Two years ago on this date and at this time I was asleep in woods above a hamlet called Achfary (just downhill of the photo to the left and the header photo of my blog). I was two days and 33 miles into a solo hike across Scotland. Achfary is in the far northwest of the country, in the almost-empty county of Sutherland. By the time I pitched my tent that Sunday evening, I had been mobbed my midges; had slipped on peat and kissed the heather as a consequence; and blisters had begun to form beneath my wet socks. But I had also walked in sunshine along a magnificent sea loch, waded a wild stream, and crossed a waterlogged moor. So as an owl hooted and I fell asleep, I was in a decent frame of mind, if not exactly exuberant.
The journey lasted another six weeks, ending in mid-October on a gray estuary dividing Scotland from England. Then I came home and began to write up my adventure. I’ve been doing that ever since, with “breaks” to attend to real work. I mentioned the start of the biggest break in The Sheer Inconvenience of Work. Now it looks as if I can get back to scribbling. It is not easy, not as easy as hiking, which is an uncomplicated, if not always comfortable, activity. But writing, for me, is not as demanding as office work, and in this I must disagree with no less a figure than Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.
Dahl also wrote Boy, a memoir of his British childhood. My youngest daughter thought I might enjoy it, and – during our week in Quebec – I did. Although 45 years separate Dahl’s British childhood from mine, some things were pleasingly familiar, notably the contents of sweet shops – gobstoppers, Sherbet Fountains, humbugs and the like. But it is at the end of Boy that Dahl gets on to the life of a businessman versus that of a writer. Take this about his first job:
“I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman.”
The absence of original thinking stands the test of time, but I for one have never found simplicity or regularity in corporate life. I did on the long-distance hike that began at Cape Wrath on September 3rd two years ago. And now I’m ready for another crack at absolute hell.