Thursday 7 June 2012

The Scottish Highlands - the Perfect Cure for Ennui

If you're experiencing a sense of ennui - "listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest", you might be inspired by John Macnab , a little gem of a book by John Buchan.

Set in the 1920s, the book follows 3 Londoners - a barrister, a banker and a cabinet minister - as they devise an entertainment to relieve their ennui - their frustration with their successful but unexciting lives.

They issue challenges to 3 Scottish landowners from whose estates they intend to poach stags and salmon. What follows is a masterpiece of storytelling and an evocative journey through the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

For the first time since 2000 I've returned to Sutherland, the rugged north western tip of Scotland for a week long holiday. Tomorrow I'm visiting a retired ghillie who lives nearby. He's a former paratrooper, a poet and a countryman who would have fitted right into Buchan's adventure. As I write the rain is pouring down outside and the wind is howling around the very comfortable Gull Cottage, where I'm staying. Darkness has only just fallen at 11pm and there is no traffic noise at all. There's no O2 here, though there's plenty of fresh air. It's a far cry from London and not a trace of ennui.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

How to Spend Fifty Weeks on Holiday Each Year

I'm on holiday in the North Western Highlands at the moment and as I jumped into the icy clear waters of the North Atlantic this morning I remembered some words of wisdom I heard 21 years ago from a Manchester paper magnate.

In 1991 I worked for John Ridgway. Each week or fortnight small groups of hardy individuals would arrive in Ardmore for sailing, kayaking, climbing and hill walking challenges. My role was to accompany the groups and keep them safe. Drying out after a particularly challenging 16 hours on a windy mountain, I asked one of the visitors why he returned to Ardmore every year to spend a fortnight being eaten by midges, soaked at sea and ashore and driven to physical exhaustion. His answer made a big impression on me:

"Everyone I know goes on holiday for 2 weeks each year and spends the other 50 wishing they were still on holiday. I spend a fortnight here each summer and 50 weeks thanking God I'm warm and dry somewhere else!"

This was from a man who had built a successful business empire from scratch. At 50 he was as fit as many people on the course who were half his age. Most of all I was struck by his enthusiasm for everything he did.

Not everyone will agree with his holiday prescription, but then if it's true that we assess our wellbeing by reference to relative rather than absolute comfort, health and wealth, perhaps it does make sense to take short sharp shocks from time to time.