Dirty Bo’ness

I lived in Scotland for 18 months in my early 20’s.

My undergraduate program at the University of Bath strongly recommended all students take an intern year, and they made it pretty easy to place students, since they had relationships with many companies and government labs in the UK. My department found me a place at BP Chemicals in Grangemouth and so, in the late spring of 1988, I packed all my worldly belongings into my micro-sized car and headed North.

I had arranged accomodation ahead of time: I was to live with the outgoing interns in their house in the town of Bo’ness. I arrived late in the afternoon, unpacked my stuff and headed down the hill into town to check out my new surroundings.

I was delighted to hear the sound of drumming as a neared the town center. A pipe band, I thought. Well, yes, but not the kind of pipes I was hoping for. Around the corner came an Orangemen’s march. I knew immediately what it was, having seen such marches on the news, usually accompanied by riots and petrol bombs. I nervously watched the march go by. Had I mistakenly moved to Ulster?

The presence of the Orange Order was later explained to me as I began to understand the complex religio-political life of central Scotland. I learned too that the expression “Dirty Bo’ness” referred not to the town town itself (an easy assumption to make), but to the soccer team. Intriguingly, in the age of electronic communication this dirtiness is now public for all to read.

This was all before I began piping. Had I been a piper at the time I probably would have made my way to the Bo’ness Pipe Band. But I didn’t have to worry about a shortage of music back then – there was plenty else to chose from. The Cocteau Twins were living in Grangemouth, I went to live shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow probably twice a week and were befriended by an Edinburgh band called AVO-8.

It was a wonderful time, and who knew that 18 years later I would be writing about a baby born in Bo’ness while I was living there. Callum Beaumont won the Silver Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering this year.

How do I look?

I mentioned yesterday that my wife gave me a birthday present that was older than I was. Well, yesterday evening another surprise birthday present, this time exactly as old as I am. In fact you’re looking at him right now!

My wife conspired with a friend of hers (who is a designer of some note) to update my website and you are now looking at the results – namely me – in all my piping glory.

My wife’s friend has a very popular blog and is in demand as a designer also, so I am hoping some of her web mojo (say this in an Austin Powers voice) will pass to my site.

So, that’s the style part in place. Now you need great content, right? Stick around – I’ll do my best.

I turn my back for two minutes…

Well, two days actually. A lot can happen in 48 hours.

On Tuesday, the mid-term elections of course. I would have posted (honest) but I got a call early to go out and help with poll watching. My wife was the one doing the watching, but she needed some company and a chauffeur. I was happy to do what I could to help. Being a resident, but not a citizen, of the U.S. it is sometimes frustrating to have to watch politics from the sidelines. Only U.S. citizens can vote, so when a non-voting opportunity arises to help then I’m there. No piping Tuesday, but plenty of Drive-bys. We visited six polling places in the end, and finished the day at the Democrats’ victory party. By a curious coincidence, the party was held in the same room where I had played a piping gig just 10 days earlier.

On Wednesday I awoke to news of the election results (we all know how that turned out) and also to the very sad news that Bob Dunsire had died the previous day. Bob started the huge piping forums that many, many pipers belong to. The internet has affected most people in the West, and pipers as a group are no exception. bobdunsire.com has become the online talking place for pipers and drummers since 2001. The boards are moderated by highly respected pipers (World Champions in some cases) and visited by people ranging from absolute beginners (“I had my first chanter lesson yesterday – I’m so excited”) to the likes of Willie McCallum and Alasdair Gillies.

I send my condolences to Bob’s family, and to all of you who are pipers I say, join the forums and add your voice to build up the community.

Who was Hamish?

Our kids are homeschooled. Right now, in history, we are studying the period around the American Revolution. In order to personalize the time period for them we are blending in our family history. We are lucky in this respect, since one of the Scottish branches of my family (the sugar-refining MacFie family) has a fairly well documented history going back to the mid-18th century. Before the late 1700s, though, things get a little less clear.

These MacFies came originally from the small island of Colonsay, and I came across this tantalizing nugget of information on a MacFie genealogy website:

The story is told that one Robert Mcfie….who was allegedly born about 1680, was the great-grandson of Hamish Mor (Mcfie) a famous piper…

OK, so it’s just a story, but even if I am not descended from this Hamish Mor McFie, who was he? In some small way, I am still related and my piping ears prick up when the family name shows up. As you know, I would one day like to play the tune The Rout of the MacPhees. Perhaps Hamish Mor had a hand in writing this tune?

I will dig further and let you know….

What IS it with the English?

Some background:

The British army recently told its pipers to limit their practice sessions to 24 minutes a day, or 15 minutes indoors. According to a health study conducted by the Army Medical Directorate the volume of the pipes is beyond safe levels. Apparently the pipes have the same decibel level as a chainsaw.

Here is what one reader of the newspaper where this story was reported wrote to the editor:

SIR – I am not surprised to read that bagpipes and chainsaws have the same decibel rating. If we have a choice, may I opt for the latter?

More on this later….