The only person with an excuse for not knowing that we were going to France is Tim Peake and he’s been in orbit. This has been a long time in the planning and special thanks are due those who organised it. This band is fortunate to have some of the most able women I know of in the Unelected Social Committee, they have worked wonders in organising and financing this trip and while the men of the band are usually only there to carry heavy loads and kill spiders we owe a huge debt to Derek, James and Bruno Lowitt for organising the continental side of the affair. From everyone who was there I want to say, “Je vous remercie.” (Brace yourselves for lots of bad French)
We met at the airport at 8:30 and everyone is in high spirits although Abbi is looking a bit worried at announcing she has forgotten her passport. The nice lady at Check In announces a one hour delay in our flight, an inauspicious start, and the soon to be well oil machine that is Kilbarchan Pipe Band heads through security where everyone in a kilt gets their legs rubbed before being escorted to the bar. The sort of excitement that can only be cured by lager is starting to set in and a few medicinal pints are distributed.
The prize for lateness goes to the Matriarchs who managed to get lost on the 200 metres to the departure gate and were spotted having a wee rest on a bench as the plane loaded. Once aboard by the way we asked Clock to ask the Airwife if we could have some pipe music by the way of an interlude but she demurred to the pilot who wasnae having it. In order to bear this crushing rejection we ordered a huge in-flight round of drinks. No sooner had the tonic been added and we were on decent to Charles De Gaulle and our busman’s holiday proper had begun.
St Simeon must have been looking after us as we wandered off the plane and straight onto our coach, nearly. We arrived more or less together and never lost anyone. Let me tell you about the bus; it was a big metal box with wheels and windows, very new, very swish. None of us were permitted near the driver as he had to breathalyse himself before departure, he glided us with practiced ease the 200m to Albert in just over 90 minutes. The coach was an excited rabble until we reached the Somme battlefields and the neat cemeteries with their rows of white headstones began to appear beside the road and perched on hillsides; there was a hush broken only by youngsters asking whispered questions, eyes round.
We were staying at the Lycée Lamarck, a huge school complex; in my head it was dark when we arrived, marched up the path crushing cherry seeds underfoot. This gives a measure of the accuracy of this account as it was mid-day. We were staying on ‘E’ wing and the first shock was the lack of gender segregation regarding toilets, washrooms, showers etc. Young women howled. There were no doors on the rooms, just a curtain, and we were six to a room in double bunks, if I worked hard at it I could be the Fat Owl of the Remove by Sunday.
We scarcely had time to stow our gear, send out for pillows, go to the pub, order a carry out and change into leisure wear before Pipey is shouting about getting tuned up and he only gets a few chanters tweaked before we are shoo’d down the road to the local school dinner hall for a slap up dinner of le poulet et croistilles. Here we meet our fellow travellers; Clan Pipers from Frankfurt and Ringwood PB.
Deux cents mètres down the road is the railway station where we form a motley circle, words are shouted in french and everyone looks at the Medic, now Wee Peter makes his presence felt. He is the much respected Peter McNamee and he is Drum Major and he takes charge. Pipe bands work best when being shouted at.
Between them the gaffers work out a plan and Wee Peter shouts us up the road to the Basilica then more up the road to the Place de Maree then we slope off to Aux 3 Pigeons for a well earned drink. Many drinks later we wander home and an impromptu pajama party gets under way. I think it went on til thon time and then we took Malcolm to his bed 4 times but he returned to the common room and was eventually found sleeping in the toilet. A cracking night to end an eventful day.
Tomorrow we have the morning off.