Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Happy Place....Tastes Change...

When I was about 30-33 I thought I was a bit set in some good tastes and habits.

I knew my favourite film, albumn, beer and malt whisky. I knew what career I direction I was taking. I enjoyed a lot of things around me. I felt that I was still in a little 80s sub culture into the late 90s.

It changed before that when I realised that alot of stuff I thought was cool and maybe even a bit hip' was actually just part of the culture in general or had enough. My favourite film had been Apocalypse Now, but everyone began ranting on about how hip it was. My favourite malt whisky was The Macallan standard issue, which  became a drier, cheaper offering. Those cool, rare tattoos I was going to get suddenly showed up on every lad in town's upper arm and shoulder that same summer. I realised I was not unique and that my tastes weren't either. Then I gave up having favourites.

Also when I emmigrated from Scotland, I took a last fling with bagging the Five Sisters of Kintail followed by a road trip to Ullapool via Loch Ewe, and a night at the Ceilidh Place. I sat on my own with my good taste in hills and restaurants and felt a little sad.

Recently I began one of those community health courses which is basically all about the mid life crisis and was mostly for people in that or other crisii. One exercise they asked us to conduct was the "Happy Place to a Happy Theme Tune". The tune I came on quite quickly - it is the Swedish Favourite "Oppna Landskap" alternating with the words from the Norwegian National Anthem which Are & Odin used in 2005 to mark the peaceful fractioning from Sweden in 1905.

The place was much harder, but I took it to be somewhere peaceful, and eventful. What sprang to mind after a bit of contemplation was the summit of Suilven in Wester Ross. It is over twenty years ago since I was up it, and in fact I have only been up the western peak and only once, despite three trips to the wild country there- one being with a mate recovering from illness and the other being with my now bidey-inn when the weather reached 30'C and 110% humidity and any movement was a sweaty, fly ridden hell. We camped two nights at the same spot I had been up in 1992.

I first experienced Ullapool and Assynt on holiday as a kid in about 1982 /83. I was having some issues with the isolation/company thing and anger after my dad died in 1980. However my Uncle taught me how to use an SLR camera, lending me his old Praktica and a light meter to boot. The Assynt hills struck me with their uniqueness and beauty, standing in the seas of 'flow country' - bogs, muirs, lochans and rivers which form a kind of monument valley floor for these hills to seemingly soar and float above, hiding their otherwise rather modest altitudes. I was in the school hill walking club probably at the time too, but summitting them seemed not as good as being amongst them with a camera.

Back then I had chosen the best of weather to go over to Suilven from my base in Inverness (I can't remember if I was shacked up with 'blue' on Island Bank Road at the time....or it was just before I believe) It was one of those 'big weather' weekends probably in May 1992, when high pressure sat over the North Atlantic and a breeze cooled the otherwise sun drenched landscape of the Lochinver ranges of Wester Ross mountains. The walk in was quite arrid, and longer than expected, but I managed it to my chosen base camp in fairly short order, having the rest of the light evening to relax. As usual for being under canvass,  I slept badly and had this worsened by nightmares of being surrounded and attacked by marauding warewolves coming out of the wierd mists which had rolled over the shoulder of the Eastern turrets of Suilven and down to the glen and muir I was camping on.

The ascent then was quite aquick jaunt and I dare say I could have tackled it the evening before. The path was then very erroded and to the point of being dangerous at its steepest near the top before the inevitable zig zags cut in. On the 'bealach' or valley between the two peaks of the mountain, there was a bloody wall still in place. It was there to keep the ewes off the western summit apparently and not just a statement of ownership and border. The grassy summit falls away to verticle buttresses in that nasty convex fashion which means you don't see how steep and dangerous it is until you start falling, and sheep of course were rather good at finding one last clod of grass to eat from just at that point of no return apparently.

There were other walkers there, given the weather forecast I shouldn't have been suprised nor that I probably slept in until 10 am. One of them knew a chap from my school! Always the same I say, less than five degrees of seperation in God's Country. Most of them if I recall had walked in from Lochinver that morning, and maybe some had come the longer treck from the main road inland at the transit from Fionaven to Suilven or there abouts. I felt a bit ashamed at my overnight luxury, but it was all part of the experience to me. The walk out involved collecting my tent and stomping down the wonderful track by the loch and river gorge back to my fancy wee Astra SRI.

So I chose that mountain top as my happy place. It was an achievement to do it alone, which was part of the point. More than that to me now, it was also had a very neutral feel to it- it was not laden with relationships, with connections to other things. It was kind of the high point of my short career as a 'commercial traveller' in the "hee'lan's" , where I enjoyed the freedom of a car and zero responsibility or committment to anyone else.

I have had other happy Places: but mostly they seem now to be tainted. Part of a fabric of regret, love long lost, some anger even sparked by strange association or just purely that the memory has faded and become a little jaded in light of all the passage of time and the good things I have been up to with freinds and my own family since.

I used to love Cove and Kilcreggan, and still do sometimes, but made it my happy place to retreat to in some dark days when all I had for entertainment was loaning my mum's car to take off.  I remember too being a kid playing on the beach, my first ever snorkelling, the great ice cream shop. The hippy pals from school and their Doors, 'Stones and Grateful Dead vinyl albums. The annual Cove regatta and ensuing party. Other Nights out. I ended up having the most beautiful lover I ever had or will have in my entire life from there. But an abortive d,te with a Swedish girl to see if she would come into my happy world, and I had worn out my happy place on a wall flower. I still like it a lot, but now it is just one of many favourites, like my taste in malt whiskies.

In fact I admit that often I struggle to find the simple and lasting joy that I used to experience at my happy places. I don't understand. Things seem temporary, life seems very much finite now, and a little boxed in and things are furstrating with kids not maybe liking some things and how my other half bitches about me in front of them when we are supposed to be at a happy time and place.

But in the case of Suilven, and that being perhaps my once in a life time ascent, it lingers as the moment I reached the top of Scotland's most spectacular mountain in my opinion, and took in the beauty of it's formation and the wonder of the vista beyond out towards the Minches, the  Hebrides and open sea, and over to the the other hills of Assynt- Stac Pollaidh ,An Fidhlair and the Coigach to the south and Qunaig to the north, both spectacular areas in their own right. The summit of Suilven is a peaceful center point for all this great wonder of natural forces and divine aesthetics. For me it may be a lonely place or a lonesome tour, but that is one reason I chose it. It lacks the baggage, the connotations, the thought pathways of 'what if's' and the sighs and the embarressments. For me it is a rightful happy place to escape in my mind's eye to.