Deep in the cellars of my mind I store cherished memories of the better times in my life – holidays are well represented, mainly because I don’t think I ever had a bad holiday, or at least one I might prefer to forget.
Many of those breaks were spent as a guest of the late Alex McDonald at Altnaharra in Sutherland, a place of great natural beauty, incredible people and in those days a host of interesting things to see and do all day in the open air. It was not a paradise in the true sense of the world, but it more than made up for any deficiencies by the number of times I had a smile on my face.
As Altnaharra was in the centre of a large lump of Highland scenery, the aggressive Scottish midge played a commanding role in what was possible out of doors at certain times of the day, but thanks mainly to Alex’s uncanny ability to know when they were on the go, major midge disasters were uncommon. I remain convinced the midge will swerve away from anyone who includes a substantial dram of whisky in their daily routine, but on the other hand it might just be that whisky drinkers usually have more on their mind than bug bites.
At this point I should really try to get away from midges for a while, lest you think me obsessed, so a move to the recently vexed subject of the Scottish weather might be a good idea. You might well have noticed it has rained quite a lot in the last week or so. True, it rained good and plenty in the weeks before, but one needs to set time limits in order to retain a degree of focus.
At Altnaharra the late and much-missed Alex, himself an early riser, would stand at his door, looking at the steady rainfall and declare that “rain before seven means dry by eleven” – and that was so often the case, allowing us to enjoy a day of warm sunshine. Sadly, in recent times that old rural saying has not held true around here. Translated into the Border situation it might well run as “rain before seven, lots more at eleven”, often as not defining the weather delivery for the rest of the day.
After a week or two of constant dodging rain, dismal weather forecasts and trying to dry successive changes of clothes, many folk, including me, begin to show signs of what my maternal grandfather, late of the British Army of India, referred to as the Doolali Tap. The term is totally familiar to me as my Dad, also of army service in India, also used it, but until now I had not troubled myself to enquire as to the correct meaning of this phrase.
So, off I went to Wikipedia where I found no end of entries, all of course giving a slightly modified explanation, so I’m afraid I must generalise a little.
In bygone times of global empire, in the Indian state of Mashrata, at a place called Deolali, the British Army established a transit and convalescent camp where they could store soldiers not urgently needed anywhere else for the time being, or recovering from a selection of rather nasty tropical ailments.
As one might expect in such circumstances boredom was not unknown among the soldiers, who in the nature of the craft would eventually begin to fret at inactivity. This boredom was greatly exacerbated by the incredible heat of the place, and even worse during the monsoon season when – surprise surprise – it rained like the devil for weeks at a time.
Now you can all see where this is going, but let us persevere.
As the rain continued to fall, and the heat and humidity soared, not a few of the unfortunate squaddies would begin to show definite signs of aberrational behaviour – you can fill in your own details here – which in time the British Army rank and file categorised by the misuse of local language to produce the condition known as the Doolali Tap. Tap, incidentally, is said to originate from the Sanskrit word tapa, meaning insanity or unbalanced. It must be realised that many “furrin” words do not translate exactly, so that will have to do for now.
History does not tell us just how seriously the military authorities viewed this condition, although I suspect they reacted to outbreaks of Doolali Tap in their usual manner by lashings of harsh discipline and group punishments – which could easily mean anyone in a barrack room going a bit odd might find himself on the receiving end of some vigorous impact therapy from his comrades who did not wish to share the consequences.
Some astute readers will already have made the link between this condition and its exposure on the television some years ago. Was it a Panorama investigation? Or World in Action? Or was it The Southern Reporter that lifted the lid on the Doolali Tap? Maybe it should have been – but, wait for it!
We are told Doolali was the setting for that brilliant send-up of army life in British India, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, the writers of which made a grand job of illustrating the more harmless aspects of the Tap to us all. For that reason I wish the Beeb would do some repeats of this show when the summer rain gets to the point of really bugging everyone, but I doubt it.
We should not take all this rain too seriously, but when it all gets a little too much maybe the only solution is to go outside and run about in the downpour – taking off all one’s clothes is optional, and in most cases to be discouraged. But if the urge comes upon you, feel free to do just that, although when you hand your sick line in to your boss, he or she ain’t going to be too impressed to learn you had a fortnight on the Pat and Mick because of Doolali Tap.