|Not actually Scafell Pike - it was too wet to take photos; |
this is an older picture, up Great Gable in 2010 I think, but who
can tell in that mist...
It’s wet. More than raining, moisture permeates every fabric. My fiancée and I are hiking in the Lake District and in an otherwise temperate spring, it is miserable. Low cloud flushes out constant drizzle, a tent fail has left all my clothes soggy, visibility is down to a dozen feet and a cold puddle just sloshed over the top of my boot. We have already given up on the idea of tackling Scafell Pike and my inability to find the path through the murk means that Pike of Bliscoe is also looking like a washout. Soon there will be little option but to trudge off the mountain’s shoulder, out of the valley and beat a dripping retreat to the tent.
And the next day I turned thirty-five.
My fiancée’s good spirits are remarkable. This is not her idea of fun. Countryside retreats, to her, mean cute cottages, tea and scones, comfy beds, sleeping in and sunshine. Instead I keep dragging her out to sodden heathland with a wind-chill that bites the skin, breakfast crouched in the tent porch while condensation drizzles down her neck and nothing but a hard ground on which to rest her head. And yet she doesn’t complain, or at least not out loud, so, on we walk.
Sunday’s fiasco, including the strain I managed to pull in my knee on the descent, is making me feel old. The weekend is, perhaps, like my life. It started off with grand aspirations, before modestly heading downwards and then, halfway round, realising that even those hopes were unachievable, before sloping off for a shower and rethink.
Monday brought significantly better weather. The tops were clear as we trotted across the Langdale Pikes, plus High Raise for good measure; the views panned across into four different valleys and there was a serene beauty to the world. Still, it only took a six hour drive back to London, during which my knee seized up, to remind me that I’ve hit halfway.
The mountains are beautiful. I love living in London, but at times I pine to amongst the barren remoteness. The scrag slapped cliff faces, the endless horizon, the reflective tarns, the way the land owns us all, it can make my breath catch on my lips, but it also drives a spike of melancholy right through me. Its apparent robustness betrays its real fragility and I fear for the future. As the world staggers in its electric drunk fog of confidence towards resource catastrophe, I worry about a generation I already don’t understand. I’m too distant from it all, from the music, the hopes, a million apps I’ve never heard of, to have any idea what tomorrow holds.
Just like everyone before me. This play’s script isn’t new.
When the interval curtain comes back up, things will change. I can no longer consider myself a young man. There are things I can no longer do, like stay out until two in the morning and get myself coherently into work. Wearing jeans will eventually join the list, but already looking dishevelled is worrying rather than endearing. I find myself concerned by things I’d never have given a second thought to, like hip-hop. I find myself distressed by the misogynist (and several other –ists) lyrics and, despite the funkiest of tunes, feel embarrassed to be listening.
When I was a teenager, probably shortly after Kurt Cobain took a shotgun to his mouth, music’s twenty-seven club seemed like a grand old age. By twenty-seven, if you were going to produce anything significant, you would have already done so. I began to nurse idle daydreams not only of creative accomplishment, but where that material was driven by the dark knowledge that time was running out. I played out various ends for myself, drink, drugs, terminal illness, a sudden terrible accident. None came to pass - and nor did any writerly achievements. Instead, seven years past the age when I expected to be a spent force, I have barely begun.
I still, occasionally, play the fantasy of success out in my head. Usually it’s late at night, when I’m a little the worse for wear yet unable to sleep. The dreams no longer have a macabre twist, but the age I am in them inches ever further forward as real life takes up my time.
On the first full day of my thirty-fifth year I, once again, failed to capitalise on the time gifted to me. I took the day off, and rather than write I pissed about cleaning up the camping equipment, took my sleeping bag to the laundrette for the first time in a generation, read and failed to get to the heart of this piece.
‘It’s a bit optimistic,’ said my fiancée. ‘We come all this way, with just the one full day and hope that the weather is kind to us. And it never is.’ I grunted a response, mildly sulking that my hopes of climbing a Scafell for the first time in years had been beaten, again, by the country’s insistence on conforming to stereotype. ‘Perhaps we should come for a week. We’re more likely to have a day when the weather is clear. We should give ourselves more of a chance.’
She was talking about the Lake District, but it could have been my writing or it could have been the environment. It could even have been a metaphor for life. We only get one shot at it and when the time has passed, it’s gone. Youth, the saying goes, is wasted on the young. Life, perhaps, is wasted on all of us. If we had the opportunity for a dress rehearsal, wouldn’t we give a better performance?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not normally one for regrets. I love my life. I have a house, soon a wife, a cat, a job I enjoy and creative outlets which, if a little like yelling into the tornado at times, at least give me some satisfaction and yet, when I look back over my life, what exactly have I achieved? If it were all over tomorrow what would be left other than dust passing on the wind?
It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to still do, but it does feel like I’ve had lunch at the summit and am now heading back down. Sure, there’ll be further, possibly even higher, peaks to ascend and beautiful views, jokes to tell and a sense of wonder to behold. All these things regularly occur on the descent, but there are definitely opportunities that have been missed and can’t be captured in the future.
All that’s left for me is the second act. And, well, maybe, an encore.