The Angry Corrie 53: Apr-May 2002
A la recherche des tentes perdues
SEPTEMBER 2001. After 25 years, I finally got to climb Mullach Mor, the high point of Holy Island. It was a pleasant day, a brief introduction to Scottish hills for an American friend, with jaggy views of the peaks of Arran and the more distant tops of the southern Highlands. Later, back in Lamlash awaiting the Brodick bus, we sat outside the Pier Head Tavern and savoured a cooling Guinness in the afternoon sunshine; and just as Proust was transported back in time while chomping on a madeleine, so was I by the gloopy black stuff...
It was 1976, the longest, hottest summer in memory, the year of punk, and I was in a rock band. Pierre and the Frenchies, we were called, and the name was probably the most entertaining thing about us. We were at a musical watershed, torn between the hippy music we loved and the punk ethic which had inspired us to form a band. As a compromise, we played Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull numbers, but badly. Another idea we nicked from Page, Plant and Anderson was the pose of getting away from it all, writing songs in the countryside, communing with tree spirits and the like. That's why Paul, Colin and I ended up in Lamlash with two tents and a guitar.
We set up the tents in a farmer's field above the village. Then came the assembly of the ancient brass primus, a camping Manhattan Project. Colin filled it with paraffin, yet it declined to be lit. Never mind, it was too hot a day for eating anyway: so down to the PHT we strolled for a liquid repast. After a dinner of Guinness, we turned avaricious eyes to the gantry: never had we seen such a golden array, such a pomp of malt. The barman, happy to sell his under-age customers beer, was apparently more scrupulous where whisky was concerned; he warned us with nutant finger that some of the bottles contained spirits powerful enough to make Linda Blair's head spin. His conscience was salved by our pound notes, however, and we were soon embarked on a liquid tour of Scotland. At closing time we spilled out into the warm breath of night and started unsteadily up the hill to our tents. When we reached the camp, the hundred-proof dehydration drove me to drink deep from the big plastic container. Only after a second gulp did I recognise the taste of paraffin.
The sun woke us next morning at six. Desiccated by Cardhu and kerosene, I swallowed pints of plastic-tainted liquid, but from the water container this time. As Phoebus gazed unflinchingly down, we decided to head for the hills. Wisely, we first went to the pub for a few, then stopped at the local shop for some hill food: a truckle of Arran cheese and a bottle of white wine. We managed a half-hour on a scorching forestry track before collapsing at Meallach's Grave. As we sat around the ancient burial ground slugging from the bottle and tearing off chunks of cheddar, the earth seemed to giving off a heavy hum in the heat. Then, suddenly, above our heads, there appeared a huge dragonfly: a symbol which might have been considered heavy-handed had it been found in fiction. Et in Arcadia Ego.
The end of this day of spirituality found me in the lotus position, up a tree. Paul and Colin had lasciviously made off to a disco in Whiting Bay. Having recently converted from Existentialism to Zen Buddhism (Pierre and the Frenchies were well used to the sound of no hand clapping), I preferred to spend the evening in arboreal meditation. It was then, watching the lighthouse beams of Holy Island battling in the blue darkness like the sabres of the imminent Star Wars' Jedi knights, that I resolved I must go there some day.
Meditative peace was breached later that night, however. The lads had returned chaste from the disco, and we had settled down in the musty warmth of the tent when the singing started: Doangobray- kinma-ART; Akoodinivah-TRAHD. We were sharing the site with one other tent, and Elton and Kiki had apparently returned.
Fugsake, I groaned, after ten minutes of this acapella hell. Paul was more forthright: If these fuckers don't shut up, we're all gonnae get thrown off the site. He unzipped his sleeping bag with a fearsome determination. Waiddaminute, counselled Colin, but Paul was already gone. We had little option but to follow him, in Y-fronts and T-shirts, dew between our toes and ashes in our mouths. Paul opened negotiations: Ho. Bastards. Fucking. Shut. Up. Two crew-cut heads appeared from between the tent flaps: to my relief they were sheepish as well as shorn, and agreed to monastic silence. Next morning the hung-over miscreants visited our tent, bearing gifts: beans, soup, sausages were proffered. We graciously accepted these, but declined their offer of kilted dolls, Edinburgh rock and a plastic souvenir filled with water and putative snowflakes. The fruits of a shop-lifting expedition, they explained, so they couldn't take them back to Tulliallan Police College.
Later that day we spent our remaining cash on beer, tried to hitch to the ferry but unsurprisingly had to walk, then searched the bins of Brodick for enough lemonade bottles to buy a beer on the boat. As we steamed into the firth taking sips each at the pint of heavy, we realised that the guitar had been untroubled the whole time we had been on Arran. We might have No Future in music: but camping, now ... that was maybe the new rock'n'roll.