I’m sure that many people will probably have bought, borrowed or read Tall Stories: Andy Jackson a Biography by now, but, until this week, I hadn’t and had been meaning to get hold of a copy for literally years.
I’d heard many good things about the book, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from it. Was it going to be an account of Andy’s first descents and kayaking adventures, or would it focus more on him as a person rather than a paddler? How much detail would it go into? How would reading about such an influential paddler cut short in his prime make me feel?
Well, for someone who rarely reads a book cover-to-cover, I was hooked from the moment I completed the first page; so much so that I stayed up ’til 2am to finish it off. It soon became clear that, for Andy, passion, paddling and politics were intrinsically linked and this theme continued throughout the book; much as it did throughout his life.
As someone who is a keen paddler, a lover of the great outdoors, supports the underdog, believes strongly that land belongs to the many, not the few, and is passionate about Scotland’s political direction, for me, progressing through this book was like reading about the best friend I never had.
No doubt Andy had his flaws, perhaps not least in terms of his failure to avoid the garish 1990s kayaking gear trends, but he was also responsible for pushing the limits of paddlesport, paving the way for technological and theoretical progression, and for fighting the corner of paddlers’ access rights.
Had it not been for his tenaciousness, albeit alongside that of his fellow campaigners, the access rights that we now take for granted under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act may not have been secured or may have been far less robust. If it weren’t for his energetic gallivanting around the Highlands, folk may still be jittery about paddling some of the ditches, burns and drops that now make up a standard outing to the north these days.
Yes, others would no doubt have made it to these natural fun parks eventually, but Andy pushed the pace, lead the way and set the level of the bar for the rest of us to follow. I never knew Andy personally, and I only met him once at a very wet, cold and windy Grandtully when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but having read his biography I now feel that I have a knowledge of, and appreciation for, the guy; something that normally only comes from real life experience - the mark of an exceptional and absorbing story!
Although the book focuses on Andy Jackson, Ron Cameron (the author, a crofter, a Gàidheal – Scots Gaelic speaker - and a fine paddler himself), also touches upon Andy’s relationships with the great and good of the paddling world and includes some lovely anecdotes written by friends and family; love and romance, the teacher(s) and the protégé, first descents and world expeditions, run-ins with the law and friendships and fall outs…it’s all there!
In short, Tall Stories is a fascinating, moving, funny, serious, political, adventurous, informative, down-to-earth, inspirational and accessible read…it’s a must-have for your paddlesport library and a great insight to one of Scotland’s great kayakers!