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June 2003 - Bags of Wind

Before I launch into full flow for this month, I should perhaps warn you that this particular edition of Comment is likely to be rather unpopular with certain of my esteemed readers, I'm afraid.

I see it was just over a year ago, that one of my editions didn't go down too well because it was a little less than polite about the intelligence levels of certain Devonians. On this occasion, however, I intend to go right to the other end of Great Britain to become totally unpopular.

I intend, on this occasion, to discuss the merits, or otherwise, of a leather bag made out of an old sheep, covered in a bit of old patterned rag, with five bits of wood stuck into it.

The terribly unpleasant description above, gives little or no hint of how much more unpleasant is the noise which emanates from this rather strange contraption.

The loony little chap in the skirt, who I used to have the extremely dubious honour of sharing an office with, actually blows into one of these things and makes this awful whining noise come out of it. I describe him as loony, purely because he has this totally misguided idea that what he is doing is, in some way, pleasant to the ear of those forced to listen to him.

He even has the damnable cheek to blow the thing in public places.

There is a gang of these men in skirts in a town close to mine, who go round to carnivals and other events in an attempt to upset as many people as possible by all blowing into their old sheep at the same time.

Thankfully, they only visit MY town VERY occasionally and he gives me plenty of warning so I can make hasty arrangements to be an extremely long way away at the time.

Right, I suppose that, all this way into this month's incredible episode, I ought to let those of you out there who are totally confused, know exactly what it is I'm moaning on about in this particular edition of this complete load of old nonsense.

The theme for this time round is bag pipes. Noisy, horrible, obnoxious bag pipes. Which is why I expect I'm already unpopular with those of my readers from north of the border.

Although, I have to say that it's not just the Scots who wear skirts and fill up old sheep with hot air, the Irish get up to the same tricks as well.

Indeed, my loony little friend is an Irishman himself, so why he plays in a Scots band I will never know. Presumably, if you're mad enough to play the bag pipes, nothing else really matters.

Now, seeing as I've had to sit through the boring technical description from him, I now intend to put you all through the same ultimate torture.

You start with the bag, made out of leather from the second-hand sheep. The bag has five holes drilled in it; to facilitate the entry of the air, and the exit of both air and the noise, via the five bits of wood.

Now, these bits of wood all have names. The strange, but somehow loving, way in which he was going on about them, I was really expecting them to be called Joe, Fred, Harry, George and Arthur, but no.

There's a blow stick, a chanter, two tenor drones and a bass drone. I wondered about the purpose of the drones for a while, but it all became clear later when we got back to the bag.

Apparently, you have to keep your bag nice and supple, so you have to season it regularly. I gather that honey is used in this seasoning process, which presumably explains the need for the drones.

Well, I assume you keep the drones in the hive where the honey's made. Well, that seems the only logical explanation as far as I can see, anyway.

We now come to the bit of old rag inside which the old sheep resides. The pattern on this bit of rag seems to be very important.

I gather that you can find out which gang your particular loony belongs to by the colour scheme of the rag. It's a bit like birds in the mating season, in that you go round looking for all the others with the same pattern on their bag-rag.

Once all the loonies with the same pattern are assembled, they all start blowing, surprisingly enough, into their blow sticks.

Now, come on madam, this is deadly serious stuff. You're not supposed to be rolling around on the floor laughing. This is one of Nick Harvey's finest in-depth investigations and you're not taking it nearly seriously enough!

If you knew the trouble and toil I go to to bring you these brilliant literary masterpieces, you wouldn't be taking it all in such a flippant manner!

The tips of my fingers are worn down to the bone from bashing away at this keyboard, so you really ought to be taking notes and treating the subject with the reverence that it deserves.

Now, where was I before that short digression to keep the wayward readers under control? Oh yes, they all start blowing into their blow sticks.

Once the sheep is full, some of the air starts to escape out of the other bits of wood. This is when the noise starts, a point which makes me wonder at the necessity of the other four bits of wood.

I mean, if they didn't actually bother to fit the other four bits of wood, there wouldn't be any noise would there?

That way they could have their loony gatherings without upsetting the remainder of the populace; and they could turn themselves into much nicer citizens. Also, once the sheep was full, they wouldn't need to blow any more, so they could chat to each other.

I reckon the wailing noise they make is some form of conversation anyway. It's probably some long lost Celtic language only still known to loony bag pipe players.

Apart from generating anger at the continuous flatness of it all, it certainly does nothing at all to a true blue Englishman like myself.

Aha! Perhaps I've just accidentally hit on the solution.

We should set up border posts on Hadrian's Wall and if one of the loonies tries to come south, complete with his aerated sheep, the border guard should confiscate all the drones and chanters before letting him pass.

That would make all the bag pipes in England silent ones, which would suit me down to the ground and make me a much happier chappie.

I mean, they could still wear their skirts and the funny little furry things on the front if it makes them happy; and they could have their little get togethers and drone on at one another, but without their drones.

It would be quite fair in that all the drones and chanters would be labelled at the border post, so they could have them back as they headed back in a northerly direction.

On reflection, I reckon they're animal hating loonies. I've just realised that apart from carrying a dead sheep around with them, that furry thing on the front of their skirts is probably made out of next door's moggy.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that they're not just loonies, they're a positive menace to society.

Perhaps I've been too nice about them up to now. Perhaps we should have them all put down in order to protect innocent sheep, cats and music loving Englishmen.

Yes, the more I think about it, the more the idea is growing on me. It probably means there isn't a reader from north of the border who'll ever speak to me again, but I really think it's for the best.

The only problem is going to be rounding them all up. Oh no, of course not, we'll just tell them that it's New Year, that always brings them out of the woodwork in their droves.

Why is it I wonder, that every bag piper in creation always wants to play in the middle of the street at midnight, just because it's New Year? I could suggest a good street for them all, it's called the M1!

Well, I reckon this edition's finally put paid to any thoughts I ever had of a wee holiday by the lochs. Talk about border posts on Hadrian's Wall, I'll bet the Scots are setting up the machine-gun post for me as I write.

I'd better get a few hundred gallons of scotch in stock, in case they try to cut my supply of that off as well.

If I haven't been gunned down by the tartan army in the meantime, the next edition of Comment will appear at the beginning of July.

Until then, I think I'll just hide behind this huge picture of Robbie Burns. Right, I'm off, where's me little dagger thing to poke in me sock?

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