I’m back in Portland after my first Highland Games and on the phone to my mum. I tell her about the knight with the chain mail and the visor and she guffaws. I tell her that the only recognizable bits of our Scotland were a few chocolate bars, the fish and chips, and the pricey Irn Bru at the Californian Scottish Shoppe tent.
I slope round the corner to World Cup on Glisan and 18th and get talking to the guy who has been behind the counter the last few mornings. He asks how my weekend is going and I tell him that I went to find my people at the Highland Games.
“Oh, yeah. I’ve seen them chucking about telephone poles on E.S.P.N.,” he tells me.
Caber tossing seems rather obscure to be so well known. Online I look for other unlikely sports of the world. I read about Extreme Ironing, the Unicycle Hockey World Championships and global Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournaments. According to a Nebraskan newspaper column, which seems as reliable a source as any for this kind of enquiry, caber tossing is only the world’s tenth most ludicrous sport. When it’s got Cow Jumping (Les Landes) and Wife Carrying (Finland) to compete with, you can see why it falls so far down the list.
“What was it like?” asks the World Cup guy.
I tell him, “It was like a rainy day in 1745. But with better raffle prizes.” I tell him about Thomas with his chain mail shirt, visor and kilt.
He is clearly embarrassed and says, “It’s the American Way.” Before I can ask him to elaborate, he’s off to serve another customer. It’s the American Way to get engagingly enthusiastic about their heritage? To make historical fashion faux pas? To mix and match body armour and rain attire? I don’t know. Since he’s busy, I ask Google and have the option of choosing from pages entitled the American Way of Life, War, Debt, Spying, Death, Blame, Torture and Idolatry. The rest don’t sound like much fun, so I choose “Life” and am told, “Decades of wasting energy and large-scale environmental pollution have become two main elements of the American way of life.” Oh. I skim on and Wikipedia tells me that the American way of life “refers to a nationalist ethos that purports to adhere to principles of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ It has some connection to the concept of American exceptionalism and the American Dream.’” Well, that seems about right, the pursuit of happiness bit, anyway. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t stand about a field, wearing deeply uncomfortable millinery if it didn’t, at least, make you feel somewhat happier.