Pick a date: 15th, 16th or 17th of May 2009. You can have any cos they all end up in the same place. Or maybe you prefer 5th September 2009, when the reputation of the Wum was cemented in history for evermore.
All of this week has been about the number 27, a number I hate with a passion: it reminds me of Wum.
I started out on Monday on 26,901 miles, knowing with some certainty that I’d be crashing through 27,000 at some point this week. The only issue up for grabs was when.
Now I’m a stubborn old sod, so when something annoys me, I will move heaven and earth to do the opposite: just because I can. My original thought on Monday morning was to leave myself on 26,973 on Friday so I could hit 27,000 bang on.
Then I had a better idea: why not Wum the week?
So I did. This is Thursday night and I’ve Wummed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I might Wum tomorrow too but there again I might not: just to be awkward.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s take this story back a few years, and ultimately to 2009…
When I reached 50, I started the Inverness Caley Thistle Highland March, a long distance walk featuring a bunch of random football fans who elected to walk from Caley’s penultimate game to the final league game of the season. Because Inverness is away up north, and most of the teams in Scotland are in the south, that means a long walk: the first one, 160 miles from Inverness to Falkirk, was meant to be a one-off for my birthday, but the guys got itchy feet the following season and suggested we do it again. And again. And again….
By 2009 we’d arrived at Highland March 7 and the challenge was to walk 190 miles from Kilmarnock, just five miles from LCFN HQ, back up the road to Inverness. The way the fixtures panned out, we had six and a half days to do it. And we chose a tough route, as near as dammit as the crow flies, just to keep the mileage down.
The first leg, leaving Rugby Park straight after the final whistle at 5pm on the Saturday afternoon, was a 53 mile overnighter to Aberfoyle. It was never going to be one for the faint hearted, especially when the days that followed were going to be predominantly off road and hilly.
The night before the off, Friday 15th May, the party was at our place, long before it became LCFN HQ. When I say party, that’s possibly a slight over exaggeration because the guys had Saturday night firmly in focus. However, on the Friday evening, there was an impromptu game of football out in the street. Our youngest two were out there in the thick of the action, and they’d have been about 10 and 12 at the time. Both had walked various bits of different HM’s down the years so they kind of knew the score. One of them asked this guy who was doing his first HM, how he thought he’d make out…
“It’s only a walk” came the response.
Yeah, like LCFN’s only a bike ride. I gerrit….
This same bloke had signed up to do the international version of the Highland March three months further down the road. One of the legends of the HM, Chumba, is a Tartan Army foot soldier, which for the uninformed means he goes all over the place watching Scotland get gubbed at football. Chumba had been on the HM since 2006 and this was his 4th HM. He was already a bit of a legend because he completed the first one only two weeks after breaking his arm playing five a side, but in the middle of the walk, tripped and fell, landing heavily on the same arm. The poor lad was in agony but after a check up and a night of lost sleep, got up the next morning and banged in another 25 miles. That’s what we do. Pain is only a four letter word to a Marcher.
Chumba, as in Chumbawumba… “I get knocked down, but I get up again, yer never gonna keep me down…”
Are you starting to see where this is headed?
The dude who claimed that this HM malarkey “is only a walk” was Chumba’s mate, so he got the handle Wumba.
Chumba and Wumba: kinda fits, if you see what I mean.
So: Friday night, Wumba set his stall out that this was gonna be a proverbial piece of piss: a practice walk ahead of the 440 mile walk from Oslo to Glasgow (via Bergen and Aberdeen) between two of Scotland’s World Cup qualifiers in August and September. The Tartan March was Chumba’s brainchild and it was the catalyst that kickstarted the Kilt Walk, which is now part of the Tartan Army furniture up and down the land. Anyway, back to the HM…
I’m trying to remember how many of us there were walking up the old A77 from Kilmarnock to Glasgow on the Saturday night: I think about nine or ten. By the time we crossed under the Clyde (Tunnel) it was just after midnight and on the north side of the river, we had about seven or eight more miles to walk before we went offroad onto the West Highland Way around dawn.
Wumba never got that far.
The Clyde Tunnel was around the 25 mile point and shortly after that, a couple of miles further up the road, he announced that he’d had enough. It was about 1:30am. In the van at the halfway point on day one.
“It’s only a walk”.
Now the HM crew are all experienced enough to know that shit happens and we all get days like that. What you do is take a rest, maybe even take the next day off, then you go back out on the road. At the end of the day, it’s all about the miles, and about challenging yourself to do something that’s eternally difficult.
Wumba didn’t do that. By lunchtime on the Sunday, he was away home.
Wumba became Wum.
And 27 became synonymous with failure. Highland Marchers don’t do failure. It’s not in our blood.
It may not have made it onto the shortlist for the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year for 2009, but it sure as hell has been commonplace in HM vocabulary these last seven years. Try this for size…
Wum (noun). A spineless individual. A person of no physical or moral fibre. A giver upper. A loser.
Get the picture?
It gets worse…
Four of the team from HM7 set out from Oslo on 12th August after a crushing 4-0 defeat in a World Cup qualifier. The four included Wum. The route they’d chosen, over the mountains to Bergen, was challenging navigationally, physically and mentally.
Once the going got tough, Wum was in the support motor. But yer cannae go home fae the middle of nowhere: this time he had to stay onboard.
For my part, I’d booked a week’s holiday to be the support guy on the final 150 miles from Aberdeen to Glasgow. The schedule was relentless. The guys were already tired, with blisters aplenty, and whilst Wum kept wanting to get in the motor, I told him to walk: because that’s what you signed up to do. My job was simple: the guys were all skint, so apart from brewing tea and making sandwiches at the side of the road, my daily task was to find a shop, stock up on stuff, then shoot on ahead and find a place where we could wild camp for nothing. It’s what we did for seven days, except for driving the guys over to Inverness so we could watch Caley on the Saturday, then hoofing it back to Stonehaven to start again on the Sunday morning. What’s an extra 250 miles driving between friends?
Well, let’s roll this story forward now, to the following Saturday, 5th September, match day at Hampden Park. By this time Sky Sports had picked up on the Tartan March story and I was there outside The Iron Horse on West Nile Street when Wum casually told the world, live, that he and his mates had walked every step of the way from Oslo to Glasgow (except for the aeroplane bit).
But he hadn’t.
Then we got to Hampden Park…
Wum was in charge of the match tickets, which were complimentary courtesy of the SFA in the light of the guys’ herculean effort.
Right back down the history of the Highland March, the arrangement had always been that the guy who does the support job, the dirty job, gets paid for all the way down the road by the others. Support is logistically a thankless task, except in this case, because we’d only paid for a tent pitch once in seven days, it was a freebie anyway: we’re sorted.
We’d to meet up in Lesser Hampden an hour before kick off. It’s next to the big park, except smaller.
Four walkers and a support driver: four tickets.
Once a Wum, always a Wum.
Gobsmacked and furious doesn’t do it justice: doesn’t even come close. You never, ever treat people like that when they’ve given up their time for you. Except if you’re Wum.
And that’s why, my friends, I will forever associate the number 27 with failure; with giving up; with deceiving yourself, and everyone around you.
I cannot wait to get to 28,000 miles: I need Wum finally out of my system….