AWAY back in the mists of time, or at least the late seventies I found myself in a situation where I was to make a choice that was to completely change the rest of my life.
After leaving school I found myself taking on a number of jobs – but I wasn’t entirely happy in any of them. In my mid-twenties, with a wife and young child, I went off to work for the Scottish Youth Hostels Association and absolutely loved it. We ran the hostels and I started doing a little bit of writing in my spare time. I did a Mountain Leader Training gig and got some work teaching climbing and hillwalking and cross country ski-ing in winter.
A number of years later, now with two young sons, my wife and I sat down to have a think about our future. She was doing some part-time nursing.
Could we continue to run youth hostels for the rest of our working lives, or was this the time, while we were young, to try and satisfy other burning ambitions?
I desperately wanted to be an outdoors writer. I had been chuffed to have had some pieces published and I had been greatly encouraged by the features editor of the late and much lamented Sunday Standard, a forerunner of the Sunday Herald.
It all seemed like a dream that was very unlikely to become real. I hadn’t done particularly well at school; I didn’t go to university; I couldn’t really settle in a job; I didn’t have any savings stored away; I was in a job with a tied house and I had a young family. I really just wanted to climb mountains and write about it.
My dream of being an outdoor writer seemed impossible. Then I remembered a quotation from the poet Robert Browning, a quote that had been given to me by my boyhood hero, Lynn Davies the Welsh Olympic gold medallist long jumper.
“A man’s aim should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Lynn Davies, son of a coal miner from a working class background in Nantymoel near Cardiff became the greatest long jumper in the world. His ambitions far exceeded his grasp. What indeed, was a heaven for unless you believed in your own destiny?
My wife and I discussed the situation and we went for it. We got a little house in Kincraig and I worked my backside off, teaching outdoor activities by day and writing from 6-8 in the morning and then between 7 and 9 in the evenings.
It wasn’t easy but somehow we survived, and more importantly, it was possibly one of the happiest times of our long marriage.
After a few years I became deputy editor of Climber & Rambler magazine, then editor, then in 1990 I became editor of The Great Outdoors magazine, a role I remained in for 20 years.
During that time I was fortunate enough to enjoy some radio work and then some television work.
It was a fabulous existence. From the very comfortable base of a monthly salary and a company car I climbed hills near and far, led treks in the Greater Ranges and made several major television series for the BBC. My sons grew up, went to University and went off on their own career hunt. Then Gina and I were blessed with two granddaughters.
The risk that I took in leaving SYHA had paid off. At the time it seemed a silly thing to do and a number of people suggested to me that I lacked the experience, the skill and the qualifications to make a go of it. They meant well but they were wrong.
Then, almost five years ago, I had to make another decision, another personal choice that involved risk.
I had reached the grand old age of 60. I was in a comfortable, well salaried job. I had made my name, I had written about 15 books, made a number of television series for the BBC. I was gioven a lifetime achievement award for services to magazine publishing in Scotland. I was made an honourary Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. I had climbed the Munros several times and had walked, climbed and skied throughout the world but one thing niggled me…
I became aware that time was not eternal. I was growing older and I still had many things I wanted to do while I still could, while I was still reasonably fit. I wanted to travel more, I was keen on doing more television work, I wanted to write about other outdoor related things than just climbing hills, I wanted some time to campaign more effectively for the political issues I thought were important.
To have the time to do these things I would have to give up the relatively time consuming job as editor of The Great Outdoors.
Could I, at age 60, pick up a career as a freelance writer and television presenter?
My wife had just retired as a staff nurse, so once again we had to sit down and discuss our future and once again I recalled those words by Browning…
“A man’s aim should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
With a renewed sense of adventure, but probably better prepared this time, I resigned from TGO and went into the big wide world on my own again.
I’ve not regretted it. Not once.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the writing I’m doing for the Scots Magazine and WalkHighlands, I’m enjoying the role I have in BBC Scotland’s Adventure Show, but more importantly I’m doing a lot of things I didn’t have time for before. Lots of long distance cycling, much more travelling with my wife, and being able to spend more time with my granddaughters.
I smile when I hear people talk about the risks of independence for Scotland.
I laugh when I hear people suggest Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent.
Compared with the risk I took when I was was determined to earn a living as a young writer the risks that face Scotland are negligible.
I embarked on my adventure with few qualifications, only determination and ambition. Scotland can embark on her adventure with a bagful of qualifications.
Some of the best natural resources of any nation in the world;
A skilled and hugely talented workforce;
Existing industries like food and drink, whisky, agriculture, engineering, digital resources;
A thriving arts and cultural sector;
Bigger oil reserves than the likes of Abu Dhabi or Quatar…
I could go on but do you get the point? Scotland is well qualified to go it alone on the world stage.
The question is do we, as Scots, have the ambition to do better, or are we happy to remain as we are and face another uncertain future, a future that could see us, against our will, being dragged out of the EU;
A future where billions of pounds are spent on renewing weapons of mass destruction and stored in our midst;
A future in which decisions about Scotland are made by right wing politicians who want to punish us for having the audacity to think we could become independent;
A future in which we will for ever be known as Scotland The Feart!
Let’s grasp this opportunity. Let’s aim high, far beyond our grasp. If my personal experiences are anything to go for, we, and our children and grandchildren, will be richly rewarded. September the 18th is our date with history. Let’s take our place in history, by voting YES! And let’s remember Robert Browning’s words…
“A man’s aim should exceed his grasp, or what a heaven for?”