I am often asked what I do to occupy my time between the exquisitely chronicled adventures which feature on this blog.
Well, sometimes I sit and think ......
and sometimes I read books.
Here are some what I have red recently, by the way.
To begin with, the second volume of Tim Neat's biography of Hamish Henderson. When I started reading the first volume, I wondered if the writer's closeness to the subject would render it a piece of hagiography. Having completed both volumes, I think not. It's not "warts and all" , but he does touch on, however sympathetically, the obvious weaknesses.
I knew Hamish, as did hundreds of people with connections to CND or the Forrest Hill Bar (Sunday name !), in the late '60s. By this time he had already squeezed in several lives - war hero, poet, folklorist, song writer and international political activist. Sadly, thereafter, his light burned less brightly. I found him, like John Martyn, interesting when sober, good company with a few drinks, and boring and irritating when drunk.
He wrote many letters, fought many battles, some real - some imagined.
Tim Neat was a witness to, and participant in much of the latter period of Hamish's life. He helped scatter his ashes on Ben Gulabin above the little cottage at Spittal of Glenshee where he had spent an idyllic childhood.
He was a remarkable man with mysterious antecedents (I had always believed the Duke of Atholl theory, although Neat puts forward a more mundane explanation) . I believe his true worth will only emerge after the death of most of the people he pissed off.
And one of the people he pissed-off on a regular basis (and vice versa) was Norman MacCaig. Moving on the fringes of these circles, I was temperamentally more drawn to MacCaig, "the sarcastic lizard" as Allan Bold had called him. Both were tall, distinguished looking figures in those days, but could not have been more different - war hero versus conchie for a start. At one point they both worked for Edinburgh University and held court at opposite corners of George Square
Which brings me by a typically circuitous route to my second book
At the Loch of The Green Corrie by Andrew Greig
Like most good books this operates on several different levels. When I borrowed this from the library, the librarian said "Oh, my husbands just been reading this" "Really," I said. "Is he interested in poetry ?" She looked confused, then said "It's about fishing". Ah well, maybe it is. It's about fishing, and hills, and Assynt, and Norman MacCaig. But it's also about Andy Greig, and ultimately about all of us.
I've never met Andy Greig ( you'll be pleased to hear!) but he is a Central Belt laddie of roughly my generation with some Incredible String Band stories to tell. He did go to Dollar, but we won't hold that against him. I thought Kingdoms of Experience, about his expedition to Everest with Mal Duff was excellent and a cut above most of your "Mountain Literature" I intend to read more of his stuff.
I once went out with a girl who was attending MacCaig's creative writing seminars, and who confided in me that Norman had written "A Man in My Position" for her. Some 20years later I was at a cocktail party in College Station, Texas and met a woman who had been an exchange student at Edinburgh in the late '60s. She told me that "Professor" MacCaig had written A Man in My position just for her. The old rogue !
And finally two books specifically about walking
Extreme Rambling by Mark Thomas. is about a walk along the length of The Wall or Security Barrier that the Israelis are building to separate the Jewish part of the country from the Palestinian West Bank area. This is obviously such a sensitive political topic that, just as when talking about Northern Ireland ( The North Of Ireland, Ulster, The Six Counties etc ) the very vocabulary used crackles with religious significance.
Now Mark Thomas is an activist. You may have seen him on the television. If your world view is reflected by the work of, say Richard Littlejohn, Jeremy Clarkson and Melanie Phillips then forget about his book .
Mark wears his heart on his sleeve, and although he does interview Israeli government spokespeople, as well as Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, they tend to shoot themselves in the foot , metaphorically speaking of course. However this is not a polemic. It's about a walk. He walked 450km along The Wall through some of the most beautiful countryside in the Middle East (if you screw up your eyes and block out the razor wire).
There's mud, there's blisters, there's flies. What more could you want ? Even Martin Banfield hasn't done this one !! (I think)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.You know, the kind that feels when you finish it, as if a friend who had been staying with you has gone home.
I found Ribbon of Wildness by Peter Wright a bit of a puzzle. It's about the Watershed - the imaginary line up the spine of Scotland separating the land which drains west to the Atlantic from that which drains to the North Sea. That sounds fairly straight forward, however ,at least in parts, the line is open to interpretation and of course there are sections where it is impossible to walk.
Now, in the frontispiece Mr Wright claims to have walked the entire 745 miles of his version in 64 days. I have absolutely no reason to doubt this, but could I tell from the text ? No. You would think that a high level walk of over 700 miles up the spine of Scotland would be a cracking read. Imagine what some of the Challenge bloggers could make of it. But this is not a walk journal - nothing about the weather, campsites, support etc. It could not even be described as a guide book - I don't think you could follow his route with just the book and an OS. If anything, I would describe it as a "Companion" to the Watershed, with lots of background information to read in the tent or the pub. Mr Wright is obviously involved in "Countryside Management" and faithfully list where the route crosses from a SSSI to LLNP to FC land etc. The foreword is by Robin Harper, scarf-wearing former Green MSP.Says it all really
Several years ago, Ben Cleuch fetishist Dave Hewitt (The Angry Corrie) walked his version of the Watershed and wrote an entertaining account which was available to download free on the Tacit website. Save yourself £14.99.