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					Climbing Ben More
Ben More was not the first mountain we ascended together. Several years earlier I had dribbled down his neck as he had climbed Ben Nevis with his one-year-old son on his back. My father has since delighted in reminding me that he needed to wrap a tea-towel around his neck to prevent the rash from my saliva spreading. Ben More, however, was my first proper mountain. We had started early in the morning. I don’t remember if the intention had been to achieve the summit, or whether this was simply another family walk on our Scottish holiday. The pattern was familiar. Never setting too fast a pace, but also trying to avoid too many stops, my parents became ever more inventive at trying to entertain my brother and myself, and distract us from sore feet and aching legs. Our favourite was the discovery of ginger nut bushes; the fruit of which were deposited by my father when we weren't looking from his secret supply. I was eight years old and understood the trick, but acted as surprised as my younger brother when another bush was found. I basked in the satisfaction of knowing the adult's secret whilst enjoying the child's mystery. Besides, I liked ginger nuts. After lunch we split up. My mother and brother rested by a stream and my father and I pressed on for the summit. I can still see us walking together; the cold, damp air and our breath leaving its imprint hanging around our heads as if we were a pair of dragons marching towards our lair. The steep, narrow path, sometimes slippery, sometimes littered with rocks to test our concentration. Most clearly of all, I remember my father's tales of previous expeditions when he was young. The adventure in the Alps when he joined a mountain rescue team to search for a lost friend. The ascent of a famous mountain with a German name, when they had to start the climb at four o'clock in the morning. His impersonation of his eccentric Swiss guides who would call out in broken English to "Bend ze knees!". The tubes of condensed milk, which they would squirt into their mouths as they walked along to avoid unnecessary delays. He didn’t force me to climb or set too fast a pace. He adjusted to me, and taught me how to climb. He shared the mountain with me. We fell into a rhythm of walking; zigzagging up the paths, taking smaller strides in the steepest sections. We took turns to lead, and stopped only occasionally to catch our breath and recheck our direction. I learnt about mountains by climbing with my father, and I think I have learnt some of my medicine the same way. Here too, he has never forced the pace, but has shared the journey with me. There was the time he improvised an eye irrigation out of an egg cup; the loan of his own A-level biology notes when I was struggling with the mysteries of plant life cycles. The fondness with which he referred to some of his patients (we loved the scatty elderly sisters nicknamed Hinge and Bracket), and the frustrations he had with needless bureaucracy. Clearest of all, I remember joining him on a ward

round when I was eighteen. We moved methodically from bed to bed and ward to ward, taking care and time with each patient. I didn't yet understand the science of medicine, but I observed the craft, the steady rhythm and the art. The most difficult part of our ascent of Ben More was the last twenty minutes. Slipping over cold, damp rocks, climbing through a clinging mist that wrapped itself around us, we pushed on for the summit. Then, suddenly, finding ourselves on the mountain top plateau, the mist fell away and we realised we had climbed above cloud level. Breathlessly we marvelled at our achievement, shared our last ginger biscuit, and laughed as we walked above the clouds.

Jonathan Knight 1999 GP Ipswich, Suffolk


				
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