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Jam Side Down
Traveling the West Highland Way by William Kerr
Chapter 1


‘Life is hard, I need a remedy for the way I feel…’ the words of the great Mr. Francis (or Mike to his friends) Rossi. When you get scunnered and feel down there is only one thing to do, get your act together ‘ my bread keeps landing jam side down’ as the song continues. So what do you do about it? Sit on your backside and greet the face off everyone, make everyone else miserable, lie in your bed all day, get drunk,  (I that sometimes works) no, you still have to face it in sobriety. Life can fling a lot of fastballs at you; you can catch them, or dodge them. Dodging is always easy, but it will always come back and probably hit you right in the kisser. The breads landed jam side down again. Now catching it can be a hazard, it might even be fatal, but even if a fatality occurs, it cannot come back and bite you, because your no there, your dead. But you don’t want that to happen. So you’ve got to deal with it properly.

You could pass it on to someone, you can keep it, or you can kill it dead, make the problem the fatality. You can also deal with it in somewhat more un-conventional ways.

  1. Act daft – only dodging balls

  2. Ignore completely – I don’t know what you are talking about officer, the gun is in my hand, the butler saw me do it, but I did not do it.

  3. Give it to someone else – gone do me a favour, take all this grief away, ‘Aye no bother’, ‘I am the greatest friend you have in the whole wide world, bring all your problems to me and I will solve them’. Does anyone have a pal like this, if so introduce me to him or her.

  4. Do a deal with the devil – don’t fancy living to eternity in a great big furnace.

  5. Do a deal with God, I that might be ok. God help me with all my worries and I will help others. I cannot fix this problem, but I can fix someone else’s. So you help fix mine and I will help another.

I need to consider that one, take a note, and pray harder. I know this works, because I have experienced it in the past, like all the options before it (except selling my soul, maybe that’s for another time).

You really need to see the whole problem, what’s the under lying issues here. If I understand what is getting me down, I should be able to resolve it, by myself or at least with the help of someone else.

Problem;

Same old song everyday ‘Jam Side Down’; Status Quo; Man gets up, goes to work, works hard (most of the time), comes home, has his dinner, watches telly, goes to bed. Aye, does that sound a bit familiar, do I know that man, I am sure I have met him some where before. Of course this can change, and has changed on several occasions. Sometimes man goes and visits someone else, has dinner, watches telly, comes home and goes to bed. You see life can be different.

Right what we need is a good shake, how can we stop the bread from landing jam side down. You may say, don’t put jam on the bread in the first place; if you do nothing, nothing bad can happen. Aye, that is true, but again that’s only one away from catching the fatal ball. So we need to do something, make a few changes, nothing to strenuous or taxing. Get something to look forward to. Something I haven’t done before, something worthwhile. Option five, I cannot fix this problem, but I can fix someone else’s, so you (God) help fix mine and I will help another. Why not do something really big (for me anyway) and make some money for a charity at the same time. I am sure I myself would appreciate all my efforts; maybe this can make a difference. Instead of working towards targets for an employer where there may not be great personal satisfaction, or working hard to meet the expenses of everyday life, maybe just doing something simple, something to help another can make all the difference. This sounded a good idea.

I know I couldn’t do it myself. I need to involve others. I cannot go to the corner shop myself, I need company. There is no fun after all, working alone, the task I have chosen, will be difficult, it could also be dangerous, it would be bloody lonely all by myself and I don’t want to be seen as Billy no mates while doing it.

Late August 2004

Sunday morning, bright and early, feeling a bit rough from the night before. There is nothing worse than doing (I mean doing, not playing, I do golf, good golfers play it. This is a chore) 18 holes on a wet Sunday morning with a wee bit of a headache. The usual crew was there, it was quite a good turnout for August, and Carnwath golf course looked pretty miserable in my eyes, but looked a great opportunity in the eyes of some others. Too many bloody hills.

‘Right guys who fancies walking the West Highland Way’ I ask.

