Complaints dept.

I heard a “news” item the other day about a survey of who the world’s biggest complainers are. The Swiss came in a first, the British second, Australians third, and Canadians a solid fourth. Not sure how the data was derived, but I’m surprised that Canada is so low on the list.

I don’t mind people who complain – as long as they actually try to do something about whatever it is they’re complaining about, and they’re not complaining about something, like the weather, that can’t be helped. I constantly complain about inert complainers, so I complain to them that they should trying doing something about whatever it is they’re complaining about rather than just complain. Follow?

Americans are great, productive complainers. Most Americans will complain about something but then demand that it be changed. They’re also not afraid to be heard. Canadians, on the other hand, will often just mutter to themselves and stew in their mysery, afraid to create a scene or be any trouble to anyone. Most Americans revel in confrontation; most Canadians avoid it at any cost.

And that is the single biggest culture divide between Americans and pretty much the rest of the world. Inert-complaining Europeans and Canadians, like the Swiss, can’t understand how Americans will actually demand that they get what they want, and follow through on their complaining with action.

The piping and pipe band world(s) are full of complainers who don’t like many of the antiquated, unethical and often bizarre customs we face. The most progressive associations are the ones where complaining comes with the courage to be heard and to act to make positive change.

If and when American piping and drumming eventually leads the world, that will be one the main reasons why.



Just thinking about tune titles. A good tune title is hard to beat. I can’t stand the jokey, hokey ones that generally get put on tunes that are as bad as their names. A great tune always but always has a good name. A bad tune title makes me lose interest in the tune fast.

My favourite name for a tune is “A Cup of Tea,” which was applied to the really excellent two-parted reel. Anyone who drinks tea knows that there’s sometimes nothing better than a cup of tea. It goes down quickly. It quenches thirst, makes you want another cup, but more than just the right amount is too much.

The tune rolls off the fingers. It’s just the right length, and you want to hear it again, but three times gets a bit much.

Of course, there’s also the expression Not my cup of tea. But the reel and title and a cup of tea itself are mine. Perfect.


Miles better

Glasgow really is a great city. My comments before were just a few observations, and, yeah, they were a bit negative. As with things like that, the positive sometimes gets overlooked. Here are some very positive things about Glasgow, at least to me, for whatever they’re worth:

Even with the long red-light-waits, it’s easy to get around by car or, even better, on foot. What’s more, people don’t mind walking, which is far different from Toronto where people often drive a block to get a pint of milk.

Style. Glasgow does have great style. People are more interesting and friendly than other parts of Scotland, and certainly more friendly than most Torontonians.

The parks. Glasgow Green, Kelvingrove, Bellahouston. Glasgow has lots of green space.

Very few Scots talking with an English accent. Edinburgh’s got lots of Englishified Scots claiming to be proud to be Scottish, but Glaswegians are proud to be and sound like like they’re from Glasgow. Is what it is.

It’s where my mother was brought up. She was raised right in the city around WW2 and weathered that storm except for a brief evactuation to the Pitlochry area. She went to Glasgow University. I’m half-Weegie and will never forget that, zombies, smog, four-quid lattes and all.


Glasgow air

Over for the World’s was the first time in years that I’d spent more than a few hours in Glasgow. The place holds true as a grimy and polluted place. A few things struck me:

Red lights. Glasgow could be a lot less smoggy if it changed the wait-time for cars at red lights. I mean, you sit there for three, even four, minutes at some intersection waiting for the light to change. Most cities you can get ticketed for letting your car idle for more than three minutes. Edinburgh has the standard two minutes. No wonder everyone’s wheezing.

Bike lanes. There are  bike lanes everywhere in Glasgow, but no one seems to use them. Maybe it’s because they’re about a foot wide and run along glass-strewn, puke-splashed gutters. Besides, who wants to be stuck at red lights inhaling car exhaust growing old waiting for the thing to change?

Auberge de whoozits. Seems like every other eatery has some ersatz Italian or French name, where coffees cost three pounds and your best Troy reed. Give it up. It ain’t Milan, it’s Glasgow.

Zombies. Dawn of the Dead is just a movie, but Friday and Saturday nights Glasgow city centre is like the real thing. People are so stinking and violently pissed out of their heads it’s hard to tell if they’re of the same species. Everyone seems to be chucking booze down their hatch as if an a-bomb is headed for Buchanan Street.

But, really, it’s a lovely city.


Good faith no more?

