Everything you need to know about Bagpipes and Bands

If you are a fan of bagpipes then the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle has to be on your bucket list!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

3 to 25 August 2018

If you have never experienced bagpipes it can give you goosebumps and cause your eyes to tear up with its mournful sound or it can sound like someone stepped on your cat’s tail and it is screeching for you to get the hell off it.  The bagpipes are one of those instruments you either love or hate.

bagpipe parts

The parts of a bagpipe are listed to the left but the main parts are the bag which you fill with air and then squeeze with your arm while blowing in the mouthpiece and covering the holes in the chanter (like a flute) to give you the notes and maintaining a hum through the drones while standing in a kilt*.

You do not start by playing the bagpipes as you will need to build up the stamina slowly in order to play more than a few minutes.

You will start with a practice chanter, which is a small oboe-like double reed woodwind instrument that is very affordable and quiet. You will begin by learning the fingering and grace-noting system required to play Highland Bagpipe tunes. This will take several months.  You can learn on your own but it is better to join a pipeband so that you can learn from others and improve.

Pipe bands consist of pipers and drummers, the number isn’t so important but you should have at least six pipers and a minimum of  two drummers and a bass to carry the sound you want.  You can have as many as 20 pipers or more and a solid line of tenor drummers and snare drummers but only one bass – that is the drum that usually has the band logo imprinted on it and the person is walking crablike sideways so they can see where they are going.

Cambridge Highland games

At competition level pipe bands are judged from Grade 5 through to Grade 1.   Moving to a higher grade requires a bagpipe band to consistently dominate their current grade, sometimes over several seasons. At present day, hundreds of competitions occur all over the world each summer as Grade 5 (the most amateur bands) through Grade 1 (professional-grade bands) compete in their respective categories for trophies, bragging rights, prize money, and prestige.

The World Pipe Band Championships is the most prestigious contest in the world. Every second weekend in August over 250 bands from a dozen or more countries gather on the Glasgow Green in the east side of Scotland’s second largest city. Combined with the other events the week proceeding, it is one of the largest annual Celtic festivals in the world.  Note:  When my husband and I were there, there was a band from Simon Fraser University in B.C. Canada that won.  It was pretty great!


Tartan samples

*A kilt is a garment resembling a knee-length skirt of pleated tartan cloth, traditionally worn by men as part of Scottish Highland dress and now also worn by women and girls. Tartan (Scottish Gaelic: breacan [ˈbɾʲɛxkən]) is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours. Tartans originated in woven wool, but now they are made in many other materials. Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland. Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns which represent the different clans (groups of kinship) under a chieftain.

You won’t be an expert on bagpipes after reading this but it should help you take your first gingerly step into the world of bagpipes and if you want to try out something a little less traditional there is the Red Hot Chili Peppers to listen to!

The WOW Museum in Nelson, New Zealand

While my husband and I were travelling through New Zealand in 2012 we happened upon this world where the lines of fashion and art blur and merge as one… the WOW museum which stands for the World of Wearable Art.

For a peek into this imaginative cirque du solheil of choreographed human art, please go to                                          www.worldofwearableart.com 

The museum provides visitors with the opportunity to view the permanent collection of past winners of the awards show (held in Wellington in September each year and celebrating 30 years in 2018) in a unique setting.  We were not allowed to photograph the garment displays but there was a travelling show in Christchurch where we were able to take a few photos.


Wed. 28th March, 2018 Step 1 (intention to enter) closes
Step 2 entries close for ALL international entrants
Sun 9 Sept Second Judging (provisional)
Mon 24 Sept Final Judging
Fri 28 Sept 2018 Awards announced
Sat 29 Sept Entries open for 2019 WOW Competition

Unless you are particularly motivated to show your own creative talents, you might possibly have to wait till this September to come up with a proper theatrical spectacle worthy of consideration as you only have till the end of March for entry to 2018 Awards show.  A kaleidoscope of dance, colour, movement, art and drama, the WOW awards show in Wellington ‘takes art off the wall and onto the moving body’.

