Friday, 8 April 2016

Sinking like a Stone

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Bob Dylan

I had only just arrived back into ‘Beris after a long haul through feudal France. I am tired, it’s late and I am staggering down the road towards Spar, phased from a full days driving nightmare of Gallic shrugs, closed shops and wagging fingers, hoping that it will be open! I see the illuminated Spar logo ahead like a star of Bethlehem and guiltily, momentarily bless Mammon in Blighty, arms flung as if in prayer! At that instant, in the distance, as in a biblical miracle, a beautiful, mystical array of fairy-lights cluster manically like molecules in the dark-lab of childhood, hovering above the road, bobbing up and down in strange animation. I pause in wonder as twenty or thirty head-torches manifest heads and bodies and legs and mumbling charge towards me. I dash onto the pavement to prevent collision. What the fuck! I look back at their luminous tops – What the fuck! Runners!

A little later, a silent, barefoot group in wet suits, looking like a huge multi-headed seal anthropomorph, ambles towards the lake… what the fuck! Swimmers!

I had previously been held up on the road behind skeletal-buttocked, lycra-clad, heads down, could be anywhere, counting calories, monitoring heartbeat, and calculating elevation… what the fuck road cyclists! Get on a fucking hamster wheel fuckers!

Where are the fucking golfers putting balls into flagged grids on the road? Weight trainers lifting the cars? Kung Fu kids kicking over bins? I am on a theme, but is Llanberis now fit-city that I remember Boulder in Colorado to be? I laughed then at how ludicrous and mono-cultured it seemed, as if a plague of neurosis had spread from health-food shops, therapy and self-reflection groups, and clever advertising. Costumed with labels of fitness, sport, and a neat package for the new religion of the masses! Whatever, Llanberis has changed, it is a gluten free zone…arglwydd mawr…size eight turnstiles on entry – monitored by the thriving outdoor community businesses, selling activity and adventure from ex fruit and veg VW vans… 

Next day. Petes Eats. Lashing down of course. Martin and I set off for a day’s bouldering. Our bouldering, of course, is not weather dependent. We have a lump and sledgehammer, assorted saws, a secateur, screwdrivers and chisels, a broom, a wire brush and several toothbrushes and cloths. These add to the array of old ropes, spades, mats and sodden but useful absorbent clothing and tampons, secreted in cracks and under boulders less that ten miles from Petes. This is Martin’s mountain toolshed.  It is scattered over many a hill and woodland with items liberated from neat, cedar wood B&Q sheds, in the sodden and barren enclosures of ‘outdoorsy-ville’. However, we do not have an umbrella.  Neither do we need one because our ‘look’ is of shady migrants seeking shelter.

We park up in horizontal rain. The tyres slide to a halt in deep trenches of squelchy toad-flaxed mud. No point in wearing socks, so pink Crocs are the sensible footwear of my choice…and I guess we are kind of migrants by choice and the shelter we seek is a cold, wet trek to yet another rock sanctuary… 

Martin has prepared a 50m overhanging traverse mostly free of the rain which now falls more sedately through the hazel and oak.  We try and warm up on mats already spotted by drips. There are sections of seepage, sourced and encouraged from the old ivy tight-squeezed in the fissures higher up, and fans down as rivulets caressing around the rock contours to pool into what are now finger-jugs, adding difficulty and technicality to a move. More body torque and subtle positioning are needed to negotiate such terrain. Normally a wet hold can be ignored but when integral to movement, more judgment and finesse are needed. Wet and cold fingers know exactly that they must adapt and try harder. A few moves can be an instant burn and a tumble into a soak. Enough!

An extra five meters of traverse is awaiting preparation.  A huge flake we call ‘the canon’ protrudes from the bedrock of this ancient quarried face. The tools are laid out. We survey its character for weakness and with the age-old art of a mason, its moral is gently broken, and after half a day working with fissures and strata, it fragments into a landscaped path and a decent landing! A flat landing is a happy landing. The old quarrymen seem to applaud as we bless the rock and embrace the change.

We know we are not alone here. Why, because scampering across wet rocky textures is not the sole reason we are here. This is not the art or sub-sport of bouldering per se. If it were just the rock surface and body tensions and intel’ only, and moves only, all would be stillborn and sterile, a mere tool of the appetites and more to be done – and the appetite grows on that which feeds it. We are connected here…and it is something that has not let go from childhood. Here, we are still playing with the mud, the metaphoric, the mysterious, the dirty and poetic qualities of nature, not side-lining them into a neat commercial package of style and amenities. Yes, we are cold and wet, but have achieved as much as a summers-day cragging plus a session in the gym, touched something alive, aware that our breaths are also with the hazel and oaks, the ivy and the mosses damp to the bone. It is a melody of steamy sweat and cold wind, of bird song at one with the voice of all that flourishes here. Like visitors, this is how you find your way to things… in a mystery of kinship. 

So unlike the true displaced migrants of a different jungle, we have the luxury to sojourn back into Petes, almost unjudged by our strange otherworldly appearance. Cups of tea are much needed and ordered, and indeed, today, paid for. The banter continues and characters move and flow around us in the ‘waiting room’ of life’s adventurers. I pick up the BMC Summit mag as I peep into the daily lives of other visitors. A theme soon comes to my attention as I concentrate my focus without seeming like a stalker. Suddenly the hilarious, cartoonesque contents of Summit mag culture seems to animate into real life with the conversations I am hearing and presents an abhorrent and nihilistic vision of the world…

“…beats me why you would want to climb outside. She’s happy as Larry and the cafĂ© has all she needs. She’s well ahead of the competition and did her first Font 6b yesterday. Proud as punch. She’s only 14 and looks great in a crop-top! Fighting fit eh…”

“…yeah, he was inspired by a BMC film of an amazing young lad moving up the coloured grips on a wall. Hero. Inspirational. I bought a season ticket straight away. So colourful, happy family stuff and creative, I can’t get him out! He’s seeking sponsorship and wants to be a pro…”

It’s fun, it’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s totally crazy! Tackle a wall covered with large purple blobs, race the clock on the speed climb, shin up a drainpipe… we’ve got 12 different challenges to attempt and each one offers a completely different and completely crazy experience!

