#TBT: “The Winter of Our Discontent”
By Iain MacDonald, Regina
[Originally published in the old print Piper & Drummer magazine in March 2005, the precursor to pipes|drums.]
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
[Shakespeare; Richard III]
Richard III should’ve tried a winter of discontent in Saskatchewan. Here, the winter of our discontent is enhanced by the early daffodils in Vancouver, the soon-to-blossom cherry trees along their city streets, and reports of Highland games well underway in the sunny southern states of the USA. Saskatchewan registered the coldest temperature on the planet recently. You can practically hear blackwood cracking at band practice, and the reeds that played so robustly in the summer are but shriveled tonal skeletons of their former selves, clever containers notwithstanding.
Casting an eye back and forth at the same time, we see what has just past, and what is to come, as we survive yet another winter of piping hilarity in Saskatchewan.
Hogmanay, the traditional Scottish celebration of New Year is now well past. Pipers awoke from their holiday sloth to get the pipes out for a blast at New Year. This custom is very important in many parts of the world, and especially in Saskatchewan. It proves the piper’s unshakeable faith in the powers of alcohol and haggis to make the hands work in any conditions, and it proves that sheepskin, simulated elk hide, Gore-tex, rubber duckie bags, plastic and carbon fibre can all sound crappy in the cold.
Just when head clears from Hogmanay, we lurch into preparations for the annual round of Burns Suppers. This is when people everywhere don Highland dress, play Highland bagpipes, and Highland dance to celebrate the life of a Lowland poet who spoke a different language, wore trews his whole life, and whose main attraction to the Highlands was a lassie named Mary.
Still, facts aside, it’s a great night for all Scots, and pipers play a special role in these celebrations. You’ll be called upon to “pipe in the haggis,” or possibly the head table . . . or both! Following that, you must drain a quaich of really cheap bar scotch, and pretend that it was a rewarding cultural experience. The big question as you fire up the bagpipe for your annual trip to the head table: Is it heavy or light D-throws this year in “A Man’s a Man?” If you’re really unsure, start a new topic on the Bagpipe Forum [the now dead wretched early online cesspool for anonymous haters], and the world’s top 5000+ experts will be there with the answers.
My first experience at a Burns Night was at the Legion in Regina, when I was about 10. My mother gave the reply to the “Toast to the Lassies” and I was there with the junior pipe band. I remember . . .