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand and can attend the show in September in Wellington or going to Nelson anytime of the year, you have to stop in to see the WOW.  An added bonus is the world-class Classic Car Gallery in an adjacent building.  Over 50 cars and motorbikes on display.  My favourite was the Excalibur parked out front though the 1937 Cord was none too shabby.


Festivals in 2018 every month – for when you win the lottery.

  1.   Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, January 6th-8th, 2018!!

    From December 22, 2017 to February, 2018, come experience the world’s largest ice festival in beautiful Harbin city.

  2. Carnival in Rio De Janeiro – February 9-14th, 2018
    Related image
    The actual annual dates of Carnival differ and depend on the date Easter falls in that particular year, as Carnival will be 40 days before Easter. Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon in Spring.

  3. Mardi Gras in New Orleans – Mardi Gras 2018 is on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.
    New Orleans
    Mardi Gras always lands on the Tuesday that is 47 days before Easter. It is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent. Carnival season refers to the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, and officially begins on January 6 every year. Although Carnival season lasts more than a month, the parties, parades and fun kick into high gear on the Thursday before Mardi Gras.

  4. The date of Holi is different every year in India!
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    In most of India, Holi is celebrated at the end of winter, on the day after the full moon in March each year. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to mark occasion and to burn evil spirits. This is known as Holika Dahan. In 2018, Holi is on March 1st and ends March 02nd.  Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s fun, safe, and free. Just remember to BYOD (bring your own dye).

  5. Coachella, California | 13th-15th-and 20th-22nd April 2018
    Image result for coachella california 2016The first major music event in the annual festival calendar, Coachella – California’s glossy, glam, palm-tree-peppered answer to Glastonbury – returns. Expect clear skies, designer-hippie ensembles and not a squelch of mud under foot.  If you can’t get tickets for this perhaps the next one might interest you.

  6. Songkran Water Festival – Chiang Mai, Thailand – April 13-15th, 2018

    Stay indoors on the 13th of April – if you happen to be in Thailand. Or step out if you love water… and getting wet! For it’s a given that you won’t escape the water pistols, the water balloons and buckets of water as the Thais celebrate Songkran, the Thai New Year.

  7. The Ottawa Tulip Festival in Ottawa, Canada is the largest tulip festival in the world and it is held every year in May.  It will be held on May 11th-21st, 2018
    This festival is a celebration founded on international friendship with the 1945 presentation of 100,000 tulip bulbs from Princess Juliana of the Netherlands to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, given in appreciation of the safe haven that members of Holland’s exiled royal family received during World War II in Ottawa and in recognition of the role which Canadian troops played in the liberation of the Netherlands.

    The Canadian Tulip Festival is also a celebration of the return of spring, with over a million tulips in 50 varieties blooming in public spaces across the National Capital Region. The highest concentration of tulips can be viewed in the flower beds of Commissioners Park, on the banks of Dow’s Lake, where 300,000 flowers bloom.

  8. Glastonbury 2019, England – Worthy Farm – 26th -30th June – no date for 2018
    but Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza 2018 confirmed for August 4, 2018*

    Glastonbury. This five-day bonanza offers dozens of live stages, attracting almost 200,000 people every year. The event hosts the absolute best of the musical world – names like Radiohead, The Smiths, Kanye West and Beyoncé have previously played here. The event also supports upcoming acts and promotes dance, comedy, theatre, cabaret and arts. ( *no dates for 2018 – field has to fallow).

  9. Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Manchester, Tennessee  June 7th- 10th, 2018.
    Related imageThe name of the four-day music and arts festival is one of the most recognizable in the world. Founded in 2002 on a sprawling farm an hour south of Nashville, Bonnaroo has since become synonymous with positive vibes, eclectic music, 24-hour programming, camping and high fives.  Artist line-up revealed in January.

  10. Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain
    Image result for running of the bulls 2016The  Running of the Bulls is a part of the San Fermin Festival, which runs in Pamplona from July 6 to July 14 in 2018 and every year.

