I Kilt It!

The Highland Games Heavy Events have one particular, immutable rule: ALL participants must appear and compete in Highland dress. That includes me.

Ohh, yes. Time to consider the kilt, my friends.

First, despite the slightly unfortunate coincidence of it being termed “Highland dress“, vastly the most important thing to grasp if you don’t wish to appear a complete moron: A KILT IS NOT A SKIRT. DON’T, JUST DON’T CALL IT A SKIRT. Not if you value your assets, anyway. It may seem like a funny thing to say (heck, even I, having a puerile sense of humour, am tempted to find it funny occasionally), but most kilt-wearers (unlike me) are male, have heard the joke a bazillion times from lips less charming than yours, and will not feel inclined to chortle along with you. Not even a bit.

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Secondly, every kilt wearer you will ever encounter has also heard the question about what he wears UNDER his kilt a bazillion times and finds it, if possible, even less funny than the ‘skirt’ remarks. Some may go on the offensive and offer to show you if you promise to kiss whatever you find under there; the smart ones just wink and say, “Shoes, of course!”

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Speaking personally, anybody who tries to investigate what I’m wearing beneath the kilt this summer is going to find themselves in a new world of pain. But hey. What’s a girl to do?

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Yes, the Alternate Universe Princess Fiona in “Shrek Forever After” really rocks the kilt! Also the battle-axe and the kick-arse boots. My heroine!

As soon as I had definitely decided to do the Games, I bought myself a secondhand kilt off eBay. Why not new, you ask? Because a decent new kilt would have cost me upwards of £300, that’s why! That’s also why I’m not wearing a clan tartan: if I ordered a kilt from a proper kiltmaker, I could specify a particular clan tartan, even a particular weaver, and get everything exactly how I wanted it. I could stride confidently into their showroom and say, “I’d like an 8-yard kilt in the Ancient Graham of Menteith woven by Lochcarron, with a 16″ drop and black leather straps and buckles, with a fringe end, pretty please.”

Alas for financial reality! My Aunty Doreen (our family’s one and only Scots connection for aeons in any direction) just had to go and marry a bloke whose tartan is scarcer than hens’ teeth. So, reluctantly, because I love the teal-blues of the Graham tartan, I abandoned my shaky claim to Scottish ancestry and settled for a secondhand kilt in a rather nice ‘generic’ tartan called “Heritage of Scotland” (or in my case, “No Heritage of Scotland”). I hung my acquisition carefully in the wardrobe, and forgot about it.

You will have seen my training efforts below. It suddenly occurred to me that, if I was going to wear the kilt with conviction (and without embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions) when the season started, I had better get it out and get used to wearing it now. So when my buddy Robyn called to ask if I wanted to go out for a drink the other night, I said, “Yeah, OK, but I’m wearing my kilt!”

The first thing that dawned when putting it on was that this was nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – like wearing a skirt. It’s more like strapping on armour for battle. Honest. In kilted circles, an 8-yard traditional kilt is known as a ‘tank’, because believe me, it’s built like one. Trust me on this. It feels very secure, and rather bracing. And when you move, it swishes. I think it’s something to do with the six yards of fabric folded into knife-edge pleats behind you! Wowza, does it move! Swing your hips, and you could take out a small child or an elderly aunt without even realising.

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Kilts: weapons of mass destruction? Stand well clear until the pleats have come to a halt, ladies and gentlemen.

Robyn captured the event for posterity (yeah, sorry about that, posterity…). Excuse the specs and slightly crazy hair. I had done battle with fibre putty hair-product earlier that day and the outcome still wasn’t decided, so I rammed the lot up in a bun and went forth as is.

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Schoolma’am-meets-Kilted-Warrior-Woman. I think.

Or there’s always what I’m calling Attitude: Kilted.

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I’ll be keeping this kilt as my reserve/pubbing/ceilidhing kilt, as it’s a tad long for athletical endeavours. I’m ordering one in the same tartan from an eBay shop, it’ll be 8 yards, like this one… just a fair few inches shorter – a girly throwing kilt, inspired by my friends on X Marks the Scot.

As I’m sure I heard someone say on the forums one day, “Swish happens!”

And when it does, I’m going to be wearing bullet-proof Lycra leggings under my kilt. ‘Cos, seriously, nobody’s been quite bad enough to deserve the sight of my nekkid thighs on a summer’s afternoon.

