writing

Soggy bottom boys

I have a feature in the September 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors, about a journey I haven't really mentioned here, so this is as good a time as any to share a few extra photos. Here's a fancypants quote from near the surprise end to whet your appetite...

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We floated in space, among the multi-coloured galaxies of a NASA photograph. The airless vacuum beneath our boats was so dense with life that we moved without splashing, pulling our way gently though this universe of water and timing our paddle strokes to avoid contact.  

 

 

Richard, David and I set off from Beasdale, paddled Lochs Morar and Nevis and finished in Inverie. It was a WET trip and there was plenty of squelchy walking and camping. The route choice was a little arbitrary and planned on the hoof to accommodate the weather, but in retrospect it's a pretty classic 3 or 4 day paddling route. Using the postie path along Loch Morar, and the crossing point at Tarbet (literally, gaelic for portage) is exactly how some of our forebears would have cut about the place... just with less expensive toys. Our train back was a local diesel, but if you timed it right, you could even return by steam train and keep the old skool atmosphere going right to the end.

Looking through these, I'm feeling all nostalgic for a wet bum and the shivers again. Now that normal Scottish summertime has resumed, a reprise is overdue.

Click/swipe to navigate. Thanks for taking a look.

Travelogue/Travelodge

Travelogue to Travelodge, we took the road to little England, a land that has gone quite to seed, a land of smiles and good intentions, but sadly low on willpower. A land with heart disease.

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England; no country for old men, but we've travelled south to see one. Oh how you've let yourself go, but then, weren't it ever so? Ours is not a city of dreaming spires and genteel similes shared, it's a city of creosote, concrete and dogshit, lazy racism, casual homophobia and maccy d's. We were always overfed and undernourished, we were always here. We've always wanted someone else to blame, we've always been held to ransom by the same elites. Nothing has changed. The only difference is Russian 'bots and a Waitrose. 

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We pass Pray for Tommy Robinson graffiti in a blur, marvel at her faux-leopard-skin covered crutches, and eat an airless breakfast surrounded by massive, tattooed men with tiny hands clutching smartphones tightly. England sizzles in it's juices. We keep on driving, now on the Dorking road, along mellow sun-streaked ghost holloways, once arteries through a forest that stretched from Essex to the great chalk plains, fragile leather soles swapped for black liquid bones, already half auto-maton.

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Finally, we reach the coast, and a little corner of a foreign field. This is where my stepfather lies. I water a thirsty shrub and clear away some brambles. Forever England, just off the bypass and in-between the housing estates. On the Monarch's Way, widely spaced beech trees hang from chalky Downs, flinty drove roads meander through coppiced woods. A shotgun rings out, spooking the dog. Piles of aggregate stir slightly in the heat haze. The traffic churns on and on, around the roundabouts. England burns. 

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But back on the road, people are unfailingly kind. And in London too, there's a kindness in the crush that doesn't fit the narrative at all. Jan from upstairs offers to lend a hand, Mike and Debbie from across the road have noticed that Dave hasn't been around lately. Our parents might not take your help - they live in fear - but help is there. Dave has delirium; not only a metaphor but a real medical condition. He doesn't recognise his own home, his own fate. The meek can and will get fucked. England waits, ready to wake.

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A request

I rarely if ever plug my monthly piece for Walk Highlands on my blog, partly because many more people see my words and pictures there than here, and partly because I assume those who follow my corner of the inter web are probably plumbed into theirs. Who has the time to read these things twice anyway? 

That said, I'm going to plug away now.

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I'd be really grateful if you'd take a look at a piece I wrote about a proposed new town in the Cairngorm National Park. Below are some images of what might well become a building site... and the link to the article is at the foot.

What would be even better is that, at the end, you're motivated to take some action on this. Social media is far from being just selfies and bragging. Go witness.

Read about AN CAMUS MOR

 

Ship of These/us

This is my grandfather’s axe. My father replaced the head and I replaced the shaft. This is my grandfather’s axe.

Three weeks ago we moved to Kingussie in the Cairngorm National Park. It’s been a busy time. It’s not insignificant to me that my family has returned to the Highlands a lifetime after war took my grandparents south. I have little time for essentialism and I'm staking no claim by mentioning this, simply acknowledging something mysterious to me. Sometimes life moves in circles and cycles that aren’t easily rationalised. I’ve become a civic Scot by dint of choice, defined in celebration of possible futures for my family, not just a flight from an ethnic English death cult. For those that need some escape from that, though, Karma dictates that our door will always be open. You’ll be welcome if you come knocking.

It’s also seven years since I began writing here. A big change affords the chance to look back over one’s shoulder, and I notice that a constant preoccupation has been the relationship between edge and centre, people and place. What you see is where you’re at, and of course the reverse is also true. What this relocation means for me is to finally dissolve those spurious distinctions once and for all, and I guess we’ll see how that goes. I also see reflected in the mirror someone more determined than I expected to be, someone who willed himself closer to the hills and trees and somehow it came true. I don’t expect that to mean anything to you; maybe I had low expectations, but he’s surprised me.

...

Last Sunday, my partner hemorrhaged and was rushed to Raigmore hospital in Inverness. I drove a drowsy three year old into an apocalyptic sunset over the Slochd pass knowing without doubt that we’d lost the baby. Within 24 hours I was driving south again for a night bag while she went under the knife. I couldn’t be in theatre because in haste we had no-one near to take care of our daughter. The baby boy was born six weeks early by Cesarean. My Mum flew up late in the evening, circling over her old home town in the dark almost three score years and ten after she left as an infant herself.

A tiny life hung in the balance for the next two days, miniature lungs not ready to breathe on their own. When not grinding out the practicalities I dry sobbed in the men’s bogs, my partner came to, shouldered and soldiered, and our daughter took the upheaval hard. Mostly we held the jumble and jangle of it all together for each other. Just.

Both mother and baby are much stronger now. The coming months will be challenging, and naturally moments like this are existential and sort the wheat from the chaff. What matters? What is important? As parents, teachers, learners and citizens, we'd better know. Dipping back in to 'reality', the online world seems ever more flimsy and vainglorious, politics a sham and a theatre. By contrast, the people of the Strath have already been so welcoming, and we are lucky and grateful. Now that we’re in the right place for us, our time here has already been more full of people than I could possibly have predicted. Edge and centre? Like I say, it’s been a busy time, and if the last week or so has reaffirmed anything, it’s that timing is everything. Scotland’s future is in the glens, and that future is now.