Robert in Lockdown – 5.11.20

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In this mad world we are living through just now, with restrictions across the country tightening, a little bit of perspective can sometimes be hard to come by.

I realised this week, to my surprise, that it has been a whole year since our Tide Lines show in the Barrowland Ballroom. This brought some mixed emotions. The feeling of leaving the stage that night having just enjoyed probably the best gig in my life was one of absolute ecstasy. Had I known what lay ahead in the coming months, however, my thoughts would have been entirely different.

In this week of all weeks, however, we must all seek a bit of perspective and try to contextualise what we are currently going through.

We are having to stay apart for a little while and wear masks; but we’re not having to hide in Anderson Shelters, send our children away to safety, or our young men to the front line. Those who did go through such horrors in previous generations are never far from my mind at this time of year.

As a young lad growing up in Lochaber, I was lucky to be involved in the annual commemorations as the old commandoes who trained in the area throughout the Second World War travelled up to pay their respects to their comrades: whether they had fallen in the war; or passed away since. Myself and my accordion teacher, John Cameron from Lochyside, would play for these veterans in the Alex Hotel in Fort William each year. They were a wonderful group of people who took great joy in seeing how Lochaber’s young musicians (which included the likes of the Lochaber High pipe band and wind band) had improved each year; and they were always extremely keen on hearing about our Gaelic music and culture.

I used to look forward to playing them a medley of their old war songs (songs like It’s a Long Way to Tipperary or We’ll Meet Again) and see them all hold hands and be transported immediately back to that most defining period in their lives and our history.

There was one gentleman in particular who used to write to me throughout the year. I recall my concern when one year he wrote to say his health would not allow him to make the trip; and my sadness when the following year the letter came not from the gentleman; but from his daughter.

I always pause in November to pay my respects to these great people and to be thankful that I knew some of them personally. This year I do so with a more profound sense of gratitude than ever. Many of our favourite liberties have been suspended at the moment. Among them, meeting our friends and families, standing shoulder to shoulder singing and dancing together in a room like the Barrowlands. But, were it not for the brave men and women who answered the call of duty, we may never have known these liberties in the first place.

That is why I will remember them this week more than ever.