Friday, 24 March 2017

Walking Through A Wall

Walking Through A Wall.

Here's a quote for you - bit long, and slightly out of context, because its about base-jumping - but here you go, its from a novel called Zero History by William Gibson, who is a genius.  He invented the term 'cyberspace' in, like 1982, before we had the fucking internet.  Anyway...

"He says its like walking through walls.  Nobody can, but if you could, he says, it would feel like that.  He says the wall is inside, though, and you do have to walk through it."
       "I'm afraid of heights."
       "So's he.  He says.  Said.  I haven't seen him for a while."

Spot on.  
When you are bonkers, visualisation
 of the impossible is important.

A year or two ago I said in conversation that I wanted to climb 7a to another climber.  His response was 'Well, you are basically doing 7a moves already.'  If he was right, then how come I wasn't climbing 7a on sport routes?  


In a social context, this doesn't bother me.  I am the king of inappropriate comments one pint into the evening.  I've done this for so long that I never even get a rush of adrenalin when my little voice inside says 'go on, say it'.  I also have a pact with a few people: it is unspoken and it concerns the act of deliberately forgetting the worst things I say.  Not that I can usually remember anyway, only the shock and disgust on people's faces remains.  Thank fuck for Cards vs. Humanity which legitimises all this shit.

In a climbing context: very different, and it reflects my history of climbing.

Bouldering- firstly- makes you very strong and powerful, so you can take your shirt off while wearing a bobble hat.  It can improve your technique, if you deliberately let it, which means doing a huge volume of some highly unenjoyable easy shit while your mates are having a right laugh working stuff at the top of their grade.  

These are the plus points, but there are also limitations to bouldering, and the most important of these is height.  Obvious.  You never climb anything higher than two sheets of plywood on top of each other, and you never think this make a difference until you try routes and consistently run out of steam three clips up.

Given I got strong as fuck, and then bothered improving my technique, why don't I climb harder eh?   Because its scary without a big bastard spongy motherfucker underneath me to save my ankles.  Its scary even with a kernmantle elastic band proven to be able to catch a landrover tied to my waste.
Tenuous move coming up...

Fear is what gives you those very intense moments that are really like a mental enema.  When the moment is so intense you can't remember your name- and don't know why you would be asking yourself that-, because nothing else exists apart from the need to reach and grab an extremely marginal crimp, or clip an awkward clip from out of balance on shit slopers.  I reckon that has the same effect on the brain as flushing a 'chodhopper filled to the brim with bangers and mash' (in the words of Viz, pertaining to how one would expect to find a motorway services toilet).   It clears it all out, and leaves it nicely empty, ready to be filled with more shite.

Some of the moments are just as intense, but you actually make the decision to take the fall - safe as houses on a sensibly bolted sport route - and letting go and flying through the air.  After a few of those its easier to let go because your brain has a quick check: yep, your arms and fingers are fucked, don't reckon you can do what you need to do to get to safety sooooo .... recommended option, chuck yourself off until your next stable position which is dangling from a rope.  Dangling from a rope, mind, not splatted on rocks, which is also a stable position until Mountain Rescue recover your clay.

This to your brain becomes an attractive choice, like ordering the Italian BMT every-fucking- time form Subway just in case a Chicken pizzicato doesn't taste nice.  It is a trap.
...And he's fucked it.  

The alternative is to go for the move.  Fuck me.  It is not easy, but the hard part isn't doing it, its deciding to do it.  It IS like walking through a wall.  But when you actually make an impossible move, your brain now knows that it can, in fact, sometimes walk through a wall.

Deep eh?  Don't like it?  I don't care.  I can walk through walls me.

Extra points if you can name the route I am failing on in the pictures.  (Not Lee and Becky, who were there).

Friday, 17 March 2017

Lessons from Scottish Winter

It IS worth it. (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

Lessons from Scottish Winter

Climbing, like no other activity I have ever found, has the ability to transcend 'normal' life.  The very nature of the heroic struggle of climber against gravity and weather obliterates the normal pervasive culture of consumerism, career and c**tishness: which I call the three c's.  The raw fight against factors which do not depend on society's opinions allow some stunning insights into the nature of reality.

