About steak pie at the Highland Games
Scotland, for all it is a small country, is a land of many dialects and accents. It seems that every little corner of the country has its own distinctive twang. If you have lived in a few different areas of Scotland, you can easily tell where people come from just by the way they speak.
I can tell right away when an Aberdeenshire person is speaking to me, or an Orcadian, a Fifer, someone from Edinburgh or the Western Isles. And having been brought up in North Ayrshire, anyone from that neck of the woods.
The town of Greenock was 15 miles away from me when I was growing up, I still have cousins who live there. To me a Greenock accent is instantly recognisable. I can smell a hearty, down-to-earth Greenock voice a mile away. I used to mix regularly with Greenockians, they are wonderful people.
I hadn’t been expecting to hear any in the middle of Phoenix, but last weekend, at the Arizona Highland Games, wafting across the desert air, came not one but two Greenock voices. They belonged to two sisters, Rosie and Eileen. One has been in the US for more than 30 years, the other for more than 40 years, and they still sounded as though they were walking down Finnart Street.
It was great to meet them. They run a food truck, The Scottish Pie Shop, that promised authentic food from the old country. That included good old-fashioned home-made Scottish steak pie, and I hadn’t tasted that for more than a year.
The food Rosie served up to me was out of this world. It was like my mother’s home cooking. After every couple of mouthfuls, I was saying ‘God, this is amazing’. There were other so-called Scottish food sellers at the event – but this was the real deal.
Rosie and Eileen were great fun – the best of craic as they say – and meeting them was one of the highlights of a Highland Games which was unlike any I have ever attended, and I’ve been to a fair few. For a start I counted only around 15 Scottish accents out of almost 15,000 attendees over two days.
As a member of the Caledonian Society of Arizona, I was a volunteer at the information booth. That involved standing in 90-degree heat dressed in full kilt rigout trying to point visitors in the right direction. I spoke to two women from Arbroath, a guy from Rutherglen, an elderly gentleman from Edinburgh, and one or two others.
There were hundreds of kilties and an impressive number of well turned out pipe bands, Highland dancers and heavy eventers. And all of them were American, mostly people whose ancestors sailed across the Atlantic and made their homes in the New World.
They take their Scottishness very seriously indeed. One woman, clad from heard to toe in red and white Clan Wallace tartan, told me she and her husband had climbed the Wallace Monument in Stirling and “heard voices from the past calling them”.
Several others claimed to have had traced their ancestry back to Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Rob Roy MacGregor, the Stuart Dynasty – never to Jimmy MacDougall the milkman from Kilmarnock.
It’s easy to be smug and smart and call them all “wannabe Scots” but that is grossly unfair. They are passionate about their Scottish heritage, more so than many “real” Scots and they keep the Saltire flying many thousands of miles away. They also organise a Highland Games that attracts thousands to a public park in the middle of Arizona so hats off to them.
The bands did us proud but I was intrigued by the choice of bagpipe music. The tune I heard most often was A Scottish Soldier which is understandable. The next two most popular were the Irish air, The Minstrel Boy, and the American song Oh Shenandoah. Not typical bagpipe tunes but they sounded great.
But the best laugh I had all weekend, and the best food, was meeting up with Rosie and Eileen. I wondered if we had bumped into each other when we were younger – we might have sailed on the Talisman on the Firth of Clyde. It was wonderful to hear two familiar voices so far from home. And the Scottish steak pie was, as they say in America, totally awesome.