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In The Munro Marathon, a Scottish adolescent is distracted from his studies by football, his pending summer freedom, and Cathy Gentles, the beautiful girl in the short skirt sitting next to him in class.
About the Author
David lectures at New College Lanarkshire in Scotland. He enjoys hillwalking (i.e. hiking), visiting historic sites, reading, watching telly (i.e. TV), and supporting his home-town football (i.e. soccer) team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC.
David has published over 120 short stories and a great deal of non-fiction that focuses on history and the outdoors. He is listed on Live Literature Scotland and is a member of the Society of Authors. You can learn more about David’s works at his website: david-mcvey.co.uk
The Munro Marathon by David McVey
Mr. McLaughlin had been an actor, and he used the manner and the voice and the poise as our English teacher. “Fifth years,” he shouted, breaking into the youth-babble as we struggled with a puzzling example of the short story, “you are mature adults. You are readers. You are writers. You are critics. So I do not want to read any,” and here he broke from his precise correctness of speech into a dramatic impersonation of a West of Scotland teenager, “Ah really liked this story cause there wis lots ay fights an that.”
A few students laughed, and then Gordon Wright shouted, “Sir . . . this story is about nothing. Nothing happens. Why would anybody want to write that?”
“Or read it?” someone else chimed in.
Mr. McLaughlin put his left hand on his hip, tsked, and shook his head sadly. “Try to engage with the material, Mr. Wright. All of you,” he continued, turning to the rest of us, “are informed intelligent thinkers and able writers; your answers should be elegant, readable pieces of prose that I could put in the literary pages of any newspaper. What do you think, Mr. McGruer?”
I started, looked up, and answered tamely, “Eh, aye, sir. Definitely.”
There were giggles and then silence. Mr. McLaughlin wanted more. “We are waiting with anticipation,” he said, “for your informed views and unique perspective on this work of literature.”
I had neither attended much to the conversation nor thought deeply about the now-forgotten, edgy sixties short story. I had primarily been speculating about how far Cathy Gentles’s skirt would climb up her thighs as she crossed and re-crossed her legs during the double period of English. She sat across the aisle from me. What else would be foremost in my thoughts?
Yet other pressing matters did concern me. Would Scotland (heading safely for the World Cup in Argentina) beat England (unlikely to reach the World Cup finals—ha, ha!)? Would our local heroes, Kirkdrum Bruce FC, reach the Scottish Junior Cup Final? Would I ever bother getting fit for the mountain trek I was going on with Eddie Munro’s Bible-bashers? How easy would it be to remove Cathy Gentles’s smart, white, distinctly see-through blouse? Oh, yes, and there were the Higher exams, five big, shadow-casting immensities that lay between us all and the freedom of June.
I remembered, with an effort, that thirty pairs of eyes were watching me.
“I didnae like it much, sir. It was boring.” It was, at the time, the best I could do.
Mr. McLaughlin sighed, rolled his eyes, and said, “Miss Gentles, how do you view the story?”
Cathy softly swept her dark brown hair to one side, scattering its fragrance—a blend of shampoo and perfume and girl—some of which drifted over me. She said, “His meaning is fairly obscure, sir. He’s obviously intending some symbolism, as if he’s not really talking about what he’s talking about, but I can’t make the connection.”
Cathy came from the wealthy side of town. Her voice was like rich dark honey, and her accent resembled a BBC Scotland announcer. When she finished, she smiled, sat back, and recrossed her legs. Her skirt rode up another breath-sapping inch.
“Splendid, Miss Gentles. Now we appear to be getting somewhere. Symbolism; a definition, please, Munro.”
Eddie Munro started like a rabbit. The bell rang . . . still a whole period to go.
* * *
After English, we dragged our heels out to the quad for the afternoon break.
“What was that rubbish story all about?” asked Daniel ‘Nad’ McDonald, a hefty, ginger lad who played for the school football team.
The question went unanswered, for a group of girls—including Cathy Gentles—emerged from the main door and walked past us. All the talking, naturally, stopped.
The faint, lingering traces of sweet aroma they trailed in their wake had all but gone when Nad broke the silence, remarking, “Creatures like them arenae for us. We’ll never get near them. We have to worship them from a distance like that Jay Grassby.”
“Gatsby,” said Eddie.