Here are mine from the recent Highball Scottish Winter Trip.

1.  Going on a climbing trip and being around other climbers means you are not an secret agent any more.  If you surreptitiously try out a crimp on a brick wall, or eye up potential lines on the rock of a road cutting - your mates will notice and take the piss.  It is important to revel in this.

2.  The mental aspect of Scottish Winter is crucial.  Essentially, you will load yourself with a near crippling anxiety, like winding a spring up to near-breaking point.  Unwinding this mental spring provides the momentum to fling you up the route like a fucking arrow.  

3.  If you aren't anxious enough, you may be complacent and will therefore automatically die.  Thinking of the prospect of dying through no fault of your own - like literally none- may be enough to ramp up the anxiety to survivable levels.  Dwell on the apparent slidy-ness of snow above hundreds of feet of exposure for that 'what the fuck am I doing here' motivation.

Mike Surtees Goes For It on Tower Ridge  (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

4.  If not, you may need to increase the anxiety through artificial means.  And ideal 'trick' is to use the Aonach Mor ski-lift, with its strict cut-off deadline at 5.15pm.  Having previously done the walk of shame down the mountain bike track will further ratchet this anxiety level up to a point where you may well be climbing three grades harder with a lightning fast turnaround at belays.  If the anxiety level is not high enough however, just fail to flake out ropes properly: the resulting faff will produce a near-crippling tension which will work nicely.

5.  Going out with a guide is money well spent, as he uses his skills and expertise to ensure your safety.  Also, he is using his anxiety to keep you both safe: as a trained guide he will be much better at hiding this.  Signals that reveal he is in fact much more worried than you think:  perhaps when he refuses to talk about anything other than the view.  

6.  Being connected together by a rope allows an intimacy unmatched outside of a sexual relationship.  If you slip on easy ground while moving together, not just your life but your climbing partner's will flash in front of your eyes.  Do not climb with anyone who has had either a significantly more interesting or tediously dull life than your own.  Your final two seconds will be a sad and frustrating mismatch.

7.  Twenty year old Ski Club members from Glasgow University are cunts.  They would rather party in an obnoxiously self-centred way than actually go skiing.  Do not be afraid.  When they start shouting and playing guitar at three in the morning, do not lie there waiting for them to stop, give them ten minutes then go out - fully clothed - to send them to bed.  There will turn out to be only three of them, they know they are out of line, and the ten thousand yard stare of the true mountaineer will make them slink upstairs with their own shit running down their legs.

8.  When going for the above confrontation, do not - for fuck's sake- get locked out of your own dorm room.

9.  What gear you wear will have no impact on your ability to climb.  It will however vastly alter your comfort.  Beware!  without simultaneously sweating your tits off AND being freezing cold you may not have enough anxiety to survive.

10. Monitor your sleep closely.  Waking eight or nine times in the night is a sign that you are too confident: your brain is therefore subconsciously keeping you sharp by making you tired and tense.

11.  The release of tension at the top of a climb is worth it.

Just look at Steve unwind.

12.  The views on a clear day are worth it.

13.  Lording a successful week over a) climbing mates who have been on an unsuccessful week, or b) non climbers who think you are fucking superman because of your FaceAche profile picture - is worth it. Do not feel guilty.  You are their gladiator, taking the risks they don't have to.  Or if it stings sufficiently it will provide enough negative emotion to propel them into the hills at the right time, to create their own anxiety driven achievements.

14.  After one week of crippling tension, any other climbing related activity is a joy and a pleasure.  You will never enjoy multi-pitching v.diff in the dry so much.  Boulder problems on resin holds become almost orgasmically satisfying, no matter how much you fail to succeed or even progress at Three Wise Monkeys.  Sport climbing will now have an irresistible allure of both hard  movement but also total safety.

15.  The drive home will be the most dangerous bit as you relax into a familiar activity with a much higher statistical death rate.  Ensure climbing podcasts are to hand.  

16.  A phase of depression after a climbing trip is normal.  Normal life is safe in the extreme, and not having to secure yourself to a rock using a rope just to stand fucking still is extremely difficult to readjust to.

