Scottish Games

A Pipe Band at a Scottish Games

A Pipe Band at a Scottish Games

Over Memorial Day weekend, I will be attending the United Scottish Society’s Scottish games in Costa Mesa, CA, known as Scottish Fest, (click here for info) selling my Celtic saga, Three Legs of the Cauldron.  Alas, I have only attended Scottish Games in California, so my impressions are not of any Games in Scotland.  Those are competitions in athletics and dancing, far different than the Celtic fairs of America.  Even the one at Braemar that the Queen regularly attends and draws about 20,000 people is focused on the competitions.  There will be kilts and pipe bands, but no clan booths or musicians (sorry, pipers, I mean no slight to your musical talents).  They harken back 950 years to the time of Malcolm II, known as Canmore or Bighead, who is said to have had the games as a way to have Scots compete with each other without someone literally losing his head. Since he’s the guy who killed the historical Macbeth, there may be some irony there.  But I digress.  Back to the New World.

Lady Saltoun, chief of the name Fraser and Lord Lovat, chief of the Lovat Frasers

Lady Saltoun, chief of the name Fraser and Lord Lovat, chief of the Lovat Frasers

The games in America are more of a fair or festival, hence the name Scottish Fest for Costa Mesa.  I first attended these games when they were held at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona.  It was 1981, a hot Sunday afternoon, and my little clan (family) barely made it to them before closing time.  They were a rather small affair then, but I was bitten by the Scottish bug.  My nearest tie is through my father’s mother, a Fraser.  A couple of years later, I went to the games the Clans of the Highlands used to hold in Chino as a member of Clan Fraser Society of North America.  Although a small games, they had the necessary components of a games in America: clan tents, vendors of about every item Scottish and not so Scottish as well as food and drink, and Scottish, or at least Celtic, musical entertainment.  Oh, yes, they also had Scottish athletic and dancing competitions as well as pipe bands.  Other games might add a Highland animal exhibit, sheepdog competitions, whisky tasting, historical re-creationist groups (Want to meet Mary, Queen of Scots?  Well, not the real one, since she’d be rather decomposed by now, but someone who has taken a lot of time to learn to act like she would have.  She just might be there.), and even odd events like beard competitions.

Caber Toss

Caber Toss

What do the Games in Scotland and the Scottish Games in America have in common?  Much.  The athletic competitions always have some uniquely Scottish events.  The most dramatic is the caber toss, which has been termed the telephone-pole toss by those of non-Scottish descent.  Some burly guy in a kilt balances a log the size of a telephone pole upright against his shoulder, slowly trots ahead and heaves it upward so that it lands on the other end and falls forward.  It’s supposed to land perfectly upright and fall directly away from the competitor.  Take it from me, it’s not easy even with a smaller, practice one. (click here to see)  Then there is the stone toss.  It’s like shot putting, except with an irregularly shaped stone weighing about 18 lbs. and done with no approach, feet firmly planted.   (click here to see)  Next is the weight toss over a bar, similar to a pole vault bar.  The 56 lb. weight has a ring attached for gripping and tossed over a bar 18 ft. or more directly overhead.  Not keeping an eye on the weight could be fatal.  (click here to see)  Then there’s a 28 lb. weight toss for distance.  Finally, there is the 22 lb. hammer throw for distance.  This is also an Olympic event.  In the Scottish games, the big guys throw it 185 ft. or more.  (click here to see)  In the Olympics, the record is 284 ft.  Of course, the Olympic hammer is 6 lbs. lighter and has an easily-gripped handle on the end of a chain instead of a simple pole!  Maybe the Scottish one is a little too much for the rest of the world.  The real kicker is that, unlike the Olympics, Scottish heavy competitors compete in all these events and over a relatively short period of time.  Not exactly the same, is it?

Highland Fling

Highland Fling

Another common ground for Scotland and America are the dancers.  Highland dancing is not done with a partner and is energetic, to say the least.  The sword dance is done over a pair of crossed swords, supposedly originally done by Malcolm Bighead celebrating his victory over Macbeth.  If a dancer touches one of the swords in this difficult dance, he or she loses major points.  (click here to see)  The Highland fling requires the dancer to stay in the same spot while going through fast and rigorous steps.  (click here to see)  Both of these are performed mainly on tiptoe.  Although there are other dances like the sailor’s hornpipe, these are the essentials of Highland dance competitions.  There is no improv in any of these dances.  The dancer must learn the steps and follow them.


Lone Piper

The last commonalities for the New World and the Old World games are pipers and the kilts.  Pipe bands are the mainstay for the music at the games.  You can hear pipers practicing their music, often eerily wafting through the games.  You either love them or you hate them.  There is a joke that says that a bad piper sounds like someone strangling a cat.  A good piper sounds like someone strangling a cat gently.  However, if you’ve got any Scots blood in your veins, the sound of a good pipe band will send cold chills down your spine.  (click here to see and hear)  I remember when my wife and I were first in Scotland in 1986, we were driving along a glen when we saw some red deer and got out for a photo.  It was about 11:00 at night, but still twilight and the hills along the burn were covered with heather.  There was not a person or a house in sight.  A lone piper was playing somewhere in the far distance, echoing along the glen.  It was so beautiful it almost brought tears to my eyes.  (click here to listen)  I am a Scot, not only by some of the blood in my veins, but in m heart.

James Bond in a Kilt. No one to mess with.

James Bond in a traditional kilt. No one to mess with.

And then there is the kilt.  I cannot take the time to go into the entire history of the kilt and tartans, but what has evolved is a pleated wool garment with a tartan that is registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans.  For most, that means a Scottish Highland clan or Lowland family.  In America, you will see many men in these kilts at the games. but many more who are not.  They are custom tailored, somewhat expensive and, quite frankly, take a little courage to wear.  Although, as I said, I have not been to any Games in Scotland, I would imagine that is the case there.  Here, however, things have changed since I got my kilt in 1983.  Now there are Utilikilts and their Pakistani knock-offs.  These are off-the-rack, made in heavy cotton, solid-color or camo instead of tartan cloth and (shudder) have pockets.  While it’s a free country and anyone can wear whatever they wish, I will never wear a Utilikilt.  To me, it would be like wearing Jockey underwear (Y-fronts for my British friends) and calling them swim trunks: not the same thing and rather embarrassing to be seen in in public.  An American site summarized my thoughts very well.  “They took a traditional garb and perverted it.  A kilt is a symbol of Scotland and its history.  A Utilikilt is someone trying to functionalize culture.”

Scary dude in Utilikilt

Scary dude in Utilikilt

It’s like wearing white athletic shoes with a tux: just not right.  If you figure the cost of my kilt for the 30-plus years I’ve owned it, it’s not that much, far less than an iPhone and lasting far longer.  If you want to show your Scottish heritage, do it with the real thing and not a cheap substitute.  When you walk in a real kilt, there is a “swoosh” of the fabric side to side.  When you walk in a Utilikilt, it hangs stiffly down.  A U.K. site called it, “hardly a kilt at all, but a man skirt, marketed as a kilt.”  If you wear a Utilikilt, just be honest and say it’s a man-skirt.  Like a man-purse or a man-bun, it’s a masculine version of a feminine fashion item.

Wicked Tinkers- not exactly traditional Scottish music.

Wicked Tinkers- not exactly traditional Scottish music.


But back to the games.  For Americans, they are a Scottish festival as well as competitions.  The music reflects that, although I do wish there were more in the traditional style than the modern, rock-type, but the organizers book what draws the crowds.  While they’re not to my taste, I guess I can live with that.  The vendors provide a chance for purchasing British food and drink, Celtic jewelry, British knick-knacks and Celtic-themed clothing that varies from T-shirts to kilts and tracing your name’s ancestry.  There are also books on Celtic topics, which is where I fit in.  As I said, I will be autographing and selling Three Legs of the Cauldron at the Celtic Nook booth in Costa Mesa as well as Pleasanton, CA, over Labor Day weekend.  (click here for info)  Then there is that American innovation, clan tents.

Clan tents

Clan tents

For native Scots, they consider clan membership to be a matter of birth, not joining.  If you’re born a Fraser in Scotland, you are a member of the clan.  However, in America (and I now understand in a number of other countries as well), you join a clan society.  Requirements vary, but most bend over backwards to find a way to include those interested in membership.  We are a nation of mutts, so pure-blooded Scots are rare and oft times the connection is many generations back.  Many clan societies have ties with the clan chief or chief of the name in Scotland, but there is no copyright on a name and some are not connected with Scotland at all.  Nonetheless, it is all about preserving our Celtic heritage.  In this modern, mobile and transitory society, many of us are looking for roots, a tie to the past that will keep us grounded in the present.  Having manned the Clan Fraser Society of North America clan tent as Southern California Convener for many years, there is a special place in my heart for those who put time, effort and money into preserving this heritage.  That great duo, Men of Worth, have made a tongue-in-cheek song about them entitled The Clan Tent Cavaliers(Click here to listen)  At the clan tents, diasporan Scots can find their connection to their heritage.  Dedicated volunteers are more than willing to share their research and knowledge with any who stop by.  It’s all free.  If you attend the games in America and have any Scottish name in your ancestry, take the time to check out your clan tent.  It’s a part of the Scottish games experience in America.

