This story by Nick Hamilton, former IMC member and President, was published in the Mountain Bothies Association journal in 2012. The illustrations are Nick’s too.
Did you know that the singer Olivia Newton-John was the granddaughter of Max Born, the famous German scientist who was a contemporary of Albert Einstein and a pioneer of Quantum Mechanics. No! Well shame on you. Neither did I of course and little do I care about any of them either, I can tell you. However that ‘fascinating’ link between early twentieth century high energy particle physics and late twentieth century popular music culture gives you a flavour of a recent chance encounter in the hills that I would really rather forget about; but to do so immediately would deny me the pleasure of entertaining you with it.
I recently had cause to visit the bothy I look after for the Mountain Bothies Association. The House of Charr is its full and impressive title but most folk simply refer to it as Charr. In MBA terms the bothy is on the outer rim of the galaxy, a veritable dark star, light years from Alder Cottage and Staoineag at the centre of the Universe, unknown and unvisited by the ardent Munro basher and really only in the GPS database of those seekers of distant, specialist hills, such as Clachnaben and Mount Battock. Many have visited it and some have even slept in it; but only those with a strong constitution because bedding down in a cold and lonely open bothy, particularly on one’s own can be a scary and unsettling business. But I waste time on what you probably know already; I can tell that you want to know about goody-two-shoes Olivia Newton-John.
My visit was on a weekday, unusual in itself because I normally visit at weekends. Now weekdays are different in lots of ways. In particular, different folk are about, sometimes really quite different folk; you might even say a different race of folk. Weird individuals abound on weekdays and disappear at weekends when normal hill goers get out and about. Weekday people can be disconcerting because they talk a different language. They talk in wondrous tones of distant snowy peaks that nobody has ever heard of, they harbour ideas about long walks through misty glens in the land of Fae, they relate tales of troll-like beasts striding across uncharted plateaus east of the Mearns. They carefully place little stones on the tops of other piles of stones in the belief that cairns have souls and are pleased to be nourished by visitors, and they carry enormous rucksacks with their sleeping bags on the outside to carefully catch every last drop of rain. In other words weekday folk are to be avoided unless you’re particularly strong willed and not subject to the vapours when confronted by alarmingly red-bearded striders in kilts wearing boots large enough to boil wombats in.
Such was the nature of the individual ensconced in Charr when I arrived that fateful morning. He had clearly spent the night in the bothy; the blankets, the fag ends and the empty whisky bottle attested to that. Cheerily I greeted him as I entered and immediately saw that he was a weekday person. I quickly explained to him that I was the Maintenance Organiser for the bothy and, in case he suggested that my presence was an intrusion and that he would be happier if I left, I hinted in a roundabout sort of way that my appointment as an MBA MO was not to be sniffed at and that I had the full force of Association power behind me. Now you must appreciate that MBA authority and its associated back up is impressive. In the event of trouble I could summon reinforcements that would arrive in no time at all; less than three weeks is not at all uncommon for the mobilisation and deployment of an MBA rapid response unit.
I set about coffee from my flask and as an icebreaker offered my red and hairy companion a cup too. Much to my surprise he accepted, which was a bit of a problem because I only had one cup. However he produced a battered enamel mug from his pack and we settled down to the usual pleasantries that tend to take the form of discourse between total strangers with nothing in common except a shared geographical location.
My new acquaintance quickly led me to believe that he was a scholar of philosophy but was not in employment at the time having exhausted the intellectual capital of his previous seat of learning, and he had not managed to find another employer worthy of his talents and his intellect. Once he got started he quickly warmed to the subject. His particular interest, he informed me with much severity, was the philosophical relevance of the atom. As you can imagine I was not immediately able to respond with words that did the subject justice. In fact I was hard put to think of any philosophical significance of the atom. Small and insignificant, and simply ‘there’ was my immediate, but silent, reaction. The next half hour was a blur that I will not attempt to describe. I had finished my coffee and a check on the fabric of the building was required but the atom held centre stage and I could not escape. I understood very little but nodded politely and occasionally grunted in assent. Suddenly he announced that his second interest was popular music. Ah, I hear you say, at last, here comes the connection with the delectable Olivia. Indeed, but the connection was a long time coming and I was ready to tear my ears off by the time it did arrive. What a man; I must have sat for an hour before the coffee finally worked its inevitable magic and I was obliged to retire outside. I was careful not to resume my seat and pleaded an urgent need to check out the integrity of the roof space before I was in a position to head back to civilisation. I left with a cheery wave and a sigh of relief, assured of plenty to think about on the walk out to the road. Did I warn other folks heading up the glen of what lay in store for them at the bothy, or did I leave them in blissful ignorance? Should I warn Archie, the head stalker, of the presence of an unusual character on the estate? Would Olivia be comforted or repelled by the thought that hairy red natives in far away lands talk about her at length to total strangers, and how had my feelings for the atom changed as a result of these recent revelations. Much to occupy the mind as I walked down the miles.
So there it is; weekday folk are definitely different and more often than not weird and even a little frightening. However, one good thing came out of the experience, I have an unusual line in party conversation. Did you know that Olivia Newton-John was the granddaughter of…… not a lot of people know that.