Peter Hutchinson

Peter Hutchinson, founder of Mountain Equipment and PHD died aged 81 on Friday last week.

PHD had been very much on my mind last week. I’d been using two of the sleeping bags and other bits and pieces last week as I work on a long overdue review and then the winter sale post popped up on Facebook, complete with a purple Yukon jacket which had to be commented on of course. Then the news of Peter’s passing.
I only met Peter once when Phil and I went down to the factory for a visit. I was struck by the no nonsense, practicality of the man and the company as well as a joyful geekiness in his approach to the gear they made. He and Peter Elliott made a great double act and it was enlightening, educational and best of all, fun.

A workshop in a Victorian mill seemed the perfect place to find Peter and it took me back to my early years spent in similar environments where I watched blokes of a certain age weaving magic out of nothing. Steel stock or goose down, doesn’t matter, apply imagination and skill to either and I still think it’s a kind of magic when something good comes out the other side.

PHD has been a constant in my life for ten years or so and it’s part of a handful of elements that have made all the things I’ve done in the mountains not only more enjoyable that they might have been otherwise, but just possible. That’s thinking at work, not marketing.
Here’s to Peter and his generation of fellow innovators, the ones that did it all first.

Lost Sector

I wonder how much of our time spent pursuing a passion is trying to find that feeling we had the first time we did it, saw it, felt it… ate it?

Familiarity has never taken the wow moments away from anything I love, the grin is always as wide when I hit that first chord, the giggling at the colours when the sun sets is just as giddy.

But it can never be the first time again, can it?

Maybe it’s a product of age, but I get flashbacks of a sort, moments of time travel where then and now meet and I swear I can feel “it”, whatever that may be.

This photie gives me “it”. I took it on Tuesday morning. The ridge had been hidden by darkness or cloud until the descent and now I couldn’t take my eyes off it on the way down. The nights’ fresh snow had given it a texture and a glow that went beyond pretty. I was partly, I dunno, 20 or 30 years ago, swinging Grivel climbing axes with enthusiastic incompetence with heels shredded in rigid boots as well as 21st Century Schizoid Man needing a hot lunch.

They say smells have the strongest memory triggers. Nah, these folk have never spent a lifetime in the mountains.

The joy and the melancholy mixed together in that moment was a strong brew indeed.

If I keep getting those moments, I am alive, obviously, but I’m still me too. As strange as that might sound, it’s good to know.

The bits inbetween

I’ve sort of gotten into the way of carrying a camera again, but I still find myself without it when I’m in places I could have been pointing it and pressing GO optimistically.
The phone saves the moments as best as it can, which is fine when it’s bright and clear, but why Sony of all people can’t make a decent low light camera for their current phones I don’t understand.

So, I get some wacky stuff that looks borderline psychedelic or animation still. I can live with that.

This one of Holly reminds me of something, movie poster or book cover that might have been briefly visible around the place a few years back?
Kilpatricks in the dark, love it.

Low tide at the beach is magic in the winter months.

The keys though, is it a youth culture thing, a remembrance thing? I kinda like not knowing the answers sometimes.

Camera strap in there. Ha.

I’m more of a kid that Holly is. She has advanced vocabulary* and uses it to put me in my place while I just laugh and do stupid voices to get her to keep running up and down in front of the old railway arch lights.

*Direct quote from teacher, I am proud. Proud.

 

No Photography Allowed

A wee spin out for lunch turned into a longer galavant. It’s often the way of it.

The big surprise was Kilchurn Castle being unlocked and accessible which I hadn’t been for years when we’d been here. There’s some closed areas, some fenced off bits and works are a little half heartedly underway. It’s a great place, I hope they fix it rather than forget it because it just exists and does not pay for itself.

Not far away is Strone Hill, a compact and very pretty forest walk. Two loops with benches by a burn, a waterfall and ancient spirits manifesting through the moss.
We’re suckers for these things, park, run, whoop and make up a story on the way back to the truck.

The most “Scottish” thing about this trip was this coo. Well, not so much the coo itself, but the story woven around it.

The big beastie is sitting on the path the Kilchurn Castle, it’s obviously where it hangs out when it’s not walking around slowly looking vacant.
However, after stepping over its tail, we were greeted by this first sign.

Then this one, because you totally took the first one on board.

Then there’s this one so they can find you and kill you for taking photies of the coo and not paying.

And then for bonus fun there’s the barbed wire protecting the photography business’s garden shed.

This whole thing is annoying and kinda distasteful. Normally I can just think “Fannies…” and wander on, but this all grated on me a bit.

Welcome to Scotland.

