When the PM phoned me I was in fine trim, I had 3 days sightseeing on Lewis after a project was cancelled and therefore was full of the milk of human kindness. “Can I make Bridge of Allan? Of course.” There was a shortage of pipers for this competition so I was the 6th piper. When competing there are rules, many and varied. A pipe band must have a minimum of 6 pipers and 2 drummers so my attendance was crucial. Sunday, however, dawned wet and windy in my house. I seemed to have fallen foul of a gastrointestinal horror that knocked me for six. But, sixth piper. This didn’t seem to matter on the Sunday morning as we headed out without Lorna or The Birler. They arrived just in time and after a shuddering halt they joined us on our 33 seat palace of transport. I don’t usually pay attention to the transport because a bus is a bus is a bus but I was sat at the front and could see the dashboard leaping about and hear the creaks. Small holes in the road resulted in thunderous crashes and small lumps caused the bus to leap about alarmingly. It was a nice bus, very tasteful, just the right size but a bit boisterous. The drive to Bridge of Allan passes through the beautiful Stirlingshire countryside and the weather looked pretty good, sunshine and big blue patches with any clouds very high and not at all threatening. The forecast was bleak, if we were lucky we’d get soaked, unlucky we’d be lightning strike statistics. However the rain was a distant thought as we drove through the town, very pretty. Lots of trees. I had a feeling we might be doing some arboreal tuning at some point in the day. We only got a wee bit lost but have TomTom to thank for that, when are they going to bring out a Pipe Band Competition Grounds Edition? There are oodles of Bi-Laws governing public parks and Sundays so it’s best not to make a noise in them ’til after 10, although it is impossible to stop a drummer hitting his drum once it’s out of the bag, we could have used this in mitigation had we been prosecuted. Due to the lack of bods we decided to use the bus as a base from which to operate and the usual hanging about jawing began.
With the sun streaming down and other bands starting to arrive we decide to tune up. When not being played the Great Highland Bagpipe chanter is removed from the body of the beast and a Reed Protector is fitted, to protect the reed, duh! While removing said protector I dropped my chanter, Doh! Took a big chip out of the reed I’d been harbouring and nurturing for weeks, the one Brian said was too easy (what does he know?) and had wanted to change weeks ago. This meant a new reed, oh horrors! I was still feeling pretty ill and the thought of major exertions didn’t appeal. Once the other guys were tuned up the merry dance of matching reed to piper began; too hard, too easy, squeeze it, open it up, push it in. The problem wasn’t the chanter it was the piper. I was sick and have never been so happy to see Davey the Saviour walk into the circle and strike up. I resigned on the spot. But there appears to be trouble with the drummers, both McKays seem to be playing bass. The top ring on Stoo’s drum has burst, that’s the 3rd one to pop and Big Stewart is probably working faster than any of his workmates could believe possible but to no avail. The drum is goosed. Fair play to Oban High School who loaned us a drum and harness just before we marched on (I’m using the royal We here). There was a good tight sound in the final tuning area and the sun was splitting the trees as we marched into the arena. In my haste to get a good vantage point for videoing I missed the attack. They sounded good to me.
The stalls in the park were awesome. The usual guys were there with Angus burgers and Lattes but there was an outdoor smokehouse courtesy of Spinks and free whisky tasting, Deanston I believe Mr Hat, if I hadn’t been operating a Nil By Mouth policy at this time I’d have been in hog heaven. While the Pipey went to do that for which he is most famous I held his pipes and together with Davey the Saviour and Birler Bill we were photographed by umpteen beautiful foreigners. Zoolander in kilts. Tartan Steel.
A pleasant time was had listening to the bands on after us, it’s always good to scope the competition but the rain is threatening and there is a sweet shop next to the bus. Big Stewart has returned in a stetson, Brian offers him a sweetie, “No thanks, I’m watching what I’m eating.” Stoo then approaches proffering sweeties, “Thanks!” Purdy shouts, “Well done Big Man that was 4 minutes!” Back on the bus the conversation has turned to Cowal and what we should wear doon the street. Mankinis have been ruled out thankfully.
The work of the day isn’t over and we still have to play in Grade 3 but one of the many and varied rules means that we have to play an MSR and as we haven’t practiced let alone perfected the MSR set we might have to withdraw. Neil wants to give it a go, Isy says she can’t play the last tune and Neil calls her, “Shandypants.” A new term of endearment is born. The compromise reached with the RSPBA sees us playing a 2/4 set and getting judged but not being placed which isn’t ideal but lets the guys play again. After the Grade 3 contest (I held the capes) we watched the higher grades play and we watched the athletics. Bridge of Allan take their athletics seriously, we watched the 100m dash; under the rope and into the bleachers, the 3K cycle race, juveniles running at all distances and of course the Highland wrestling and the Heavies. All this is going on while pipe bands play, dancers dance and Drum Majors polish their buttons. There is only one Grade 1 band present, Denny and Dunipace Gleneagles, and they sound amazing in the final tuning area. In the circle I have no idea how they sounded as the tannoy decided to give us Alan Partridge meets Neil Oliver right over the top of them. Now I like Neil Oliver, he turns my sister into a gibbering mess, but I wanted to hear the band and then Neil could have told us his tales at the Chieftains speech. Just a small niggle in an otherwise perfectly arranged day. Back on the bus it’s decided Purdy looks even dafter in Big Stewarts stetson than Big Stewart.
We have a treat in store, there is to be a massed band entry into the arena for the march past. We are massed band novices, our only experience being Arran and there are only four bands there. We end up scattered the length and breadth of the bands present and then the rain came on and Neil Oliver was entertaining and gracious but thankfully brief. Periodically there is a gunshot and groups of runners zoom round the track. Well done everyone who won a prize. We had a good day out, a bit disappointed with the result as the quiet on the pogobus home told. The next outing is Arran where we have never lost a piper/drummer.