ebothy the autobiography
Mon, Oct 31, 2011
I’ve recently finished an OU Creative Writing course which was a hoot. Strangely enough I scored my highest marks in the poetry section but one submission was an opening to an autobiography and as it’s to do with the outdoors, I thought I’d publish it on this poky blog. Still not convinced I should bother with one as I’m not famous but if you’re stuck on a train full of commuters somewhere, I hope this makes you chuckle a little and remind you to get out at the weekend.
AutobiographyI have no intention of writing an autobiography. What would be the point? I can’t write. I’d rather go for a walk. I write poetry that makes small children laugh and grown men cry. Mostly poetry teachers. The most exciting thing I’ve done is climb the Matterhorn without a guide. Just a bunch of mates and we got so riotously drunk the day after that one of them woke in a ditch the next morning with a slug on his forehead. He didn’t go down too well with the tourists, Switzerland being such a conservative country and all that. No, why would anyone want to read about stuff like that? Why would anyone care about the time I returned from my first trip abroad, to the Pyrenees and returned on my back on the cross Channel ferry, in the children’s’ area watching endless Tom and Jerry cartoons while my guts rumbled ominously, having survived for two weeks on nothing but Pasta Choice. To reach Calais I’d navigated cross country from public toilet to public toilet. In Paris, I’d sat with my best friend at the British Embassy, stinking of shit and him covered in stress induced pustules with an armed guard in the corridor and a beautiful woman behind a glass screen trying to sound interested in my friend’s tale of woe from when he’d slung his bum bag on the train seat in front and caught a sly forty winks while a thief helped himself to his passport and money. I mean, who’s interested in that? I ask you!
But I’ll tell you, the scariest part of that trip wasn’t when I was so thirsty I drank from a glacial river, or felt the first rumblings from my oppressed bowels, or even when I spent the day in the toilet at Gavarnie, taking the paint off the door with the sweat from my forehead. No sir. It was sitting in the public loo opposite the Arc de Triomph waiting for the door to open. I’d never seen those “space loo” things before. You press a button and the door slides open. You crawl inside, well I crawled anyway and you press another button and it closes and it gives you fifteen minutes to do your business. When you can shit through the eye of a needle, fifteen minutes is nothing. I had horrid visions of the door swooshing open to reveal a line of irritated Japanese tourists confronted by a hairy arsed Scotsman atop a giant pile of you know what. No. It’s not what people want to read.
What people want to read is “My Fight With The Flab”. You know, the books with the picture of a skinny woman standing inside one leg of her enormous trousers. “See how I lost thirty thousand stone in a week!” proclaims the sub title. What I don’t understand is where did all that skin go? Austin Powers got it right in Goldmember, where Fat Bastard drops twenty stone to woo Foxy Cleopatra, only he ends up with a turkey wattle neck and under arm skin that looked like washing blowing in the wind. Austin Powers was shagadelic, baby.
I want my life story to be shagadelic too, baby but the one time I tried to be romantic was when I gathered enough courage to phone a girl in my climbing club. Problem was, there were two Fiona’s and I phoned the wrong one. In the meantime, the other Fiona, the one I’d meant to phone hitched up with the club Adonis and that was that. Back to the climbing. The all night drinking and farting competitions in the club hut. Subsisting on Pasta Choice, square sausage and alcohol. I remember well the occasion now known as “Squariegate”, when the club president woke one morning to find someone had eaten all his squaries. An inquest was held but the guilty held their tongues. I don’t know who did it as all I remember was a conveyor belt of square sausages coming out of the kitchen while the rest of us sang, drank and played guitars all night after a day’s hard winter climbing in the Cairngorms.
Sometimes I liken my life to a badly run restaurant. I’m always recounting tales of derring-do in far flung mountain ranges and am often heard to say “if memory serves me”. But memory is such an awful waiter. It takes your order wrong and brings you the starter you didn’t ask for and while you’re tucking into the main course it brings your pudding but trips on the carpet and drops the lot on your plate. You end up with a hodge podge. Tastes great but it’s not what you came for. I get the impression my mind is only a few steps away from chaos. As I plod though life old Mr. Brain grabs hold of things, shouting, “hey, that’s great, haven’t seen that before. Wonder what that means? Better keep a hold of that for now”, before chucking it over its shoulder onto the scrap heap slowly accumulating in my cranial cavity. He’s a bit of a tink is Mr. Brain. A bit of a magpie. A hoarder. Definitely not a librarian. I haven’t quite decided whether it’s the recipes Head Chef Brain concocts from this mish mash or if it’s just indeed, that Memory has no table manners but it is odd that I can’t remember what I did yesterday while the feeling of terror on seeing bracken higher than my ten year old self is as vivid as the day Brain got hold of that one. “I’ll get some mileage out of this”, he’ll have chuckled to himself.
I’ve feasted on life like Mr. Creosote gets through main courses but the “one wafer thin mint” that almost did it for me was my last ice climb. It wasn’t intentionally my last one, it just turned out that way. I’d woken in my sleeping bag on the kitchen table at the club hut, with a glacier of grey ash escaping from the fireplace and a room full of empty wine bottles. Everyone else was still dead to the world but Gordon had turned up early and was banging pots and pans. “Get up ya lazy bum. We’ve got a route to do. Up up UP!”.
He’d driven up from Glasgow to bag a route and I’d agreed to climb with him. I didn’t even have time for a squary sandwich. The best breakfast known to climbing man. And I was still very, very pished. It was a two hour walk just to get to the route which started about a thousand feet up, several miles from the hut and went up a vertical cliff of dodgy ice to finish up a narrow rocky gully that required you to “torque”, where you place the point of your ice axe into crevices in the rock and twist the shaft to produce enough leverage to stay in place. As we geared up at the foot of the cliff he announced he was too ill to lead now, so I ended up leading the whole thing. I well remember (or is the waiter hamming it up again?) looking down on him from the top of the first pitch and watching an enormous block of ice land on his helmet. It exploded in a sparkling shower of particles with a plasticy bang and I was amazed he was still there when it cleared. Now he knew how my head felt! We spent several hours on the route with the weather slowly deteriorating and by the time we topped out it was blowing a full on storm. We could barely see each other through the blizzard and the ropes were frozen and hard to coil and I was very very thirsty. That’s why I probably didn’t think when I dropped the can of Irn Bru and it rolled down the slope. I instinctively lunged for it and started heading down the slope with it, head first and making straight for the top of the gully and five hundred foot drop. Luckily enough the snow piled up in front of me and stopped me from going over the edge. Ditto for the Irn Bru can which I grabbed and ran back up the slope to gorge on. The walk back from the top of the mountain took about five hours as the route in, we decided, would have become an avalanche trap and the only safe way was round the back of the mountains and a long detour by a farm track and then the West Highland Way.
So we got on with it and several hours later I slumped on the bench back at the hut and tucked into a huge rabbit curry that had been boiling on the stove, unaware I was being eyed up by my future wife. I’d been served my starter in the Pyrenees, some hors d’oeuvres courtesy of the Alps but now life was gearing up for the main course.