ROGER COX Gallery images


Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 26 April 2010

IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that the first day back in the office after a few days of freedom is never, ever fun. In The Scotsman features department, though, the dreaded return to captivity does at least have one redeeming feature. There’s a sort of unspoken rule – long may it continue, and please-oh-please don’t let me have jinxed it by writing this – that a member of staff returning from hols gets at least a couple of hours grace on their first day back to deal with all the mail – e-, snail, voice and hate – that’s accumulated in their absence. Over the years I’ve come to cherish these little periods of transition, and also to use them as a coping mechanism: the more interesting things I manage to turn up in the mail, the more my mood lifts, and the more I feel ready to take on the big, bad world again.

Returning to the office after a recent break I was suffering from a particularly severe case of Monday morning blues, but fortunately there was just enough stimulating stuff in my various inboxes to perk me up in time for the resumption of hostilities.

Exhibit A: a letter from aspiring Arctic adventurer Amanda Houston, a fifth year from Queen Margaret Academy in Ayr. This summer, Ms Houston’s going to be flying to Svalbard with the British Schools Exploring Society to spend a month carrying out scientific experiments and brushing up on her Arctic survival skills. She’s been doing all sorts of impressive things to raise funds for the trip, too, including a sponsored bike ride round Arran, which sounds like an experience in itself.

Her letter was buzzing with energy and enthusiasm, and it took me back to when I was her age, preparing for my own first big adventure. In my case it was a slightly less ambitious undertaking: a surf trip to Cornwall with a group of school friends, funded by a spot of hay-bailing on a local farm. Our National Express bus broke down en route, so we ended up walking the last seven miles to the coast, where the six of us crammed into a one-room shack and lived off tinned food and warm, illegally purchased beer for the week. Not quite the Arctic, perhaps, but there’s something about being that age and setting off on your own for the first time that’s utterly intoxicating. It must be the same feeling baby seabirds get when they’re standing on the edge of a cliff, about to take their first solo flight: everything that’s gone before has been safe and predictable and largely someone else’s problem, but what happens next is entirely in your hands. Or feathers. Or whatever. You get the point.

The next message to give me a little boost was an e-mail from David Binnie of Inverurie, entitled “My Son Can Beat Me At Snowboarding.” David was just back from a trip to Chamonix with his son Matt, nine, who is now confident on black runs (and black runs in Chamonix, ladies and gents, are not to be trifled with). Understandably, he was looking for advice on where to get coaching for his young protégé. I won’t tell you what I advised him in case my words of wisdom backfire spectacularly, but, c’mon, seriously? Black runs on a snowboard at nine years old?! If he doesn’t decide to take up golf or tennis or some other dull, conformist sport (letters of complaint from golf and tennis fans to the usual address, please), Matt Binnie could well be a Scottish snowboarding star of the future.

As I was nearing the end of my mail-opening therapy, I came across an e-mail from Danny Crofts, 24, from Edinburgh. Mr Crofts said I was talking rubbish – “RUBBISH,” actually, in capital letters – in 3 April’s magazine when I had the temerity to suggest that Scotland’s somewhat changeable winter weather patterns might make it less ideal for snowsports photography than, say, Switzerland.

“I don’t mean for this to sound like an aggressive e-mail,” he wrote – a relief after all that virtual shouting – “but people bad-mouthing Scottish snowsports gets to me, especially when there’s so much talent that’s not getting noticed.”

Believe it or not, this was music to my ears. Over the previous few weeks, while struggling to heap yet more hyperbole on the best Scottish ski season since the beginning of recorded time, it had occurred to me on several occasions that I was perhaps guilty of giving the local scene too much of an easy ride. But lo! Here was evidence that I had, in fact, done a bit of bad-mouthing as well. Congratulating myself on having been so inadvertently even-handed, I finished up the last of the mail and got back down to work.

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