Bothy Nightmares

Back in the early 1990s a guy who may or may not have been called Bob used to frequent bothies in the Highlands and write poems in the bothy logbooks. They were always apocalyptic scenes of destruction “Vietnam Nightmares” “Russian Nightmares”, “American Nightmares” and so on.

I met “Bob” once at Suardalen Bothy near Glenelg. I don’t know his life history, but he stayed in Glasgow, and seemed to spend much of his time visiting various bothies. He wasn’t a mountaineer, but he liked potter around, looking at “eagles”(which may or may not have been buzzards), fishing (not very successfully) and enjoying being away from the city. He reminded me of a pit pony retired to the countryside. He could be tracked around bothies by his distinctive poems.

Bob was probably in his mid 50s. I guess he might have been retired, but I think its more likely he was out of work given the state of industrial Scotland at the time, or perhaps he’d come out of the army. I don’t know. Anyway, he’s one of those characters who made an impression, so I thought he deserved a poem of his own.

Sourlies---Duncan-McCallum

You came out here from the city sprawl
Anonymous tenement crowds
To find yourself
Some space and blue sky.
To look for eagles .
To soar
Above the now-cold furnaces,
Abandoned pits,
Smoky hard men’s bars
And faintly piss-damp closes.

You joined the flotsam in the hard floored hall
Far from the centre, with no jobs,
The queue snaking between contempt and indifference
Signed on and took the Giro cash.
Bought a ticket to Dalwhinnie or Corrour or Achnasheen,
Who would bother to check you’re “actively seeking work?”
Who would care
In the cold, dark no-name streets?

You walked, walked in the mizzling rain
Over the hill.
Buckles jingling on the threadbare canvas bag.
Its load of tins and whisky gouge your back,
Old leaky boots squelch the morasse,
Towards another time
When Papa and Aunty May
Cut the stooks in pre-war twilight fields
While you chased the mice from the last stand.

And then the Bothy,
The last of the shieling
Within a tumbled wall.
A clump of daffodils by the door,
Abandoned rhubarb erupting from ground
Where once there was more tenderness and care.
Inside, bag on the bare counter,
Primus on the boil, you stoke the fire,
And stare into the flames;

Smoke and the burning buildings,
Screaming children and droning planes.
Nightmares.
Bombs and bodies.
Vietnam, Russia, America
Nightmares fill the notebook
Strong, square capitals on the ruled page.
Here with the eagles and the deer
Monarch of the Glen, you find humanity again.

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