Land.

The accompanying illustration is by Steve Bright, or Brighty, as he signs his work. He is one of Britain’s top cartoonists. Feast your peepers on his work at his website, http://www.brighty-art.co.uk/.

Comments are closed.