Have you ever been mistaken for someone famous? It has happened to me at least twice, both times with amusing results.
The most recent was last week whilst I was on a break in the Lakes. I was there partly to set up the book launch for my latest book [All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland]. As part of this task I had arranged to meet Chris, the owner of The Fellpack/The Round eateries in Keswick. When The Round had just opened I had called in and donated a signed copy of my book [The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps] which they have on the shelves now. My wife and I met him last week to look at the possibility of using the upstairs room at The Round for the launch – which will be in July. After the chat we had sat down for a meal in The Round [they do possibly THE best burgers around, btw]. Chris came over as our food was delivered and asked if he could take a photo of the author of the definitive book on the Bob Graham Round, in The Round bar, eating a Round burger. I said fine and sat holding my book and waiting to eat my veg burger. After Chris walked away the guy on the table next to us said: “Are you Bob Graham?”. He had recently started running on the fells, but obviously didn’t know his history, as Bob Graham did the BGR in 1932, and had died in 1966! We discussed the fells, and the book, and by the end of the chat I think I had convinced him to go to Bookends shop in the morning to buy a copy.
If I tell the story of the earlier occasion it happened, I should point out that though it amused my friends and I, now I am certainly not proud of behaviour at that time.
It was many years ago, and I was with some friends in a pub in Edale after a long day in the hills. It is fair to say that drinks had already been taken, when I guy comes up to me to ask if I was Doug Scott (the reknowned climber and now organiser of Community Action Nepal). I don’t know why (but see last sentence) but I said “yes” – I looked a fair bit like him at the time (specs, scraggy hair, beard, in mountain gear – sorry Doug). This would have been fine, then the guy offered me a drink, and plied me with drinks all evening. Then it got worse. He came over and asked if I would sign his book. It was a book about Everest, which of course Doug had pioneered a new route up in 1975. Carrying on my ridiculously fraudulent behaviour I signed it ‘Doug Scott’ with a flourish. Just as I was doing it I saw that it had already been signed by Edmund Hillary. If only the guy knew, the value of his book and signature had just plummeted down. I left the pub soon after that.
The coda to that story is that I met Doug Scott at a book award ceremony in the North Lakes a couple of years ago and couldn’t resist telling him the story. He had a good laugh about it and said he would be retelling it for a while!
So here it is then: I can reveal both the title and the synopsis of my fourth fell running book, to be published by Sandstone Press later this year.
This was my original synopsis, as pitched to the publisher back in early 2018:
The book will tell the story of Borrowdale man Billy Bland, and of his extended family, many of whom competed in fell running, and one of whom is considered to have been one of the best in the sport for a period (his nephew, Gavin Bland). Billy and Gavin achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional Lake District jobs (as quarryman/stonewaller and shepherd respectively), being a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics. Billy set records in the ‘80s and ‘90s that have not been beaten since. This, then, is the story of the Blands of Borrowdale.
The book will give the background to Billy’s life; including his parents, his upbringing, introduction to the sport, training, working life, later cycling achievements, legacy and community involvement, plus his records and achievements. The scope will be extended to include details of the other related fell running Blands – see family tree diagram. His family know Borrowdale. Billy worked at quarrying/stonewalling, brother Stuart in tourism, and nephews Jonathon and Gavin farming. They are all in a position to reflect on changes in the Borrowdale valley in their lifetimes, a topic dealt with in a separate chapter.
The book’s treatment will be thematic rather than chronological, to avoid being a listing of races and times. The highlights of his achievements will be included in the sub-sections dealing with Billy’s: life choices, physical ability, training, rivals, mental aspects, injuries/setbacks, and relationships. It will also explore why the Blands have stayed so local, and never came off the fells to perform in other branches of athletics.
Taken at face value Billy Bland seems to be a straightforward man, who happened to be exceptionally good at running up and down hills (he was also a county level footballer when young, had no coach, was fell running champion, and formed Borrowdale Fellrunners). But look closer and there are a series of tensions and conflicts that moulded his character and affected his life over the years.