By Clemson N. Page, Jr.
It hardly seemed possible a year had passed. The Second Annual Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen Yuletide International Invitational Grand Championship Grade 7 Extra-Loud Pipe Band Extravanganza and Highland Revue was now history. All creation, like a dowager countess loosening her corsets, sighed with relief. It had been, quite literally, a resounding triumph — not, as some Philistines had hinted, gross noise pollution. Dr. Les Blowhard, Pipe Major of the Auchmountain Highlanders, had hand-picked a blue-ribbon panel of expert judges – Baird of Auchmedden, Bob Pekaar and Angus MacKinnon – and, with the help of industrial grade ear plugs, they had borne up bravely under the onslaught of the loudest in out-of- tune pipe-band music from around the world. Best of all, however, Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen was now rid of mice, rats, lawyers, pigeons and other vermin for another year.
“It’s a brilliant pest-control strategy,” a visitor said to the Doctor, “but what about the animals you don’t want to drive away — livestock and domestic pets?”
“Not a problem,” the Doctor said, turning up the volume on the hearing aid in his good ear so he could understand the question. “We take them to an underground bunker five miles outside of town the day before the competition — except for the ass in the graveyard. What a lovely beast. He likes our music. He sings along. He’s quite good, really.”
The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen Volunteer Fire Brigade, under the leadership of Mrs Una MacIntyre, had organized a gala post-competition ceilidh in the Fire Brigade Social Hall. In the adjoining taproom, free-flowing ale, wine and single-malt whisky soothed many a frayed nerve-ending after the day’s excitement. Competitors, friends, families and camp-followers crowded into the hall, where tables groaned under the weight of delicacies brought from around the world. Even the local gentry — most notably Rose of Kelvingrove and Lady MacKenzie of Fairburn — had turned out in all their finery to celebrate the blessed return of silence to the Bonnie Glen for another year. Campbell had left Redcastle for a few days; and a talented fiddler had come from Inverness.
When the fiddler took the stage and struck up a strathspey, the Doctor fiddled with his hearing aid for a moment, then interrupted the performance with a stentorian shout:
“No, no, NO! Your rhythm’s inconsistent. First it’s strong, then it’s weak, then it’s medium, then it’s weak again. That’s not the way to play a strathspey. You’ve got to make up your mind. Here, let me show you.” The Doctor picked up his pipes and folks began edging nervously toward the door to the bar. As he began to play, the exodus became a stampede.
“You call that a strathspey?” the fiddler said after the Doctor’s pipes had wheezed into silence and people began peering around the corner to see if it was safe to re-enter the room. “That sounds more like foot-shufflin’ soft-shoe.”
“Nonsense, my boy,” the Doctor said. “Remember, I’m a Doctor of Just About Everything and you’re only a fiddler from Inverness. What could you possibly know about music?” The fiddler shrugged, put his instrument back into its case, then went to the bar and ordered a double Tobermory, neat. “An idiot with a red sash is still an idiot,” he muttered to the bartender.
Meanwhile, Jesus Hamish Gonzalez, Drum Major of the Popocatépetl Highlanders — Mexico’s loudest — passed with a big tray of tortilla chips, jalapeño peppers and his special Volcanic Magma Hot Sauce. Seeing free food on the hoof, the Doctor lunged at the tray and helped himself to as much as he could stuff into his beard before Gonzalez, resplendent in sombrero, feathers, red silk sash and jingling spurs, snatched the tray away in alarm.
What followed is destined to become a legend in Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen. As the story goes, the Doctor’s eyes lit up, his nose exploded, his Tam o’Shanter popped three feet into the air, and his sporran orbited his waist like a hula-hoop seven times. It became known as the Mother of All Sneezing Fits.
“Scots wha HAE!” the Doctor sneezed. “Wha HAE! Wha HAE!!”
“Gesundheit, senor,” said Gonzalez, wiping his face with a corner of his dress MacLeod serape.
“Must have been that hot sauce,” the Doctor said. “I must compose a tune in its honour.”
“Make it a strathspey,” the fiddler called from the adjoining room. “You’re so good at those.”
• From the December 1997 Piping Times.