Last summer HunterGatherer mentioned in mournful tones that he'd never been to the Edinburgh Tattoo and had always yearned to see it, so for his birthday this year I bought him a ticket (and one for myself, boldly assuming that he'd appreciate having company on the night!).
Knowing that HG loves fireworks, I'd opted for the later performance of the Tattoo, so 9.30pm last Saturday night saw us queuing patiently (some of us more patiently than others...) on the Royal Mile, waiting to have our rucksacks searched en route to the Castle. As I'd not been to the Tattoo since I was 22 years old (to my horror, I realise that's now three decades ago!), I have to confess that I was quite looking forward to the experience myself, and we were both buzzing as we took our seats quite close to the facade of the castle.
It's safe to say that we were not in the least disappointed with any aspect of the evening's entertainment that followed – with the possible exception of the thoughtless people who insisted on departing before the end to avoid the crowds, thereby obscuring other people's view of proceedings as they pushed their way smugly to the end of the rows of seats. It was their loss, as it transpired, as they missed the poignant lone piper playing from the turret of the castle and the joint rendition of Auld Lang Syne by the cast and audience that formed a suitably rousing conclusion to the night.
Anyway, apart from the behaviour of the selfish few, the whole evening was amazing, with a wide variety of impressive acts including entertaining songs and music from the US Army Europe Band, breathtakingly deft footwork from both the Lochiel Marching Drill Team and the Tattoo Highland Dancers, slick drills from military teams including the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces Band and Drill Team, and daring antics by the Imps Motorcycle Display team.
Without a shadow of doubt (no pun intended), the whole performance was enhanced by the spectacular light effects projected on to the historic stone walls of Edinburgh Castle. These ranged from snow on Everest (accompanied by 'real' snow falling simultaneously on to the audience in the stands ) to colourful national flags, and from Star Wars battleships to the profile of Her Majesty the Queen.
All in all, it was a truly memorable experience, and the familiar skirl of the pipes rang in our ears long after we had filed in an orderly fashion out of the Castle Esplanade and made our way back down the Royal Mile to find our car. To give you an idea of the variety on offer, there's a quick photomontage below. The Edinburgh Tattoo is definitely an experience worth having several times in one's life – in fact, we're already planning on going again in five years' time.
PS: As it's almost impossible for Yours Truly not to find a way of engineering food into any of these posts, may I just tell you that The burgers we dined on at Grand Cru before the show were very good, too! Moreover, walking up the Royal Mile to get to the tattoo reminded us of our magical meal three summers ago at The Witchery to mark my 50th birthday! Where has the time gone?
Suddenly our summer (such as it was in Scotland!) is virtually over and on the arable farms here in Kinross-shire the combines have been revving up as farmers hasten to snatch their harvest in between the showers. And as another summer comes to an end, so does another showing season for all the livestock farmers for whom summer weekends mean trekking round Scotland on the showing circuit.
In the 1980s, when Yours Truly used to show Shetland ponies all summer long, the fun and friendly finale of the showing season was always Kinross Agricultural Show, which traditionally takes place on the second Saturday of August. In those halcyon days, the show used to be held in the walled garden of Kinross House – an idyllic setting, with the eponymous Neoclassical country mansion providing an almost surreal backdrop.
However, in life all good things generally come to an end, and several years ago the sale of Kinross House necessitated a move for the local agricultural show. But where on earth (or at least within the bounds of Kinross-shire!) could they hold the show that would ever compete with the previous unique location? The answer lay in an unassuming grass field, right next door to the RSPB’s Vane Farm on the shores of Loch Leven – with the Sleeping Giant (a local hill, so christened because its profile resembles a sleeping giant) as a backdrop and a breathtaking overview of the loch. It was an inspired choice.
When the sun shines, as it did this year, there are few places in Scotland that could rival this stunning rural show setting. For any of you who haven’t been to an agricultural show before, know this: the showing of sheep, cattle, ponies, goats and dogs is taken extremely seriously by those who participate. The exhibitors will have been up since the crack of dawn to make their final preparations before loading their budding animal beauty queens into lorries and horseboxes and making their way from far and near to the showground.
Having had experience of judging classes at local shows in a previous life, I know how precisely how nerve-wracking that particular task is. One thing is a given: there’s usually only going to be one happy person after each class, and that’s the owner of the animal who received the coveted first prize rosette. Everyone else will be muttering under their breaths what a fool the judge was for failing to appreciate the finer merits of their fabulous sheep, cow, goat or horse!
Unsurprisingly, now that I attend shows purely as a spectator rather than as an exhibitor or a judge, the whole occasion is vastly more relaxing. Instead of feverishly polishing ponies or weighing up the respective merits of entrants, I can take time to enjoy these couthy* rural gatherings which are as eclectic as they are entertaining. Here’s a quick photomontage compiled at this year’s show to give you a flavour… Hope to see you there next year!
* For any readers not familiar with this Scottish term, couthy (or couthie) means "warm and friendly".
Bad enough that Son&Heir had emerged yesterday, still bruised and sore, from the rugby-generated pink plaster cast on his wrist - the one that went on four weeks ago, an impressive two whole weeks after the six-week-long, hockey-induced pink ankle cast was removed... And worse still that he has been 'officially' signed off sport for another month to allow serious soft tissue damage to heal. Not good either that Daughter no.2 is still suffering the acute agonies of shin splints, or that HunterGatherer is hobbling around thanks to a half-healed torn hamstring (also sustained while on active hockey duty).
But at 7.00 this evening, even I was seriously beginning to doubt the veracity of that much-vaunted government advice that sport is good for our health. At that point I was 30 minutes into a training session of what can only be described as water hockey (only there wasn't a swimming pool in sight). The rain wasn't so much falling in traditional droplet form as descending in an all-engulfing icy torrent which rendered even moderately waterproof clothing saturated within seconds. The athletic ladies of the local hockey team, instead of pursuing the ball gracefully up and down the Astroturf (as is our norm...), looked something akin to a gaggle of constipated geese. With our once-elegant hair-dos (!) reduced to rivulets and our über-soaked trackie bottoms adhering fast to our legs, we could only waddle extremely ungracefully, sticks threatening to slip out of our hands each time we attempted to hit the ball - when we could actually see the said spherical object through the wall of water, that is. By half-way through the evening’s athletic endeavours, most of us could be heard muttering words to the effect of “who said sport was good for you?” Yet here’s the strange thing. By 7.30 p.m., the rain had stopped and we all had a healthy glow on our (albeit) wet faces. Stranger still, I - for one - felt invigorated and (curiouser and curiouser) all the better for the experience. The only possible explanation for this complete about-turn in sentiment is that all those super-duper endorphins released during exercise must wreak havoc with the short-term memory. So much so, that next Wednesday at 6.30 p.m., I'll be back for more - come rain, hail or snow!