This piece is of an age now, not long after Iain had ripped up his passport in an anti-Blair protest, but I still remember it as one of my favourite interviews with another author, even though we never really got onto books (at least not on the record: it was for ‘My Hols’ in the Sunday Times) and remembering it made the news about his illness all the more sad and depressing.
“There was no great moment of epiphany, no blinding light when I decided it was time to go ‘green’. It was more like a straw that broke the camel’s back. Perhaps it was thirty years of reading New Scientist, which has been going on about global warming for all that time, but one day one of the cars needed an MOT and I thought: why don’t I just get rid of them?
In some ways I felt like I’d got the fast cars out of my system and the same is possibly true of travelling. I have a fair number of miles under my belt. I do love driving, especially on holiday. One of the best trips I ever had was Highway One from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I hired a car and it was a terrible thing. It would change gear at the slightest incline and start labouring like I was asking it to go up a cliff. But I ended up really enjoying the journey, because the views were so wonderful and driving next to the ocean just can’t be beat. And if you are driving fast and concentrating, you miss all that, you daren’t take your eyes off the road. I have even found that in Scotland, having a slower car means I take in a lot more of my surroundings. And the scenery is the thing here, of course.
Another wonderful driving experience, again in the USA, was when I did a drive-away. That’s when you drive someone else’s car from one side of the States to another, because they have moved and want to take it with them. I had an uncle, a mate of my dad’s rather than a blood relative, in Washington DC and I flew there, then picked up a car to be delivered to Los Angeles. You had to do six hundred miles a day, which is no small amount, but it was a wonderful feeling, Highway 40 all the way, the ultimate open road. You hit Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, all these great places, although you didn’t have much time to do much other than get out and stretch your legs. I did make a small detour for the Grand Canyon, though, but still got it there on time and with less than maximum permitted miles.
I enjoy travelling alone. Perhaps because I am an only child, I am happy with my own company. The first couple of times I went abroad was either side of my time at Stirling University, when I hitched in Europe. I’d read somewhere a single man travels faster – although, of course, a single women travels even further – and so I went by myself. Like all those kind of trips, it is probably better in recollection than it was at the time, but I enjoyed it and I didn’t have any scrapes or misadventures. I am naturally suspicious, so I didn’t take sweets from any strangers or anything like that.
I have never really enjoyed very hot countries. I don’t like the heat. Anything over sixty is a heatwave as far as I am concerned. For me the tropics begin somewhere around Nottingham. It’s genetic, I’m sure: my dad is very pale skinned and when he was younger he had red hair, so he’s not big on sun either. Friends have pushed me to holidays on the Greek Islands and Gran Canaria and the Algarve. I even did a Nile cruise Egypt, but I spent most of the time lying in the shade panting like a dog.
So for the past few years my holidays have been on Barra, jewel of the Outer Hebrides, and they probably would have been, passport or no. It’s perfect for me – quiet, no great social scene, good walking and wonderful beaches where you can just stare out over the Atlantic. At night you go to sleep with the sound of those waves in your ears.
[In response to a question about not flying and selling his collection of fast cars for a hybrid:] I don’t have any kids but plenty of my friends do, and I’d like to be able to look them in the eye and say: yes, my generation did do this, we did screw up the planet, but at least some of us have made a start, no matter how small, on trying to do something about it.”