Sunday, 16 September 2007

Kremlin Zoria - the true spirit of piping

In the stand, we sat near a small group of Transvaal Scottish officers, some porcine and white, others super-porcine and black. The blacks looked bureaucratic but dignified; the whites sort of half-furtive, half-apologetic. In the queue to get out, I asked one of the black Generals what he thought of Moscow. "Very nice," was all he would say. Polite but cold. By contrast, I overheard one of the white officers--they all seemed to have "pips for Africa"--saying to another, "Hey! Let's all meet in the same bar we were in last night." After we walked out of Red Square, we found (yet another) Baltika tent with lots of Transvaal Scottish pipers and drummers standing round drinking beer. I bought a glass myself, while waiting for Tanya and the others to catch up--they were watching Italian flag-wavers performing very artistically in medieval costume outside the old Lenin Museum building over the way. On the spur of the moment I shouted out to the musicians, in half-remembered Afrikaans, "Play us a tune, man! Give us Sarie Marais!" They looked duly astonished, but a couple of them laughed, conferred, picked up their instruments and started playing the great song: "Bring my terug na die ou Transvaal / Daar waar my Sarie woon". Others quickly followed suit. The Italians were over the way with their fifes and drums, making a cultured but moderate noise, but when the pipes got going they took over the whole square. They gave us Flower of Scotland and many other old favourites, including Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, with the drums played like tom-toms. The whole show carried on for the next half an hour. The crowd which quickly gathered staying until exhaustion set in, close to midnight. I don't think the Russians had ever seen anything like it--a brilliant finale to an amazing evening. This was, for me, the true spirit of piping: informal, noisy, lightly alcohol-fuelled and politely swaggering. Thinking about it always reminds me of the great pipe tune: "A hundred pipers and a' and a', a hundred pipers and a'! / We'll up and gie them a blaw a blaw, we'll up an' gie them a blaw!!!"