The Angry Corrie 60: Jan-Feb 2004


New climbs, old habits: The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal 2003

edited by Charles J Orr

SMC, 233+vi pp, ISBN 0 907521 69 X, £12.95

Review: Gordon Smith

The SMC Journal is a strangely schizophrenic publication. On the one hand, it is a club journal speaking to a restricted audience, as replete with insider references as a Nigel Dempster column. On the other, it attempts to be a sort of popular journal of record for the Scottish hillgoing community. The result is as bi-polar as Amundsen's socks.

The journal sometimes likes to pretend that it still lives in a pre-Great War world of Gentlemen and Players ("CLUB MEMBERS are asked to support the ADVERTISERS", it declaims, the upper case amusingly suggestive of Basil Fawlty shouting into the Major's ear), but the brutal fact is that it could not survive on sales to these worthies alone. It must pursue the wider market, to which end its cover has gone glossy and shed its serifs. So what else do we, Joe or Jo Public, get for our £12.95?

Firstly, the traditional elements of the journal: the Proceedings of the Club and Reports. To read these is to be like the Little Match Girl, catching a tantalising glimpse of the groaning dinner tables of the great and the good; and, like all good feasts, there is a memento mori in the form of the In Memoriam pages. I confess I am a sucker for obituary columns. I have never believed the cliché about everybody having a novel in them, but I do believe that all of us probably have the makings of an interesting obit, and these guys more than most. It's also entertaining to decode the language sometimes, when an obituarist's frank assessment of some crusty old bagger is shrouded in the demands of nil nisi bonum.

One of the 2003 obituaries is that of John Hinde, whose passing in June 2002 has certainly left the journal (temporarily, I hope) bereft. Hinde was the erstwhile master of the Scottish mountain accident pages in the SMCJ, a responsibility which he shouldered with obvious dedication and no little élan. The economy with which Hinde encapsulated life-and-death epics could have made him millions had he been pitching movies to Hollywood executives. He was also capable of laconic wit - his reports in the 2001 Journal included "False alarm [...] distress cries were reported in Ettrick Valley. A working farmer was running a dog called 'Kelp'."

From Old Timers to New Climbers. The New Climbs section is the subject of some controversy. It takes up almost exactly a third of the journal and is undoubtedly the least-read section. Supporters (ie contributors) would argue that it is the epitome of the journal as recorder of the progress of mountaineering in Scotland; detractors allege that New Climbs is basically vanity publishing, and that many of the reports are less than significant in the scheme of things. An eight-metre Severe, for example, is hardly cutting-edge. My own somewhat Friedmanesque (Milton, rather than Kinky) view is that the market will dictate the fate of New Climbs: if sales drop because of public resistance to paying for 70 pages they never read, the SMC is likely to take a Swiss Army knife to the New Climbs rope. Bear in mind also that all the new names listed in the Munro Matters section probably buy one copy for themselves and another for their mums. Crag will give way to Bag.

image from TAC60

On the subject of Munro Matters, may we prevail upon the Clerk of the List (sic) to abandon the quasi-Linnaean binomial shtick, or at least learn some bloody Latin? It was sufficiently annoying in previous years to find the text spattered with knowing coinages such as Munro longius or even M. matrimonialis; but as for this year's monstrous construction Primiere Munroius Youngus - puh-lease. Or as Cicero would have had it, si-vis. The phrase has all the Latinity of Biggus Dickus or Incontinentia Buttox. And while we're at it, would the clerk also drop the archaic and arch use of compleat/compleation?

Seventy pages of the Journal are taken up by entries to the W H Murray Literary Prize. Perhaps. We don't know for sure because the rules of the prize state that all submissions to the journal will be automatically entered unless the author specifically requests that his or her effort be excluded. We are not told if any author preferred to be spared the banalities of the judges ("This writer has learned from good storytellers some of the tricks of the well-crafted tale," offers Pete Gifford, who presumably his syntax learned from Yoda) and their in-jokes. So, you may ask, what? Well, just this: these 70 pages contain an embarrassment (literally, one hopes) of punctuation errors, shoddy syntax and plain wrongness - "your too hot", indeed. In addition, although many of the pieces have literary merit, there is scarcely one which could not have been improved by some deft editorial guidance, to the benefit of the writer, the reader and the standing of the Journal itself.

So is it the case that, since all these contributions are now effectively competition entries, the Journal editor refrains from editing them on the grounds of fairness? If so, Charlie Orr is abdicating editorial responsibility for a third of the journal, to its obvious loss.

What else? Some reviews, including one of a book which has neither been read by the reviewer nor even published. (Perrin's biography of Whillans; maybe TAC61 should include a review of the 2004 SMC Journal?) Some miscellaneous notes and a transcript of a lecture by Walter Bonatti, doubtless included for the benefit of insomniacs.

How to sum up the SMC Journal? Well, perhaps the comparison with Basil Fawlty was apposite: affecting patrician attitudes while ignorant of its own incompetence; standing fiercely on its dignity but deferential to its perceived betters; shunning the plebeian but forced by financial exigency to allow the common herd into its home. And despite these faults, we have, as we do for Basil, a sort of exasperated affection for it.


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