Having recently read and reviewed Steve McClure’s Vertebrate published autobiography which I felt somewhat suffered in that it became rather repetitive due to the fact that the author himself was operating in a rather narrow field of activity, I was interested to see how an old hand like Ed Douglas would take on someone who like Steve, operates within those same tight parameters which define the top end sports climber. In this case, Ben Moon, a climber synonymous with state of the art routes like Hubble, Statement of Youth and Agincourt but who, at the end of the day, is not exactly a Fowler, MacLeod or Boysen when it comes to being a climbing all rounder.
With a limited palette to draw from, it requires some creativity to fill an autobiography of 200+ pages; particularly when the subject is still in their 40’s and presumably with a lot of goals and achievements ahead of them. To the author’s credit, he makes a fine fist of the material available and doesn’t get bogged down in the technical minutiae which rock jocks are prone to use when writing about their climbs and projects . Instead, fleshing out his subject and presenting him as someone of interest and integrity rather than a one dimensional climbing machine.
Ben Moon like his friend Johnny Dawes is certainly no scion of a horny handed son of toil. Born into a comfortable Home Countries, middle class family, his father Jeremy Moon was a talented artist of some renown and the young Ben was brought up within that comfortable, slightly bohemian suburban setting which for a youngster, is never less than stimulating as fascinating friends of the family pass through. Having a grandfather in Jack Moon who was a keen climber in his day, it was no surprise that the young Ben Moon should take an interest in the activity. An interest which took root early in life through family holidays in the mountain areas. However, it wasn’t before the young Ben Moon had suffered tragedy through the loss of his father who was killed in a motor biking accident when Ben was only six.
Ben was brought up by his mother Elizabeth and eventually found himself as a boarder at the somewhat archaic Christ’s Hospital Public School; renowned for the rather wacky school uniform and eminent alumni . It was at Christ’s Hospital that perhaps not surprisingly, he developed an anti authoritarian streak and began to evolve into the proto punk. An image which defined the young climber when he first came to public attention as a pale, skinny, dread-locked rebel with a cause.
Like just about every climber whose lives have been dissected in biographies like this, it is remarkable how consistent they are in what you might call ‘the experience trajectory’. Time and again the same venues and the same climbs feature as these future stars climb the ladder of success. The local outcrops; the first trip to Snowdonia. A journey- usually in an old van- to Fontainbleau. Then its Verdon, Buoux, Yosemite and the Yorkshire limestone cathedrals of endeavour etc etc.
The author charts his subjects’ rise to prominence through diary notes, interviews with Ben Moon himself and contemporaneous material drawn from articles and journals of the time. It paints a picture of a young man who, whilst not sharing the same capacity for self promotion and playing the sponsors game in the way his friend Jerry Moffatt did, was equally single minded in his desire to push the envelope and become one of that elite band of sports climbers operating at the limits of technical achievement. Like so many of his contemporaries within this select band, Ben did the competition circuit with mixed results. It did at least establish his name within the game and as routes like Agincourt began to fall, the previously dismissive UK climbing press, began to recognize and acknowledge his place amongst the cream of the crop.
Apart from charting his subjects climbing achievements, the author touches on areas where Ben Moon has experienced conflicting fortunes in his relationships, business ventures and answers that old question as to just what exactly Ben Moon did at the 1990’s Newbury By-Pass protests? Like a lot of people, I was given to understand that he had gone down there as a highly paid security goon. Employed with others for his climbing skills, to essentially remove environmentalists from the trees to allow their felling.
However, popular myth has it that gamekeeper turned poacher and he cast aside his Hi-Vis jacket and joined the Crusties!. As it turns out, neither story is strictly true. In the book, Ben Moon and Jerry Moffatt turned up to lend their support- although it has to be said, short of actually taking to the trees. (If anyone wants to learn more about this read Jim Perrin’s brilliant ‘The Judas Tree’ which, written from an environmentalists’ perspective quite rightly lambasts those climbers who took their twenty pieces of state silver). However, what Swampy & Co made of two tanned climbers turning up in a sporty silver BMW Evo is anyone’s guess!
As an aside to his income from sponsorship, Ben Moon launched his S7 range of climbing wear and bouldering mats although without the necessary business nous to bring the business on it eventually foundered, although later,, and with more business savvy, he launched his to date, successful ‘Moon’ climbing label.
The book winds to a close with Ben Moon- now married and with a daughter- joining that army of former rock stars who now prefer to get their fix through bouldering. No surprises here as a young Ben Moon once went on record in a radio programme to utter those immortal words...’I’m not climbing to be in nice places...I’m climbing for the moves man!’.
Certainly, not many UK climbers in the last thirty years have been in the same ball park when it comes to bending the body and torturing those tendons like Ben Moon. Yes- ‘Statement’ reflects the life and times of someone corralled within that small world inhabited by the technical elite, but it nevertheless throws light on an individual who has never been that interested in self promotion or being a climbing Charlie Big Potatoes. Ed Douglas- who of course won a BT award for his Ron Fawcett book- has penned another fascinating portrait of a UK rock master.