Al Powell on Jirishanca’s summit slopes.

Before I started climbing I would watch documentaries or read books about individuals who had forsaken the ‘normal’ path and chosen something different. While watching or reading, never once did I think these individuals were arrogantly looking down their noses at me or smugly shouting about how good they were. Their stories inspired, they gave me a brightness on the horizon to dream, even though, at times, where I dreamt was very different from their choice. And if they had not told their story, well how would I know about it and how would I be inspired?

In making the short film Echoes. Outside is hot and sticky with Lukasz and Wojtek, two very talented and inspiring people, we set about to make a film that would hopefully inspire others with their choice, it was never intended, like some have said on UKC, to be a slight on people who have chosen a different way from that which I have taken.

I have been accused by some of being arrogant and smug, I am neither. I am an average bloke who climbs average and I have never said anything different, I am certainly not cutting edge and have never described myself as such, as suggested by one person. Some have suggested that the story, giving up security is not a story. I suppose that maybe it isn’t for a bolder or younger person than myself or for a person with a family security-net, or for someone who has grown up with the confidence a privileged homelife can give, but for me, and I’m sure for many in in the middle of their lives, giving up everything you have grown up to believe life was about was terrifying and certainly not easy.

I always knew by making the film I would open myself up to ignorant comments from some, not all by any means, but certainly some – comments that would be so far off the mark as to be laughable, if they were not so hurtful – but that I suppose is the nature of the beast of todays instant button hitting and if by making this film we have inspired one or two people well that’s OK, job done.

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17 Responses to Inspiration?

  1. This is much easier said than done, but try to ignore the snipers and the moaners. Nobody would ever achieve anything interesting if they listened to every negative comment they hear…
    “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. He who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
    – Theodore Roosevelt

  2. mark goodwin says:

    The following is a rather personal expression, given by way of thanks, but also to try to underline that Nick Bullock is a human being loved by his friends, and not a caricature target that people should be free to sling shit at. Anyway, moving away from the unfortunate immature behaviour recently displayed on UKC … here is some celebration, and gratitude!

    I want to say something about the film itself, and for the benefit of Lukasz and Wojtek (Polished Projects – very witty and a very poetically alluring company name!). After the film (Outside is Hot & Sticky) was shown at Nick’s book launch I congratulated Lukasz on what a splendid job he’d done on not just making a genuine profile of a person, but actually producing a portrait. Actually, I didn’t so much congratulate him as thank him for a gift.

    It goes without saying: the production levels of this film and the skills demonstrated are obviously top-end. The choice of music is fresh and witty, and the attention to sonic detail, to sound-texture is particularly pleasing to the likes of me. But all that kind of ‘polish’ is not that unusual these days (that’s not at all to dismiss it). What is really striking about this film, for me, and for my partner Nikki, is the degree to which it is a portrait. It is one thing to make a good likeness of a person, but a whole other thing to actually capture their personality.

    Nikki and I both know Nick very well – and so we will of course have a particular way of reading this film. But also we are in a position to ‘judge’ whether or not the ‘person’ on screen is actually the human being we know, or instead some projected caricature . So often with such commercial and promotional type films the one being profiled gets a suit and a mask and is edited into some kind of action-hero, or if not that extreme, there tends to be a projection of a constructed persona designed to carry ‘a message’ and/or a ‘brand’. Of course this is a promo-film, but it does have more of the feel of a film sponsored, rather than being marketing propaganda.

    There is a lot of wit in this film, from the makers: a lot of playing with the constructed projection I mention above, and then blowing that kind of projection to pieces. For example, I love the image of the pensive Bullock, probably thinking about his writing, the author oh so engrossed in his creativity and need to express, and then suddenly we see Bullock turn towards off-camera, and at this point he looks a little like a cat that has suddenly spotted something tasty wriggling in the undergrowth, his eyes narrow a little and then widen a little, he seems to cock his head to one side, and then without warning he explosively launches from spurting out “You what?” into a mischievous performance in answer to his poor, suffering film-maker’s question about his daily routine, which obviously and yet startlingly includes a morning shit!! (And of course also includes coffee!) This is such classic Bullock, as far as I know him, and of course Lukusz has superbly aided and abetted Bullock regarding his tendency to take ideas like ‘noble author’ or ‘action hero’ and flush them down the bog. (Hence Bullock’s nickname for me – Pretentious Poet.)

