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Monday, July 11, 2011

Badgering a Kiltie

in a recent post Susan mentioned the Halifax Military Tattoo. though i've never been to one of these events, i was once married to a Scottish-born fellow who went to great trouble to immerse me in the traditions of his homeland. part of this immersion was a requirement to participate in numerous Scottish Country Dance workshops and other related events. one such event was a Scottish fiddling class taught by a fellow whose love of storytelling was second only to his passion for the music of his homeland. some of the tunes i learned from Calum are still among my favorite performance pieces. the story i'm going to share with you is one of his, told over pints of beer at the local pub one evening after class.

but firstly, some cultural background. as the photo shows, what is worn under the kilt (or more accurately, not worn)is considered the test of a true Scotsman. the gents in the photo are, indeed, true Scotsmen. here they are seen marching in a parade somewhere or other. a military tattoo is much like a parade, but it's all done on a parade ground instead of down the streets of town. the groups involved are in full military dress. they're immaculately groomed, attired in perfectly matched uniforms. they perform complicated choreographed maneuvers on the parade ground, marching in time to the music they play, to the admiration of crowds or visiting dignitaries. today's story, boys 'n girls, is about one such true Scotsman - a piper, participating in the Edinburgh Tattoo.

to the unwashed masses, a uniform is a uniform is a uniform. those encased in the things, however, know there are specific, and distinct differences, which serve as identifiers to the indoctrinated eye. there's a lot if available information in a uniform, if you speak the language. from small details one learns the rank of the wearer, where the regiment is from, how important the event they're attending is, etc. etc. i don't pretend to be uniformally literate, but i do have a glimmering of understanding of how much i don't understand.

the uniforms of Scottish regiments are unique even to the untrained eye. the most noticeable difference is the kilt. Scottish men are, we're led to believe, so very certain of their masculinity, that they can wear a skirt into battle. they'll also knock the head off of anyone gauche enough to call it a skirt. another take is that they're so insecure about their manhood that they need to be able to lift their skirts to prove it on a second's notice. the jury is still out on that, and i'll confess to a certain amount of cynicism which i cheerfully blame on the former spouse. The fellows below are at the Edinburgh Tattoo, one of the most famous and extravagant of its kind, performed on the parade grounds of Edinburgh castle each year.

on the front of the kilt, you'll usually find a sporran. this is the original man-purse. (calling it a purse is also grounds for having your head knocked off) the kilt has no pockets, after all, and a fella has to put his pocket knife and coin for beer somewhere. this can be a simple, flat leather bag on a string run round the waist, but it isn't usually. there seems to be some sort of competition to see who can come up with the most elaborate or outrageous sporran. you'll find everything from tastefully tooled leather to grotesque carven ram's heads in 3D. most common are bits of fur and tassels. yes, the Scots assure us, real men can, and certainly do wear tassels. they also wear a wee bit of lace at their wrists, to formal balls, which, i'm here to tell you, looks absolutely smashing. in addition to serving as a container for needful items, the sporran helps hold the front of the kilt down in a breeze, and while dancing. the back, it seems, is fair game for gusts and curious onlookers.

a certain middle aged lady of North American extraction was attending this particular edition of the Edinburgh Tattoo. she was clearly enamored of all things Scottish, and was having the time of her life, snapping photos and chatting with the locals, who described her speech as having a very nasal and high pitched 'twang'. after the grand finale, with fireworks and deafening cheers, the contents of the parade ground swarmed into pubs in the neighborhood of Edinburgh Castle. participants and onlookers mingled, celebrating the great event.

the hapless hero of our story was a strapping handsome young man - a piper in a regiment whose sporran was made from the head of an equally handsome badger. it may have looked something like this. he stood at the bar, with his foot up on the foot rail that is often found in such places. he was a fine specimen of Scottish manhood, striking a most appealing pose in 3/4 view of our lady tourist, as he chatted with a friend. she appeared to be fascinated with him, and most especially with his sporran. as the evening progressed, and she enthusiastically sampled the local brew, she couldn't take her eyes off of him. it took her some time, and many brews, to screw up her courage, but she did it. tottering unsteadily up to the object of her attentions, she laid her hand on his arm. he turned toward her and smiled politely. taking a great breath, in order to speak loudly enough to be heard over the ear-numbing noise of music and conversation, she shrieked, "oh, i just love your scrotum!" she had an excellent set of lungs, so was heard by everyone in the room, which now echoed with silence. all eyes turned to question what the ears couldn't believe they had heard. the poor fellow's ruddy face paled, his foot dropped convulsively from the rail to the floor. in total silence, and to the glee of the hundreds of eyes following him, he bolted from the room.

whether she intended to say what she said remains a mystery. no one else had seen anything but his sporran, and the lady was in such a state of confusion afterward that she required assistance to find her lodgings.


