A decent wage for the Bagpipe Man!

On the way to our Scottish retreat, our party of three cars decided to stop so we could take a good look at the beauty of the glen that surrounded us. We were not alone. Many other travellers seemed to have had the same idea and had pulled over in their cars, coaches and motorbikes.

Just as I switched the engine off in our car, the majestic sound of bagpipes could be heard. The sound for me is so unmistakably Scottish that it could easily have been springing from the natural environment around us. We quickly found the source. It came from the edge of the car park. With the whole panorama of the glen we had been travelling through behind him, the figure was there in his full Scottish regalia.

Someone said, “make sure you pay him, if you take a photograph.” Just then I saw that there was a container in front of him, for people to throw their coins. I reluctantly reached into my bag and found a coin, a pound, and thought that would do. As I reached down to drop it into the container, I noticed a few other similar coins in there already. This made me feel righteous; I was equally generous, I thought.

I then took a photograph. First one, then another and another. The thought crossed my mind: ‘was I taking too many’? Had I paid him enough? But then, out of nowhere, I found myself listening to the man. I suddenly realised there was a human being there, behind the uniform.

My family tell me I am always talking to strangers. What had I done to start this particular conversation? Did the fact I was Asian and him not come into it? Maybe it needed our distance to bring us close in this moment!

I could see a hardened man, almost like someone who lives a tough life, maybe even sleeps rough.

But! I had not wanted a sob story of an angry man; just music. I didn’t want to hear how resentful he was at people “stealing my music without a thought of paying for it.” I thought, for goodness sake, I am a tourist, on holiday for a few days. To have a break with friends. I have come away for frivolity, not to connect with social stuff. I have plenty of that where I come from. Just as I was wanting to pull away, he said: “look. See what I mean. There’s another one”, pointing to one of our party who just then had taken his camera out and was pointing in our direction.

But, actually, with hindsight, what I really want is for there not to be a sob story in the first place. So, travellers can stop, take in the view, click a few photos and move on. But for that to happen, someone would need to take care of the human behind the instrument. He had said he needed to feed himself and pay for a performance licence. Presumably, he also needed to live and clothe himself. Who knows he might have other needs to fulfil, just like the rest of us.

So, how about the Bagpipe Man being paid a wage! Not just a minimum but a decent one. He is an artist after all. But, who should pay it? Surely, he should not be dependent on the whim and mercy of the passing travellers! In any case, they, we, the travellers have already paid plenty already; to the hotels, the restaurants, the landlords and the general businesses we seem to frequent during our week, two weeks or just a few days of holiday. So, maybe some of that money should find its way down to pay the Bagpipe Man; so he can have a bit of dignity, like the rest of us. Maybe, he will then be able to concentrate on his art, on his music. And during breaks he could talk about what he does and the beautiful land he is a part of. Maybe he could be given the title of Scottish Ambassador, for that is what he is, representing his nation to foreigners from South of the Borders like me and others from far and near. 

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