    There are certain ‘messages’ that Nick might want to project via a film about himself, and understandably and rightly so. However, I’d say that Lukasz has pretty much ignored most of those intentions, and has gone only for capturing personality. And don’t we get the full range! We get the grumpy, prickly Bullock that Nikki and I have come to love in and odd way (and since his escape from prison has mellowed massively); we get the mischievous Bullock; and the Bullock of hilarity so defined by that see-sawing laugh of his; we get a brief bit of Bullock struggling to express himself and heading towards trouble (bring it on UKC!!); we get clear, precise, serious eloquent Bullock staring you in the eye and saying just how it is; and we get a bit of a dork running in the rain that Nikki just wants to run up to and cuddle – and I feel free to use the word ‘dork’ here because Nick proudly spoke to us, one evening on our boat, of his pleasure in presenting the dorky-bumbly-runner side of himself, when he showed us the film.

    The shot that really gets both of us, particularly Nikki, is Nick pulling up his hood in the rain, turning to the camera, looking straight into the lens … and as he does so his face suddenly softens and then expands into Nick’s smile. Such a greeting, and such an open expression. We of course see friendship there; but I think that smile is an invitation – to anyone who is honest – to become a friend. This gaze expresses the core of the Nick Bullock that I know. There’s a lot of jagged, crackling energy that comes off Bullock, and indeed Lukasz said to me that at first he found it very hard to negotiate that complex prickliness; but he said that after not too long he could find a way in, and a way into a generous personality. Bullock’s prickliness is not a door slammed in one’s face, it is rather a way of filtering out those who won’t make the effort to get to his honesty.

    So, Lukasz & Wojtek, thanks for making that effort and for the gift of this portrait of our friend. It means a lot to me, and probably even much more to Nikki – that shot of him smiling in the rain brought tears to her eyes when she first saw it, and has each time she has seen it since.

    Lukasz, at his launch, Nick said that he had got a tad annoyed by the amount of time you spent on shooting his coffee pot … and then you didn’t even use it in the film! Nick doesn’t really know anything about poetics and so really won’t be able to understand why you did that, bless him! Anyway, yes, I know that Bullock’s battered coffee pot says lots about him, and so I’m guessing that what happened was: you astutely listened to that pot, and was thus able to then see all the vital details and nuances of the owner’s gestures and expressions, and then capture those, and then stitch them together into an image that expresses the inspiring paradox that is the person of Nick Bullock.


  3. Mark Reeves says:

    Hi Nick.

    Not seen the thread, but sadly thats UKC for you. Take the rough with the smooth, I am not sure that many of these people would have read the book as ‘giving up security’ is but a small part of the story I thought I had read.

    For the record though Nick you are probably a ‘slightly’ above average climber, but only slightly 😉

    As for inspirational writing, like I have said there’s Deep Play and Echoes for my top motivational climbing literature porn.

    Oh, and when are you going to run a Llanberis Circuit Boot Camp?

  4. Rob Cooper says:

    Tolstoy reckoned that all literature asks just two questions: Who are we and how shall we live? Your short film (and the book) raise the same two questions.

    I was filled with a deep melancholy after watching the film. The same sadness that lingers after a broken relationship. A depression of the heart.

    You are a lucky man for being able to have a stab at answering Tolstoy’s questions. You are much closer to knowing who you are and how you shall live and my sadness came not from you looking down at me, but from me looking down at myself. Your story, as all good stories do, forced me to reflect; poetry as a mirror.

    My mistake was to take your story literally. To feel intimidated by the facts of your existence. I wanted to be you. To be in your shoes, or more precisely your van!

    But this is rubbish. If I had wanted that, I would have chosen that. I have made brave decisions. I have toughed it out. I am a teacher and that’s a great thing to be.

    Once I had recognised my mistake, and took your story as allegory, the mirror cleared and I have been inspired to be better at what I choose to be.

    I can now watch your little film again and look you in the eye.

    • Nick Bullock says:

      Hi Rob,

      Awesome – sorry to use that word but it fits on this occasion. Note to myself, must read Tolstoy.


      • mark goodwin says:

        Ay up, Nick!

        Rob’s last comment, about his experience and about sadness – he has made me realise something about why perhaps some people get so aggressive towards you, or rather towards a version of you.

