Men in Kilts

This blog entry about the events of Friday, August 24, 2012 was originally posted on August 29, 2012.

PART 4 (DAYS 5-6): London may have hosted the international Summer Olympics just a few weeks before my visit to the U.K., but up north, in Scotland, another traditional sporting event was getting underway. I’m talking about the Highland Games, an action-packed event not to be confused with The Hunger Games or even Highlander. When it comes to Scottish sporting events, there can be only one.

“Every time I leave the city, I’m reminded that I’m in Scotland,” Rachel said as we head away from the grey granite buildings of the Aberdeenshire to the Scottish Highlands’ countryside of green rolling hills reminiscent of Middle Earth. At the wheel was not a hobbit but her boyfriend Colin, who’d had a late night of boozing it up with friends, but was recovered enough to drive the three of us after a morning shower. In fact, our introduction came that morning when he was in nothing but a towel after said shower, and by coincidence, it wasn’t the only morning I’d greeted him in the hallway that way.

“Colin has no shame,” Rachel told me.

“That’s the second time someone’s said that to me today,” he said proudly.

Anyway, we drove along the Highland Tourist Route and ended up in Ballabeg Park, Strathdon, stage of the 171st Lonach Highland Gathering — a display of old Scottish sport and tradition — which translates to a lot of men doing things in kilts. Kilts have been, and still continue to be, all the rage of traditional Scottish fashion. I was eager to take pictures of people wearing them, like taking pictures of people in cosplay at a comic con.

“I don’t think you’ll trump that one,” Colin told me as we noticed one particular outfit. It takes a real man to wear something that other cultures would consider to be a skirt — but it takes a really real man to wear a leopard skin over it all like this one guy we saw. “It’ll be the best one you’ll see.”

Bagpipers paraded around the perimeter of the sporting event field, followed by men with spears — all wearing kilts — followed by this tired-looking horse named Matt that Rachel and I joked was a disgrace to the games. This parade was followed by the different sporting events going on in the ring with competitors from not just Scotland, but Canada, California, and Poland: Highland dancing, high jumping, hammer throwing, stone putting, tug-of-war (men’s and women’s), pillow fighting (for the kids), relay racing, and my favorite, caber tossing. I’d first been exposed to caber tossing (picture above) — the throwing of a big log and flipping it over to the farthest distance you can — in an old 80’s video game called World Games, and I was really excited to see the action in person for the first time, complete with an announcer instead of 8-bit music.

“I didn’t realize the emcee was Scrooge McDuck,” I told Rachel and Colin.

“It is!” Rachel proclaimed. She wondered how he could dive in a vault of gold coins without busting his head, and I wondered how Launchpad McQuack ended up in both Ducktales AND Darkwing Duck. Colin’s boss showed up, and we realized that he was more true to the Disney character; he was actually really rich.

“Your boss is Scrooge McDuck,” I told him.

“He really is.”

Despite not being a registered caber tosser, I could still compete in other things, mostly the games of chance set up at the different booths on the gathering grounds. Rolling my first cup of dice, I rolled five 4’s, earning me a nice bottle of Scottish The Famous Grouse whisky, which Rachel and I swigged throughout the day as we watched the Highland Games, and eventually finished before we went out barhopping back in town later that evening. Colin was also a big winner, winning two little bottles of The Famous Grouse, which he kept tucked away as a responsible designated driver.

Of course, it wasn’t all competition at the Highland Games; it was a family affair after all, and there were plenty of carnival rides and attractions for the kids, the best one being this completely makeshift ride called the Rib Tickler. Needless to say, I couldn’t stop laughing when this guy basically rocked a small boat back and forth as a woman on the outside spun the enclosure around it so it looked like you might be going upside down.

We had strategically gotten our ribs tickled before lunch, and we wondered with others, on what to eat. We assumed there would be haggis, that traditional Scottish ground meat dish comprised of spiced sheep intestines, lungs, and other goodies, encased in a sheep stomach. Yum.

“What should I smell for?” I asked. “What does haggis smell like?”

“It smells like magic,” Rachel answered. She was a fan of the dish, because you really don’t realize what you’re eating if it’s spiced right.

“It sounds like bologna,” I said.

Surprisingly, there was no haggis at such a traditional Scottish event, so we settled on venison burgers. Personally I had a Big Stag, with two all deer patties, special (brown) sauce, onions and cheese. A can of super sweet Scottish IRN BRU washed it down, followed by swigs of whisky.


