Open Country with Erica Hume Niven

There is a blackout. When I arrived at Riskinhope this evening I wondered why there was not one light to greet me – not one beacon of homeliness.

As I came round the bend in the track I could see the blue light of a torch and a pair of dog’s eyes in the car lights.

Sometime in the afternoon the electricity had gone off in the western end of the Yarrow Valley, plunging the inherent darkness between the hills into an even dimmer grade of black. The phenomenon was accompanied by a total silence, the clouds moved in and the shadows melted away.

I entered the heavy cold in the house, grappled for a torch, strangely walked into each room to shut curtains and blinds, as if to stop the thin veil between the two dark worlds from mixing, and retrieved my box of candles from a corner in the sitting room.

Once there was some meagre candle light I lit the fire and fetched the camping stove.

In the late 1970s when I was at Jackton Primary School in South Lanarkshire, our teacher, Mrs Dunlop, brought in a gas mask. I had never seen anything quite as ugly; I also found it difficult to believe that each child carried one to school in a cardboard box with string for a handle.

The other facts that she taught us about – windows beings taped up and street lights being switched off – allowed my childhood mind a glimpse into life on civilian streets during the Second World War. A glimpse that would be indelibly imprinted in my memory all my life. I even remember trying the mask on and feeling some relayed fear.

If such a simple way of teaching us about a part of British history can be so inexplicably emotive, how is the thought of men and women fighting in the two world wars of the 20th century going to affect our inner bank of sympathy, grief and helplessness?

It permeates everyday life because wars are still raging and young men and women are still suffering violent deaths.

We hear their names on the radio, their faces on the television and the tabloids, their grieving families, their children in the surviving parent’s arms.

They carry the full weight of a nation’s security, political corruption and economic drivers on their shoulders.

They are fodder for our comfortable lifestyle, we depend on them absolutely; they stand in between us and the world’s political machinations. They cannot lose in our thankful hearts – they are heroes if they die and heroes if they survive. We shall not forget.

As the sudden roar of the jets and Hercules flown through the Yarrow Valley passes, the howl from the collies rises two or three times in retort.

We can stand this intrusion because it has a purpose, a requirement for all that RAF pilots are proficient.

It is when we do not hear them for a period that I wonder if they are being deployed and I wonder if they will survive their tour.

It is a typical November morning here at Loch o’ the Lowes, an opaque band of cloud lies over the water like an autumnal phantom asleep, waiting to be dissipated by the sun.

There is a fine layer of ice on the puddles where the quad bike tracks have left depressions. The grass is crisped white and the air is cold and clean.

It is 2.30am in Helmand Province, the moonlight is so bright there is no need for night-vision goggles.

This no-man’s land is an undulating plain of rock and sand, with occasional ridges, dried up wadis and dotted with abandoned farm compounds.

Ahead of us occasional flashes light up the sky – airstrikes, artillery? We lie on a low ridge, scanning the ground in front. Soon we realise it is an electrical storm.

“They shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint”. (Isaiah 40:31)