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Charles Kennedy, unruly tents and cupcakes

Charles Kennedy, unruly tents and cupcakes all come together at the Mallaig and Morar Highland Games 2013

July and August seems to be the peak period for Highland Games and Agricultural Shows and so it follows that it is a busy time for Yes campaigners. A quick glance at the burgeoning Yes Scotland events listing showed Yes Lochaber weren't the only campaigners doing the rounds of shows and games. My event for the day was going to be the Mallaig and Morar Highland Games. First thing to do was collect a colleague and then drive along the wonderfully pictureque A830 towards Morar passing through Glenfinnan, Lochailort, and Arisaig. This was certainly a nice way to start the day. We arrived at The Lovat Memorial Field in Morar in good time to set up which was just as well as neither of us had seen let alone used the gazebo tent (or mini marquee) before today.Mallaig and Morar Highland Games

After a few minutes of walking around the field I managed to locate one of the organisers to ask where we should pitch our tent. "Just over there next to the yellow tent" he said pointing to the far end of the field. As I walked across the field to inspect the location I noticed the very large union flag at the back of the yellow tent. This might turn out to be an even more interesting day than I imagined. However, as I got closer I realised my initial assumptions were wrong and the yellow tent belonged to the local representatives of The Royal British Legion Scotland. When we got talking to the RBLS volunteers they explained to us that their organisation was created before the similar named charity for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Which just goes to prove that every day is a school day. Just a few minutes later a lady arrived with, I presumed, her two daughters and a car full of cupcakes[1].  The cupcake lady was going to be our neighbour on the other side.

So, now the moment of truth; we unpacked our previously unseen gazebo. It all looked straightforward as there was the usual guy ropes, tent pegs, poles and canvas. My Scout training came flooding back to me even though the motto, "Be prepared" had been carelessly discarded. There didn't seem to be any instructions but surely we could just reconstruct it from the picture on the front of the box? We set to work and we made steady progress particularly as we had soon realised that all the poles were different sizes meaning they was really only one way they could fit together. We soon encountered our first problem when we discovered that one corner of the frame had a damaged pole which meant it wouldn't stay clipped together. Never mind the other three corners would hold and we could tie them down using the guy ropes. This is when we discovered the next problem. Inside my toolbox there were enough tools to repair an ocean liner, maintain a fleet of jumbo jets or even strip down a Swiss watch but the one thing missing was a mallet or hammer. Baden Powell was probably birling already. Luckily the weights we use as ballast for our leaflet table assumed the mallet role nicely.

The fates didn't wait long to reveal the next problem, there weren't enough tent pegs in the box. What began as a real life version of The Krypton Factor soon turned into a different type of television programme. The cupcake lady and daughters started playing a selection of country dance tunes from the car to lighten the mood as they erected their tent. However, as our broken corner meant our frame repeatedly fell down the background music gave the whole enterprise the feel of a sketch from The Benny Hill Show. Our pride took another blow when we realised that the cupcake lady had already completed the construction of her almost identical tent as we were still struggling with the canvas cover.

In the end with a little help from our RBLS friends holding the errant corner in place we managed to get the tent up and fastened in place. We just needed to put the banners up and the leaflets out and we would be ready to do our duty. In no time at all we heard the Lochaber Schools Pipe band starting up which was the signal that the parade was about to begin. Leading the parade was this year's Chieftain of the Games Charles Kennedy MP. The parade follows a circuit of the field and finishes at the small stage with the loud speaker system where the Chieftain opens the games with some well chosen words. This meant that the honourable member had to walk right past our little tent with the big Yes banners, carefully placed Yes boards and volunteers in their bright blue Hi Viz Yes vests. Now, I am not saying that Mr. Kennedy avoided looking at us as he marched past but it did seem strange that as he drew level with us he suddenly found something very interesting over his left shoulder (which was the empty middle of the field).

Yes Lochaber at Mallaig and Morar Games 2013
The set up team before the other volunteers arrive and the punters are allowed in

Later in the day Mr. Kennedy did a reverse circuit around the field and did stop at our tent to have a chat with two of my colleagues. I was busy talking to another couple and by the time I had finished Mr. Kennedy had left. I'm sure I will get another opportunity to get the former LibDem leader's signature on my Yes Declaration sheet. However, it wasn't the only signing opportunity I missed on the day. When standing at a busy Yes stall you often have split seconds to decide whether to approach this person or that. Once your decision is made the opportunity to approach the other person is inevitably gone. On this occasion there was a young man dressed in a smart tweed sports jacket with pastel coloured trousers hand-in-hand with a toddler. The man was also pushing a small buggy although from his attire a broached shotgun over his arm wouldn't have looked out of place. Coming from the opposite direction was what looked like mother and father with two teenage children. I plumped for the group of four. It turned out they were a family from Alloa who came up to Lochaber every year for their holidays. It was a nice coincidence because last year my holiday included visiting the towns and villages of Hillfoots and nearby Alloa. On my day in Alloa one of the places I visited was Alloa Tower and it turned out the family lived just a few doors away. The Alloa family were also very keen Yes supporters, which was great as it gave me the opportunity to give them a leaflet about this year's Independence March and Rally in Edinburgh.

Later in the day I saw the man with the tweed sports jacket again but this time there was a large union flag fluttering from the handles of his pushchair. Oh well, I don't think he was any more likely to sign the declaration than Mr Kennedy.

On a busy campaigning day like this I find the time just flies by. I get so wrapped up in collecting signatures, chatting to people and handing out leaflets that the passage of time isn't noticed. Of course, this also means that you completely miss any of the entertainments going on around you. I would occassionaly see a hammer arc above the heads of the crowds in front of us before landing with a thud in the soft field with the strains of the piobaireachd competition in the background. Otherwise I didn't see anything. I'll be back next year but still campaigning so seeing the games will have to wait until 2015. One thing I didn't miss was one of our lady volunters being chatted up by a member of the public. I was thinking he was really interested in the future of the monarchy, Trident negotiations and currency union but it was actually Friday night on his mind.

Before packing up and going home there was just one unresolved matter. I needed to try one of the vanilla and chocolate cupcakes and very nice it was too!




[1]  At the time I thought cupcakes must be a term imported from the USA as I would have described the little cakes as fairy cakes. Checking later I found that Wikipedia agreed with me.

Stewart Connor
Stewart Connor says:
2013-08-10 00:13
Yours for a Free Scotland
Alistair Scoular            Lochaline
Alistair Scoular Lochaline says:
2013-08-11 18:10

Nice bit of writing Stewart. Keep up the good work--will probably meet you at the Lochaber Show on the
Iain Mac Donald
Iain Mac Donald says:
2013-08-11 19:38
I'm glad you liked the blog entry about Mallaig & Morar but it wasn't written by Stewart! An entry about Saturday's Sunart Agricultural Show will be coming soon. Yes Lochaber will have a stall at the Lochaber Agricultural Show so come over and say hello.
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