Suddenly Royal, or Suddenly Stupid

Well, here we go again.  In the latest episode, “King” David, or Drew, talked many times about wanting to move to the Isle of Man permanently and getting a job driving taxi and/or being on the radio.  It is pure bunk.  I moved there with my family in 1994.  At the time, I had the personal recommendation of the British Consul and still had to write what was, in effect, an essay explaining why it would be good for the Isle to let me in.  I had heard that it was even more difficult to be admitted now, so I checked it out.

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook, which KD obviously never read.

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook, which KD obviously never read.

The only chance KD has is General Migrant, since his claim of kinship is not a grandparent, which is the most distant relative allowed for claiming kinship.  According to the official Isle of Man government site (not KD’s “official” site), requirements for “indefinite leave to remain” on the Isle under General Migrant are (click here):

The applicant must have spent a continuous period of 5 years lawfully in the Isle of Man, of which the most recent period must have been spent with leave as a Tier 1 (General) Migrant, in any combination of the following categories:
(i) as a Tier 1 (General) Migrant,
(ii) as a Highly skilled Migrant,
(iii) as a Work Permit Holder,
(iv) [Not used],
(v) [Not used],
(vi) as a Writer, Composer or Artist,
(vii) as a Tier 2 (General) Migrant, a Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) Migrant or a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) Migrant, or
(viii) as a Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Migrant

Work permit holders don’t include taxi drivers or “radio personalities,” obviously, so what are his chances of getting a temporary “right to remain” under that category and hanging in for 5 years to make it permanent?  Since the changes to the law in 2010, they are nil.  Here’s what it says:                                                                                                            Tier 1 (General) Migrants                                                                                                   This route is now closed except for indefinite leave to remain applications.
That means that unless he was already there as a General Migrant in 2010 when the law was changed, that road onto the Isle is closed to him.  Thank God.

Perhaps KD might be able to hold a job for 30-48 days, but that’s it.  So it’s all a joke, just like KD.  No immigration, no job.  It looks like he didn’t check it out, TLC didn’t check it out or they both ignored the laws.  Most likely, there was no intention of KD and family moving to the IOM, just making a little “Reality TV” drama.A real knighting by a king.

Then came KD”s plan for an “investiture” of “knights,” an incredible farce.  Lord K thought it was a good idea.  Since he bought his title and KD has previously tried to sell “knighthoods” as “King of Mann” for 40,000 pounds, perhaps he thought he would get a kick-back for titles sold.  But KD had a hard time giving them away.  Stu Peters, a personality on Manx Radio accepted, possibly taking the mick out (pulling the leg) of KD, because it would make an interesting radio program.  Mol Holmes, the kind fellow who loaned KD a bathtub for the Castletown Tin Bath Race, refused.  Typically a Manxman who says much with few words, he merely stated, “That’s pushing it a bit.”  But “Push” is KD’s middle name.  Or one of them.  I have a few more I could add.

After a ludicrous rehearsal at the ruins of Peel Castle (not named in the show), he decides to ask his “royal etiquette expert,” Lady Cruella, I mean Lady C, if he should go through with it.  For once, I agreed with her.  “That is the official act of an acknowledged monarchy,” she told him.  “You are not an acknowledged monarch.  You are a claimant.  No phony investitures.”  The whale started to blubber.  “I don’t want to be an embarrassment,” he said.  WHAT!  That’s all he is.  Without embarrassment, he wouldn’t exist.  Lady C notes that European men don’t break into tears so easily.  It should be noted that neither to American men with cajones.

You're live on Manx Radio!

You’re live on Manx Radio!

I did love when Stu Peters interviewed him on Manx Radio.  Promised knighthood or not, the velvet glove was off the mailed fist.  As KD sat, doing some spastic boogie with his hands before the interview, he bragged about not preparing.  It was soon obvious.  Stu stated that the House of Keys had categorically rejected KD’s claim, then asked KD three things he would do as king, if they suddenly did an about-face.  KD was like a deer in the headlights, sitting there with a typically stupid look on his face and saying nothing.  Finally, Stu threw him a bone, asking if he would reduce income taxes.  KD took the bait and said he would reduce them.  Guess what?  the Isle of Man is a tax haven, having taxes far lower than the UK or Ireland, and the USA.  With a maximum rate or 20% and no capital gains or inheritance taxes, many rich seek to live there for that reason.  But KD was too stupid to even check out such basics about his “kingdom.”  His closing statements were well-considered to win friends and influence people, especially the Manx.  “I am the king.  That’s a fact,” he pronounced on air.  “You’d better get used to it.  I’m the king and I’m here to stay.”  Afterwards, when talking with his wife, he said he thought the interview went okay.  Another case of a grand delusion.

KD continued to display lack of class, and poor taste to the end of the episode.  When it came to taking his wife out for a special night on the town, what did KD and his wife wear?  Jeans.  While America is more casual in attire than the Isle of Man, we are not all slobs.  When we lived on the Isle and went to a quality restaurant, I wore a coat and tie.  And not with jeans.  Maybe he was taking Pam to that Scottish restaurant in Douglas: McDonald’s.  Probably splurged and bought her a Big Mac.  And three for himself, to maintain his impressive physique.  Or should that be Himself?

In closing, let me quote from other sources on the Net and comment.

According to Fox News:  Howe filed a claim with Her Majesty’s Stationary Office on Dec. 20, 2006, they published the claim in Queen Elizabeth II’s paper of record, the London Gazette, and after no one objected, they sent him a crown, robe and anointing spoon for the ceremony, he said. “It kind of blew up into something big,” Howe said. “I’m certainly not challenging the Queen’s authority or sovereignty over the island. I haven’t amassed an army or anything like that to invade, so I’m certainly not a threat at all.”

I'm your king.  Resistance is futile.

I’m your king. Resistance is futile.

Although I’ve already discussed why no one responded, who the heck sent him “a crown, a robe and an anointing spoon?”  I will go out on a limb here and definitely state it wasn’t the Queen.  As to KD not “amassing an army,” I’d love to see him and any idiots he might garner to invade the Isle go up against the United Kingdom Special Forces.   Really.  I’d love to see it.  Actually, the Manx wouldn’t need any help from the UK to kick his “royal” butt.

According to TLC, KD got an invitation to the Duke and Duchess’s royal wedding.  Why hasn’t he shown it anywhere, including on his official website (Click here)?  Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.

Next time I’m going to address KD’s ties to The Sovereign Magistral Order of the Temple of Solomon.  One good joke deserves another.  Or, to paraphrase the quote attributed to Admiral Farragut, “History and facts be damned, full speed ahead.”

King of Mann

Since my last entry, I watched the latest Suddenly Royal episode and had to fire another salvo.  His Royal Buffooness has kept up the pace, I’ll say that.  First he smokes the clutch on a motorhome he rents in what looks like the first few miles.  The motorhome looked fairly new, so the clutch would have been, too.  He should have let his wife drive if he’s so incompetent with a manual transmission.  I wonder who has to pay for repairs.  That, however, was not what really irritated me.  The two things that got to me were the TT Races and King Orry.

“King” Dave’s “royal secretary” Lord Kiss-up, I mean Kevin, tells KD (my new designation for “King” Dave) that he will have entry to the VIP hospitality suite for the hoi polloi because of his status.  Upon arrival, Lord K tells KD that it fell through at the last minute, hinting that it was a plot against his kingship.  KD notes a security person that would keep him out.  Bull.  Anyone can get into the VIP suite who buys the VIP Club package.  (Click here for the one for the race KD went to)  Either Lord K was too cheap to buy the ticket, they were sold out or TLC thought it would be dramatic.  Perhaps all three.  As a consolation, KD gets to ride in a car with a professional stunt driver at high speed around the TT course.  Anyone can do that when the races aren’t being run for the day and, with no speed limits unless posted, it’s legal to go as fast as you want in sections.  I drove it in my ’63 Vette at some pretty high speeds when I lived there, so I know.  Since the Manx have a rigorous driver’s test (17% pass rate, including retests, when I took mine and passed on the first go) and traffic laws (there will always be a ticket for an accident, since someone was driving unsafely), they have surprisingly few accidents.  Notice that KD didn’t drive.  I guess TLC learned his competency with the motorhome incident.  Also notice he did not go with a TT racer.  They have sidecar racers, but they didn’t have KD ride on one of those bikes, probably for the same reason.