“Are you two going to the game tonight?” I asked.
“The Bruce? Who are they playing?” said Nad.
“Cambuslang, I think.”
“I cannae go,” said Eddie. “It’s Wednesday.”
I’d been looking forward to the game, the first midweek fixture as the Central Junior League began to stutter towards the end of the season. But Eddie was always busy on Wednesday nights. He and his family went to Kirkdrum Gospel Hall, and they ran a kids’ event in our local primary school.
“What do you Bible-bashers actually do in there?” asked Nad.
“It’s me and some of the Youth Fellowship; we do stuff for local kids: games, gospel songs, and Bible stories.”
Nad clicked his tongue. “You lot fair know how to have a good time.”
“Will Ellen be there?” I asked. Ellen was Eddie’s big sister, a dark-haired, well-upholstered beauty, now at university, who awed most of us into silence with her very presence.
“Why? D’you want to come?” said Eddie, slyly.
“When’s kick-off?” Nad interrupted.
“Half-six,” I said. “It’s the last game before the Junior Cup semi-final. We’ve got to go, or people will think we’re glory hunters.”
The next class was chemistry, another double period. Our school was modern, barely five years old, yet the science block had already acquired an air of mystery. Sickly smells wisped out of the fume cupboards and curled into the corridors where lab assistants pushed trolleys laden with coloured glass bottles of sinister liquids. Today we were doing a revision exercise about the formulae of organic compounds. It all seemed new, but without the freshness of the really new.
“Y’know,” said Gordon Wright, “I don’t believe all this guff about molecules and electrons and atoms. The scientists are making it up. Stuff is just made of stuff.”
Mr. Field, our mad-haired chemistry teacher, smiled benignly. “You’re free to believe what you like, Gordon. This isn’t Soviet Russia. But when you’re sitting the Higher, answer the questions as if you do believe it.”
“That sounds just like Soviet Russia.”
* * *
That day, I hurried home and helped Mum with the tea so that it could be over quickly; then I rushed out for the five past six bus. At quarter past, I joined the thin lines of people filing into Edenfield Park and paid my 25p. Nad was already there, finishing the first of two pies; once it was gone, he started immediately on the second.
“Haven’t you had your tea yet?” I asked.
“Aye,” he answered, puzzled.
The game fizzled out as a dull 1-1 draw, so Bruce earned an unexpected point. As we climbed onto the bus back home, Nad suggested we go to the primary school and meet Eddie coming out. “Ellen might be there!” he said with a grin.
I was convinced, so we got off the bus a stop early and idled outside the school gates. Nad and I lived in Hillneuk, a sprawling 1950s council estate, and we had both undergone a seven-stretch at Hillneuk Primary School, whose hall was currently occupied by Eddie, Ellen, and the other Bible bashers.
“You’re going on holiday with this shower, aren’t you?” asked Nad.
“Aye. Hillwalking thing called the Munro Marathon. It’s no just them; it’s some other churches as well.”
“Hillwalking . . . ” said Nad, with a scowl.
“It’s brilliant,” I said. “Have you never seen Tom Weir on the telly? Or that film about Everest with Chris Bonington?”
Nad ignored this. “They’ll be trying to convert you all the time. You’ll no get a break from it.”
“It’s only thirty pound for ten days,” I responded, weakly.
“Ten days with Bible bashers, and you have to pay for it?” said Nad, shaking his head.
The main doors of the school opened, and there was a blur of colour and movement as fifty-odd youngsters, mostly older primary kids, hurtled out, shouting and yelling and laughing and crying and falling over and fighting and throwing stuff. Nad grabbed one wee boy who lived in his street and held him head down over the pavement, threatening to drop him on his skull. Nad relented when the boy screamed blue murder. We watched him run away.
The doors swung open again, and Eddie’s dad appeared, a smart, smiling figure with glasses and white-grey hair. He shook hands and bid farewell to a squat, red-faced man wearing a brightly-coloured jumpsuit and a huge cloth hat with dangling bells. After leaving Mr. Munro, the odd figure loped towards a small Ford in the car park, jangling constantly. He dumped his grey suitcase in the boot and drove away.
“Who’s that, Mr. Munro?” asked Nad.
“Gospello the Christian Jester,” said Eddie’s dad in his slow, correct, smiling delivery.
