Beware—Distracted Bagpipe Player

(~2 minutes to read)

Headline: Driver caught practising bagpipes at wheel

I’ve never hidden my feelings about bagpipes.

My heart bursts at the sight and sound of a lone piper playing on a heather-carpeted ben across the glen from my vantage point. That solitary figure seems to magnify the sense of space; isolation; desolation. And the sound—it’s so mournful, and evocative of the Scottish condition in the eighteenth century, when the English cold-bloodedly suppressed Scottish Highland culture.

What a load of codswallop! The sight and sound of a lone piper the other side of a valley means there’s only one piper within earshot, and with the valley between us, there’s very little chance he’ll have enough breath in him to play the instrument (weapon?) and get any closer to me.

And if the piper is downwind from me—all the better.

How gratified I was, therefore, to learn that police in Dunedin, New Zealand were doing their bit towards managing the menace of bagpipes. During a roadside checkpoint, they spotted a motorist playing the chanter of a bagpipe. With neither hand on the steering wheel (I’m guessing), he represented a danger to the public, but was let off with a warning.

I think this was a fair result. After all, he was playing only the chanter, and therefore making no sound. With the full bagpipe, he would’ve been a much greater threat to public safety, and I don’t mean the airbag-like bag… of… air… that powers the pipes obstructing access to the vehicle’s controls; I mean the unholy noise that he would’ve been making.

And if he’d had his window wound down, and been playing the pipes…

Give me the doov-doov-doov of a car’s subwoofers shaking the vehicle apart any day.

Alfred Hitchcock summed up my opinion of the bagpipes when he said, “I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.”

However, I know that many people genuinely love the bagpipes, and I respect their opinions. After all, not everyone appreciates the sound of a Gibson Les Paul being played through a Marshall stack as much as I do. It takes all sorts.

And given time, I could grow to like the bagpipes. I’m sure they’d make good bellows to get the accordion fire going.

In case anyone thinks I am being disrespectful to the plight of the Scottish Highlanders in the 18th and 19th centuries, let me assure you that that is not the case. The brutal displacement and treatment of Highlanders, and the prohibition of much of their culture and heritage was, in my opinion, on a par with the treatment of First Nations in Canada.

I am not proud to be / have been English.

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