You know what it’s like with intoxicants. First time you try them you’re generally a bit sniffy about the experience, or the experience is a bit sniffy about you. Either way, it doesn’t really work like you would want it to work. But human beings are nothing if not stubborn, so we stick at it until the sniffiness goes away, and we’re knocking back the narcotic or stimulant or whatever it may be, like it was mother’s milk.
Six or seven years old, came downstairs in the early hours of Sunday morning after my elder sister had thrown a party. It must have been a good party because it, in turn, had thrown the partygoers. They were sprawled all over the living room floor, snuffling and snorting, passed out under duffel coats and bundled up in sleeping bags. There were half-empty glasses everywhere. And I was in an experimental frame of mind. With infinite care, I picked my way over the bodies, moving from the dregs of one glass to another, tasting them all, even the ones with dogends floating in them. “Urrgh! That’s disgusting. I’ll try that one over there. Yuk! What about that one?”
A few years later, my other sister got married, and I got chummy with my Uncle Keith. Uncle Keith was an easy man to get chummy with, especially if you were a child. Uncle Keith liked children, loved sweets, and was very generous. He was a perfect uncle, as several generations of the family can attest.
When I was a kid, buying sweets meant going down to Bonbons with my weekly sixpence and making agonising decisions, weighing the pros and cons of a sherbet dip against half-a-dozen Black Jacks, blowing the lot on a quarter of pineapple drops, or investing in a stock of gobstoppers, a sweet that I valued for its durability, but also dreaded for fear that one day it would actually stop up my gob and that would be that, Davis would be done for – I guess I was already keen on the sound of my own voice.
Go down to the sweet shop with Uncle Keith and it was another story altogether. Forget about the tormenting comparative value judgements and all that quality-price crap.
A pound of this and pound of that and a giant tin of Quality Street and throw-in-a-few-score-of-them-there and how-about-a-handful-of-Bounties and let’s-have-that-jar-over-there, yes-I-mean-the-whole-jar, thank you, and what-about and why-not and do-you-know-I-think-I-rather-fancy and I-tell-you-what and would-you-be-so-kind-as-to-fill-this-small-steamer-trunk-with-aniseed-balls, and . . .
Do you think we’ve got enough? This referring to a bulging bag of swag that probably outweighed the week’s groceries and would keep a medium sized apartment block in sugar for several days. The only thing that bulged more than the bag were our eyes. Some of us may have passed out for very pleasure. I won’t even get onto the Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, but suffice to say that the words ‘battery’ and ‘farm’ come to mind.
I don’t know whose idea it was that Uncle Keith should be in charge of the champagne at my sister’s wedding (his, probably), but one fairly direct consequence of this was that I had to be peeled off the stairs out of a puddle of my own vomit and put to bed for the duration of the honeymoon. I seem to remember Uncle Keith waving a pint pot of champagne around at some point. Thereafter, things got a bit hazy.
Anyway, between the dregs at one sister’s party and the pint pots at the other’s wedding, one might say my introduction to alcohol was not auspicious. I kept at it, though, I’m like that, a tryer, never say die and so forth, and nowadays I’m pretty much defined as a drinker.
First time I tried cannabis, fifteen, sixteen years old: “It’s not doing anything for me, mate.” Then I found I had suddenly become uncharacteristically garrulous and appeared to be giggling a lot. Thereafter, dope featured prominently in my misspent youth and, though nowadays grass means mowing the lawn as far as I’m concerned and I can no longer recall the last time I had a toke –all right, that’s enough of that, thank you very much; I don’t want any cracks out of you lot about my not remembering the last time I got stoned– I do remember admiring the philosophy of an acquaintance, a splendidly decadent wastrel, who regularly spent his dole money on a bag of the stuff: “Weed can get you through times without money, but money can’t get you through times without weed.”