Hopefully this blog will inspire you to embrace negative emotion in a positive way.  This is perhaps Scottish Winter's Greatest Lesson.

It IS worth it.  (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Risk brings death but fulfils life.

Risk brings death, but fulfils life.

'Is this your dog, mate?'

It is, as well.  Ah, poor Stella.  How have you gone so still so quickly?

As I walked up to the cars with their hazards on, I'd pretty much known it would be, and from twenty yards away, there is no doubt.  She is just lying there, they have pulled her carefully off the road.  The main guy is chatting away  to me, telling me everything about it.  He's full of adrenalin, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was him who hit her.  I'm not really listening.  His mate is close to tears, silent.

I am not close to tears.  I stroke her head, and look at her eyes.  She seems like maybe there is still something in there, though she isn't breathing.  How long is it before the brain gives up after the heart stops beating?  Does she know I'm there, or is she just dead?  I am in problem solving mode, but the immediate problem cannot be solved.  She is dead.  

I've got a blanket with me.  Ten minutes ago I had picked it up in case I couldn't find her.  I would have left it where she last saw us if I couldn't find her by dark, and she could have smelled it, and stayed there and we would have got her the next morning.  That's not how it worked out, but it is useful now, I wrap her in it and the adrenalin-man gives me a lift back to my house.  His mate sits in the back, the car is fucking tiny, like a Corsa or something, and me and Stella ride in the passenger seat.  She is easy to hold, comfy in the blanket, and blood gets on my down jacket, and on my face where I have got her muzzle pressed to me.

The next set of problems is about dealing with other people's reactions.  I phone Nanny and can hear The Boy, upset in the background but at the moment its just because he is worried, not because he knows she is dead.  Nanny's voice trembles and I can tell she is crying.  Our Lass is not there, she has been woken up from a Boxing Day snooze in front of Dances With Wolves, and has headed out to look for Stella on her own initiative.  I phone her, and she is distraught.

I tidy Stella up, and place her in her blankets in our back garden.  She doesn't look too bad really, we all give her a cuddle, tell her she is a good dog and bury her in the flowerbed she most enjoyed digging up, with her blanket and toys.  No chieftain's dog would have got any better, although I would have liked to included some of her mortal enemies - the local cats, squirrels and birds.  Maybe a Muntjac.  All of us dig, and all of us cover her over with sandy Breckland earth.  

What a disaster.   In a few hours, on Boxing day, tragedy has sprung for us, out of the blue. Nothing in world terms, where kids drown in the Med and others will freeze and die of disease this winter.  But for us: massive and terrible.

For the next day I am obsessed with smelling blood on my fingers.  Its all I can smell.  I am like fucking Macbeth.  I wash my jacket.  Rob, if you're reading this, yours was worse.  See Shrapnel From A Near Miss

Stella loved her life off the lead.

We were lucky enough to live right on the edge of Thetford Forest, and did we not exploit it. We had her out there, every day since the earliest possible chance with her vaccines completed.  On lead at first, and gradually off it, and how she loved being off it.  She would bomb off, patrol ahead.  We got her recall pretty well sorted early on: not perfect, but she was eager to please and clever, and knew I was the boss.  I could whistle, and we let her know what was expected.  She might pull a bit on the way out to a walk but she was really good on the way back.

When we were passed by four wheel drives we got her to sit, and not bloody chase them while they went by.  At first a wheel was just too much like fleeing prey, but not for long, she knew what was expected.

She loved those walks, and she was clever.  She knew the difference between me going to take The Boy out to school (she'd jump on the sofa and watch us go from the window, we would wave goodbye as we went up the path) and going for a walk in the woods, and she'd leap up from her doze if she thought that was what was going on.  The Boy started to love coming for walks, and bike rides too, she worked her magic on him, and gave him a bit of her love for being out there.  Rather than on Minecraft.
Walk? Fuck, yeah.

At night we went out and she would stay closer, still running off ahead, but if we called you would see her eyes light up from our headtorches.

She loved running in the woods, with the prospect of a chase, or some fascinating smells.  Or fox-shit to roll in, it wasn't all good.  I think it was the freedom, and the joy of the movement.  Like climbing for me.  

