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Book of the month: Punk in the Gym

Thursday, 2 May 2019

© Andy Pollitt collection.

With nothing held back, Punk in the Gym is climbing A-lister Andy Pollitt's roller-coaster story from the UK to Australia, exactly as it happened. Exposing his fragile ego, we hear the whole truth: the self-doubt, the depression, the drinking, the fags, the womanising, the injuries, the loss of a father, and a deeper need for release. 

In this extract, Andy tucks into a copy of Jerry Moffat's Revelations and reminises about climbing with his old friends. Buy a copy of Punk in the Gym this month and we'll send you Revelations for free!

It had been nearly twenty years since I’d last uttered the ‘C’ word – in any of its tenses. Climb, climbed, climbing, climber – coz I’d ‘cut my hair and got a real job’ back in 1993 and emigrated to start a new life amongst the concrete and glass skyscrapers and huge tower cranes of Melbourne, Australia – as far away from any mountains as one could get. 

Then a few years ago I arrived home from work to find an Australia Post ‘Failed Delivery’ note lurking in the mailbox. 

So I took the little card down to the shops and signed for a neatly wrapped package – with British stamps on it. Back at my house, carefully prising open one end, out slid a copy of Jerry Moffatt’s Revelations

Ah, my old mate Jerry, he’s written a book, how clever! He’d always maintained he was ‘dystellic’ and couldn’t ‘stell’. 

Inside the cover was written: ‘To Andy’, then a lovely personal message, and ‘Cheers, Jerry’. 

I was truly touched and, though smiling broadly, a tear came to my eye (sentimental old fool Andy). 

So I read it. Loved it. Laughed my head off at his tales of our early North Wales limestone and Tremadog adventures. I ‘understood’ and ‘got’ it; particularly seeing as this was one of my best-ever friends – got sweaty palms, the lot, egging him on up Phoenix in the USA, then back on home turf at the Leeds ’89 competition final. Eventually, due to failing eyesight and starting work three hours later, I just had to put the book down at 3 a.m. – but finished the read on the following afternoon whilst shedding another tear, or two, and wallowing in a warm blanket of reminiscence; smiling and shaking my head in joy, mouthing, ‘Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. You legend.’ 

I’d go on to reread Revelations many times. 

For the first time in two decades I felt a connection to that long-forgotten climbing scene. 

That last line took you a millisecond to absorb but please just think about it for a moment: Two decades ... is twenty ......... years! An extremely long time ‘between drinks’, but yes, I was disconnected – by my own, deliberate choosing – and it was only when murmurs of me writing my story did the rounds that clients, suppliers and ‘industry folk’ who I’ve dealt with for twenty years had even the slightest inkling that ‘apparently’ I once used to ‘be someone’ – ‘someone else’. 

Transported back in time to a period in my life that I’d well and truly tucked away in the back of the sock drawer ... a period which started when Pete Livesey’s Right Wall on Dinas Cromlech at E5 was one of the hardest climbs in Britain. Then E6, E7, E8 and E9 came along – all of this I was there to witness and play various bit-parts in. Not just brilliant times in the world of rock climbing but truly dynamic and historic. I was there when sewn-tape quickdraws first arrived, Rocks and Friends, RPs, boots other than EBs, female climbers en masse – and then sticky rubber, protection bolts and redpointing, homemade boards and climbing competitions – and there when the first-ever rudimentary bouldering mats began replacing folded jumpers and rucksacks. 

There when Ron Fawcett was top dog, having dethroned Pete Livesey; around when ‘The Ron and Jerry Show’ was just unfolding – Jerry later to surpass Ron, only to suffer the same ignominious fate himself when young Ben Moon’s talent came to fruition. There when Crags and Mountain magazines were at their best and during the brief life of the climbing newspaper we all called ‘Mountain Worms’ – a very South-West-biased effort. 

Thus Jerry, as usual, had started a trend amongst his contemporaries: Johnny Dawes came out (should I rephrase that?) with his ‘interesting’ Full of Myself and I found it somewhat amusing how they put my ugly mug in both books. ‘Leaning’ on Jerry in his, and ‘leaning’ on Stevie Haston in Johnny’s. Did I do that a lot – lean on people? I was always comfortably tactile in that way – with the few whose camaraderie and friendship I so trusted and cherished. 