King Orry

King Orry

Then came KD’s trip to King Orry’s grave to honor his ancestor.  His ancestor?  I thought he was related to an English Earl, not a Celtic-Norse king.  And a semi-legendary one at that.  I wonder how he did that genealogy.  Then KD identifies King Orry as Godred Haroldson (as is speculated by a few historians), but A.W. Moore, in his authoritative A History of the Isle of Man, does not.  I suppose a king doesn’t need to read the history of his kingdom any more than he needs to prove his lineage.  Since KD can claim to be descended from a legendary king without proof, I can now reveal that I am descended from King Arthur and want my kingdom, too.  Prove I’m wrong.

Queen Elizabeth II, "nobility within the Royal House of Mann" according to "King" David

Queen Elizabeth II is “nobility within the Royal House of Mann” according to “King” David

However, what really frosted my corn flakes was when I stumbled upon his website,   It deserves a full broadside.  Here’s a direct quote: The dynastic Royal House of Mann has legalized status and recognition as an autonomous part of the United Kingdom constitutional monarchy system, by royal assent and proclamation of Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, having binding effect by force of law. It was legalized as the “Independent Kingdom of Mann”, establishing and confirming it as a separate historical institution with its own sovereignty, that predates the UK system.   Let’s study this claim.  First, when did the Queen give royal assent and proclamation about KD’s claim?  He posted it in the London Gazette (not owned by the Queen, as stated in the show) and no one responded.  That doesn’t make it a legitimate claim.  The Queen doesn’t create monarchies and if she responded to every wack job that made claims of royalty, nobility, etc., it would lend them a legitimacy that they don’t have.  Better to ignore the little pests and let them fade away, as so many do.  There is no “binding force of law” here.  Where did KD come up with that?  It surely wasn’t from the Manx people.  The House of Keys (Manx elected parliament) has confirmed that the Queen is the Lord of Man and that there is no king!  For him to claim to be king is to go against the will of the very people he claims kingship over.  Perhaps the Manx need to handle this unwanted king the way the French handled Louis XVI.  He also mentions that the Kingdom of Mann predates the UK (United Kingdom).  So what?  The kingdoms of Scotland, Ireland and Wales also did.  That has nothing to do with anything.  The Isle of Man is not and never was a part of the UK, but is a Crown Dependency.  It has no more ever been a part of the UK than the USA was.  This paragraph shows that KD doesn’t even know the governmental status of the Isle of which he claims to be king.  I could go on about this joke of a website, but suffice it to say it is all as ignorant as that example paragraph.

One parting shot at the website is an official-looking UN logo and text on the right side that says, “The Dynastic Royal House of HRH Prince David, King of Mann, is recognized and supported by United Nations (UN) Non Governmental Organizations (NGO)”  The NGO listings include organizations like Baha’i International Community, The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and World Young Women’s Christian Association, to name just a few, but has nothing to do with governments (as noted in its name).  So what that has to do with KD’s claim, I have no idea.  However, I went to the list and The Dynastic Royal House of HRH Prince David, King of Mann was not on it!  Click here to see for yourself.  Making false claims is not nice.  But then, that seems the modus operandi of KD.  I suppose he never expected to have anyone actually check him out.



Suddenly Royal

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man                    “However you throw me, I will stand”

When my wife told me she’d recorded a new program on the grossly misnamed The Learning Channel (TLC) entitled Suddenly Royal about an American who is trying to claim his title as the King of Man, I was appalled.  We had lived there for five years and I did my Masters’ thesis about the Isle of Man during the 17th century and read a lot of Manx history.  I knew his claim was rubbish, at best.  However, we decided to watch it for the scenery of a place that was near and dear to our hearts.  Sadly, so far we’ve seen too much of “King” David “Drew” Howe and far too little scenery.

Bonnie Prince Charlie A Pretender With A Real Claim

Bonnie Prince Charlie
A Pretender With A Real Claim

So, you may have seen King Ralph and think it’s a similar case, a long-lost relative inherits the throne when everyone else suddenly kicks the bucket.  Not so.  Drew had his ancestry done and found out that he is the direct line descendant of Lord Thomas Stanley, the last man to hold the title of King of Man.  I’m assuming that’s what he found, but no proof of this has ever been provided.  I’m reminded of “Prince” Michael Stewart, who I met in 1990.  He was a pretender (unproven claimant) to the throne of Scotland, saying that he was descended from an unrecorded, yet legitimate, son of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  He refused to show me his proof, saying the Queen didn’t have to prove her claim.  Ever hear of him?  I thought not.  Last I knew, he was still living in a one-room apartment in Edinburgh.  Maybe I’ll tell more of his story another time.

Drew was an “auto-service manager” living in Frederick, MD, when he found out about his “royalty.”  He posted an official claim to be the King of Man in the London Gazette in 2007 and, because no one protested, it’s official now.  Or so he says.  “Prince” Michael Stewart did the same thing decades ago.  Since he is now universally recognized the King of Scotland, that must work.  Right.  I’m thinking of posting a notice there that I’m the King of Sky.  I mean Skye.  Medialife MagazineOne definition of the word “pretender” is “a person who pretends.”  Another is “a claimant to a throne.”   On the show, he’s a pretender in the first sense.  He pretends to believe that his claim isn’t silly and that he’s going to the island not because he’s being paid to by the TV show but because he’s trying to press his claim.  He and his wife, Pam, and their 12-year-old daughter, Grace, pretend that the things they do and the things that happen to them aren’t set up for the cameras.  Drew says, “A couple days ago, the local paper on the Isle of Man came out attacking me.”

Hmmm.  I wonder how’d I’d feel about someone claiming ownership of all of California because of a Spanish land grant?

World Tin Bath Championship in Castletown

World Tin Bath Championship, Castletown            Photo by BBC News

Drew sets off to win the hearts of the Manx people by entering the Isle of Man Tin Bathtub Race in Castletown.  Organizer David Collister described it as, “People just like to have fun and the spectators come because they like to see people get wet and they like to see people sink.  It’s two hours of family fun and slapstick entertainment involving household tin baths that your granny will have used in front of the fire.”  Drew dresses in a clownish king costume and participates.  I guess that, since the Queen did not, that makes him a winner.  Or a wiener.  Definitely a pretender in the first sense.

If “King” Drew wanted to participate in an event that would gain the respect of the Manx people, he should try the long-running, world-famous TT Motorcycle Road Race.  There’s nothing slapstick about it and it takes real cajones to ride in it.  Click here to find out why.

However, he is advised on how to be the new “King of Man” by two upstanding members of the British nobility and long term Manx residents: Lady Colin Campbell and Lord Kevin Couling.  Well, maybe not.  First neither of them live on the Isle of Man.  Secondly, there is a matter of character.  You be the judge.

In spite of her name, Lady Colin Campbell is not Scottish.  Lady Colin Campbell, a.k.a. Lady Poison Pen, was previously Georgia Ziadie.  She was born in Jamaica to a Lebanese father and English, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish mother.  She had a terrible childhood and her marriage to Lord Colin Campbell, younger brother of the Duke of Argyll, was just as bad.  It lasted fourteen months and she divorced him, claiming abuse and that he was a drunken addict.  Yet, she continues using his name forty years later.  Why?  Perhaps because it does give her more credibility as a writer of exposés of the Royals, from whence comes the Lady Poison Pen title.

According to the Daily MailWe are talking in the wake of a vociferous outcry in the media this week at the salacious and utterly unsubstantiated allegations in her new book The Untold Life Of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
If she doesn’t draw definitive conclusions in the book, she does hold all manner of gossip up to the light for examination.
For one thing, she suggests that the Queen Mother — as well as her younger brother David — was the natural child of her father and the family cook, Marguerite Rodiere, because her mother was too fragile to have another baby after a nervous breakdown following the death of one of her older children.
The second bombshell is that the present Queen and her late sister Princess Margaret were conceived by artificial insemination, because their mother didn’t like sex . . . .
She points out in her book that the artificial insemination story has been doing the rounds as a rumour in some circles for years (which is certainly true) and that she had it ‘from several sources’.
Which, naturally, doesn’t mean it’s true.  And, happily for her, since all the players are now dead, no one can prove the point one way or the other.
There is no doubt that she loves to shock and can be horribly poisonous. Indeed, much of what Lady Colin says should, I suspect, be taken with a large pinch of salt.

No doubt, she sees “KIng” Drew as a way to get more publicity for her books, as well as a paycheck from TLC.  But surely the soft-spoken Lord Kevin Couling, who Drew said, “works with a lot of royal families,” is far better.  Right?  I’ll let the press describe him and his companion.  Mrs. Victoria Ayling.

According to the Mail on Sunday: Victoria Ayling, a high-profile ‘trusted ally’ of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, joined the openly racist party and attended its rallies as a student, according to her former husband, a friend and even her own mother.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has also discovered Mrs Ayling is being investigated by police after allegedly making abusive comments about her former husband – who is a transvestite.
The Mail on Sunday can also reveal that Mrs Ayling and her new partner, Lord Kevin Couling – who purchased his title, the 64th Lord of Little Neasden (my emphasis)– are also being investigated by police for an alleged hate crime against Mr Ayling.

