The Angry Corrie 68: Jun-Sep 2006

From folk-rock to Am Faochagach

Rock and Roll Mountains, by Graham Forbes

Mainstream, 2005, ISBN 1 84018 969 X, 224pp, £9.99

Review: Gordon Smith

THE ANGRY CORRIE has often sought to establish links, however tenuous, between the hills and rock and roll, between getting out and getting it on. My own contribution to this musical thread has included a recent confession to having been in my youth a member of a band which attempted a fusion of progressive and punk rock, melding the pomposity of the former with the incompetence of the latter. So-called friends have pointed out that this blend has developed into a something of a character trait.

But enough about me. Graham Forbes has been a real, bona fide rock musician, having played with the Incredible String Band. Clearly the publishers thought that his former occupation would sprinkle a little stardust over the book: Rock and Roll Mountains turns out, however, to be a misleading title. One might imagine it being the tale of the old rocker who gives up the booze and the one night stands, discovers Torridon, regains equilibrium, puts his life into perspective, reconnects with what's real, man - but by the time he climbs his first Munro, Mr Forbes has already retired from gigging and is instead running his own furniture removal business.

So when he heads to the hills, he's escaping from the stresses and strains of humping tea chests, rather than Marshall stacks and groupies. Might I suggest that a more honest title would be Moving Mountains, or even Pickford Peaks? There is after all no real similarity between the life of the rock star and the removal man: one destroys rooms and hurls television sets out of the window, whereas the other ... but you're ahead of me here.

image from source document

Our day job is anyway irrelevant to our outdoor activities. Certainly if I were writing a hill book, I wouldn't call it Paedagogical Mountains, not least for fear of having my house fire-bombed by illiterate News of the World readers. (Re-reading this last sentence, I ask myself two important questions: (i) illiterate News of the World readers - is it possible that a contradiction in terms can at the same time be a tautology? (Hey, enough with the slagging of tabloids - you'll be wanting to write gear reviews next - Ed.) (ii) What would a book called Paedophiliac Mountains actually be about? Glittertinde? Carn an Fhidhleir?)

Mr Forbes comes across as an amiable type, and his writing is entertaining enough: but he too often resorts to exaggerated stereotypes for comic effect. Thus the hillwalkers of his youth are "stalwarts of the Scripture Union, collected stamps and carefully built towering cranes from Meccano"; traditional climbers got fit by "walking t'tha' cliff, lad, drilling metal rivets into ships, working down pit..." There is a certain laziness to this approach, whereby he sets up his chosen Aunt Sallys then enjoys the luxury of knocking them down at point-blank range. Sometimes the blunderbuss backfires, however: when he is scolded by a character in "moleskin trousers ... thick socks ... bush-like beard with globules of tomato soup stuck in it" (see what I mean?) for venturing on the hill too late in the day, his sarcastic response ("Yeah well I can't get the sun to set any earlier") is worthy of Rick in The Young Ones.

Oddly enough, for such a wild-eyed rebel on a one-way ticket to oblivion, Mr Forbes is a big fan of the SMC, or rather its Munros guidebook, which he believes is "possibly the most important book ever published about Scotland" (note to self: throw away Sunset Song, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle - we don't need them any more.) Alarmingly, he suggests a copy of The Munros should be given free of charge to every school pupil: and whereas I am all for encouraging bibliophilia, I fear Mr Forbes has not been near a school on a day the beneficent Gideons have been to issue their Bibles, and the Word of the Lord litters the streets like stale manna. I doubt if the Word of Bennet would fare any better.

He does perhaps make a fair point when he states that The Munros "has quietly and democratically offered Scotland to its people and inspired them to use it and love it", though some would argue that it has been the catalyst for the explosion of hillwalking as a middle-class sport more than anything else. Certainly the idea of the SMC as a force for democracy will be anathema to the Marxist/Leninist "tankie" element of TAC readership, which doubtless believes that Scotland will only be free when the last SMC president is strangled with the last Robin Campbell review.

TAC's readership (or perhaps more accurately, its writership) also finds itself the target of Mr Forbes' scattergun. He complains that "wherever lists and statistics are found, unfortunately so are little people with bony, pointy fingers, sharp nails, knobbly knuckles and far too much time on their hands ... they wear sandals with socks all year round and have great clumps of hair sprouting out of their ears..." He goes on to berate such characters for doubting the word of the Rev A E Robertson regarding his dubious ascent of Ben Wyvis. As Derek Jameson used to say, Do they mean us? They surely do...

Anxious readers will be glad to hear that by the end of the book, Mr Forbes has joined us: he too loves Big Bagger. While admiring the beauty of Ben Lui, he looks down at his feet and notices that he is now wearing socks with his sandals. I am sorry to say he is silent on the progress of his ear hair.

TAC 68 Index