Thursday, 27 October 2011

Full of Myself...extracts

In the 80s movement was taking off, coming away from its surfaces in a new way. Bodies lightened speeded up: breakdancers’ heads became feet to spin on, skaters ollied the board they stood on top of, opening up a whole new wave of moves. BMX. Laird Hamilton rode the big waves looking like a God. Freddie Spencer slid GP bikes on tarmac as if he was still on grass. Vatannen in Group B left foot-braking the T16, Senna in F1, Oh…my…God! All this was a fresh kinaesthetic mandala, a quickening expression of our inner urge to fly.

As much as Fosbury’s Flop changed high jump forever I could sense climbing would be transformed by new ways of spinning together body and mind.

When the Wright brothers left earth there must have been a sense that the fragile plane flew not with just a person aboard but with the whole of humanity. The sky wasn’t even the limit. Into the blank of mind came the unmistakeable sense that this was a new thread for the fabric of motion to weave with. The great climbing library in the sky would have to find a new shelf for these moves.
The face immediately proves more quixotic than hoped; both powdery and damp to the hand. The sea had got to work on the 600-million-year-old quartzite as soon as it could. Like a mad archivist searching through one folio after another for a missing word, one solid looking plate levers easily off, only for another that looks the same to hold, then ping unexpectedly at the last moment. Both leave pistachio-coloured scars behind, clearly telling me this rotting tramp’s Mac is no tableau on which to search for technical 6c.

What holds are left lead me to an overlap at a 100ft. Above, the rock sweating in the sun, though more vertical looks more tender still, impregnable and blank. Possibility above time had eroded down to a coughing, diagonal crimp. Faint. A skyhook perched on forgotten Parmesan would be the best to hope for in need of retreat.
…Joe Brown has pencilled a map for me on a Post-it that leads to an old tunnel. It cuts deep into the heart of Elidir Fawr. Slates scatter music around puckered ironwork. The cry of peregrines around discarded blocks fade, through hidden shallow puddles sound merges into half-light. A recognition comes to me, invisible as gravity; humanity walked out of thin air…we look up. High above on a tower, off to the side of Joe’s big adventures, flaring like a torch, is an astonishing groove. Away from it, glazed with water, a jewelled mineral array sparkles in the sun. This wall promised to be fresh territory for the world of climbing – a Schneider Trophy monoplane in sheer aluminium – tenuous seams, polished featureless shields, jagged undercut bulges way up in the sky.

To be just 15ft up it is to realize it means trouble. Already faced with a threatening slam, big crack features above that promise protection draw me. Each possible hold has to be wrenched or tapped in turn. Few pass the test, each that does cements a profound worry. The ‘rock’ is no such thing; super nutritious were it not for the salty ooze. Un-warm, power pumped, by the time the sprint to the roof past beautiful efflorescent mould is over, forearms are gone, all chalk supped off by the cliff. It’s a surprise not to find roses growing in the loose soil of the break at the bulge.

The Dawes family en-route to the French Grand Prix from Coventry Airport.

...I wasn’t joyful, trying these lines was what I did, fair or foul. 

Lean from not eating and angry I go with the gear in a rattling flare. A foot
smeared on a bump low under in the groove, the technical problem is to
yank off a big flat 70° dish with your left palm, right hand on a chunky
waist height sidepull. A dry squidge of flesh pressed quickly in gives some
bite by the timed ‘in and out’ of my waist. Falling again – cursing, clapping
my hands, belting the rock, spitting – an acid intuition kicks in. I try again.
Fiercely I lurch for the slap, whirling my left foot from far right under my
right foot to full left; for a moment that extra motion both forces my left
hand on enough to snag the gruff sloper and reduces my apparent weight
– the flared undercut sidepull far up in the groove momentarily scratches
into my fingertips. Unexpected, the lateral force unleashed pulls me off.
Again I fall but this time an inner burst of excitement silences the shout. I
point at the floor careful to log the flow of the move.

I tie in small, take a pee and another shirt off, give my Calmas a final squeak.
The instant I tee up the move I feel I can set up deeper into the air behind
me. Firing with knowing this time, hitting the side-pull nicely, as the lateral
force kicks in both feet release automatically hopping together right, up
into the groove. Oh dear! Now I’ve done it.

The flow out of the blind corner up onto the rib is delightful. Card tricks;
dish, sharp pocket, arête in just the right spot, care on smears tight, rhythm
eases the sequence dramatically. Pulling round back into the scoop to a
place where a comfortable rest awaits, heels down, left hand leaning into
a shallow cup, the true situation I’ve put myself into rises up in my mind.

