Munros

There is a risk, amid all the challenging discussions of anthropogenic climate change, of overlooking the continuing movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. These are no longer considered anthropogenic, so far as I know, although the Roman Emperor Justinian famously considered that homosexuality caused earthquakes. That may be a view gaining traction (as they probably call it there) in the University of East Anglia. I considered doing a Freedom of Information Act search to find out, but then, I thought, what’s the point?

What we do know, even without a Freedom of Information Act search, is that there is tectonic movement and as a result some places are getting higher and some lower. One of the saddest things that I have read recently was that some mountains that until recently were not high enough to be Munros (as they call peaks in the Highlands of Scotland that are over three thousand feet in height) have as a result of tectonic movements become Munros.

The Highlands of Scotland are of course arrayed around a volcanic rift valley, and so it is not surprising that if any mountains in these islands are to grow or diminish they will be Scottish ones.

It’s not clear whether, if tectonic movements are indeed caused by the activities of the gay community, it is the Scottish gay community with which we should concern ourselves or the wider gay community acting, as it were, at a distance. I called the University of East Anglia’s press office to ask their view but they said that their lips were sealed.

In any event that is something that we must leave to The Science (as I believe they call it in the University of East Anglia). One imagines white-coated and dedicated men and women calibrating incidents of sodomy against millimetric spasms of mountains hither and thither. It is not in any case my concern here, and it is not why I found the news that we had new Munros saddening.

Some people, men mainly, have always found the Munros a challenge. They have resolved to climb every one of them. Many have succeeded. Many have made things more challenging for themselves by, for example, climbing the Munros at a trot, rather than striding as is more conventional. (Most Munros I believe are smooth on top and can be climbed without resort to crampons and stout ropes, unlike foreign mountains.) All these men have no doubt finished the job with a sense of relief and usually a relaxing of the disciplines required to attempt the feat in the first place. Some have grown old buoyed up with a quiet sense of achievement.

And that is the sad bit. Suddenly, when they are too old or out of condition to do anything about it, a new Munro or three pop up, and they have no longer climbed them all. Maybe they climbed everything that comprised the authentic category of Munros at the time, maybe they climbed the mountains that have since become Munros before they were Munros, but it’s not quite good enough. The quiet sense of achievement evaporates.

We all have our Munros. I know that I do. I am occasionally nagged by the thought that my collection of Buffy Ste. Marie CDs is complete except for the doggedly unavailable Live in Toronto. And I know that even if I did find a copy of Live in Toronto some other live album, available perhaps only in Japan, would sneak into the Amazon lists and then become unavailable before I had noticed.

I was musing about these things as I sat by myself in our local fish and chips restaurant. Skating on Ice (very popular in the fish and chip community for obvious reasons) was showing on a big television set in the corner and although all the contestants reported that they felt very emotional, I was confident that their heightened feelings would not blunt the keen edge of my analysis.

I was eating by myself in the local fish and chips restaurant because the better half was being entertained by friends for dinner and there was nothing in the fridge that I was capable of cooking. These friends are in London for a week or so and have entertained her for dinner most nights. On one occasion I was included. They come over every month or so and entertain the better half on successive nights and sometimes, as this time, kindly ask me along too.

And here’s (as they no doubt say in the University of East Anglia) the thing. They never eat at a restaurant that does not have at least one Michelin star. It is a dogged attempt on the category of London Michelin-starred restaurants. And as with the Munros – more frequently in fact, geological time being what it is – restaurants gain stars or lose them. A rat is found in a previously favoured kitchen: an evening has, in retrospect, been wasted. Some previously spurned fusion eatery gets the nod. Some super-trendy place opens: better wait, just in case. You can never relax for a moment.

As I thrust my tongue into my portion of moist haddock, evanescent hints of the sea playing against the more trenchant notes of the beer batter, it seemed to me that maybe there is more pleasure to be had in the culinary foothills; that a saunter through the strath curling down the mountain, with the water in the burn bubbling over the rocks, the trout dark shadows barely discernible in the pools and the midgies lurking out of the sunlight and awaiting their turn, gives more pleasure than the stern, bare, unforgiving slopes above.

An obsessive Munro hunter, like an obsessive diner out, or a vinyl nut, would tell us curtly that that was not the point.

And fair enough.

But, just a thought, in these restaurants, do they have to tell you what you’re eating?

The last time I was included in the invitation we went to one of those Indian-lite places so much smiled on these days by the Michelin judges. The food was delicious – not as good as my haddock but very nice.

The difference is this. The woman brings you your haddock with the remark, There you go, dear. In the Michelin place they set your plate down and then tell you in detail what it contains.

Good manners prevent your replying, Yes I know; I ordered it.

On this occasion the waiter indicated with a flourish a small copper bowl.

And that, he said, is fish curry.

No it isn’t, we said; it’s chicken.

To which he replied, with the gastronomic acuity that makes reputations or breaks them, but with a charming giggle:

Fish, chicken, whatever.

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