It’s just what (abnormal) people do . . . innit?
By Jenny Hazzard
It’s summer. More or less. Not in a strict meteorological sense, but according to the calendar of piping and drumming, the occurrence of Dumbarton, Alma, and Blair Atholl mean that summer’s presence in Scotland is undeniable.
Last weekend, the Scottish weather even decided to play along, bathing properly warm sunshine over West Lothian and Highland Perthshire, in celebration of the first weekend of outdoor Highland games.
I, unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), was otherwise occupied at a friend’s wedding, therefore my first outdoor games outing of the year was in early-June, at Markinch. The sunshine remained – the temperature packed up and headed to Spain. In a close copy of last year’s Markinch experience, the mercury hit the dizzying heights of 11oC (approximately -30oC with wind-chill, I think) and it’s fair to say the tea tent did a better trade than the Mr. Whippy ice cream van.
The previous day, Saturday morning, I had decided to get organised and spend some time filling out and sending in entries for various Highland games and competitions, booking accommodation, filling in my calendar, and paying entry fees. I sat at my laptop with the Guide to the Games open, checking on which events I could make it to, which I would need to decide between (some dates in August offer up to four different Highland games), and which ones I would – based on past experience – give a wide berth.
In doing this, I asked myself the inevitable question – “Am I really doing this again?” As I get a bit older, I guess it is only natural to start analysing this obsession a bit more, asking more probing questions about why I’m doing it, whether I actually still enjoy it, and how much longer I’ll keep at it. It’s an interesting one, because none of those questions have straightforward answers. But for the time being, inertia and habit are still winning out, and the simple answer is, “What else would I do?”
So yesterday my husband, dog and I found ourselves driving off to Fife for our first day out at the games for 2012. Colin was judging the piobaireachd so I was just playing in the light music, and Kiera spent most of the day cowering in the car. (We’re fairly certain she thinks every time she’s taken to the Highland games, we’re actually going to the same place – a nasty, noisy, crowded, scary place for a tiny Yorkshire Terrier – and her demeanour says, “Oh no, we’re not going back to that place again are we?”)
On arrival we were met with the standard scene: a clump of pipers loitering near a tent, trying to make sure names were entered for the draw, without looking anxious or like anyone was taking it too seriously.
I joined the clump, had a bit of chat, and spent the rest of the day talking, doing a bit of piping, and quite frequently laughing out loud. Nothing hysterical happened. No one got blown off the march platform, or subsumed into the tug of war, but like any day at a Scottish Highland games, there were excellent, quirky, classic little moments that make these days so brilliant.
I thought it might be interesting to note these down; to keep a record of the amusing little occurrences that make me smile, or laugh, or guffaw. This, therefore, is the first edition of the Scottish Games 2012 Compendium of Silliness. Over the summer I’m quite certain there will be plenty to add to it, from my own experiences and those which I hope to gather from others on their travels round the various fields, golf courses, machars, sports pitches and hillsides of this country.
Early June in Fife. It was bloody freezing. Everyone tries to put a brave face on it, but here we were at the start of June, huddled together in a bunch, wearing thermal undershirts, wool waistcoats and jackets, capes (no rain in sight, capes needed for warmth), mittens, hand warmers, and in one excellently prepared case, a hot water bottle. I snuggled my little dog for warmth, and there was some discussion about whether she would stay in my jacket while I played, and whether anyone else could borrow her for their performance.
Halfway through the piobaireachd competition – of about 20 players – the judges’ stoicism expired and they pulled the car round in order to sit in relative warmth for the rest of the afternoon, car facing the platform side-on, one judge in the driver’s seat and the other in the backseat, windows down to hear as much of each performance as possible (backseat window only down half-way due to the child safety device). Photographs were taken. It was hard not to laugh.
The toilets. During the early part of the day, there was a single toilet available for the entire games park. Mercifully some more portable toilets were delivered mid-morning. Not so mercifully for one of the piping competitors, one was delivered adjacent to the light music platform, during his performance. There has to be something quite special about being half-way through “Susan MacLeod” and looking up to see four brawny men in “Drain Clearing Experts” t-shirts lifting a portable toilet off a loudly idling flat-bed truck, and plunking it down beside the platform you’re playing on. At least . . .