I am one of those people who firmly believes there are two kinds of people in this world.
At risk of making sweeping generalizations, I would describe these two distinct groups of people as follows:
1) People who appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Scottish bagpipes and are moved to tears when they hear them played.
2) People who are terrible human beings and should be actively shunned because they have absolutely no taste in music.
Not surprisingly, I fall into that first group of people, which means I am celebrating with reckless abandon today, because today, July 27, just happens to be International Bagpipe Appreciation Day.
What that means is today is the single day of the year set aside for all of us to sit down and attempt to appreciate the bagpipes, which comes easier to some of us than to others.
I personally have been appreciating bagpipes for decades, largely because my 32-year-old son started playing the pipes when he was just 10 years old.
It takes a long time to become adept at this particular instrument, which is painfully obvious at 3 a.m., when you are awakened by a horrific screeching in the basement that, on investigation, turns out to be your son tuning his pipes and attempting to loudly play the theme song from the movie Top Gun.
The cruel truth is that not everyone is a fan of bagpipe music. For example, I have heard it argued that it is not an especially popular kind of music among sane people.
It was the legendary British film director, Alfred Hitchcock, who once famously said: "I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig."
Pigs aside, a quick online perusal of some of the more common — I hesitate to say popular — bagpipe jokes reveals a subtle undercurrent of antipathy towards this famously loud instrument.
Q: What is the difference between a set of bagpipes and an onion?
A: No one cries when you cut up the bagpipes.
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To get away from the bagpipe recital.
I have personally told these particular jokes in public while hosting a variety of Scottish-themed events and can tell you that not a single one of them got anything remotely approaching a laugh.
In fact, I became the centre of an international controversy a few years ago when, while serving as one of the MCs for the annual Teddy Bears Picnic at Assiniboine Park, I unwisely shared a bagpipe joke with the audience sprawled on the grass in front of the stage.
The first thing I had to do on stage was thank a group of Highland dancers and their piper, which I did by telling the following joke: "I heard on the news that hijackers have captured a plane loaded with bagpipers. (Dramatic pause) And if their demands aren’t met, they’re going to release one piper every hour!"
Ha, ha, ha! OK, no one laughed back then, either. What’s more, this newspaper received an outraged letter from a parent who complained the "humour" columnist was telling little kids jokes about terrorism.
The international angle came in when an irate Scottish newspaper heard about the fuss and published a teeny-tiny item about how some "idjit" in Winnipeg was making heartless comments about their beloved instrument.
I will tell you now what I told all of those complainers back then: if the day comes when we can no longer tell cheesy jokes about the bagpipes in public, then the terrorists will have already won.
Getting back to my central point, I love the bagpipes and I get a weird tingly feeling along my spine when I hear them being fired up for some traditional tune such as Scotland the Brave.
In honour of today’s celebration, I am going to share with you two of the proudest moments in my life, both of which involved the bagpipes being played by my son, Liam.
It was May 2007, and I was standing on a stage at the convention centre along with my colleague Brad Oswald, then the paper’s TV writer and now our perspectives editor.
Brad and I were co-hosting the National Newspaper Awards, which are the Oscars of the newspaper business, and we were pretty pumped up.
But the thing that overwhelmed my fatherly emotions was the fact Brad and I had been piped on stage by my then 20-year-old son and one of his buddies from the award-winning St. Andrew’s Pipe Band of Winnipeg.
Brad and I managed to get a few laughs that night, but, in my mind, the biggest roar of approval came when my son and his pal, both in full-dress kilts, fired up their pipes and led us through a crowd of crusty journalists.
Even if you don’t have an ounce of Scottish blood in your body, there’s nothing like the thunderous skirl of the bagpipes to get your blood boiling and turn most of your internal organs — along with your eardrums — into an emotional puddle of goo.
Which brings us to the day 17 years ago when my family gathered in Vancouver to bury my father, an old-school gentleman who was fiercely proud of his Scottish heritage and his grandchildren.
The enduring image of that day will always be the sight of my grieving teenage son, in his full kilt, standing at his grandfather’s graveside, bravely playing a note-perfect rendition of Amazing Grace on his pipes. There was not a dry eye in the house, as you can imagine.
So whichever group of people you happen to fall into, take a moment today to appreciate something you might not have appreciated before reading this column. And feel free to enjoy a dram of whisky, because today also happens to be National Scotch Day. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.