Magazine article The Spectator

Bagpipes in Our Baggage

Magazine article The Spectator

Bagpipes in Our Baggage

Article excerpt

These have been trying times for itinerant musicians. Anybody who had already built up a dislike for the way airport staff are entitled to treat their customers would have found the recent situation testing to the point of phobia. To be fair, my fellow-citizens showed remarkable good humour in those endless and often directionless queues at Heathrow (our plane to Chicago took off six hours after I first presented myself at the terminal the other day); the staff were less accommodating, buffeted by conflicting and sometimes unjustifiable instructions, obliged to be inflexible and inclined to be stonyfaced.

The restrictions on hand-luggage didn't inconvenience us as much as some, since singers' instruments go into the cabin whether the authorities like it or not. For instrumentalists the restrictions were sometimes disastrous. I read with sympathy of the plight of a Russian orchestra which had to return home days late by train because the insurance on their instruments required the players to keep them in sight at all times. There were so many stories about the unsuitableness of priceless instruments meeting lumpish baggage-handlers that I started to collect them.

A not-quite typical one ran as follows:

'This has been a huge problem for bagpipers around the world. Thousands of us are travelling to Glasgow this August for the World Pipe Band Championships.

Pipers normally carry their pipes on-board for the instrument's safety. Some of these bagpipes are antique and very valuable.

African Blackwood is prone to cracking with varying levels of moisture and temperature, not to mention mishandling by airport workers.' In fact the level of respect which anything put into the hold of an aircraft might receive was the idee fixe of preference with most of these correspondents, more than the possibility of the instrument freezing or cracking or being jostled once there.

Perhaps out of frustration at this assumption 'Laura of Middlesex' wrote on a website: 'I am a security guard at Heathrow. If you don't like it, don't fly.

This is happening for a reason and you're quick to forget it. If we were not doing this and a bomb did get on a plane, you would be quick to complain that nothing was being done about it. Get real, there is more to life than music.'

Personally I didn't find this very reassuring. The prospect of hassle at the airport, early starts made yet earlier, and then nothing to read for hours and hours tested my commitment to giving concerts like nothing before, and nowhere more than when going to give them in the United States. …

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