A feature entitled "I have a dream" in the Sunday Herald for 5 January asked selected Scottish "celebrities" to state "what they've always wanted to do with their lives". The eye of Perkin Warbeck (who is food-obsessed this issue - see pp6-7) was caught by the contribution by Nick Nairn, a "celebrity chef".
"I'D LIKE TO CLIMB a mountain. A proper mountain, not a Munro. Either a 4000-metre peak in the Alps or an 8000-metre peak in Tibet. Everest is the biggest mountian (sic), but it is actually one of the easiest ones, although it is still pretty scary. I've climbed a couple of wee hills in my time; I've never done any proper climbing before. I'm fascinated by the danger and the exhilaration of it. Like a moth drawn to the flame, I'm fascinated by the whole thing, about what makes these guys do it. And I kind of understand, I think, what makes them do it. It's just the exhilaration and the feeling of being alive when you are out there. I'd love to do it, but I've made a pact with my wife. She gets worried when she sees me poring over climbing books. 'You're not about to pack your bags and disappear to Nepal are you?' No...."
Set aside your bemusement that the word "mountian" can get past both the author and the subs of a broadsheet newspaper in the age of the spellchecker. And speaking of the subs, one might also wonder how "exhilaration" and "fascinated" can appear twice each in as many sentences. Does no one have a thesaurus? Does Mr Nairn serve his monkfish with mashed and crushed potatoes on the one plate? But my job is not to wash the Sunday Herald's dirty Gore-Tex. Rather, I come to kick boulders down the gully of contemporary culture which has elevated a whole jaeger battalion of cookery teachers to the rarefied air of zeitgeist-makers. How come none of them has succumbed to high- altitude pulmonary oedema?
In the days of Everest the hard way, Dougal Haston was some sort of mountaineering equivalent of a rock star. Maybe not the fifth Beatle, but surely in the top ten behind Best and Bailey. In today's blighted era, with cooking the new rock'n'roll, one wonders whether Haston, were he still alive, would be confessing his longing to make a decent soufflé before he dies?
Apparently cooking does have its hard men, with Gordon Ramsay being Basher Briggs. He has thrown Joan Collins and someone called AA Gill out of his café. Most of us can probably conjure a mental image of Joan Collins. I certainly can. She is wearing that basque thing with the fur trimmings and a bit of (that's quite enough of that - Ed.). Moreover, I have just looked at a picture of AA Gill. Iron Mike Tyson he ain't. Thus to be "hard" in the kitchen might be akin to being considered over-cerebral on Big Brother. So when Nick Nairn pronounces Everest "one of the easiest", is this a hard man of the hills talking? One in six Everest summiteers still croaks, after all. Or is this just the gateaux-making 25th member of Atomic Kitten talking a load of bolleaux?
Speaking of the one-in-six attrition rate, how about our seeing a programme where six chefs are sent to climb Everest? Or, better yet, a programme where Jamie Oliver is sent six times. I know that wouldn't guarantee his demise, but it would greatly reduce his chance of uttering the word "pukkah" ever again.
None of this ire would be outpouring if Nairn hadn't declared that Munros were not "proper" mountains. I don't consider woodcock marinated in balsamic vinegar and garlic and served on a bed of squid ink pasta to be "proper" food, but I wouldn't risk the wrath of the foodie brigade by ... er ... thus opining in print.
Let's imagine Nairn at base camp. Is he studying the icefall through binoculars, looking for shifts in the seracs? Or is he fussing over Pertemba the cook, eg "please Pertemba, tell me you used only puy lentils in the dhal...".
Or up on the summit ridge, from south or north, when stepping over corpses, how would he fare, the man who boaked up on TV at the sight of black pudding being made? When asked the worst thing about Glasgow, Nairn once opined: "Litter. It's everywhere. It's horrible." One wonders how he would cope at Everest base camp: he could spend the entire pre-monsoon window tidying up. And if he did ever reach the south col, the pile of discarded oxygen bottles might send him back down in the huff.
If one were being really pedantic, Nairn's "8000m peak in Tibet" ought also to bear some analysis. There is only one mountain that can be so described: Shishapangma aka Xixabangma aka Gosainthan. Most of the fourteen 8000ers sit on national borders - and three fall entirely in Nepal. So either Nairn has already decided on his peak (in which case let's tell his wife), or again he doesn't know what he's talking about.
And what's all this "I've climbed a couple of wee hills in my time"? Does the man feel no need to warm up for Everest by doing the Aggy Ridge in winter? Or if it's wee hills he's after there's a very apposite Graham called Cook's Cairn. When aspirant chefs breenge into his kitchen with "I've made a couple of omelettes in my time", does Nairn just give them a job?
Finally in this rush of pedantic cant, I would draw your attention to Nairn's limited choice of challenge: 4000m in the Alps or 8000m in "Tibet". Nothing between seems to tickle the fancy. My own fairytale mountains would be in Patagonia, and if one really wanted a challenge after a hard day shelling prawns then Denali aka McKinley seems pretty daunting, with a reputation that makes Eve- rest seem tropical. Or if Nairn wants an easy time, what about Kilimanjaro where ordinary pedestrians regularly wander up the tourist route? He could even invent a new wildebeest recipe. I am sure it is low in steroids and safe to eat off the bone.
TAC 57 Index