The response was deafening in its silence. Aye that’s what we call a rubber ear (it cannot hear). Total silence. Well if at first you don’t succeed…

‘Anybody fancy walking the way for St Andrews Hospice’ I continued, they will not ignore this request, they might say no, but I will get an answer, and if I get a response I can then cajole them into joining me in my great trek northwards.

‘When do you fancy doing it?’

‘Where’s the west highland way’, I’ll know tell you who asked that one

‘I ah fancy doing that’ said George,

Wee Peter chirped in,

‘You could nae walk the length of yourself not alone to Fort William’

‘You men of little faith, where there is a ‘way; I will have the will’

‘Are you gonny git the train all the way and walk up and down it’, the sarcasm scars me.

I was now becoming the butt of one or two Sunday morning jokes, the guys where in form and fit to roast the heart out of anyone. Don’t worry I think, I can handle this; this is timid for a days golf. Time to take the moral high ground.

‘No, I’ve always fancied doing this and I thought before I get any older and my belly gets any bigger I better do it, and thought, why not raise some money for the hospice at the same time’.

“Aye, `av always fancied doin that, aye, I’m up for that” good reply from George and what was expected.

 “So who else then” I asked, there was just a brief pause.

 ‘‘Sounds good, aye me too” Johnny chipped in. Four others also agreed, but I thought their commitment sounded a bit sparse. Some wanted to know what the cost was and when are we going to do it?

 “Ah might be working” was said, “Aye there is a first time for everything” I replied.

“Listen to the apple and orange seller, never done a hard days graft in his life”

“Now guys, you know me, I would never handle anything that is orange, just apples, nice green ones”, yes, the first football digs of the day, 1-0 to the Celts.

I thought the consensus was good all in all, I had three serious commitments including myself and a couple of hopefuls, not a bad start to the ‘gowf’ I thought.

St Andrews Hospice in Airdrie Lanarkshire is a hospital run by Nuns, Sisters of Charity and many good volunteers and a few paid staff who provide palliative care within our county and to others from beyond as well. It was well reported in the local paper ‘The Advertiser’ that they are looking to raise £1.8m to build a new wing. Its annual running costs are £3.5m of which £2.0m must be raised through charitable means.

 I thought to myself again! I know this will be the perfect solution. Raising some cash for the hospice. Get lots of people involved, the more raising money, and then the more money we can give to this good cause. But more to the point, it’s something that can help break down the daily routines that have now come along in my life. I can plan a fitness regime to get in shape. I can plan logistics for the trip, organise travel, accommodation, research what and when is the best way to do this. Sounds a good idea I thought, something to look forward too.

Half a dozen said Aye, a great response. 

‘If we all raised £300.00 each in sponsorship that’s nearly two grand’ I added

 ‘We can also run a couple of wee nights in the pub, get the karaoke going, I’ll see Stuart and get that organised’. Johnny always willing to help, the saying shit through your ribs and would give you his arse comes to mind.

‘Aye that sounds good, the more money we raise the better; I replied followed with a few ayes of agreement from my fellow golfers.

Now the golf didn’t seem all that bad after that, I played to my usual standard one up from a shitty game, but It was well worth the effort getting out here today, to enjoy the great game of ‘gowf’ with fellow members of the “Spikey Shoes Golf Society’. Although some showed more enthusiasm than others, some wanted a bit more detail, what dates, what’s the cost, where a we staying, but all in all consensus was met. I had now a better job to do.

Saturday 09.Aprill 2005, 7.00am

I felt like a wean going the school trip, the day had arrived. Can you remember that feeling, 9 years of age, getting up out of bed, the sun it is shinning, new shorts and shirt, plastic sandals with the toes cut out, Aye its summer after all, nothing like you have grown 4 inches since the sandals last outing and a quick adjustment with a pair of scissors ensure their use for another summer, its time to go the school trip. Strathhaven Park, Calderpark Zoo, and if you where really lucky like the top class, Portobello, magic. Pieces in salmon, eating shit all day, dodgems and waltzers, seaside rock, very special days. But today was extra special, the first in a long time, the day that I have practiced for, I use the word ‘practice’, as to use the word ‘trained’ would be totally inappropriate.

