Portland Highland Games – my first ever Highland Games, is not actually in Portland. It’s in Gresham, Oregon, a good 45 minutes’ drive from the city – a small distance in North American terms, almost the entire width of the country at some points in Scottish terms. Erin, Michelle and I make our way to the main field and arrive as a couple of dozen clan members are doing a plodding lap around the running track. They are followed by a troop of men in Civil War-era uniforms and kilts, representative of the thousands of Scots who fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Four female re-enactors in bonnets and long frocks trek subserviently in their wake. They all halt and hold a practiced pose near the queue for “Scottish Meat Pies” until the hungry herds threaten to absorb them into the pie line and they are forced to disband. The meat pie line is at least four times as long as the beer line. Suddenly I feel very far from home. Alerted by the ever-vigilant Michelle, I have my first sighting of a tie-dye kilt and feel the distance even more keenly.
I draw the others’ attention to a man silhouetted on the brow of the hill beside a bad sweater booth. He is sporting a kilt, chain mail and a full metal visor. A sword hangs downs his back and he clutches an incongruous blue and white golf umbrella with a leather glove-clad hand. Minutes later, as Erin and Michelle are debating whether to hit the pie or the beer stand, I notice the knight standing nearby and scamper over to question him.
His eyes peek out from behind his gleaming, silver helmet and he tells me his name is Thomas. I guess he must be about 20, although it’s hard to tell. He seems fairly good-humoured about my enquiries. Again, I could be wrong. After all, the only bits of the man on display are his eyes and knees. Unlike the visors I am familiar with from Scooby Doo and other such reliable educational resources, Sir Thomas’ visor is an all-in-one number, without that bit that pivots up when the knight wants to scoff a pie, have a quick cigarette or reveal that he is actually the evil, double-crossing camp counselor. There will be none of that kind of frivolity for this young knight. This is obviously not a man who cuts corners when it comes to standing about in fields on rainy afternoons in Oregon. There will be no easy pie eating or beer guzzling this afternoon. Well, when you’ve decided to stand and look enigmatic in suburban college grounds, there are sacrifices that you have to make, golf umbrellas aside.
I come up with the brilliantly insightful question,
“Do you dress like this often?”
It’s not my best line, but I’m not particularly used to accosting men in head armour. Luckily, the full face cover means I can’t see from his expression that he thinks I’m a complete moron. He answers politely,
“No, not often. You know, just at things like this. Highland Games. Renaissance Faires. You know.”
I don’t know and am just about to ask him what renaissance faires are when the others bound up and we get distracted smirking and setting up photo opportunities. I shall have to discover my country’s contribution to the mysterious world of renaissance faires at a later date.