She was rolling her stone in the garden, playing with it in the afternoon of Boxing day, but I could tell she wanted to walk.

So me and Boy took her out.  She ran off while we inspected an old motorbike helmet, and didn't come back to the whistle.  We walked up where we would normally have gone to leave a scent trail, whistling all the way, but - no sign.  We headed back to Nannies, which is where she would have headed back to.  I still wasn't too worried.  She was used to being off-lead, and she would be back.  She was clever enough to try and find her way home.

The only flaw in that was that she had to cross that main-road.  In the event, that is what happened.  She realised me and the Boy weren't around, so she headed back home.  She was hit by a car, which must have been doing sixty, the speed limit, and she can't have lasted more than a minute or two after that.

She had gone from having the best thing she enjoyed doing- having a run, through two minutes of pain, and probably unconsciousness, and then nothing, peace.    No infirmity.  No incontinence.  No pain, not in any big terms, nothing that lasted too long.  Then back home forever.

I could have kept that dog safe on a lead for years.

The difference would have been that she would have died over a course of twelve years rather than two minutes.  Her spirit - a collie's spirit, with its need to hunt and run, and play- would have been squeezed and crushed.  She would have got used to it, and she was too low in the pack hierarchy to seriously complain.  But she would not have been the same dog.   She wouldn't have had the same life.

Our Lass looks at me and says 'I think she probably chased a car.  You weren't there so she saw her chance to finally kill an Audi.'  

That makes me laugh, its could well be true.  She would have been killed, in self-defence, by prey that was just too much for her to handle.  Too hard, too committing of a route, in bad conditions and with no protection, but nonetheless, something she wanted to take on.

Walking without her is not the same, although actually you would probably still see as much of her as you ever did.  She only had eighteen months with us, but it was a brilliant time, and she was in the peak of her life, getting more used to us, settling down and growing up, but losing none of her spark.  

I feel so sad about her death, but I just cannot regret the full life and love of freedom that bought her to it.

Stella, with chewy bone and toy giraffe.

Friday, 25 November 2016

A Possible Future.

A Possible Future For Climbing.

It's quite fun to have a go at predicting the future, especially in satirical list form.  Gambling is also predicting the future, but less fun when it costs you money or becomes an addiction.

I read with pleasure Johnny Dawes predictions for the future of climbing in Summit Magazine , his problem is he just isn't cynical enough.  Here are mine.

1.  In the run up to the 2020 Olympics, Britain is looking increasingly chaotic and bleak.  A tumbling pound, record unemployment and the highest boredom rate in Europe, an anomalous legal situation which sees Britain both In and Out of Europe, increasing hate crime and dithery increasingly reactionary political parties now nakedly enslaved to the Murdoch press: can the Olympics give Britain a much needed boost?

2.  Initially the answer looks like a no.  An obviously biased cycling Olympic committee supported by every other nation in the world bans British cyclists left and right for retroactively applied last minute medication changes; complex new immigration laws strip Team GB of two thirds of their athletes, including Mo Farah; and excruciating embarrassment is felt when one of Britain's sailing teams use their event as cover for a carefully planned escape attempt. Eventually turning up in China where they claim asylum, claiming that they have been threatened with firing squad if they return without medals.

3.  The climbing event produces Britain's only two medals of the whole competition:  Golds in both the males and females Climbing.  The media initially ignores the event, but a rising groundswell of public opinion catapults the event into the news.  The returning climbers are feted and greeted at the airport by an ugly scrum of politicians from all parties.  Other returning athletes are quietly disappeared by UK Border Force Officials, it will be years before any bodies are returned to relatives.  Some of the gymnasts will never be found.

4.  Public opinion surges in favour of climbing, and politicians get on the band wagon.  Nigel Farage says in one interview 'I'd like to think that one day I could climb a V. Diff.  That means Very Difficult which I think speaks for itself.'

5.  Plans to make Britain's outdoors available only to people willing to pay a 'per-step' tariff through their smartphone attract massive protests.  Marches have of course been banned under the Criminal Justice Act following the brief civil war in 2019; there are forty arrests.  Lawyers defending the protesters successfully argue  to a sympathetic judge that they were in fact climbers ascending the 'shallow-angled slab' of Pall Mall and 'topping out' in Trafalgar Square.

