Still at the Kilt and Thistle Shoppe in Salem, Oregon, I search for my tartan.
William is a man who knows his tartans and is happy to show me my colours on an aged monitor similar to the one I first played Donkey Kong on. We scroll through the 5000 tartans contained in the database of the Scottish Tartans Authority, “the keepers of all tartans,” according to William. But which one is mine?
It turns out that there are really no rules prohibiting who or what can have a tartan. Online, I find commentary on tartan-wearing rights according to the Lyon Court of Scotland. Further research reveals that the Lyon Court is the “heraldic authority for Scotland.” The Court’s representative, Alastair Campbell of Airds, has the splendid title of “Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms.” I have no idea what this means. Who knew Scotland had unicorns? Or that Alistair was a common name for such a creature? Online, suggestions for good unicorn names (from pages such as “Help I need a unicorn name!!!!!” and “Unicorn Names Around the World?”) lurch from Aurora, Twilight, Summer Dream Snowy, Feather and Mystic Dreamer to Cadillac, Tom Cruise, Grondar the Mega Horse, Deformed and Mr Pointy.
Scotland’s now former unicorn says, “Often over the years one has heard people explaining how they have ‘the right’ or that they are “entitled” to wear this or that tartan. In fact no such right, in any legal sense, exists for them or for anyone else. The only considerations which govern the wearing of a particular sett are usage and good taste. … So the answer to the question – “What tartan am I entitled to wear?” is – Any tartan you fancy. … So of course the major consideration ought to be looking good. The advice of Cary Grant regarding choosing a tie is appropriate – always dress to go with your eyes. Perhaps this is also the best criterion for choosing a tartan.”
William offers me a slew of potentially appropriate tartans. MacDonald of the Isles Hunting. MacDonald of the Isles Hunting Ancient. Hunting Weathered. McDonnell of Glengarry. McDonnell of Glengarry Ancient. Hunting tartans. Dress tartans. Weathered tartans. Ancient tartans. Regimental tartans. We scroll through them and I wait to be struck by the right one — one that strikes some long dormant clan chord within me. Nothing moves me. I’ve never been to Glengarry, which shivers on the shores of Loch Oich somewhere between Loch Ness and Loch Lochy — and none of them go with my eyes.
I am perplexed about my land’s need for a unicorn and delve further into the depths of the matter. It turns out that, “The badge of office for Unicorn Pursuivant is ‘A Unicorn couchant Argent gorged of a Coronet of four Fleurs-de-lis and four Crosses paty proper’”. I have absolutely no idea what this means either, but Alisdair was Scotland’s unicorn guy from 1986 to 2008. Further research reveals that in 2008 he followed up his unicorn role with a move to the postof “Islay Herald Extraordinary.” There are so many career choices that nobody ever mentioned to us at school. A skulk of us might have liked to know that we might grow up to be a unicorn or that someday we just might be extraordinary.