Just a Wee Blether

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.


Just a Wee Blether…

About the night I ‘Felt the Bern’

Bur-nee, Bur-nee, Bur-nee. Three guesses where I was this week. Yep, I had my first up-close and personal experience of the crazy world of American politics.

It was exactly as I had imagined it would be. Somewhere between a rock concert and an evangelical Christian service. For years I had watched American political rallies from a distance, marvelled at the razzmatazz, and wished I could have been there in person. This week I got my chance.

On Tuesday night Bernie Sanders was in town. I got a call asking if I wanted to go along – hold me back. Sanders is running against Hillary Clinton for the Democrat nomination and has cast himself as a Democrat Socialist. His policies are left wing by American standards, the first time for many years that voters here have been given a “socialist” option.

So I joined more than 10,000 whooping and hollering Sanders supporters in the Phoenix Convention Centre. Most were young people, millennials and first-time voters. This was Arizona student territory and the enthusiasm was palpable.


A group of hand-picked party faithful cheerleader types whipped the waiting crowd into a frenzy. Bur-nee, Bur-nee, Bur-nee they chanted. The audience responded in kind. The stage was dominated by a giant American flag on one side, an Arizona State flag on the other, and a massive banner with the slogan “A Future to Believe In” at the back.

Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World blared from a very loud sound system. Then a local Democrat official bounded on stage, escalating the sense of anticipation by a few notches. He yelled into the mic, “It is my honour and pleasure to welcome……” and that’s as far as he got.

Forget Beatle-mania. The crowd screamed in Bernie-mania – 2016 style. And just as the noise reached a crescendo, suddenly there he was. The great man strode confidently on stage to an even more deafening cheer. Thousands of mobile phones were lifted in the air as supporters tried to capture the moment. It took a good five minutes before he was able to be heard. “This crowd is Yoooooge,” he said, mocking a certain Republican candidate.

For those of us who have snoozed through dreary party conference speeches by the likes of John Major, the hoopla and sheer passion that surrounds an American rally is something completely different. There is enormous excitement, and what seems an intense adoration for the person on stage. It was gripping from the first second.

Sanders is a 74-year old, grey-haired, smartly-dressed chap who represents the state of Vermont. What struck me was the difference in age between him and most of those who were cheering him on. He is not just a father figure; he could be their great-grandfather.

For an hour, Sanders delivered his message. His appearance, his habit of leaning forward and grasping the sides of the podium, and his occasional waving of his arms, resembled a 1980s Michael Foot. He is very well-spoken with a distinct New York City accent and a sincere passion for his political beliefs.

There was no violence, not even a hint of unpleasantness. When the end came it was abrupt, Sanders turned and walked off with David Bowie’s Starman and the roars of approval from the crowd ringing in his ears.

I might have been one of the oldest people there – I was certainly the token Scot. One Sanders fan told me his three favourite Scotsmen were Sean Connery, Craig Ferguson and Mel Gibson. It was that kind of night. But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

American politics is as bizarre and way out as it seemed when I was observing it from the other side of the Atlantic. It may be uncomfortable to listen to sometimes, but it is immensely entertaining.

Just a Wee Blether…

About being pawns in Donald’s game

If you are familiar with the Bob Dylan song Only a Pawn in Their Game, you may well know who Medgar Evers was. If not, I’ll briefly enlighten you on the man’s life and, more importantly, the nature of his death.

Evers was a black Civil Rights activist in America’s Deep South during the 50s and 60s. In 1963 he was killed by a bullet from an Enfield rifle fired by a white supremacist and member of the Ku Klux Klan. The assassination took place in the driveway of Evers’ home in Mississippi. As a Second World War veteran who had served at the Battle of Normandy, he was buried at Arlington Cemetery with full military honours.

It was one of the most high-profile and notorious killings of the period. His funeral was attended by thousands and his assassination has spawned dozens of songs, films and books.

Last week, his 93-year old brother Charles Evers, who in 1969 became the first black mayor of a Mississippi town, made a public statement endorsing Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.


He said he admired Trump because of his business acumen and he was sure he would bring new jobs to Mississippi. Evers added, “I haven’t seen any proof of him being a racist. All of us have some racism in us. Even me.”

Just so we’re straight on this. Donald Trump, who has attracted the public support of the Ku Klux Klan in his bid for the White House, and who has had black students ejected from his rallies, has now received the backing of the brother of one of the most symbolic figures of the Civil Rights Movement.

If it wasn’t such a bizarre story, the media would have been accused of making it up. But it simply beggars belief. Charles Evers is one of those people you would most expect to say, “Donald Trump must never be President.”

Trump is so far ahead in the Republican race that it’s now unlikely he will be caught. Admittedly he has been up against “establishment” opponents who have ranged from totally forgetful to absolutely useless. His two main challengers, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, resemble a couple of yapping puppies trying to take on a Rottweiler.

Unless he crashes, or the party ditches him, he is set to go head-to-head with – most likely – Hillary Clinton in a race for the White House. Clinton carries around a lot of baggage and scandal. None of it has been proved but that won’t bother Trump; it is the stuff he thrives on and he could well make mincemeat of her.

Trump has insulted everyone who has crossed his path, and many that haven’t, so why has he been such a political phenomenon? When he entered the fray last year most people, me included, thought he would be a flash in the pan and gone by Christmas.

The most popular theory is that he has become a rallying point for Republican voters, now highly disillusioned with their party performance since the turn of the century. First they had George W Bush, the scion of the Bush dynasty, thrust on them. After eight divisive years in power, Republicans were asked to support the pairing of John McCain and Sarah Palin then, in 2012, the instantly forgettable Mitt Romney.

They were hammered in both elections. But worse than that, in the eyes of a certain section of right wing voters – perhaps more than we realise – the White House has been occupied by a black man. On Internet message boards, often the refuge of the halfwit, Obama is constantly referred to as an ape or a monkey. Welcome to 21st century America.

The list of Republican candidates that started out last year was equally unimpressive – Cruz, Rubio, Jeb Bush and unknowns such as John Kasich and Ben Carson. Then, like a knight on a white charger, on to the battlefield marched Donald Trump. He is everything the establishment candidates are not. And the voters love him for it.

As the weeks and months have gone by he has demolished the opposition. It doesn’t matter that he is crude and disparaging, or that he few if any policy ideas, his support is increasing all the time. If this carries on, his march to the topo will be unstoppable.

If Charles Evers can publically support Trump than, quite honestly, anything can happen here.

Who knows, perhaps by this time next year Trump will have re-named Bob Dylan’s song after himself. Maybe everyone will be a pawn in Donald’s game? Frightening, isn’t it?