6.  Nicola Sturgeon begins the ninth legal bid for Scotland to attain Independence. In her opening speech she says 'Munroes are a uniquely Scottish mountain.  There are no Munroes in England.'  She further claims 'that Scotland is continuing to rise under orographic lift, while England sinks further into the sea.'  One day later record floods finally submerge two-thirds of East Anglia under a sea level now three metres higher.  

7.   Climbing now enjoys a counter-culture appeal that spreads across classes and ethnicities.  It is not uncommon for many of the 18 million Benefit Claim Clients to seek grants to buy rope and cams, which job centre staff now feel it would be unpatriotic - and therefore illegal - to refuse. Statistics show that listing climbing in your CV makes you 18% more likely to be offered a job in the Saturday Night lottery organised by Camelot.

8.  Climbing popularity spreads to the boardroom.   White collar workers in the banking sector are now expected to be knowledgeable about Tom Randall's Market Trading Portfolio, and have opinions on shoe rubber composition.  Being able to onsight E2 and wearing CAC t-shirts are the 'soft' rand unspoken requirements for being eligible for promotion.  Climbing is the new golf.

7.  Bear Grylls emerges as the unlikely leader - given his questionable role in the 2019 Civil War - of a political party representing 'British Climbers, British Values and British Grit'.  Climbers join and support the party which guarantees outdoor access and tax breaks on polyester, lycra and rubber compounds.  Idiot newspaper journalists repeatedly burble 'Can Bear Conquer Westminster the way he Conquered Everest?'

8.  By 2028, Bear Grylls is voted Prime Minister for a whole life term. His victory speech is a carefully orchestrated spectacular event which involves him soloing up the Westminster Clock Tower then leading the nation in mass-prayer while being lit up by a spotlight.  Persistent rumours abound that heavy amounts of holographic projection were employed, and that Grylls was actually in the Member's Bar throughout the broadcast.

9.  A new Monarch of the Realm Act passes through Parliament due to the increasing unsuitability of Prince Charles as Head of State.  Chris Bonington is chosen, despite being dead for the last five years.  Boffins at Cambridge University recreate his personality from his extensive writings, and the first 'true' artificially intelligent being - Bonington 2.9- is sworn in as head of state.  It later emerges that 'packer' intelligence had been inserted from the writings of Pete Boardman, Joe Tasker and Doug Scott, raising tricky legal questions of identity, discussion of which is soon banned.

10.  Immigration Laws are formally reversed with the Desirable Persons Act.  Over two thousand Sherpas are forcibly abducted from their homes in Nepal and rehoused in Snowdonia.  Nationalities with 'Great Mountaineering Cultures' receive automatic entitlement to live in the UK.  Slovenians, Slovakians, Russians, Canadians, Austrians, Poles and Norwegians are enticed in by glossy tv promotion and put to work by international guiding agencies.  Racism and anti-climber attacks rises.

11.  An  unpopular administration at the whim of Grylls' increasingly severe religious mania reacts badly to protests by paddlers, mountain-bikers and base-jumpers.  Home Secretary Leo Houlding, widely seen as a moderate voice within the cabinet, is found dead at the bottom of Indian Face.  The National Police declare the death an accident, explaining that getting caught in his own ropes by his writs and ankles apparently 'mimicked' someone tying him up.  Gaffer tape across his mouth is described as ' consistent' with Houlding using it hold marginal Sky-hooks in place on route.

Cheery eh?  Lets see how many come true.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Make the Best

Make the Best of It.

I am on the train, on the way to my mate Lee's, when a sequence of dots and noughts is captured by my phone's complicated aerial.  Within less than a second the signal has been deciphered by an accretion of lines of code and rendered into text a human can read.  It says 'Clutch on the van's gone, sorry, will pick you up when we can.'  However, if you apply a slightly different level of coding, the meaning is completely different - 'Your weekend is fucked.'

