Travel Writers: The Tartan Traveller

It looked like the rosy introduction I’d hoped for in Sydney was not happening. But I was confident things would turn around. After all, my Modern Douglas kilt – the most essential part of any Scotsman’s travel pack, a garment with a real James Bond-Austin Powers charm to it – would soon be arriving. It was still in the process of being made by Geoffrey Tailors in Edinburgh, while my large, hairy sporran, and super-cool Bonnie Prince Charlie had been lugged across three continents with me. I had big plans to wear my latest fashion accessory to the pub in support of Scotland in their Rugby World Cup clash against New Zealand.

It was late in the evening in Jill’s unit when the phone rang.

“Mr. Bell, please?”
“G’day, mate. What can I do you for?”
“I’m calling from Australian Customs. We’re withholding a parcel addressed to you.”

Oh, God. My Thailand visa application from the plane had fallen into the wrong hands, and I was now ensnared in a flaky drug-smuggling plot…

“I think it’s a kilt…yeah,” said the customs man. “It’s been shipped from the UK, and we’ve got reason to believe you’re gonna sell it. Ya gotta pay a third of the value – that’s roughly a hundred and forty dollars – or ya gotta get a letter from an organisation in the UK, proving you’re part of that organisation, and that ya need yer traditional dress for a performance out here.””This is crazy. It’s made to my measurements. And it’s not as if I’m part of some Highland dance troupe.”
“Sorry, mate. I’ve just been told to call ya.”
“How long will you hold it for?”
“Eight weeks – then we’ll return it to the sender.”
“And they’ll have to prove they’re not going to sell it and so on. Oh, bollocks…Right, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

It seemed ludicrous to impound a kilt. I thought they only did that to asylum seekers. The rugby was in two days. Was I supposed to go to the pub with just my sporran to protect my manhood? I phoned my parents, who found the news funny.

The next day I had another call. This time it was journalist Frank Hurley, tipped off by my parents.

“So what’s going on?” asked Frank.

I recounted the details, realising that if I could spark a storm of controversy in the papers, the culture-suppressing customs might release my kilt.

Jill wasn’t happy. “It’s against Australia.”

Three days later, my parents called me again. “Angus. You’re in the newspapers.”
“You’re not gonna believe this. Page 3, The Sun. You’re a local hero!” With a far-from-fetching schoolboy photo, submitted by my parents, I was the one in the skirt, the third tit in the picture. It was spread across Britain – me, in the old kilt, next to the pneumatic ‘Emma, aged 22, from South End’.

I believe they actually had to shrink her photo to fit me in. If I’d known it was going to appear in The Sun, I’d have launched an appeal – “Tartan Tax – Pledge Your Money to Save Scotsman’s Kilt”.

My friends were busy phoning each other back home. “There’s someone you know on Page 3!”
“Let’s see…Emma, aged twenty-two, from South End…I don’t know her. What are you on ab… Oh. My. God. How the hell did he get there?”

To be honest, despite the many handshakes in Manly’s pubs, I regard the issue as one of great embarrassment. Worse, the kilt was still impounded and Scotland was out of the World Cup. Customs were staunchly refusing to budge in the face of the damning publicity, and by the week’s end I’d paid the $140. On reflection, though, any sum of money is worth paying if it means you can wear your kilt. To a Scotsman, a kilt is more than purely functional – it is a deep source of amusement, and something that causes even men to shake with admiration. Just like Emma from South End.

Text © Angus Bell, All Rights Reserved

This is an extract from “Down and Out Down Under”, the new novel by Angus Bell. Check out for the latest crazy articles, stories and photos from Angus’s world travels.