Wednesday, 19 January 2022

People Watching

 

In the world of travel, people watching is one thing we all invariably do, even if it’s a subconscious activity. This is particularly true when moving from one airport or railway station to another and subjected to the inevitable delays, which occur sometimes at the most inconvenient times. Mannerisms, dress, appearance and behaviour are all indications to a person’s walk in life and when boredom sets in on long stop over, anything can help pass the time.

What makes people watching an art form is doing it in far flung places where delays of two or even three days occur from time to time. Three days at Lukla airstrip in Nepal for example - waiting in the hope of a break in the weather will be a never to be forgotten experience. Heavy cloud often blanks the ridge which aircraft have to fly over to reach the tiny sloping airstrip perched high above the deep valley. Even today the aircraft carry few navigational aids so the pilots need good visibility to clear the high col beneath the heavy afternoon cloud. Cows nonchalantly move across the runway whilst children play football around the unloading area. Occasionally there is talk and rumour amongst fellow watchers of a flight arriving and a temporary distraction takes over. Shaded eyes are drawn towards the col, squinting, trying to glimpse the insect like aircraft silhouetted against the sky, whilst hand cupped ears strain to hear the drone of aero engines drifting across the Himalayan foothills.

A klaxon sounds announcing the imminent arrival of an aircraft and a change from the sleepy atmosphere. Dust clouds are raised, the noise and clatter of the Twin Otter or helicopter creates a hive of activity. Aircraft bellies are opened and supplies manhandled to be replaced by cargo for the return to Kathmandu whilst passengers hastily gather for the 30/40 minute flight back into the outside world. We are crammed in the fuselage between cargo on canvas seats and a tiny perspex window offers fleeting glimpses of the world below. The strobe effect of the helicopter blades contrast sharply with the patchwork of the fields below where farmers can be seen, ant like figures labouring to produce crops which are so important to Nepal. Interconnecting paths and tracks across the Himalayan foothills where convoys of porters do the work of trucks and lorries of mechanised nations. Every day of the year these “Himalayan juggernauts” carry vast tonnage from one place to another. Many of the porters are women and children as young as 12 or 14, their loads carried in a whicker basket (Doko) supported by a headband and a crooked stick on which the loads are balanced when rests are taken. 

Awkward loads of wood and timber required for building projects are simply tied together in bundles, padded for the back and the weight taken by a simple headband across the forehead. Lukla is a focal point for porters, traders and westerners alike, situated 5 or 6 days walk from Jiri, the road head from Kathmandu and 2 days below Namche Barzaar high in the Khumbu Valley. With the advantage of the airstrip, Lukla is a busy place, particularly when mountaineering and trekking expeditions are in the area. and people watching assumes an important passion necessary to pass the time that hangs heavy when far from home at the end of a trip. The endless stream of people steadily shifting from one place to another. Happy faces, smiling faces, even serious faces will have a story to tell, perhaps more interesting than the stories on western faces at a big international airport.

 

Smooth, clean cut young men fast talking on their mobiles - rushing - moving - making deals - here - there - no time to spare, very different from kaftan clothed hippies, lounging, looking serene and all the time to spare. Who is right? Young girls fresh from school on their way home - chatter - gossip excitedly, talk of plans for the weekend. Boys of the same age group - talking, greeting in the mono syllables of boy speak, indiscernible, certainly to their parents and understood only to boys of a certain age. Back home, people watching on the London tube, I am reminded of the time when I met a young Sherpa boy just above Thyangboche monastery. It was a few years ago on a winters afternoon, about one hour before dark. He was about 13 or 14 years old and a novice monk studying in Kathmandu on his way home for holidays. He had travelled one day by bus to Jiri and walked a further 5 or 6 days to Thyangboche . He was excited because later that night he would reach Periche, his home a further 5 or 6 hours walk and the first meeting with his parents for 6 months. He was also very proud that day because he was looking after his three young brothers for the first time.


 

Here was a story indeed - volunteered from a bright cheery face and delivered with the confidence and freshness of youth. Perhaps all those other people I’ve watched in faraway places have similar stories to tell - perhaps however some of the stories are better, not for the telling, but for the imagining! Again in the hills of Nepal I’ve encountered such people as LP (Lakpa Sherpa) and Ang Chuldim both Sherpa hill people and both Sirdars (climbing leader/guides). Their dedication and leadership towards -group members are remarkable. Both have had a limited education, only four or five years at best yet LP is able to communicate in several languages. Both have remarkable intelligence and understandably neither want their children to follow in their footsteps and become Sirdars or farmers.

