Saturday, 23 December 2017

I Won't Back Down

Yes, yes - I know I said after the last one that I wouldn't be doing any more of these. So easily am I swayed when it comes to such things, it took just a couple of people to say, 'Actually, I was quite enjoying reading the blog,' both deeply appreciated nevertheless, and a few additional views for the supposed parting shot, for me to be convinced to carry on, carrying on.

In other respects I am nothing like as susceptible to turning, and not necessarily for the better. This much was made glaringly apparent to me last weekend. It was the occasion of Skye's second annual Santa Fun Run and also marked the almost-end of our first full year on the island. The former event sends a couple of hundred-plus souls dashing - or alternately huffing and puffing - up and down a two-mile course around our capital village in Santa outfits for a good charitable cause and imbued with both festive and community spirit. It is hugely enjoyable and the clue of it is in the title - 'Fun Run'.

That last bit escaped me altogether at 2016's inaugural running. As most people trotted gaily together in loose groups of families and friends, I charged, red-faced, to the near-front of the field, mentally at  least face-palming several young children and a pensioner out of my path. Whilst others were exchanging banter about their Christmas plans, the weather and, quite conceivably, who the fearful berk was who had just sprinted by, I was, well, being a fearful berk. I came in eighth and felt shamefully triumphant about it, even in spite of the fact a nine-year-old boy had comfortably, even disdainfully held off my crazed lunge for the finishing line.

This year, I resolved, would be different. For one thing, we know more far people about the place now, which I reasoned would mean that I too could this time gab the Santa Run away and not be compelled to go off like a lone twerp. For another, immediately after my 2017 'triumph', I could have sworn I was the recipient of several disapproving looks in the local Co-Op and one of which was from a man of the cloth. I supposed that it may just be God's will that I suppress my near-psychotic competitive edge, at least when in Yuletide costume.

Unfortunately, things started to go very wrong for me from the moment the Skye Pipe Band struck up a typically rousing tune with which to march we two-hundred and forty-six runners to the start line in Portree's Somerled Square. I'll get my excuse in early. Our eldest, Tom, challenged me to a race. More accurately, he had, in so many words, suggested that I was a near-decrepit has-been. A more rational, less neurotic and, well, better parent would have smiled this taunting off and let the wee scamp/mouthy git scurry off into the far distance, secure in the knowledge that a generational baton had been passed on to him. I, though, am not that parent.

Oh, I didn't mean to beat Tom (and tragically, I had no doubt that beat him I would). No, I schemed to run the race tight on his shoulder, give him the sense of being in the heat of a battle, and than at the crucial last moment, the sprint for the line, let him nose ahead - only just, mind you - and claim victory. Not once did it occur to me that in the process of carrying out this - as-it-turned-out - delusional plan, I might again appear to others as someone taking the whole thing all too seriously.

Especially so since sticking to Tom like glue required me to be right with him from the start line, and he took up station at the very front of the pack. I must tell you now, there is no dignity to be had from pushing by, or else shoving to one side many packs of small children to get to the head of the queue in a Santa Fun Run. Even worse, pictorial evidence of my ultimate progress exists in cold, harsh print. This Thursday gone and prominently, the local paper, the West Highland Free Press, ran a photo of all of us Santa's readying for the off. Among lines of beaming cherubs, there was I, a solitary, overgrown fool with a beard and a half-mad glint in his eye.

I was not even pulled up by having an actual Santa, fat, jolly, fully bearded and clanging a bell, summon us to our marks and fire us on our way. Not at all, since I streaked from out of the blocks, audibly tutting at a toddler who had the temerity to get under my feet, and up the steep-ish climb that begins the race. In my own mind I was proceeding like a projectile fired from a cannon. In reality, I was soon wheezing and sweating. In my worryingly blurry vision, there was Tom, dancing ahead of me and growing steadily more distant.

As it happened, there he stayed, many yards beyond me and maintaining a quick, even pace without visible effort, whilst I reared unsteadily on like a rabid pit-pony and always in his arrears. Worse, it was only at the halfway point and as I was able to look back down on the rest of the field, that it occurred to me that I was the one adult who was making anything like such an effort. I would like to say that it was then that I came to my senses and eased off, having been granted the merest soupcon of wisdom, but instead I set off again downhill as if someone were cattle-prodding me along.

The personal nadir of the whole experience came some time later and after the run, as everyone was gathered about the square, drinking hot chocolate and eating mince pies. Loudly, an amplified voice hailed: "Will Paul Rees report to the Christmas tree to collect his prize." Right then, I would have preferred to be anywhere and doing anything else.