  11.  Edinburgh International Festival , Scotland – 3 August 2018 to 27 August 2018

    Image result for edinburgh festival 2016 imagesEvery August, the Edinburgh International Festival transforms one of the world’s most beautiful cities, presenting three exhilarating weeks of the finest creators and performers from the worlds of the arts.

    Edinburgh’s six major theatres and concert halls, a few smaller venues and often some unconventional ones too, come alive with the best music, theatre, opera and dance from around the globe.  The Royal Edinbugh Military Tattoo takes place at the same time.

  12. La Tomatina in Spain 2018 – Wednesday, August 29th, 2018
    Image result for La Tomatina in SpainLa Tomatina is the most popular tomatoes throwing festival in the world. It is being observed in the town of Bunol, Valencia, Spain each year on the last Wednesday of August. It is a festival held purely for fun. The festival attracts a large number of tourists in the town of Bunol during the celebration.

  13. Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nevada
    Related imageBurning Man 2018 taking place August 26– September 3, 2018 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.  Their mission:  The Burning Man organization will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and personal engagement.  This is by no means your average festival!

  14. Oktoberfest –  Munich, Germany
    Image result for oktoberfest 2016On Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 the Schottenhamel tent is the place to be, if you want to catch the official opening ceremonies. At noon, the Mayor of Munich will have the honor of tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. Runs until October 7th.

  15. International Balloon FestivalAlbuquerque, NM -Saturday, October 6th – 14th, 2018Image result for balloon festival albuquerque new mexicoThe Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual October festival that takes place in New Mexico. It was first launched in 1972 with just 13 participants. Today, more than 500 balloons take to the skies over Albuquerque each year, making the Balloon Fiesta the largest event of its kind worldwide.

  16. Day of the Dead, Mexico is celebrated from October 31 till November 02, 2018.
    Image result for day of the dead images
    Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it is a national holiday, and all banks are closed.

  17. Christmas Markets Dates – all over Germany
     27th November to 23rd December, 2018

    Image result for christmas markets in berlin 2016 imagesThere is an air of  festivity that fills the air the end of November and continues till Christmas. Heralding the approach of the festive season, the streets are brightly lit, Christmas trees adorned with tinsel and little red bells and stars line the streets and people are out late doing their Christmas shopping. Concerts are staged, both outdoors and indoors, classical and modern. Street plays performed, musicians show off their talent and generally there is very festive and happy air around. This is when Germany is at its colourful best – white snows, green Christmas trees, red tinkling bells and families out on the streets. Come, join in the festivities!


The Perfect Day

What constitutes “The Perfect Day”.

For me, it is sleeping in late without waking to an alarm clock or being interrupted by the telephone or doorbell ringing – stretching and easing myself out of bed.  Having a breakfast of hot cocoa spiked with a little Bailey’s to give it that creaminess and topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon accompanied by a delicious chocolate croissant.

Taking all this outside to the patio and reading the paper while soaking up the sun.  No running errands, going grocery shopping, or doing projects around the house but listening to my favourite tunes and just relaxing with my feet up.  Taking the time to watch the birds at the feeder, or seeing the chipmunk dancing lightly around the fence or the young rabbit who has taken up residence nibbling peacefully at the vast amount of clover encircling the grass in our yard.

Later in the afternoon, we might take a drive to the beach or cottage country and stroll along the waterfront or hike a trail with no hills and sing songs along with the radio.  We might then stop for a picnic lunch or stop in a small town cafe and converse about future plans or debate the merits of our baseball team and why they are having the year they are or world order.  It doesn’t really matter as long as it is friendly and not to complicated.  Save the drama and what needs to be done for another day.

Or we might take in a concert, go canoeing, visit friends and enjoy the environment and ambiance.  Once the event is over and we are on our way home, we might stop for an ice cream cone – a reward for just being us.  Once home we will spark up the barbecue, have a nice, light dinner and a glass of wine and arrange the patio so we can have a fire and relax while watching the flames consume the wood we picked up on our way home.

