A HIKING MEMOIR, including Scouting, Camping and Youth Hostelling

Human memory is a marvellous but fallacious instrument.
Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved.

Preface: Why Write this Memoir?

My son David lives far from his English roots, whilst his wife Helen is Australian born and bred. At her family gatherings, which take place once or twice a year, the older folk invariably reminisce about happenings from their childhood and revive anecdotal snippets passed down by generations now departed.

Such sharing of memories can be a comforting ritual, one which reinforces the bonds of kinship. David listens but – I imagine – is unable to penetrate beyond the fringe of the experience. He did once mention to me that he misses our own ‘family shorthand’. I’m sure every family has one: it’s that cryptic code by which a single word or phrase instantly transmits to our closest relatives, but to nobody else, a volume of understanding based on experiences that we alone have shared.

Also, David realises there is much he doesn’t know about his own ancestral folklore. I suspect that’s a common condition: a majority of the present population was raised in households with televisions, and so they didn’t pass their evenings sitting by the fire, growing familiar with stories told and retold.

A couple of years ago I jotted down a few memories, to give him a picture of my childhood. I then began tracing the family tree as far back as I could go, but I soon realised that shouldn’t be my top priority. Anyone can do that, using the growing number of readily accessible databases. So I returned to the task of writing about my childhood and youth, the streets where I played, the schools I attended, and the things I did as a lad. Eric Sykes titled his life story, ‘If I Don’t Write It Nobody Else Will.’ I think we could all say, when it comes to recounting our memories, ‘If I Don’t Write This, Nobody Else Can.’

Hiking has been a major theme in my recreational history, and this is the Hiking Memoir, with Scouting, camping and Youth Hostelling thrown in, because they seem a natural fit. But let me insert a disclaimer: this is not the story of my life; it is only my view of one activity in my life. If readers feel that I have left some things unsaid, they are absolutely right. So read on, if you wish, through my one-dimensional tale!

Old mates and mentors from the nineteen-fifties and –sixties have remained tremendously important to me, even in absentia, whether they know it or not. I invite them to read this record, and to add their own perspective on the events we shared. I hope they’ll tell me about the factual errors which I’m sure will scream out at them: my memory isn’t always accurate, as two recent incidents show.

Firstly, three of my old classmates have independently said that they remember me reading from the Big Red Book when we surprised Miss Yarborough with our production of ‘This Is Your Life’ at the start of one of her Religious Education lessons. I have no recollection of the event, let alone my role.

Secondly, at a reunion in November 2007, John Parker showed me his log of the Youth Club’s first Easter trip to the Lake District. I was surprised how differently I remembered it, not in feelings but in matters of hard fact.

Few of my early hikes were recorded for posterity, but in my adult years I often made notes. Written within a few hours of the happenings they describe, they don’t depend on my unreliable powers of recall. They tell it as I saw it at the time.

I wondered what to do with them. They are jotted in notebooks and on scraps of paper, occupying space but unlikely to be read or understood by anyone except me. Their value to others is negligible: most of the hikes were solo affairs; and I’m not important enough to expect a biographer to come along and dredge through the minutiae of my files. All I’ve done with them here is to extract a few examples, rather than write a step by step account of every muddy mile. That’s a relief, isn’t it!

Enough of the Preface. Let’s get on with the story.

Pete Stott
January 2008                                                                                                                                                    Next Page >>