The Write Stuff: The Making of Mickey Bell, by Kellan MacInnes

Kellan MacInnes

Kellan MacInnes

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The fate of climbing books

))))))£££:££***...Two and a half years I’d been there.... TWO AND A HALF YEARS!... sandwiched between the AA Guide to Rural Britain and Michael Owen’s Soccer Skills. Abandoned... forgotten at the end of an inaccessible bookshelf behind a wire basket of CDs and a plastic crate of videos.

It was the long nights that were the worst... after they locked the door at five o’clock. During the day a faint breeze from the Campsies sometimes drifted through the window in the back store room, but at night, the smell of second-hand clothes permeated everything... it seeped, seeped into my covers.

Two and a half years I’d been there.

Before that I was twelve years on a shelf in a bright, sunny, northern lit room with a view of the ocean where candles were lit at night; the smell of beef bourguignon and glasses of red wine on the shiny, oak table in front of the bookcase.

Those twelve years I was side by side with Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. On my left were the Art Books. I liked them; tall broad hardbacks with glossy pages, the illustrations of paintings by Matisse and Gauguin. They looked down on me though because I didn’t have a jacket, just a hard cover and they ignored me when I tried to explain I was printed and bound that way.

I was a present given them when they retired to the house by the sea. I came new from the bookshop, only a month off the press and I was fresh and my new book smell was all around me when my pages were open and my glossy colour photos gleamed and my paper was new and all of a book’s life lay ahead of me.

As I was fresh and crisp, my ink just dry, I yearned to have my pages opened, to be on a mountainside, to feel drops of rain on my cover. I wanted annotations in my margins, ticks next to my hills.

I knew if I was an often opened, well-thumbed book, over time my cover would become tattered, my spine and binding weak, my pages curled and folded over but that was a price I was glad to pay because I wanted to be A Real Climbing Book.

Abandoned, forgotten, left on the shelf, unopened, my pages still clean and pristine and untorn, I knew I’d last forever. But I wanted to be a book that’s well loved. I wanted to be a real climber’s book. I’m THE MUNROS BOOK [ed. D.G. Fraser] and I wanted to be used as my writer intended. For he laboured long, researching and taking photographs for my pages, over many hill days.

That’s the fate of climbing books you see, be used and in time fall to pieces or live forever at the end of a row of books on a forgotten, dusty shelf.

But after a few days on the shiny, oak table in the house by the ocean, they put me on the shelf next to the Art Books. Perhaps I was a project they never got round to in retirement; weaving and embroidery and the community council took all their time.

And then figures on a computer screen highlighted in red, a number beyond the parameters of normal, led to more tests and a visit to a hospital.

They sat down heavily on the couch in front of the bookcase and sighed. And then one of them stood at the big window looking out at the sea for a long time.

The men came in blue overalls and carried the shiny, oak table out while we books watched from the shelves. Then I was at the foot of a cardboard box. The Art Books went into another crate and I never saw them again.

Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain went into the same box as me but after only two weeks on the shelf of the Oxfam shop she was bought by a new owner. Two and a half years passed and I was there still, abandoned at the end of a forgotten shelf.

Dust motes danced in the shaft of sunlight falling across the open doorway of the shop. I could almost smell the heather in bloom on the high hills, the yellow tormentil and the alpine saxifrage, the cool breeze off the snowfields.

Wait a minute?

Suddenly I was upside down!

Someone had picked me off the shelf!

He was flicking through my pages, pausing now and again to look at my colour plates. I was being carried across the shop. I was on the counter. Three gold-coloured coins laid down on my cover. Oh happy day I waited so long for! Goodbye Microwave-oven cookbooks! Goodbye golf videos!

I’m in a rucksack.

It’s dark in here.

Yuck— who are you?

The Dog’s tennis ball?

Well DON’T mess up my cover, please.

Smell of diesel, dusty checked seats. Hot and noisy. Sunshine burning my cover. Fields and copses of trees and hedgerows. Now city streets and concrete and brick.

I’m the only book on this wobbly, IKEA, shelf unit behind the faded and frayed blue sofa. In fact I think I’m the only book in the whole house and it’s not a house by the way, it’s a flat on the ground floor... but it’s way better than the charity shop! It’s not the house by the sea but I’m next to a 1988 OS sheet 51 that spent five years in a cardboard box under the bed and there’s a chipped Silva compass here beside me. Her black numbers are a little worn between 340 and 10 degrees north but her needle still floats and there’s no bubble in her paraffin.

And that first night (((((( someone opened my covers, turned to page 6 and put a tick in smudgy blue biro next to Ben Lomond, 3,196 feet!

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