HIGHLAND GAMES ON THE QUEEN MARY (AND NEARBY)!
Long Beach, California's annual Scottish Games were held this past Feb. 16-17 on the Queen Mary and the nearby Events Park.
The Queen Mary, built in Glasgow, Scotland is justifiably famous for being one of the world's greatest and most beautiful cruise ships from a bygone age. Pressed into service as a troop carrier in World War II, it is now a floating hotel/convention center, and its Scottish origins make it a natural environment for Highland games. The Art-Deco decor is wonderful with teak and other beautiful woods lining the hallways and dining areas.
The Promenade Deck held Scottish Country dancing events, as well as a vast array of musicians, playing both traditional and more contemporary Celtic music. Just in front of the ship (and the various platforms to enter it from different levels) were Pipe Bands in full regalia parading back and forth in competition.
In the Park there were demonstrations of sheep herding using both Scottish Border Collies and Australian Sheep dogs. Those sheep certainly got their exercise that weekend! There were demonstrations showing how dogs followed the instructions sent by their handlers, and the different techniques the dogs use to keep the sheep going in the right direction.
Right next to the dogs, kilted men were taking part in the events that typify Highland Games: Weight for Height, Hammer Toss, and Tossing for Distance, as well as the usual and probably most famous Scottish event, Tossing the Caber. One fellow lost his balance - the huge wooden Caber fell backwards and hit one of the judges in the back. Ouch! That's one way to eliminate the competition.
It was a bit strange sitting on bleachers watching guys in kilts throwing these large objects around, while just across the water palm trees were gently swaying in the breeze. There is an experimental garden in the west of Scotland, built in the 19th Century that has fully grown Palm trees, but you dont usually associate Scotland with palm trees!
Back on the ship, there was the usual plethora of vendors. Much of it was what one expects at Renaissance Fairs - beautiful leather vests, and fantasy knives; jewelry with a decidedly Celtic bent; dresses, kilts and funny British foods like the other national drink of Scotland, Irn Bru, a copper-colored soft drink, which the manufacturers claim is made from girders (and doubtless has a daily minimum requirement of iron! It has a unique, if indescribable taste.
The next floor down had one booth after the next representing various clans. On the floor below were the musical performers and nearby one could get some bangers, fish and chips, Scottish pies and Cornish pasties (the Scottish equivalent being Bradies).
There was something for everyone - and with southern California boasting the largest British population outside of the United Kingdom (500,000 and still growing), - the Highland Games are becoming ever larger and more numerous. I am sure this event will grow in size and reputation with each coming year.