The Linnet's Wings :Take All My Loves, My Love - Page 67

The Linnet´s Wings I was looking up so vertically that my neck strained to continue. Most of my view consisted of inacces- sible black and brown rock, unforgiving, hard and sometimes sharp. But at the top, in silhouette, was the head and torso of a man, unmoving and unhurried, as my father always was. For him, the whole proposition was simple enough; he held the rope, his chip off the old block climber son was making his routine way up what he called the ‘apprentice slopes’ to be with him, and then we could sit triumphantly there, the summit achieved, masculinity fanfared, another solid brick laid in the foundation of my confidence. I already knew how to freeze my terror. He didn’t frighten me, my father, not in the conventional ways still quite usual in 1976; he had never laid an angry finger on me, he’d never come in drunk – none of that. But he was Dougal Murray, mountaineer, CBE med- alled in his mid-thirties; I’d stood outside Buckingham Palace with him, watching that still, self-effacing but ut- terly self-confident smile of his. He’d held the award up, a big shiny thing with a ribbon, and they’d spent about thirty seconds snapping away at him before moving on to the next medalled celebrity. I’d been fourteen at the time, mute and little, bursting with pride but also aware of a cold douche of fear that I, his son Duncan, was no match and never would be. We were about four hundred feet up, a climb which, for him, was weekend recreation. By this time, the endless summer of ’76, I was sixteen, and my remorse- less plod in his footsteps continued. I heard his words like hard and fast rules in a little well-remembered rule book – ‘you are in charge, Duncan, your moods, your emotions, are entirely what you decide they will be. You don’t need to look down, or around; if it’s unsettling, if it breeds fear, you can just not do it. Your will is everything; your discipline is absolute. If you want it to be’. We were on one of the Scottish munros, the clas- sified climbs of Scotland; he thought if I really had it in mind to carry on where he, sooner or later, would leave off, making my way up some challenging lower portions of a few munros would be the best way to start. Some of them could almost be walked up, even though walk- ing is an inadequate way to describe a head bent against wind and rain while at the same time watching where the feet are very carefully indeed, in the knowledge that a few loose stones could set them and you off on a rapid descent which might well break a bone or two, or worse. He wasn’t coming out with any fatuous words of encouragement; he’d decided, I know, to start trying to treat me as a fellow climber, boy as I was. Instead of congratulating myself on living up to expectations, I was vaguely ashamed of perpetuating something of a con trick; I knew, or thought I knew, that my success in hiding my gut-turning fear was just another form of fear, fear of him, not of his displeasure or his punishment, but of disappointing, becoming the inadequate little pup who somehow happened to be his son. There was something in the stillness of his dark head above me which spoke of a restrained impatience, a resigned tolerance, which kicked at an emotion in me. I could see a foothold, dark and indistinct as it was, and my right foot lifted determinedly to it, almost of its own volition. At exactly the same moment, some enormous presence whooshed past only yards from my back; I edged away, lost my footing and suddenly I was hang- ing in fresh air, held on by a waist harness, as Scotland whirled around me, a long blue river snaking away into the distance, and within seconds, doing the same thing again. The harness strained against me, and a wild dizzi- ness told hold, almost causing me to vomit; for one ex- cruciating moment, I saw myself plunging downwards, and even at this modest height, the damage could be se- 67