The General’s Dance II

I had begun this with a well-reasoned statement on the practice of dancing, before telling you about the kind of mayhem that results when a man who harbours a fervent desire for creating a record and has the power but is constrained by the gravity of his position, finally loses his inhibitions…..

As I said in the brief introduction I gave in the first post, it is a General who comes to inspect the formation in which our protagonist is serving… and it is one of the times that nothing goes right. The only saving grace is the eightsome reel the battalion puts on on the last day of the General’s visit and this inspires him. He orders a sixteensome, which is done, and then recalls a thirty two-some danced in the last decade of the last century (the century the tale is set in is the 20th)  and when it is done to his satisfaction, he dreams of new heights….. Now you read on….

“Dam’ good! Dam’ good!” exclaimed the General, flushed and applauding. “Well danced gen’men. Good show, pipe-sarn’t. Thanks Tom, don’t mind if I do.Dam’ fine dancing. Thirty-twosome, eh! That’ll show the Black Watch!”.

He seemed to sway a little as he put down his glass. It was midnight, but he was plainly waking up.

“Thirty two-some, by Jove! Wouldn’t have thought it possible.” A thought seemed to strike him. “I say, pipe-sarn’t, I wonder…d’you suppose that’s as far as we can go? I mean is there any reason….?”

He talked, and the pipe-segeant’s eyes bulged. He shook his head, the General persisted, and five minutes later we were all outside on the lawn and trucks were being sent for so that their headlights could provide illumination and sixty-four of us were being thrust into our positions, and the General was shouting orders through cupped hands from the veranda.

“Taking the time from me! Right pipers? It’s p’fickly simple. S’easy. One, two, and off we go!”

It was a nightmare, it really was. I had avoided being in the sity-four; from where I was standing it looked like a crowd scene from “The Ten Commandments”, with the General playing Cecil de Mille. Officers, mess-waiters, batmen swung into the dance as the pipes shrilled, setting to partners, circling forwards and back, forming an enormous ring, and heughing like things demented. The General bounced through the veranda, shouting; the pipe-sergeant hurtled through the stes, pulling, directing, exhorting; those of us watching clapped and stanped as the mammoth dance surged on, filling the night with its sound and fury.

It too, I am told, one hour and thirteen minutes by the Adjutant’s watch, and by the time it was over, the Fusiliers from the adjoining barracks were roused and lined along the wall, assorted Arabs had come to gaze on the wonders of civilisation; and the military police mobile patrol was also at hand. But the General was tireless; I have a vague memory of him standing on the tailboard of a truck, addressing the assembled mob; I actually got close to hear him exhorting the pipe-sergeant in tones of enthusiasm and entreaty.

“Pipe-sarn’t! Pipey! May I call you Pipey?. . . never been done . . . three figures . . . think of it . . . hunner’n twenty-eightsome . . . never another chance . . . try it . . . rope in the Fusiliers . . . massed pipers . . . regimental history . . . please, Pipey, for me. . .”

Some say that it actually happened, that a one hundred and twenty-eightsome reel was danced on the parade ground that night, Gen Sir Roderick MacCrimmon, K.C.B., D.S.O., and bar presiding; that it was danced by Highlanders, Fusiliers, Arabs, military police, and three German prisoners of war, that it was danced to a conclusion, all figures.   It may well have been; all I remember is a heaving rushing crowd, like a mixture of Latin Carnival and Scarlett’s uphill charge at Balaclava, surging ponderously to the sound of pipes; but I distinctly recall one set in which the General, the pipe-sergeant, and what looked like a genuine Senussi in a burnous, swept by roaring, “One, two, three,” and I know, too, that at one point I personally was part of a swinging human chain in which my partners were the Fusiliers’ cook-sergeant and an Italian cafe proprietor from down the road. My memory tells me that it rose to a tremendous crescendo just as the first light of dawn stole over Africa, and then all faded away, silently, in the tartan-strewn morning……


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Aaron Jackson on September 8, 2012 at 17:43

    This story is from George MacDonald Fraser, ‘The General Danced at Dawn’, pp.72 – 83. I’m sure that intentions are good, but singing citing should follow quoting from one of the great stores of Post WW-II anecdotage.


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