A bird’s-eye tattoo view in Edinburgh

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TO Tattoo overhead

A MILITARY tattoo has never been high on my list, but when you’re in Edinburgh and presented with a press ticket, there’s no excuse. If you’re going to experience a tattoo, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo would be the one to pick.

Set in what seems like the centre of the city, on a hill with cinematic views as far as the eye can see and arriving with the setting of the sun and the fading light while the lights of the city slowly light up, it is breathtaking.

Many people who visit Scotland come specifically for the tattoo which started in 1950 and is still held on the Castle Esplanade where it first made its debut.

Two of the people who were helping us up to our bird’s-eye view had worked for the tattoo for 30 and 19 years respectively. Only in the past three years have they been paid; before that, their service was voluntary. But the thing that surprised the longest-standing member was the people arriving loaded.

“We have to escort them out and the most embarrassing thing is that they’re usually Scots.”

For those not entrenched in this military pomp, it can be quite peculiar as the masses of military pipe bands spill out through the Castle gates on to the parade ground. There’s a host who narrates the events of the evening.

TO Tattoo haka

On the night, we had the best seats in the house, right on top of the scaffolding which is the roof of the VIP section. To get there, there’s a clunky sounding lift and then you’re out on your own watching from what feels like quite a precarious vantage point.

The Royal Tattoo is one of the city’s August highlights and seats have been sold out for the month-long run.

My reason for being excited, though, is a special troupe from KwaZulu-Natal, part of the South African/UK season which makes the evening bearable.

And as to be expected, they are a highlight for sheer spectacle, energy and something that stands out from the rest of the proceedings. Close on their heels are the Kapu Haka groups from New Zealand who make a similar impact. Both drew wild applause from the 9 000-strong crowd.

There are many other high points, like the lone piper, the huge number of performers who participate night after night with two performances on a Saturday – and the show never stops, even if it pours with rain.

But this is the kind of event where everyone goes the extra mile or perhaps in this instance blows the extra note. It is that aspect that baffles this tattoo novice. Is it about colonial nostalgia? Does it hark back to those powerful days of empire building? What is the mass appeal?

TO Tattoo seat

For my money, the night belonged to the extraordinary bird’s nest seat that I had scored. This one has to beat any previous strange encounters.

I know with the popularity of our own tattoo, many South Africans love this pageantry and I don’t want to dampen their spirits. All joy to any kind of performance, I say.

For me it was all about being on top of the world. That and our very own Zulu dance troupe.

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