And the Bands Played On

I love it. I’ve had a beanie on, I’ve had gloves on.
I’ve spent as much time looking down as I have up, so much going on around the woodland floor.
The colours and the smells, the bite in the early morning air.

I can hear the wind right now, the clouds are moving fast across the bright blue on the other side of the river and I’m wheel-less looking at it, still waiting for the new suspension parts to arrive for the truck. Mountaineering is indeed hazardous, broke the suspension on the way to Ben Cruachan last week.

Might have to head to the Kilpatricks, just in case like.

After lunch. I mean, priorities.

GUNSHIP

I was a teenager in the 80’s so I know what it was really like, in those ten years I went from child to man (ish…). It wasn’t a straight line between the two either and I still remember so much of it.
’80 was a big deal, the future was here and I was ready for it with one hand slowly letting go of my Hornby train set controller and the other hand on a leather jacket putting badges on the lapel. By ’81 I was going to the Glasgow Apollo and I was set in a new direction which I’ve never strayed from: music.
In ’83 there were suddenly girls, practical rather than theoretical. ’84 I got my first electric guitar. The next two years were a scrabble for a plan for my future but having discovered girls and guitars I blew it and left school wondering what to do next.
Still, by the end of the decade I was an engineer and had hair down past my waist.
And a 32″ waist. Oof.

All through this, what folk now call “The 80’s” was happening around me at arms length. The horrendous fashion and the universal neon highlights didn’t come anywhere near me but the sound of synthesizers was never far away if you were a movie fan and in the very early 80’s synths were still a bit counter culture and unusual in popular music. Their initial other worldliness softened as new wave absorbed them into regular pop and their voice became as unremarkable as a distorted guitar had become.

So when 80’s cultural references became increasingly popular I was a little dismissive, I remember Reagan, Thatcher and the birth of AIDS as much as anything from that time and I wasn’t a fan of Miami Vice. There wasn’t much in a revival for me, the music I loved back then is mostly still alive and well.
This attitude persisted until Stranger Things gripped me and didn’t let go. Googling the composers of the soundtrack started a chain of events thanks to the hardcore spying techniques used by the popular search engine and led me discover what is called synthwave by some – new artists making new music inspired by the sounds of the 80’s.

A lot of it just sounds like Jan Hammer or Tangerine Dream but one band has shone bright and pink out of the crowd for me, GUNSHIP. They write songs, not soundtrack pieces and the vocals bring the retro synth sounds alive. With a fat modern production and an ocean of analogue tones their debut album has been my favourite music for months.
There’s lots of cues from the past in their songs, but they still sound fresh, not recycled in any way. Their videos are brilliant too, plenty of cultural reference liberties taken with style and humour.

It’s so rare for me to find new music I really love, but GUNSHIP have done it for me and I have preordered a signed copy of the second album.
Hey, I’m not 50 just yet, so what the hell.

 

Calvin B Marshall

A ship out of water is a very odd thing. It’s the wring shape, it’s suddenly got a whole other bit at the bottom you never really see.
This summer, lying under it scraping the clatty stuff off the hull was one of the coolest places I found myself.

I did make the mistake of rubbing my face with white spirit to get the layer of bitumen off after the painting was done. For one thing, the diluted bitumen dyed my beard back to it’s original browny colour and when I saw it in the mirror I nearly passed out with the shock.
Next was the deep burning sensation on my face that lasted overnight. What an idiot. I blame the heat.

It’s nearly over.

It was an exciting moment. We lit some candles in the fireplace, the dusty ones that have been neglected for months, sitting randomly on rocks and logs taken from peaks and woods all over this awesome wee country.
It was exciting because it means that the large chrome fan isn’t blowing all the time as the temperature has dropped and that the nights are coming in a little bit earlier every day.
This is good.

I’ve always hated summer. This one didn’t change my perspective. My blood came close to stopping flowing numerous times.

The hills were horrific, I sweated and wheezed up dry tracks and found no joy in it. I abandoned it all as I after have over the years and did other stuff until the good times came back.

It’s not far away now, the trees are tired, there’s gold in those leaves crying to come out, the clouds are dark and full of promise and I can breathe again.

While some evenings out were I hate to say it, near perfect, where the blue skies and the warm rock felt soft rather than angry, I can’t help but think of one message: Autumn, don’t let me down.

Phone In Sick

There are few things better in life that passing on a spark or joy or enthusiasm or interest and watching it catch in someone else.

The school knew of my outdoor stuff, a parallel career of sorts I accidentally fell into about 11 years ago and when it came to World at Work week they asked if I’d talk to some of the classes about it all. I love the school and the folk in it, it would be a privilege and a joy.

