It was a lyric by his musical hero Tom Waits that summed up this year’s Selkirk Common Riding for the town’s Colonial Society standard bearer.
“It’s a great line – ‘If you get far enough away, you’re on your way back home’,” Robert Mailer Anderson, a 45-year-old native of northern California, told The Southern.
He was following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, a century to the day after his ancestor had borne the Colonials’ flag around the royal burgh during its annual ceremonies.
Back in 1913, his namesake Robert Anderson – affectionately known as ‘Honolulu Bob Anderson’ after emigrating to Hawaii some years earlier – was Selkirk Colonial Society Standard Bearer.
And it was the looming centenary which saw novelist, journalist and film-maker Robert determined to make the long trip from his home in San Francisco. Accompanied by a 20-strong party of family members, including his wife Nicola and four young children, plus various aunts, uncles and cousins, Robert took part in a week-long programme of events and activities and clearly relished every minute of what had been a long-held dream.
Setting up camp at Hoscote House at Roberton, the family threw itself whole-heartedly into the common riding and in return the town clearly took them all to its heart.
“It’s all been pretty wonderful,” Robert told The Southern after the week’s final common riding events. “I’m an American mutt – part Scottish, English, German and Mexican. But I was always aware of this anniversary because of my Scottish heritage through my great-grandfather, through his large life, and because every generation has carried a Robert Anderson since then.
“I was always told that’s who I was named after, so I was aware of the connection. And they were the only old photos around my father’s house. Ones of his grandfather – pictures of him playing cricket, fishing and the stray newspaper clippings someone keeps.”
Various family members, including Robert’s father, aunt and sister had already travelled to Selkirk in the past.
Despite family commitments, being a prime mover behind the new San Francisco Jazz Centre and helping get President Obama re-elected, Robert’s family were keen that he was the one who should apply to mark the 100th anniversary of Honolulu Bob’s time as standard bearer.
“But unless you know Scotland and unless you’ve experienced something like this, you just don’t appreciate just what it means,” Robert explained.
“I’ve experienced nothing like this before. There were a lot of highlights as you might imagine.
“One being that the other standard bearers were just so kind and immediately brought me into their fraternity, and the manner in which they did it was both unexpected and truly welcoming, and something I won’t forget.
“I feel huge kinship here in Selkirk and we’ll definitely be back.”