They want their children to follow further education and take well paid jobs in the city. If this is common throughout Nepal, and I suspect it is, who will be the farmers of the future and produce the crops to sustain life in these developing countries. Aid for educating the young is necessary for the future of these countries but that could lead to fewer farmers, particularly in a country like Nepal where aid is vital to encourage the young to continue the good work of their forefathers. Anyone who has seen the squalor and pollution of Kathmandu will soon realise that life in the country is much healthier, but is it? Again, I am reminded of the time when I met a young boy by the side of the trail in the Hinku valley. He was 6 or 7 years old with a badly gashed and infected wound on his hand. 

We cleaned and sterilized the wound as best we could but I gave little hope for the boy’s full recovery and he would probably suffer permanently from such a wound. What did the future hold for him? How would he cope with a manual job in the fields and with no school he had a bleak future, or perhaps little future at all. Yet once the wound was dressed he wanted nothing more than a cheap biro. He was right handed and only when we gave him the biro did sadness cross his face, with the dressing and injury, he couldn’t hold the cheap plastic biro which a few seconds earlier had created so much joy to his face. We move on in our own world and contact with others all too brief. 

In our western world we are often islands within a seething human sea - isolated, separate identities within the human race. We travel on planes, boats, trains, buses and cars - occasionally we may even walk a little. We may observe our fellow travellers but little do we speak. May be its only those on the pathways and trails of the mountains that we speak to our fellow travellers. A nod, wink or even a word, however brief, its at least an acknowledgement to our fellows that we see them and wish them well. Once in the mountains and hills though, life is very different. A range of greetings throughout the world - Good Morning, Guten Tag, Bonjour - Hi there, Namaste! Most greetings are well known, probably learnt in school or on childhood holidays abroad. 

The last however, is the traditional greeting of the hill people of Nepal and should be used with a slight bowing of the head and clasped hands. People watch., people meeting. Take time to observe your fellow travellers and speak - only then will you get some stories like mine to relate to your friends

 We sit in our Doctors and Dentist’s waiting rooms; reading and re-reading notices and leaflets scattered around, anything to avoid eye contact and conversation with our fellow ‘waiters’.

Malcolm Creasy  ©

 

All images supplied by the author.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Give us this day

 

I woke up the other morning and found my teeth chattering. I wasn’t cold, far from it, still warmly embraced in half-sleep. Mornings are not my thing and it can take a morning to realise I am not dead. The chattering was just a nervous impulse. I tried to control it, and of course I could by closing my mouth. But something intrigued me and I concentrated on the tapping. It seemed significant, like messages sent by Morse code. Perhaps my organs could decipher the language innately and let the message roll as I rolled into the day with thoughts of what made me…and for sure what made the universe also made me…and the day is in!

Seems obvious that we humans are out of control and a little mixed up. And yet everything we really need is arranged before us as if we are dreaming and wishing in a fantasy world. We are totally dependent and supported by the air and water provided, the earth’s soil and the distant sun for food and survival. Somehow, by chance, it all worked for us. As wriggling creatures wrapped warm in the female womb after sperm and egg have done their juicy bit, we all wrestle in self-importance, in the culture we create, oblivious within the elements of nature that brought us here. And for that we don’t have a clue. And for sure, this life before us, we didn’t ask for it. We have not chosen the direct bus to human central. We cannot. It is an unknown timetable and destination. As we have zero control over that which our basic premise began, we sure as hell gonna demand attention for the lifeform wriggling before us, that is us, in the stories we tell and enact. From the sacred roots of myths of the planet and the pushing and pulling of faith, legend and folklore, some explanation of birthright and essence is sought and needed. But, as essential as the earth, the galaxy, the universe and multiple universes are to this ‘human central’, abandonment to other stories have been fixated and dwelled upon. Sometimes when I dwell on this randomness, the way we appear to be, the multitude of stories that attempt to fix a belonging, a genesis, a rationale, the fairy tales, a moments succour to that awesome void called creation… I glimpse why I entered climbing the way I did. The culture that we order and enter and rule and the nature in our bones are thus separated and defined? It wasn’t the heroes or guidebooks that drew me into movement on rock…perhaps only Crowley throwing himself at K2 was remotely interesting!

