I’ve just finished a very interesting book about the glory days of Scottish mountain climbing, Mountain Days and Bothy Nights. What I enjoyed was its focus not on tales of bravery and accomplishment at the rock face, but on the banter and camaraderie of the bothy, where storytelling earns as much respect as a record climb.
In its fierce polemics against blandness, the book might – in a roundabout way – have a few lessons for speechwriters. Here’s a characteristically provocative example:
“Along with the dominance of the middle class inevitably comes a tendency towards blandness. Gone to a large extent are the characters whose anarchic lifestyles and quick wits were manufactured along with the ships they built in John Brown’s, Connel’s and Stephen’s. For that matter, gone also are the ships yards and factories that produced those men. The men have been replaced on the hills: nothing has replaced the environment that produced them.
The iron men have been replaced by teachers and computer programmers whose life and different world view is manifested in different attitudes to climbing. The old Creagh Dhu had an outlook that was not dissimilar to that of the aristocracy of England. One was serious about one’s sport but one did not have to try to be superior. One simply was superior! Thus ‘gentlemen’ amateurs were always expected to beat the professionals, be it at cricket, rugger or soccer. It was not a question of tactics or training but of breeding. Similarly with the Creagh Dhu, the attitude appeared casual, difficulties were understated, nobody trained and latterly some drank and smoke more than was probably good for them.
Today the seriousness of the petit bourgeois in climbing is crudely overt. Vast amounts of equipment, including the abominable and increasingly ubiquitous chalk are used. The winter is spent training on climbing walls and doing press-ups. Leading climbers are seen in the Kingshouse drinking orange juice. All they ever talk about is climbing. No doubt standards have improved and harder climbs are being done by more people, yet one cannot help but feel the loss of the Tams and all the Willies.”
Dave Brown and Ian Mitchell, Mountain Days and Bothy Nights (Forest Bank: Luath Press 1992), p97