TAC 33 Index
The incoming New Labour administration was always expected to shake up various aspects of British society. But what had not been fully anticipated was the amount of legislation relevant to the hills and those who walk and work them. Ever unearthing the real news, and in the first of an occasional series, TAC examines the proposals - some startling - being put forward by the Blair/Mandelson Government ...
Quite apart from boosting the Treasury coffers, this will provide a "back door" method of resolving the old debate about whether hillgoers should be forced into taking out insurance to cover potential costs to Mountain Rescue Teams and military helicopters when accidents occur. Now, special cameras will be installed on the more popular routes to monitor both the equipment and the behaviour of those trudging uphill in adverse conditions. Woe betide anyone tackling, say, Ben Lawers in a strong southwesterly whilst wearing cheap Austrian-import breeches and Brasher Boots, or failing to carry a fully functioning pair of walking poles.
Such people will be liable to a hefty fine should they be caught on camera being toppled by a gust of wind or a particularly uneven piece of ground, or when fiddling with their privatised utilities. The first knowledge offenders will have of this will be when their morning post contains not only that month's Country Rambling and Soft Shoe Shuffle, but also a stringent tax demand from the Treasury, backed up by CCTV photographs of themselves (and their family and friends) in unfortunate and compromising positions flat on their backs on some bleak bit of hillside.
Details from on board the HMP Rupert Weare and from inside the Bagging Service are sketchy, but reports suggest that inmates are allowed out of their cabin-cells for thirty minutes each day to struggle up poor-quality fibreglass mock-ups of The Devil's Point, the Five Sisters, and a couple of Fannaichs. These have been constructed along the length of the poop deck using cast-off scenery from Millennium Impresario Sir Cameron McNeishintosh's failed West End "Munro-musical spectacular", Bagging!
Those incarcerated for climbing-orientated offences are offered the option of scaling the rigging to simulate such routes as Rannoch Wall and the Cioch Nose. Inmates range from dangerous route pioneers to hopelessly addicted list-tickers for whom weekend jaunts north and west gradually got more and more out of hand when problems such as "negative equity" took hold following the relegation of Sgor an Iubhair to non-Munro status. Likewise slopping out on the slopes will be those who fail to pay their windfall fines (see above), whilst it may soon be just as illegal to lead E on a sea-cliff as it currently is to take E at a rave.
Scores of civil liberty protesters have made known their dismay at this stark throwback to the days of scurvy-ridden chain gangs. Ecowarriors Swampy, Animal and Muppet Dave have even struck a strange alliance with Highland Toffee Magnate Rennie McOwan, with plans reputedly being laid to tunnel under the boat and then sink it using de facto toffee limpet mines.
The ship's Obergrüppenkommandant, Chief Petty Officer John "Keel-haul" Ridgway, commented: "We must get these people out of hill society and off the summits, and if this requires confining them to a ship containing cheap mock-ups of a few major summits, then that is what we will do. It may seem harsh, and it's a great shame, but there you have it. I blame the teachers myself."
Campaigners for more lenient sentencing argue otherwise. Father Alain de Blanco of the Taizé Community, author of the controversial Relative Hills and their Holistic Value in a Modern Socio-Economic Fascist Police State, said: "This is a nonsense, and a sad nonsense at that. What is needed here is not to further fuel these poor people's desire to endlessly bag big hills, but to re-train and re-educate them to see the world in a different and more kindly light, to switch their attention to more needy, underprivileged hills. There are already plenty such hills near to Portsmouth itself, like 238m Chanctonbury Hill and 214m Brighstone Down, and errant baggers should be encouraged or even made to climb these. Bringing in a big boat covered in tacky models of the Torridons and Cadair Idris is simply absurd. It's obvious that the instant these people are released back into society they will be catching the first bus back to the big hills, where they will soon be re-offending up to six or seven times a day."
A new hill regulator, OfHill, will be introduced, most likely headed by Claire Spotisheighte, to oversee the establishment of new devolved regional bagging assemblies (all with their own tax-raising powers - again see above). Funding for work by the post-Thatcherite Bagger's Think Tank (headed by Professor Ben MacDoohey of The Angry University and the Rev Dr Murdo Munro of the Happy-Clappy Apostolic Church of Upper Speyside) is now likely to be frozen. They had argued for a "pan-national benchmark for non-Scottish hills", with the introduction of Marilyns and Hewitts on a global scale. (A Mr Clements of Surrey had already been commissioned to list all 387,422 of the 2000-foot hills in the Himalaya.) Now, the new broom of fresh government will sweep away this new-age nonsense, and restore the "traditional values" of age-old hill-lists such as those by the Nuttall sisters of Congleton, by a bloke named Bridge who was once publicly debagged in the Rucksack Club for plagiarism, and by the Irish playwright Synge, who once took time off from the spotlights and the greasepaint to note down all Lakeland 2000-foot spot heights with five metres drop.
These and other Tables will come roaring back like a fleet of deregulated buses, a state of affairs which dismays Andy Alvarez, Chair of "Charter 89", the group which campaigns for the introduction of the Artney Hills into the Donalds list: "This is a retrograde step: New Labour maybe, but Old Donalds now for sure. It's reform for reform's sake, and I see the dead hand of Chris Smith and his completed Munros here. In an age of internationalism and instantaneous digital telecommunications, when an online bagger in Jakarta can know at a touch of a keyboard the latest grid reference changes in Kirkcudbrightshire, it's absurd to let all these crusty old list-keepers creep back into positions of influence with their quill-pens and slide-rules, their pipes and slippers, their Parker-Bowles Recliners and Beinn an Lochains. Standardise across the board I say, nationalise the Ordnance Survey into the bargain, and put all the very latest facts and figures slap-bang up there on the Internet - even if this does involve the chore of having to also check in on alt.rec.sgurr.porn from time to time."
There have also been suspicions that the ongoing Abberley Hill railway-cutting saga comprises part of some vast, complex conspiracy. SMC Tables Editor Derek Bearhop was recently denied access, by the military, in his attempt to bag the St Kilda seastacks and thus put himself in line to be the first complete Marilynist and ensure Alan Dawson's elevation to the House of Lords. The so-called "justification" for the ban - which TAC has exclusively seen - involved the words "gannets" and "gobbing"; but this all smells more of rat than of guano. Asked to comment on these matters amid rumours of a "tartan hill-tax" designed to subsidise the flatter parts of Britain, the new Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar would only say: "All I can clarify at the moment is that the West Lothian Question has finally been resolved. The answer is East Cairn Hill."
At least it looks as if Ireland will see some progress, since the MacDoohey-Munro proposals to standardise all hills in the 32 counties have been retained, at least for now, in the wider desire to see the marching season re-routed on to a variety of utterly obscure Marilyns where they will bother no-one with their flutes and stupid hats and twiddly cotton-bud Lambeg ski-stick drum things. Northern Ireland Secretary Dr Martin "Mo" Moran asserted that "The will of the majority must prevail", whatever that means - whilst Loughnan O'Castle of the hard-line Spirit of Knocknanacree group staunchly defended the right of Orangemen to march anywhere they liked "as long as it was on a hill with a Popish-sounding name".
TAC 33 Index