The Angry Corrie 8: Jul-Aug 1992
No sex please, we're baggers
Now we know fine well some of you out there think Shere Hite is a madeup name used by someone who wanted to write climbing books under the guise of sex manuals. And, for that matter, some of you can 't see past the fact that her initials spell S.Hite, chortle chortle - but you're just pitiful souls really. And then there's
Regular readers will be aware of the suggestion made in these pages recently to the effect that hillwalking is an almost entirely sexless activity, and that its adherents are but sentient Action Men and Sindy dolls: at first glance they seem fine specimens, but on further inspection are found entirely to lack certain vital parts. Although this slur has been levelled at hillwalkers, it most certainly cannot be aimed at the hills and mountains themselves, which are often potent sexual symbols. The image of the jagged mountain rising in awe-inspiring majesty to pierce the clouds is one that has suggested the male member to wishful thinkers across the globe, from the Devil's Point in the Cairngorms to Shivling in the Himalayas. Not all hills are phallic symbols, however; some are undoubtedly feminine: witness the various Paps and Ciochs protruding all over the country. Gentlemen readers of my own age may recall sniggering with prepubescent delight as they watched the fine figure of Moira Anderson on The White Heather Club: 'These are my mountains / and this is my glen...', she would sing, her matronly Mamores heaving all the while. So there is at least a symbolic connection between mountains and sex; but is it true that those who haunt the hills are cold and sexless creatures? Is hillwalking a sex substitute, the knackered gasp of triumph at the cairn a symbolic orgasm?
Freud would have had a field day (Feel day? Vot are you meaning by feel day?) were he to have studied the customs of modern hillfolk. Take, for example, dress: hillwalkers tend to be the owners of the world's most expensive dirty raincoats, often paying over two hundred quid for a multi-coloured Goretex waterproof which is usually named after a strange and exotic place you have never been and are never likely to go, like Trango or Sikkim (so why not on the same premise call them Shettleston or Methil...? But I digress). The wearers very occasionally get their raincoats dirty by messing around in peat bogs, but more often the smudges and stains get there from inky fingers. For every cagoule you see on the hill, you will see ten in Menzies or WH Smith, each Goretex shell hiding from general view the furtive fumbling going on underneath. The wearer's other hand is clutching a shaking copy of one of the glossy porno mags, Thigh or Climax and Hamshanker, open at the gear review page; he is peering at it with the assiduity which an adolescent boy brings to the study of the lingerie section of the Freeman's catalogue: 'The Berghaus Grangemouth all-weather mountain jacket uhuhuh is of Goretex uhuhuh construction and has four zipped pockets oooooh mama plus an internal map pocket. It comes mmmmmmm in four pastel colours awwww...'
Away from the magazine racks may be found a fellow deviant. I, I mean he, has noticed a title hidden away on the bookshelves, and his prurient curiosity is aroused. He looks around to see if anyone is watching, he reaches up to the book, he is just about to touch it when he hears footsteps. Flustered and with burning face, he pretends to have picked the wrong book. Hurriedly he puts it back on the shelf, adding a loud tut of indignation for the benefit of the passer-by. He grabs the nearest book he can find. It is about knitting. He feigns interest in the purl and plain until the footsteps pass and fade; quickly, and now boldly, he lays hand on the distasteful cover. It falls open at a well thumbed page. He peers closely at the poorly reproduced black and white pictures, straining his eyes to the very sockets at the monochrome shapes, attempting to discern with little success precisely what is going on in each tawdry frame. The predictable and cliche-ridden text is of little help in identifying the positions, and serves only to provide a nauseating commentary on the scenes. He knows that if he is to have his sordid gratification he must examine this book at leisure. He turns to the dust cover and looks at the price. Like all hardcore material, it is vastly overpriced. Despondently, a perverted longing still aching within him, he returns McNeish's The Best Hillwalking in Scotland to the shelf.
