Friday, March 1, 2013

Livingstone; The early years

I live in one of the most beautiful in the world... in a bite sized way.
This is what it looks like.
Imagine living only ten minutes from an  international airport and having this twenty minutes drive to the north. Ben Lomond (3,196 ft)
And this a twenty minute drive to the west.

Lovely, bite sized. Dangerous.
This the highest peak in the British Isles, the elephant head of Ben Nevis. 4404 feet.

Very dangerous indeed. Only two weeks ago another three climbers died and frankly I have lost count of how many that is since the turn of the year in a sad mixture of falls, bad weather and avalanche but the total must be around forty.  First Minister Alex Salmond said of the latest tragedy: "This is another stark and tragic reminder of the dangers on our mountains. They are one of the most beautiful places on Earth but they can also be inherently dangerous."
There have been calls for the mountaineering council to increase the scare value on the websites, instead of weather updates and warnings, it should read... "Y is the death toll in the last x number of years – don't go in bad weather.'" Some are calling for restrictive access to the hills in certain weather conditions.
The reasons for folk on the hills being unprepared are varied. The hills are close and look benign. The weather can change in an instant.  I've ran up Ben Lomond on a 'summers' day, brilliant sunshine at the bottom, ice cold wind at the top.  The fact that they look so attractive beguiles walkers from England and Wales to go on the hills when a  local would turn back.
The mountain rescue regards some so-called organised trips as 'suicide missions'. Leading mountain commentator Cameron McNeish argues the case that English and Welsh mountaineering bodies might be better telling people that conditions on Scottish mountains are  likely to be much more difficult than anything experienced in their own countries. "Someone who has even 10 years' experience of climbing in the Lake District or in North Wales will find the Cairngorms in winter a whole new ball game," he said. "It's like somebody who has never left Scotland going to the Arctic."

But our economy is very vulnerable. In 2011, Scottish residents made 7.2 million individual mountaineering and hillwalking trips. 'Visit Scotland' found 41% of Highland visitors from outside Scotland  went for hikes or long walks.  So calls to restrict access to the more dangerous mountains are falling on deaf ears. We have no laws of trespass in Scotland, we believe in the right to wander as the Americans believe in the right to bear arms.  It's buried deep in the psyche. Any body who hill walks needs that freedom to wander....

Figures from Scottish Mountain Rescue indicate that there were 52 fatalities in 2011, but 31 of them were linked to non-mountaineering incidents; water sports, fell running, mountain biking, pony trekking, missing persons. As there are already excellent sources of information on weather, avalanche conditions, walking and climbing route descriptions people can  make their own informed decisions.
Which brings me by neat segue to the subject of Scots wandering about the globe looking for somewhere nicer to be. I could easily have written that sentence as 'somewhere warmer to be'.   Many Scots have wandered away and stayed away. If everybody who left came back, the UK would topple over.
Sometimes they come back and act smug and say things like  ''Oh the weather is so bad here, it would be a lovely country but for the climate.' If we didn’t have the climate we wouldn't have the colours would we?  Someone once said to me that Niagara Falls would be more impressive if they turned the volume down a bit. They were being serious.  And last week, a patient  was wondering why the pyramids had been built so close to that KFC in Cairo.
These people are allowed to vote.   

My fellow bloggers have been talking about one famous escapee;  David Livingstone. I think I have the same response to him as most Scots of my age, a feeling of dread and pain as they recall the project in primary six; being dragged to the centre in Blantyre with a colouring in book, being sick on the bus, eating too much cake, pretending to pay attention, breaking crayons on Anne McMasters head,  catching spiders. Hanging around at the back of the crocodile of classmates  was the aim of the game then  escaping unnoticed to the swing park in the grounds. It's not there now but it used to have a great chute that I went down and ripped the back of my school uniform off when I was nine. I am still traumatised by that experience. The swings were old, metal and crushed young fingers in the links. The chute was very high, over concrete and had no safety barrier. The see saw weighed tons and couldn't be stopped once it gained momentum and trying to halt it either ruptured the achilles tendon or impacted the coccyx ( that depended on you being on the heavy or the light side). 
 As for the witches hat? Deathtrap. Happy days.

The visitor centre is all very posh now. Kids can have interactive experiences if they stop texting their pals for long enough. No doubt the Cafe serves latte and Chocolate tarte.

My most memorable thing was climbing on this lion and patting him on the head.

My other MIE co bloggers have written about  David Livingstone much better than I ever could but  suffice to say he was born in Blantyre. It is rumoured that the locals eat their own young in Blantyre. My other half is a drummer. When he plays at weddings in Blantyre they have a protective cage on the drums to prevent drunken brides going through the base drum head first after a well landed punch. The kind of gig where the drummer might miss a few beats because he is using the sticks as some kind of star wars deflective shield. He has been hit by all kinds of missiles; airborne glassware, sausage rolls, bouquets, babies and once ended up in hospital after being struck by a majorette baton but that was a genuine miscalculation and not in Blantyre. Before you ask, he is a good drummer. It's just that the drummer can never get out the way and must never leave their kit even in the face of great adversity.
Anyway ... you get the gist of where Livingstone was born. A small town tenement building  built for the workers of a cotton factory on the banks of the Clyde River, which looks a bit like this at this point.

Typically the kids worked ten hour days. The whole family tended to work in the mill and the mill owners, more often than not acted as a laird of the manor giving workers a degree of health care, education, child care, churches etc to keep the massive work force ticking over.

In a recent Who Do You Think You Are? Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees found out that his  great grandad was born next door to where I work in Paisley, that's Paisley as in Paisley pattern. The museum curator spoke of the working conditions these people suffered and the Bee Gee was in tears, but that was nothing  to what happened when the mills became industrialised and the workers were out on the street, no home, no money, no food. The end of Robin  Gibb’s story was tragic, kids put in a rag school for destitute starving children.  With the decline of the mills, the mortality rate rocketed.
 Livingstone's work experience from age 10 to 26 was in the  cotton mill, first as a piecer and later as a spinner which was necessary to support his impoverished family. The work was monotonous but gave him a natural empathy with all who labour. It is rumoured that he  hummed the tune to Robert Burn’s " For a' that, an' a' that, It's coming yet for a' that, That Man to Man, the world o'er, Shall brothers be for a' that. It's a kind of pre Disney 'Whistle while you work.'  His working day  would be 12 hours, 6am-8pm. Then he would trot off to school, learning in English and Latin, gaining enough  money and qualifications (and friends) to study medicine. The rest is history.
They left his heart in Africa I believe, his body was brought back to Westminster Abbey where he rests beside Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. I'm kind of glad they didn't bring any of him back to Blantyre. What would a man like that make of kids nowadays with their trousers round their knees, ears glued to headphones and the only thought going through their heads is wondering why  Livingstone went to  Africa when he could have gone to Ibiza and got drunk on Buckfast.
Here is a very Scottish joke; What's the difference between Bing Crosby and Walt Disney.
 Answer -Bing Sings and Walt Dis Nae!
The next post is about an English person, I promise

Caro  1st March. GB



  1. I stayed up to midnight specifically to read your post. Next time I'll wait until morning. You made me laugh so many times--in the course of making some very serious points--that I doubt I'll be able to fall right off to sleep. I don't know how or where you come up with your ideas, but bravo, Caro!

  2. Thanks for filling that in, Caro. I was never really clear as to why people would put up with hostile tribes, appalling conditions, and tropical diseases to explore Africa. Now I understand that the reason was just to be in a nicer environment than at home!

  3. Thank you for the lovely trip. It was very informative, and again, very funny. Scotland may be cold, but it looks beautiful.