Saturday, November 22, 2014


I have wanted to have my very own kilt for almost twenty years.  I would wear it with style and grace to all special occasions, and I definitely have the legs to pull it off.  But it has been an unfulfilled dream of mine, ever since I started visiting Scotland back in the early 90s.

I am a member of the Baltimore/Annapolis Hash House Harriers.  My hash name is "May'Oral Fixation" and I have a sport kilt adorned with the "Hunting Hasher" tartan that I have been wearing proudly after our Sunday hashes for the past few years.  But that's not the same thing.


When I say that I have dreamed of owning a kilt, I mean a formal kilt with all of the bells and whistles  hose and garters, flashes, black Brogues, sporran, dress shirt and bow tie, formal Prince Charlie jacket, and all of the accompanying jewelry, including the Sgian Dubh dagger.  I knew that such an ensemble would end up costing well over a thousand dollars and that always seemed a bit frivolous.

But when Inna and I attended the Maslenitsa Mardis Gras celebration at the Russian Embassy last year, and I saw all the dignitaries in their colorful native dress, I decided that the time was right.  I could now afford such a purchase and we were planning on a summer trip to Scotland.  So I promised myself then and there, that next year, if we are invited again, I would be styling with my Russian friends in my kilt.

Buying a kilt requires a lot of thought.  But I was lucky.  My family name on my father's side is Kerr and the Kerrs hail from Scotland. 

There are several stories that go with the name.  The one that has stuck over time is that it originally came from the Norse word "kjerr", which meant that we were bog people  up to our asses in mud.  But some folks claim that it comes from the Gaelic word "caerr" meaning left, because my clansmen were predominantly left handed.  The Scots call left handers "Kerr-fisted". 

I am left-handed and my father was left-handed.  When I was growing up, my dad always used the phrase "cori-fisted" to describe a lefty, but I never knew the word's origin until now.

Whatever the actual meaning of the name, it first appears in the historical record in 1190, when a Johannes Kerr bought some land near the town of Peebles, about twenty miles due south of Edinburgh.  The Kerrs were a powerful clan in the Borders, a violent region in southern Scotland where wars and blood feuds raged for hundreds of years without a break.  And the Kerrs were always right in the thick of the fighting.


That probably goes a long way toward explaining my general nature.  I have always been a wee bit confrontational, if you will.

I was actually surprised to find out that the Kerrs were a major clan.  I had never heard them mentioned when I read about Scottish history, so I assumed they were what some refer to as a "minor clan".  And I think I now know why the Kerrs have been given short shrift.  In the deciding Battle of Culodden, when the English finally vanquished the Scottish menace once and for all, the Kerrs fought against their countrymen on the side of the brutal Duke of Cumberland.   But regardless of allegiances, the Kerrs played a major role in the evolution of Scotland.  And Kerrs filled the ranks of Dukes and Earls, Admirals, Judges, Sheriffs, and artists.  The Marquess of Lothian is recognized today as Chief of the Clan Kerr.

Our clan crest features a smiling sun and our somewhat curious motto is,  Sero Sed Serio  which means "Late but in earnest".

For me, the biggest problem with the Kerr Clan is that their tartan looks like, in the words of my lovely wife Inna, "Christmas"  all dark greens and reds.  There are tartans that are definitely much worse, but it really didn't ring my bell.
And you can't just pick a tartan you like because you would be wearing the colors of another family, which is stupid and disrespectful.  It would be like being a Baltimore Ravens fan and wearing a Jacksonville Jaguars jersey because you think it looks cool.  You could get into some serious trouble that way.

Luckily, my dilemma had been solved about ten years ago when Scotland held a national tartan contest and the tartan from the
Isle of Skye was selected as the winner.  It is soft grey with
green and red  accents in a field of purple heather, and unaffiliated with any clan, so as not to offend.

I had originally planned on buying my kilt at one of the old kilt makers in Glasgow.  I love Glasgow, and that was reason enough.  But when we walked up into the old city of Edinburgh and headed toward Edinburgh Castle along the Royal Mile, it was the second day of the month-long Fringe Festival and all hell was breaking loose.  There were Maori singers on the corner of Bank Street, surrounded by drummers, cloggers, chanters, ravers, jugglers, fools, and you couldn't swing a cat without hitting a bagpiper.  It was a total zoo, and the Royal Mile was wall-to-wall tourons on parade.

I'm not good with crowds so I immediately started looking for a port in the storm.  My eyes were drawn to several kilt maker shops lining the insanely-crowded main drag.  They each had mannequins dressed in full kilt regalia, and the one in the Marchbrae window was wearing the Isle of Skye tartan.

