Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Futures yeah

2013 was a funny year if a year can be funny. The year was preceded by me getting a bit lost in my own head trying to work out what this thing attached to it should do. Several months previous to the dawn of the year a funny conversation took place between myself and one of my best friends over a whisky in Scotland. Faced with the dawning realisation that training to be an architect in the current economic climate was a bit like training to be an ice cream vendor in the Antarctic, I began to let my head reveal its true desires (doubtless helped by a dram of cask strength Springbank 12 year old). 

The ultimate realisation was that it was both unwise and undesirable to continue on the programme that I had now spent five years on. After applying or speaking to nearly every architectural practice in Leeds - to where I had moved for a year with my girlfriend for her job - I very quickly realised that if I wanted to stay up north, then this apparently daft dream of being an independent whisky bottler/blender might not actually be too foolhardy an endeavour in comparison. And so it began. I took up a position through a temporary agency to work at the NHS' Health and Social Care Information Centre and would rise at 6am most days cramming in 3 hours of whisky-related work prior to my working day. I would spend every lunch hour on the telephone piecing together a mental picture of industry stalwarts and potential brokers in order for me to be able to handle subsequent telephone conversations with some degree of aplomb. I purchased myself a dense squared pocket notebook from Paperchase and logged each and every phonecall and with whom it took place within its pages. Systematically, I broke each double page spread into a ruled format with designated calls to action after each call was made; who I would speak to, what was the outcome, what could it teach me about the industry etc. Remotely, I was day-by-day managing to enter the industry in which I truly dreamed of working. Toasted and charred stave samples were posted to me from various cooperages I managed to convince of the scope of my operation (then non-existent), telephone numbers of mythical brokers eventually revealed themselves to me, people laughed me out of town, others sided with the motivation that I appeared to be showing. 

And so it continued; visits to every distillery in Islay during festival week, lowland distillery door knocking, the setting of self-examinations, note taking, befriending warehousemen on Islay, 20 phone calls  a day, endless whiteboard exercises mapping the plan and processes out, visits to London to meet with a whisky maker I greatly respect, developing my USP etc. etc.

Our time in Leeds was time very well spent. I was able to forge some brilliant friendships and had the ultimate privilege of living around the corner from City Bloc where the scene is simply excellent. I managed to begin to regain some form of strength there and the time away from the pressure to commit to Part II of architecture gradually faded and allowed me to see that I could try to be precisely what my silly little head wanted to be - a whisky bottler/blender and a decent boulderer. Granted the latter has some way to go before I achieve the handful of life goals I have indelibly written down but the former is starting to happen. A beautiful cask has been bottled, the artwork legally approved by the Scotch Whisky Association and all in life is starting to come together. 

After four months of dedicated board climbing and fingerboarding, I recently found myself at the Great Orme with the usual local suspects. Though some very decent goes at (the almost mythical) Clutch saw me slapping millimetres below the pocket on session one, my personal highlight came as a big surprise to me. John Gaskins' Pill Box problem might not mean much to many but to me, it epitomises every single last element of the perfect boulder problem. 

An old game some of us would intermittently play was to take the Gaskins problem holds from standing and attempt to walk our feet in flush to the 'kicker'. None of us had ever managed to do this and it was merely the usual sort of daft Scouse challenge that would ensue at every crag we would visit. This time was different; I took the holds, walked my feet flush to the kicker and for between 12-15 seconds felt extremely comfortable. During previous manic bouts of training this had never been possible and I'm still not sure why it was possible during the day in question. I dubbed this 'The Johnny Walkin' on obvious account of the whisky-related pun and estimated Danny might give this Den 7a+. I'l take it. I've also started to smash the 4.5mm rung deadhang exercise by filing it down to the geometries of the left hand hold and am doing simulated hangs with a small right edge and smaller left edge much like on the Pill Box problem. I'm doing this partly for shits and giggles but partly because I'm an underachiever that believes in my own oddly motivated head that some day I can do the problem from standing. I know from frequent text conversations with Cattell junior that I'm not alone in wanting access to the work of the G (albeit I was with Danny some years ago when he was leaping for the high good edge on Whisky Bitch and looking very likely to do it). The future's bright, the future's weird.