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Let’s Get This Party Started. Right.

I have never been what you’d call a sporty type. I am not (and you know who you are, people!) one of those lean, focused types with muscles like a Victorian anatomy chart, who thinks a good evening’s entertainment involves putting on Lycra and running ten miles. I do not run. I don’t even jog unless being chased with a cattle prod. I do not swim laps – please, I’m not a goldfish – and my idea of a good evening’s entertainment is far more likely to involve me sitting in a pub listening to live music, or curled up at home with a good book, or a daughter or two and a DVD. PE at school was a sweaty hell of team sports, at which I was utterly hopeless, and occasional bright interludes such as the time I almost decapitated my teacher with a discus (yeah… sorry about that, Miss Moss). I joined a Kung Fu club at the age of 19, but had to give it up after about a year because it was just too embarrassing to continue. So, sporty? Not so much. 

However… and here we reach the salient point of this blog…

I am now 47 years old, a widowed solo parent, and when I went on a two-day jolly up to Scotland last August with my best friend Robyn, we decided, on a whim, to go to the North Berwick Highland Games. It would be a fun day out – bagpipes, cute little girls dancing with swords, stalls, food, bagpipes, arena entertainments, and the prospect of seeing brawny men in kilts tossing the caber and suchlike mirth-making stuff. And bagpipes. ‘Cos everything’s funnier with bagpipes, right?

The arena entertainments on the day were fun, the massed bagpipe bands from all over the world were incredibly stirring and not at all ridiculous, the wee Highland dancers were indeed cute as well as skilled, and the weather was… well, let’s just say it was pretty typical of a British summer afternoon. It drizzled, then rained. Then it rained some more, only harder. We huddled shivering under umbrellas by the arena fence, along with hundreds and hundreds of other people, watching the Heavy Events. And you know what? It wasn’t the comedy I was half expecting. It was really, really impressive and very athletic (and did I mention that when the guys spin before putting the shot, throwing the weight for distance and so on, their kilts swish in a braw, manly way and display their muscular legs to great advantage? Well, I’m mentioning it now, ladies).

And, alongside the men in kilts, there were two women in kilts, doing a demonstration event. I was transfixed (and not just by the men) – it sounds idiotic, but somehow it had never crossed my mind that women would participate in this kind of sport. It was a revelation. The rain pelted down, we had to fetch fleece blankets from the car in order to stop ourselves turning blue with cold, but there was no question of packing up and leaving. Robyn, at some point during the afternoon, turned to me and uttered the fateful words, “You could do that! Oh, please do that Sue, it’d be great, and I could fetch you drinks and be your cheerleader!”

By such casual knavery is the course of a life changed forever…

Yes, Robin, I’m blaming this on you.

This blog is an attempt to track my progress as I prepare for my first season as a novice thrower in the Heavy Events at a whole rack of Highland Games in the UK this summer, 2012. More details will appear here as I finalise the list.

It’s also a shameless bid to gain publicity for the charity that I’m going to be supporting while I pursue my loony dream: Sanctuary For Kids.

Sanctuary For Kids was set up by actress Amanda Tapping (of ‘Stargate: SG-1’ and ‘Sanctuary’ fame) and her producer Damian Kindler when they realised the huge potential for fund-raising among the enormous and very supportive Sci Fi community. Sanctuary For Kids (also known as S4K) is a not-for-profit foundation set up to provide sanctuary for kids worldwide who do not live with the right to safety in their lives. This includes support for rebuilding the Miriam Centre in Haiti, one of the only facilities in the country which houses, educates and loves Haitian children with cerebral palsy, severe autism and other major life challenges. Children born with special needs in Haiti are seen as cursed and are often treated as such. There are no government or social rehabilitative services for them in rural areas of the country, making the Miriam Centre an incredibly important resource – and this is just one of the fantastic initiatives worldwide supported by Sanctuary For Kids!

I will be setting up an online sponsorship and donation page in the next few days. In the meantime, please head over to the Sanctuary For Kids website and use their online donation form. Be generous if you can! If you’re strapped for cash, don’t fail to give just because you think a small donation wouldn’t do any good. One of S4K’s mottos is ‘little ripples make big waves’. If every person who looked in on this blog donated just one unit of their currency – $1, £1, €1, whatever – that could mount up to a huge total!

So donate, people – donate, donate, donate!

Thank you. The blog proper starts below… or is it above?