But does “Lord” Kevin agree with Mrs. Ayling’s politics?  Spiegel online quotes him:
“Nowadays, you almost have to be ashamed to be British,” says her (Mrs Ayling) partner, Kevin Couling.  In school, children learn a great deal about the Holocaust and the women’s suffrage movement, he says, but not much about the country’s history. “They can’t even name the British kings.”  Besides, says Couling, Polish and Latvian immigrants are taking away jobs in the asparagus fields.

I feel sorry for all those native-born British who lost their asparagus-picking jobs to a bunch of Slavs.  But Kevin came to England from New Zealand, bought his title, and is taking a paycheck from TLC that could have gone to a native-born British lord, so maybe he shouldn’t speak.  According to The Armorial Register Limited, “Lord” Kevin is “Kevin Derek Couling, Lord of the Manor of Little Neston,” a title tied to the estate rather than hereditary.  Don’t look for famous lords and ladies in that registry, they’re not there.  Furthermore, Kevin registered his coat of arms in Serbia!  Cheaper, I’m sure, and maybe he got a few Serbs in to help pick his asparagus.

Finally, here is a caveat posted on the Armorial Registry website that should tell you who registers their arms there: The Armorial Register Limited is aware that at the present time proving the validity of the ownership of a manor and its associated right to be known as “Lord of the Manor of” is fraught with difficulty.  There are an ever growing number of businesses on the Internet only too willing to satisfy a seemingly endless consumer demand for “titles” and it seems that Manors and the right of their owners to be known as Lords have become the easiest target for less than scrupulous dealers. Our best advice is Caveat emptor “Let the buyer beware”.

Now that you have the cut of “King” Drew’s advisers, what about any validity of his claim?  Could he be king?  No.  In spite of what was said on the show, the Stanleys were the LAST kings of Mann, not the first.  Haraldr Óláfsson termed himself King of Mann and the Isles in 1237 and at least six other rulers after that held that title before the Stanleys.  Thomas Stanley made the ruler of Man the Lord of Mann instead of the King of Mann in 1504.  That cannot be changed.  The Isle of Man was sold to the Crown by the Duke of Atholl in 1765.  It doesn’t matter who anyone is descended from, the Queen is also the Lord of Man now.  Any Manx schoolchild knows this.  Of course, you have to be bright enough to read a little history.

House of Keys Logo - Green on White

House of Keys Logo

Lastly, notice that “King” Drew pushes his claim with no one who has authority on the Isle.  To date, no MHK (Member of the House of Keys, the Manx parliament) has been on the show.  No Deemster, or judge, has chatted with him.  His Excellency Lieutenant Governor Adam Wood has not received him at Government House (as I was received by His Excellency Sir Timothy Daunt while I lived there).  Instead, he tries to push his claim with a few locals in pubs and with people who do not have any authority.  When the “King” met with the Curreys, grandmother Heather, son Richard and grandson Cosmo, they gave him the go-ahead to pursue his claim.  “King” Drew acted like they were his only possible rivals.  I was puzzled.  Who were they?  The short answer: no one who had any say in the matter.  The long answer is below, but feel free to skip it.  Unless you are really into history.  I’d love it if you read it, since it took a lot to dig all this up.  I will understand if you don’t.

James Stanley- 10th Earl Of Derby

James Stanley-                       10th Earl Of Derby

Under the Stanleys, the title Lord Strange (an English title) was given to the son of the Earl of Derby until he inherited the earldom.  When James Stanley, 10th Earl of Derby, died in 1736 “without issue,” the title of Lord Strange and its barony, along with the Isle of Man, went to John Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, through the Stanley female line.  Since the earldom had to go only through the male line, it went to a distant cousin.  At the death of the 9th Duke of Atholl and 14th Baron (or Lord) Strange, James Thomas Stewart-Murray, in 1957, the title of Lord Strange and the Barony of Strange went into abeyance.  Charlotte Murray, the third oldest daughter of the 4th Duke married Admiral Sir Alan Drummond.  They had a son, John.  John had a son, Malcolm.  Malcolm had a son, John, who petitioned to regain and received the title of 15th Lord Strange from the Queen in 1965, but no land came with the title.  The title of 17th Lord Strange is currently held by Adam Drummond, who is one of five children and has two healthy children of his own.  Interestingly enough, he lives in a small cottage next to the castle that his mother, Baroness Strange, left with all her money to his youngest sister.  That’s a story that would be interesting to pursue, but not here.  The 15th Lord Strange’s second daughter is Heather, who married Lt. Andrew Currey.  Her son is Robert.  His son is Cosmo.  The chances of Cosmo becoming Lord Strange are little better than mine of winning the lottery.  And I never buy any tickets.  None of them have any claim on the kingship, lordship or any other title regarding the Isle of Man.

What is the opinion of the Manx about their “King?”  According to The Guardian: On Isle of Man websites, residents’ comments range from bewilderment to genuine concern. Mick, from Douglas, wrote: “What started out as an interesting and amusing story of a seemingly self-delusional American has now turned into something quite serious, as the monetary amounts stated are huge. Surely the authorities must intervene.” Kim wrote: “King David- get over yourself! You are NOT our King – you will never be our King. If you’ve got any respect at all you will give up this silly claim.”

So why has “King” Drew continued on this idiotic quest for seven years?  He claims it’s for his daughter, but the kid seems bright enough not to really believe his delusions.  So, is he deluded, a raving lunatic or something else?  It wasn’t until TLC started pumping money into this that he flew to the Isle.  Shrewd.  He and his family are only there for six weeks.  Wise.  Then, according to Medialife Magazine, “This may all seem harmless, but that same Telegraph story alleges that Drew was involved with a company that was selling supposed noble titles for as much as 90,000 British pounds (my emphasis). This isn’t mentioned in the premiere.”  He’s been doing this since 2007.  According to IOM Today:. . .  Noble Titles company’s website has been altered to include King David’s title and photograph. Among titles available are a dukedom for 90,000 or you can become a marquess for 80,000. The title of count will set you back 70,000 a countess 60,000 and 50,000 to become a viscount. The website states all proceeds will go to the Malawi Missions Project Charity by instruction of the King of Mann, excluding ‘investiture, regalia and administration costs’.  Uh, greedy? As backers of Hollywood movies have often learned, “costs” can eat up every invested dollar.  Or pound.  So what exactly is King Ralph . .. uh, Drew . . . uh, David?  I’ll let you be the judge.  If you can stomach the show enough to watch it for the spectacular scenery.  And if it survives.  Again, according to Medialife Magazine, “The true story behind ‘Suddenly Royal’ might be funny, or dramatic, or tawdry, but the creators of the show seem to have neither the talent nor the intention to tell it.”

In closing, why do I care enough to write this?  Because I love the Isle of Man and had many friends there who thought Americans were decent people.  If any of the Manx watch Suddenly Royal, their opinion of us will be that we are rude, crude and ignorant.  “King” Drew slurping his soup from his spoon and tucking his napkin under his chin?  Sure, I know it was orchestrated, with a slim, attractive wife accepting the behavior of her tub-of-lard husband, but “King” Drew went right along with it.  The Isle of Man can’t hate the publicity they’re getting from the show, but they also can’t have gained any respect for Americans.  We are buffoons of our own making.  Thank you, Drew, and TLC for harming the image of Americans in the eyes of the Manx, the British and the European viewers.  Your show is truly un-American.  As Kim on the Isle of Man said so well, my message to Drew is, “If you’ve got any respect at all you will give up this silly claim.”






Celtic Kingdom of Dal Riata

My next book, Three Legs of the Cauldron, will be out by Christmas.  It is a 6th century Celtic saga of Northeastern Ireland and Western Scotland, the kingdom of Dal Riata.  Here is a little history lesson about that little-known place and time.  This is a tad long, so consider it, “Everything you wanted to know about Dal Riata, but were afraid to ask.  And then some.”  Feel free to read it over a couple of days.  Or weeks.

You say Dal Riada, or Dalriata, or Dalriada, I say Dal Riata.
As with most Gaelic words, there is no authoritative spelling of the kingdom’s name.  Here, I will use Dal Riata, like I did in in my book.


Dal Riada

Dal Riada

Dal Riata was a kingdom that encompassed part of the current County Antrim in Northern Ireland and stretched across the northern part of the Irish Sea to Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula (Argyll) and islands in the Inner Hebrides. Although initially it only had the major islands of Islay and Jura, at its zenith in the late 6th and early 7th centuries it expanded to all the Inner Hebrides, including Mull and Arran as well as Skye and even the Isle of Man, although it could not always hold those last two.  It was a coastal kingdom, never conquering and holding any inland regions of Scotland and slowly declined until united with Pictish lands to become the kingdom of Alba, then Scotland.  Its Irish lands were lost in the mid-seventh century, after the Battle of Mag Rath in 637, although the Dal Riatans seem to have continued to fight in Irish wars alongside their allies, the Ui Neills, until the mid-eighth century.

