Question: What do you call it when someone takes a 90-degree turn from their normal life at the age of 47, and takes up an unlikely and possibly mirth-inducing sporting pastime?
Yes, bang on and damn skippy, you call it a mid-life crisis!
But, you know what? I have thought about this a lot vis-a-vis my current preoccupation with all things athletical and Highland Games-y, and I have come to the conclusion that I cannot express adequately quite how much I really, really, really don’t care any more what people call it.
I am not a Games Virgin any more! I have been Blooded. Or, possibly, Weighted (in the non-concrete-overcoat sense of the word).
I have Been There, and Done That. Twice.
Did I feel awkward as a newbie stepping out on to the Games field for the first time? Of course; who wouldn’t?
Did I, as the only woman on the field, feel as conspicuous as a flamingo in a colony of elephant seals? Oh, yeah.
But I’m going to carry on Being There, and Doing That, because it’s just fantastic. And if it’s not ‘done’, it’s not ‘traditional’ for women to compete in the Heavy Events, well, it’s about time it became ‘done’! So some of the athletes didn’t speak to me. Big deal. I also got to meet some pretty awesome guys who were polite and helpful and welcoming in an understated, athlete-y kind of way, and lent me obscure items like hammer tacky when they realised I didn’t have any.
But I’m getting ahead of myself: Games Report!
I managed to arrange my first Games weekend for the hottest days of the year so far, which was nice in some ways – after the last month slogging up and down muddy, sodden fields in the rain, slinging muddy, sodden equipment, I was just about barking for a bit of sunshine, in the way that only those who live in a temperate climate can appreciate.
The average Brit, happy to show off a really silly-looking sunburn because it shows he’s been somewhere the sun actually shines.
I had a horror of arriving at the Games to find I was supposed to change on the field or in a tiny Portaloo or something, so to be on the safe side I changed into my kilt at a motorway services somewhere near Glasgow, emerging from the baby-changing room in full rig. Heads turned all the way back to the car, which made me feel very bad-ass until I realised that some of them were probably wondering what I’d done with my baby.
First stop: Blackford Highland Games
Distractingly gorgeous view from the Games field.
We rolled up in plenty of time, just before lunch when the Local Heavies were still going on, and had a wee wander round the country-show staples of burger vans, hot-dog vans, stalls selling sweeties, home-made jewellery, home-made cakes, walking-sticks, a meet-the-birds-of-prey stand that I could happily have stood in front of for the rest of the day, and some awesomely shiny and well-cared-for vintage motorcycles.
Found a good coffee stand with seats in the shade, and drank my breakfast coffee, then girded my loins and went to the judges’ hut to inquire about entering the Open Heavies. After a little confusion over the fact that I was already registered with the SHGA as an athlete, I was waved off towards the distant figures at the top end of the field.
It was a blazing hot day, and the Games Committee had provided a shelter for the athletes in the middle of the field – an army tent with the sides rolled up, under which they clustered with their big wheeled tool-boxes that doubled up as manly kit-bag and something to sit on. The Local Heavy Events were just finishing, so I ducked under the arena wire and strode across with a swing of my kilt-pleats and as much chutzpah as I could muster to drop my backpack in a shady corner, more than half expecting some ginormous brute to turn round and ask me what the hell I thought I was doing.
Thankfully, nobody did, though frankly, at this point, hundreds of miles from home and at the business end of a steep learning curve, I wasn’t backing out – or down. I left the daughter nervously guarding my backpack, and approached a couple of guys to find out who I needed to speak to. An elderly guy perched on a shooting-stick turned out to be David McLeod, secretary of the Games Committee, who I had spoken to on the phone, and he pointed me to another elderly guy, this time in a squashy hat: the judge, Duncan Shand, who was apparently the man with the power.
Thankfully, he was also the man with a sense of humour allied with good manners, because he said that of course I could enter – provided I was happy to throw the same weights as the men. I said I’d brought my own weights, and would it be possible to throw those instead? Duncan thought for a minute, then suggested that if I was OK with waiving any claim to prize money, I could throw what I liked. I accepted like a shot, and trotted off to the car park to fetch my new weights, which were still sitting in the car boot, all pristine and shiny and freshly-painted. I had only had them a few days at that point, after paying a local steel fabricator to make them, and had painted them up myself with spray car paint in metallic purple shading to metallic teal blue. I was so pleased with the effect that I did my nails to match. I can all but see the serious athletes among you rolling their eyes at this point, but hey. Those of you who’ve been paying attention know that the nails matter to me!
I think the first event was shot put. I’d lugged up my 8lb river stone – the one shaped roughly like a house-brick – and elected to throw that when my turn came. I discovered the possibly unwritten but certainly adhered-to rule that when an event starts, you find out where your turn is on the list (confusingly, this changes from event to event, or maybe as the scores change), then you all troop off down the field and stand in a kind of ragged, semi-circular queue. When the distant figure at the trig has done their worst with whatever lump of flying metal is involved, if it’s your turn you retrieve the thing from wherever it lands and trudge off to the trig to take your turn. Key point here: don’t pick it up before the field officials have measured the previous guy’s throw! I didn’t… quite. I dutifully schlepped the 16lb cannonball back down the field and abandoned it in favour of my own Flying Housebrick.
It was also at this point that I discovered the mirth-making, side-splitting gap between my strength and ability and that of the guys I was ‘throwing against’. I threw my 8lb rock 22 feet and 3 inches – not too shabby for a standing throw, and I was reasonably happy. The officials duly measured it and placed a little flag in the ground. The only thing was, it was a lonely little flag. All the other little flags were about half a mile away at the far end of the field in a loose cluster of braw, manly achivement.
I know, I know – women aren’t supposed to throw as far as men. I get that, I do. It would just be far more comforting, believe me, if there had been more than one woman actually throwing. I’m hoping next year, there will be. Even better, I hope someone will have got the idea because I was there at Blackford, throwing my pretty weights and having a great time.
So, mid-life crisis? I’m fitter, and thinner (relatively speaking) than I’ve been in decades; I have a license to wear a mini-kilt and kick-arse biker boots, walk with a bad-ass swagger, throw heavy weights about AND GET APPLAUSE FOR IT! How do you think I feel?
Bloody fantastic, that’s how.