Sunday, 12 September 2010
I am well aware that the bagpipes are not everyone's ideal sound. Firstly, they are preposterously loud, particularly if you are in the same room(there are rumours that they can be heard 10 miles away). In the past, many a Christmas dinner Chez Nous has been enlivened by a set of bagpipes, and there is no pretending they are quiet. ....glasses shatter, small children cry, dogs whimper, cats howl, old ladies block their ears before bolting for the nearest exit. It's a jolly good way to clear a room, but it's fair to say, the pipes are not exactly 'easy listenin'.
But oh, how they make my heart ache...your ears, my heart. I have to admit, I cannot listen to one note on the pipes without my spine tingling, and before long, there's a glistening about the eyes. The skirl o' the pipes must be one of the most atmospheric sounds there is, a sound which lies very close to the soul of this nation. Wherever I am in the world, the slightest hint of the pipes is the fastest route back home, enough to induce instant projectile weeping and a ridiculously self-indulgent longing for the mountains and glens of one's childhood. You'd think I might grow out of this kind of thing, but no...it's becoming worse with age. In a decade or so I'll be a jibbering emotional wreck if I go on like this. It really is verging on the pathetic.
It's odd that bagpipes are so peculiarly Scottish nowadays. After all, a form of the instrument is mentioned in the Bible, and it is almost certain that they were played in Ancient Egypt. Many countries had some form of bagpipes at one time, but today, if you think of the pipes, it's almost impossible to think of any nation other than Scotland. While many countries were becoming less and less interested in the instrument, it seemed to suit the culture of the Highlands. The pipes were spectacular for playing outside, so useful for weddings, funerals, Highland games, processions and battlefields (they still play a significant role in theatres of war today). At one time, a Highland piper was a person of immense esteem, and in battle, if he could play well, nothing else was required of him.
Nowadays, you might think all this piping nonsense is just an act, a piece of kitsch cow-towing to the tourist market...really, in 2010, what is the point of dressing up like something off a short-bread tin and parading about in the cold?
You might also think piping was going out of fashion, that the younger generation are not particularly interested in this most ancient of sounds. After all, it looks like the most appalling effort to have to get a note out of the things...why bovver?
I can assure you, there is no cow-towing, and there's plenty of keen young lungs being puffed up to deliver a decent 'skirl'. A set of bagpipes is a seriously cool piece of kit round here, and nobody messes with the piper, wherever he, or she, may pipe. And check out the clothes? The togs are a total groove...only a wimp would miss out on the chance to put that lot on.
Since our return to this fair land, you wouldn't believe the number of times my shell-likes have been treated to a quick blast from someone's pipes. I hadn't realized they were so prevalent, nor that I had missed them so intensely while abroad....they are everywhere, from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, to the Kirk door, to the village hall on a Thursday night.
It's tremendous. If you listen to a good piper, and if you can afford to risk having your ears blown off, you will find no better illustration of the turbulent emotional undercurrent that lies beneath the stoical outward appearance of many a Scot. Prepare to be moved.
Posted by Returning Scot at 15:35