The Angry Corrie 9: Sep-Oct 1992
Walktalk: A longterm project
We in the TAC editorial boardroom like to think of our readership as sophisticated, urbane, well-read, all that kind of thing, so it might not be unreasonable to assume more than a few of you will have encountered the works of the American historian Studs Terkel. Yes, yes, we know it's a daft name, but so is Irvine Butterfield and no-one apart from us makes jokes about him. Most of Terkel's books are far from easy to obtain in this country, but those which are take the form of what he likes to call 'Oral History'. Basically, Terkel chooses his topic - be it World War II, Civil Rights or the Reaganite era - and interviews a whole load of people about it.
Or, rather, he sets them talking, gives them a chance to blether. Not just famous people: Terkel's books are more than just glorified Rolling Stone interviews. All sorts: 'influential' people, disaffected people, interested people, opinionated people. Nor does he confine his interviews / conversations to the side of the argument with which he presumably agrees. The bomber pilot receives just as much space as the Hiroshima victim, the hanging judge shares a page with Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.
The result is impressive. Rather than onesided diatribes, the reader is supplied with a rounded discussion, is invited to make up her or his own mind. Often as not there are no Goodies and Baddies: the people with whom the reader most disagrees emerge with redeeming qualities, while those who say all the right things show subtle flaws. In a word, people come across as human.
Why, you may be wondering, in a fanzine devoted to the Scottish hills, is your editor rambling on about some septuagenarian Yank well out of the public eye? Because, if forced to define the ways in which TAC differs from the standard, glossy hillmags, most folk would start by listing lack of gloss, absence of adverts, presence of humour, crassness of jokes, cheapness of price. Then, somewhere along the line, someone might hopefully pipe up with an observation that TAC is, perhaps, as much about people who climb hills as it is about the hills themselves. Rarely do these pages include the standard 'I crested the NW ridge and marvelled at cloud rippling off Sgurr nan Coire Blimaidh'. More likely you'll read exploits of all manner of eccentric, erratic or just plain ordinary hillgoers, perceptions of lives.
Don't get us wrong: we're not completely derisive of the documenters of ridges and trigpoints - honest. It's just that, well, people are ultimately much more interesting than hills, while hills are primarily a good context in which to observe, and be amused at, human idiosyncrasies. Which brings us to the point. It has occurred to your editor that Terkel's methodology might be well suited to discussion of the hills. There are so many issues - access, commercialisation, equipment, sheep, Glen Coe v Shakespeare, etc etc - and so many people with so much to say, that it's high time they were given the chance to speak. TAC itself in some way responds to this need, but there's scope for so much more.
Your editor is thus prepared to embark on a long, possibly arduous expedition, one which has no definite ending, no clear route, and which will lead who knows where. At least he hopes it will. In fine journalistic style, he has bought himself a mini-taperecorder, and is preparing to travel far and wide to discuss with, and/or interview anyone who feels they have interesting things to say about the Scottish hills.
What then happens isn't as yet clear. The basic plan, a la Terkel himself, is to transcribe the conversations with a view to compiling a book. This would clearly be in the long term, possibly two or three years hence. In the shorter term, some of the discussions could be condensed into a regular comment-type page in TAC itself, allowing further feedback on the subjects which arise. Interviewees will, of course, be able to view and comment on the transcripts before publication, while the interviewer himself asks only that he be plied with a pot of tea and a Tunnocks wafer. The dreaded tapemachine may also make an appearance in various bothies and hostels from time to time, as ad hoc discussions will add much to the overall scope of the project. It wouldn't do to have opinions confined only to those people who take the trouble to read TAC: the poor souls who don't deserve some kind of a say too.
Ultimately, this whole scheme may come to nothing, but it seems worth a try. As the recent SMC review of TAC itself stated: 'There are many untapped readers out there ready for talking...about people and the hills'. So, rants or reminiscences, gripes or jokes, small perceptions or largescale theories, make contact and make yourself heard. Your editor is ready and waiting...