The Jagged Heights The Long Mists


The Jagged Heights

The Long Mists

Interlude: The Silence and the Song

Talking to other people became unendurable, a bodily pain.

Banff, Alberta to Vancouver, BC
7th September, 2001

"Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Esperance est violente."

Guillaume Apollinare

It would be comforting to think that my inner nature is a rock around which the waves of the world can crash in vain, leaving me untouched. Let everything be washed away, I'd say, but at least this, my real self, will remain, the stubborn cradle of my soul! We all feel that the world does not understand us at times, that we are judged for superficial things, a mistaken word, an appearance. If only, we say, we could be seen clearly, for this, our true self! Not the superficial things, but the reality at the centre!

But I don't believe it's true.

The Moth Eaten Reality

Tanya was the last of four bus drivers who drove me around western Canada in the Moose tour. What would she have made of my inner nature? I lay in a corner, silent, spent, growling if the music became too loud. All strength, all spirit, was spent, my entire persona had withered to gnawed self-interest. How could this have happened so quickly?

Years ago, I worked on the defence of a man charged with murder and various other crimes. Our key defence was that the admissions he had made after forty-eight hours of interrogation by the old Garda Technical Branch, the "Heavy Gang" could not be relied on. We brought in a witness from England, who had once served in the SAS as an expert in counter-interrogation. In the world of the SAS, that meant "torture", but the principles of interrogation, apparently, are the same.

I remember him as a pleasant, loquacious middle-aged man, looking for all the world like the kind uncle who showed you how to build a sand-castle. He told us that the human personality is not the proud island that we take it for, but rather a grain of sand held aloft up by a hidden spider's web of a stable society: understandable routines, reliable acquaintances, and the physical well-being of the body.

All that must be done to annihilate a man's personality is to snip away just a few of these supports over a continuous period and then, suddenly, in a landslide the self comes crashing down, with all its defences, understandings, pride and stubborn individuality lying shattered into dust around it.

That, therefore, is the procedure of interrogation: remove the subject from routine and normality, weaken him through mild sleep deprivation and poor food, and subject him to continual social assault of questions and emotionally charged conversation. Then just watch and see how remarkably soon the boat capsizes. He said that it was frightening how fast the transformation could happen. He conditioned his troopers to resist interrogation only for a short while, before commencing a slow drip-feed of information to satisfy the examiners. In this way the troopers might save their sanity, while providing their regiment with a space in which to minimise the damage.


See how the last couple of weeks compare to professional interrogation.

On the bus. Off the bus. New places, new people. Change. "Hi, great to meet you... goodbye, stay in touch!... hi!..." A riot of change. Chaotic, daily changes in food, friends, rest, environment. Never enough sleep. Always too much to do, too much that was unmissable.

Surrounded by twenty-nothing English undergraduates. Always up for it. On for any party. Everything described as "mad", "cool", or "wicked". Occasionally, "most wicked". I, for example, was a "most wicked guy".

I took it from that, that I had the power to turn bread stale, and kidnap Penelope Pitstop.


In Banff I realized I had no energy left, none. So I decided to run to a safe harbour to rest, eat well, exercise, and talk to noone. Only Vancouver would do, but that meant enduring another two days on the bus. How hard could that be?

"Okay, you guys, new guys on the bus, you'd all better get to know each other super quick 'coz we're going to Kelowna where it's hot hot hot and we're gonna party!!!" (Yay! Wicked!) Dear God. Dear God let me die now. I can't take it. Luckily for me Selena was with me, so she was able to inform the bus how mad I was, how up for anything, so I didn't have to 'prove' myself on this run. The new bus took it that I was, as she said, most wicked. All I had to do was pull the odd grimace and wave weakly.

There was a bad moment at the start when we all had to stand up and introduce ourselves. One after another a child would stand and say "I'm at Uni! and I'm full of energy and plans for the future! I love to drink, and I'm completely crazy me!" ( yay wicked etc ). What the hell was I going to say? "I'm a tired ex-lawyer needing my kip, gone searching for romance and adventure one last time before my gammy knee gives out"?


Luckily I remembered what I once told Helena and Gita in Mexico: "I'm a lost prince, kidnapped at birth, and abandoned in an enchanted forest where I was raised by wolves! Now I seek my ancient inheritance! Who will join me on this quest!" Cheers. (Most wicked etc.)

They turned out to be a good crew. We went go-karting on the way. I went around the track a couple of laps under the delusion that this was just a sort of gentle car race. Then Tanya, our bus driver, back-ended me at full throttle, drove me into the verge and departed shrieking with laughter. All right, that's the game, is it? Fifteen minutes of murder and mayhem ensued, crashes, pile ups, sabotage and delicious revenge. Nick and I fought a savage duel all around the track, leaving him spluttering curses from the sandpit while I sped on hollering triumph - only to be spun 180 degrees and left, eyes wide with fear, head on to the incoming carnage...

Party Harder

This was enough adrenaline boost to face Kelowna's famous keg party, more dancing and scurrilous talk with the three Scots girls. More people to meet, talk to, laugh with, demonstrate myself, will myself into existence in their lives once again. But after mountain biking the next morning along the Kettle Valley Railway that leapt from bridge to bridge high along a canyon side, I really was done for. I lay like a fallen grouch in the bus and could not even speak, let alone smile at anyone.

Talking to other people, even existing friends, had become almost unendurable, a bodily pain. I hid in the anonymous city.

I am not young. When I say this, I am told that's rubbish, you're only as old as you feel and so on. They do not understand what I mean. A 21-year old cannot conceive of anyone wanting to be anything other than twenty-one. I do not want to be young, their kind of young any more, moving crazily along to their song of generation, a song of newness and discovery, and huge, unchanneled energy, laughing freely with the wildness of the new, while my heart wandered alone in silent corridors. I have to be my own age, experimentation over, decisions made. I want to make a stand on my own principles, for better or worse, rising or falling on whatever loyalty, honesty or pride I can find within me. I want to listen to the silence as well as the song.

I Like to Doubt

Even as I write this, I feel the spirit rebounding inside. It is hard to believe in the dark times, but none of us are so brittle, so very fragile as we imagine. Despair becomes dull and forgotten, as somehow the creature revives. After all, this is all one big holiday. Last night I ran into an old friend, Heather from the East Pass. She has the special ability to laugh at everything I say, which makes me feel like a hero, and speeds recovery. Sometimes, people say to me, privately, why do you express so much doubt in yourself?

The answer is, I like to be tested. The doubts are necessary. I will not hide from a few questions, in the stupidity of mere attitude. Doubts test you, re-build your thoughts, allow you to have the courage to overcome doubt and emerge better for it. They make everything possible. So I will take my thought, break it down, and build it again, and again, and extend it till it glows, bright against anyone's sky.

(Addendum: went up the Grouse Grind again. 44 minutes this time. It's 2.8km long, 933m vertical and hurts like the devil. What fun.)



Canadian Rockies


Kettle Valley




Grouse Grind


Hat & Spoon



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The Facts

Where I stayed
Kelowna: Samesun. Backpackers' hostel. Works hard to be fun, puts on drinks parties. A bit much for me, but the others liked it.
Penticton: HI Penticton. Pleasant enough.
Vancouver: HI Vancouver Jericho Beach. Large hostel by the sea. Airy, good for the beaches, but far from town.

How I got around:
Moose tours. Excellent hop-on/hop-off service. The staff struggle to do their best for you wherever they can. Can be heavily booked.