TAC 38 Index
He kicked off in TAC32, before being carried off on the magic stretcher. Now the editor's assistant holds up some numbers, checks his studs, and lets Gordon Smith back on the pitch ...
The 95-96 season had come to an end, but football and hillwalking were not quite over. Football continued into the extra time of Euro '96: hillwalking with a round of Queensberry, Gana and Earncraig, which were to turn out to be the last Donalds I would set foot on for six painful months.
It was the Scotland v England match which brought my bagging to an abrupt end, for on the day of the big match I took part in a five-a-side bounce match as atmospheric preparation for the Main Event. The bounce, unfortunately, turned to grind when I ran into a rabbit hole in the turf: my lower leg stayed in the hole, while upper leg and torso continued on a mazy run. My knee tried as vainly as Gary McAllister to hold things together, but the final result was a cartilage minced to gristle and a peripatetic patella. 2-0. I watched the Wembley game with a cold beer can, in lieu of an ice pack, balanced on it.
I found out just how bothersome this genuflexibility would be a week or so later on Craignasheenie. This is a little gem of a hill on the edge of Galloway, rough and rocky, a miniature Craignaw which, though small in stature, gives fantastic views of the Awful Hand and the Rhinns of Kells, and can on a good day offer glimpses of Lui and the Crianlarich hills. Craignasheenie is little known and less frequented, primarily because to get to it you have to cross a bog so tussocky as to make the rest of notoriously rugged Gallowegian moorland seem like the wicket at Edgbaston. Unable to predict with any accuracy where my foot would meet the resistance of the ground, I was constantly jarring the knee, and each time I did so a little spark of pain would be ignited by the flinted bone.
I went to see the doctor, fearful that his advice would simply be if it hurts you, don't do it: I wanted my knee fixed, even if it meant the cold kiss of the scalpel. I was examined by a burly rugby-playing type of about my own age, who fortunately understood why I wanted prescription rather than proscription. I put my chirurgical request to him.
- What? he gasped, as if I had just suggested some casual sodomy on the couch. Surgery? Nononononoooo. Not a good idea. You'd be hobbling about on a stick by the time you were forty. Physiotherapy's what you want. He gave his desk drawer a brisk gynaelogical examination, at last producing a photocopied sheet featuring drawings so infantile that Lascaux cave-dwellers would have considered them interestingly primitivist. One sequence began with a disembodied leg, its ankle fettered by a Tesco bag; next, the leg was shown extended, the bag now suspended in mid-air; finally, the leg was shown en repos once more. As with the Bayeux tapestry, the pictures were accompanied by an exegetical legend which, in this case, explained helpfully that the carrier bag contained a two-pound bag of sugar.
The doctor beamed with pride in his creation, and explained that these simple acts of saccharolevitation would develop muscles which would in turn keep my knee in place: out of sweetness comes strength, just like the Bible and the syrup tin say.
- What weight are you? he asked next.
I had been expecting this question. About firthteen stone, I obfuscated.
He was not to be fooled. Fifteen? Gavin Hastings is about your height and build, and he's probably only fourteen. Have you any idea the effect that extra stone has on your knee when you're walking up a hill?
I nodded glumly.
- Oh, I don't think you do. Here, look at this. He picked up a pencil and drew a diagonal line on the photocopy. That's a hill, he told me. Then, tongue peeking from between his upper and lower teeth, he added a right angle, and then attached it to the "hill" with an oval "boot". That's your leg, he announced. Then he drew a huge arrow which he aimed directly at the knee with the skill of a Norman archer. There, he said with some pride in his work. Perhaps this will make it more clear to you.
I thanked him for his advice and drawings of knees, and went to Tesco for a carrier bag and a kilo of Tate and Lyle. I also bought a case of Kronenbourg to alleviate the tedium of physiotherapy. Summer passed, a new season began, and I watched as Killie's league position, and the peg which held manager Alex Totten's jacket, went into freefall.
It was the end of November, and well into the apparently disastrous season, before I would next set foot on a Donald. It happened to be Blackcraig again, as it was the closest to home. Newly equipped with an adjustable lime-green tiger-striped ski-pole, I bounded up the wintry hillside as if pursued by such a lurid creature. It was an overcast day, but the tops of the Lowthers and Tinto stood out white against the grey November sky, sparkling with therapeutic sugar. Perhaps it was a sign of better days to come.
And my next day out, to Moorbrock Hill, seemed to confirm it. A previous attempt on this hill had been abandoned because of an oppressive feeling of sadness; today, however, six months later, on the day of the winter solstice, things seemed very different: a bitter wind, yes, but the astringent smell of snow in the air, and white clouds rushing home for Christmas across the blue sky. At the top I could stretch my arms out and lean forward over the corniced edge, and be supported by the airstream. As I made my way down, the sun was setting, and the bracken hills were drenched in vermilion then ruby; as the moon rose, they turned wine-dark. A new year, I hoped a better one, lay ahead.
January, however, reverted to type with a damp and dreich inevitability; Santa had brought me a new Goretex, and I was glad. My only tick for the month was Millfore, whose sopping slopes could not be seen for mist: after a few hours in the grey cloud of unknowing, it was a treat to emerge back into the chromatic world: a Mars Bar for the eyes. The month dripped to its conclusion, apparently unremarkably: but deep in the cold earth a long-buried seed stirred, as Killie beat East Stirlingshire 2-0 in the first round of the Cup.
