They are Scotland's national musical instrument – the bagpipes.
If you have never heard the sound of the bagpipes, consider yourself lucky. The instrument resembles a small round animal – the bag - clothed in distinctive tartan, with a number of wooden legs – the pipes. It is played by sucking or blowing through one pipe, and fingering the apertures of the others to produce an extraordinary racket. I can only describe the sound: imagine putting a large bad-tempered cat under your arm and then biting its tail. What emerges is a primeval scream of terrifying volume. No wonder the bagpipes have always been played as Scottish soldiers marched into battle – Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard had to face them in Iraq. It's usually enough to make the enemy turn and run.
I always knew the bagpipes were potentially dangerous. But no one realised quite how dangerous until the publishers of an obscure specialist magazine called Piper and Drummer conducted research. The bagpipes are now a proven hazard. They can make you deaf, cause repetitive strain injury and frequently lead to alcoholism. The noise made by just one set of bagpipes equals 122 decibels.
Scotland's devoted bagpipers report that practicing their instruments at home always leads to violent argument and often divorce. Could this be a logical explanation for the marital problems of the British Royal Family who have to endure listening to ceremonial bagpipers at pretty well every state function?
And there is worse. An American expert in lung disease now reports that bagpipers are in danger of developing all manner of nasties because the bags act as a breeding ground for bacteria every time they suck and blow.
The British Government is being pressed to issue an urgent health warning. Bagpipes can kill.
By Ed Boyle