Now, this is not just because a piece of metal has become fatigued over thousands of hours and failed at a critical point i.e. Snake Pass, changing from fifth into fourth, but also because of a huge fuck-off weather system which has run its way up the channel and is now dumping billions of litres of evaporated Atlantic onto Britain, which deserves it.  The weather system has clearly taken the Met Office and Britain's Media by surprise as it has not yet acquired an excessively dramatic nickname, like 'The Weather Bomb,' or 'Polar Vortex'.  I favour naming it 'The Ruiner.'

IF Lee's van was fucked, but it was nice weather: no problem, climb locally, and as its Sheffield we are in, that means anywhere in the Peaks we can reach by bus.  IF the weather was shit and the van operational -  equally, no problem, head to wherever isn't wet.  The Roaches were looking good.  They still are, just we can't get to them.

Now, whinging about this shit won't help, you've got to cultivate your ability to find something good about the situation.  Rainy Saturday morning?  Lie in a bit and have a cooked breakfast.  Then get a lift to the Peak a bit later and hope nothing is too wet.

Nothing is too wet, and there's a reason for that.  Not the weakly winter sun shining as hard as it can through whispy cloud, but the mighty blasting wind that roars across Curbar, refusing to allow water to stay on the rock.  We get a pretty good day in - which as ever includes running into other climbers from Norfolk, not an unusual occurrence.  We get in a few decent boulders, I like the look of Art of Japan, but the wind is funnelled through the gap and we are all wrapped up like ninjas.  

We are out til past dark headtorching,then head back.  Great warmup for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday.  We try out Sheffield's public transport: out to Burbage after midday.  Unbelievably, in the dank we find a few dry climbs, and also one poorly protected one which suddenly gets wet higher up past a break with a marginal cam I have hammered into choss as if it were a piton.  I wisely back off, and off we fuck, to find out we have missed the bus, which inexplicably does not return to Sheffield from this side of the road.  BUT our luck is not out, there is a vintage bus parked  and the conductor says 'don't worry lads, we're running this one for charity, make a donation and we'll get you back.'  Mind, if that hadn't been there we would have been pissed and eating steaks at the Fox House, begging the question 'what is good luck?'

Monday is really shit, so we pretend we live in an unusually well appointed multi-roomed snow hole.   Lee organises his rack and we watch climbing DVDs for seven hours straight.  In the evening we play cards, gin rummy, but bring our climbing ethics and sense of style to the game.  Rather than competitively actually trying to 'beat' the other person, each of us instead concentrates on our own hands, trying to develop the most baroque collections of cards - many multiples of runs and sets before getting out can no longer be avoided.  I am particularly pleased with a run of the entire suit of clubs - no other cards - while Lee produces a stylish fours-of-a-kind in Aces, Kings, Queens and Jacks which can either be set down as the fours OR as the straights, creating a cubic effect.  We have been in the house too long.

Tuesday morning, and the van is not yet fixed, the weather it is still shit.  The Climbing Works is round the corner and Lee says 'we are at least going to do some climbing type movement.'  But not anytime soon, as its not fucking open.  Through the window we can see Shauna Coxey and Leah Crane filming something.  Lee says 'I'm starting to think something doesn't like us.'

After twelve we do get in and climb on plastic for a bit - consolation! plus free cup of tea for walking there, and later in the afternoon The Van Is Fixed!  Sixteen hours before Lee must leave the house for work, we bomb out in the van and hit Burbage North again.  We find a slab, dry unbelievably, and work our way through three very simple problems before I start seriously working a 6c arete.  

To be on the rock is amazing, there is no comparison.  Everything becomes very important to your success, like where your arse is, or how you move your hips, how you grip the rock. Sometimes there is a really specific position for your hand to be on, or your foot, and sometimes it feels a bit like a lego brick clicking into position - useless anywhere else, perfect just there.

The light fails and it starts to rain.  Our head torches light up moss and droplets of water which reflect so much they look as if they are luminescent.