I turned to Inna, "That's where I'm going to get my kilt." 
Inna and I stood staring at the kilted figure in the window as a human wave moved up the street, heading for the evening Tattoo (drum and bagpipe laser light show) at the castle. 

"It's lovely," said Inna.

And in we went.
The salesperson was a friendly young Scott from Glasgow named Chris and his eyes lit up when I told him I wanted to purchase an entire kilt outfit.  Kaching!

For the next hour, I had many, many decisions to make:
Which cuff links?
What color shirt?
What kind of collar on the shirt?
Bow tie or straight?
What design for the stick pin and the dagger?
The type of shoes?
Standard belt?
How about the belt buckle?
What color socks?
Leather or fur sporran? 


They had cases filled with kilt-related treasures.  And my head was soon spinning.
I decided to go with a Celtic theme for all of the jewelry, so every item I selected featured a Celtic knot of some sort.

Inna came back in the store after a foray outside to snap some pictures of the craziness going on in the street and when she saw what I was up to, she asked Chris, "Don't you have matching collections for all these different jewelry items, rather than having to mix and match similar pieces?"

Chris nodded and smiled, and then steered us to a large display case filled with fancy boxes containing matched sets of cuff links, stick pins, and daggers.  And there were several with Celtic designs.

This is why a man should never, ever shop for anything formal or expensive without the help of a trusted lady.

After an hour, we had made all of our selections and it was time to start measuring me for each item of clothing.
I'm not a shopper, and the last time I spent an hour getting fitted for clothes was at Hamburgers in Baltimore with my mother when I was about ten years old.  The kilt magic was definitely wearing off and I was losing my patience.

Chris sensed that he was losing me and pointed at his watch.  "Why don't you and your wife take a break, lad.  Go have a pint and get something to eat.  We're open until ten tonight.  So, after you get your second wind, come back and we will measure you for your kilt and jacket."

And that's exactly what we did.  We crossed the swarming Royal Mile and walked down Upper Bow to the curvy Victoria Street where we found a very nice balcony restaurant called Maxies with outdoor tables overlooking the historic Cowgate Market.  And after a few pints of cider and some tasty fish and chips, we returned to Marchbrae's for round two of "Steve Buys A Kilt".

A kilt is personalized piece of clothing made specifically for the owner.  So I first had to don a kilt they had on the rack that generally fit me and determine where the kilt would ride on my rather substantial belly, which would then establish the measurement to where the kilt would ride just above my knees, which in turn would determine the length of the Prince Charlie jacket.  And we didn't want to screw it up because everything would be hand made specifically for me and it was unlikely that I would be coming back to Edinburgh any time soon.  Chris was meticulous in taking his measurements and the whole thing seemed to take forever.

Inna was clearly losing patience and it had started to lightly rain outside.  It was cider thirty.  And we still had to walk the rest of the Royal Mile, down to Hollyroodhouse, the Queen's summer residence, across from Scotland's new and spacy Parliament complex.

By 9 o'clock I had chosen every piece clothing and jewelry imagineable, been prodded and measured, and it was time to pay the bill.  

Chris started sounding like a car salesmen at that point, "We're going to give you an end of summer discount of 60 pounds which we can apply to the VAT tax, which will save you 10 pounds.  And then there's the shipping costs which will run you 80 pounds.  So you will end up saving

I didn't care.

"Chris, here's my credit card.  You have been incredibly patient and helpful.  You have answered all of our questions and accommodated our every request.  But now it's time to celebrate with my wife and we need to depart."

Chris nodded, "Understood, Mr. Carr."

"So, when can I expect to find my kilt package on my doorstep in Annapolis?" I asked.

Chris scratched his chin thoughtfully.  "Well, that's hard to say, sir.  This isn't the busy season for kilts, so our tailors should be able to get to your order pretty quickly if this were the Christmas holiday season it could take months.  I'd say your kilt should arrive in Maryland in six to eight weeks."

"Most excellent," I replied.

We exchanged business cards, and then Inna and I headed west down the Royal Mile, past stunning buildings and the incredible Fringe Festival mayhem. 

By ten, we were finally at the west end of the Royal Mile.  There were no more crowds and the sun was setting beneath the grey clouds over the dark Salisbury Crags, a volcanic sill to the north of town.  The beige stone of the Queen's Palace shone scarlet in the cathedral light and a rainbow suddenly appeared.

"It's all like a dream," I said to Inna as we embraced by the ornate Hollyrood Gates.

"I can't wait to see you in your kilt," smiled Inna.

And exactly 90 days later, I returned from work and found that my dream had finally come true.

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