I put together a slide show and I was amazed at how much I’ve done over the years and how varied it’s been. It was easy to put a wee talk together.
Every frame on the screen was a story, an explanation, a joke and possibly a practical demonstration too.

I had the kids as base camp, expedition and summiteers. Their task was to make camp and get their leader to the top. All with a ten second timer on the camera to get the summit shot.
This meant a tent, bag and mat, stove, sarcastically warm down jacket and an ice axe. It also meant moving furniture, we piled chairs and tables and all the classes soon has a mountain to climb. Some summits were on the teachers desks, some were on a cupboard. All were conquered, with a photo to prove it.

I did a couple of classes in the morning and it went so well I ended up staying all day and getting round most of the school. The kids were brilliant, they were interested, full of questions and ideas and I had a total blast.
We broke a pole on the tent and they had to fix it, I let them do it and they made a splint with pencils and tape. It worked fine and it held through two other classes pitching it.
They were wielding an ice axe without rubber or tape on it, I said it was sharp and they were all careful, even the ones climbing the furniture with it to take the summit photie. Kids are young, not daft.

It was funny in Holly’s class, they had no idea that she goes into the hills and the photies of us in action got a good reaction.
Best of all for me though, they all listened. I talked for an hour per class and they never tuned out once.

I think it did me good too. Seeing what I’ve done and explaining the why and how attached to it made me realise how much knowledge and experience I’ve got filed away in my head. I don’t exploit it nearly enough. Just need to acquire some discipline and application to mix in with it.

A fantastic day.

I blame Mike Oldfield

I coexist quite easily with almost everything in life, that which I don’t understand I’ll investigate, that which I don’t like I’ll avoid if I can, that which I enjoy I will obsess over and wear it out like a favourite 7″ single on a cheap turntable.

Virgin Media have conspired to twist these elements into a cocktail of annoyance and inconvenience that has seen me without internet at home for the best part of a month (note to future self, that’s why there are no posts on here before this, you didn’t lose your enthusiasm again or throw yourself on the floor and bang your little fists helplessly shouting “I don’t want to do it anymore” etc).

Virgin are utterly infuriating to deal with, totally garbage on an organisational and corporate level and that’s quite apart from the cheeky call centre operatives, one of which stood out as I could see in my mind that he was leaning back, feet up, trying to show off in front of his friends with his gallus dismissive replies and impressive lack of knowledge.
Going back to my initial thoughts, it must be said that after enjoying something, then having to investigate it, I really don’t like it. Unfortunately I can’t avoid it and now I can say with total certainty that I despise Virgin Media and all they stand for.

I want to keep my landline number, how else will Green Deal call centres fill there day without my number to call, but that means reaching an agreement with Virgin. This is unlikely.
Going to SKY feels like collaborating with Murdoch which leaves BT. Sigh.

I deal with companies and institutions every day at work and occasionally play and never have I felt that the web of society is at full stretch held together only by a pair of crossed fingers and the power of greed.

 

Woop-woop!

Adric: It’s very distinctive.
4th Doctor: Yes. I’m not sure we should be distinctive.

I realise that my vintage wheels, a Ford P100, are not everyone’s idea of a classic car, but I love my old pickup truck. Amusingly so do a lot of other folk and as well as teenager’s stares and points (I’m assuming there’s a truck like mine in Fortnite, Overwatch or GTA), I’m forever turning down offers from strangers trying to buy it.
I was waved down in what I thought was a carjacking by an enthusiastic collector, I upset security guards when the lorry leaving the factory was abandoned half way through the gate as the driver jumped from the cab and started talking cash options.
At the queue in a BP garage, the bloke behind leaned over my shoulder “Is it the turbo diesel?”. Yes, with the five speed box. I had to run for it while tightly clutching the keys.
Best still was the group of car modders in a McDonalds car park, pointing at bits of it and looking underneath, they knew what they were looking at, more than me. Apparently the P100 is an excellent base for bigger Cosworth engines and fancy bodywork, and the rear wheel drive which makes life difficult for me in winter is a big hit for track-day drift fans. Who knew.

Mine is all original though, and in decent nick, maybe partly why it sticks out as well as there not being many around now. It’s not even worth a lot of money, just distinctive and fun.

The police liked it too. So when I went by the parked-up bike cop yesterday, he dropped his donut and chased me down with the “follow me” lights and gestures.

Yay, check point full of commercial vehicles. Polis, Driving Standards Agency and Trading Standards. Triple the fun while one mile ahead I had a control engineer and a property convener standing waiting for me to look at a new job.