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The horror, the horror! I am initially reminded of the Hebrew originators of the preaching, controlling ‘word’ and how false parameters and careful profiling can beget a myth-void-people unknowing of the Earth and how such enforced morality separates us further from its soul…

Well. Perhaps. I could just let it all go because such a ‘vision’ of a culture cannot stop my own soul being fascinated and to rejoice with the wet lichens and moss…in equilibrium with nature, including bashing ‘canons’ on a quarry face, in joy with the messy slops underfoot and knowing too of the biomass in which we all belong, where my skull will be before very long. But will I fuck let it go! Somebody once said that JR detests sport because he must have choked on a trainer as a kid! I like that.

I do not detest sports climbing but I am aware of sports insidious nature and offer insights into what I perceive as a menacing disintegration of creative and poetic significance and a deep threat to the interrelatedness with the living planet…a destructive quest to take control!  But do what you want and do your best! Perhaps, through my articles and work, I have not quite made myself clear.

Glam-rock dictator of corporate Climb magazine thinks otherwise by saying, “British climbers do not care either for your verbiage or for the abhorrent views underlying it, John. They never have, and they never will.” Precious and proselytizing rock-climbing media’s Jihads! Wake up and crawl out the corporate arse you suave, thick bastards and stop turning kids into zombies of your own image! You give your readers nothing but tit-bits to promote an advantage over nature, personalities, style and ego and hence a decline of the soul - the world hasn’t changed that much really because people still need the same stuff as they always have, and THAT is why folk still need to be reminded through myth, poetry and art the substance of their heartbeat…in the heartbeat of the world. And yes, as corporate zombies, that would be an abhorrent view to you! Sport is generally the fear of helplessness in a meaningless, fragmented world…so lets be brave man and show the fuckers who’s who… enter the hero with a thousand poses. He will be loved.

Decline of the mysteries and sacred experience enforced self-reflection and alienation, dispossession and narcissism…   Gnostic thought.

‘…and one for the crow’, strangely for me, one of the most inspirational climbing books according to Climb, expressly denounces the established mainstream, makes a plea for the wayward, the weird, the poetic, the lost and the unknown. It talks from the beady eye in the slops. I condemn magazines promoting sport, the commercial, the corporate and the glamour associated with movement on rock, generally promoting a spiritual poverty by espousing a quality of experience centred on the mere physical and clean, materialist energy. You will always want more and there is always something for sale! The eye is not beady; it focuses on the aesthetics and positioned labels. The glamour is arranged around the bland type of valueless political correctness agendas and a paid position. Fuck equality, it is a sham, a mere photo opportunity! This is institutional climbing by numbers…fuck the purple blobs, may they burn in hell! This is not a simple case of ‘climbers being as difficult to categorise as the vertical world they have created’, (John Sheard in Yosemite) but a blatant assault on our humanity and spiritual wellbeing. 

There is some sort of hallucination taking place here! We are fed nonsense and believe it to be true!

‘There is a mental disease called the ‘metaphysical tendency’, by which man, by process of logically abstracting an individual being’s qualities, experience a form of hallucination which makes him accept the abstraction as the real thing’.


This abstraction is a corporate strategy!

A few observations in,  ‘…and one for the crow’ -

‘I face the modern, unrebellious language of ascent as a format for describing much that is at odds in society, my own scratching involvement and the questions brought about by my work, observations, recollections and sudden themes that are ‘chanced’ upon along the way. I see the banal uni-sexed product of sports climbing as a sad, limp offshoot of the plague of the modern feminist agenda; this sickly sweet swamp of a people-bath emanates a nihilism on a par with the macho-laden boys of summer, charging and stamping their tribal machismo profanely across most of the special places on this wounded and ailing planet. Talk of abuse and pollution and disrespect merge with these agendas and seem only to tighten the confusions and alienation and further terrorise the weak and self-pitying in clouds of guilt and repression. Sport and leisure and pastimes neatly fill a painful present with style and artifact. Escape is very often the venture…’

‘…Climbing is nothing more than a ‘poise’ from which to explore other worlds, to be tapped into when questions arise. It is not a world in itself and must never be a language to rejoice in or identify with for its own sake. The rock is a sanctuary…’

‘Many of the ascents in this book were stalked through with a sense of annihilation, and were more hunter-gatherer than farmer in concept. Sports climbing is like farming, in which the ascentionist reaps a profit and attempts to gain an advantage over nature…’   

Hundreds of thousands of homeless people…war torn areas…torture and cold blooded murders…acid rain…massacres and rapes and ethnic cleansing…religious fundamentalism…genocide…political correctness…bits of bodies set in clear plastic…sheep in formaldehyde…chip papers thrown from the window of a sparkling new Mercedes…global warming…chipped holds on Great Wall…kids demanding $100 trainers…everywhere the legacy of disassociation and suppression, of fear, guilt and shame…on your doorstep. Perhaps there is a need to climb…but how can you climb for sport?

John Redhead:2016

All images apart from 'Pete's'-JR