Dal Riata consisted mainly of islands and coastal regions.  The land was rocky, hilly to mountainous, and windy- not great farmland.

The origins of the kingdom of Dal Riata are lost to us.  It happened before recorded history, so all our records were written, at best, a couple hundred years later. It’s as though no one had written what happened in the early 1800’s or before in American history and we had to rely on the stories handed down through the generations.  While some of it might be told accurately, no doubt some would be forgotten, added on to for the sake of a good story or remembered differently by different sources.  Can you imagine how the American Revolution might be portrayed if all that survived were accounts handed down over the years by Tories and not written until now?

When did the Irish (or Scotti, as the Romans called them) first settle in Scotland?  That’s a matter of continued debate.

1. Some think it started in the 3rd century.  In 365 AD, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellus wrote of Picti and Scotti as raiders of Britannia.  But were the Scotti raiding from Ireland or from Scotland?

2. Some think it was later when Dal Riata was settled, perhaps not long before the Duan Albanach (Song of the Scots) says that King Erc’s sons came to Scotland and moved the kingship there.  However, it was written in the 11th c, so it’s not accepted as historical proof.  Some versions of Senchus Fer nAlban (History of the men of Scotland) also include this.

3. The Venerable Bede wrote that in the late 2nd Century, Cairbre Riada, Son of Conary, King of Ireland, and Grandson of Con of the Hundred Battles, settled on the west coast of Alba.  Dal is Gaelic for place or region, making Dal Riada “Riada’s place” or “region of Riada.”  That might seem likely, but Bede was an Anglo-Saxon who wrote in the early 8th century who also said Ireland was settled by the Spanish.  Some versions of Senchus have a similar tale.

3. We do know some events and people from about 576 A.D. and have a high degree of certainty that Dal Riata was already an established kingdom at that point.

4. A revisionist theory is that the kingdom was not settled by the Irish at all, but a Pictish people that came under the influence linguistically and culturally of the Irish by trade.  This is a theory pushed by Scotophiles who might be a little Hibernophobic.  Or, lovers of things Scottish who might be anti-Irish.

Now you see the problems in trying to know with a high degree of certainty exactly what happened so many years ago.  For the most part, history is made up of opinions and even wishful thinking.  But you can take the opinions, try to sort out the fluff and wishful thinking, and come up with your best theory.  For me, I think Bede makes sense, since it explains the name of Dal Riata itself.  I also think the Duan Albanach explains how the king of Dal Riata came to be in Scotland instead of Ireland.  Until some new, long-forgotten text shows up to prove me wrong, it works for me.

Gaelic Celtic culture, basically the same as Ireland, with cenels, or extended families, being the same as clans.  The customs, laws, political structure, mores and values were Irish.  Brehon Law would have been the standard.

Hand-sown oats and barley were the grain.  The rocky land was difficult to plow, so the yield per acre was low.  The stones removed for cultivation did prove a source of building material for house walls and walls to keep in livestock.  Beef, mutton, goat, pork and fish, including shellfish, mackerel, herring and salmon, were primary protein sources.  Hunting added boar and venison to their diet and gathering brought in wild berries and nuts.  Stone querns survive, so we know they ground their grains for breads, soups and such.  Cooking cauldrons and shards of cooking pottery have also survived.

Clothing and appearance

Leine and Bratt

Leine and Bratt

Although few examples of clothing have survived, we know that wool was the favorite material, which has warmth and a natural water resistance.  A leine or tunic was worn by both sexes, with women’s longer than the men’s.  A cape-like woolen cloak, called a bratt, would be pinned with a brooch.  Men would wear trews, or trousers, in colder weather.  Men wore beards or long mustaches.  Ornate jewelry was worn by both sexes, with armlets, bracelets, torcs and brooches most popular.  Grooming was important and there is evidence of stone and wood bath tubs, warmed by heated stones, as early as 1200 BC.  Men were 5’6″ to 5’9″ and women 5′ to 5’4″.






Many people traveled on foo.  Those who could afford to, went on horseback, using trails rather than roads. Few carts or other wheeled vehicles were used due to terrain and lack of roads.  Being a coastal kingdom, boats were very important. Currachs, boats made of greased or pitch-covered hides over wicker frames, were used for peace-time commerce as well as for transporting warriors.  They had a single, square sail and benches for rowers.  Originally, they seem to have been seven-benchers, but later twenty-two was a standard crew, with ten benches with two oarsmen per bench.


Houses might stand alone or be in small groups, but there were no cities, towns or villages as such.



Round houses were made with a low wall of stone, timber or mud-and-wattle with a steeply pitched thatched roof.  They would normally have one door and no windows. The door often faced the rising sun.  They varied in size with the smallest being about 12 ft. around to the largest at about 70 ft. Most were larger and housed an extended family up to 30 people. Internal dividers would give some privacy. Smoke from the central hearth fire filtered through the thatch, but they would have been smoky inside.  Sometimes sections were set aside for livestock, especially in the winter, so maybe the odor of the fire helped against other odors.



Crannogs were artificial islands built on lakes by using timber pilings, piled lumber and/or stone and dirt rubble as fill.  Planks formed the flooring and a timber round house gave protection.  A wood causeway connected it to the shore.



According to Senchus, Cenel nOengusa had 430 houses, Cenel Loairn had 420 and Cenel nGabrain had 560.  Total population was probably between 7,000 and 8,000.


Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross

If the first settlement was in the 3rd c., Dal Riata was initially pagan, with the same gods the Irish had, and later became Christian.  Colm Cille (St. Columba, the church dove) founded a monastery on Iona, off the coast of the isle of Mull, in the late 6th c.  He was a noble of the powerful Ui Neill’s and is said to have fled there in penance for lives lost in a battle he caused. He is the first person of Christian authority to crown a king in Scotland, that being Aeden in 576 AD on Iona.  Colm Cille is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland, although St. Ninian brought it to southern Scotland.  It is on the Isle of Iona that a couple of centuries later the monks created the Book of Kells.  It was taken to Kells, Ireland, to save it from destruction by the Vikings.

Political divisions
The kingdom was divided into Cenels, which are similar to Scottish clans, that held lands and had their own Dals, or tribal councils.  There were three Cenels named in the Senchus, nOengusa, Cenel Loairn, and Cenel nGabrain. Cenel Comghal apparently was one line of nGabrain that later became independent of it.  Check the map for the divisions.  Over all of them was the king, who depended on their support both politically and militarily.


Celtic Warriors from My Book

Gaelic Warriors from My Book

Warriors, for both the army and navy, were required to be furnished by each household.  According to the Senchus, Cenel nOengusa would furnish 600, Cenel Loairn would furnish 600 and Cenel nGabrain would field 800.  These, of course, are estimates, but equal an available military force of 2000 men for the entire kingdom.  Seldom would all be called. They were armed mainly with spears, swords and shields and operated either as foot soldiers or armed sailors.  Later in the kingdom, mail shirts and finally metal helms were used.  A number of naval battles were fought by the Dal Riatans, evidencing their skill as fighting sailors.

Kingship was not primogeniture, but normally went to a male within the royal derbfhine, or close family, but a king might just as well be succeeded by an uncle, brother, cousin, or nephew as by a son, elected by the Dal, or cenel council.  For many years the kingship of Scottish Dalriata alternated irregularly between the Cenel nGabrain and the Cenel Comghal until the royal line of the Cenel Comghal died out in the 7th Century.  At that time, the Cenel Loairn began to compete for the kingship, using the Celtic custom that a derbfhine could submit a candidate for the chieftainship whenever the chief died without a tanist (heir) having been appointed.

Dunadd or Dun Ad

Dun Ad Today

Dun Ad Today

Dun is Gaelic for fort.  Dun Ad was the fort of the king of Dal Riata.  It is located near Kilmartin on the Kintyre Peninsula, on a rocky hill in the plain near the Add river.  At one time, it may even have been an island in the river.  We do not know when it was first settled but became the seat of the kings.  It has two main, natural levels, with the upper fort or citadel not large, about 40 by 60 ft., only enough for the royal family and a small entourage.  There are various clear areas lower where more troops and craftsmen (there is evidence of smelting and metalwork) were housed.  It is reached by a steep trail through a natural cleft in the rock that was barred by a gate.  At one time timber walls added to the natural defense, but are long gone.  A Pictish boar, a cup and a footprint were carved into a rock in the citadel (no longer there) that has fueled many debates over their use.  It is not large and has very little water inside the fort, so it was of questionable defensive value. It was conquered at least one time, by the Picts in 736 AD who held it at least until the next century.