“Marvellous fellow. He can juggle three beanbags, balance a glass of water on his forehead, and recite the first two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles all at the same time.” Mr. Munro said this in wonder but then added with a twinge of disappointment, “in the Revised Standard Version.”
“Wow,” I said, feeling that someone ought to.
“Are you boys waiting for Edward?”
“Er, yes,” I said, thinking of Ellen.
“He’ll be out shortly. Pity you couldn’t make it to the meeting.” He said goodbye to us both, climbed into his car, and in a brief flurry of playground dust, was gone.
“Here they’re coming,” said Nad.
The front doors opened and out came Eddie, a couple of his pals from the church who went to posh private schools in Glasgow, Ellen, plus eight or nine girls we didn’t recognise but would never forget.
They were tall and slim, mostly our age, though one or two were a bit older. Most of the girls had brown hair, but there were two blondes and one redhead. They wore flared jeans that hugged their thighs and bums. Oh, to be a pair of those jeans! They wore baseball boots or sandshoes or high-heel boots. Most were dressed in white blouses or gypsy chemises, but the redhead sported a striped rugby jersey. Eddie mingled among them casually, smiling, chatting easily. Then they all began to melt away, walking past us into the street to the bus stops or to meet cars that sailed up to collect them. Eventually, when only two of the girls remained, Eddie said his last goodbyes and sauntered over. He gave us a muted nod.
“What?” he said, upon seeing our still-dropped jaws.
“Who are they?” asked Nad.
Nad growled with exasperation. “Them. They lassies. They burds. They stoaters. Who are they?”
“Them?” Eddie shrugged. “Och, they’re just lassies from the church. What was the score?”
“I thought all your lassies were built like brick outhouses and had buck teeth and their hair in buns,” continued Nad.
“Like Ellen?” I said.
“Aye,” said Nad, “right enough.”
“Stop fancying my sister,” said Eddie. “It’s weird.”
“C’moan, Eddie,” said Nad. “Names. Where do they live? What schools do they go to? Do they have boyfriends?”
“It was one-each,” I said to Eddie.
“Well, at least we’ll not be relegated,” said Eddie.
“Come on!” shouted Nad.
“None of them would like you anyway, Nad,” said Eddie. “They’ll not go out with someone that isn’t a Christian. We mustn’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
“Yolks? What have eggs to do wi it?” said Nad, too puzzled to be offended.
We began to walk away from the school, and Nad gradually winkled out of Eddie some biographical fragments about the girls we’d seen. I didn’t play much part in the conversation. Those girls were so beautiful, so poised, and so assured they were mythical creatures far beyond my aspirations. But I listened carefully when Eddie talked about the beautiful red-haired girl.
“Her name’s June Davidson. Goes to one of those posh schools in Glasgow—gets the bus in every day. She lives in Rosegrove, and she’s a good pal of Cathy Gentles. We’re praying that she’ll persuade Cathy to come along to the fellowship.”
“She’s a pal of Cathy’s?” I blurted.
“What’s this fellowship?” said Nad.
“Yes,” said Eddie, looking at me oddly, “both of them are coming on the Munro Marathon.”
I stopped, feeling suddenly faint, my head churning like the front-loading washing machine our neighbours had just got.
“There are girls going on the Munro Marathon?” I said.
Eddie snorted, “Of course!”
“And this June?”
“Aye, like I said.”
“Are there any places left?” asked Nad. “Do you need to walk and that?”
This was stunning news. How had I missed it? I had assumed the Munro Marathon would be an all-boys affair, with lots of filthy jokes out of hearing of the leaders, loud farting, and wondering when we’d see girls again.
The summer appeared vastly different now. Priorities were altered. For a start, I’d have to take washing stuff on the Munro Marathon. And I cared less about how Scotland fared against England or whether the Bruce won their semi-final. The Munro Marathon could be a magical portal to proper adulthood.
* * *
I arrived home a beaming bubble of brightness. It must have shown on my face, because Dad said, “They won, then?”
“Who won?” I said, blinking slowly, my mind numb.
The Bruce game I’d left barely an hour before now seemed like distant, unimportant history.
About the Story
The Munro Marathon was written by David McVey.
The original artwork that accompanies The Munro Marathon on our website and social media was created by our assistant editor, Michelle Zhang.
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