Breathing changes. “Mantels are good”, this angle of mantel I understand. I
reach under and chalk the remainder of my weighted left hand with my right
where it’ll be needed on the unprotected virgin mantel above. Four minutes
later, chalking again, sharing feet together out right, so it is possible to ease
the right foot to a place from where I can tease the base of the sloping shelf,
left foot drags unnervingly on the edge of the scoop...not yet.

I back off, tears come, foot shakes a little, Bob is freaking out as well. We
discuss him running round, throwing a rope down but I’d have to untie
and the rope would be off to the side. I’m slowly melting out of this big
hollow. “Gone too far this time”. Though I sometimes act like I don’t care
it shows me I do. Fifteen minutes in, stretching that bit farther, making sure
to leave room to share, I ease myself out of the groove using a pockmark
hole, swapping feet to shuffle the other hand in. It had been invisible from
the left. A ladybird is on the hold. There is nothing to do but crush it. Its
bodily juices don’t help, but killing it, so opened up, throws my mind away.
I rush at the mantel hell for leather, picking a good enough patch of rock
that works and chuck my foot around the arête. Pulling up I feel upset. The
climb is magnificent, beyond me now.
We arrive at the coast just in time to miss the ferry to Skye. We settle down to sort out the gear in a lay-by. We had just started the task when this moaning Scotsman arrives; all bagpipes and 2nd World War.

 “Wharrrr dya thaynk yooore doin laddee? Woodie yaa do this on a road in England?”

“Of course”, I say, when Paul unhelpfully hurls something clattering down on to the man’s driveway, then whirls around like a dervish, screaming. When he starts to splash water from a dirty puddle on his face, the Scotsman turns and strides back to his house in disgust. Whatever Paul dropped on the drive flashes a warning as it rolls by: “do not put on metal or vinyl surfaces”. Paul has got ‘Jungle Juice’ in his eyes.

We half expect the highlander to return with his regimental sword and cut us down but instead he brings back a camera and shoots a couple of cheeky portraits of Paul. They would have been quite blurred, but he seemed pleased and told us:

“I’ve got evidence now, I’ll be taking it off to Angus”??
At 4 O’clock in the morning, at one of Dai’s dos, I needed to get back to the Peak so I bought a red Mini 850. One crook I’d met sold it to me for a fiver. A good deal? Well no actually, having no tax, no brakes, though suspiciously an MOT. It would do for a middle of the night romp. You could grind the barriers to brake. By keeping to the back roads police and public were avoided, even if at one junction it was necessary to actually hold the car on the foot break – my right foot that is – out the door.

Often stayed with illustrious mountaineer and cragsman Alan Rouse in Sheffield in those days and by the time the milk was being delivered arrived at a well-kept three story house in Wayland Road. It was never locked. Alan had got some new prints of the Alps and a new teapot. Kettle on, brew made, I quietly climb the stairs, put the mugs down on the side, take a run up and jump onto the bed. The faces of two people I have never met in my life shoot out from beneath the covers.

“I’ve brought you a cup of tea,” I say by way of introduction.

Alan had sold the house, Tom and Wendy had moved in.

A Real Buzz

Luckily the Cambridge Audio CD player from Richer Sounds had come with a promotional lollipop.

The van sets off down the hill, but on the windscreen, motionless, is a bee. Before wind-speed builds up to spill the bee to the mercy of road and tyre, I slow the van and stop. A car impatient behind, my bank card is already out of its holster. I rush out and lift the creature off into my hand.

By licking the lollipop – red like the van – and by dripping the syrup into the hollow of my left hands anatomical snuff box, the bee placed alongside it can start to feed. Her mouth is extraordinarily thin and long, like a straw.

We go around town and shop a little, I even take her to The Forum for a coffee. By now she is showing signs of a lively character. To attempt to put her at her ease, I stroke her thick fur as she feeds, but instead clumsily get syrup on her wing at which point a short sharp head movement points back up at me.

I watch as she works on the task of renewing her wing. Half an hour of meticulous cleaning with no discernible waste of effort, makes her look like a knowing miniature helicopter able to repair itself.

What had seemed like an abrupt reproach after my clumsiness with the syrup is now forgotten. Bee turns its head, this time a full 270° – show off – then tilts her head, and then again, as if to say: “Do you understand what I mean…?”

My companion’s gesticulations so precise, seemingly deliberate, make her appear not just sane, purposeful and certainly skilled, but generous of spirit. I have come to love this beady-eyed bee. She seems to say thank you and, slipping out of my cavernous hand is gone.

Full of Myself: Johnny Dawes 2011.Images J Dawes Collection.

Available direct from the author at Johnny