The Picts

Pictish Warrior

Pictish Warrior

The Picts never called themselves Picts.  Pictus, a Latin word for a painting, was how the Romans termed them because they had pictures painted on their bodies or tattoos, most likely the latter.  They would never have called themselves such.  They were most likely related to the Britons in the south and spoke a Brythonic Celtic tongue. They were competent warriors and became strong nations in Scotland.  Different tribes or petty kingdoms gained supremacy at different times, often uniting all or almost all of Pictland as one. They battled the Dal Riatans and the Angles many times, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.  They even occupied the kingdom as foreign rulers.  With no written language, we know them from what others wrote about them and from their art.

The Britons
Alt Cult (Strathclyde) was the main Briton kingdom that the Dal Riatans had to deal with. Sometimes they were allies, sometimes foes. The kingdom formed with the fall of the Roman Empire’s rule in Britain and proved strong, native British kingdoms could thrive again, at least for a time.  They suffered a major defeat by the Vikings in 870 AD, but the kingdom survived until the Battle of Brunanburh in 973 AD.  Wessex’s King Athelstan’s victory over a Norse, Alban, Pictish army ended Strathclyde’s power and it later became a part of Alba, Scotland.

Anglean Warrior

Anglian Warrior

The Angles

Bernicia and Deira were the main Anglian kingdoms during the mid-Dal Riatan period and united to become Northumbria before the Viking invasions.  Often termed Saxons in early writings, these Germanic invaders conquered more and more of Britain over the years, finally holding all of the region now called England.  They were fearsome fighters who defeated Dal Riatans in battle at times, but never conquered the kingdom.



Highwater mark for Dal Riata
King Aeden is considered the most powerful king of Dal Riata.  He is the first king whose reign is accepted by most reputable historians as accurately recorded.  Aeden raided Orkney, successfully battled the Picts, regained the Isle of Man, defeated the Maeatae in a bloody battle on the River Forth and formed an alliance with the Ui Neills that secured the safety of his Irish lands.  However, when he grew alarmed at the growing strength of the Anglian Bernician king Æthelfrith, he led his forces to Degsastan (somewhere on the Scottish-English border).  There, in 603 AD, he suffered a disastrous defeat when his superior numbers were decimated by the Bernicians.  He escaped with his life, but never was a major force in Britain again.

End of Dal Riata
Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin) united the Picts and Dal Riata as one kingdom circa 878 AD.  Which kingship he had first is a matter of debate, with some claiming the Picts and some the Scots.  Whatever the case, the new kingdom was Alba (from the Latin word for Scotland, probably coming from the word “white.”  Perhaps from their pale skin?). It was not a conquest by either people, but more of uniting against a new, seemingly unstoppable foe, the Vikings.  Much of the coastal lands and islands of Dal Riata were seized by them and the focus of the new kingdom moved inland to Dunkeld.. But that’s another story.

Why not Pictland Instead of Alba?  Or the Roman Caladonia?  Some claim Alba was the Gaelic term for what the Picts called their kingdom, but there is no proof for that.  In fact, at one point it referred to all of Britain.  It was not until about 1286 and the Wars of Scottish Independence from England that it is referred to as the Kingdom of the Scots or Scotland. It gave them a national identity rather than that of a family or tribe (clan).  It defined the nation as a Gaelic entity, not English.  This is further demonstrated by Edward Bruce’s (Robert the Bruce’s brother) unsuccessful attempt to unite Ireland with Scotland.  By then, the Picts were almost forgotten.  While their art survived, there were no writings in their forgotten tongue.  It was the Irish-related Scots Gaelic that was spoken.  So Scotland it was to be.  And, besides, they would never have referred to themselves as “Picts.”

Primary sources for information on Dal Riata
Scottish kings are listed in the Annals of the Irish Kings
Adomnan’s Life of Columba was written in the 8th C by a monk on Iona.
Senchus Fer nAlban (History of the men of Scotland) which was a mythic history, census, and a genealogy of the early kings of Dal Riata, with the earliest existing copy from about the 10th c, probably written in the 7th c.
Duan Albanach (Song of the Scots) was written in the 11th century to show the line of Malcolm Canmore (of Shakespearean fame).

Bad Irish Jokes

I love a good joke.  However, ethic jokes have a very bad rep, often for good reason  If a joke is meant to demean or insult, it is not funny.  But if it is meant to poke fun with no criminal intent, I feel it is fine.  For instance, I recently heard a Jewish joke that I think is funny:  How does Moses make his tea?  He brews.

Shanty Irish

Shanty Irish, or a stupid Mick, from a mid-1900’s newspaper shows the prejudice of that time.

If you don’t get it, say it out loud.  It is a pun, a play on words that does not insult in any way.  I feel the same about Irish jokes, ones that are now being bandied about all over the Internet because of St. Patrick’s Day.  No insult, no foul.  Yet, too often, so-called  “Polack jokes” that were meant to insult and demean the Polish are now rebranded as Irish in “honor” of the day.  Let me demonstrate.  First, I will give a joke I like and next one I do not.

A Presbyterian minister from England was assigned to a new church in Northern Ireland.  On his first Sunday, he was driving home when he ran into another car at a blind intersection in the wilds of county Londonderry.  When the other driver hopped out of his car and came over to him, the minister’s eyes went wide.  He was a Catholic priest, wearing his clerical collar.  Now the Catholics and Protestants are known to have some issues and many Irish don’t love the English, so the minister braced himself for the worst.  The priest leaned down and peered in the minister’s window.  “Are you alright?”  The minister breathed a sigh of relief and got out of his car.

“I think so.  A little shaky is all.”

“Ah, me too.”  The priest looked down at the dented fenders.  “They’re bejanxed.  I fear we need roadside assistance.  I’ll call on my mobile.”  The priest walked off a bit and called.  Then he came back to the minister.  “You look brutal.  I could use a nip to steel me nerves.  How ’bout you?  I’ve got a bottle of Jamesons in the boot (trunk).”

The minister was relieved that all the horrible things he’d heard about the the Irish Catholics weren’t true.  A drink sounded good.  “I could use a short one.”

The priest opened his trunk and pulled out a bottle of Irish whiskey.  He opened it and handed it to the minister who took a swig and handed it back. The priest studied him.  “You still look a bit pale, lad.  Would you like another?”  The minister gladly took another stiff drink and handed it back to the priest.  “That’s enough for me. The rest is yours.”

The priest screwed the cap back on and dropped the bottle back in his trunk.  “I’ll wait until after the Guarda (police) have been here.”

The Catholic priest is a bit wily, but you like him.  Maybe if you’re a Presbyterian minister you might be upset at the gullibility of that character, but no one is an idiot in the joke.  It’s funny without being insulting.  Now compare it to this one I found on the Net:

Pat and Mick landed themselves a job at a sawmill.  Just before morning tea Pat yelled, “Mick! I lost me finger!”  “Have you now?” says Mick. “And how did you do it?” “I just touched this big spinning thing here like thi–Damn! There goes another one!”

The Irishman could be Polish, Jewish or whatever ethnic group you want to insult.  It has nothing to do with Ireland or the Irish.  It’s intent is to make a certain ethnic group look stupid.  It is a not funny.  Why do such jokes persist?  Maybe just to make little people feel bigger by putting someone else down,  The old saying is that dying is easy, but comedy is hard.  Let’s let the stupid, insulting jokes die and go for the hard comedy.

Toast to the Lassies and Toast to the Laddies

I am an unabashed traditionalist. I love having traditions and following traditions.  That includes personal ones like having oatmeal (porridge) and tea for breakfast, doing my New York times crossword puzzle (except for the too-easy Monday and Tuesday ones), and  playing Santa every Christmas.  I follow family ones for birthdays and Christmas as well, such as decorating the house like Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation (well, not quite so much, but close).  Although I was brought up a Baptist, I became an Anglican partly because of their traditional worship.  Since the Robert Burns Supper has certain strong traditions, why would I mess with those?  Well, mess with the Toast to the Lassies and Toast to the Lassies, to be exact.

Robert Burns, Scotland's unofficial national poet.

Robert Burns, Scotland’s unofficial national poet.

For those of you who are at sea with all this Scottish stuff, Robert Burns was Scotland’s favorite song writer and poet.  He lived from 25 January, 1759, until 21 July, 1796.  In his short 37 years on earth, he wrote 558 song lyrics and poems.  Ever heard of “Auld Lang Syne” or “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose”?  Then you know some of his works.  Every year since 1802, Scots, those of Scot’s descent, and those who just love a good party get together all over the world for a Robert Burns Supper on or near his birthday of January 25th to celebrate Burns and his poetry.  There is a tradition of having the haggis (a steamed pudding of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs mixed with oats and spices) presented with Burns’ “Address to a Haggis” recited.  A toast is made to women by a man and a response by a woman, known as the Toast to the Lassies and the Toast to the Laddies.  Finally, an Immortal Memory speech is given in honor of Burns.  These are the current traditions.  And I recently wrote a Toast to the Lassies and Toast to the Laddies that are done in a responsive manner, much like a formal debate.  Was this all that nontraditional?  I say not so.