        In some cases it will be old fashioned jealousy, but I’m wondering how many other people might feel sadness, in a similar way as Rob describes, after having watched your film … but rather than pausing and reflecting (as suggested by Rob’s excellent ‘poetry as a mirror’ phrase ) they instead respond with anger, and use you, or rather a distant fake image of you, as a scapegoat. An ‘inspiring’ film these days, it seems, can rouse people’s doubts about themselves, or perhaps doubts about the ‘prison’ of the ‘society’ they find themselves in. All ‘societies’ have to be ‘prisons’ to some degree, to keep order, but it is up to each ‘prisoner’ to try to define their own ‘freedom’, and when people fail to do this, perhaps without even knowing that they have, but somehow feeling that they have, perhaps that is why they become angry. I just thought your film was inspiring – a bit naive of me really, I now see why your film is hugely challenging and even ‘offensive’ in the minds and hearts of some.

        Having said all this, the above is just a ‘story’ I’ve just told; an attempt by me to simplify life. I’m really not sure what is going on here, it does shock me how aggressive people can be over things they are obviously choosing to make up. And I’m really just thinking aloud, and struggling with it.

        ‘Story’ is the all important word here, and that’s coming from a poet who favours less ‘simply constructed’ ways of expressing existence, and prefers open-ended structures that play by making patterns with ‘chaos’. But, making stories, that’s what all humans do, all of us, including the pretentious poets; we have to tell stories, we have to simplify the complexities of life into stories, otherwise nothing could ‘make sense’. I don’t know who first said it, but I heard it back in my teens: ‘Mountaineering is a metaphor for life.’ That has stuck with me, and the stories that people bring out of the mountains are most useful outside the context of simply climbing mountains. (Aside, to illustrate: When my ex was giving birth to my daughter things rapidly became a very frightening emergency, I remember my mind being filled with images of all the most scary moments I’d experienced in the mountains, none of which compared to that moment, but they helped me through that moment.) (And also, some of your stories have had a similar usefulness for me. When I was rather ill a few years back I often asked myself the question: ‘What would a Bullock do here now, how would he deal with this?’ I wasn’t thinking of the livestock Bullock, of course, ha-ha! but ‘a Bullock’ is distinct from the actual you, who I know well. ‘A Bullock’ is a character I made up from certain things I know about you, and then I let that fit-for-purpose character play out in my imagination to help me.)

        It used to be, perhaps, that all those years ago when you were reading the ‘stories’ hauled back from the mountains more people were prepared to take them as gifts, whereas now more people seem to take them as offensive challenges. (I don’t think the ones who take offense actually out-weigh the ones who know the story-gifts brought back to them, I just think the offended make more noise.) Perhaps this is to do with the way stories tend to be told by the media and by much of Hollywood – the focus is more on combat and oppressing one’s enemy, more on ‘war on terror’ rather than stories of questing and growing through facing consequences. There is also now a huge pressure on people to conform to a variety of absurd ideals and ‘lifestyles’, this pressure is applied through stories designed to control and manipulate (advertising). Unfortunately, perhaps a lot of those who are so aggressive towards you are struggling against something that is too horrible and difficult to cope with: that pumping out of fake stories without knowing the stories are fake … And in that struggle they end up having to throw the shit at the likes of you. After Rob has made me more aware of this I now feel a little less angry about some people’s behaviour towards you.

        Anyway, do be careful, with all this talk of scapegoating, and dyeing for others sins, and of course because you were born on Christmas day – we don’t want you ending up with a Jesus Christ complex! You have enough psychological problems as it is! Probably more than me!!

  5. Jim Walton says:

    “The thought of approaching action aroused strange and contradictory emotions in me. I felt an immense pity for all the little men who toiled on in the prison which society has succeeded in building against the open sky, who knew nothing and felt nothing of what I knew and felt at that moment. Yesterday I was like them, and in another few days I would be like them again. But today I was a prisoner set free; and tomorrow I would be a lord and master, and commander of life and death, of the stars and the elements.”
    Giusto Gervasutti

  6. John Yates says:

    Having read Nick’s CV – presumably written by himself – it suggests something a little more than average in terms of climbing prowess and ability. And for a man who elsewhere has claimed not to be impressed by numbers and grades, his Bio bristles with them. If being called ‘cutting edge’ is the worst of the calumnies that Nick claims to have detected on the internet, then he has a thin skin indeed. In the presentation and (possibly – my memory is poor ) the film the other night, Nick claimed to be homeless, and yet in the recent interview with Ray Wood (January 2012) he mentions living on sponsorship and income from ‘rent on his house in Leicestershire.’ How does this square with being homeless. If anything, this makes him a landlord/rentier, not a homeless person. As one who is so keen to point out the inaccuracies in others when it comes to reportage, this would be an omission indeed. He could of course have now sold this house and be living off the interest and capital, but even that would be far removed from the more familiar description of the term ‘homeless.’ But then this is a man who calls himself average.