We pipers and drummers work on good faith and trust most of the time. We trust judges to render decisions that are unbiased and ethical. In good faith we give our money to our association so that it will do the right things for us. We trust manufacturers and dealers to deliver the goods that we usually have to pay for up front.

Pipers and drummers don’t screw other pipers and drummers.

So when a large supplier of piping and drumming supplies goes under, taking with it lots of debts not just to major manufacturers but to ordinary pipers and drummers — 100 pounds here, 100 pounds there — it diminishes our faith and trust in our fellow pipers and drummers. Our small world starts to operate in big-world terms, where everything is a business, and everyone is suspicious of everything.

Reputable organizations get dragged down by it. We become even more skeptical and suspicious of each other.

I’ve said for ages that piping and drumming is big business, with lots of money at stake. Previously, it’s been buyer beware when non-pipers and drummers are merchandising our music and culture. I still thought that pipers and drummers could still get through by using our trust and good faith in our fellow pipers and drummers.

We’re in this – whatever it is – together. It’s too bad that our trust in each other has been suddenly eroded.


Jottings from GLA

A fantastic day at the World’s yesterday. The Grade 1 standard was extremely high. The day stayed mostly dry after a wet start, the beer tents were well-stocked, and the results came out quickly.

There are tons of things to talk about, but, for now, here are a few stand-out items:

  • SFU’s medley. This was I think the best contest performance that I’ve ever heard from a pipe band. The overall band sound was unreal, and the band’s rendition of Mark Saul’s “Emancipation” was a visual and aural treat. Brill. Ee. Ant.

  • Manawatu’s pipe section. Some of the best pipe band moments are hearing a band that you have modest expectations from, and then end up super-impressed when you actually hear them. A crystal-clear, perfectly-set sound in three performances got my attention. I wasn’t as close as the judges, but I’m pretty sure that I would have scored them higher in piping all three events.

  • Ballycoan: see above. This is an extremely good band that seems to have all the marks of a young FMM. Sound to spare.

  • The growing internationalism of the World’s. Bands from Spain, Oman, and Pakistan were there just to be a part of it. This lends a real festive aspect to the event.

  • The Grade 1 qualifier. This was a very low-energy event. Lots of very careful playing, and bands seemed to be going through the motions. With the exception of Dysart’s “Leaving Lunga,” it was pretty much the same old hoary band-chestnuts being trotted out, including umpteen “Blair Drummond”s. It would seem to make a lot more sense for everyone to make this a medley.

  • Connectivity. Ironic that I can get the results posted as they’re announced when I’m 3000 miles away, but being right there there was too much “noise” (or something) to get a wireless connection to the net, somethign that had worked great all week. Sorry, readers, I tried.
  • I’ll be back with more scribblings later.



Glasgow’s getting more European by the day. Here’s a highfallutin sandwich that cost almost eight pounds.


Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Aug. 10, 2005. Brilliant.


Gowf with pipers

A fabulously sunny day in Edinburgh for a round of jet-lagged golf with a few piper friends. Golf in Scotland is so different from the game anywhere else — faster, less serious, more recreational. Add a few guys who are much, much better pipers than they are golfers to the mix and the result is a great four hours.

Lots of mainly unprintable scoop about bands and soloists, who’s doing what and how, as the World’s nears. If this weather holds it will be a great contest under ideal conditions.

Up north tomorrow for a more Highland game and compiling piping content for the next year.


Saturday morning

A really fine Saturday morning in Toronto. Here’s a shot of where I was sitting, reading the paper, wondering what the weather’s like In North Berwick. That’s all.


Jottings from Maxville

Couldn’t imagine a better Maxville: perfect weather, just about everything ran on time, massive crowds, new buildings and landscaping, and several top-grade bands in top form.

Things I’ll remember:

  • Windsor Police dominating Grade 2. If they play as well as they did Saturday, the band should do very well at Glasgow Green.

  • The air that City of Washington played in its medley: terrific harmonies with overtones that were positively goose-bumpling.

  • 78th Fraser Highlanders finish: the band’s rendition of Godon Duncan’s “Upside Down at Eden Court,” reprised from its ’04 World’s medley is riveting.

  • Glengarry’s medley: a great way of making older tunes new again. “Alan MacPherson of Mosspark” – all four parts – and “Lucy Cassidy” to open and to end in jig-time seem to strike the current musical retro-zeitgeist.

  • Alistair Aitken – a knowledgable and honest gentleman. It was a pleasure to work with him.
  • There are many other things that I could list, but those are the ones that pop in to mind first. Your mileage may vary, as they say.



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