This dreadful scene provokes the question of why so many of these Goretex wearers are hanging about newsagents when they could be out on the hill. Why do they prefer a vicarious experience to the real thing? (I was going to call it a masturbatory experience, but that would be to malign what is, after all, a harmless and inoffensive pastime - I leave the reader to decide which is which.) As gear fetishists, by the way, climbers are even more outrageous than hillwalkers. The late Don Whillans may have been rough tough gruff all-smoking, all-drinking biker, but he could have given points (no pun intended) to Jean Paul Gaultier. Indeed the Whillans harness needs only to be topped by a conically cupped bra to complete the Madonna panoply. Let me confess right here that I own a Whillans harness. I saw it in the window of the Dr Barnardo's shop and knew I had to have it, even if it meant taking up rock-climbing. So taken was I by the idea that I never for a moment asked myself why anyone would want to give what appeared to be a perfectly good piece of equipment to a charity shop; now when I wear it, gripped above a six foot drop, I often ponder on whether the harness's relationship with orphans is in any way causative. So I went in and purchased it, raising slightly the eyebrow of an old lady behind the counter. When I got home, I decided to give it a wash and put it out on the line to dry, which action resulted in mothers rushing to cover the eyes of children playing in neighbouring gardens, some threatening and abusive phonecalls; and a Christian fundamentalist picket outside my front door. No matter: I wear it still, with two sawn-off Squeezy bottles for a bra. Get into the groooove...
But to return to the link between sex and climbing 'literature': such books are, like pornography, intended to arouse by their lurid and graphic depiction of the writer's exploits. Indeed, it was an obsessive interest in self-abuse that led an acquaintance (not me, mum) to borrow Hamish Brown's The Great Walking Adventure from the local library. It was only after reading three chapters that he realised he had misread the title, and that a completely different kind of jerking off was involved. Nevertheless, the mistake has given me an idea for a highly original book, which would put an interesting spin on the MacGregor Across Scotland -type pot-boiler. I am at present researching the work: subtitled Onan on a Little Further, it will needless to say be a handbook.
The book which has the most profound effect on hillwalkers is not really a book at all, but a list: it is of course Munro's Tables Like Leporello reciting the names, places and dates of Don Giovanni's conquests, baggers everywhere tick each hill as it is mounted and mastered. Having completed the 277 (fewer than a fifth of the Don's total), they are then reduced to pursuing easier humps such as Corbetts and complete pushovers like the Donalds. Freud would doubtless agree that the listomanic personality extends his kink into other areas of human experience: in other words, Munro-baggers probably tick off sexual positions in The Joy Of Sex and the Kama Sutra. One can imagine these bearded oafs conversing in the pub: Have you done position 42 yet? No but I hope to fit it in with 75 at the Easter weekend. I was up 102 last week, though, then went down for 69 - a bit blowy on top, though, etc. Being the spouse of such a bagger would bring its own problems, it being in the nature of the creature never to return to previously trodden grounds before the list is completely ticked. Imagine the scene in the marital bed: Hey, leave that alone. What do you think you're doing? Swa zon what? Oh that. No, I don't really want to do that one, dear. Why not? Because I've already done it, that's why not... Yes I have. Just let me look up the log book... here it is, position 69, 14th January 1976, weather fine... I know you weren't there, but that hardly matters... well you'll just have to do it on your own some day, because there's no point in me doing it again. Look, here's a picture of 221; 1 haven't done that one yet...
Literature, however, does offer conclusive proof that the beast with two backs is made on mountains, despite what you may have read in these pages. Cherie Bremer-Kamp, author of Living on the Edge:
We indulged our tastebuds with culinary delights such as fresh yak butter and garlic adding to our diet of prepackaged minute rice and dehydrated vegies. Such simple things provided boundless comfort. Making love was so gentle, yet so sensuous; a stark contrast to the formidable environment we were separated from by the thin fabric of the tent.
A friend of mine (not me, darling) had a similar Rousseauvian experience on Arran: having met a girl while camping in Glen Rosa, he embarked on a vigorous programme of foreplay consisting of twelve pints of heavy in the Ormidale and a display of vomiting in the car park. Such simple things obviously did not provide boundless comfort to the young lady in question, as she immediately fled, leaving our hero to return to the solitary pleasures of his tent. There the midges indulged their tastebuds on his exposed flesh as he embarked on another Great Walking Adventure. The lesson of hindsight is that he should have abstained from 70/- and stuck to the yak butter and garlic.
Nevertheless, the thought and the intention were there: and that is enough to confound the allegations of those who suggest that we are an asexual lot, and that our highlands are sexless places, where you only get Laide on a map of Ross and Cromarty and nothing but the cold wind doth blow. Seek, and ye shall find fetishism, cross-dressing, self-abuse, sheep and the occasional companion of the opposite sex on the hill; and nor is the gay community excluded from the physical fellowship of the hill: for in certain city-centre bars on a Friday night you will always find somebody who will invite you to Beinn Odhar...