Brace yourself for a new tale of "The Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened..."
Yesterday was the European Championships, the third of five majors for the year, but the second attended by the pipe band. As with last year, and as will be the case next year, the event took place in Forres, waaay up North.
So, I got up at 4am (!) to get ready for the event. This very early start was necessitated largely by my concern that I'd spend the morning in zombie-state and so need some time to get my brane in gear - as proved to be the case. Still, I made ready and then left the flat, walking through the early-morning sunlight to the bus. Huzzah!
We went to our second pick-up, where there was some concern that out Tenor drummers weren't there. One of these had said she was working and, although she would try, she wasn't sure she could move her shift. The other had been at all previous events, but had missed the practice on Thursday, so there was some concern - did she know the pick-up time? A text was sent; no reply was received, and so we left after a further 15 minutes waiting.
Turned out, she was the lucky one...
The first two hours of the drive up there were uneventful. I read the end of my Pathfinder, having failed to finish it on Friday, I concluded that next year I would definitely go up there on the Friday, event if the band did not (while the Pipe Major was likewise concluding that the band would definitely have to do the same!), and then I started on my next book. (I haven't finished it yet, but will post about it when the time comes. It's not a good one.)
After two hours, we stopped for the driver to get a rest, while the rest of us got some breakfast (second, or third, or something) from a cafe. This was a roal and sausage that was adequate, and some hot brown water that claimed to be coffee (but really wasn't). And then we were on the road again.
About an hour later, some 50 minutes from Forres, suddenly the noise of the engine changed. The bus driver exclaimed, "It's just cut out!" And then there were two miles of gradual slowing down, coupled with some attempts to restart the master engine. But no joy.
We came to a halt in a more-or-less safe bit of road, where there was a third lane in the middle of the road that would allow other traffic to pass. Then, several people disappeared and went crawling under and around the bus (the driver, a guy who drives tankers for a living, and a guy who knows a bit about engines). They fiddled for a bit and thought they'd fixed it (spoiler: they hadn't), and so made their way back on board.
Unfortunately, at this point the driver noticed that the hazard lights weren't working any longer. The battery had gone flat almost immediately. Needless to say, this meant that the bus wouldn't start - a flat battery means no starter motor. So, a call was made to Volvo for someone to come and help.
At this point, it was almost but not quite certain we wouldn't get there in time. So, the pipe major spent some time getting all the chanters ready to play, just in case, and a few people had to get changed on the bus. (Fortunately, I was not among them.) Also, we looked into possibilities of calling ahead to say we'd be late, though it wasn't expected this would help - there have been cases of unscrupulous bands saying they've broken down in order to get to go on last (no, seriously!), so the RSPBA takes a dim view of such things. In any case, it turned out that we couldn't get through, so that was that.
At length, the guy from Volvo came, he fixed the bus at least temporarily, he jump-started the engine, and we were on our way. Apparently the choke switch had triggered by mistake, both cutting off the engine and discharging the battery. Removing the switch removed the problem, though wasn't a 'good' solution as the choke switch is a safety feature. (Though not an absolutely-essential one, more like the airbags in a car - you'd rather have them working than not, but can manage without.)
Unfortunately, by that point it was obvious we couldn't get there in time.
There was then a discussioin about what to do. The truth is that there was no appetite for just turning round and heading straight back (another three hours driving). So we went and saw some of the other bands, left at 4 instead of waiting for the march-past, and got back about 8:45 instead of midnight.
All in all, it was a complete waste of a day, and a fairly uncomfortable one since I was stuck in my uniform all day. Still, it could have been worse, I suppose - it could have been cold and/or raining, or we could have been in real contention for the season and so lost out on our final placing. "Fortunately", we're not, and instead were hoping for a sneaky sixth place just to get something for the year - so not the biggest loss.
But next year, we'll definitely be heading up there the night before!
#28: "Angela's Ashes", by Frank McCourt (A book from The List)
#29: "Pathfinder: Secrets of the Sphinx", by Amber E. Scott