Monday, August 29, 2011

Competition Season 2011 Wash-up

It's been a hard season, and a fairly disappointing one at that. Our initial optimism, bolstered by a strong winter and an early success at Dunbar, quickly gave way to increasing despondency as the season wore on. We thought perhaps the Scottish Championships were a blip, caused by bad weather, but then the British Championships proved a repeat, and so it went.

Still, it wasn't all bad. The result at Annan's "Riding of the Marches" was fantastic. And the Development Band was the major success of the year, starting as just an idea, meeting some fairly nasty resistance, and finally being able to take the field. Them winning a prize on that first outing was a great achievement, far better than could reasonably have been hoped.

Ultimately, the big outcome of this season is positive. Although we did poorly in terms of the championship, we did record a solid, mid-table result. Perhaps more importantly, we got a sense of what the judges are actually looking for, and should hopefully have some idea on what we need to do in order to do better next year. I have some thoughts in that regard, but at this point they are premature - there are some significant issues that need to be cleared up before we can move on.

Cowal Highland Gathering 2011

So, the last competition of the season. Could it possibly be any worse than the last two years?

This time out, the bus left slightly later than normal. I didn't leave the house until 6:30, which I suppose wasn't too bad. The journey to the competition was likewise fairly quick, getting us there about 9.

At this point we were given some significant freedom. The bus had to travel early because the Development band were playing at 11:50, but the 4A band weren't playing until 3:50, so there was a long wait. I spent the time reading, and then headed down to watch the Development band play in their qualifier.

I thought they were pretty good, to be honest. Frankly, the Development band are a bit better now than the whole band were two years ago, when we recorded our best ever result at Cowal. So, that seemed okay.

Sadly, they didn't qualify, but that was to come later. First, there was the matter of yet more waiting. Again, I spent the bulk of the time reading. And then, just as the 4A band were getting ready to play, we learned the Development band results.

They failed to qualify, coming 12th in their heat: 11th and 10th for piping, 10th for drumming, and 13th for ensemble. I guess the judges just didn't rate them after all.

So, the 4A band went on, and played as well as we have all year. The issues with the reel that we had had at the Worlds and the Europeans seemed to be sorted out, and we came off feeling pretty okay about things.

There was then yet more waiting. I took the opportunity to wander into town to get some food, and then did some more reading. The rest of the band took the opportunity to drink large amounts of alcohol.

The march past was okay. The chieftain was Blythe Duff, who I recall as the rookie cop from Taggart, which I last watched when I was back in school. Surprisingly, she proved a better chieftain than Sylvester McCoy last year.

We didn't win a prize. In fact, we did rather poorly in the contest, coming 12th overall. In piping we came 17th (last) and 10th, 5th in drumming, and 11th in ensemble. All in all, a very disappointing result. Still, I was determined not to get too disheartened by this: we knew, regardless of the result, that the season was basically done, so it was important just to be happy with the performance. We'd achieved that, so who cares about the result, right?

So far, so good. It had actually been a fairly enjoyable day, an oddity for Cowal. Perhaps we might actually get away with it?

We got back to the bus. There were some few rumblings about marching down the street, but I think it's now accepted that we just won't be doing that until we win something at the event. Fair enough, I guess, although I would prefer to do the parade on principle. (That said, some members of the band were in no fit state to do the parade.)

We got on the bus, and waited for the police to clear us to move out. And waited, and waited. We could have done the parade twice over in the time we had to wait. Still, no matter. Eventually, we were off.

And that's when it all kicked off. There was an incident (which I'm not going to recount here; it was that bad!), and then there was almost a fight as a result of the incident (aggravated by alcohol). As the pipe major moved to deal with it, there was then an awful lot of shouting from other people, a lot of pushing and shoving...

As we came off the ferry, there was a strong suspicion that the bus driver would pull over and call the police. Frankly, I would have supported that call; what happened was an absolute disgrace. At length, though, we got everyone sat down, separated the people who needed separated, and made it home.

I got home at 11:45.

As a result of this, I will be surprised if that bus company will accept our business next year. Honestly, I wouldn't blame them if they did not. I will also not be surprised if several people leave the band as a result, including several members of the committee. As things stand, I will not be competing with this band next year (since I'm not travelling on a bus where this can happen, and I'm not paying a monthly sub to cover the bus and then taking my car to competitions).

Frankly, I'm just disgusted with the whole thing. I hate Cowal.

#24: "Pathfinder: Shadows of Gallowspire", by Brandon Hodge

Friday, August 19, 2011

Getting Back On Top

The last few weeks have been pretty grim, and the less said about them the better. Suffice to say, things have been rough, and I haven't exactly covered myself in glory. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

But part of the problem, I think, is that I've gradually let things slide, neglecting one thing because another was pressing, then neglecting that because of the first, and then...

