{Mon 5 March 2007}   The Ageless Call

I’ve been thinking a lot over this weekend about goals (or, more specifically, about my lack of clearly described, time-limited, achievable goals). I have wanted so many things over my life time, and many of those desires still remain, and yet it seems that I settle so easily for less than fulfilment, or for situations that are almost guaranteed to prevent fulfilment.

This morning I’m wondering about the (as yet unfulfilled) passion that I see in another childhood poem of mine, The Ageless Call (see below), which I wrote when I was thirteen. It speaks of my desire to go to Scotland, a land I knew only through my imagination and the very many Scottish activities I was exposed to in South Africa. Blood-wise, Scotland has no greater claim on me than the other strands of my origins, which include Irish, English, Lithuanian Jewish and others not explored. However, my parents met at Scottish Country Dancing in Johannesburg. My father used to teach (he developed several innovative new dances of his own), and had also done a bit of Highland Dancing while younger. As a family, we went often to weekly dance sessions and dancing holidays (although my brothers felt this was distinctly uncool and were rather reluctant participants). While at high school, I danced in competitions and demonstrations for a Scottish Country Dance group. I had also taken up Highland Dancing very young and competed in Highland Gatherings several times over the years. Although I did receive medals for exams and competitions, I never developed the dedication of two of my cousins who were South African champion dancers.

I also started bagpiping (to the consternation of almost everyone at the very prim girls’ boarding school I attended, and the fascinated incomprehension of the boys’ pipe band whose Band Master reluctantly allowed me to practise—but not to march officially—with them). After high school, I spent a brief period with the Transvaal Irish Regiment, but I was very naive and found it a bit rough being not only a teenager amongst adults, but the only female in a very masculine environment again, and this one much more macho. My enthusiasm also cooled fairly sharply as I began to realise the hours of commitment in practice and performance time needed to maintain the required standard and attend all the official functions. I left shortly after being measured for my kilt! However, my love of the pipes remained.

When my father died, I arranged for a piper to play at his funeral. It was a very appropriate send-off, but intensely emotional for almost everyone there because it brought him to mind so strongly. After his death, the Jewish side of my identity gradually took more and more focus. Eventually I emigrated to Israel, but I kept my practice chanter (I still have it) and took it with me on all my travels. When I eventually moved to the UK, I craved a reconnection to aspects of my culture that had been completely absent from my life for four years. One of the first things I did was to find a bagpipe teacher here. However, I stopped within a few months because work pressure made it difficult to find time for the necessary practice and I felt ashamed and undeserving before my very brilliant teacher. I also couldn’t fathom what I would do with my reinvigorated skill—an apartment in London is not exactly the best place for chuffing away on the bagpipes, and the practice chanter is a less-than-thrilling substitute. Also, my ever-patient husband, who is willing to give most things a go at least once, found it hard to work up any enthusiasm! I suppose it’s a lot to ask of anyone, but especially of an Israeli sabra with absolutely no exposure at all to any culture from the British Isles. At least he’s learned to love some Irish drinking songs…!

Nowadays, there’s not much Scottish in my life at all. I’ve only been to Scotland once, a few years ago. I did love it, but it was only for a few days. I wonder how to make sense of all the passion and all the experience over the years that seems to have come to nothing. My dad’s mom was Scottish and his dad Jewish, so in a way I suppose I explored my relationship with him via the former while he was alive and the latter after he died, but neither exploration yet feels complete.

The Ageless Call

The pipes, the pipes are calling me
To come to the highlands wild and free.
The swishing kilt, the marching feet,
Echo the time of the drummer’s beat.

The thrilling notes of victory
Running in my blood are part of me.
The glorious, triumphant battle cry
Lingers in the air from days gone by.

Oh, misty mountains of my Scotland,
Live forever against the bitter wind!
Wrapped in memories, your majesty
Reminds your folk of a proud country.

I want to dance the victory dance
Of the ancient Scots, in warrior stance.
If only I could return to the land
Where my heart beats to a Scottish band.

Great Scotland I have never seen;
To my own land I have never been.
Yet my spirit the distance spanned,
Linking me to my heather-clad land.

Born and bred in a southern place,
Scottish Jew with an Irish face:
A varied ancestry in all,
But the strongest cry is the piper’s call:

“Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart forever,
Scotland the Brave!”

Robin says:

Hey mate…how are you…nice text :)
I want to learn playing bagpipers. I am in india. Could you please guide me ?

-Best Regards

Tia says:

Hi Robin, unfortunately, I haven’t played pipes now for over twenty years, apart from a few months in 2001 when I tried to get it started again, but found that I didn’t have the time to do the practice necessary. You could try this site http://www.bagpipejourney.com/articles/find_instructor.shtml

fascinating post, especially like the ‘Scottish Jew with an Irish face:’ bit. I once wrote a poem about people not going to church except at Christmas and it being locked, it was actually when i tried to visit the church where Coleridge was buried around 1967 (after being exhumed from his grave in Highgate).

Tia says:

Thanks for commenting, Rehan, but I don’t follow your connection between ‘Scottish Jew with an Irish face’ and people not going to church except at Christmas – what’s the link?

I’m quite puzzled myself now, it is late into the night but I guess the linkage is rooted in my belief of an universal spiritual tradition with different ways of looking at things. I was thinking of my poem in this regard because being a Muslim I made the long snowy trek up to the church that looked like it hadn’t been open in quite some time. It is called ‘Modern Snow.’

So still so silent so serene so wan
So deathly white as if all life had gone
This dawn I see the snow has conquered Earth
And thickened over all my soul with mirth
Snow takes the life from where it falls away
As it has stole from me my heart this day
And left me to dictate my numbers plain
My Muse’s musings in my Muse’s strain
Its biting drafts in London’s chaplets blow
And forbid any Christian soul to go
So they return not once throughout the year
But I, a Muslim, struggle up to here
Mute in this church now locked and bolted long
No more whose spire invites the Christmas throng
Wherein the poet Coleridge lies dead still
‘Here on the southern slope of Highgate Hill’

Tia says:

Yes, I’ve known that same sense of longing, or is it disappointment? as I’ve wandered into or around many a lonely church and wondered where the people are!

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