Seated in the front row of the 13,000-seat Memorial Coliseum for Portland’s Rose Parade, Dan and I consult the programme. It promises all sorts of shenanigans from the parade’s 5000 participants. I’m most looking forward to the Oregon Association of Mounted Posses, which is due to trot out “more than 75 horses and riders representing 18 different posses from throughout the State of Oregon.” I don’t really know what they mean by a “posse”, but I’m excited anyway. We are also informed that, according to USA Today, the Grand Floral Parade is one of the top five parades in the nation. I don’t really get parades.
In between flower-decked cars and rodeo queens, high school marching bands trot through the stadium. I am perplexed to see that the majority of white wooden rifle twirling and flag waving teenage girls who act as an eye candy intro for the musical chunk of each are wearing tartan miniskirts. One band is also preceded by a flamboyant pipe major in an impressively bouffant feather bonnet and kilt combo. The kilt is the less bouffant of the two. I am amazed at my country’s influence on the youth of America. What did we do to provoke this?
We’re sitting in the front row. It’s an appropriate position for Scotland’s Ambassador. I pretend I deserve the prestigious seat and wave to yet more rodeo queens, to a hundred or more Oregon mayors, to countless flower-strewn corporate floats. I stand with the arena’s thousands for various floatloads of American war vets and military branches, including the intriguingly named US Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, wondering whether they have a Raucous Drill Team as well. As the commentator lists the numbers of Oregonian dead in America’s many recent wars, a riderless horse is lead through a suddenly silent and stilled arena.
Then we’re back to the cheerleaders, marching bands and inexplicable tartan. Dozens of cheerful cheerleaders, flag dancers and marching band members from Pleasanton, California, prance through. The cheerleaders’ tight red outfits are tartan-free, but have “SCOTS” emblazoned across their breasts. Have we sartorially brainwashed a nation?
There are a lot of cheerleaders. There is also a lot of horse poo. People scurry in each equine-accessorised group’s wake, hurriedly shoveling horse muck out of the way before the next contingent sashay into it. It is an extremely well organised production, and the floral floats are really quite inventive. I’m picking up some useful tips for around the house. I personally would never have thought of creating a 38-foot long tiger entirely with carrots before now.
Our Lucky Limo is waiting outside to shepherd us off to our next booking, but obviously, as the Scottish Ambassador, I have to wait for my people. Finally, the elevator-esque cha cha of the Oregon Vietnamese Community Association Float begins to give way to the plaintive sound of pipes and drums, and I’m taken aback to find myself tearing up as Clan McLeay and the Portland Police Highland Guard file into the stadium.
Dan chooses that moment to video me and gleefully captures my blinking cultural confusion for YouTube. He asks, “What does this mean to you?”
I manage an “it’s very emotional” and for some reason, it is. It’s a recent thing, this getting emotional at such stereotypical sounds of home. It started when I was watching “The Queen” at a second-run cinema not far from here, and now this cultural pride or whatever the hell it is, seems to have opened the floodgates. It is emotional. It’s also perplexing. Who knew it would take only 16 years for me to find the bray of bagpipes almost bearable?
Dan gets it all on tape. I surreptitiously wipe my eyes, give a final wave and reluctantly vacate the front row. As we clamber up the stairs, I feel somehow simultaneously homesick and at home. The sound of the pipes wafts after me, out into the drizzle.