When I was born, the world really was black and white and not just TV’s. It was a world of right and wrong, good and evil, fear and obedience. The hippie movement started breaking the post war mould. Elvis has started shaking it up, but the Sixties flower children stepped it up and what a job they had. No wonder they needed to be stoned. That movement needed courage.
In my small world, I was taught ‘us and them’. Glasgow then, the ‘them’ was Protestants. We were the Catholics. Mics and Proddies. Across the Irish Sea, this sometimes was a matter of life and death. I vaguely remember talk about the Paki shop, but there were no people of colour in my world. Okay, perhaps redheads, and I had 2 Ginger sisters and some cousins were also ‘different’.
This religious separation caused trauma, adrenaline, adventure and when it came to football, the intensity shifted gear. The air was always electric when there was a ‘match oan’. But before I really got stuck in those ways of life, we moved to South Africa.
Colour everywhere and the heat flooded my body. Suddenly the usual account for safety shifted. I remember being fascinated by the first black man who served me in the hotel restaurant. He called me ‘miss’. I stared and stared. I was five, so I do apologize but it might have been rude. I also didn’t like him calling me ‘miss’. Our family had rules and he was my elder, I was supposed to call him ‘mister’.
Unfortunately the barbaric laws of the land prevented so much learning and growing. The hippie movement didn’t really arrive at these African shores. But all the new dangers unfolded in my world. The Boer. They hated us rooinekke and I didn’t really know why. However most of them were Protestant, so that was a reason to stay separate.
Suddenly the local Catholic Church introduced me to Chinese people, Italians and even Indians. The Italians were in the majority though, but the new definition of British didn’t really get us to mingle with those ‘others’. In our ‘tribe’ suddenly I had Proddie friends. Even people from Edinburgh! I was familiar with Irish but had never met English people. And in a way our identity shifted to find familiar in a foreign world.
I remember our tribe longing for ‘home’. Getting drunk and having sing-songs always ended up with some tears. I watched as these grown-ups greeted and I wondered why. As the years went by, life shifted and some families returned to Britain. Other families moved as the 4 year contracts ended and the pocket of familiar changed.
Today I attended a Highland Gathering in Johannesburg at a local school. Pipe bands came in their hundreds to compete and I sat fascinated by the sights presented to me. Kids of all nationalities in kilts, carrying drums or bleating a bagpipe. Different cultures all finding a common love for the music and culture of MY people. Even, yes, some Chinese.
We had the opportunity to hear some background from a teacher who told us that in the Apartheid years, Catholic and some Private schools ‘rebelled’ against the militant governments rules of ‘cadets for kids’ and added some bagpipes because the band ‘marches’. I was amazed at how supported this pastime still is. Flabbergasted actually and secretly quite honoured, although my ignorance to my Scottish history is almost embarrassing. We sat surrounded by the music that felt so familiar and loved the community spirit.
The grand event of the day didn’t seem to be the prizegiving, although I may be biased, but we were told about the mass piper march at 3.30. The field opened up and the bands lined up at the far end of the field. The drum majors marched smartly to the front and the sound of a thousand bees suddenly ripped through the air. The bagpipes began their melodic wail with ‘Scotland the Brave’. Suddenly the crowd stood still, went quiet, tears spilled and other filmed with their phones and everyone felt it.