From the third eye perspective with its resident objective view, a bizarre world emerges. As climbers, we can argue the ethics of working a line and discuss the grade of a route, say, The Indian Face on Cloggy. And for the sake of this story, we can argue and discuss the sacramental validity to the making of ‘altar bread’ for what is called ‘Mass’. Both seem utterly ridiculous from this third eye, although a progression from climbing trees and seeking a vantage point seem more natural than ‘drinking’ the blood and ‘eating’ the flesh of a cult hero…? Or is it?

Eaters of their hero need assurances that this bread is prepared properly, as regards to the symbolism of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, its ‘valid matter’, the bread, being the body of the victim and ‘correct form’ and the liturgical text being required. Now, sit back in the company of everyone, and I mean everyone who cannot say who they are, and tell me the joke…?

I took a near ground fall, climbing to my own naive parameters on Tormented Ejaculation, and others, more motivated than I, who practiced, fiddled gear and top-roped this piece of rock. Sit back in the company of everyone, and I mean everyone who cannot say who they are, and tell me the joke…? Likewise, we discuss the ‘valid matter’ and correct form in the terminology of ascent as if biblical. We need the assurances to prove the story. If this valid matter and explanation do not meet these assurances, does it really count in the game?

Wheat bread with gluten is judged to be the valid matter for the catholics. These flat discs of wheat are known as ‘hosts’ and ‘hostia’ is Latin for victim. Victimhood and bread are synonymous ingredients of this weird cult of idols. The perfect duo for a perfect chronic poison. That bread is a powerful drug leading to repetitive cycles of cravings for more bread has consequences for how we view the world.

Give us this day our daily bread…’. No one can worship God on an empty stomach, it seems to say. Or, more likely, keep eating this shit and collude passively to the scam…

Descartes called the pineal gland the ‘principal seat of the soul’, the master-gland. Tucked into a groove near the centre of the brain, this organ, the size of a grain of rice has a massive blood flow, has become known as the ‘third eye’. It has been proven that this organ of alternative vision and spirit cannot function correctly when the body is fed wheat bread on a daily basis. Perhaps this is why the Pope insists that bread is the sacramental ‘valid matter’ that in reality clogs up our ‘true’, alternative sense of perception?

As I refer to Cloggy for climbing’s ‘valid matter’, I quote a leading exponent and friend indicating that for him this rock is an idol…

For me the Indian Face came as the final realisation of a dream held solid and perfect some years ago. A purity of expression that was able to be so personal that it could transcend the obvious cosmic futility of life; friendship and activity are some compensation for a deep seated hopelessness, but only climbing appeared to have a germ of profound depth in all its excited little plays of life and death. Cloggy’s east buttress was the idol. So the beauty of the Indian Face lies not in enjoyment or achievement, but in the rejoicing of the exorcism of a self-made destructive cage…’. Johnny Dawes.

For me, Cloggy is more like a cauldron where you gather around the rich brew and feel the heat in your belly. I have my own account of this Face, written for ‘…and one for the crow’.

Dave was insisting that we climb. Climb and become fit for only one line. There are no routes I want to do. I cannot climb. The line seems not to be a climb? Why paint pictures for the sake of? Did the ancient hunters kill for its own sake? But what about preparing for the work? The ‘work’ seems to already exist. Sketched beyond me. Pre-empting training. Mileage is not training for this type of operation’.

Of course we differ and the concept of ‘futility of life’ is a difficult and sensitive one. I think Johnny’s comments are interesting and brave, coming as they did in the soul searching introspective-melee for his book, ‘Full of Myself’. In being honest in his cry for help, and the cathartic potential that climbing offers, he has transcended ‘himself’, to become ‘full’ in the searching that others also do. He was not alone in this dream, just more talented, visionary and driven. ‘Give us this day our daily climb’ could have been his mantra…and is the valid matter that makes climbing a sport…and for me its greatest difficulty, and bete noire. If climbing is seen as a prop can you metaphorically ever walk again? If climbing is a medicine you better watch the dose… or become ‘full of others’.

I would rather be gnashing my teeth on the sidelines, faithless and Godless and in grave doubt than be a convert to some religion, some system, to some brethren where every question can be answered and every answer brings a warm and cosy, complacent, self-satisfied smile’. ‘…and one for the crow’.

