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Posts tagged ‘Family’

Sure-footed in 2017?


I took the first tumble of the year in this morning’s long shadows.

January’s low, cool sun accompanied me for seven miles along an empty coastal path. It was time and space enough to reflect at last on the year that has just ended. The year of words.

I’ve been absent here because work words took priority. They also took their toll. The day job on a newspaper; editing of broadcast interviews; tweaking the novel; updating Twitter; and checking in on Facebook . It left my eyes screen-saturated and begging for darkness.

There were a few short adventures in the hills I would have shared: a remote summer camp beside a Highland loch and autumn days spent climbing high for views above Scotland. But they were too few. My whole focus last year was on work. On not stumbling.

And now I’m faced with an enforced break. I have annual leave I need to use or lose, so tentative planning has begun for three weeks in New Zealand, a mix of catching up with family, wilderness walking and work.

When I tumbled this morning (to a soft landing), my head was somewhere along the Kepler Track, the high ridge route I walked with my son last time I visited. I was mentally packing my rucksack, locating my tent , boots, head torch and sleeping mat. Scotland’s mud and ice were 12,000 miles away. And then, quite spectacularly, they weren’t.

Happy New Year.


Fashion matters, even at 91


Jessie’s a remarkably stoical old lady who has had to tolerate some terrible blows in recent years, yet time after time she grits her teeth and picks herself up.

I brought her some new clothes yesterday. It took just ten minutes to run round the shops and choose the cardigans and blouses I guessed she’d like then take them to the care home where she’s staying. I thought she’d smile and be pleased but could never have imagined her pleasure in the prettiness of the patterns or her sheer delight in trying on new clothes.

It usually takes a lot of concentration for her to heave herself up to a standing position then slowly shuffle behind her “zimmer” to the communal areas, but yesterday she was up and out of  her room in a shot, looking for people coming down the corridor, smiling and desperate to show off her favourite new outfit to the other old ladies and carers, then basking in their compliments.

Never believe that fashion doesn’t matter.

Inspiring Aspiring

It’s one of my favourite places on earth.

The walk towards Mount Aspiring starts after 25 bone-shaking (well, in a 35 year old camper) miles up the glen from Wanaka in South Island, New Zealand. I’ve been thinking about it today with the ice still clinging to the high slopes as the first snow falls in Scotland. It’s not what I’m supposed to be thinking about, of course, but
the memories are  inspiring and will lead to great things tomorrow. Maybe.

The Maōri called it Titea, which means Glistening Peak and at 3033m high it’s well beyond my vertigo tolerance or walking capabilities. But not those of Major Bernard Head, a Welsh soldier who died, like so many others, at Gallipoli a few years after being the first to climb the mountain just over 100 years ago.

There’s a plaque to his P1010349honour in the Aspiring Hut where we dried off and slept last November after the glorious but squally walk up the glen.  I’ve just watched some modern videos of the mountain and discovered that many climbers now hitch a lift in a helicopter up to the last couple of steep faces, yet it’s still a stunning achievement to reach the summit. Major Head and his companions must have been hardy men.

The view from my “bed” on waking up in the  Aspiring Hut has to be one of the best ever and only matched by unzipping a tent flap and peering out at lochs and hills in the wilds of Scotland. And I’ve only ever walked a couple of hours towards the mountain but I want to return and explore further up the valley past the waterfalls  that create Arctic swimming pools. Even the lower ones are irresistible. For a short time at least.

P1010388The Mount Aspiring National Park is home to the famous Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks in the Southern Alps. It takes 3-4 days to make the hike which has a series of well-spaced huts.  I walked the Routeburn 27 years ago, carrying not only a pack with all my gear but also a five month foetus all the way up to the 4500ft divide. I hope he appreciated it.


“Break a leg!” they said. And he did.

Three weeks ago it wasn’t looking good.

My artist son was in hospital in Germany, his leg badly broken and out of action for at least three months.

It was painful and inconvenient but his most pressing problem was that the theatrical installation that had been commissioned for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had still to be built.

Professionally it was unmissable. But time was short and the welding, lifting, cable laying, ladder climbing, transporting and other heavy-duty work would be impossible for him.

P1000858Word got around. His friends pulled out the stops,  his girlfriend was a trouper and  Cryptic, the theatre company, paid for an assistant to work under his direction.

I flew back from Canada to provide the wheels and food and was allocated space for my sleeping bag in a Bohemian cupboard under the stairs!

The local supermarket became familiar, I negotiated my way round the industrial estates of Glasgow to find electrical warehouses, filled my car with the most fragile equipment, loaded vans, blacked out windows, crawled around moving cables (first time I’ve had “housemaid’s knee”)  and – with an hour to go before the preview opened – I even mopped the theatre floor.

Others contributed so much more. But Robbie’s the star; a talented artist who’s uncompromising about his work.


The show  combines music, light, mechanical choreography with “found objects” and the lightening impact of a caged Tesla coil  to create the spectacular assault on the senses. It is dark and sinister, it makes you fear for the future but then, unexpectedly, it can make you laugh out loud. Some of the beats stay in your head for hours. It comes with no interpretation or explanation. It provokes.

His nocturnal lifestyle proved challenging (and the cupboard had its limitations) and apparently I did a bit too much “mothering” but it has been a privilege to help and be part of the team over the past three weeks . The memories will last a long time – not least a last exhausted evening we spent sipping curative Lagavoulins in an Edinburgh bar. His pals are great, we’ve had endless stops for beers and laughs, the preview night was emotional,  and the opening night on Friday …. a full house.

He did it. And now he needs to keep on hobbling in and doing it every day until the 25th of August.  Robbie Thomson. Ecstatic Arc. Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Summerhall Arts Centre. He broke a leg.  (And just look at that shiny floor!)


Missing my global family

It was 7am at Glasgow Airport.  From far back in the queue I watched my son and his fellow creatives pass through security en route to Berlin to produce work for the theatre tent at Fusion festival near Hamberg.

He appeared to be in deep discussion with an inspector about a suitcase of LED lights and other electrical equipment he wanted to carry on board. Finally the case was repacked and he was waved through, free to travel a few hours east.

His brother, meanwhile,  is thousands of miles south, in New Zealand where he’s writing music, earning a living and snowboarding.

And I boarded a flight west across the Atlantic to Canada where I’m spending a few weeks writing some more chapters of my story.

So for the moment we’re a family on different continents, living in parallel time zones, engrossed in our own creative worlds.

And it’ll be another six months or so before we’re reunited.

I can’t wait.