I once had to go to Stirling for a business meeting. This rather attractive city is but a cockstride from Glamis, where my then in-laws lived, so Alison and I decided to make a weekend of it and visit her folks. I drove up to Stirling, and Alison flew to Aberdeen to join me later.
I shall not bore you with detailed meteorological records of my trip on Thursday and Friday; suffice to say that I drove all the way to Coldstream, just north of the border, in torrential rain that stopped only just long enough for the clouds to part and an overnight frost to come down. In the middle of June. No wonder the Scots are regarded as ‘dour’, I’d be pretty dour as well with that malarkey to put up with every year.
Spent Saturday poking round sundry castles, assorted scenery, and a Scotch whisky distillery. This latter was reassuringly low tech – you get a load of malted barley, add hot water and yeast, wait till it stops smelling too bad, and stick it in casks for 10 years. Well, it is a bit more complex than that, but not much, believe me..
Sunday was a red-letter day for the nearby throbbing metropolis of Forfar – the annual Highland Games, where various locals and visitors strut their stuff in pursuance of prizes. Firstly I have to tell you that there were LOTS of pipers piping. The bagpipes are not my favourite instrument; my musical tastes tend towards heavy rock and the techno end of house, I fear, and generally I feel about the sound of the pipes pretty much as I feel about sheep in the landscape, ie they are only picturesque at a distance. However in the context of the atmosphere of the Games I got reasonably attuned to them. Still a bit too much hooting and skirling in a confined space for me to be truly comfortable, and you wouldn’t buy an album of them, but not too bad..
There was a big competition of country dancing, with much incredibly skilful jigging, reeling, and sabre hopping. This is taken VERY SERIOUSLY indeed, with losers oftimes reduced to floods of tears. But the really impressive stuff is The Heavy Games..
You are probably aware that the Scots have the highest incidence of heart disease in the Western world. This is due at least in part to the diet. If you want a pizza from a chip shop, you had better make sure you ask for it ‘Oven baked, please’, or they will sling it in the deep fat fryer, ditto the meat and potato pies. For an appetiser, you may care for a deep fried pickled egg, and for pudding, what could be nicer than a Mars bar dipped in batter and fried in lard? Yum Yum! Must be comfort eating to compensate for the weather. I’m not kidding about the deep fried Mars bar. I’ve been to the fish and chip shop in Stonehaven where this delicacy was first served. The Mars Corporation are currently harassing the owners to stop selling them. Apparently this goes against the company ethos of ‘healthy nutrition.’ Yep, a raw Mars bar is pretty nutritious, isn’t it?
This diet is however ideally suited to the creation of the sort of Body Mass Index that you need to participate in the Heavy Games.
These guys are BIG, and they need to be. Warm up event is Throwing A 16 lb Hammer As Far As You Can. This is a real hammer, with a wooden haft – none of your poncey cable-hafted Olympic Games thingummies here – and you are not allowed to move your feet. Believe me this puts a strain on the shoulders and lower back that had me whimpering with sympathy prolapsed discs.
Then we have the Hurl 28 Pounds As Far As You Can – again, no twirling please. Then progress to Tossing The Caber. This is fraught with danger for the judges, as they have to jog behind the contestants, who have to run carrying a tree trunk in their cupped hands and hurl it forward and upward, the winner being the one who gets the caber to land on its tip and completely roll forward. This is not as simple as it sounds.
A bit more shoulder loosening with the 22 lb hammer (for this they are allowed to anchor their feet with crampon-like devices that look as if Freddie Krueger had got a thing about shoes.) Then the highlight – Throwing The 56 lb Weight As High As You Can. Here your BMI is crucial if you are not to drive yourself into the deck like a tentpeg. Basically all you have to do is stand almost under a highbar, swing the weight down between your legs, and up backwards over your shoulder and over the bar. (Don’t try this at home kids and if you do remember to step well forward BEFORE you pause to see if the weight has gone over the bar…).
A 56 lb weight is the same weight as a bag of potatoes. I reckon I am doing well if I can get a sack of spuds in the boot of my car without compromising my sacroiliac junction. The winner cleared 17 feet……….