February began as wet as the previous month. The Ed and I had a big half-day at Moffat, swimming up and sliding down Capel Fell, Croft Head and three other New Donalds. It had rained almost incessantly since Christmas, and I began to believe that my new jacket was to blame, that it was becoming the scene of some Manichean struggle between the Weather Gods and Santa. One strange moment of poetry did illuminate the day, however: listening to the commentary on Dundee United v Celtic on my wee radio, I was astonished and delighted to hear commentator David Begg describe Jackie McNamara's attempts to mark Robbie Winters thus:
He matched the pacy Winters stride for stride ...
Which is about as perfect a line of pentameter as it is possible to produce. Say it aloud, and hear how beautifully form and content are united: matched exploding from the standing start of he; accelerating into the disyllables of pacy Winters; then the wide-stretching legs suggested by the diphthongs in stride for stride. It is a beautiful line on a symbolic level, too: winters, as we grow old, pass us by all too quickly in the circle of life; this hero, however, refuses to give in and go gently into that good night. The line could have come from some lost Keatsian Ode to Spring.
It's also a much better line than Wolstenholme's oft-repeated 1966 comment, which needs the addition of one tiny syllable (They think it is all over, it is now; or even They think it's all over, well, it is now) to qualify as blank verse. I began to wonder which poets football commentators most resembled: Bob Crampsey, for example, with his self-conscious Scots archaisms would be like Hugh McDiarmid; Motson, replete with dull footnotes designed to remind us of his learnedness is surely a new TS Eliot; and Jimmy Hill, for obvious reasons, would be Oscar Wilde.
The following Saturday saw me on Hudderstone or Heatherstone. It was still wet, but at least there was a break and a view from the top. The view was, in fact, quite splendid, encompassing hills rolling far and wide. Nearby was the interestingly-named Startup Hill (presumably twinned with Boot Hill), which should surely feature in Microsoft's advertising campaign for Windows 98: certainly, it would cost Bill Gates less than the Rolling Stones did for the 95 version. So with a last look over to Gathersnow Hill (rather than Gathersnow Moss), I switched on the radio and made my way down through the resuming drizzle. Killie were losing 0-2 at Tynecastle. I did a mental computation and discovered that I had subconsciously predicted the result in my choice of hill, whose name is an anagram of Hearts - the one.
My next Donald also contained a hidden message for new Killie manager Bobby Williamson - Bodesbeck Law is (nearly) an anagram of Clyde wakes Bob: and so they did, Kilmarnock scraping a 1-0 victory in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup that same day. It was a fiercely windy day on the hill, and as with most subMunros, one devoid of all but ovine companionship: it's difficult to understand why, as the views across the Moffat Water to Hart Fell and White Coomb are spectacular, the hanging valley of Loch Skeen and the Grey Mare's Tail being particularly dramatic features of the landscape. At times like these I sometimes think it a shame that the Southern Uplands are so un- or under-appreciated, and that it would be a good thing if more people were able to enjoy these hills; but at the same time, if I am to be honest with myself, I enjoy their peace and solitude, and feel a selfish pleasure, almost of ownership, when I am on them. Doubtless the crowds will come soon enough, driven by Munro burnout, or sheer weight of numbers elsewhere.
March, in keeping with the apocalyptic saying about lions and lambs, came in with a leonine roar. I had intended to firstfoot the Moorfoots (Moorfeet?), but found on arriving at Gladhouse Reservoir that the wind was so strong as to prevent the passenger side door from being opened; in compensation, it attempted to snap the driver's door off its hinges and hurl it across the loch like a skimming stone. The Ed and I cowered in the car as it was buffeted by an obviously pissed-off Aeolus. Desertion, we decided, was the better part of valour: a ridge walk being out of the question, we took a lengthy detour round to Whitehope Law, an outlier of the group. The day was rescued in a crazy crouched dash up the hill, blown and blustered and blasted, then down the other side into the windbreak calm of forestry. As is amusingly often the case, the gales were stilled and the sun was gloriously revealed by the time we reached the car.
The following week found us on Dollar Law, which really ought to be the title of a movie starring Jack Palance. ("He believed in fairness and justice for all ... but in the wild, wild West there was only DOLLAR LAW ...".) A much more pleasant day, and after a big steep pull from the Manor Water, there was very comfortable close-cropped grass to walk upon. Despite this lack of vegetatious hiding-place, I once again contrived to lose contact with a lens and to fail to find it; neither the Ed's binocular vision nor my own Polyphemic efforts were able to locate the errant plastic. A weekend of something lost, but something else won: Killie beat Morton 5-2 in the quarter-finals of the Cup. I half glimpsed great things ahead as I marched on to Black Law.
We drew wee Droopy: smiling Tommy McLean's Dundee United were to be our opponents in the semis. Although still a month away, nerves were beginning to jangle. On a breezy walk up Windy Gyle, listening to Killie's league match with Droopy's former club, Motherwell, I came across some aircraft bits, which I knew belonged to a Handley Page Hampden. Hampden wreckage, Hampden crash, Hampden in pieces ... hmmmm, could this be an omen? The gloomy prognosis was dispelled however, when I recalled that the semis and final wouldn't be played at Hampden anyway, because of reconstruction work. And then through my earpiece came the news that Paul Wright had scored the only goal of the game ...
Even better news the following week: Killie beat Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox as I returned to the more clement Moorfoots and began the traverse of the three Donalds on Dundriech - Hun cried, D, I said to Dave. Desperate to win nine-in-a-row, Walter Smith had brought back Mark Hateley because none of his strikers could head the ball: as it turned out, Tinky Winky would have provided more aerial menace.
(to be continued)
TAC 38 Index