I engaged them as politely as I could with white knuckles on the steering wheel, if they’re pulling rogue traders and genuinely dangerous vans off the road, it’s a job well done. While I know I’m one of the good guys, they have to find this out for themselves, and that’s not instant.
All my details checked out with the somewhat apologetic police girl, but Trading Standards were instantly annoying. They wanted to make sure I knew about a customers right to cancel. I pointed out the customer I was going to right there and then I had been working for since 1988 and we don’t even issue paperwork other than a final invoice anymore. I asked what the Tradings Standards policy was on trust built through years of delivering, understanding, reliability and cheerfulness under duress. They’re sending me an email on it.

The DSA were next. He eyed my 30 year old wheels. I’ll admit it, doesn’t matter how much I know this truck outside in, how much I constantly check it over as I go, it’s old and I was nervous.
Lights okay, steering tight, tyres good. Press the footbrake again? Once again.
Dammit, the crack in the lens must have let water in the other night in the rain. One brake bulb to change. Got a spare one in the cab.

He seemed unhappy, how could this old truck not have an obvious fault to get it off the road? The police were letting me go, wait he said, he wanted to look further. I could see his legs sticking out from underneath the body in the wing mirror.
Press the brake.
Press again.
Press it, keep it pressed… You’ve got fluid.

What? I was out of the cab and underneath. He was right. The brake line goes from the caliper to a boss in a chassis member and out the other side towards the front. The nut was leaking under pressure, it was one of the new ones too. Christ. There was a pool of brake fluid on the road now.
This was a defect, this was notifiable, this was a trailered-away job. It was all over.

I dismissed that train of thought instantly and took a small shifting spanner out of my pocket, I’ll just fix it right now.
After some more testing it looked like both sides were weeping. Ah well.
I layed on the road on my back and fixed it, not just get-me-home style, it was repaired permanently and passed by the DSA style fixed. I got a certificate and everything.

By this point I was chatty with the DSA fella and as we washed up (I was covered in brake fluid) at his van I was talking through the possible outcomes. The brake reservoir had been full on Saturday morning, it was now just enough to get me back to base to top up. It had been leaking every time I pressed the brake, in maybe a day or two if I hadn’t caught it, the brake pedal would have gone to the floor and would have been in a vintage torpedo.

Close.

So, three things from this experience. Maybe four.
1/ On getting pulled over. As much as it’s an inconvenience, as much as we’re all “the good guy” and innocent of any bad intent, this spot check did its job today. I’m not annoyed at the folk doing their job there*. I am relieved and thankful.
2/ I’ve spent my whole life fixing or creating things and problem solving. A pocketful of tools and the ability to use them is something I got from Jimmy** and for that I am eternally grateful.
3/ Check the fluid levels more than once a week.

Optional 4/ How did the nut loosen suddenly after 6 months? A82 vibration or something more? I do wonder.

*Except Trading Standards
**Faither

In every bluebell, there hides a fairy

The bluebells are out and fading already, a short wave of glorious colour across flooding across the woodland carpet.

This photie is one I have on the wall. This time of year but becoming a long time ago now.
Where do the days go? If I find them, I’m grabbing them and holding on, there’s some I want to live again. And again.
Life really is too short.

Memorised

I remember often saying that the main reason for blogging was leaving my future self a record of what I had done. I meant it when I said it, but I also believe there was as much optimism in that thought at the time as there was certainty.
Ten and a bit years on, it turns out that not only was I right, it was the single best reason for having this place.

Searching on google for some of the retro stuff I’ve been doing lately amusingly and slightly frustratingly often gives me links or images bringing me straight back here.
This of course means that no one is interested in old gear except me which is absolutely fine. Mountain Range and North Cape have slipped out of the outdoor enthusiast’s consciousness and off the edge of the search engine radar. Even the recent and short lived UK manufacturing venture of True Mountain are almost invisible now. Happy to planting a little flag for some of this.

But. If I click on these links leading back here it doesn’t just take me to a page, it takes me to a point in time in my own life. I’ve never looked back like this until now. Waves of joy and melancholy come and go as I scroll and click through so many forgotten or distant moments, thoughts, adventures and of cource, faces too.

The voice on the pages is familiar, the grinning face scattered through the words a little less so. I can see a life that has changed so very much for the bearded bloke, for a start there’s a daughter that has grown from a bundle of gurgling cuteness to a surprisingly tall and ever so slightly gothy best friend.
That year out doesn’t need filled in though, however wide it looks in the From More Before search widget, the gap itself marks it’s own place in my timeline.

I took my links widget down when I tidied the front page when I started posting again. So many dead links or blogs not updated for years, people have drifted away to other things, lost interest or energy.
I hope they don’t forget about it altogether.