Kelly and I at the 2014 Robert Burns Supper

Kelly and I at the 2014 Robert Burns Supper

Originally, women were not allowed to attend Robert Burns Suppers except as cooks or servers.  Fortunately, times change and so has the Supper format.  I am not so much of a traditionalist as to exclude the very people that Burns loved most: the lassies.  Having bent that far, it is not that much farther to make the toasts a little more fun.  Click here for how it went at the Gold Country Celtic Society’s Robert Burns Supper this year when Kelly and I did our toasts.  I have to say that I told Kelly that she would get the best lines and I delivered.  But it was all in fun.  Below are the written toasts. Feel free to use them for your Robert Burns Suppers if you are so inclined.  I only ask that you mention my name.


The Toast to the Lassies and the Toast to the Laddies

R.L.:  Tonight we’ll be giving the Toast to the Lassies and the Toast to the Laddies responsively.  I will make a pithy and profound observation about the lassies and my wife Kelly will give her rebuttal.  In the interests of equality, we will try to keep them about equal, even though I am sure that will be difficult for her.  You see, studies have shown that lassies speak an average of 20,000 words per day, while men speak only 7000, or about 1/3 as many.  Thankfully, I was not the counter on that study.  According to Dr. Luan Brizendine from Cal Berkeley, that act of talking itself “triggers a flood of brain chemicals which give women a rush similar to that felt by heroin addicts when they get a high.”  So men, if you wonder why your lassie often sounds like a video on fast-forward, she’s tripping out on talk.  So don’t blame her if she uses three times the words needed to tell a story.  It’s her fix.  Not only that, the good doctor says that women devote more brain cells to talking than men.  That means that men have more productive things to do than idle chatter.

Kelly:  Productive things?  You mean reproductive things.   According to the same doctor, men think about sex every 52 seconds.  Women, once a day.  In fact, she says that men’s “sex processors” in their obsessed brains are twice as big as in women.  Any brain cells lost to talking are taken up by sex, not by noble ideas.  What’s wrong with talking anyway?  If you ask a laddie how his day has been, he says, “Fine.”  Or, more often than not, “Lousy.”  That is NOT a description.  How about “I closed a huge deal for the company and I’ll be getting a raise,” instead of “Fine?”  Or “I lost a major account, I got fired and we’re going to lose the house,” instead of “Lousy?”  Which one sounds more like a man and which one takes more brains cells to say?  And communication is not the only area of men’s brains that is inferior to women’s.  Dr. Brizendine stated, “Testosterone also reduces the size of the section of the brain involved in hearing – allowing men to become “deaf” to the most logical of arguments put forward by their wives and girlfriends.”

R.L.:  Ah, logic.  Men, do you think your lassies make logical arguments?  Aren’t women known for intuition rather than logic?  According to Merriam-Webster, intuition is “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence: a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why.”  Logic is a “reasonable way of thinking about or understanding something.”  Not the same thing.  We’re talking feelings versus reason.  For a man, you win an argument by scoring the last point.  For a woman, you win it by descending into tears.  Maybe that’s why no woman has been elected president.  Do you trust the fate of the free world to be in the hands of someone who weeps uncontrollably while watching Sleepless in Seattle?

Kelly:  Perhaps you’d rather entrust our nuclear arsenal to someone who yells and screams at the TV if the ref makes a call against his team.  Laddies do have emotions, but they’re much less developed than women’s.  To again quote Dr. Brizendine, “Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road.”  In other words, if the ref makes a bad call or it’s the horny moment in his sex-thought cycle, no other emotion can get past his one-lane bottleneck.  Compassion?  It’ll have to wait until the road clears.  So, is the fate of the world that’s determined by a push of a button safer with a male?  If the missiles are male, maybe it isn’t such a danger.  After all, if they get lost on the way to their target, they’ll never stop and ask for directions.

R.L.:  Maybe that’s because they don’t need to ask.  According to Professor Holloway at Columbia University, men have a better sense of direction than women.  We can find what we aim for, whether it is a target or a T-shirt.  If men go shopping, we make a beeline to buy.  When women go shopping, it’s “roamin’ in the gloamin’.”  The Daily Mail newspaper reported that a woman might become bored after shopping for two hours, but it’s 26 minutes for a man.  They also reported that 58% of the men would pretend to enjoy shopping if they were offered a reward.  However, unless his lassie were having her once-a-day sex thought, no man would have much hope of that.    Plus it’s difficult for men to go shopping with women because lassies are indecisive, they have trouble making up their minds.

Kelly:  Women have trouble making up their minds?  Any woman who has sat through a New year’s Day with the TV on and her laddie with the remote control knows the meaning of indecision.  Is there a reason why he can’t settle on one game and watch it to the bitter end?  Instead he hops from the Gator Bowl to the Heart of Texas Bowl to the Capital One Bowl to the Outback Bowl to the Rose Bowl to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  Who knows who is playing who?  Is Michigan playing Wisconsin?  Is Stanford playing Baylor?  Who cares?  There might be a good movie on, but instead you sit and watch the images flicker from bowl to bowl while he eats a bowl of Tostitos as he hogs the remote.  However, there is hope.  If he drinks enough beer, he will fall asleep in his chair.  Then you can grab the remote and switch to Sleepless in Seattle.

R.L.:  Let’s finish these toasts with something we both agree on: Rabbie Burns was Scotland’s greatest poet and he loved the lassies.  It’s very appropriate that we toast the lassies in his honor.  If you took out all the love songs and poems he wrote, you’d wipe out the majority of his works.  And without “My Love Is Like a Red, Red, Rose,” any of collection romantic poetry would be sadly lacking.  Even feminists should like him.  After all, he wrote, “And even children lisp the rights of man, Amid this fuss just let me mention, The rights of women merit some attention.”  That was pretty 21st century thinking for a man writing in the late 1700’s.  At that time, the law of coverture said that a man and wife were one, with the man owning all the property and making all the legal decisions.  They couldn’t vote or hold office.  Rabbie was movie-star handsome, too.  A hunk with a heart.  Women should love Rabbie as much as he loved them.

Kelly:  You mean the Michael Douglas of bonnie, old Scotland?  Sex therapist Shelagh Neil says that “Burns could well fit the modern description of a sex addict.”  Although no one seems to be sure about how many lovers he had, we know of at least six and he only married one of them, Bonnie Jean.  He fathered at least 13 children if you count the one who died at birth along with its mother, poor Highland Mary.  And most of them were born out of wedlock.  He believed in equality for women alright: every good-looking woman should have an equal opportunity to hop into bed with him.  I’ll grant you that he wrote beautiful, romantic poems.   What better way to a woman’s heart.  And body.  Judging by the famous Alexander Nasmyth portrait, he was a sexy-looking guy.  But he wasn’t a man you’d want for a husband.  However, we do agree that he was Scotland’s greatest poet and he loved the lassies.  Just too many of them.

R.L.:  Well, it looks like we’re out of time.  And, for once, I’m getting the last word.

Kelly: You betcha!

R.L.:  Gentlemen, be upstanding for a toast to the lassies.  To the lassies!

Kelly:  Ladies, be upstanding for a toast to the laddies.  To the laddies!

Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa

If you’re looking for a commentary on the Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon movie, sorry.  This is about the Gaelic fire festival, Lughnasa.  Notice it is Gaelic, not Celtic.  Although the Gaels are Celts, not all Celts are Gaels.  The Gaels are from Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  They had four fire festivals, equidistantly spaced though the year.  There was Samhain (the new year), Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasa, which is July 31-August 1.  Lugnasa is the halfway-point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.  So get your firebrands together and light up.  Then dance around the flames.  But what’s it all mean?

Lugh (or Lu) was the Celtic god to end all gods.  When he tried to join the Tuatha Dé Danann (the pantheon of Irish gods), he had no special skill that other gods did not already represent.  However, no other god had the mastery of all the different skills that he had.  On that basis,



he was admitted and led them to victory in the Battle of Magh Tuireadh.  Lughnasa is the only one of the fire festivals named after a god.  Interesting enough, some consider him the archetype of Christ, master of all skills.

So, what does this have to do with July 31-August 1?  Well, there were the Tailteann Games,supposedly inaugurated by Lugh as funerary games for his foster mother Tailtiu.  If you know anything about Irish wakes (think Finnegan’s wake), they do like to make a grand send-off to the dead.  These games started probably in the 7th century AD (unless you’re a neo-pagan, wiccan or Celtic reconstructionist, who claim a far earlier date) and were squashed by those medieval spoil-sports, the Normans, in the 1100’s.  According to Wikipedia (the ultimate source on everything), they included the long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, sword fighting, archery, wrestling, swimming and chariot and horse racing.  For those less athletically inclined, there were competitions in singing, dancing, story-telling and crafts.  In about the 1300’s these revived as Taillten Fairs.



