I wake up to a video on Youtube of an old pal talking about climbing the crux of one of my routes in North Wales. It amazes me that anyone can talk their way up a route, move by move in retrospect, logged in fact for almost forty years. I try to mime-climb to the spoken moves like an ineloquent Marcel Marceau, comically out of tune to the speaker. Rewind, play. Rewind, play. But I am lost. I am lost in this time because this is not fundamentally the route of my experience. This is not because my memory has ‘passed away’, although his might have, but because it failed to see the significance in the first place, at source. I would always find it hard to remember where a route went even just after the event of climbing it. It gets me thinking as to why that was? That my conscious mind never logged such information presents an interesting morning ponder.
I have just had my leisurely breakfast at Lous Manes and picked 17 figs after the early morning raid by the male blackcap. The morning dew has bathed each darkening morsel and the white sticky sap from the stem tacks up my fingers like dabs of wood glue that sticks to the coffee mug.
I like the blackcap; he cannot contain his excitement among the tasty, juicy figs and he ‘clicks’ constantly, thereby giving away his game and his whereabouts. I allow a modicum of dainty pecks from this fairly tame bird but keep the greedy jays out of their feeding frenzy… as much as I can, because, as crows, they have ‘the knowledge’ that I am not a morning person. The early bird may get the ‘fig’ but I defend my late starts by knowing the early ‘fig’ gets eaten. Anyway, my blackcapped friend’s clicks inform me of a ripening taking place in the morning sun, and is rejoicing. Time to get up.
I cannot know what the blackcap sees or hears upon my morning approach of “get off me figs you bastard”, but I presume it has little to do with how I perceive myself to be. I cannot say that just because the bird is among the figs that I eat, I am contingent in what I see. Where am I?
And as my old friend’s memory chalks the holds like a ghost in the ether, I am nestled in something that I feel innately as ‘other’ and prior to what I hear. There is remembering here in a way that I cannot associate with. Where was I?
Fundamentally I know that the landscape of the blackcap and my friend’s narrative amount to a morning encounter, a connection, and I say ‘prior to what I hear’ because I feel there is a deeper, greater, older resonance to seeing and feeling. As I pause and look around the vast woodland that surrounds me I am often consumed by a blind potential…an infinite relationship to the animal…kinship…a simulacrum of a darker, dirtier arena and meaning. But this fullness is a momentary flash and then vanishes, and I fall back to an empty rationale, an invasion almost, increasingly more like a show than real life.
I think this a tangible premise and part clue to a previous life juggling moves on rock and memory loss. Another fully-loaded coffee offers no comfort. It is obvious that I cannot remember the moves because it was the moment that was moving me. This is a language greater than me, and as I have said many times there is greater significance to the experience than just a route. Climbing is nothing but a format for another encounter that collides dramatically with the force-fed, force-dripped, craft-manual ‘approach’, ecclesiastical in doctrine, colour-coded, institutionalized and authority-ridden; a pack-led approach that has become omnipresent in the world of sport climbing. But I am being far too polite.
Climbing walls are packed with believers singing hymns to a materially-sunk Demiurge whose teachings wrack the body with obediently followed codes of practice. A breeding ground for future robots and a training camp for the death of spirit as I know it, the world surely suffers in response.
John Redhead on his 'Demons of Bosch'
When tumbling joyfully through this loud, physical playground, there can be no ‘otherness’, the fulfilling essence for us to experience. That playground destroys, anulls thousands of years of potential… so who gives a flying fuck when we are strangers in a strange land? Nature is the urgent piss you have to stop climbing for. When we try to remember who we are and protect that which grows around us, climbing walls are a disease of the mind, denoting suffering and death. Adults should know better than to encourage children in a pursuit worth little more than colouring in with primary felt-tip pens, or chasing sweets.
‘When I take my kids to the wall, we take a few lego men and I put them on holds about ten feet off the deck. They have to climb up and save them. This way they are climbing, and learning how to move, without realising it. Quite a good method for getting kids climbing for fun and not just for the sake of climbing, which may seem quite pointless to some.’
