Sunday, 26 July 2015
Summertime, half a century ago
In 1965 – fifty years ago – I was packed off by my mum to a Hebridean island on a two-week camping trip. It was a boys’ thing: around 20 of us, all in our mid-teens, with maybe half a dozen ‘officers’ aged, I guess, in their twenties. It was pretty glorious: we walked, climbed, swam, fished, messed around in canoes, sang songs round campfires, got rained on, hadn’t a care in the world.
I wouldn’t have been able to date this trip if I hadn’t yesterday, for no good reason, googled ‘Schools Hebridean Society’ and found a website maintained by someone who went on other trips, in the 70s, run by that outfit. I went, I think, on three trips. Certainly to Raasay in 1965 and to Harris in 1967, because there’s my name listed: here and here. Memories, in no particular order:
– watching, from somewhere on high, a Golden Eagle flying below me, and close;
– envying the ability of my friend Mike Ackroyd (we did everything together in our teens, including ‘dancing classes’ in Bradford) to fall asleep, anywhere, anytime (the tents were basic, the ground not level);
– losing a camera my mum had bought me (I didn’t really want it) when my canoe overturned;
– getting one book of the Everyman 3-vol edition of War and Peace waterlogged, also in a canoe (I’ve never re-read it, so it must be from that year that I remember the line, spoken by some minor character, ‘Where there is judging there is always injustice’);
– taking shelter during a rainstorm in a derelict house, finding some Penguin crime books there, reading The Postman Always Rings Twice;
– in the temporary absence of fresh water, making porridge with sea water (not good);
– the high bargaining price for a cigarette (the nearest shop was 7 miles away);
– in Tarbert, waiting for the ferry to the mainland, discovering that our favourite ‘officer’ wasn’t going to be much use getting us into pubs because he drank only tea;
– on the MacBraynes ferry over to the islands, listening to men singing in Gaelic.
(Also, on the train back from Scotland to Yorkshire on a Saturday afternoon in 1966, transistor radios: we were travelling while the World Cup final was being played. But I think that was coming back from a different camp, a CCF one.)
My friend Mike Ackroyd died in his early 20s in Japan. One of the other ‘boys’ named on the Harris 1967 page is John Ryle – surely the writer and anthropologist John Ryle, whose book on the Dinka of the Sudan I worked on while at Time-Life in the 80s, it must be.