 Training is a regime of creating well-being. Change habits, lifestyle, routines and what and when you eat. I cannot say I did any of this, it was my intention, and yes 9 months earlier I had it all planned out. Walk three miles every night until the New Year, except Saturdays and Sundays. They where the fun nights where we do something different and go and vist someone else’s telly. The truth be told I only did one night a week. I would have pounded the streets of Chapelhall for a whole 4.2miles as stated on my Rosemary Connelly Pedometer; well it was actually Bernies’.

I knew this was not enough, the New Year came, I had to step it up a bit, get on with it. I planned to do 5 nights a week walking the streets of Chapelhall and Calderbank. This should prepare me well. You may not realise, I am really a busy man with work commitments and then home to the family. My strict regime was not happening. Up until Easter I managed two to three nights a week, walking between 3 and 6 miles each time. Don’t get me wrong I thought I was doing well. Bernie, my wife seemed happy that I was out and about, walking, getting ready, in shape for this 100mile trek. I did feel a bit fitter, but I realised that some days we would be walking up to 20 miles. I felt my strict regime was totally insufficient. I felt quite panicky at this time, I have committed myself to do this, as well others, and I need to get my act together. I thought of that commitment, to the hospice, my friends and all my potential sponsors. I will get their money.

Two weeks before the planned starting date I stepped it up. I planned to do two days each week walking 12 miles; I need to test my capabilities. I also planned to do 5 miles every other weeknight. I stuck to this. The walk; Chapelhall round to Calderbank via the Carlisle Road in Airdrie, through Calderbank up to the Flyover at Newhouse and then follow the new Road from Holytown up to Wishaw through Ravenscraig, this was hard. But I did it, 12 miles I felt good. I would do that one more time before the walk. I did feel well, but at times as I started to stretch myself I was feeling breathless. This worried me a bit to say the least.

 My doctor had carried out an ECG test on me and sent me into hospital as something was showing up. Surely not a heart attack I thought, that cannot happen to me. Further tests revealed that I had in fact an ulcer causing bacteria in my gullet, but more tests, a treadmill and echo test of the heart had to be done to rule out all issues with the heart.

Dr Ferry, said that I had not to walk the West Highland Way,

“No way” I said.

One week before we set off she was going to spoil it. Another five guys were depending on me, the sick people of Airdrie where depending on me, my ego was depending on me. I have never felt fitter in all my life.

“It’s not advisable until we get the other tests done” she told me. That would take another couple of weeks to arrange even going through my private Health Insurer.

 I had stopped the fags now (or small café crèmes to be precise) for 10 months. The hill on Lancaster Avenue was daunting when I first went walking but I now felt better and was coping with it. Lancaster Avenue, ten-year-old kids run up it. But at the time of my practice this was my biggest demon. I came over it as I realised there would be much larger demons to fight off by the time we all got to Fort William.

After a bit of discussion with Dr Ferry, and my case being supported by Gavin Hastings (famous Scottish rugby player and personality) tellyvision adverts telling us all to get off our backsides and start walking.

‘Walking for twenty minutes a day is as good as running twenty minutes a day’ Gavin told us.

She finally agreed, a general consensus, walking was good cardio vascular exercise and she agreed to let me go along, as long as I would take it easy, and if I felt any chest pains I would immediately stop. I thought to myself, aye I’ll stop all right, probably stone dead.

”Don’t worry” I said to her, I’ll get one of the guys doing the walk with me to carry a defibulator in his backpack. She didn’t see the joke.

 I continued “ok, I will take it easy”.

 It was a done deal, and added that I would cancel my plans to run up Ben Nevis (UKs highest mountain) on reaching Fort William at the end of our journey. She looked at me perplexed, `is he kidding me on or is he stupid enough to think that he can do that`.