Yes, the weekend was not all it might have been, between an unlucky mechanical breakdown and the weather, but we still managed to at least touch rock on three of four days, and we had a laugh doing it (not obvious from this blog).  As I take the train home from Sheffield, the sky is beautiful.  Bright, crisp and rain free, as a zone of high pressure settles over Britain like a national umbrella.  Fuck's sake. 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Bought and Sold

Bought and Sold

Oh Controversy!  So GQ Magazine takes three climbers and some female models described as 'cute friends' by them, and 'wallpaper with tits' by me and does a photoshoot and article about them.   Which is vacuous shit.  Then Outdoors Research - among others- object to it on the grounds that its pretty sexist, and spoofed it with their own, where three decent climbers who are female go climbing with a few cute friends i.e. their male mates trying not to die laughing at the stupid poses they are pulling.  Looking at the two articles its hard to tell them apart. 

On the face of it, you might defend GQ on the grounds that they are in some way promoting climbing.  Alongside the- vacuous shit - fashion shoot is a - vacuous shit - micro-video in which really shit hot climbers brag about what stuff they've done in list form.  Then giggle as they explain you should get into climbing because it will 'get you a fit looking body, and will really shape you up quick'.

Then the models weigh in with their 'thoughts' and wang on in husky voices about being 'surrounded by nature' - presumably microbes in the hot tub.  So if you've got your fit-looking body through rock climbing, presumably this will be attractive to these really hot women who just want to feel really small next to nature.  

In the -super-mild and controversy-lite- debate about sexism in climbing fashion shoots, it is easy to object to the fact that GQ didn't use female climbers rather than models, and portray them as sexy hangers on.

My objections run deeper than that though, and here they are:

1.  The prices of the fucking clothes.  Normally I would try and write something funny about this, but instead I will simply quote:
'Custom Hat, $1400, by Nick Fouquet'
Custom hat?
Fourteen hundred fucking bucks for a fucking custom hat, 'by' someone who's name is pronounced 'Fuck It'.

A quick check on the currency converter shows us that this equates to £1,134.14, post Brexit, and only £999.99 pre-brexit (using a rough mean value of $1.4 to £1 - I really did do the maths on this).    

2.  They've actually chosen talented climbers with serious achievements to get to prostitute themselves in front of the camera.  There they are, wearing sweaters that cost four fucking grand, while saying they're just psyched to be there.   

Now, because its GQ, I immediately think 'you fucking sell-outs', but I am not sure my objection stands up to rigorous analysis.  A few climbers get sponsorship when they can hit a certain grade, and this is leveraged by the amount of media attention you can get, whether this be hits on Vimeo or GQ fashion shoots.

There is a whole sliding scale of sponsorship; from free or discounted gear, up to a fully paid-for expedition lifestyle.  

At a low level, I feel its a pretty positive thing for the climber: sponsorship means some degree of acknowledgement of work and achievement.  It might mean eventually being able to work less- which I am always in favour of; or get away climbing more- which I am in favour of if it is me, or jealous of if its not.  It also adds climbing videos into the world as a vehicle for portraying talent: again, thumbs up.

But at higher levels, the amount of money create its own ripples and affects behaviour.  Climbs have an exchange value, so people at the top need to rigorously question whether they are still following their authentic desire to climb the hardest line, or whether they are creating a commodity for consumption.

This directly conflicts with what I love about climbing, which is that it can provide an experience that can't be bought.  Not always, loads of people can book a guide and get dragged up something: at its most extreme this might be Everest.  But at its best, it is joyful and pointless and without a price tag.  I cannot pay someone to make me do a cool move at the very limit of my ability, although in fairness I might have spent plenty on the training to get there.

In the GQ article, the message is subtle, but it is basically about discontent. 

Men!  Three climbers have done more than you, they wear better clothes than you, and they hang out with models prettier than any woman you have ever met (who are being paid to be there).   What can you do?  Train hard, achieve, and eventually get to the point where you may be able to fuck a model?  Or buy some shit, like a fucking custom hat, or a sweater for four grand?    

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Hull: City of Culture

Hull: City of Culture.

Hull is now officially the City of Culture.  It joins places like Liverpool and Glasgow: shit reputations but actually quite fun to live in.  And of course, it aids the great British tradition of making anything funny by using a non-glamourous place-name next to something pompous.   The Military History of Slough.  Stuff like that.

