The Angry Corrie 6: Mar-Apr 1992
Will Shakespeare once wrote something called A Winter's Tale which famously featured Bohemians exeunting pursued by a Bear. Pretty tame stuff really, especially when compared with our own
Once upon a time this Doctor of Lies was more. Yes, the mantle of Heroism has hung around these ignoble shoulders. You gasp, startled, despite the sang-froid of the seasoned hill-person, at the sheer audacity of my challenge to the rough bounds of your credibility. Well it's truish.
There I was sitting on the bus minding my own business being grumpy and rolling a few hand-crafted cigarettes for later, when my companion offered me a piece of "fly cemetery" as an alternative (I presumed) to conversation. With no real appetite but with a degree of gratitude for this unusual sensitivity, I accepted the glutinous and forbidding confection. Behind a pall of mimed gastronomic delight I ate half this gloop while treacherously secreting the remainder back into its clingfilm and thence onto the floor. It seemed that my usual constitutional difficulty with morning was only going to intrude on breakfast because already the weather had made us less surly with one another than usual.
We'd decided to stay local as we were bussing it, so the hill opted for was Cruach Ardrain in the Crianlarich group. We alighted at the road junction in Crianlarich. The light was superb, colours bright, edges sharp, and we headed eagerly up the road to our starting point near the Ben More cafe. There was decent snow cover and it was in good, stay-in-one-piece, condition. It was a fantastic day of the sort that will (inaccurately) epitomise Winter at a later date. The fully legal zip-zap happy-chappy rush of being out there was upon me, and my companion, Leckie, seemed strangely human - which was a change easy to cope with. I distinctly remember him smiling at me as I enthused about my mood and the superlative qualities of light and snow. We headed in good rhythm and order for the crest of Stob Garbh. I was pleasantly surprised to be moving well, as a good (bad?) few weeks had elapsed since my last outing.
There was little wind and the sun continued beaming down benevolently, it was time for a herbal inhalation and a look round. The snow was sparkly and multi-faceted tiny little rainbows had been cunningly etched into the minuscule sheets of ice, comprising the flakes, which blinked in a secret Morse Code. A curling wisp of our foreign smoke grayly girt the miniaturised flank of Ben More and then broke on the breeze very, very slowly. I was just starting to wonder what I was doing on the hill with a gigantic Ant-man bee when Leckie suggested another lightweight cigarette. The sky was a good Winter's blue. A superb backdrop for the richly sculpted brilliance of cumulus moving perceptibly over the land and over the snow. In a sense you're on alien territory in the snow. You need different skills to manage here because it's all been incredibly beautifully transformed into an elegant and severe purity, so that to move through it and be with it is also to raise one's awareness in some focused and simple sense. And what was that I was thinking about Captain Beefheart? Leckie's mandibles click-clacked together. I wondered if he remembered what smiling was as I extracted the proffered Mars Bar from between his little pincers, beaming ingratiatingly at him. I must admit to being rather puzzled by his external transformation, but on the other hand it did fit the internal facts, as known. Still, must be an okay being if it's sharing chocolate.
All in all, this was developing into a superbly engaging day. Cruach Ardrain is an amazing wee gem of a mountain on Glasgow's doorstep. Under snow it's a bit of an icon for me. Winter encapsulated. It was looking very well on this occasion and I was heading towards it in the company of an enormous insect. And no ordinary enormous insect either. This one has had a couple of honourable mentions in Azad competitions in The Observer!
For a ridiculous instant I thought that Leckie seemed like an insect. I must be suffering from Reefer Madness. I always had a sneaking fear that other than the obvious antisocial effect of smoking there had to be a hidden catch. This is obviously it: I'm doo-lally. I shifted attention to his droning discourse only to appreciate with a start of anxiety that he was expounding some personal notion involving Ants, Chaos Theory and Telepathy. Really, the start of anxiety referred to (surely reefered to? - cleanliving-but-helpful Ed.) was more a Jolt of Terror. I was aware of my heart moving into a fear tempo as he netted the idea of synchronicity and began to insist on it as an everyday occurrence in all our lives and certainly in his own. Leckie, I wondered aloud, are you an insect-being from another reality? He ceased his pontification and stood there coyly twiddling antennae at me. Don't be foolish McSharkie, he said, how can there be other realities?
Rather than pursue the issue of his/its origin I determined to take a picture of him, as much as anything to capture the hues in the very richly coloured chitin of the exposed parts of the shell, although I also wondered if I might be able to demand hush-money if my perception was echoed on film. We started to descend to the bealach before the steep pull to the top of Cruach Ardrain. We heard them before we saw them. Fragments of excited and happy shouting began to coalesce into an unwelcome intrusion of noise, and then there they were, roughly twenty teenagers milling and funning about. Bumsliding seemed to be the main activity, on dinky little rubber mats with handles. Some of you will already be thinking, WHAT? The rock-gashed snow was intensely consolidated. Once friction was exceeded the only stop was by ice-axe.
