Morvern Lines with Iain Thornber week 48

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How time flies or, as Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), who was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896, said: ‘So little done, so much to do.’

I have been writing Morvern Lines for The Oban Times every week for just over six years. It has been an enlightening experience which, with a bit of
luck, may keep senile dementia at bay for a few more years.

Along the way I have learned a great deal, made many friends and enjoyed working with a fantastic team, first in the Fort William office and latterly in Oban.

My initial instruction was to keep the piece simple – no long words and suitable for a readership ranging in age from nine to 90 – which is perhaps why an elderly friend in Barcaldine paid me a fine compliment when she said: ‘The thing I like about your writing, Iain, is that, when I read it, it is as though you are in the room speaking to me.’

I know many journalists would aspire to that gift, if indeed I have it.

Over these six years it has allowed me to push out a few sacred cows and then cut their legs from under them; tweak the caps of some politicians and tug the tailcoats of a number of absentee landowners who, forgetting this is 2018 and not 1918, persist in playing God with the landscape, the wildlife and the folk they are responsible to during their stewardship.

My email address is at the bottom of every article I write, yet I am happy to say I haven’t had any hate mail – yet – quite the opposite, although a few weeks ago I was asked why I appeared to be more interested in deer, stalking and local history in preference to rugby or football. Each to his own, but I never could see the pleasure of chasing a bag of wind round a field while being shrieked at.

I support wild red deer because, at the moment, they are being seriously abused by conservation organisations, government agencies and those who prefer trees, or should I say the obscenely high grants.

Where is the dignity and understanding watching pregnant hinds trying to find shelter and food to nourish their unborn young when they have been banished from their traditional wintering grounds in the leanness of the year and treated like rats?

And if you think that is too strong, I have no intention of altering it.

History is an extremely powerful tool but of course these are more mythical histories than actual histories. The history of the Highlands, to cite an example I am most familiar with, has little resemblance to what is taught in schools. Every story from the past tells us about who we are as a race and what we are capable of through our dark and sunny sides.

If you study history with an open mind you quickly realise how little we have changed so what we were capable of in the past we are capable of today. History predicts the future. We’ve done it all before so if you can figure out how to read it you can forecast what lies ahead.

The history of elitism strikes me as extremely important. Landed elite expect privileges and wealth by virtue of controlling land. It makes me wonder what will come next.

It highlights what has never been tried before. We’ve never had a government for the people, it’s always been for the privileged of one kind or another. Is government for the people impossible or just difficult?

Doing something completely different may be the key to breaking the pattern of growing power followed by despair and revolution. Brace yourself, the past will find us and show us how little we’ve changed. Humans only tolerate the imbalanced playing field for so long.

‘How are you?’ ‘Good. You?’ ‘Pretty good.’ ‘That’s good,’ was an exchange I heard between two patients sitting beside me in a surgery waiting-room recently. When I heard it, I burst out laughing and said: ‘Well, that was a meaningful conversation.’

Maybe I was being a bit insensitive, but it struck me as absurd.

The ridiculous thing about this standard form of greeting and response is that absolutely no-one expects it to be taken at face value. You pretty soon lose friends if you actually mention your current woes.

And even if you’re upbeat because of good things that have happened recently, people often don’t want to hear the details. Is the response, ‘I am fine, thank you. And you?’ outdated?

Here is poem written in the early 1950s which preaches the practical benefit of positive thinking as we grow older and which I hope will pacify the reader who took me to task about too much history and deer!

I’m Fine Thank you

I’m fine thank You
There is nothing the matter with me
I’m as healthy as can be.
I have arthritis in both my knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze,
My pulse is weak and my blood is thin,
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.
Arch supports I have for my feet,
Or I wouldn’t be able to go on the street.
Sleep is denied me night after night,
But every morning I find I’m all right,
My memory is failing, my head’s in a spin
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.
The moral is this – as my tale I unfold,
That for you and me who are growing old,
It’s better to say, ‘I’m fine’ with a grin,
Than to let folks know the shape we’re in.
How do I know that my youth is all spent?
Well my ‘get up and go’ has got up and went.
But I don’t really mind when I think with a grin,
Of all the grand places ‘my get up’ has been.
Old age is golden, I’ve heard it said,
But sometimes I wonder as I get into bed,
With my ears in the drawer, my teeth in the cup,
My eyes on the table until I wake up.
Ere sleep overtakes me, I think to myself
Is there anything else I could lay on the shelf?
When I was young, my slippers were red;
I could kick my heels right over my head.

When I got older, my slippers were blue;
But still I could dance the whole night through.
But now I am old, my slippers are black;
I walk to the store and puff my way back.
I get up each day and dust off my wits,
And pick up the paper and read the obits.
If my name is still missing, I know I’m not dead –
So I have a good breakfast and go back to bed.

Iain Thornber