Half-a-sleep, driving through the early morning drizzle, Llanberis is gloomy and cold. I slow and pass the Victoria Hotel on the right, and then the Snowdon Railway Station with its deserted car park and wet wooden benches on the left. I drive a little farther before turning toward the centre of town. Nearing the pebble-dash council house estate, a Youth, who looks about 16 years-old, maybe 17, walks along the wet pavement. He follows other youths. All of them wear black uniform trousers and uniform blazers with Snowdon Railway badges sewn to the chest pocket. All of them are working seasonal, going no-where jobs. They look like the pictures I’ve seen of workers walking along the cobbled streets and red brick alleyways of 1960’s Manchester. The youth at the back, uniform hanging from a bowed frame, removes, in a cupped hand, a cigarette from his mouth. Smoke billows about a young face. The youth reminds me, of me, from a long time ago, from the time I worked a dead-end, seasonal job, but from a time when life was fresh and work was grown-up and the world was big and there was so much time it didn’t matter if the work I was doing wasted a week or a year or four years. Life disappeared into forever then, life disappeared into tomorrow, into next month, next year, life was just another day away. I yearn for the innocence of those days, the days of fumbles with girls in the dark and punk rock and dreams of what life would become.
Climbing, the walk to the crag, wondering and dreaming and imagining, not quite knowing how it’s all going to turn-out – climbing gives me a similar innocent excitement to the feelings I had back then – it gives me the same sort of excitement I had as a sixteen-year-old when I took-out a £150 loan and bought a 50cc motorbike. Each time I stamped down on the kick start and the engine screamed and my nose filled with 2-stroke exhaust fumes, I was in charge of my own destiny… anything could happen.
Sliding down the road, tearing clothes and ripping lumps out of my legs and arms, I fell off that motorbike several times. But several times I picked myself up and got back on and kicked down on the starter and still I got a buzz from the freedom it gave.
I’ve fallen-off and torn quite a few lumps while climbing, but I always manage to pick myself up and get back on and I always get a buzz from being out there and never quite knowing what’s going to happen.
Kick starting a route, stood beneath a dark and foreboding sea cliff, the sea washing the base of the crag, gulls crying and the wind screaming, it takes me back every time … it takes me to the smell of 2-stroke and the smell of sweat-stale empty gymnasiums, it takes me back to dusty hayfields, the churn of the bailer and the smell of wet welsh pine-trees mixed with cigarette smoke as I shelter and smoke roll-ups. The nerves and tension and tingle I get when I step from the ground on another climb, brings back the time I watched the Sex Pistols on Top of the Pops, or the first time I listened to the Buzzcocks, it takes me back to inexperienced fumbles with a girl in the dark.
When you kick down on that starter, you never quite know, but if you don’t kick, how can you tell.