Ron soon published his historic memoirs and I guess the resurgence in retrospectives (and climbing books in general) kicked me into gear. Then I discovered UKC, Chockstone, YouTube and Vimeo – so could watch actual footage of the old stomping grounds. Bleedin’ ‘eck, even a few of my own routes! And, I got to read what all those people had written about me since the internet sites were started over a decade ago. It was just plain, fucking weird! ‘Hang on,’ I thought, ‘they’re talking about me!’ And, as if I’d carked it years ago – and of course I was well too late to post any replies. 

Generally speaking (well, reading), I was rather touched by the genuine fondness folks wrote with regarding ‘Andy P the climber’, and some of the glowing testimonies regarding various routes I’d put up or repeated were, well, simply heart-warming. I wasn’t sure about the [paraphrased] ‘Pollitt was a nut-job’ quote from XXX, or YYY’s reply to ‘Whatever happened to ... ?’ being: ‘He picked on a route he couldn’t do, chipped it and quit!’ (Even though it was qualified with an apology a bit further on.) 

So I went out to the garage and fished out my box of old climbing diaries. Logbooks that my schoolteacher ‘Mr Boorman’ had suggested that I start ... way, way back in 1978. 

Reminiscence awakened, flashbacks of real clarity: I needed a personal project outside of Vertigo High Access – something for ‘me’; so I nicked some pens and A4 pads from the stationery cupboard and ... 

It’s all twaddle you say? ... but it’s my twaddle and I’m sticking by it. So even if you did only pay 35p (or 70c in Aus./NZ!) please press on and stay with me ...

If nothing else I hope you have a giggle courtesy of a now-middle-aged-aholic, in both work and play, whose life these days is a never-ending merry-go-round of meetings with super-wealthy property developers and their architects, engineers and construction companies – a fairground ride which I thrive on. Most evenings after work are best enjoyed with a few beers, maybe a wine, and – until as recently as late 2014 – the nightly ‘happy’ pill.

And another crap night’s sleep ... ‘G’night.’

Please don’t expect too much though, the following pages aren’t a Moffatt/Grimes or Fawcett or Moon by Ed Douglas – I don’t have their famous or world-class routes or achievements to write home about (I’ve saved thousands in stamps) and these words, almost without exception, are my own. You may just have to scratch your head a little later, going ‘Yer what Andy?’ when attempting to decipher my Dawes piece, although I do prefer to write in simpler terms than Johnny. 

I most certainly don’t have the word-smithery or artistic flair of John Redhead, coz all the rock climbs I ever did were simply that: rock climbs. They weren’t ‘fields of savagery’ – I wasn’t that imaginative; nor were they even close to dissecting say, the Bayeux tapestry and fingering its soft, delicate folds – a bit moist that undercut slot – whilst edging across some desperate traverse a hundred feet above the deck with only one poor runner at ten feet and nothing else (in Chouinard Canyons for heaven’s sake). 

‘Bitch Slap’ (or should I name it ‘The Bleeding Slag’?). First ascents. Both oil on canvas and complete with prosthetic pink phallus. 

I was a kid when JR and I first met; let’s face it – he was my sort of hero and role model. Best climber on the North Wales coast and Jerry and I thought we had him measured – but we didn’t, no way! 

I wore the Ron Fawcett Union Jack woolly hat for a while, but it caused a fair bit of grief in deepest Welsh Wales and JR was always so cool in his Helly Hansens and black belt. Carried his gear on a bandolier, so, of course, would I. 

Bitch Slap. A bitch of a slap for the sloper by the third bolt. Fair enough. 

Bleeding Slag. That little, red, iron-rich stream running out of the Welsh slag heap on the back road out of Bethesda. 

John loved toying with innuendo in his route names and many thought him sexist and a misogynist. Well, not being female myself I can’t answer that, but from what I recall he most certainly wasn’t and the women were drawn to his cool, ‘sexual’ persona. I rarely got a look in when we were together ... and I was the single one! 

The above is not a ‘cheap shot’ at John, definitely not. We’re all aware of his masterful paintings (if not, how come?) and he writes brilliantly and has a unique charisma – always did – and I hold him in the highest possible regard – particularly now, twenty-five years ‘after the fact’, where we are back in contact via the interweb thingy – and the painting I commissioned, which he duly undertook and sent me in a hard tube from France, is a prized possession. A copy of his terrific book, ...and one for the crow, too, complete with lovely personal message. Memories of the new routes we shared – The Disillusioned Screw Machine, The Bloods, same-day Fingerlicker Direct and Sheer Resist, then Birth Trauma and Art Groupie – all remain permanently etched in my mind, as are the welcomes received on numerous occasions into his and (then) Gretel’s household back in the early eighties. 

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