That’s enough thinking for one day I suppose. It took me a little over ten years to do it, but I think I finally know what blogging is all about. For me anyway.

Ten years? Ten years ago this week, my feet were cooling down from this nonsense. Memories indeed.

Crossing the road

We looked in the fridge and weren’t inspired. “Out for breakfast then?” The A82 was under the loose grip of a grey and shifting sky, thoughts of food and a galavant were more inspiring than the weather.
Luss was pretty quiet, it’s the calm time before easter brings with it the first of the summer-long waves of neds that make the place a no-go area at the weekends.
Breakfast was shared with the ducks, who were very insistent today. What’s on their minds, what are their plans? I’ve been watching them a long time, there’s been an ongoing power struggle between the old drake with the faded beak and scar (really, he looks awesome) and the skinny youngster with the bright feathers. The old timer is holding on but the massed feathered minions seem to be hanging back, watching and waiting before they pick a side.
I think if junior stages a successful coup, the Luss car park will be a very different place indeed.

Now well fed and with pockets full of soor plooms and fudge for ongoing refueling we headed a little further north to Firkin Point. To most this is a bog standard car park and toilet facility, somewhere to use and discard a disposable barbecue, somewhere to walk your dog and leave the bags of shite in the undergrowth for someone else to deal with.
But a few feet away on either side is a walk into the past, my own past as well as the lochside’s. Here runs the old road, the original A82 which clung to the water’s edge like the silver trim on the hem of a deep blue ballgown.
There’s 4km of the road left, and it’s just as I remember it when I used to drive it 30 years ago. I suppose it’s not unlike to the road north of Tarbet, but closer to the water here, you really feel you’re by the loch. I loved it then as spun along in my Escort van, I love it now too, especially on a day like this.

The previous grey of Luss was now finding some energy. The wind was getting up and the loch was getting choppy. The colours were drained from the slopes above us and across the loch, the snow line faded up into the lowering cloud as a cold rain pattered down as we walked.
We reached the north end of the road and turned back, the pattering on our hoods was now heavy rain in our faces. It was funny at first then our cheeks were stinging and our glasses were wet, looking up meant we couldn’t see a thing. We marched past the little beaches we had played on on the way there, looking down so we could keep our glasses clear, by the time we got to Firkin Point we were almost running.
I got the truck heating up as quick as I could and my soaking wet jeans pulled every hair out of my legs as I squirmed around trying to find my bag of industrial wipes somewhere behind the drivers’ seat to help dry us a off a bit.
We were soon sitting quite happily though, warming up, snacking once again and waiting for the windscreen to clear so we could hit the road home. Aye, not a bad wee excursion.

Animal House

I gave a talk at Holly’s school last year, the different classes were exploring different subjects of Scottish life, history and environment and when Ben Nevis was mentioned I knew I take them out of classroom theory a wee bit and give them some first hand stuff.

We soon expanded on the plan and we had a crammed classroom full of kids dressed in down gear and ripping the floor up in crampons as well as a virtual walk over Carn Mor Dearg and Nevis I put together from a trip a while back.

I also put a wee photie competition together: spot the wildlife.

At the time and again last night when I was putting the folder for the talk into an external drive I was surprised by just how few shots of wildlife I have.
Every trip I’ve had has in it somewhere a memory of some creature doing something or other that made me laugh or wince or stop and watch. But when it came to finding something to show the youngsters, I ended up having to scan some stuff from old prints.

The eagle and the crow dogfight above Glen Affric? Memories only. Dammit man. I did however snap the line of deer on the corniced ridgeline above a couple of hours later.

The mountain hare on Beinn a Chaorainn was a solo performer, the mass band on Ben Chonzie that skipped around us as we tramped the slopes? In my mind files only.
I actually think I was taking a photie of that stove in the observatory ruins on Nevis below and that wee snow bunting got in the way.

Caught on film on the summit of Ben Hope, a ptarmigan clearly not shocked and stunned by visitiors to its lonely perch.
I love ptarmigans, they should be our national bird, they represent the national psyche more than a golden eagle. But that complex explanation is for another day.
I do actually have a lot of ptarmigan photies, but this old one is my favourite. A happy day that was.

It wasn’t so long back that the bird below was soaring above my camp on Sgurr an lubhair. Is it as buzzard, a raven, a golden eagle? The silhouette can be read as any of those on the full size shot.
I don’t even know if I was snapping the view or the passerby.

No conclusions being made here, no planned changes to the approach, just mermorical (did I just make up a word? awesome) musings.
Anyway, sometimes I do zoom right into the wildlife. Maybe I should do it more often.