Published: February 03, 2008

Sweet surrender


That tree will be looking pretty good to a few of these people in a few minutes.
I haven’t been in a massed-band, or march-past, for about a decade now. I miss the camaraderie, half-inebriated socializing and anxious anticipation of prizes being read out (on the infrequent occasion when the result wasn’t already known). But I don’t miss the aching legs, scorching sun (Ontario) or drenching rain (Scotland) and often bladder-twisting misery that these protracted things inflicted.

Beer and bands go together like Airtight and sheepskin: one keeps the other lubricated and firm, if not half-in-the-bag. After the pressure of competing, every band heads directly to the beer-tent and consumes as many as possible before having to head out for the interminable ceremony.

A thousand-odd bandsmen and women with a belly full of liquid consumed on an empty stomach are performers isolated on a large field with no chance of discreetly exiting after the first hour to relieve their throbbing internal plumbing. This toilet-less torture is nothing short of Jack Bauer-esque. There should be a law, and if pipers and drummers unionized, perhaps some day there will be one.

Bands have lots of ways to deal with this, but I recall being amazed, as a naïve 20-year-old suddenly in the midst of seasoned Scottish bandsmen in the mid-1980s. March-pasts in Scotland then as they do now go on for sometimes two hours, so things happen.

Now, I don’t know if this is commonplace over there, and I have never seen it occur in North America, but when someone really had to go band members would make a human wall-circle around the guy who desperately needed to pee. The kilted person would then bend down on one knee, usually with the bass-drum as an added shield, and let it go on the ground. Ah. Sweet fancy Moses.

I recall being in a march-past at Cowal on a rare blazing-hot day. The band I played with had these nice new flannel-grey jackets. One stalwart guy in the band was particularly tired so he decided to lay down in the grass for a quick rest in the sunshine. When he got up he emerged with a giant wet-stain on the back of his grey jacket, which was, of course, you know . . .

I can still see him sputtering with anger and the entire band crying with laughter. What was worse, I believe we gained a high prize at the contest and had to march off the park and then “down the road” in Dunoon, him smelly and pee-soaked all the way.

But in truth, if pipe band associations and games organizers really want to do something for the bands, they should either shorten these ceremonies to no more than 45 minutes, have a brief intermission for the performers, or provide on-field facilities. It’s only fair.

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