BEN RUA

Mr. Thaw wanted a keener intimacy with his son and liked open-air activities.  There were fine mountains near the hostel, the nearest of them, Ben Rua, less than sixteen hundred feet high; he decided to take Thaw on some easy excursions and bought him stout climbing boots.  Unluckily Thaw wanted to wear sandals.

“I like to move my toes,” he said.
“What are ye blethering about?”
“I don’t like shutting my feet in these hard solid leather cases.  It makes them feel dead.  I can’t bend my ankles.”
“But you arnae supposed to bend your ankles!  It’s the easiest thing in the world to break an ankle if you slip in an awkward place.  These boots are made especially to give the ankle support – once a single nail gets a grip it can uphold your ankle, your leg, your whole body even.”
“What I lose in firmness I’ll make up in quickness.”
“I see.  I see.  For a century mountineers have gone up the Alps and Himalayas and Grampians in nailed climbing boots.  You might think they knew about climbing.  Oh, no, Duncan Thaw knows better.  They should have worn sandals.”
“What’s wrong for them might be right for me.”
“My God!” cried Mr. Thaw.  “What’s this I’ve brought into the world?  What did I do to deserve this?  If we could only live by our own experience we would have no science, no civilisation, no progress!  Man has advanced by his capacity to learn from others, and these boots cost me four pounds eight.”
“There would be no science and civilisation and all that if everybody did things the way everybody else does,” said Thaw.  The discussion continued until Mr. Thaw lost his temper and Thaw had hysterics and was given a cold bath.  The climbing boots lay in a cupboard until Ruth was old enough to use them.  Meanwhile Thaw was not taken climbing by his father.

Alasdair Gray, Lanark: A Life in Four Books

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  1. Pingback: TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW | TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

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