“That’s my little Mimi up there. She’s only eight. She’s on a 6a. That’s the red one with the awkward sidies. So much faster than her friends. She refused to warm up and that’s my girl. I’m so proud.”
‘But enthusiasm is often fostered when there are games and prizes involved. Kids can pretend there are dinosaur fossils at the top of the wall or parents can hide treats in some of the holds. One of the reasons George was so excited about his project was simply because the holds looked—with the power of his imagination—like Mickey Mouse.’
Coaching kids by Ary Shreider.
‘Competition doping in ‘gym climbing’ comes with Olympic glory, money and prestige’. Well, Fancy that! But of course, these arguments go a lot further than the nonsense of simply climbing for your country. They are manifest in every aspect of society.
‘when the rock climber understands the nature of ascent he will have no need to climb rock…’ …and one for the crow.
Red Croc Rebel
I hope I have passionately articulated my response to not remembering moves on a climb? That the climb has a physical nature does not mean that the moves cannot take you to that blind potential, to another more ethereal connection. There is no manual for this apart from the words pause in nature by getting out into it.
I guess what I am saying is to never base your identity on this pursuit, because if you do, you do little more that ‘hire’ yourself out of yourself…pimped to the highest bidder.
I can have a laugh and play and work out in the gym but my challenge to others is how seriously they take it. That the psyche can fill up with this shit is worrying. Make no mistake there is a voracious, malevolent background, bankrolled, sitting in high-rise offices planning another wave to suck you into and dumb you down in.
Authentic Desire, Margins of the Mind, Shaft of the Dead Man, were stalked through as if behind enemy lines. One was prepared to die. I cannot remember the moves but there are paintings to prove I returned to my studio. Almost ‘indigenous’ in its primary impulse, nothing but ones own volition energized an ascent. Nobody could take an advantage, or seek to control, or make money from such nature inspired endeavors. The body and soul and psyche are so repleat and nourished there can be no opportunity for ‘foreign’ takeover, they have native immunity. This I call divine and I feel lucky to have experienced and survived it. This approach, almost like an erotic sacrament, sustained a life, is not in the least romantic, it is more pagan in its sensibility. But make no mistake, I am not in the ‘adventure’ game either. This stalking was not adventure. The adventure waits in the studio terrain.
On my third fully-loaded coffee I am well enmeshed. The clicking is persistent like a ticking clock. Again I call, “get off me fucking figs.” I pick another five as they seem to be ripening in front of my eyes. I think of Father Time. I am reminded of my Grandad who instilled a very spiritual respect for all that we share the planet with. But I always criticized him for trying to get me to learn the piano. ‘I don’t care’ I would retort. And to take up his passion for golf; ‘I don’t care’. And walking long distances; ‘I don’t care’. Growing tomatoes; ‘I don’t care’. Card games and crosswords; ‘I don’t care’. Everything and etc etc; ‘I don’t care’. I am my grandfather’s age when I rebelliously and petulantly refused to acknowledge his offers of advice and caring. He is here now smiling, looking at the woodland and appreciating the vegetables growing on the reclaimed terraces. Of course I care. I always did. And now I have become my ‘own’ grandfather, and still as angry as I was at six, concerning the way the world moves. Fighting on the side of ‘otherness’ came early.
It is very hard in this verdant, green wilderness that blesses me each morning, listening to the living earth, to imagine the extreme decay and negligence that humankind have allowed their psyche and the planet to be infected by. That the ‘dark ages’ are still upon us is obvious, that we have fallen and are failing as a species is undeniable. The Kali Yuga, in Hindu mythology may be near its end with a new consciousness, but it wrestles with what I see as the genocide of humanity with…
‘a hundred generations of dominant pathological affliction and perpetrator religion in global society’. John Lamb Lash.
We climb out of ourselves and home.
We run out of our selves and home.
We work out of ourselves and home.
We escape out of ourselves and home.
The anchor was severed long ago by serpents unknown.
Do not believe, but know, you are the craftsman of yourself…
Talywaenydd, N Wales. October 2019
All Images JR.