And so, since the start of this week, and for the next couple of weeks, I'm going through the steps of getting back on top of everything. The apartment needs a clean, I need to get back to the painting, and the blogging, I need to get on top of my preparations for the game, I need to restock the freezer with lots of yummy food, I need to get back on the diet, the Sky+ box needs emptied again (and my subscription probably cancelled - but that's hard when the box is full of things to watch!), there's a wedding to plan...

So, it's going to be crazy busy for a while here. But, really, that's the way I like it. Relaxation isn't really my thing.

World Pipe Band Championships 2011

Oh dear.

This contest started badly, requiring a 4:30 start in order to get to the contest grounds before they closed down the car parking. Worse was to follow soon, when the bus we had ordered failed to materialise, being replaced with one that was only just big enough for everyone - I had visions of having to nominate someone to get off in Cumbernauld! (Actually, I would have nominated myself and Lady Chocolat, as I was suffering with a nasty cold.)

Anyway, we went, and we struggled through the morning. It wasn't a pleasant time, grim and grey, but you just get on with it. We started to get ready, bid good luck to the Development Band, and waited...

The World Championships are the only contest this year where there's a pre-qualification round in our grade. This made it a huge challenge just to get to compete, and after Ireland hopes were not terribly high.

We went on, and played as well as we could. Unfortunately, as with Ireland, the first three tunes were excellent, but the last one was really poor. It really lost us our chance. (Spoiler alert!)

We then scattered to the four winds while awaiting the results. One of the major benefits of the Worlds is the easy access to Glasgow City Centre, and all the joys that affords.

We didn't qualify. Nor did the Development Band. (In the end, we scored 15th and 16th for piping, 6th for drumming, and 15th for drumming, coming 14th overall, falling far short of the 6th needed to qualify. The Development Band scored 12th and 8th for piping, 12th for drumming and 12th for ensemble, thus scoring 13th overall, where they needed 4th or better.)

So, by lunchtime we were finished. On the plus side, the weather had vastly improved; it was actually a nice sunny day.

At this point, a lot of people left. Given my cold, I also felt strongly that I just wanted to go home. So, I went looking for the Pipe Major to try to let him know, but found no sign. Instead, I checked that there would be enough people left for the march past, sent a text informing him that we were off, and caught a train.

Bad move. There was later a text from the pipe major, sent to all members, expressing some outrage that people elected to leave in this manner. I haven't seen him since, as he's currently in France.

Oh well. It can't now be helped. And I remain convinced that leaving was the right choice; I really didn't feel well. In fact, I probably shouldn't have gone at all, but didn't want to leave the band in the lurch.

Anyway, there is now one more contest left in the season, at Cowal. It cannot be over soon enough.

Bridge of Allan Highland Games 2011

I wasn't actually able to make it, but while I was away the band attended the Bridge of Allan Highland Games, where they competed at both Grade 4 and Grade 4A level. I'm not certain, but I believe it was the 4A band that competed at both, rather than the development band.

Anyway, in Grade 4 we scored 12th for piping, 10th for drumming, and thus 13th overall. In Grade 4A, we scored 5th for piping, 3rd for drumming, and so 4th overall, which would have placed us in the prize-winning positions at a slightly larger contest.

European Pipe Band Championships 2011

The band's annual trip to Ireland saw us leaving on the Friday at about 5pm. Following a delay on the ferry and the inevitable bout of being lost in Belfast, we finally reached the hotel around 1 am. Fortunately, we weren't playing until late in the afternoon, so that wasn't a problem.

The hotel itself was fine, and the breakfast was really quite nice. It turns out that the Premier Inn actually is a pretty decent place to stay, in Belfast at least.

The Saturday was hot and sunny, something of a change for this season. It was a fairly enjoyable day all around, until the time came to actually get ready to play. Unfortunately, this was badly rushed, as the Pipe Major was playing with another band just before, and they were a bit delayed. Moreover, there were several problems with pipes that should have been resolved earlier but which needed attention.

Anyway, we did manage to get ready, and went on and played. The first three tunes were excellent; the best we had played them. Unfortunately, the last tune was pretty dire, and cost us badly.

We were one of the last bands to perform, and so the prize giving followed pretty soon thereafter. Sadly, we knew we weren't actually in with a realistic chance at a prize, but hope springs eternal. In the end, we scored 8th and 17th for piping, 15th for drumming, 6th for ensemble, and 11th overall. A poor showing, but actually better than the previous two majors of the year.

The rest of the night was spent resting, and then the journey home the next day was largely uneventuful, barring one bout of travel sickness.

Onward to the Worlds!