Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Dole Days

I arrived expecting the others to be there already, but was greeted by an empty car park. And a surprisingly warm January sun. Admittedly it was the end of January, but January nonetheless. So I decided to sit outside the car, taking advantage of this unseasonal bonus. Rolling a cigarette always helps to pass a few moments alone. Indeed these situations often lend themselves to taking time over the rolling process, meticulously distributing the tobacco and rolling a rounder than usual roach. The extra seconds, and undivided attention, spent on this almost loving craft, result in a much more satisfying product than a cigarette rushed together between mouthfuls of beer and conversation. After admiring it for a moment, I set fire to my work of art and sat back to wait for the others.

After ten minutes or so a red Clio approached, its 1.1 litre engine mustering a tortured high-pitched roar. The brakes were applied and it swung into the car park, coming to a standstill a few feet from where I was sitting. Perched in the boot of my car. Formal hellos were dispensed with as the four passengers had only left my company an hour beforehand. I watched as they unloaded their gear. It came as little surprise that Ryan had left his bag back at the house.

“Fucking Hell, I checked in the house an’ it weren’t there, so I thought it were in me car.”

“S’alright Ry, Just borrow boots off one of us. What size are you?” someone said.

“Between seven and a half and nine and a half.” Came Ryan’s typically vague reply.

“What the fuck! Does it change depending what day of the week it is?” An incredulous look started to appear on Nige’s face. Unfazed by this comment, Ryan continued with his request, and soon hit the jackpot. Rob had a spare pair and being an eight and a half, they were slap bang in the middle of Ryan’s unfussy size range. With everyone now having boots it would seem we were nearly ready to go.

“Eight and a half, Rob? Quite big feet for someone your size.” Nige enquired with a dubious tone to his voice, well aware of Rob’s ill-fitting rock boots.
“Guess you must have a massive dick as well!” Nige continued, laughing to himself, as any seriousness to his line of questioning evaporated. I was listening to this exchange with my back turned, and looked round just in time to see Rob’s reaction to this comment. With pursed lips and a few short, rapid nods, Rob seemed to be taking this compliment on board with no trace of irony at all. I started laughing at this, and Nige’s smutty giggling erupted into a belly laugh, which seemed to enlist Ryan, Seth and even Rob into the spontaneous mirth.

After a few moments more spent rooting round the boot of the car it appeared that we were finally ready to go. I asked Nige about the Pay & Display machine but he says don’t bother, it’s voluntary. A quick check of my car door revealed that we weren’t quite ready, so after I’d locked my car we set off.
The walk to the crag was conducted in silent single file, which gave me time to think about what I was going to do this afternoon. The previous two afternoons had been spent eroding my fingertips to the point of bleeding and I was reluctant to aggravate them again. I decided that I was going to take some photos and maybe do some easy problems, hopefully preserving some skin for later in the week.
Climbing weekends, the skin would only have time to make it to the thin stage by Sunday evening, whereby the sustained assault on it during these last two weeks of unemployment was taking its toll. Despite the discomfort at the end of my digits, this newfound keenness felt reminiscent of my carefree school days. It felt good to be a climber again.
Arriving at our chosen destination, pads and bags were set down, and conversations were struck up again as lines were inspected and holds fondled.
The place was caked in chalk, a remnant of the fine weather we’d had over the last fortnight. I left the camera for now and put my boots on and started to warm up.
I remembered a relatively easy problem from my last visit several years ago. I’d failed on that occasion to top it out, but it felt easy today. It made me keenly aware of the progression you make in gritstone basics over years of climbing on it. Despite no longer having the meteoric rise in grades that fuels your psyche during the early years of a career, I have found coming back to sites of previous defeats and winning with ease a more subtle reminder of progress.

With a couple of warm ups under our belts we soon got embroiled with some of the harder problems on offer. I spared a quick thought for my skin but couldn’t help myself, so I applied some tape to my tips as I joined in with the climbing.
“Go on beast!”
Someone, could have been any of us, was urging Rob up the rock. It had to be said that he was
looking strong today and flashed the problem in fine style. Nige and myself had already done the problem so Seth set off next. The strong American strolled up it, as if he was using a different, better, set of holds to those who had gone before him.
“Nice one Seth.” Someone remarked, although in truth it had been a formality. Next to try it was Ryan who was also expected to walk up it. However, his long slender frame, usually such an advantage to him, was this time his downfall. His knees seemed to scrape the side of his gurning face as he struggled to get his foot in the break. Eventually the tenacity of Bolton’s finest relented as his hands, ever so slowly, migrated down the slopers.
“Fuck’s sake” He muttered as he dropped off looking perplexed.
“Never mind Ry, Expect you’ll have it next go.” I smirked. It wasn’t often I flashed a problem that he didn’t, so I indulged myself and the smirk became a chuckle. Another virtue of gritstone weirdness, I thought, as I remembered failing spectacularly to keep up with him on a recent sport climbing trip round Europe. We moved onto another problem, leaving Ryan to what became a rather protracted siege. After failing on it once I decided to leave it as my tips were now in agony. I took this opportunity to have a cup of tea and another fag. Inspired by my creation earlier, and with time to kill until my brew cooled down, I tried for another example of smokeable perfection. Not so good this time, but fuck it, it gets lit, and I have my cup of tea.