The watching of weather apps on phones becomes compulsive on the run up to a Highland Games and the forecast for Sunday the wetth of June wasn’t looking good but as the week drove on the expected gloom stayed in England. There was a lot of searching for capes and general resignation of damp to follow.
To get in the correct frame of mind James the Hat and I journeyed to the Big Smoke for the Scottish Piper’s Knock Out (2nd heat), an administrative error had rendered this a ‘dry’ event which suited me (designated driver) but had the Hat worried. Needlessly as it transpired as refreshments had been provided. The piping was sublime with Callum Beaumont narrowly beating Cameron MacDougall and James the Hat beating me 3 haufs to a cup of tea.
Next day hazel Tenor and myself headed to Ardrossan early to help with the setting up, get a car parking space and bag a few cakes from the tea room and as we stood about moaning about it being the same people who set up every time the whole band arrived and set up. Gas. At a peep.
Pipey had a plan. It didn’t involve me so I went to the tea room for a chai latte and a delicious Ardrossan Academy Home Economics brownie. Back at the ranch the alchemy had been performed and the guys sounded excellent, I’d bolted over to the arena to scope out the competition, Strathendrick would take some beating and Troon Black Rock gave a sound performance. Something in the weather was causing havoc with drones and many pipers who’d been happily banging them in all morning found they wouldn’t work on the first strike or even the second or third. An unnamed ex fireman in our ranks suffered it in the Grade 4, Wee Mel had an issue later and yours truly succumbed in the Open. Not even the Tranquility Bananas could cure it. Of the four times we played we had one clean start.
That was Pipey’s plan, to play in everything, if there had been a Merry-Go-Round we’d have been standing in the middle accompanying the barrel organ. This comes at a price as the notoriously fickle great highland bagpipe doesn’t like the damp, which is weird considering where it’s from. Many players dropped out citing technical issues then stood about drinking cider while the rest toiled on. I would like to state now that I played in the Grade 3 and Open competitions, the first in two years, and only made a hash of one of them. Progress.
James the Hat is now an official band legend having played all three types of drum; bass, snare and now tenor, in competition. Congratulations on your indomitable drive to make a racket. The saddest part of the day was when we’d played in Grade 3 and I had put down my pipes and was heading to the beer tent.
Me: “I say James old bean, why don’t we head over to the refreshment booth and have a jolly old beer?”
Pipey: “Wherur you goin?”
Me: “??Beer Tent??”
Pipey: “Pipes up, your playin in the Open.”
“But I’ve earned a beer.” I wailed to no avail. Later, after the performance I snuck off to the beer tent while they took the Event Shelters down.
Drum Majors are drawn to pipe bands like bees to honey and we attracted two as we schlepped into the March Past. It’s always a fraught time when the command, “Eyes Left” is bellowed, I’m afraid to look in case the Duke is waving at the Chieftain again.
The last act of the day is the prize giving, the bands stand about clapping politely while the dancers, wee and big, collect their prizes and big men throw big stones and big dods of wood about behind us. Small band members are schooled on saluting and prize collecting. As the prizes start to arrive Pipey’s head appears too small to contain his grin, a third, a fourth, two best corp of drums and first in MSR. *punches air, does daft wee jig*
Had it not been a school night a party to make the gods of Valhalla jealous would have ensued but as it was we motored home for another week of early nights and practice. The next band outing is the Bonnet Parade in Stewarton, a three day test of stamina.