There’s something about the bagpipes that just gets me, every time. I don’t mean just a little bit misty-eyed – I mean chest-tightening, tears flowing, crying.
It’s pride, it’s love and yes, in recent years it’s undoubtedly mixed with grief over the loss of my Dad.
But it’s been like this for as long as I can remember. I recall telling my Dad about it as a teenager. I had seen a piper busking in Perth and it got me quite choked up.
I could tell that Dad was touched by the story, but he was never one to miss an opportunity for a joke. “Some of those buskers bring tears to my eyes too,” he said, totally deadpan. Then with a sparkle: “They play the pipes so badly!”
It’s like a switch has been flicked when I hear bagpipes and it stirs something deep inside. Even those first haunting sounds – they call it the drone – as the piper produces that first sustained note.
Dad played the bagpipes in a pipe band in Western Australia in the 1970s. He practiced his playing as he marched up and down the hallway at home.
It formed a robust lullaby for me and for my little sister in particular. Mum tells us we would go off to the sleep to the sound of Dad on the bagpipes in the hall beside our room. I’m sure that left a deep imprint on us that must help explain our heartfelt link to the instrument.
Given that, all through the flight to Scotland I was wondering whether hearing the bagpipes – which seemed inevitable – would be even more emotional given my recent job loss. They do say that grief has a way of resurfacing old feelings of grief.
I was already feeling mixed emotions as I headed to the airport on the weekend. There’s no denying my excitement about coming to Scotland, but leaving home has wrenched me from a warm, safe cocoon my friends have created in the weeks after my redundancy.
All my family and friends have been great, but two dear friends in particular in Melbourne – one who shares my love of running and one my passion for singing – have really been there. Isn’t it wonderful how helping each other through adversity can take a great relationship to an even deeper level?
In leaving that safety, Scotland felt like a fitting place to start my travels. If there’s any more grieving to be done, this visit will surely deliver? It could be quite cathartic.
When I was here in early 2011, not long after Dad died, I’m sure I heard the bagpipes every day, so as I’ve mentioned, it was quite an emotional tour.
There’s one moment that stands out from the rest and it happened at an iconic location that I won’t name, to protect the piper’s identity.
After the tour bus pulled up and we all piled out, the bus driver must have seen a look cross my face as I heard the pipes, because he whispered to me: “He’s not very good, is he? But it makes a great photo.”
The tears had started, but how hard did I laugh as well? My Dad could have scripted that scene! I enjoyed the moment so much, I threw the piper 10 pounds and took his photo.
The funny thing is, I haven’t heard a single bagpipe since I landed in Glasgow on the weekend.
Staying with my irrepressible, inspirational 84-year old cousin this week, I don’t feel so much like a tourist. And I don’t think I’m meant to cry my way around the country this time. So far, I feel happy, content and quite at home.