HAGGIS WAS FINALLY HAD the following day when finally made our way to the nearby coastal town of Stonehaven, after sleeping in on a Sunday morning. The reason for the late awakening was that after the Highland Games, we had a long night out. We went back to Aberdeen and had some takeaway Indian food while watching British TV on Sky — including this so-simple-it’s-awesome game show of probability called Red or Black? where contestants (and the audience) have to determine whether something is red… or black. (The only thing more amazing was when Rachel showed me the winner of Britain’s Got Talent: Pudsey the dancing dog, on YouTube.)

Colin was still recovering from his previous late night, so it was just R. Kelly and I out on the town of Aberdeen, going from bar to bar downtown, from Slain’s Castle (inside an old church), the Monkey House (not as fun as it was filled with middle age couples looking quite forced to be “out”), Orchid (where our waitress set our “Gas Chamber” drinks on fire), and finally to Club Tropicana, this 80s music and paraphernalia revue which made us feel at home.

“Cheers,” I toasted, clinking yet another glass of whisky. We danced and drank until the club shut down at 3 a.m., and afterwards did as the British do by having some late night doner kebabs before heading home.

And so it was a late-night-turned-late-morning, but we still had time to get our asses to Stonehaven that Sunday afternoon, after a taxi ride to the Union Square mall (home of the other, lesser T.G.I.Fridays), adjacent to the Scotsrail train station. Walking near Platform 9 and 3/4, we hopped on the train for the 17-minute ride away. An old man across the way looked like he was figuring out some intense math problem, while the conductor spoke on the P.A. system, announcing things in a Scottish accent.

“I can’t believe our conductor is Scrooge McDuck,” I said.

It’s a rarity that the sun comes out in Scotland, and that Sunday was probably one of the three days there’s actually sun. “I was thinking of getting really nice sunglasses for a hundred pounds,” Rachel told me. “But then I realized I’d be paying 33 pounds for each use. And if I forgot them today, I’d be like, ‘Oh no! Each use is 50 pounds now!’”

It was quite a nice day when we walked from the Stonehaven train station, through town, across the bridge, and to the houses by beach. As many chimneys as we saw, there were no chimney sweeps, but inevitably at least one bird perched on top.

It was quite the “beach day” that day, I mean that by Scottish standards; it was upper 60s (°F), with a breeze and the sun out, i.e., the best you could probably get, which was still pretty cold for beachy things. No matter, it was nice for a walk along the rocky shore and a stop at The Bay, which is not a bay, but a chippery restaurant that the PR firm Rachel worked for represented. Although famous for their fish and chips (which we had), we also got some haggis pudding, which is actually a sausage and not a dessert. As expected, the haggis was nothing disgusting at all — although anything deep fried is awesome. And speaking of deep fried, we walked across town to the Carron Fish Bar by Market Square, another fish ‘n chippery, that claimed to be the originator of the world-famous deep fried Mars bar. Original or not, the verdict is: delicious.

“I DON’T WANT THIS WEEKEND TO END,” Rachel told me, quoting a lyric from the song “Friday,” as my time in Scotland was coming to an end. “Rebecca Black was right.”

I didn’t either, but Monday was inevitable, plus it was a raining again; my cue to leave. But I didn’t leave without one last walk through Aberdeen after our day trip to Stonehaven. The sun was setting just as I made a pilgrimage to the statue of Scotland’s famed liberator, William Wallace — the one Mel Gibson made immortal in Braveheart (even though he was shaven and the statue had a beard).

If William Wallace were alive today, he’d probably say something heroic in a Scottish accent, and I’d be amazed that Scotland was liberated from English rule by Scrooge McDuck. Seriously, that Disney character really gets around.


FUN FACT:

Amongst the topics of the banter between me and Rachel was Neil Armstrong’s death — news that had just broken. “They don’t tell you that when you go to the moon, sixty years later, you die,” I joked. “He obviously contracted moon cancer.”

Rachel was worried after I’d superimposed myself sleeping on the moon using Photobooth at the Apple Store in Aberdeen when we were waiting for the train to depart. “Oh no! Now you’re going to get moon cancer!”





Next entry: Plains, Trains, and Kung-Fu Masters

Previous entry: When You’re with R. Kelly, It’s Always Friday




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Comments for “Men in Kilts”

  • A Kung-fu master appears at Stonehenge, up next…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/29  at  04:41 PM


  • World Games was the best game ever.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/29  at  06:38 PM


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This blog post is one of six travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Gone Europin'," which chronicled an eleven-day whirlwind journey to Germany's capital Berlin, scientific Geneva, Aberdeen in northern Scotland, and southern England.

Next entry:
Plains, Trains, and Kung-Fu Masters

Previous entry:
When You’re with R. Kelly, It’s Always Friday




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