Joke flying overhead at 30000 feet. Doctors with a sense of humour, not on the NHS.

Right check, backpack, spare shoes, incase boots get totally soaked. Water Proof trousers to pull over light weight jeans when it starts to rain. It will start to rain; it always starts to rain in Scotland. Waterproof jacket as above and a First Aid kit, don’t leave home without it. I should be able to deal with all emergencies other than bullet holes, but that’s not a problem as it’s been over 200 years since snipers where last reported to be operating in the Western Highlands. Spare socks to go with spare shoes a flask of hot coffee and a. hip flask full of whisky and my Biggles bonnet to cover my head and ears. Map of route to follow, a whistle and a camera. Now you may think this is not a lot of clothing or kit to see me for seven days and nights and all the way to Fort William. Well you are right. You see we have cheated a bit.

 In my soul searching nights of how and when we will do this I thought it would be wise to bring along a Sherpa, a Sherpa who will carry all our clothes, tents, food, carry-outs from point A to point B and so on. The Sherpa will make all our food, build camp and dismantle camp to allow us walkers to get on with the real task at hand, walking to Fort William. I am sure this is a great plan. I checked my wallet, cash was there, and credit card was there, pictures of Bernie and the weans and my rosary beads.

Bernie had agreed to take us all by car to catch the train at Airdrie train station. We get the train from there to Milngavie (change at Partick in Glasgow) where we join the start of the walk. I was assured by the Rail Travel Line that I will get the Helensburgh train at 09.15am, change at Partick and get the train to Milngavie (pronounced mul-guy) at 10.25am arriving in Milngavie at 10.40am. Dead easy you may think, but I had no faith in this information that The Rail Travel Line had provided.

The day before I had given them a call;

“Hello can you give me the times of the trains at around nine tomorrow morning going to Milngavie from Airdrie” I enquired

“Can you say that again please?” said the male voice at the other end of the phone.

Oh no, here we go again, now a Scotsman talking to an Indian, in India regarding train times to Milngavie can have its problems. British Rail had moved all its customer enquires to a call centre somewhere outside Delhi in India. Now my English colleagues at work find it hard to understand me, not alone second language speakers in a foreign land. This is going to be hard.

“Hello can you give me… the times…. of the trains… around 9.00am …tomorrow morning going…. to Milngavie from Airdrie” I emphasised carefully.

“I am so sorry, can you once again repeat your request”

Again, now I am almost spelling it out; “can... you... give... me... the... times... of... the... trains... at... around... 9.00am... tomorrow... morning... going... to... Milngavie... from.. Airdrie”

“Ayrdree to Mulgab” he asks” Let me see” he pauses… I intervene.

“No Milngavie spelt M.I.L.N.G.A.V.I.E”

“Oh, yes, Ayr to Mulgab, I have it here” he said with the sound of great success.

“No not Ayr to Mulgab (God, now he’s got me calling it Mulgab), Bernie burst out laughing, I had to join her.

“No, excuse me” I apologised, “Not Ayr to Milngave, Airdrie to Milngavie”.

I was now getting a bit ratty, feeling that my own command of our language was in doubt.

“A.I.R.D.R.I.E.” I spelt it out

A long pause, a recess from our embarrassment.

“Yes Sir, You will get a train at 09.14 from Airdrie coming from Drum-jel-ouch”

“That sounds sore” I interject. At this point I can only assume he means Drumgelloch station in Airdrie

“Sorry Sir” he asks,

”No, excuse me carry-on” I add

“You will get the 9.14 train to Helensburgh, coming from Drum-jel-ouch and you will have to change at Belgrove and get the 10.19 train to Mulgab, is that ok Sir” he asks

“That is fine,” I answer back. I thanked him for his help and took leave from that foreign land.

Why do British rail do that as other companies like them. It is only to save on costs, do they really understand that it is killing customers faith in their enquiry service. They do not see our embarrassment.


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