Doesn’t get any better than that, folks! The end of a Perfect Day.  What makes yours a perfect day?




false-creek-areaDRAGON BOAT RACES take place each June in False Creek in Vancouver, B.C.

Dragon boats are long, teak-hulled canoes; propelled by 20 paddlers. Racing dates back hundreds of years in China but was introduced to Vancouver during EXPO 86. It became an annual event the next year when leaders of the local Asian community launched the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival as a way to promote good relations with the non-Asian majority.

Some years ago when we lived in B.C., Ken (my husband) and I joined a dragon boat race team from the hotel where he worked – the Pan Pacific – you know the one with the sails down in the Harbour.  We didn’t have any experience but we were in the amateur, ‘fun’ category where you were participating to enjoy camraderie with fellow staff while getting some exercise and enjoying the great outdoors.  It seemed like a great idea at the time!

You practised on the course two times a week for a month before the competition so that you could be in shape for the races.  Race day you were lined up with six or seven other boats and you had to keep in your lane to avoid collision with another boat or risk not only disqualification but actual injury to life and limb.

Now, these races were probably no more than four or five minutes long which doesn’t seem all that difficult but you are paddling at a frenetic clip for the whole entire time while (theoretically anyways) being in sync with everyone else in the boat.  At one end of the boat you have a drummer who keeps the beat and you dip your paddle in – keeping time to it while the steersman who in our case seemed to be a sadistic escaped lunatic screamed at you constantly to “Reach, Reach, reach you bloody bastards”.

And that’s just what you wanted to do.  You wanted to reach up and grab that mofo by the neck and throw him overboard – and that fantasy is what kept you going for the next few minutes as the muscles in your back and neck were screaming to stop that instance and go find somewhere where you could lay down and die.  And that was only the first heat.  You had to go out again and repeat this insanity later that afternoon.  And twice again the next day.  We never participated again but we did actually have a lot of fun that year and we are glad we had the opportunity to do something we’d never tried before.

Chihuly at the ROM, November 2016


The Chihuly exhibit recently ended at the ROM.  For those not familiar with Chihuly he is a master artisan who works in glass and is renowned around the world for his installations and individual pieces.  He is from Seattle www.chihulygardenandglass.com and you can see his work in the entryway to the Royal York Hotel in Toronto as well as many other cities.

In November, a friend and I went to the ROM (the Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto and took some photos of his work, which was allowed, and we got to see firsthand how much effort, talent and artistry goes into these works of art.  Please see the video for a glimpse which pales in comparison to being surrounded by the real thing.  Enjoy

Caribana Toronto 2017


My fellow swamper and I decided to take in the annual Caribana festival some years ago and were up at some ungodly hour to take the Go train into the Exhibition grounds and make sure we had a good seat for the proceedings.  I’m pretty sure we were the first ones there and we set our chairs up at a certain point along the parade route that we thought would give us the best advantage for taking photos.

As the morning progressed and things started getting busier, more and more campers were coming in and setting up tents and hauling in coolers and grills and we got to see what serious onlookers did to set up.  Obviously this was a long all day event for them.  I’m not sure we even thought ahead enough to bring water with us.

We met some really nice people from Antigua who come out for it every year and one of their daughters was taking part, we got to meet her later, lovely young lady.  Well after noon, the parade finally started and the colours and the hoopla were meant for photography.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time and the music was vibrant and made you want to get up and dance to it and the costumes were more beautiful with each passing group.  The stars of the show though were the extravagant floats, some of which were worn by a shapely individual and hauled on wheels behind them to trailer floats with everyone dancing and playing instruments.  It was a sea of colour and feathers and sensual brown bodies in complicated and colourful two pieces with towering headpieces of bejewelled adornment.

The Grande Parade will take place on Saturday, August 5th in 2017 but officially Caribana starts on August 3rd and runs until August 7th.  Try and book a week-end at one of the hotels downtown as the later it gets on the day of the parade the more congested the traffic.