The Linnet's Wings :Take All My Loves, My Love - Page 69

The Linnet´s Wings ‘Right enough, boys’, my father said, and my uncle’s eyes narrowed again at this lumping him togeth- er with me. ‘What comes up needs to go down, and I’m ready for a wee drink’. Two years on, and running, not climbing, occu- pied most of my fitness time, thanks to my father man- aging to track down the root cause of my terror at even modest heights. Absurdly, it wasn’t actually on a climb that the sudden revelation came, it was on a balcony in an Alpine hotel, not long before I was to attempt my most ambitious effort yet on a real Alpine mountain. I was seventeen then, and still steeling myself to stay in control of my balance and emotions. I knew my climb- ing had become a source of contention between my parents; my mother was convinced that I suffered from some form of vertigo, for some reason as yet unknown, but it certainly wasn’t overweight and could hardly be a lack of fitness. Dad was showing me the ridiculously beautiful snow-bound view from the hotel window; he’d stepped out on to the balcony to get the full advantage of it. As I started to follow him, the room and the view began to revolve around me; I clutched on to a door handle, and that noise made him turn. I suppose my appearance gave him the clue he needed. Before mountaineering more or less took over his life, in courses, rescue teams, lec- tures, tours etc., he had been a doctor, and once he was on to the signals, it all progressed quite quickly. We sat one evening in the conservatory at the back of the house, the glorious Scottish highland coun- tryside descending before us, and no more than quarter of a mile away, our own private loch, Loch Murray we called it; strictly speaking, it was hardly big enough to qualify as a loch, but it was much larger than the average swimming pool and served as one when the weather al- lowed or we felt tough enough. ‘Your mother was right, Duncan’, he said. ‘As she is wont to be. You have something called Meniere’s Disease. It’s a condition of the inner ear which affects balance and hearing. Annoyingly, it’s one of those con- ditions where no-one knows the exact cause, though there are heavy suggestions of genetic connections, and one of your mother’s brothers, your Uncle Peter, has suf- fered from vertigo since childhood, which is what made your mother suspicious in the first place; we may have a connection there’. I glanced across at him. I’d been permitted to join him occasionally in his single alcoholic indulgence; he drank good wine sometimes, if sparingly; there were no other alcoholic drinks he had any time for, and if an- yone brought anything in that line on one of his climbs, they were likely to suffer for it. I saw him in profile, when, to me, his formidable character was even more evident than full on facial; the firm, very defined slightly stub- bled chin, the long nose, the deep brown eyes that spoke of both strength and intelligence. Before I’d put together some kind of response, he turned full on to me, and his eyes were as warm as I’d ever seen them. ‘The condition is likely to deteriorate as you get older, Duncan, and much as it goes against the grain, I suspect for both of us, you will have to stop climbing now. But what I would say, son, is the efforts you’ve made in that direction are a testimony to your guts and determination, and you shouldn’t, you mustn’t, think any less of yourself because you cannot climb, because I certainly won’t’. He raised his glass towards me, and through slightly misted eyes, I understood that this was now the grown-up thing which would happen between us, and I raised mine accordingly. And so I took to fell running, every bit as challeng- ing in its own way, and every bit as capable of preserving the fitness which was regarded as basic to life in my fami- ly. By the time I was eighteen and on the verge of univer- sity, my brother James, aged sixteen, had replaced me as the potential climbing heir, and Uncle Stuart’s daughter Alison, aged fifteen, had already started ‘nursery sloping’. Uncle Stuart himself, of course, remained un- convinced about my condition. Never in my life had he articulated any thoughts concerning my general wimpishness, and perhaps it was adolescent over-sensi- 69