As part of our ongoing series of finding inspiration during lockdown, this week we hear from bearded Friend of FINDRA Graham Kelly.
On the evening of Thursday March 20, I was walking home after seeing my daughter. I looked up at an impressively clear sky and an impulsive decision saw me pack a winter rucksack and sleeping bag before jumping into the van to drive north.
After a quick dram, I pulled the sleeping bag up around my head since it was cold; very cold indeed. A few hours later, I awoke and started up the familiar path that leads to Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly Munro.
I only had two key timings: Reach the summit for sunrise then get back off the hill in time to get to work. What followed was among one of the most stunning sunrises I’ve had the privilege to enjoy in the Scottish mountains (or anywhere for that matter).
The only people I met on the descent were a couple of pals, including Neil, just as I left the summit, and Audrey, just before I reached the van. This went to show the fine bunch of friends I have who share the same idea of fun.
No one could know then that in just few days’ time, the mountains and wild places would be closed to help minimise the impact of the grim COVID-19 virus.
It is a cruel reality that the weather has been pretty much mountain perfect since that Monday March 23 lockdown. Through the years, acceptance of a sub-optimal situation has been very much part of how I cope with things that cannot be controlled.
Like most of us, the initial week to 10 days was spent cancelling planned events. In my case that included some live music gigs, book talks, adventures with friends, races and a trip to California. I won’t sugar coat it because there were some grim days during this time, when the achievements were only eating and a short walk.
A wider discussion with friends has confirmed that maybe those who live the fullest and most diverse lives are among the ones being hardest hit psychologically. Some will shout “first world problems” and, to an extent, that is true but when it is your life getting kicked, it still hurts.
For me, after acceptance came coping.
Thankfully, I still have a job and I have been working from home. It’s not ideal but it is providing a degree of normality in an abnormal situation.
In addition, there is a small group of us that usually run together but now chat frequently through Whatsapp. The chat is filled with irreverent comments, bad language, mutual support, compassion and silliness and has become something of value that cannot be measured. I literally have no idea what I would have done without these people.
Live music has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember and while nothing can replace the cider-fuelled atmosphere of seeing a favourite band in a tiny venue, so many musicians have been live streaming gigs, sometimes for free and sometimes for online tips. For them to survive with the financial impact of not touring all we can do is pass the online hat around and maybe buy some merch.
On a personal level, I haven’t played guitar this much since I was a teenager. I am not sure if I am getting much better, but it’s fun.
And then there is the elephant in the room – the lack of mountains and adventure. This is without doubt the hardest bit of lockdown. For a period, it was a case of nipping back into auld memories but that runs out quickly even with a big back catalogue. I’ve also enjoyed some map gazing and revisiting local run routes and this has been a sticking plaster but not an adequate replacement. What has been rather wonderful is getting out to enjoy the sunsets and there have been some stunners.
Looking ahead, who knows? I once read that “false hopes are more dangerous than fears” – apparently a JRR Tolkien quote and one I agree with. Some outline plans are being made that involve combining an island adventure with a bothy / bivi and summit but no dates (not even outline) are being considered. Time can start again when this is over.
So what have I learned? I would like to say there has been something hugely significant but there really hasn’t. The small stuff matters every bit as much as anything. Good times like bad times don’t last and everything changes. What was important to me before remains every bit as important – and the folks who matter the most are those who I share time with.
New memories will be added in time but for now, staying safe and doing everything to ensure the safety of those around us is key. Oh, and I am really glad I grabbed that Lomond dawn!