One of the great things about Scottish hill running is most people are agreeable and pleasant and many are interesting too. I don’t know what it is but there is a quiet, easy going, welcoming feeling to most races and most people and the diversity is great. Knocking your pan in with someone is a good way to get to know them but the sport feels much more laid back that road running or cross country and much friendlier than Triathlons. Is it the influence of the beauty of the hills?
My life is a lot richer for the hill runners I have met. There is a heck of a cross section. I can think of farmers (Barley, barley, sheep and reindeer), professors, brick layers, sales people, engineers, doctors, lawyers, unemployed (unemployables), council workers, social workers, window cleaners and a gas delivery man, a few geologists, two lags and on and on. It’s interesting, you’ll get to know a hill runner quite well, but that familiarity and enjoyment of each other’s company is just one aspect of their lives. We only see a bit of each other – “I hardly recognise you with your clothes on” I have quipped when meeting a fellow hill runner in other contexts. It’s a cheap joke (I do few others) but hill running seems to bring out the more relaxed and pleasant parts of people.
And with all those folk there are inevitably hatches, matches and despatches.
Today’s post is about two recent losses; Robin Morris and Frank Cation. I’ll talk about them as I knew them from hill running. It’s just one view and not meant to be complete or even accurate in the journalistic sense. Any mistakes are mine. Both were a delight to have known.
Robin Morris was the first Scottish Hill Running Champion ever. A founder of the SHRA and a well-known runner and golfer. He was relatively easy to mock with different and readily shared opinions and the air of a 1950’s squadron leader.
However, he was always kind, friendly, upbeat and worked to support our sport, organising many races and was deeply involved in the creation of the SHRA, the first championships and calendars. It was typical of Robin that he could always be relied upon to help with any races. You could phone him, and he would always be able to help with time, patience, some race numbers, pins or a finish funnel. I rarely if ever saw him angry or downbeat.
Robin, I think, considered himself very fortunate that he was born and raised in Edinburgh and schooled at George Watsons College. As I say, relatively easy to mock but for Robin it was a modest “pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth” that were part of his love of family, town and country.
Robin was a man o pairts. In addition to running, he was a longtime supporter of devolution. He organised the seven hills of Edinburgh for years after it had first been run to support the early campaign for a Scottish Parliament. He organised the Glamaig and Tinto for years too. He was active in his local community council and a long time Liberal Democrat, he had been a banker for a while and was also as active and as kenspeckle in golf as he was in hill running. His wife referred to him as the Edinburgh Tattler as he seemed to know everyone and their latest news. That curiosity stretched to every one of his interests. He could always be relied upon for an informed opinion about any of the current or past races. Always a good place to start with any questions or thoughts. Robin loved the hills and like many of us thought the hills of Scotland to be just ideal.
He was a doughty competitor but also a master of the “pre-race blether nerves”. The nervous nonsense we can talk before a race. I remember him being very focussed on the first SHRA Scottish Championship. He turned up at Ben Lomond claiming to be unwell, “a cold this week” and apparently swithering as to whether to run it or not. He won the race.
Robin died in his own bed with his family around – as he wished. He bore his illness with great dignity and a lightness of spirit. Jean and I will miss him.
Frank Cation was a man who attracted fun. That is a gift, the result of being a decent and warm human being. I asked a friend about Frank and was asked this question. “were you at the party where he fractured his skull?” Sadly, I wasn’t, but equally I wasn’t surprised. Things happened around Frank. He was a long time Fife runner and I think his friendly inclusive welcoming attitude suited Scotland’s second best running club very well.
Years ago, Frank and I jouked around at the back of the “Angus Munros”. A big old race in August. We started blethering. He had been Colour Sgt in the Scots Guards so we chatted about that. It warmed up and we were down to vests and shorts. I noticed some huge scars on his arm and being the diplomat, I asked him about them. “Oh that’s where Bobby Sands shot me” he said. Frank was the last British Army casualty of 1973. Shot in a house in Belfast on 31st of December 1973. I think it was that date. For the legalistic amongst you I report Frank’s opinion on the perpetrator. He was full of stories about those tours in NI. He had certainly been in the thick of it.
For years Frank was a regular runner along with Tom. The two could generally be relied upon for anything from good craik on up. Like many ex-army it didn’t take much for Frank to tell stories. As a “Brigade of Guards” regiment they had turns at protecting the Queen. I think they might have had the red coats and big black hats. Train carriages to and from their London barracks had the door sign altered by squaddies from “Caution do not lean out of the window” to “Cation do not lean out of the window”. In his later years Frank, now working as a fireman, developed PTSD, because of his service in Northern Ireland. I saw less of Frank as neither of us were attending that many races. The few times I did meet him he was a curious mix of quite unwell with the irresistible sparkle that was Frank, it was still there.
Frank leaves his wife Davina, daughter and son along with a big hole in their lives he’ll leave a big space in Fife AC and the wider hill running community too.
Wherever he is, I like to think that rules will be broken and the pompous mocked. “Cation will be leaning out of the train window”, he’ll be popping bromide in the Sgt Major’s tea and fracturing his skull at parties and always with that sense of mischievous fun.
For both Robin and Frank lets steal this wee poem by Burns;
An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
I’m off to make the best of this!