Re-reading that, I suspect perhaps you had to be there or be stoned or both to appreciate the wit of this dictum, but bear in mind that this was Thatcher’s Britain. There was an insouciance about the man that was admirably anti-zeitgeist. Mind you, if I had been getting through a bag of the stuff a week, I guess I would have become pretty nonchalant myself.
Pursuing our theme, Scotch is a drink that is particularly well known for its rebarbative qualities. Many people, even those who have learned to love alcohol in other forms, find their first sip of whisky unpalatable, which is why, I suppose, there is a tradition of doing something dismal with the stuff, like drowning it in ginger ale or coke or lemonade, heresies that would have the connoisseurs choking on their single malts. As it happens, this is one taste I haven’t cultivated. Given the quantities I drink, I long ago decided it would be wise if I stuck to beer and wine. Let spirits into my life and I suspect my own vital essences would be distilled in short measure.
And so, from booze to the Balearics.
In my experience, walking in Mallorca, like other heady addictions, is an acquired taste. When we first arrived there to research Walk! Mallorca (North & Mountains), I hated it. It seemed like everything was fenced off, security guards patrolled private estates shifting shiftless vagabonds like ourselves, landowners were frequently surly if not downright abusive, public rights-of-way were blocked with bundles of barbed wire that wouldn’t have gone amiss on the Western Front, and to cap it all some sod went and nicked my first laptop, the laptop on which I was recording all the data for the book and writing up the walks.
“Ugh! That’s disgusting.”
“It’s not doing anything for me, mate.”
We kept at it though and, nowadays, when it comes to Mallorca, we’re knocking it back with the best of them and inhaling as deep as we possibly can. There are still problems for walkers. Paths can be closed, the occasional epidemic of petty theft will break out in some of the more remote car parks, but there is so much more there that the addiction to place is readily acquired. We’ve been back twice now, once to explore the less well known walking in the southwestern corner of the island for Walk! Mallorca (West), the second time to update North & Mountains and research the island’s main long distance path, the GR221, for Mallorca’s Dry Stone Way. On each occasion, we stayed for two or three months, and with every visit, the addiction grows.
The paths are fabulous, the mountains spectacular, the landscape varied, the people (those, at least, who aren’t jemmying open the boot of your car or hustling you off their land) are lovely, the food is good, the wine great, the sea sublime, the countryside stunning, the climate generally balmy . . . I’ve got a Mallorca buzz going on here, getting high on the island, up in the mountains, doubtless giggling like an idiot. It’s a lot of fun.
Even when, as on our last visit, one has the misfortune to turn up just in time for three weeks of snow and torrential rain, the high is not impaired. Driven off the mountains by bad weather (two people and eighty odd kilos of damp dog stuck inside a VW camper van eighteen hours a day is not something I can recommend) and obliged to rent a cottage for a couple of weeks, we would rise early and go out to look at the high peaks to judge the conditions. It always looked dodgy, but sometimes not quite as dodgy as it did on other days. Hurriedly stuffing the necessaries in a daypack, we would go haring up the mountains, get drenched, abandon the walk, then come haring back down again, like a vanload of Grand Old Duke of Yorks. It could have been a disaster. But when you’re high on Mallorca, the most bizarre things become appealing. We loved it.
After our first experience of the place, we might have dismissed the island with a been-there, done-that, didn’t-like-it, not-going-again. Yet we persevered and hopefully the perseverance has paid off in a series of books that mean others can skip the familiarisation process, dipping directly into an exhilarating and largely harmless addiction. I recommend it.
Go to Mallorca. Get high. It’s better than whisky.
Buy the books first, though.
To read a sample walk from Mallorca North & Mountains - click here
To read last week’s posting of blatant self-promotion – click here
To read a synopsis of The GR221 Mallorca’s Dry Stone Way – click here
To read the first two pages of the GR221 introduction – click here.
To read an outtake from The GR221 Mallorca’s Dry Stone Way – click here.
To see some photos of Mallorca – click here.
To indicate that after this remorseless sales pitch you’ve given up the will to live – click here.
Buy all three Mallorca books from the publisher
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace