You know that the fates are with you when it's the men who have to worry about their skirts blowing up, and you get to be the one who hopes they do. This is one of the delightful elements of the 21st annual Scottish Highland Games, recently held at the Seminole County dog track. With other cultural events, you're in danger of learning something. Here we just looked forward to people slapping each other on the back and saying, "Is that a caber under yer kilt or errrrr ya just happy ta see me?"
Actually, we did learn a few things, like Scots have a weird idea of sport. They invented golf, so we already know that whacking a ball across the moors with a stick is their idea of fun. With this in mind, we encountered what sounded to us like "sheep toss," but which turned out to be the sheaftoss, where they fling a 16-pound bag of hay over a goal post with a pitchfork. And then there was the caber toss. A caber is a 19-foot-long log weighing up to 130 pounds, basically a telephone pole, which they have to throw so it flips over. The real game would seem to be a hernia pool, but these games were all fun to watch because they were performed by Scottish lads with physiques like parade balloons. So we learned that just because a guy wears a skirt doesn't mean he couldn't pound you into the ground with one tap on yer wee noggin.
Ax and you shall receive
We also learned that, if you think life is violent now, you wouldn't have lasted one day in medieval Scotland. Alex and Scot Cameron of Tampa put on a display of axes and swords that made modern criminals look wussy for carrying guns, and we ran into one Scottish granny who produced a dagger from under her traditional dress that could cut a tin can. In the jousting competition, two knights with horses in full metal regalia dismounted and beat each other in the head with their shields. We even won a few bucks off a friendly onlooker who had been nipping off a flask of Scotch all day. (Most people never leave the dog track when they are ahead.)
If you want to lose 10 pounds, go to Scotland for the weekend. We didn't see any haggis -- that's sheep intestines and oatmeal, a Scottish favorite also known as Bulimia Helper -- but made a new discovery with the Scotchegg, a boiled egg encased in sausage and fried, so that it resembles a little brown ball like something they should have been throwing in the games.
As their cuisine suggests, Scots are amazingly resourceful. Who else would have thought of taking a rigor-mortic octopus and making a musical instrument out of it? Bagpipes can be instruments of torture, but in the hands of these accomplished pipers, they could bring a tear to the eye of any romantic soul. And without them we wouldn't have seen a can of oil advertising, "Season your bag with airtight bag seasoning."
It would be impossible to recount everything we learned, such as that the term "hag" comes from a female hawk who matures before being tamed, that there are Spice Girl potato chips in Worcestershire sauce flavor, and that the sheep dog trials in "Babe" are real things, where dogs that are smarter than your co-workers herd neurotic, shivering sheep into a pen. But probably the most important thing we learned was that the Scots have a more colorful sense of fashion than any pack of drag queens. All day long we saw men who looked like Grizzly Adams, Wilford Brimley and ZZ Top walking around as though they'd forgotten to take off their secret Catholic schoolgirl outfit before they left the house.
A 120-page book titled "So, You're Going to Wear the Kilt" told you that they didn't take this lightly, if the prices of its components -- $60 for a hat, $68 a yard for tartan fabric, $239 for a rabbit-fur sporan -- are any indication. A sporan is kind of like a fannie pack, only worn on the front. We saw one gentleman wearing one made of bobcat, with the bobcat head taxidermied onto the front, like a really threatening G-string. So, you don't even have to try to get under a Scotsman's dress to get into trouble; a stray hand could prove dangerous enough.
And speaking of dress, the wind did kick up quite a bit, sending acres of plaid flapping in the breeze. Believe me, we were watching to see if they really weren't wearing a stitch under them, as everyone says. But every time one of the lads met with an errant breeze, or failed to sit like a lady, we didn't see the clan jewels but rather a pair of boxers or Speedos. What the heck, even we wouldn't want to go around without panties on a chilly day. We had a great time anyway, and learned that on a windy afternoon with a bunch of flamboyant Scotsmen, every day can be dress-up day.