Never on a Sunday

As I wake from the cocoon of my sleeping bag, the first thing I do is feel my legs.   Sure enough, they remember yesterday’s climb and respond sluggishly letting me know that they would like another couple of hours sleep in an, “If you think we’re taking you up there again today you’ve another thing coming,” sort of a way.  I manage to free an arm from the confines of my sleeping bag.  As I unzip a tiny portion of the door my head recalls last night’s beer in the Sligachan and joins my legs in pleading for slumber.

Beware the God of Fire

Beware the God of Fire

They need not have worried, outside the tent air is thick with a mixture of drizzle and midges and it takes me a millisecond to agree with both ends of my anatomy and decide that today is a “rest day.”  It’s a lazy Sunday morning on Glenbrittle campsite and all around me other members of the mountaineering club are slowly stirring and  reaching the same conclusion.

The sounds around me are familiar.  Someone emits a muffled curse as he falls over his boots on the way to the toilet block.  Mild obscenities drift in the early morning air as the squadrons of midges find their targets, then there’s a hiss of midge spray, the anti-aircraft fire of the out-door brotherhood.  These sounds are familiar, even comforting as I picture the members of the club struggling with the everyday inconvenience of life under canvas/nylon/Gortex.

Then I hear it – Ting! Ting! Ting!  I can only see the rear sealed end of the tent next door but I know what’s going on.

The Campers Friend

The Campers Friend

Ting! Ting! Ting!  The unmistakable sound of a primus stove being charged with pressure.  “Where’s the bloody matches?” Comes Davey’s deep Aberdonian drawl from inside his canvas abode.

“I’m reading.” That’s Pat, his elf like, read headed wife, curled up with a book in the door of the tent.

“Aye, here they are,” scratch, scratch, scratch,  Davey’s bear like paws are fumbling with the Swan vestas.  Then it comes, a faint, “boof,” followed by a roar, a bit like a small jet engine, and I know that the  primus coming into life.  I know already what the next sound will be, and there it is, the rattle of the kettle going on to the stove.  “Keep an eye on that will ya?”

“I’m reading.”

I’m scanning the horizon, reassuring myself that the Cuillins are snoozing comfortably under a blanket of wet clouds which mean no excuses for inactivity will be required, when I hear,  “Pat!  Pat!”

“I’m reading,”  Pat, a lover of detective novels, is far away in the back streets of New York, desperate to see if Scarface is about to get caught by the Boothill mob and take the big sleep. It’s at this point I hear a strange tearing sound.  So far the morning has been filled with the domestic sounds of the wakening campsite and every little noise has betrayed the activities of my tented neighbours.  This sound, however, is different and I’m trying to work what it is when the blade of Davey’s Swiss army knife pops out through the canvas like a shark fin and cuts a long vertical slit in the rear of his tent.  Then Davey’s moustached head appears followed by his broad shoulders.  He stands for a moment, dressed in a tatty tartan shirt and ancient long johns, staring at the tent like he’s forgotten something.  I’m trying to work out why he didn’t use the door at the front when he suddenly lurches back through the makeshift opening only to remerge clutching his sleeping bag which, to his consternation, is smouldering.  Davey runs about frantically trying to extinguish the smoke only becoming calm when he is clearly satisfied that all is well with his bag.

Suddenly Pat’s voice cuts through the air of the sleepy campsite, “Oh my god!” Moments later she appears, flying through hole in the back of the tent like a jet propelled ginger fairy.  I’m staring in puzzled wonderment at the scene when I notice flames beginning to leap up from the door end of Pat and Davey’s tent.  Instantly pandemonium breaks out, moments later I’m running about in my underpants trying to fetch water. Other club members are also hurling not only water but tea and porridge, anything wet at the rising flames.  In the struggle between a tent and fire, however, there is only ever one winner, and within minutes we are all standing, gazing forlornly, at a rectangle of charred grass which marks the spot where, minutes ago, stood the couple’s temporary home.  There’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about paraffin stoves, you can’t trust them.  One moment, they are purring away, nice as pie, warming your soup, then you turn your back and they flare up making a lunge for the roof of your tent giggling like a gremlin.

I notice Pat’s book, black and smoking in the ashes, and silently hand it to her.  She takes it disconsolately, turning it over, it is obvious that the last few chapters have been lost to the flames.  “Och, now I’ll never know who did it,” she declares and a thought passes through her mind.  Furious she turns to Davey, “Why didn’t you drag me out the tent instead of that bloody bag?”

Davey is silent for a moment, confused as though the question is too ridiculous to ask.  Eventually his mind forms an explanation “This is a damn good sleeping bag, these are hard to get you know!” He pondered for a moment, realizing, perhaps, that  a fuller explanation might be needed, then added, “You can always get another wife.”

For more information on the joys of paraffin stoves visit

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8 responses to “Never on a Sunday

  1. What a punchline – that’s rotten LOL!

    Pretty awful happening though and could have been pretty serious! I was always told never to light anything inside a tent, no matter what the weather though…

    Still prefer bothies 🙂

  2. There’s a famous story within our climbing club of a primus which flared inside a tent. “Throw it out!” came the cry. So he did. Straight out of the tent door and straight into the door of another tent.
    Never figured out if that one was true or not though. 🙂

  3. Nice tale about the old Primus stove. Often if they flared (burner not hot enough) and were left alone the brazed joints would melt and come apart. The trick then was to have some solder along with you then use it and a second stove to re-braze the joints.
    PS – Cuillins in the story would be singular, as in the Black Cuillin or the Red Cuillin.

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