Karma’s A Bitch, But Sometimes You Have To Love Her


Not a family story, but one Mary likes anyway…

I’ve mentioned several times now that I used to play the bagpipes. Mary and I were in Scotland in 1979, and somehow ended up in the shop of J&R Glen on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and before I knew what was happening, I was walking out with a set of bagpipes. I came home, learned to play, and joined a pipe band, the Invermich Gaelic Society Pipe Band, which had eight to ten pipers and about half a dozen drummers.

Man playing the Great Highland Warpipes (a/k/a the bagpipes) on the street in Edinburgh. (photo: Postdif/Wikipedia, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) This isn’t me; I don’t think any pictures of me playing exist anymore.

We were a pretty serious group, and spent most of the spring and summer running all over Hell’s half-acre and being contestants in piping competitions. Bands are sorted into grades, with Grade Four the lowest and Grade One the highest, and your band competes against other bands in your grade. At the end of the day, during the closing ceremony (including the Massed Bands, or as a friend of mine called it “mashed bands,” where all the bands involved in the competition get together and play a few tunes together), the winners of the graded competitions are announced, and then it’s party time. Our band had a rule of no drinking before we compete, including the night before, so we were pretty well rarin’ to go by the time the competition closed.

There were a few competitions that stretched over two days, like the one held at Alma College in Alma, Michigan. Most competitions are one-day affairs held on a Saturday; theirs took up the entire weekend. Saturday was the graded competition, Sunday was an open competition where all the bands, regardless of grade, competed against each other. The party, or ceilidh (“kay-lee”), was on Saturday night, which meant that if you did a little too much ceilidhing on Saturday night, you were in pretty bad shape the next day and still had to play.

One year, one of the bands decided to bring the ceilidh back to the dorm after the official one ended at about eleven o’clock. Until about three Sunday morning, they ceilidhed their rear ends off, including their drummers, who, given two sticks, will bang on just about anything. Of course, given the noise, we couldn’t get any sleep. At one point, one of our older members went down and yelled at the band, ordering them to stop. Which they did, until the guy got back to his room, after which they started pounding and being noisy again.

The next day, we were all exhausted, and more than a little p.o.’ed at the guys in that band. We weren’t alone; several other bands had been kept awake by the partying band. That didn’t matter, though: there was competing to do and money to be won.

Standard procedure for a competition band is to march into the playing field while playing, form a circle with the drummers together on one side and the bass drummer standing in the middle, play the competition set, then re-form ranks and march off the field, playing. A band is judged not only on how well they play but on their marching, their uniforms, and their discipline. We were on fairly early, so we were able to get coffee and watch the rest of the bands play.

Somewhere in the middle of the competition, the band that had kept us up half the night got to play. They were clearly feeling the effects of all that booze and the lack of sleep, but they formed ranks and marched shakily onto the field, playing. Halfway through their set, one of the snare drummers felt ill, stepped into the middle of the circle, and threw up. Needless to say, they didn’t do that well (certainly not on discipline and deportment).

As I said, karma’s a bitch, but sometimes you have to love her.


Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

7 thoughts on “Karma’s A Bitch, But Sometimes You Have To Love Her”

  1. Loretta and I remember running into you at the Irish Fest in Milwaukee one year. We were walking along and noticed a person coming toward us in quilts and carrying a bagpipe and one of us said, ” that looks like John Holton.” – and sure enough it was! We had no idea you played the bagpipes.


  2. Hi John – what a fun – ghastly story! A weekend to remember … and learning to play the bagpipes is no mean feat … cheers Hilary


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