I rattle through the sets without breaking sweat. My stamina is extraordinary. Participation in sports like boxing, swimming, football and track athletics as a schoolboy ensure that I have good lungs. My endurance when it comes to blowing bagpipes derives from my duties as solo piper in the 103rd Glasgow Coy. of the Boys’ Brigade. Our annual summer camp when I was in the BB was spent in the Argyllshire village of Benderloch. Our tents were pitched in MacDonald’s Farm on the Bonawe road. On Sundays I used to lead our campers to the Parish Church, and after the service pipe them back again without stopping – a combined distance of 2.4 miles.

Small wonder then, back on the Royal Mile, I don’t allow the painfully out-of-tune drones of the wee Gurkha P/M, howling as they are not four inches away from my right ear, nor the fact that he seemed to be fingering some Nepalese folk melody instead of the prescribed tune, The Barren Rocks of Aden, to put me ‘aff my stoat.’ In my head I’m singing a parody we used to sing in the backcourts when I was wee.

Haw, Maw, will ye buy me a . . .

Will ye buy me a . . .will ye buy me a . . .

Haw, Maw, will ye buy me a . . .

Will ye buy me a . . .BANANA?

It’s a flyting song where the mother replies that she will buy a banana for her son. He in turn asks her if she wants a bite. She sings Aye, ma son, Ah’ll tak’ a bite, and he concludes by singing.

Haw, Maw, ye’ve ate it a’

Ye’ve ate it a’ . . .ye’ve ate it a’

Haw, Maw, ye’ve ate it a’

Ye’ve ate a’ ma BANANA!

The dissolving agent is the giant Drum Major from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards who suddenly performs an about-turn and raises his mace in an upright position above his head. After the palaver of lowering instruments, standing at ease, coming to attention again and turning sharply to the right on the order of dismissal, we pick our relaxed bodies up and make our way to the pubs, light and smiling broadly. It is now partytime.

A group of us are in the World’s End pub and I am about to saunter over to an attractive young woman, jet-black hair, grey eyes and a tall, gelid grace, who is seated on a bar stool. I hear the soft New Zealand cadences of our Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Trelloar.

“Pipey, you got a minute?”

Oh, no! He’s going to rabbit on about Cert B and a lot of military stuff and the dusky one will trap.

I am wincing with awkwardness as I flutter my fingers at the brunette and veer towards our CO who is standing at attention in full Number One Dress near the door. We exchange rote smiles. I know Trelloar on an academic level. He is a Lecturer in the Humanities Department and he teaches Latin Prose Composition to a dozen others and me every Wednesday morning at nine. He gives my weekly contributions high marks. I have nothing against him really. It is just that he’s just a couple of stones lighter than he should be, giving him a lean and hungry look.

“By the way,” Lt Col Trelloar drawls, “Captain Veasey tells me that you got into a bit of trouble on the rifle range down in Morpeth last week. Is that correct?”

I take in the CO’s question very slowly, without immediate response. Just a glitch, more or less, I babble eventually, in effect. I nod a lot, the noncommittal half-nod.


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