IT'S been a few years but it still feels like yesterday: a friend in the late stages of his battle with cancer.
We had been stunned by the bolt from the blue of the diagnosis, even more so with the terse time scale delivered as prognosis.
We offered words of defiance while quietly struggling. His defiance was on a different level. Life would go on, and to prove it he planned out his activities for the following year, which included mountain dates and booking a foreign holiday.
The ability to defy the seemingly inevitable, to cling on to the faintest hope in the darkest moments, is an admirable, sometimes remarkable, trait. Not everyone can manage to come to terms with adversity in this way.
Hope is a much overused word: it has become a touchstone for every human indulgence, its true calling continually diluted by trivial matters. We hope the weather is fine, we hope we can get a concert ticket. Yet hope is exactly what we need just now.
My friend's inspiring yet ultimately unsuccessful fight reinforced the belief me that it is better if we can lift our heads and look ahead, to constantly be planning for good times even when the odds seem so heavily stacked. It was advice I was able to impart without prejudice recently to an occasional walking buddy in his mid 70s who feels the lockdown means his days on the big hills are over. I'm sure there are many having those same thoughts.
That day will come to us all eventually, but until it is proved beyond any doubt to be the case, the planning, the dreaming, should carry on. There are many in their 70s and beyond who are far fitter and healthier than those 30 years younger.
You don't have to look far for inspiration. I know two ladies in their 80s who fairly recently finished (separately) Munro rounds. Then there's the unstoppable Robert MacDonald who once again defied the years to rack up his tenth round. And on a memorial Munro walk on Ben Vorlich last year for a friend, there were 32 summiters with an average age of 74.
I was relieved – and a little surprised – to hear from another friend, who has been inching ever closer to a possible big finish after many years of upward procrastination, that he is not yet prepared to sideline his ambitions of finally clocking up the 282. A recent burst of enthusiasm had seemingly stalled, a combination of work placements, injury and family commitments, plus a reluctance to tackle winter ascents, causing his drip, drip, approach to the Munros to dry up completely.
If this summer and even autumn is written off, it would mean a near two-year gap between climbs, and I feared he would feel the bigger days had slipped away, so it was heartening to hear there's life in the old dog yet, even if it means a lot more stopping at trees on the way. Any considerable lay-off during advancing years can make it much harder to step back up. I'm normally on the hill on average twice a week so you would think I would have getting twitchy under the current restrictions, but even I have been surprised by how relaxed I've been.
Like most people, I looked at the bigger picture and accepted that this is the way it has to be and have adapted accordingly. Maybe I should be more worried that this isolation hasn't felt much different from my 'normal' existence – the majority of my mountain walks tend to be solo affairs anyway, and apart from travelling to mountain areas, the rest of life just meanders along. Social distancing had been going on at my end long before social distancing became the rule.
If there is a novelty, it is in having a routine for the first time in living memory. Instead of the chaotic sleep patterns and anti-social working hours which led me to start wandering the mountains at night, there is structure.
The 24-hour cycle follows a regular pattern; meals, exercise, work, some TV, reading and sleep. The only slight deviation is the route taken for the daily walk, and a major plus is the exploration of our home territory, little nooks and crannies we never knew existed.
Having a routine and sticking with it is an important factor in relieving stress and helping keep mind and body healthy. It removes much of the thinking process, but in these uncertain times maybe that's not such a bad thing in the short term.
It also means I can now be anti-social at the same times every day. If I can figure out which day it actually is, of course.