Unaccountably, I’ve developed a yen to climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the spur of rock atop Sgurr Dearg on the Cuillin ridge that for many aspiring Munro-baggers has proved to be a Nemesis. I realise this is for me an absurdly late mid-life crisis akin to turning up at the class reunion in a Porsche with the new 25 year old girlfriend. I’ve been picking the brains of In Pin graduates. I’ve noticed that none of them have expressed a wish to do it again. They’ve ticked the box. (Maybe it’s the same with the putative 25 year old girlfriend. I’m reminded of these Old Testament stories of powerful men like David who lusted after attractive young women like Bathsheba. He wished “to have lain with her.” Presumably this is the Authorised Version of “he wished to get laid.” But why is it in the past tense? He didn’t really want to relish the experience at all. He merely wished to brag about it afterwards.)
Anyway in the course of my researches I’ve been invited by a friend of mine on a rather more modest stroll up Leum Uilleim. He has done all the Munros and with this top he will have completed all the Corbetts, and he wishes to share this experience with some friends. I asked, will there be champagne? You will know that Munros are over 3000 feet and Corbetts over 2500 feet. (It’s more complicated than that but would take too long to explain. K2 may be challenging, but it’s not a Munro.) At 2974 feet, Leum Uilleim is really a Munro manqué. It had a brief cameo role in the film Trainspotting. It’s location on Rannoch Moor would be somewhat remote but for access by train at Corrour Halt. Re this proposed expedition, it occurs to me the last time I climbed a hill with this friend it was Mount Hagen which is the second highest mountain in Papua New Guinea. At the time he was the PNG all-comers 10,000 metres champion. Consequently by the time we got back down I was a wreck. I remember we ran into an Engan who tried to charge us for going through his part of the jungle. He said in Pidgin, “Dispela bush belong me!” He clearly hadn’t heard of the right to roam. He looked at me, not unsympathetically, and said, “Em e no good long walkabout.”
Over lunch in the Lion & Unicorn I said to another conqueror of all the Munros, “Let’s do the In Pin.” He said he would have to be blindfolded, tied on to a stretcher, and heavily drugged. This does not bode well. I don’t have much of a head for heights. Aeroplanes are fine. I find the presence of wings a great consolation. On the other hand I had sweaty palms in the gondola that took me up the mountain above Funchal in Madeira. I went on line and watched on video a couple of ascents up the In Pin. I can see the climb itself is only moderately difficult. When I was twelve years old I was a monkey and would have scrambled up and down without giving it a second thought. Not now. Sweaty palms again. It’s the 3235 foot drop on either side of you that’s the difficulty. Perhaps I’d freeze half way up and have to be yanked off by a helicopter. How embarrassing.
In Perth Concert Hall I heard the young New Zealand violinist Benjamin Baker give a solo lunchtime recital. He played the Bach D minor Partita, and the Bartok Sonata, both for unaccompanied violin, on a Tononi violin of 1709. By coincidence, in The Seven Trials of Cameron-Strange, the troubled doctor’s twin sister gave a performance on her Stradivarius viola, in the Auckland Town Hall, of the Bach D minor partita. Life emulates art. Benjamin Baker was superb. I don’t normally do the Green Room bit but it’s always nice to talk to a New Zealander. I said, “You’ve lost your Kiwi accent.”
“I know. It’s awful. I sound like a Brit. Almost as bad as a Scotsman sounding English.”
“Oh, not that bad!”
He was spotted by Nigel Kennedy and enrolled in the Yehudi Menuhin school aged 8, the last pupil to enrol before Lord Menuhin died. He played before the great man. These two unaccompanied works, the Bach and the Bartok were very close to Menuhin’s heart (he commissioned the Bartok), and I thought I could hear in Mr Baker’s playing an occasional trace of that unique, distinctive voice. He played the Bach from memory but he used electronic music for the Bartok, turning the pages by means of a foot pad. The world is being taken over by robots. Perhaps the union acting for les tourneuses des pages will hack the system in a gesture of protest. The French really know how to organise a demo.
I was further reminded after the concert of the encroachment of mechanisation into all our lives when visiting Sainsbury’s. What do les beepeuses have to say about self-check-out? I have an idea for self-check-out which I hope to put before Dragons’ Den. It is to turn one of the self-check-out consoles into a Dalek. The kids who are being beguiled by all the confectionary and electronic games at toddler eye level would just love it. The swivelling Dalek antenna would be the scanner. Falling foul of the system would be a terrifying experience.
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I don’t think my pitch in Dragons’ Den would go down too well. One of these hawks – one of the women, or that great Scottish bruiser – would give me a flinty stare. “Let me get this straight. You want to buy your groceries off a Dalek?” Eyes raised to the ceiling. “I’m out.” Actually I had a mishap at the self-check-out. I asked one of Lord Sainsbury’s representatives to take a security tag off a bottle of gin, while I was packing my bag. Then I proceeded to forget all about it and on lifting up my bag swept the gin across the floor. Broken glass everywhere, a gin-clear puddle, and the subtle tang of juniper berries. I abjectly apologised, assumed ownership of culpability, and thanked them profusely for cleaning up after me. I decided to think of the episode as divine intervention: you’ve had enough gin! On my way out, a blonde woman of personable attribute said, “They’ll give you another one.” I said, “Oh no. Entirely my fault.” But sure enough, I was called back, and given a replacement. I accepted the gift with grateful thanks. The blonde lady said, “What-I-tell-you?”
To Perth Airport to fly the EV-97 teamEurostar two seater light aircraft. After a gap, it was good to be back in the aviation world. Weather permitting (it’s looking a bit dodgy at the moment) I’m going back up on Monday. Flying a plane is like climbing a mountain. You rise above all your petty cares and preoccupations. You live in the present. You get away from the rat race. For an hour you are free of the surly bonds. Quite apart from anything else, everybody is very polite, and everybody observes the rules and conventions of Air Law. You don’t have Audi drivers snarling up behind you to within a distance of six inches just because you are observing the speed limit. Dear Jane, Audi driver, you are the exception. Believe me.
I said, “Hi, how are you?” – not having a clue who she was. She gave me a hint.
Perhaps I’ll make a habit of wandering down supermarket aisles smashing bottles of gin in the hope of running into her again.