That Tattoo Pounds Across Our Bedroom FloorCategory: Customs + Festivals
“What a marvellous view. How romantic!” said our friends enviously when we moved into our top flat. The flat overlooks practically the whole of Edinburgh, especially the Esplanade and the Castle. “And,” they added, “you will be able, to see the Tattoo free of charge.’ Frankly, military displays have never appealed to me, but I comforted myself by saying: “After all, it’s only for three weeks of the year.”
What really happens is that some time in mid-July the workmen start putting up the stands. They hammer solidly day after day, from early morning to late at night, with an extra banging on Sundays, playing delicately upon our nerves and completely obscuring our marvellous view.
Then about a fortnight before the Festival the Tattoo rehearsals start. Pipe bands have, I daresay, their part in Scottish life, but at 7.30 in the morning I defy even the most sentimental expatriated Scot to respond with appropriate fervour. The house now reverberates to the thud of the drums and the whine of the pipes. What is more, if I look out of the window I can see various regiments, colourfully apparelled, weaving out and in to the commands barked by the noisy sergeant-majors.
Then there are the special items. Last year there was James Bond’s car scorching round the Esplanade with shrieking brakes and the handsome brown Fijians cavorting to their special drum rhythms. This year I have seen acrobats bounding about, trampoline performers and what sounds like 150 motor bikes but which I am told are really only 20. And there are the Pakistanis doing a military folk dance with gleaming sabres to their special drum beat.
Then the Tattoo proper begins. To see it once is mildly entertaining. But to hear it twice nightly is murderous. We He in bed trying to shut our ears against the relentless throbbing of pipes and drums and the mellow gentlemanly tones of the brigadier who conducts the proceedings, longing to hear the Last Retreat and God Save the Queen so that we can go to sleep. In the early evening we hang out of the window praying for rain.
But the Tattoo raises uncomfortable intellectual questions too. We talk about the difficulty of getting audiences for the live theatre and blame high prices, bad weather, uncomfortable seats, the lack of bars and restaurants and there in front of our eyes we see mile-long queues. And they are queueing to see not Shakespeare or Euripides or O’Casey or John Arden or Harold Pinter, but an entertainment which no theatre audience would put up with for ten minutes, under conditions which no theatre audience would put up with for five.
There is a moral somewhere. I am not quite sure what it is, but I am fairly sure I shouldn’t like it.