Bagpipes on the Underground

OK, so I’ve not had a rant for a bit so I’m going to today…however, before I do, here’s a photo of Lynden at Waterloo after our night of gassing and drinking. He never changes. Gotta love him.

Saying goodbye to Lynden at Waterloo

Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite like the bagpipes. I remember the year we were digging at the Minge when a lady would serenade us each lunchtime as she practised among the hills surrounding the dig. Apparently her neighbours weren’t too keen on her doing it at home.

The outdoor setting, though, was perfect. The tortured cat screechings became at once lovely calls across the glens; a melancholic recitation for some distant Scot, marooned in another country. Or so it seemed, as we all sat amid our archaeological detritus.

Also I started to learn to play them myself many years ago. My reasoning has vanished in the mists of time but I managed quite a few lessons and even had a chanter for a while – this is the instrument you first learn on, before being given the big bag to manipulate under your arm. It is also the bit of the bagpipes you blow into.

I learnt all about grace notes and reeds and all sorts of musical things. Naturally it was a complete waste of time because, typically, I didn’t finish, moving on to something else and keeping only the chanter, which travelled from house to house with me until, somewhere along the line, I lost it. Or deliberately forgot it like my John Bonham drumstick.

To be honest, I can’t actually think of a musical instrument that I actively dislike. Played well and in the right place, I think they all have their good points; a bit like music and singing and dance.

I like most types of music and pride myself on being incredibly eclectic – if such a thing is grammatically correct (I mean, being eclectic means you like a wide variety so adding the word ‘incredibly’ doesn’t seem to add an awful lot to the term apart from exaggeration). I even like some Gregorian chanting. I have no idea what they are saying, nor do I care but I like the cadences, the rhythm, the strict choral qualities.

If I think about this sort of thing (chanting as opposed to chanters) I wonder about the sense of it all. When someone like Kylie sings “I can’t get you out of head” she doesn’t mean that someone or something is actually living in her head but the memory of someone is haunting her and she wants to tell everyone who’ll listen. When the Gregorians chant something in Russian or Latin or whatever language they prefer, it means very little but just sounds good.

The fact that I can’t understand the chanting means I am merely enjoying the sound. If I didn’t understand Kylie, I could still dance to the music. The rhythm of the music and the tonal qualities of her voice are received by my body because, as humans, we have created music which we actually enjoy listening to. We can wrap the feeling into all sorts of silly things but, basically, we invented it to be pleasurable because it is pleasurable to listen to.

Like prayer. It does nothing but makes some people feel better when they do it. For instance, let’s say you are feeling a bit giddy with happiness but wish to come back to earth. What better way to do it than sitting in a dark church and mumbling some nonsense over and over again. It won’t take long and eventually you will convince yourself that it’s doing something. Of course it is. But only to the person doing it.

Which brings me to the title of this entry. Today I went up to town with Lynden after an enjoyable night chatting about old times, old friends and what we’re up to now. I saw Lynden about five years ago so we had a bit of catching up. Lynden was one of the actors from nomad who I was always very close to. We shared many a truck cabin and many a stage. In those trucks and on those stages, the poor fellow often had to hear me rant and rave a lot too. Oh, the glory of friends! He reminds me of the good times we shared in theatre.

Anyway, Lynden was off to see his 900th matinee of his present visit so I decided I’d travel up to Waterloo with him then continue on to the flat and clear the junk mail and make sure the flat was still there.

In London, in the Underground, the buskers are licensed. This tends to mean the quality is quite high. They are generally guitarists, their delicate fingering echoing throughout the subways, bouncing merrily off the tiled walls. It’s pleasant though sometimes a bit loud. Today was the exception.

As I stepped from the escalator my ears were assaulted with the screeching of hundreds of insane cats, all trying to outdo each other. As I approached the next set of escalators, the noise grew in volume, bouncing around the hall. I noticed people with earplugs and wondered how much of their own music they could hear. It was very loud!

At the bottom of the second escalator was a man in a kilt, a hat in front of him with a few odd coins in it. Under his arm was his bagpipe bag, his cheeks puffed out and ruddy with the inflating of it, his fingers diddling the holes in the chanter, making an infernal noise that, like chewing gum, was inescapably stuck to my ears. The sound of the approaching tube train was preferable to this din!

It made me wonder why people feel the need to insist that other people be the same as them, listen to the same thing, talk about the same things, believe the same rubbish, yadda, yadda, yadda. It made me sad that in a world brought so much closer by the Internet and communication technology in general, some people just want to use it to proselytize some sort of Borg conformity without looking at the wider world and realising the appeal of everything is its difference and not its sameness.

Oh dear! I have gone a bit preachy haven’t I! Sorry about that. I promise to return to normal tomorrow. In the meanwhilst (one of my favourite non-words and a dig at people who insist on using ‘whilst’) here’s how the park looked this afternoon when we dashed up for a walk when I arrived home.

Autumn in the park with Gaz

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6 Responses to Bagpipes on the Underground

  1. Mirinda says:

    Well firstly you say we invented music because we like listening to it and dancing to it – but that’s western music. How do you explain Chinese opera or Indonesian gamelan?
    2ndly the badpiper wasn’t saying everyone had to like bagpipes – he’s saying ‘ hey there are other things besides guitars you know, get an earful of this’. I see it as a celebration of eclecticism.
    Thirdly isn’t it Bjorg?

  2. Mirinda says:

    Also I have been looking at the photos and I think we need some albums themed with places rather than holidays at certain times. eg Farnham – we should have an album on our lovely town. Plus the house, plus the garden, then the dogs, then favourite walks etc.
    luv u.

  3. admin says:

    Ah, now that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Chinese Opera is about the attention to detail and physicality; like Kabuki is about it always being the same. I don’t think it’s about the sound but rather the image. And the movements and physical drama are based on things people like to see.

    I disagree about the gamelan. I think it plays with the emotional within us. But it also works best when combined with the visual – just listening to the ‘music’ can be irksome, to say the least!

    You could be right about the piper but I bet he is in the minority. He was getting a few looks of disapproval from my fellow travellers.

    It’s only Bjorg at Wimbledon.


  4. admin says:

    I just might do that! Watch this space…or rather, some other space quite close to this.

    I’ve just had a look over the site and find there ARE some photo albums of places. Try here


  5. Mum Cook says:

    I agree about the bagpipes, in the right place they are great like on the top of a castle not in the underground.
    Lynden looks just the same how come he hasn’t aged like the rest of us. Love mum

  6. admin says:

    I know! Lynden B Jones seems to know the secret of eternal youth!


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