Almost as penance, and well, tugged along by young Charlie and his friend (both of them grinning maliciously), I was transported to the aforesaid tree, whereupon it was announced to all and sundry that I had 'won' the adult race (there was no rejoinder about there being precisely no competition for this prize, or even that several lads yet to reach teenager-dom had given me a good spanking in the overall scheme of things). Rather, I was handed a big box of chocolates - Heroes, entirely inaptly - and made to stand for a photograph with the two of my fellow victors who had also bothered to show for the ceremony - the seven-year-old winner of the girls' race and a stout, elderly gentleman who had walked the course for Cancer Research.

The winners of the boys' and women's races had already gone home by then, possibly not wanting to have any further association with me and for fear it would somehow contaminate them socially. At all events, doubtless not a scrap of the smattering of applause that accompanied the prize-giving was directed at me. At least not judging from the battery of scornful stares being aimed at me from among those watching on, and that's just to mention my wife, children and a couple of others who until the events of that morning had been friends of mine. Wishfully, I am now again imagining that next year will be different, and while as well knowing not-so deep down that it won't. If a half-century of being me has taught me anything it is that I am a man of rigid, eternal habit.

Another Christmas still stands out for me. This was in 1994 and when I was invited to have Christmas dinner round at Ozzy Osbourne's house. Rock’s enduring wild man was just then emerging from self-imposed retirement and his return to action had been marked in America by the launch of his official website. At that time this was still a new-fangled concept and Ozzy’s wife and manager, Sharon, had arranged for the first twenty American fans to log onto the site to be transported across the Atlantic and whisked to rural Berkshire to meet with their hero at the couple’s rambling estate.

The formidable Sharon had hired a fleet of caterers to serve turkey and trimmings in a candle-lit dining room otherwise adorned with a towering Christmas tree. I was dispatched by Kerrang! magazine to document the festive tidings, but arrived to find Ozzy in mutinous mood. I had met Ozzy on several previous occasions and was re-introduced to him now by Sharon, once he had stopped rampaging up and down their baronial staircase like a caged animal. Though within ten minutes he had convinced himself I was a cocktail waiter and loudly demanded that I be put to work. “Ignore him,” Sharon soothed me, adding as if to explain all of her husband’s actions: “He’s a daft old sod.”

A series of comical episodes ensued just as soon as the over-enthusiastic Americans pitched up, gaggles of them roaming the house in search of souvenirs and Ozzy stomping off after them. “Sharon!” his Brummie-accented voice boomed from a far-flung wing of the house at one point. “Someone’s nicked the bog roll.” 

Dinner itself passed without undue incident, and once Sharon had shepherded her light-fingered guests off the premises, I joined Ozzy in the library for our agreed interview. Skittish at the best of times, Ozzy set off at once on a rambling and wholly libelous discourse intending to ‘out’ a score of his fellow rock stars as gay. I asked him instead what he did for a hobby. At this his eyes widened and he leaped from the sofa. “A fan of mine is a Colonel in the US Marines,” Ozzy enthused and with added expletives, throwing open a cupboard, “and he gave me these.” These being two pairs of infra-red, night-vision goggles.

And so it came to pass that on a frigid December’s midnight, Ozzy and I embarked upon a stroll around the verdant hills and woodland encircling his home, he wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jogging bottoms and me tramping and stumbling in his wake. In the inky blackness, we viewed each other in a luminous green glow. A downpour had turned the ground underfoot into thick, viscous bog and I suggested we might incur Sharon’s wrath by trailing mud across her carpets. “Bollocks to that,” Ozzy trumpeted for he had a mission in mind. He meant for us to seek out and count his recently acquired herd of Fallow Deer.

The deer remained entirely elusive for the hour that we fumbled about in the dark. Eventually, Ozzy shrugged and concluded in a baleful voice: “Fuck ‘em, let’s go home.” He, at least, knew when he was beaten.

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Brian Fallon - If Your Prayers Don't Get to Heaven

If Bruce Springsteen were thirty years younger and heavily tattooed...


  1. Happy Christmas, Paul. You have given me so many gifts in the form of assignments over the years, and those experiences will last me a lifetime. Your faith in me and my abilities was a blessing. Best to you and your family. --Joshua Sindell, California.

    1. Happy Christmas back at you, Josh. Hope your's is a very good, hearty and healthy one. In terms of the assignments, the pleasure was always mine and equally so working with you. Hope too that we might catch up one day. Very best, Paul

  2. Not sure if his lordship told you this. Last year we decided we would have an orgy of seafood as a late lunch but at 1pm, the lights went out, so did the fridge, the central heating and the wifi. One of the village petrolheads had been driving far too fast from The Pheasant, forgot to turn right into the village and took out the substation sending it into orbit before parking his car in a ploughed muddy field. Massive generators on trucks appeared and got the town up and running, but by the time they did, the raw seafood was humming, and Christmas dinner was cheese and biscuits by candlelight. And they say romance is dead. Happy Christmas Camp Rees

  3. JG, his lordship hadn't related that one, but it's a classic. Turkey, trimmings and a generator this year, then? At all events, hope you have a very happy, healthy one and safe travels and best times for Merle too. Px