Last night, I watched “The Pinnacle” on my computer. This film retraces the unworldly week of Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith who climbed in Feb. 1960 six first winter ascents on Ben Nevis. This included the great routes Orion Face Direct and Point Five Gully. The film includes a detailed interview of Jimmy Marshall as well as the repeat, 50 years later, by Dave MacLeod and Andy Turner of the six routes that were first climbed over that 1960 week. This is terrific climbing and I also loved it for following so many climbing routes on the Ben! Following Steve Dean’s description, the “pinnacle” alludes to the feat of Marshall and Smith, who re-defined Scottish climbing, all this using old-style ice-axes and step-cutting rather than the soon to come front-pointed crampons and much more manageable shorter and doubled ice-axes… The film is available for free screening on Hot Aches website for a few more days! (I also learned at last the meaning of hot aches and screaming barfies from the movies. Handy for the next winter climb or run!)
Archive for Scotland
Another Rankin! In the Complaints series: the main character is Malcom Fox, inspector at the “Complaints and Conduct Department”, investigating a case of corruption within the Force on the north side of the Forth, in Fife. Rankin builds on the history of Scottish violent nationalist groups in the 80′s to deliver a very convincing story, mixing as usual the unorthodox methods of an investigator with his personal life. Even though some tie-ins are a wee bit unrealistic and I do not buy the final (major) scene, I enjoyed reading the book over two or three days (between Chamonix, Geneva and Paris). Maybe due to the novelty of the character, there is no feeling of repetitiveness in this instalment. And the background is definitely interesting, relating the older SNP with violent splint groups at a time when Scottish independence was beyond the realm of the possible. I am now looking forward the next instalment, Saints of the Shadow Bible, where Fox and Rebus share the scene….
Another book I received as a bedside gift at The Hospital, this one a gift from Magali. Waterline by Ross Raisin is the story of a Glaswegian former shipyard worker falling into a mental abyss of denial and grief after her wife died. She died from asbestos-related cancer, whose fibres were brought from the shipyard in Mick’s clothes. Mick seeks solitude and shuns contact with former colleagues and friends, seeing their return to a normal life as an aggression against his wife’s memory. When Mick cannot stay longer in his rented council house in Glasgow, fearing eviction and with no money left, he moves to London where he first finds a job as a dishwasher that alienates him even further into a bubble where he can cut others out. He is fired after a while for taking a very passive part in a local union and within a few weeks he spirals down into homelessness. The second part of the book sees him getting out very slowly and very reluctantly out of this state, with no clear sign of any return to (whatever we could call) normality…
This is a far from perfect book and the second part feels contrived, with a sort of “happy ending” out of the bottom end of Mick’s life. Still, Waterline is a strong book that marked me because it left me with a strong impression that the same fall could happen to any of us, under the right (or rather wrong) … Raisin has a highly convincing way of describing the inner mental paths taken by Mick to stop seeing others, including his children, for not returning to his uncertain cab driver job, and for giving up too readily looking for jobs, shelters, or help. The homeless-ness pages are terrifying in their somehow warped version of normality, when the “lives” of Mick and of his (leading) companion of misfortune Brian follow some kind of predestined pattern, from avoiding security guards by moving around to finding accessible toilets, to stealing food from delivery trucks, to tracking protected places to sleep away from the rough weather. At times, this feels like too much and too long, but I would support the idea that this is “exactly” (given my total lack of expertise in the matter…) reflecting the experience of those homeless men, with no future further than the next night or the next meal. The second part of the book also shows how hard it is to reconcile with a “normal” life, incl. a poignant chapter on Mike reuniting with his son uncomprehending why his father had not called for help. A highly recommended read, if not exactly on the brightest side of life…
Following Ian Banks’ death two months ago, I decided to buy his first published novel, The Wasp Factory. After reading it, I feel sorry for not having read this book earlier, like when it appeared in 1984!, as I definitely consider The Wasp Factory a masterpiece, a standalone novel that establishes Ian Banks’s stand as a great writer (and which understandably launched Banks’ carrier).
“I killed little Esmerelda because I felt I owed it to myself and to the world in general. I had, after all, accounted for two male children and thus done womankind something of a statistical favour.”
The book tells a story that stands at the boundary of the fantastic, centred on Frank, a character that lives in a boy’s dream of weapons and secret ceremonies and auguries, alone with his dysfunctional father. It is actually never clear how much of the story is imaginary (imagined by Frank) and how much is real, from the murders of three siblings (!) to the attack of the giant rabbit to the role of the father. While Frank is apparently in his late teens, going to the pub and getting drunk, his mind seems stuck at a pre-teen stage as he worries about his catapult and carries around a bag of (animal) skulls for holding rituals and ceremonies. In many respects, The Wasp Factory reminded me of Lord of the Flies, with the same streaks of amoral cruelty and the opening on how children’s minds (could) operate when left to their own device (which is the case in the novel). Not only wasps evoke flies (!), but flies also play a major role in the novel (no more spoiler!). Verging on the Gothic, The Wasp Factory has however an additional humorous touch, from the many devices imagined by Banks to kill characters and animals to the absurd phone conversations with the equally mad brother Eric (who earlier set to burn local dogs…). Given the completely unexpected ending of the book, The Wasp Factory certainly requires a second reading to uncover all the clues that should (could?) have warned me about the conclusion. Brilliant!