Written June 19, 2013 ~ two days after I arrived in Scotland:
At this time, each year, the town of Peebles holds its Beltane Festival to celebrate the arrival of summer. Some say it’s a Pagan festival and want nothing to do with it. The handout given to me at the information center stated, “Happily Christianity disposed of all this sort of thing.” Today I witnessed a very civilized activity called Riding of the Marches. Hundreds (and I really mean hundreds and hundreds) of horses and riders, all perfectly groomed to within an inch of their lives, set out in a cavalcade around the boundary of Peebles, and re-enact the ancient tradition of checking the area to make sure the town is free from invaders (like the English). There were ceremonies to install the positions of Coronet (head of the cavalcade) in the town square, and the Warden at Neidpath Castle. A couple in the crowd told me this year was the best weather they’ve had in years; the sun was out and it was warm with only a breath of wind.
In the evening there was to be a dance in the High Street (the Coronet’s Reel) and I thought that would be fun to watch. Armed with my Chinese vegetable fried rice take away, I found a nice bench on the High Street and proceeded to sit there, eat my dinner, and indulge in a spot of crowd watching.
It wasn’t long before people started wandering about with bottles and glasses full of amber-colored inhibition-removing liquid. As their alcohol levels rose my ability to understand the Scottish accent dropped; except for one word. When the youth on the bench next to me shouted that word at two police officers on the other side of the street, he got their attention. They crossed over to our side to check they had heard him correctly. The lad seemed to think they hadn’t, so he repeated his sentence, at a much higher volume, right into their faces. Whatever it was he said (with that one word), the pol-eiz, as it is pronounced in these parts, didn’t seem to like what they heard, pointed to a doorway, and ordered him to, “Shut it, and go inside!” He didn’t seem to know what “it” he should be shutting and moved even closer towards the nice man and woman in blue. Before he could figure out what hit him, he found himself lying face down on the footpath. Faster than you can say “Gotcha,” the policewoman had attached a silver bracelet to each of his wrists that successfully joined both his arms together behind his back. Within seconds he was enjoying a worms-eye view of the street, while they waited for his free ride to the police station to arrive.
Just as they had folded his writhing form into the back of the police van, a young couple with a toddler and a baby in a pushchair walked in front of me. The husband said something, that contained the same word the other guy used and, true to form, the officers didn’t like whatever it was that he said to them either. They decided to ignore him as the guy’s wife yelled, “Keep quiet!” Ignoring her sage advice, he repeated himself. The policeman responded with, “You’ve got one chance to move out of the way.” But he held his ground, despite his wife’s valiant physical attempts silence him and turn his face in the other direction. In one swift maneuver, she squeezed his mouth shut and twisted his head to the side so hard I thought she might break both his jaw and his neck, but somehow he managed to keep talking. His little son started screaming for his daddy ~ that kind of screaming just breaks my heart. Then their tiny baby started crying. The combined din of drunken shouting, wife screaming, children crying, and police order-giving, all only a couple of feet from my feet, was both deafening and frightening.
Four of Her Majesty’s Finest pounced on the guy. Because it all happened so fast, and they were so close to me, I couldn’t move out of the way. Instead I had to clutch my fried rice and lean way back on the bench, to avoid being caught up in the action. They positioned his arms behind his back, attached the fancy bracelets to both his wrists, and shoved him in the van with the first guy. Two arrests in less than five minutes. It was going to be a long night for a couple of inebriated fools, an abandoned wife and two frightened children.
The poor mother ran off with her screaming children. She returned, a few minutes later, shouting to the police that her husband had the keys to their house in his pocket. But it was too late, he was already on his way to the station.
I took a quick look at the rest of the people standing around waiting for the Coronet’s Reel to start, and it didn’t take long for me to realize this street dance was turning in to a night of drunken revelry, something I had no desire to watch, so I packed up the remainder of my rice and did the Quickstep back to my hotel.