History is not my cup of tea, you might say. Yet, we didn’t just arrive in the 21st century: the world was populated long before we came, events happened globally, nationally, and within our own families that have shaped who we are and what we do; how we feel about politics, global environmental issues, and the management of our local municipalities.
Let me take you on a journey to an open space of great beauty and tranquillity I didn’t know existed in a city I have visited fairly regularly over the past twenty six years. It is a place where gnarled old indigenous trees, bent by the prevailing wind and subtropical plants typical of the Eastern Cape coast vie for attention with the aliens so beloved of public landscapers of long ago: exotic palm trees, Scottish pines and rubber trees!
There are raised ponds filled with blue water lilies; rolling grassy banks; ha-has; a stone bridge crossing a moat to an island complete with bandstand; benches placed at intervals so that one can rest while one’s eyes take in the vista of immaculately mown lawns, cobbled pathways and wide stone steps leading to another level. A well maintained playground attracts laughing children, the paths are wheelchair friendly, and there is shade aplenty – very welcome in the 40degree C heat of the day I was there.
Welcome to Victoria Park situated in the lower end of Walmer, near the airport – probably named after Queen Victoria. As I waited for the Algoa Bay Highland Gathering to begin, I observed white-rumped swifts flying overhead against the bright blue sky devoid of clouds; a skein of twenty five Egyptian geese honked over the park in a classic V-formation, competing with the bagpipers warming up for the solo competitions held during the morning.
Unperturbed by the sound of bagpipes and drums, a flock of speckled mousebirds flitted among the palm trees and a fiscal shrike regularly swooped down from its high perch to catch insects on the grass. Common starlings picked up crumbs near the food stalls while black-collared barbets sang their duets. Black-headed orioles called relentlessly against the backdrop of bagpipes, drums and the music emanating from the tent where the Scottish and Irish dancing competitions were taking place. The red-eyed doves seemed bemused by the activities on the ground, which included a medieval fayre.
By the time the band competitions had begun after lunch, first with the march, strathspey and reel followed by the medley, the large flock of Hadeda ibises that had taken to the sky could be seen and not heard – fancy a mute flock of Hadedas!
It was to loud applause that the crowd listened to pipe bands from Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth competing for top honours. Among several tartans on display were the Mackenzie, Gordon, and Graham of Montrose. The day ended with a massed band performance of all the bands playing as one marching to well known tunes such as Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland.
The crowd was enthralled and young children danced or marched on the fringes of the circle as the clouds gathered and the temperature began to drop at last.
An interesting discovery: band members wearing waistcoats with the last button undone signifies that they are not married. A highland gathering in Africa? There’s a history to that…