There is one other interesting tradition called “handfasting.”  This was sort of a trial marriage, where the couple pledged themselves to each other for a year and their hands were symbolically bound together.  If things worked out okay, the agreement could be extended.  Today, many couples observe that tradition without the extension.  It’s called “divorce” and makes many attorneys wealthy.  I’m sure they dance when the modern “handfasting” ends and they collect their payments.

So, if you don’t live in a fire-danger forest region like I do, light your bonfire and dance around as you jump up and down, throw spears, race horses and shoot arrows.  But be careful about handfasting.  It could be very costly in our modern society.

Manx Flower Festival

Annual contribution to the florists

Annual contribution to the florist’s profits.

This July, the Isle of Man held it’s annual Flower Festival.  For an idea of what one is like, click here.  Although it is a nice event, I was never a part of the decorating of the churches for the Festival.  I’m not a “flower guy.”  I have nothing against flowers.  I like flowers.  Some of my best friends are flowers.  Well, maybe that’s pushing it too far, but I do enjoy having flowers growing around the yard, as long as I don’t have to plant and care for them.  Fortunately, my wife feels much the same and the only flowers she wants from me are roses on our anniversaries.  I started by giving her one on our first anniversary, then added one rose each year thereafter.  Now that we are heading toward our forty-second anniversary, it is becoming an expensive tradition.  The local florist makes enough to pay the month’s rent when I call each December.

The rhododendrons are in bloom again,

The rhododendrons are in bloom again,

Although I am a Boomer, I’m not a “flower child.”  That is not to say I do not know a calla lily from a chrysanthemum.  Where we live, the daffodils and rhododendrons herald spring with bright blooms that I love.  I just don’t want any part of bringing them to that glorious state.  Why is it that I enjoy seeing flowers, yet have a strong loathing of digging in the dirt?  Therein lies the tale.

Tract house lot.

Our tract house back yard,                                       not long after moving in.

My mother loved flowers and my dad loved a neatly trimmed lawn.  So almost every Saturday as well as Sunday afternoon the family seemed to spend mowing, edging, weeding, trimming or fertilizing.  Not only that, many an Easter vacation and much of every summer was devoted to making our little plot of Southern California green and blooming.  Not my cup of dandelion tea.  Add to that moving into new, bare-lot tract houses when I was six and again when I was fourteen, my dislike grew stronger.  For those of you who have never had that experience, if you’re lucky, all you have to clear are weeds and do a little grading before you plant your lawn and flowers.  At worst, you start by raking out creek-bed rocks and small boulders before bringing in clean top soil.  The latter was the case for our second house.  Not fun.  To top it off, I earned money during high school by hauling off weeds and rocks for the developer from unsold houses in the tract for a summer, then provided lawn care and gardening for neighbors.  By the time I hit college, my dislike became loathing.

After I married and my wife and I moved into a house, I did keep the grass cut and trimmed.  My rough guide as to when it needed to be done was when small dogs and children got lost in our grass.  As soon as we could afford it, I hired a gardener.  I would rather work overtime on something I didn’t detest than cut another blade of grass.  Oddly enough, I started to suffer from severe hay fever when I mowed the lawn, so I now have a valid excuse.  Can hay fever be psychosomatic?  Then we moved to the Isle of Man in the British Isles, where gardening is second only to having a pint in the local pub.  Even before the pub to some, and that’s saying a lot.

Manx Flower Festival display

Manx Flower Festival display

The Isle of Man is most famous for the TT (Tourist Trophy) Races, when the northern half of the Isle is periodically shut down for a two week-long biker blow-out and motorcycle races.  The ferries are packed with Yamahas, classic Triumphs and Moto Guzzis at the onset and after the races are over.  The Prom (Promenade) along the bay is lined for two weeks with motorcycles, parked handlebar to handlebar.  But this late May to early June big biker bash is but an interlude from the real British passion: their gardens.  The churches even compete in flower arraigning for the Manx Flower Festival in July.  Any time the sun is out in spring and summer (which was spotty, at best), most Brits are out plowing, planting, and pruning.  The humblest cottage greets each spring with a profusion of colors, with annuals, biennials and perennials carefully nurtured to great beauty.  While I can appreciate their glorious display, I am not willing to pay the price.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I hired a gardener who did a fantastic job of keeping the garden looking spectacular.  He even planted herbs like cilantro, dill and basil, which helped our cooking.  But I never embraced that fine British tradition of putting on the old dungarees and puttering around in the garden.

While I was on the Isle of Man, I was in the Manx Classic Car Club, The St. Andrew’s Society of Ramsey and the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, which were in line with my interests.  If any avid gardener reading this ever moves to the Isle of Man, please join the Manx Plant and Garden Conservation Society so that they don’t think all Americans have black fingers, which is the British term for the opposite of green thumbs.

Happy 4th of July, But Now On To Tynwald Day!

Gold Country Celtic Society braves the heat on the 4th in Grass Valley.  Photo by Ed Johnson

Gold Country Celtic Society braves the heat on the 4th in Grass Valley. Photo by Ed Johnson

After doing my bit for God, country and the Celtic Society by marching in the Independence Day parade in Grass Valley this morning (thankfully finishing before the heat hit in force), I am enjoying the A/C as I write this.  I have no objective idea how well we did, but the crowd loved us.  Our bagpiper blew an almost continuous stream of tunes filling the air.  We finished at one of our member’s home, which is right at the end of the parade route.  We thankfully staggered into the shade for cold drinks, snacks and a BBQ. On the Isle of Man, however, they have not yet begun their celebration of Tynwald Day, July 5th.

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man.  The banner translates to “However you throw it, it will stand.”

I am sure many are wondering what a Tynwald is.  Well, it is (according to the Manx) the oldest, continuously operating parliament in the world.  Iceland contests this, but the Manx point out that Iceland’s had a hiatus, so it is not continuous.  It is bicameral, with a directly-elected House of Keys and an indirectly elected Legislative Council.  The real power is with the 24 MHK’s (Members of the House of Keys).  I find it interesting that Tynwald is a Norse word, reflecting Viking invasion and rule, while Man is considered Celtic and Manx is a Gaelic language.  Since this is about Tynwald Day rather than Tynwald itself, you can go to the official Manx site here for more detailed information on Tynwald and its fascinating history.

The Royal Chapel of St. John the Baptist, built in 1849 on a church site since the 1500's.

The Royal Chapel of St. John the Baptist, built in 1849 on a Manx church site since the 1500’s.

When I moved to the Isle of Man with my wife, daughter, mother-in-law, father-in-law and dog, I was aware of the structure of the Manx government and its status as a self-governing Crown Dependency.  I was not fully aware of the fierce Manx pride.  Even though at the time I lived there, the native Manx made up about 40% of the population, they were insulted if you called them British since they were never a part of the UK.  They are Manx.  The same pride is there in the tradition of Tynwald Day.  On July 5th, the Tynwald meets at St. John’s, starting with a service at the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist.  This small church cannot accommodate many, so the service is broadcasted by a PA for the crowds on the grass to hear.  And there are crowds.  When my wife and I attended and finally found a place to park, we heard the service on the PA and observed the rest of the ceremonies from the cheap seats.

Tynwald Hill with a canopy and slew of dignitaries.

Tynwald Hill with a canopy and slew of dignitaries.

After the service, a stream of dignitaries ( officers of the House of Keys, the members of the House of Keys, the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, the Speaker of the House of Keys, a messenger of the House of Keys, officers of the Legislative Council, members of the Legislative Council, the Attorney General, the Deemsters, the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the President of Tynwald, a messenger of the Legislative Council, the Sword-bearer, the Presiding Officer and the Lieutenant Governor) march along a flag-lined route the short distance to Tynwald Hill.  Now, I should mention that calling Tynwald Hill a hill is generous.  It’s more of a terraced mound.  On Tynwald Day, it’s a very crowded mound.

There is a lot of pomp and ceremony, but the most interesting part is when the two Deemsters (high judges) read a brief statement of all the acts of Tynwald for the year, first in Manx Gaelic and then in English. If this is not done within 18 months of passage, the act is invalid.  Imagine if Congress had to do that.  Or even the California legislature.  It would take days, maybe weeks.  Maybe more.  After that, a verse of the Manx national anthem, Arrane Ashoonagh dy Vannin orLand of Our Birth, is sung and Tynwald retires to the chapel.  Everyone else goes to the adjacent fair and market for a little fun.  There are crafts and food to purchase, activities for the kids and a feeling of camaraderie, celebrating the uniqueness of Man.  That night, the national anthem is again sung and there are fireworks.  Sound familiar?  So, if, you’re reading this on July 5th, sing a verse of Arrane Ashoonagh dy Vannin in honor of the Manx, a proud people with a great heritage.  Click here for the words in both Manx and English.