It is my opinion that if climbing can be construed as a medicine or indeed a religion then keeping a distance, keeping the joke, keeping its ‘hosts’ at arms length, staying almost hidden behind the life-affirming and/or crippling addiction, behind the conquests, makes sure that this perfect chronic poison doesn’t speak of conversion, or instil into more potent aspects of human activity.

And of course the third eye often fails and after forty years since moving through Cloggy’s mystic rituals, the joke wears thin. It is as if one lives as if already dead, indifferent to the moves of success or failure. But what connects Johnny to myself are those moments when the playful-self, the ego, the group persona, the character were naturally eliminated in the unconscious, effortless, almost entranced connection to the rock as if another being were doing the moves. Perhaps this is what is called ‘satori’? What you choose to do with it, or how long it takes to register, depends on how you relate to the language of the joke…?

My ‘principal seat of the soul’, when not acting ‘sticky’ and silly in a yeasty sketch after scoffing two croissants and a pain aux chocolat, can often see that climbing and indeed all sport can be a unique attempt to ease and relieve suffering, ominously sanctioned in the manner, the vital matter of religion and belief. Hilariously, when the wheat has been totally binned from my diet and the ‘penny drops’ and the pineal ‘blings’ into action, the mystical verbiage becomes more intense and the artist overdoses as if suddenly being free. Here, my perception feels that the training for achievement further inflicts the core values of a redemptive belief in suffering as a destructive and addictive tool - for self and for self it is.

From here I can only assume that the commercial rise of ‘sport’ has greatly increased what I see as the casualty rate of the human soul…but life goes on and despair becomes brave and for the artist who tweeks the ‘moving parts’, sensing this anomaly becomes manifest. They go to ground.

But who can say? Crisis, despair and alienation seem to be major players in the quest to excel and be creative. The outsider role of the artist fills this space. It is this ‘excel’ business what inspires folk to do more and more, which strangely provokes me to do less and less. I took my experiences and worked them through in the studio to my own restless need to create some ‘other’, some rationale, from the chaos. For chaos it is. Art comes from alienation.

For the catholics, a munch of their ‘host’ is quite honestly born from chaos - that God is a sham and we are throwing dice as a desperate act to reason. For a climber, the use of chalk and top-roping is quite honestly born from the same chaos - and that its goals and achievements are inadequate. For an artist to immerse in the ‘inadequate form of existence’, in shams and destructive elements is quite honestly also born from chaos. That the Anthropocene is upon us is effortlessly portrayed, the human impact irreversible.

The difficulty of the wall is not physical but emotional and so the ‘voyage’ remains substantially intact though to have frayed edges on something so beautiful is perhaps to have not so much…’ letter from Johnny.

The shape of my paintings, the connecting of forms, present an atavism as inherent as the shapes, buttresses, slabs and walls that constitute Clogwyn Du’r Arddu. Its black bulk floats through pools, amassed for the soul’s release…I cannot climb…too many hours in the field…too many negotiations…I need to paint’. ‘…and one for the crow’.

I can’t say I wasn’t attracted to the ‘gibbet’ side of climbing, cos that’s the interesting bit, the trigger point that says something more than the moves and moves onto something else. But the bigger part of me knows the flaw. Joining bits of rock into movement can be fluid and beautiful, and Johnny was a devotee and master, and with training and time the language develops grows into an art. And here we are, a person playing with a ball or a person behind the wheel of a racing car can develop the same process. When your health depends on the chosen activity, you are sure as hell to take it seriously…to succeed at the game even though we are defined by a total lack of belonging. When death features as a construct in the game, it is little more than denial of a death already taken place. 

 

My particular grain of rice is the bastard, dwarf organ that tells me of the futility. I call it the Gnostic chip. It converts ‘normal’ into the ridiculous. But don’t get me wrong, this is also the joy and hope we obviously so desperately need. As ridiculous as eating victim bread to symbolically devour the flesh of one who has apparently suffered to save mankind, to continue the suffering and persecute and kill for the sake of, progressing to ultimate species annihilation. So when I have stated in the past that E9 6c, the given grade of Indian Face and its valid matter, is being enacted out on the streets every night in Liverpool, believe me, it is the knowing, groaning of the possessed, the savage spin-off…


We are such random fucks.



John Redhead. Lous Maners, Costoja. February 2020.