I felt a bit irritated although basically I like seeing youngsters on the hill. A lone adult stood over a recumbent form. We were hailed. I was surprised, given the strangeness of Leckie's appearance, then I realised it was probably a Nature Ramble and they wanted a closer look at the biggest cockroach in Argyll. But no. There was a casualty. I think he's sprained his ankle, said the adult whilst indicating the victim with the yetied foot. We looked down at a pale wee boy whose face was drawn with shock and pain. The stupid little mat was still under his backside. A bit stuck out as if to flag the stupidity of the guide and mentor who was outlining a plan that involved him leaving us with the kids and himself leaving the hill to get help. No, we said. You stay with your party and we'll go over the hill for help. Leckie and I moved off in a sprightly and determined fashion. Good winter days that you are actually out in are as rare as hens' teeth, we weren't going to give this one up in a hurry. We did at least cover 200 yards before looking at one another's guilty expressions. This left little room for manoeuvre. To cap it Leckie said, That guy is a fucking idiot, and I said, I think the wee chap's leg is broken.
Back we went. We'll stay with the boy, you take the rest off the hill and raise Mountain Rescue. Within seconds he was bustling the group into departure. I squatted beside Thomas and tried to cheer him up. Leckie, the meanwhile, rummaged in his pack, triumphantly emerging with a small clingfilm-wrapped package. Here, you might as well finish this now McSharkie, I've had mine. I stared dumbfounded at the half-eaten fly-cemetery last seen floorbound hours before. Yes Leckie, I mumbled through a mouthful of bakery, and it's turned you into a giant cockroach from Hell. Not Hell, he said.
(All this was in strict accordance with the "1984 Spiking Your Pal for a Laugh Agreement". For those troubled by the ethics of this scenario, no innocent parties are involved, the Magic Theatre must be entered in full responsibility.)
We made the wee guy as comfortable as we could and then decided to do the hill on a shift system. I went first and although it was a superb day my sense of hurry took the edge off the pleasure of it. I was gone about an hour and a half. On my return, Leckie set off and I had a chat with Thomas who looked pretty knackered. He was in second year at school, liked French and Football and had never been out hillwalking in winter before. I considered the buggered youth in his shock and hurt and wondered if he would ever try it again. I was worried about him, even though he was well bundled up he looked tired and it was starting to get really cold as the winter low sun got lower still. After an hour or so I started scanning back along the hump of Stob Garbh thinking to spot the Mountain rescue popping up from Crianlarich to free us from predicament and pain. I was also starting to wish that Leckie would appear so there was one less factor to fret about. Thomas seemed to be dozing fitfully, his face was warm to the touch so I tried not to worry about shock and hypothermia.
With a great whirring of wings Leckie touched down on the snow beside us. You still look out your face McSharkie, how's Thomas? He's asleep, I think he's okay but it's getting too cold for hanging about here. D'you think that prick stopped for lunch on the way down? Just then the cheery yellow bulk of an Air-Sea Rescue Westland came choppering into view around the side of Ben More. It can't be for us, we said, but it began veering round to head in our direction and we realised it was. Leckie got all evasive when I proposed that he fly up and guide the machine towards us, and instead began waving a bright yellow bin bag in a vigorous manner. A flash of light from a spotlamp let us know we had been seen. The pilot brought the machine in to hover about fifty feet above, and a crewman was lowered towards us. We were engulfed in a howling, roaring bedlam of wind that reminded me of a previous adventure.
We helped him assemble a stretcher around the boy and while this was going on he dispelled our notion that the wee chap was to be winched heavenward to safety while we trudged off the hill. No, instead the helicopter was to nudge into the slope with one wheel (and absolutely staggering teamwork and airmanship) whilst we hoisted Thomas aboard. What is more, Leckie and I were to be airlifted with him to Alexandria. During the flight it's as well we couldn't really speak to anyone in the mighty din of the engines. Judging by Leckie's spaced-out grin and the sensation of my own inane rictus, the consequences of such conversation would have been men with nets at our landing site.
Instead, an affable Policeman bade us relax in the confines of his large motor car as he whisked us to a drinking establishment in Dumbarton beside the station. It was a busy pub but we got a table to ourselves and basked in cold Guinness and warm complacency. The football results were coming in and a distinct tension crept over the assembled company as the rote continued. Leckie punched the air with a triumphant yell as an unexpected Rangers' defeat was announced. Fortunately for us the rest of the pub had synchronised in precisely the same display of joy in others' misfortune.
He looked like a cockroach again as he smirked over his beer at me.