Cicero Sings said...

Well that was interesting. D had some Scots in him and was always, in jest, talking about wearing a kilt. I don't think even he realized all there was to doing it up right!

gfid said...

i do think men look terrific in kilts. the whole 'real scotsman' think seems more than a little silly to me, though. don't know if you got the whole story when you visited, as i posted part then went to look for more photos to finish up.

susan said...

I'm so glad you posted the story you promised me earlier. The pictures are great and now I've also been educated about a few things I didn't know previously. The kilts are quite obviously different depending on the clan but I never knew the sporrans aren't all the same. I guess I've never tried to get a close enough look at one. I'm surprised the proud young Scot in the pub didn't just say 'thank you' to the woman and return to his drink and conversation.

Although I've enjoyed a lot of very loud rock concerts I wasn't quite ready to see my first Tattoo in the local sports arena. Since we don't read the local papers I had no idea beforehand about the parade but I'll try to be there next year. I think my soft spot for marching bands comes from my Dad who used to take me to see military parades while I was still in a push-chair.

Nice post, my friend.

Gary said...

Good story! And great photos.

You know about the two elderly Scot gals, Mary and Margaret McDermot, don't you?

Heading home from a local country dance, they took a shortcut over the fens in the dark only to find a rather drunk Angus Stuart snoring loudly under a bush in the hill of heather.

Giggling, Mary took a ribbon from her hair and they gently lifted the kilt and tied a bow around just what the sporran covers...

Angus awoke at dawn with a dry mouth and a wee hangover. He stood to relieve himself...took one look at the blue bow on his manly part and stuttered, "Achhh lad! I don't knew where ye bin...but I see ya won ferst prize!!!"

gfid said...

Su - i guess he wasn't prepared for what he heard, poor lad. i got the impression he was quite young, and she matronly. glad you liked the story. i'd forgotten how much i enjoy posting stories. my dad took us to parades too. i remember loving the marching bands, and there were many, even in our little town. i don't think there was a single one in this year's Canada Day parade. it's a terrible loss.

Gary - thanks, i'm pleased that you enjoyed it. the irish band i play with does a song called 'the scotsman' which tells exactly that story..... i found a clip of it on youtube for you. sorry - don't know how to make it link w my Mac.

gfid said...

Gar - i did figure out to link the video of 'the Scotsman' to the post, however, so you can click on 'what is worn under the kilt ' to see it....

Linda said...

oh my gaaaawwwwd - i laughed so hard i about pee'd! this is so hysterical and i have to share with you why besides the very lovely obvious.

first-born son is heading to the scottish highlands-he says- and is going to buy himself a kilt and visit lots of whiskey distilleries [the real reason he's going...ahem]. when i told him what to wear under it as in nada, he didn't believe his old mum. now, you don't mind if i just cut this and send it, photo too, to him, do you? i think it will at least , shall we say, open his eyes that his old mum does know a thing or two about a thing or two?

:) and thanks for the advice and it's in the works. i commented to yours over at my place but thought i would here to. and thanks for the hysteria, i am still grinning and that's saying something...just ask those who live here. xoxox

Seraphine said...

oh great. i was saying sporran over and over again. sporran. sporran. sporran. so i wouldn't forget. so guess what i'll remember now when i actually see one? thanks a lot, gf.

clairesgarden said...

yeh its nice seeing the kilt being worn. great post!!

gfid said...

linda - ;0) laughing is soooooo good for us. glad you liked the stor. your lad wil nae doot be checking out the single malt scotch so famous there. (ghastly stuff) but i hear some local pubs still brew their own beers. a good dark stout or porter would be my brew of choice.

sera - yes, sporran... not the other word. (snork)

claire - nothing very new in the story for you, glad you enjoyed it anyway. but i thought the tourist silliness might make you smile.