It’s hard to believe the amount of stuff we have crammed into the last four days; the amount of playing we have done, the amount of laughing, the amount of beer as food. I have not heard a cross word and although nerves are beginning to fray, civility and merciless slagging will see us through.
After the usual forty winks we are down the road for breakfast, I would now kill for the smell of bacon. We loaded all the instruments on the bus before breakfast and there is bus demarcation today so our drums end up at the right place. At 9am we head off we know not where, through picturesque hamlets and rural towns. James the Hat says we are off to Corbie but we end up on a windswept hillside beside the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. This is an imposing monument on the walls of which the names of 11,000 missing Australian soldiers are inscribed. Peter forms the massed band and we march the length of the cemetery playing. After a lament we countermarch and play back to the stairs and the view opens out and then out some more. It is plain to see why the Germans dug their defences here, the land drops away and you can see for miles.
We are now bussed to Corbie, a gorgeous town and we form a huge circle on the Place, we are such old hands at this that it’s a complete jumble of pipers; a couple of us, a couple of Germans, a sprinkle of French and Englishmen all playing our massed band repertoire.
The Green Hill set, Scotland the what and Rowan Tree, 100 Pipers, Highland Cathedral (ABA ABA), Battle of the Somme, Flower of Scotland, Amazing Grace and Cock o the North. To get a flavour, play one of these over and over while marching 200m over and over.
The command to about face causes the usual anxiety as we play Cock o the North over and over standing eyeball to eyeball with the audience. The Australian consul is here and seems to be enjoying herself. When we finish playing the local kids swarm over our drums and we head for refreshment. Iain Ringwood is telling the consul that he has an Aussie in his band and then summoned him, “SKIPPY”; she grinned, James the Hat snorted into his beer and I nearly split the buckles on my kilt laughing.
Wise heads buy food, I’m not sure but I think Derek found a Greggs before the bus drivers, acutely aware of the time restraints of the day, bustle us back onboard and we’re off again back out into the Picardy countryside and to the top of another windy memorial crowned hill. We are at Le Hamel, where the Red Baron was shot down. The Australian Corps Memorial is a line of flags on the ridge line, Peter forms us into a loose band as the path is very narrow and covered in obstacles. We arrive like a carnival; martial music and flags flying, before Brian restores the solemnity with Flowers of the Forest and we countermarch and head back along the path through the wheat field. The village is 200m down the hill so off we trot and before long we’re playing The Heilan Grannie and really stepping out. At the village hall Peter dismisses us and many head for the bus to change into travelling clothes, drums are packed and we head over for a marvelous hog roast with delicious wine and even though Melissa spills most of it the coffee is good too.
I took great delight in dropping my wrecked brogues in the bin.
We present gifts and swap shirts and I get James the Hat a copy of the Jocks CD for his birthday, ask him for a listen. Thank you to the Mairie and the people of Le Hamel for looking after us so royally.
Ladies and Gentlemen we are exhausted, the trip to the airport is a quiet affair, some fall asleep, others have a dazed look. When we get inside CDG and have had our legs rubbed and passports scrutinised the kids stampede for McDonalds. You have never seen nuggets move so fast. There were no dramas other than the smashed bottle of booze and Cankles Watson and the Hat turning up late at Glasgow passport control due to sleeping on the plane.
The 200metre running gag is a reference to P/M St Luke’s reply to every question on distances, “Deux cents mètres.” Thank you Ringwood and Clan Pipers, thank you Le Jocks, thank you Peter McNamee, thanks to our French helpers and bus drivers and everyone who came along and put up with our antics.
Paisley on Saturday.