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by Peri Taub

(as typed by her person Barb, whose opposable thumbs might as well be useful for something besides opening dog food…)

Supposedly Mark Twain called playing golf “a good walk spoiled”. But that’s just because he never took a walk on a little Scottish island with Barb.

Now, everyone knows there are exactly three things to do on a walk.

  1. Find exotic poo from other animals. Eat it.
  2. Find something muddy and disgusting. Roll in it.
  3. Combine #1 and #2. (Roll first, then eat.)

I’ve been trying to explain this to Barb for years, but she still doesn’t get it. On a typical walk, Barb would be blethering on about hills and heather and some nonsense about the view. But I can tell you from personal experience that she doesn’t eat any poo, nor does she roll in anything smelly. Frankly, I don’t know why she even bothers to leave the house. I feel sorry for her. Truly I do.

Luckily, we live in Scotland where there are very few places dogs can’t take their people. We’re welcome in shops and pubs, and on trains and buses.

One August day a few years back, for example, we were walking along Brodick’s waterfront and met my friend Steven, who was always good for a dog-biscuit. Barb asked what all the bunting lining the waterfront was about.

Steven was incredulous. “It’s only the apogee of Arran’s social year.”

Barb made doubtful sucking-in-air-through-her-teeth noises. (A particularly unattractive habit I’ve been trying to break her of, sadly with little success.) But Steven wasn’t having any. “You can’t miss the Brodick Highland Games.”

We had just returned from a month in Spain, but Barb decided unpacking my toys and my bed could wait. A quick GFC (Google Fact Check) by the Hub told us these Highland Games have been held on Arran almost every August since 1866, barring the occasional World War when, presumably, Scotland’s strongest men were otherwise occupied, and Scotland’s strongest women had better things to do. When Steven sealed the deal with the loan of his parking place, we were ready for whatever the Highland Games might offer.

The ferry arrived (late, of course) with the pipe bands, and right on schedule the heavens opened. It was raining so hard I wondered if we should gather up pairs of animals and head for the nearest ark (as long as it wasn’t affiliated with the Scottish government-run ferry fiasco system of course). But the marching drummers, the bagpipers, and most of the audience lining their route were Scots, and thus dismissed a little torrential downpour as a fact of life. Sure enough, by the time the pipers and drummers reached Ormidale Park, the sun was shining as if rain had never happened.

We walked in past the obligatory bouncy castle and a huge wading pool where children inside massive clear plastic balls bounced and rolled like giant hamsters, and then through a gauntlet of temptations including the Arran Dairy ice cream stall, the Frying Scotsman fish and chips, and other gastronomically enticing tortures. I was pretty sure there would be great stuff to lick off the ground, but the pipe band we were following lured Barb and the Hub to the field where the actual games were already in progress.

Sadly, we’d already missed the Highland Dance competitions, although the adorable little dancers were thoughtfully dropping food everywhere, confident that the dog-per-attendee ratio would ensure immediate cleanup. But I knew what Barb really came to see involved VERY large kilt-wearing men with names like “Wee Davie” who spent the day running along a football field carrying a telephone pole, which they then attempted to throw into the air with the goal of a complete end-over-end spiral before landing. They called it caber toss and seemed quite excited about it. I thought it was completely ridiculous because they would need a dog the size of an elephant to actually fetch back those enormous sticks. I wouldn’t want to run into those dogs, but Barb seemed weirdly delighted just watching huge Scots making their pointless throws.

They do grow oversized people around here. Several of them lifted big stone balls weighing 14-28 stone (200-400 pounds.) They carried them from one place to another or put them on top of whisky barrels, while people stood around and clapped, even though—again, nobody could possibly eat or fetch them. I was a bit embarrassed for them, but sometimes you just have to let these humans follow their instincts when it comes to playing with their balls.

Still others (presumably those who already have enough children) swung 75-pound hammers BETWEEN THEIR LEGS to build up momentum and then tossed them backwards up in the air to try to clear goal posts. Who does that? Humans are weird.

And all around there were marching pipe bands (bag, of course), whisky tasting, Arran beer, the usual games and face painting for the kids, plus at least one dog for every two people. Just as they were announcing the pillow fight, one of the little dancers pulled politely at Barb’s sleeve. “Excuse me, but your wee doggie just ate something disgusting off the ground.”

I made who-me? eyes at Barb, but I think my innocent pose might have been slightly spoiled by the way I was still obviously chewing said disgusting item. Knowing the inevitable results (both from my intake and output ends), Barb summoned the Hub and we beat a hasty retreat to the bagpiped strains of Amazing Grace.

But I was happy to have one question answered at last. What do you wear under your kilt when you’re going to swing a 75-pound hammer between your legs? Why, pink gym shorts of course. (Or whatever someone who swings 75-pound hammers between their legs wants to wear. Duh.)

As we left, the sun came out and I heard one woman assure her companion that it was the best Highland Games ever. “Aye,” he agreed thoughtfully. “Since last year at least.”

Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since Brodick hosted the games. But the bunting and flowers are up along Brodick’s waterfront, and we’re all heading there tomorrow. Hope to see you there!