All the Hullites interviewed on the BBC come up with some pretty good reasons Hull should be famous:  ending the slave trade, the Housemartins/Beautiful South, starting the English Civil War outside the chip shop on Clarence Street.  Inexplicably though, they failed to mention two of Hull's greatest exports: climbers Andy Kirkpatrick and John Redhead.

Of the two, Andy Kirkpatrick is the better known.  Partly because of his extremely popular stand-up gigs which masquerade as climbing lectures.  If you haven't been to one then watch this.  A mime of his mate failing to place gear and doing little squeaks of effort ... I've had to have a tension relieving laugh just thinking of it.  His books are worth a pop as well, Psychovertical is great, so is Cold Wars.   His blog is a mixture of technical detail and advice, excruciatingly honest details of relationships failing, and poorly thought out but strongly held opinions.  Its basically like being with your mate in the pub.

Basically, he's a funny bastard who has done some gnarly shit.  He specialised in aid climbing, which is a super-niche, unless you get to Yosemite, when it is absolutely crucial.  The normal run of things in the UK was that climbers would use a point of aid- just one or two - to get over the hardest bits of climbs where there weren't any holds.  So the climber would stand in a loop of rope or a sling and place a bit more gear then get past it and start climbing again.  This wasn't softness or inability either, climbers like Joe Brown were not above using a point of aid on hard climbs.  Then smart arses would 'free' it, climb it in a 'purer' style i.e. just pulling on the rock.

Andy, however, like a few others really specialised in using aid.  His climbs - and he describes this well in Psychovertical and Cold Wars- often come down to standing in etriers (daisy chain loops of webbing) which were attached to tiny match-head sized lumps of copper or credit card sized pieces of steel delicately jammed into an uncertain crack, a long twenty-second fall above certain death.  More than enough time to really think about what's going to happen.

Specialising in this gave Andy a really thorough knowledge of rope work and tricks with knots and gear.  I'm looking forward to reading his book of mountaineering tips; hopefully its a mixture of his humour and diagrams of ropes.  Win!

In other words, while aid climbing might be seen as inferior in the bullshitty hierarchy of climbing, it is no softer, nor safer.  Andy is nails hard, and the more so because he seems usually to climb with a) only himself or b) nutters he doesn't know that well.  Makes for great reading and entertaining shows.  His blog also has a lot of genuine insight, told in brutal honesty

Andy is happy to describe himself as 'Hull's second best climber'.  Second to John Redhead.

John Redhead is in stark contrast to Andy.  He is an artist, and in the late '70s early '80s one of the leading climbers.  He did a lot of really hard, cutting edge climbs on Clogwyn D'ur Arddu, Gogarth - and my favourite - On The Slate.

The names of John's climbs stand out: Go through a list of the and find out the point at which you are offended:  Tormented Ejaculation, Cockblock, Raped by Affection, Menopausal Discharge, Menstrual Gossip.  Cystitis by Proxy.  Sounds like a Cannibal Corpse Album.   Most of his climb names are actually the names of paintings he has done, highly intricate works he gave to his mates and collects up occasionally for a public exhibition. 

Johnny's climbs are often bold and really technical:  his mate Andy Newton told me he could keep a calm head long after anyone else would have frightened themselves off the rock.  

Unlike Andy, John didn't find the same level of media accessibility.  This is partly because he did things like publish '...and one for the crow' with the most beautiful climbing photos at the price of £60.  It is worth it, but no one's going to find that out because they won't give it the chance.   Most climbers would buy an extra cam, or three guidebooks.  Shame!  There's a stack (three) of them in V12.
The cover art was never meant to be mainstream

John's thoughts occasionally emerge from the Footless Crow blog from time to time, and they are often gems of offence and grumpiness.  My favourite is the one where he returns to Llanberis, to find the place changed: 'What the Fuck?  Cyclists!'  He is his own - uncompromising - person, and you can like him, or fuck off.  

So well done Hull, for producing two genius climbers who learnt to climb on the tower blocks and in the local quarries.  And shame on the people of Hull for not mentioning them in your street interviews and vox-pops with the BBC!  Normal people's priorities defy explanation.