“What happened on the range, Pipe Major?”

It’s difficult to say now what actually happened as I was suffering from a monstrous hangover that morning. Let’s see . . .trying to remember . . .naw, not coming.

Hold it. Here comes the horror!

I have a faint recollection of arriving late at the shooting range and the other cadet officers are already in the prone or upright positions firing away at large targets protruding from the butts fifty yards away. The non-stop crack of rifles in the background and the fact I’ve never touched any kind of gun before and have only the vaguest idea which end to point leave me confused and very nervous. I am handed a surprisingly heavy 303 rifle and told by Sergeant Galloway, a serving NCO in the Black Watch, to place the stock against, no, not the shoulder of the arm holding up the rifle but the shoulder of my pull-the-trigger arm.

Let me simply say that if you’ve never fired a rifle before, the urge to close your eyes at the precise moment you pull the trigger is irresistible. In addition, the “kick” will send you back several paces with your arms rotating crazily for balance, which, when you’re holding the gun, results in mass screaming from the battle-hardened veteran soldiers.

“It was just a wee glitch, Sir.”

“I heard there was a memorable thinning of the crowd of cadets on either side of you.”

“They’ll get another chance to qualify for their marksman badge,” I say. “And so will I.” My accent becomes vaguely German as I try to convince my CO of my good intentions. “I am going to train myself out of this. I will (vill) get up earlier in the morning and practise handling and taking aim every day. Yeah (Ja) I will (vill) borrow my mother’s sweeping brush and pretend it’s a rifle.”

Trelloar extends his forefinger as if he is warning me. “You better win the inter-varsity solo piping contest next month, “ he says.

“No problem, Sir,” I reply forcefully. “I’m playing a set that’s technically very difficult: Stirlingshire Militia, Delvinside and Pretty Marion. I proceed to diddle the tunes to convince him of their merit.

Hò-um poichum bò tiridh aich-um.

Trelloar cuts into my babble with some force. “Look, a little advice.” he announces with a shrug, “Get better at shooting, Pipe Major, otherwise I may have to have another think about your trip to Panama next January.”

This seems like a good time to cut and run. A queasy feeling is starting to rise. I walk towards the brunette, catch hold of her wrist and drag her out the door without a backwards glance. A drifting feeling washes over me: the fear of being unattached and lost.

Oh, I nailed the Panama gig. What swung it for me was my triumph in the inter-university solo piping contests the following autumn. This wasn’t so much a contest, more a walkover for me. I played the difficult set. Second place went to one of my medic pipers, Alistair Cochrane, who stumbled through The Earl of Mansefield twice. Goodness, one of the ‘Eastie Beastie’ competitors, from St Andrews or Aberdeen, opted to play a slo-mo version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The judges, Pipe Majors Stoddart and MacLellan, had no hesitation in awarding me the handsome, solid silver goblet. This did not prevent me from thinking that my fellow officer-candidates would be wanting my used tea bags after my victory. The euphoria, however, didn’t last long.

When I spin the wheel forward to my Central American trip I realise I should have stepped down from the winner’s podium in Scotstoun Showground and given the trophy to the Twinkle, Twinkle guy.


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