Articles By Gord
Scotland the Brave

January 2009 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... Scotland

Slip a blindfold over your eyes and immediately your world disappears. Gone is your old familiar chair, as is your favourite mug. But instinctively you feel for them. You are still in your home, but now you feel lost. You will find taking a few baby steps challenging and just imagine yourself attempting the descent of a flight of stairs? Treacherous. You're new at this blind game. The loss of your sight is frightening. Now whisk yourself away from the relative safety and comfort of your home and ask yourself why would a blind person bother to travel?

In truth, I too once wondered why. But over years of dealing with my blind experience and unlike you who has not yet learned to trust your other senses or to trust your partner, I have learned to trust.

In August of 08, I got a return comedy booking in Aberdeen, Scotland. Even as I was confirming the gig, my wife Catherine was busy packing. Going over for work gives us a tremendous travel advantage as locals tend to steer us off towards nearby gems and pearls.

“Oh if you've got some time you should scoot down to Stonehaven. It's a lovely wee village and be sure you visit the old ruins of Dunnottar Castle. It's worthy of a wee poke about.”

With your blindfold still on, remember the terror you felt contemplating your descent of a flight of stairs? Well our journey to Dunnottar Castle was that terror times ten.

Cath and I descended a number of good solid steps, I traced their front edges with my cane, my free hand permanently rode the handrail down. These steps were wide enough to let other folks stream by.

“That's your last step. The beach is rocky, not terribly even, so be careful. But there's nothing for you to run into...well, except the water and I see you've found that, Magellan.”

Reaching that shore was the last sort of flat, straight, wet step I was to take for the remainder of our ‘poke about.'

From then on Catherine‘s guiding skills were tested to the max, as every step we took required careful calculation. I never took a step or made a turn until I heard Catherine's, “Okay...now, I'm not sure how we're going to tackle this next bit, but we'll find a way.”

Our slow, uneven climb provided me with a pretty thorough sketch of this impregnable castle, it perched high upon a craggy spit. The concentration each step had required left me exhausted. And so reaching the top, while Cath poked about, I sat comfortably, bathed in sunshine and listened to the screams of gulls, the crash of waves and smelt the sea air. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. But I'm sure many years ago raiding Vikings would have opted to give Dunnottar a pass.

“There's gotta be an easier castle than this to plunder. Besides I hate lugging mi' old sword up there, hoping to hack and bludgeon somebody only to discover no one's home.”

After our thorough exploration of the ruins, neither of us felt terribly keen about tackling the four kilometer coastal hike back to Stonehaven. We started our march with the attitude, “Well let's give it a go and if it's too much, we'll pack it in and grab ourselves a taxi.”

Wrong! Once we'd begun this trek the option of abandonment was gone. There were no actual ‘steps' to contend with, but the extreme steepness and narrowness of the path often forced me to use my white cane as a support staff.

A few days later when we visited Wallace's monument near Stirling, I wished my white cane-support staff had the power to transform itself into a witch's broom. A broom capable of safely flying both of us to the monument's top. Such was my wish because the first time I was there I was only six years old and I never made it to the top because of those accursed circular stairs. Around and around and around and around, on little six year old legs and with each advancing step I grew woozy. Not even the encouraging words of my Uncle Jock were enough to spur me onwards. Before Uncle Jock and I had even reached the first level, he was escorting a tearful six year old on wobbly legs back down. My shame and humiliation were made all the greater by my cousins, Kyle and Ranald, who taunted. “What's the matter, Gordon? Have you wet yourself? Gordon is a baby. Gordon is a baby.”

So, on this latest trip I was determined to make it to the top of the wretched thing.

From the parking lot far, far, far below, Cath and I surveyed the winding pathway up the hill to the obscured base of the monument. With dogged determination we began our assault. Uphill, turn right, uphill, turn left, uphill, turn right, on and on we trudged. Often stopping to catch our breath, both of us dripping with sweat.

“You okay, Cath?”

“I think I'm having a heart attack...I don't know if I can do this.”

But always back to the hill we went, always back to the attack. There were more stops and fewer steps between our rests. I was ready to throw in the towel and meekly suggested to Cath that we call it quits.

“NO! We are going to the top of this stupid monument.”

“Okay, okay. I just wanted you to arrive at the top alive, not as a corpse in my arms.”

Finally we staggered, huffing and puffing to the base of the monument, where Catherine shrieked, “OH MY GOD!”

“What? What? Is the view that magnificent?” I asked excitedly.

“Who cares about the view,” she snapped.

“There's a free friggin' shuttle bus parked right here. Find me the driver! I'll show you Braveheart!”

After the hill, climbing Wallace's monument was a relative breeze. I still dreaded those circular stairs, my progress up them was painfully slow. My cane was virtually useless on the narrow wedge of step and I had to...HAD to maintain contact with the centre column, even letting go for an instant and I would feel myself teetering and envision myself falling. And whenever somebody wanted to slip past, I would press myself to the very lip of the step and with both hands clinging to that centre column I would urge them onward.

“Hurry up, ya stupid wiener. Can't you see I'm dying here.”

Each level we attained offered us an opportunity to calm, to re-energize for the next stage. And each level provided historical information regarding William Wallace's battle with the English. Beyond the recordings of scenes of battle, the displays of suits of armour and various weaponry, there was Wallace's sword, it was all so well done that I got a vivid impression of the battle.

We made it to the top. We stepped out onto this concrete platform and the wind ripped at us. It was so fierce I wanted to lie on my belly and hug the concrete. I was paralyzed with fear. Blind, I had no idea how much room I had to move about or how close the edge. Cath had to bellow to be heard.

“You're okay. This is like a good sized dance floor we're on. Here take my arm. They have these park benches along all four sides. And the view. The view is spectacular.”

Catherine gave a full description of the river and bridges and the colours of the fields, I took it all in. But my other senses listened to the wind howling through the concrete supports, heard the vicious snap of our nylon jackets and felt the push of that wind against me and even with all that, I longed to see. I must be a greedy git to want more, but I've painted what images our trip has stirred upon my senses. Perhaps my scenes are imperfect, but they are full of life. Besides if I had my sight from high atop Wallace's monument the view would have likely made me queasy. I'd have hurled my haggis, crying, stumbling down those loathsome stairs and hearing from some ghostly alcove, “Gordon is a baby. Gordon is a baby.”

Maybe so, but a baby that has been to the top.

 
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