1968: Birth of my Rebellion

By Rupert Wolfe-Murray

How long can I stand in the burn until my feet go numb? Too long. Better to keep throwing stones into the deep bit. Maybe I'll wake up a fish. I wonder where all this water comes from? Up that hill I suppose.


I can hear Daddy shouting my name. What does he want? It's probably breakfast time. But they can wait. They know I spend all day out here by the burn, exploring, filling up and emptying my aluminium coffee pot. There's so much to do; so many rocks to examine, so much sand to filter through my fingers, so much brown water that I can make clear by pouring through my pot.


Why does everyone who comes to stay with us seem so surprised by the brown water? Isn't all water brown when it comes out of the burn? They especially love the sight of a bath full of brown water. I remember one lady from London saying how strange it is to find out that brown water is clean when she'd always thought it was dirty.


And what does The Highlands mean? Our guests always talk about The Highlands but I don't understand what it is. Mummy tried to explain but I didn't understand. What's England and what's Scotland?


I think The Highlands is the place at the top of the hill. Or maybe it's on top of Sgurr na Lapaich which I can see from here. Kim said that Sgurr na Lapaich is the biggest mountain in the world and we could never get up it. We'd drop down dead half way up, he said. I'm only five.


I can see Daddy walking towards me now. He's coming fast and he looks angry. The little sheep Rhyl is running after him. He follows Daddy everywhere but he's not allowed in the house because Mummy says it makes a mess, so he waits outside bleating. The dogs are following him too. He looks so angry that he'll probably smack me. Now he's shouting:


"Rupert. You're a very naughty boy! I've been calling for ages. You have to get changed and go to school. It's your first day."


I look at him and lots of thoughts are flying around my head, like the midges that like to buzz around us when it's damp. He's standing on the bank which is quite high above the burn. I can see that he doesn't want to jump down and get me because he'll get wet.


Why do I have to go to school? I like it here and there's so much of the burn that I still need to explore. Kim can go instead. He likes it there and he loves reading books too. He's so clever.


I know what to do. I'll move like the little fishes do when I sneak up on them – I'll stay very still so that Daddy doesn't suspect what I'm up to, then I'll drop the coffee pot and run down the burn as fast as I can. I know every rock and nobody can jump across them as quickly as me. When I reach the big rhododendron bush I'll hide and won't be able to catch me.


I'm trapped in the back of a car and we're going down the glen. My face is wet and sticky from tears and I'm so angry I could die. I'm like the little fishes Daddy sometimes puts in a jar full of water. Now I know how they feel – stuck in a tiny space and not understanding why they're there.


There are two other children on the back seat of the car with me. I hate them. I don't want to talk to them, ever. In fact, I don't want to talk to anyone ever again. This is so unfair. I especially hate the lady who is driving this grey car. She has horrible purple glasses that are pointy at the sides. They make her look mean and nasty. Her hair is tied up into a ball and it looks like brown wool. I'd like to cut it off and throw it out the window.


I was too slow. Too stupid. Daddy caught me. I ran down the burn really fast but he followed me along the bank and was quicker because he didn't have to jump across the rocks. When I was about to reach the rhodedendrons he grabbed me and carried me to the car. I wriggled as hard as I could, I scratched him and tried to bite him but he didn't let go. He's so big and strong.


Now I'm sitting at a little table next to hundreds of other children. I hate them all and will run away into The Highlands as soon as I can. I don't understand why I'm here. What's that old woman at the front talking about? Everyone else understands what she's saying and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Some of them are smiling. This place makes them happy but it makes me angry and sad and bored. Does that mean I'm very stupid?


The end


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Postscript: Two videos of our family in The Highlands in 1968 :


The three minute version: https://vimeo.com/236870695


And the 12 minute version: https://vimeo.com/224121156


first day of school, childhood rebellion, the highlands