“Those things,” said my mate Dave, pointing at a rather nice armchair covered in a blue flowery material, “kill people.” I’ve always been suspicious of furniture but even I wondered how it could prove fatal. When I was a kid my Nan in Merseyside, the one I called Nana Floe, to distinguish her from my other Nan, Nana Puff Puff, who took me to see the trains, (Yes that’s how old I am, when I was small they went puff puff, I was born in the age of steam) used to talk about sitting on a three piece suite. My child’s ears heard “Three P sweet” and I spent ages looking for the three P’s and never found them although I did discover that if you shoved your hands down the side of the cushions you could find the sweets. There, coated in furry jackets, were mint humbugs, chocolate Treats, and long lost jelly babies, if you dusted them off they were good as new. I even once found half a crown, I suppose that would be a twelve and a half pence coin these days. That doesn’t sound much but in the days of my youth a half a crown was big money, it was an imposing piece of currency, it had a kings head on it and a big coat of arms on the back, you didn’t mess with half a crown.
The lethal potential of comfy furniture only became apparent to me last Saturday as I was driving from Inverness to Glen Shiel in search of a hill to climb. That Saturday was a rare day in this, the wettest September I can remember. The roadside verges sparkled with the first hoar frost of the year and the small lochs I drove past steamed eerily in the cold morning air. The little Inn at Cluanie was swathed in cotton wool mist as I parked beside it and began to pull on my boots with only the tops of the surrounding emerging from the fog and into the sunlight above. The car park was busy with folk preparing for a day on the hills. Perhaps the good forecast had lured folk from their cosy weekend beds as the glen was busier than I had seen it for years with each stopping place crammed with cars and people packing rucksacks for the day.
I set off up the small glen with no real idea of which peak I might climb, just enjoying being out of the town amongst the hills. Unfortunately I am forced to work to earn a living which is incredibly inconvenient although I suppose I shouldn’t moan as there are many people out of work who would be delighted to be in my position. Despite the pecuniary advantages of employment I have found my job increasingly stressful recently and I am certain that a day in the hills is the best cure you can get for stress. There is something in the rhythm of walking that sets the mind and body at ease and contact with the ageless hills always sets the petty worries of life in perspective. Despite the clamour of the car park after twenty minutes walking I was alone in the glen and enjoying the solitude. An hour later and I was at the small pass that lies between Ciste Dubh and Am Bathac. A glance at the map and I decided to climb Ciste Dubh, its sharp peak looked too inviting in the bright sunlight that had by now burnt off the mist of the early morning.
The hill rises steeply for a few hundred feet from the small boggy area where the mountains meet and it was whilst puffing my way up this steep section of the climb that I remembered the last time I had been on this particular hill. That too had been a sunny day, although perhaps in June or July, and the heat of the day and the steepness of the climb had left me dripping with sweat at the same point that day. That must have been ten years ago now. On that occasion I’m bee with two mates, John and Pete, who, sad to say, are gone now. I don’t mean they are literally dead but both have been captured by that deadliest of beasts, the armchair. It happened to most of my mates around the age of fifty. You’d phone them up for a day on the hill and there would be a slight hesitancy on the other end of the phone, after a moment or two they suddenly remember some pressing engagement, probably with a lawn mower or a paint brush, that would prevent them from leaving the house that weekend.
“Maybe next time,” they’d say. Next time, as all of us know, never comes. Despite their excuses, I always knew the real reason, the armchair had got them. Invisible tendrils of comfort had wrapped around their legs, cosy chains of soft furnishing had snaked around their waists, pinning them to the seat. The occasional forays into the kitchen for biscuits and tea might take place, but that would be the furthest they’d walk. Armchairs creep up on you. At first you just sit down for a moments rest then, before you know it you’ve been there for hours, the hours turn into days and then weeks. You put on a few pounds and suddenly it takes the fire brigade and heavy lifting gear to get you out of the house. John and Pete have gone, never again will they walk the high hills, soft furnishing has swallowed them.
This is my first blog for a few weeks. Two things have kept me away. The first is I am writing a novel about a mountain rescue team. So much happens in teams like that I won’t have to make much up. I’m also rehearsing for my one man play about Aleister Crowley at the London Horror festival at the end of this month. Here’s a link to a feature on the show. http://www.spookyisles.com/2012/09/becoming-the-beast-aleister-crowley/
Just remember, next time you look out of the window and opt for a quiet day at home rather than climbing a hill – the armchair is waiting.