The Angry Corrie 50: Jun-Jul 2001

TAC 50 Index

Gordon Smith: Still angry after all these years

IT IS INDEED a pleasure to be making an appearance in the landmark TAC50, something akin to entering the SFA Hall of Fame. And like the most recent entrant to the Hall, Braveheart Colin Hendry, I find myself assailed and assaulted: therefore, gentle reader, please forgive some re-taliatory elbow...

Hamish Brown's article contra Smith in TAC49 provides a perfect example of how mediocre and crony-ridden the world of mountaineering "literature" is, and why TAC is so necessary. Mr Brown works hard in his piece to defend his fellow professional scribe, as the freemasonry of the outdoor genre demands: in the case of Mr Gilbert's book, he does so pretty half-heartedly, it has to be admitted. My review is a "big mallet to a wee tent peg", he offers; and anyway, Gilbert has been "knocking about the hills ... since Smith was crapping in his nappies." What, and that's supposed to make him a good writer, then, Hamish? Given that Mr Brown later in the same paragraph accuses me of "dumbing down", I am surprised that he himself descends to the dialectic of the pub argument.

It would appear that Hamish is still in the huff over my review of his appearance in the Wilderness Walks TV series, complaining that I trivialised the programme by concentrating on "Cameron's" ear-ring. I stand by my belief that an accessory which may well be de rigueur in certain San Franciscan bars and bath-houses is entirely inappropriate to a middle-aged, heterosexual, hairy-arsed man. Also in that TAC40 piece I expressed a wish that McNeish had asked Brown if he never felt a bit of a humbug, banging on about the despoliation of the hills while at the same time having been partly responsible for their present popularity. I have now been provided with the answer to this putative question: it's all my fault, apparently. The wilderness, Hamish howls like an Old Testament prophet, is "being smashed to Smithereens" (sic). I find this apportioning of blame most unfair, particularly as others have been stomping about the wilderness (and writing articles about the experience) since even before I was trumping in my terry towelling.

So what does Mr Brown suggest as an alternative to me and my cairn-tolerant kind? Why, death, destruction, genocide, holocaust and atomic incineration, apparently. In what must be the crassest, most insensitive, and generally up-its-own-arse sentence ever to appear in the course of 50 TACs, Hamish tells us that "World War Two was a blessed relief for the landscape." Presumably he is not thinking of the landscape of Hiroshima, Dresden or Clydebank.

Leaving behind the image of the wounded and dying of Stalingrad and Normandy consoling themselves with the knowledge that no new cairns or paint-marks appeared on the Cuillin that day, let us return to the glorious Defence of Gilbert. "Truth is never in extremes," admonishes Brown. "In the Alps some markings could be bearable (but not for me), even to someone who is against such at home. A bit more thinking, and apparent contradictions can add up." Now, frankly, Hamish Brown has been getting away with this type of nonsense for far too long. His books and articles are full of pithy axioms like this, which are a queer mixture of Scots couthiness with Zen paradox. National Treasure he may be, but he's just plain wrong. I'm no mathematician, but I hold it to be an absolute truth that two plus two equals four. If someone were to suggest to me that two plus two equalled two, should I agree a compromise on a product of three, because Hamish thinks truth is never in extremes? A bit more thinking is indeed required, sir.

But at least Mr Brown has made an attempt to tug the shirt, to stand on the toes and to throw a punch behind the ref's back: and that's something you wouldn't usually see him do in the glossies or the weekend supplements. What makes the Corrie so different and so good are its feuds and flytings, its intemperate language and extreme opinions: let's keep it Angry for the next fifty.

TAC 50 Index