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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Learning the Ropes Again...

Artificial looking legs on Tunnel Wall, pic by Dave MacLeod
 Like most bloggers, the novelty of writing of how interesting your own life is soon wears off, and you tend to update very, very rarely. It seemed a good idea at the time to gibber on about how fascinating yesterday was and to share it with everybody. I think I last updated this blog in September last year, and have planned and started several entries, but never got round to it, or my ego hasn’t been big enough to force my irrelevant thoughts on you. I look at friends with more successful blogs, and they tend to write more positively, and everything looks rosy at the time. The blog of a manic depressive, would after all, only be good for cheering up people with a black sense of humour. We think nothing significant has happened in our lives, but in reality there are a thousand little wars going on behind every closed door, a battle in most people’s heads, as great as any tragedy or story, but never to be publically exposed. Which brings me back to the original point of why I am even bothering to update my blog, since I have just stated in a roundabout way that my life isn’t significantly interesting enough to bother you with, but what the hell, here goes. When I first started this site, the idea was to keep my children updated on what I am up to when I am not with them. Distance is hard to explain to them, and I have been carried many thousands of miles from them of late, and sometimes struggle to explain to them why. So here goes, after all that self-obsessed ranting it turns out that I am going to bother you with my recent travels and plans, as I obviously feel I need to highlight to my kids that I do actually work…
Moonlight on Loch Achray, as I remind myself to take more landscapes

Leaving Pakistan gave many mixed emotions; on one level I miss the place hugely, I miss its ability to make you feel secure while possibly being at the centre of the centrifugal force that is ‘The War on Terror’.  At this precise moment in town the cold embrace of the cynical world of journalism is exactly what I require. My luggage also felt the emotional pull of Pakistan and decided to move to Karachi, so if your passing through Karachi and notice anyone dressed like a mountaineer or, well some would say a camp mountaineer, you can guess the origins of their good taste.
Leon and Klara, Prishtine, March 2011

After Pakistan it was back to Kosova and the kids. I finally after 18 years travelling the world experienced the pleasures of business class. When the pre-operational trolley dolly tucked the blanket in as I slept on a bed on a plane, I suppose I over reacted by shooting straight up in the air, and I had to finish the bottle of champagne to get back to sleep. But I did, purely because I could, after all if I didn’t drink it, it would have gone flat, and gone to waste, and having come from an NGO flood relief programme, waste is one thing we do not need, is it? So back to Klara and Leon, and the familiar feeling of Kosova, overeating, and varying my nightly bottle of wine between a Vranac and Te Za Jug. The highlight was watching a Macedonian Gypsy band in Dardan’s nightclub, watching what was unthinkable a few years before, as the Kosovars got teary eyed to the beautiful, tragic, horns on a distinctly Yugoslav nostalgia trip. He may have screwed up, but the ones old enough to know raised a glass to Tito that evening, whereas a few years ago a Macedonian gypsy band would have invited a hand grenade into the club. Perhaps time can heal, or at least temporarily blank the painful memories. My son Leon never left me for one second while back, while Klara makes every time I leave harder and harder. I suppose I know I feel more at home in the Balkans than anywhere else, and my kids being settled there makes me know I will always return. The other morning I saw a thumbnail picture while buying books of an image from the Bosnian War. I never even looked at it properly, and the next thing I was thrown into the past, and the heat, sensations and smells of the time are illuminated in my mind, and I am back there, every emotion multiplied, like an acid trip, but one that happened in the past. The Balkans has that affect on you; she is like a lover you always think you are over, but if you glimpse into her eyes, the old feelings are there, raw, unchanged and unexplained.  Maybe that is why I’ll always return; the research for my thesis involves going back to Bosnia, Kosova, and Macedonia. I’d love to take Klara with me, and try and explain what happened, how it took over my life; on the other hand why should I trouble the mind of a ten year old with tales of an ugly past on poisoned soil? I’m desperate for a sentimental journey, but I’m even more desperate to complete my thesis and perhaps move on.
View from Caldbeck Common, a sentimental favourite for my Mum's family

Then back to what some would term reality, or I’d say Glasgow. A split reality, and time to start working again. However I have hardly had a night in one spot for the past two months, and have spent time working in Swansea, London, Manchester, the Lake District, Glencoe with social visits scattered randomly in there too, as well as a period in Cambridge staring unproductively at books. After injuring my knee last summer, I also made myself go back on the hills, a passion that strangely deserted me through the winter. All my life climbing and mountains have been one of the key factors, something that was such an inherent part of my being, that I could not function without. For no apparent reason this love left my soul, and left me feeling indifferent about what I had pretty much spent four years of my life solely focused upon. Instead of the beauty and being humbled in the face of mother-nature I seemed to just respond to being cold and scared. So slowly, on a rather creaky knee, I have been venturing out, with a camera to discover just how unfit I have become. Mountain Equipment, as ever have been good to me, replacing what furnishes a Pakistani cab, and having me work for them again. Es Tressider was running a fell race in the lakes, and I caught up with him on Sharp Edge on Blencathra with a 5:00am start to do the shots. I should be nationalistic and more patriotic but I have to confess to a greater love for the Lakes due to childhood memories than the north of Scotland, which I do adore, but sentimentality coupled with sunshine does tend to tip the scales in the favour of the Lakes. We had a good day out, and Es showed his insane level of fitness to keep the conversation going on the topic of his PHD while ascending, meantime I used the last of my oxygen supply to give one word answers. I’ll get fit again, I just need to keep clear of the Guinness and general good times behaviour I have been indulging in.When in the Lakes, I took the chance to take my Mum, Dad, and Aunty Barbara back to one of the houses that my Gran and Grandad lived in at Caldbeck. Of all the places they lived, and of the stories they told, this one seemed to be everyones favourite. Caldbeck, as ever was beautiful, but sadly the old house was neglected, and lacking in the light of those precious memories. It had obviously become a holiday let with the once stunning garden of my Gran's hands covered with gravel, a lump of emotions lost on brick and mortar. My Mum was happy to have returned, but keen not to go back. Sometimes memories are better than the modern reality.
Aunty Barbara, my Mum and Dad show their uncontrolled excitement at getting back to Caldbeck

Es Tressider on Sharp Edge for Mountain Equipment

Jump forward a few more days and I was this time back on the ropes with Dave MacLeod on the iconic Tunnel Wall at the head of Glencoe. Tunnel Wall is one of these amazing crags that you see from the roadside and is bathed in a history as spectacular as the late night light it finds. Dave was hoping to work a new line, however was concentrating on regaining the stamina he lost while training to complete his V14 Boulder problem. The drill battery wasn’t playing the game however, so we settled on the existing lines, and I got back on the ropes and the never ending joys of jumaring routes. Glencoe always, no matter where I go in the world inspires. Fortunately as we got to work in the fading light it didn’t fail to relight a flame. I’ll be back later in the week to try and make Tunnel Wall look how it should. So, as ever, my life is all over the place, in the midst of some major changes, waiting on the next trips abroad to be confirmed. On one level it is as insecure and haphazard as before, on another it has that delicious uncertainty that sometimes I try to escape, but always in the end crave. I really should find a balance. One day. 
Dave MacLeod on Tunnel Wall, Glencoe

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