    • Nick Bullock says:

      Wow, you should read what you’ve written above and take a moment to realise that you actually really do have a problem John. Carry on and try to pick holes out of nothing if you want, it makes you look sad and troubled.

      Get well soon

    • mark goodwin says:

      ‘homeless’ refers to a lack of ‘home’, this does not preclude actually owning a house that is not one’s home, or was one’s home at one time.

      In the sense of not having a ‘place of dwelling’ Nick is homeless, and in the sense of his being a ‘tramp’, as in one who wanders, he is ‘homeless’.

      However, I would only disagree with Nick regarding his calling himself ‘homeless’ on the grounds that there are so many ‘homes’ open to him, and friends within them that love him, that perhaps ‘home’ follows him.

  7. John Yates says:

    Nick. I love the way you never address the criticism but condemn the person. I will continue to point out the inconsistencies and contradictions in what you write, so long as they are published in the public realm. John

    • Nick Bullock says:

      John, if you actually knew me, which you dont, you would realise I regularly address criticism, I am my own biggest critic, well until now, thanks, my own PA keeping me on the straight, great.

      By the way, the fact I let your comments/criticism (Mostly pointless, unwarranted and uninteresting) appear on my blog should tell you something in itself. Do you do this for every person who has a blog or is it just a special one-off? And you say you really dont have a problem with me?

      Take the fact I have a house that’s rented out, well, hello, I’ve written a book about leaving said house and renting it, I talk in lectures about renting my house and as you said its mentioned in almost every interview I have had published, its no secret. Anyway, over to you as you just cant leave it alone can you?

      Glad to be of interest to you

    • mark goodwin says:

      if one does not publish
      in the ‘public realm’

      does one publish in
      a ‘private kingdom’?

      as to talk to a wall
      inside an owned home

  8. Iain Smith says:

    Obviously, start with ‘War and Peace’ as it probably sums up the responses on (and to) the UKC blog- not that those comments are worth anything. Personally, I enjoy your writing and am entertained by it. Everyone has a point of view and whether I agree with you or not, I do find the way you write refreshing and thought provoking. I have been climbing for a long time (23 yrs) and took the route of career, kids etc. I don’t regret it and I continue to look for the challenge in everything I do. I am glad that you do what you want to do. Keep up the good work.

    • Nick Bullock says:

      Thanks Iain,

      That is exactly what the film and what much of my writing is about, I totally agree, there is challenge and hopefully a feeling of living life to the full in whatever the individual chooses, it could be bringing up a family, working hard at a job you love or giving up security to take your passion to the full. But, we cannot get away from the fact that there are many people who are very unhappy with their lot, I used to work with quite a few who hated coming to work everyday, then if my rantings etc encourage them to think, ‘Well if that no-hoper can do it, why not me?’ great.

      I think the film and my grey comments made people stop and think, most would realise I was not talking of them, but as Mark says above “An ‘inspiring’ film these days, it seems, can rouse people’s doubts about themselves, or perhaps doubts about the ‘prison’ of the ‘society’ they find themselves in” And in doing this they can then take a few paths, one is to attack, but the one I always took was to think, well if they can do it, bugger it, yes, I can also and in doing this I thanked the person who had stirred these emotions.

      Anyway, cheers Iain,

      All the best

  9. Crikey…I think the exchanges on UKC and here (for and against) say more about the nature of blogs/messageboards than they do about Nick Bullock. Would people really say these things to each other if they were face to face in a room together?

  10. William says:

    Let me hop in here on this…I am a petty climber here in Oklahoma, US. We do not have much rock here in OK, and the closest rock for me to get on is a 2.5 hr drive from my home. But this little bit of rock we have is outstanding! Saw your video about 1 month ago, it inspired me to my bones, watched it 6 times in a row. Tonight, after finishing a good movie, Goats (with David duchovny), I was feeling right and making out some list of priorities, passions, heroes etc. I remembered you and your video and had to find it again so that I can add it as one of my ‘talismans.’ And now here I am posting, which I usually do not do, trust me. I will get back again and talk with you more later, but for now I wanted to say YOU INSPIRE ME TO MY CORE! Thank you, and don’t pay much mind to those you know who’s, hopefully they will find something more within themselves one day. Be well Nick.


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