Christmas is so exciting as a child. It’s early-70s December, school is finishing off for the term and there’s so much to look forward to – the decorations, the Christmas tree, the lights, the anticipation as the big day nears. Come Christmas Eve, I’ll be putting my sack at the end of the bed, leaving a mince pie and some whisky out for Father Christmas and looking forward to a restless night, with frequent checks to see if he’s been yet.
And once we get through this magical night, there’ll be presents to open, games to play, a big lunch with all the family. And then, beyond that, a boxing day football match, a chance to catch up with my friends and compare presents, and all that wonderful television to watch....black and white episodes of Flash Gordon, Robinson Crusoe, maybe some Banana Splits!
And yet this year is even more special. For months, I’ve been saving every penny of my pocket money and birthday money. If I get a small amount of money for Christmas as well, I’ll be able to take that most exciting of new year trips to the shops to purchase the one thing I’ve been after all this time.....a Scalectrix!! Only the very basic model, of course, that’s all I can afford. But that’s all I want, as well, that will make me more than happy.
Other potential purchases (subbuteo?!?!) have been forsaken, money hasn’t been spent on sweets, and I’ve been encouraged in this by my parents. I’ve even done a few small jobs for them for money (we’re talking pennies here!). And I’m nearly there. It’s been hard, but I’ve kept to the task and learned a very important lesson.
And then Christmas Day dawns. With excited, magical, wondrous eyes, I look to the end of the bed and.....he’s been!! A large sack, brimful with presents wrapped in Christmas paper. It finally reaches an acceptable hour (7am?!) and we take our presents in to our parents’ room to open them.
The excitement is palpable, as wrapping paper is discarded and presents received, and it builds to a crescendo as I have one large present left.....from Mum and Dad. What could it be? I have no idea. A game perhaps? Something to make? Something to do with football? It could well be.
I grapple with the paper, tearing it open, to reveal a large cardboard box. I hurriedly tear at the paper, at the same time turning the box over to reveal........a Scalectrix set! Not just the basic model, but one up from that, with more track, fancier cars, and a “bridge”. I should be absolutely ecstatic, overjoyed.
And yet (and I still recall the feeling to this day), in that moment, I feel unexpectedly deflated. I’d saved months and months to be able to go out and buy a Scalectrix set myself, I was almost there, I’d imagined the trip to the shops, parting with my hard-earned cash and walking out proudly with my new toy.
But I learned two very important lessons which have stayed with me throughout my life;
Firstly, if you want something, if you want it badly enough, you have to stick at it, work hard at it, and you can make it happen.
And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it never feels quite as good when something is handed to you on a plate.
Tuesday 11th December 2012. Christmas is almost upon us again. The Christmas tree is up (courtesy of a “smash and grab” raid on the edge of the Glenfinnan road!) and the lights are on. Kirsten’s had her fun putting up all the decorations, and we’re both looking forward to the excitement of spending some festive time with our families.
But, for today, I have one thing on my mind.
Since we came here, I’ve headed off up Meall an t-Slamain countless times. Headed up the rough track that leads to the trig point, got to know its contours and its terrain, got to know where I can run, and where I have to take it down to a walk.
And, over time, I’ve started to push myself a bit more on each of the steeper bits (“today, I’m going to run all the way up this bit”), started to dig in and hold a reasonable pace even on the rougher parts. The fitness has started to come back, the resilience needed to run up hills is there again, the appetite for working hard has resurfaced.
And so, today, I am going to run every step of the climb. From here at sea level, to the trig point, at over 900ft.
It doesn’t auger well initially, as I head along the flat stretch to the start of the track, and then up the initial small climb, and the freezing air attacks my lungs and I’m instantly wheezing. But I take the pace back slightly as it flattens, re-gather my thoughts and my energies and head up the steeper early climb, to the deer fence.
Here, I have no choice but to stop for a moment, open the gate and close it again behind me. And then, immediately, I have to walk across the icy wooden bridge across the burn.
But from here, it’s me against the hill, following the path I can see snaking up above me into the low clouds. Head down, arms pumping, legs feeling their way into the climb, I head up. The first initial steepness is conquered and it flattens out briefly allowing me to catch my breath. Then, a small downhill to round the corner and come face to face with the longest, steepest section of the climb.
There’s no easy way up this, nothing offered up on a plate, just a need to get stuck in and concentrate on the arms pumping away and leading the rest of the body uphill. The lungs are gasping for air at times, the legs turn to jelly on the steeper steps but I remind myself of the most important fact – you can’t “try” to run up a hill, you’re either going to run up it, or you’re not!
I reach the top of the steep climb, the ground evens off a bit, and I take my foot right off the gas for a few steps, to let the lactic acid settle and the steel myself for the final part of the route. It’s icier up here as well, which makes it important in places to choose my footing carefully, adding another element.
And yet, as I’ve learned in many other situations, having something “small” to concentrate on (like where to place your feet) actually dominates your thoughts and pushes the pain and suffering to the recesses of your mind. And so it proves, before I know it, I’m up the final short steep part of the climb, and the ground really levels out as the mast rears up ahead of me.
In these frozen conditions, the normally boggy, peaty ground ahead is crisp and solid and I run easily across it, start the final slight rise up the path, then head off across the frozen tussocks to reach the trig point and collapse in a satisfied heap. I’ve done it! All the way up, without stopping. And, of course, that means I can do it anytime I want to now that the barrier has been breached. And I smile, a wee, slightly smug grin in the knowledge that, I may be getting on a bit and not have quite the speed and fitness I did have, but those two lessons that I learned all those Christmases ago, still hold true.
Happy Christmas everyone!