“Have you got me?” I called down to John and was assured all was well. I let go of the top of the climbing wall and was instantly plummeting through space. At first I wasn’t too concerned, as a bit of a joke we’d often drop each other a few feet applying the brake for a gentle landing at the last moment. Suddenly my attitude changed when I realised I had gone past the point of no return where the rope should have slowed me and that I was going to hit the gym floor very hard indeed. I looked down, bent my legs and got ready for the shock, hitting the floor with an almighty bang and cart wheeling backwards into the spectators.
An eerie silence fell. Leaders paused in their efforts, seconds peered over to where I lay dazed and moaning, my heels throbbing. I struggled to focus and, looking up from the floor, found a ring of helmeted heads were peering down at me with benign curiosity.
“Are you alight?” Asked John casually.
“Yes, no thanks to you. What the f*** were you doing?”
“Well,” he replied, exasperated with another example of what he regarded as my obsessive concern for safety, “the rope was tangled.”
Fortunately it happened so quickly I didn’t have time to get frightened. I’ve been scared a lot in my time amongst the mountains, one of the few redeeming features mountaineering has is that at least you get to be frightened in some beautiful places. I’ve found many things can engender terror, loose snow, crumbling rocks and, of course, that sense that one is about to be hurled into space at the very next instant can be disconcerting. All these things have frightened me at one time or another but it dawned on me, trembling on a ledge one day, that one common thread runs through all of my most adrenalin filled moments…my friend John.
Listen to John and I bat the breeze and recall moments of terror in an edition of Purple Comedy Tales from the Rectum Audio http://standupcomedy.podomatic.com/entry/index/2007-07-22T01_38_12-07_00
He’s been present during most of my close encounters with death and, in my darker moments, I harbour a deep suspicion that he is actually trying to kill me. We are contrasting climbers, I safety conscious, priding myself in setting up the perfect belay, John, casual in the extreme, tossing a sling around a loose spike and hoping for the best. John, believes in fate, “If your number’s up that’s all there is to it.” I believe in statistics and spend most of my time on the hills trying not to become one.
Despite all the times he led me off route, lost us in the mist, belayed me up crumbling rock on a peg fixture that wouldn’t hold a mouse – we were partners. Climbers are more than friends; there were times when I would have died to save his life and others when I would have cheerfully strangled him. We shared terror on the icy cliffs of Lochnagar, fought, drank and chased women together for almost twenty years.
Despite the passage of time, our days on the hills together bind us with memories that no one else has shared, moments on the mountains that remain as defining moments of our lives.
That John is still alive is nothing short of a miracle. Especially when you consider he once drove his motorbike head on into a stone wall after a lager filled evening. But even more surprising is that we are still friends and, after all these years, I harbour a deep suspicion that he is still trying to kill me.