In summary on the back of 2013, I'm in a happy place and confident about what the future can hold both in business and in climbing.  I wish you all the very best with your desires for the year ahead and I hope it's and amazingly rewarding one for you.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Turned 30 last weekend. My madame organised me an amazing Alan Partridge-themed surprise party whereby all concerned were clad in full size masks. I'd just woken up after a nap and entered a room thinking a pint was on the cards before dinner. Low and behold... "A HAAAAAA!!". Spectacular fun ensued through the night and I was pleased to be the last man standing (sort of). Hitting the big 3-0 is seemingly a big worry for many people but I've come to be way more comfortable with the advancement and replenishment of cells in line with an arbitrarily devised unit keeping system over these past few years. Ultimately, if my crimp on the acid test rung feels good, then I feel good; I don't need a bio marker and socially stigmatised number to represent anything remotely about my person. Despite only really being free from the shackles of the academic institution for the first time in thirty years as of this year, I'm happy with how climbing is coming back into touch. My understanding of the micro intricacies of board climbing feels sufficiently developed and all of the timing elements that board climber par excellence - Mr Keith Bradbury - used to tell me on those board sessions early in the formative days of our friendship now all make sense. Presently, my fingers feel good but my core feels like a sodden bath sponge in comparison. Tres interessant! I'm looking forward to passing my sodding driving test at long last and getting involved with some Gaskinsesque dawn raids prior to work over the coming months. I miss writing and have done all year but alas the daily development of my business has occupied any time outside of training. The grand plan is of course to go full time with the business in due course and be answerable only to myself (also allowing greater flexibility to my climbing and life schedule). A poor summary but the keyboard is dusted off hopefully to log a good climbing year ahead...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Operation light as a feather

So far so good. Out of a possible fifteen days, training has thus far figured in seven of them. Owing to a slight pulley strain and plenty of finger training over the past two months, I've earmarked January as 'conditioning month'. I've now gotten into the habit of running every other day and as a result lost 3kg since beginning the mission in November. That puts me at 80.9kg from 84kg and I'm hoping to keep going down now I'm getting firmly back into the swing of running. I'm scared I might achieve something some day if I can get to a new low weight. I suppose mid 70kg would be a good aim but I'm happy to keep running as frequently as possible to increase this diminishing weight trend and see what happens by around March time.

Living in Leeds again has thus far been excellent. There's a great scene here and a wholesome mix of activities to indulge in. It's also got me thinking; I'm 'due' to complete my studies in architecture this coming September but I'm fearful of this. I'm 29 now and as many peers keep reminding me, I've "been in university forever". I love academia very much and I could see myself excelling and really enjoying a life in architecture in parallel with doing some teaching/critiquing in future years at the university. I'm juggling this prospect of long days, an uncertain state of the construction industry and whether I want to commit 100% to it. Since working in a temping job for the NHS in Leeds on their web team, life is easy for now. I can walk home in ten minutes with no stress returning home with me to put 100% into my training. I feel as though I've always had latent potential to be so so much better at climbing but it's always sat secondary to university.I'm now asking myself what the hell do I want? There's an extremely real chance that I could forfeit the opportunity to travel down this professional path in which instance I will transfer all of my dedicated energies into achieving very specific climbing goals. I will not fail at these if this is to happen.

The other scenario is to fully surrender climbing. I would absolutely have to. Nothing has been more painful to 'tick over' and never give full devotion to the sport. Years have ticked past as I've watched countless videos from friends climbing on Euro trips and further afield. I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't in the least bit jealous. I've felt completely jealous.

My problem is that I want to give absolutely everything to the task in hand in all that I do. I know that it's decision time and that something has to give. How to proceed? Yours, well and truly stumped.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

If at first...

A fortnight ago, I made the decision to go on a diet. It is at once the best and worst decision I have ever made. I don't carry reams of fat yet there does seem to be something making me heavier than I ought to be. Come on man admit it, it's FAT! I'm not surprised that a largely recent sedentary existence has brought me here but most importantly, like an alcoholic admitting to being as such, I have crossed the threshold of realisation.

Week one went by in slow motion. Every path I trod seemed to be some sort of trail to a honeypot and I was very much the stupid bear. Alas, after the first few days I was in business and could turn down a carb-based meal at the drop of a hat. A banana was for breakfast, a tin of sardines and bag of salad for lunch with a chicken breast or piece of fish with heaps of steamed vegetables for tea. I happened upon a brief relapse into sinking a few pints with a good friend and a pub tea a week on but by and large it's not been too bad. I'm back locked in to the programme this week and becoming an expert at shunning mince pies.

This week, I read two seperate quotations by two different legends of the British climbing scene. Each seem to articulate differing perspectives on the nature of sieging a project but both entertain. Why entertain? Consider this:

"...we find said boulder and...well...how long can one ‘work’ on a problem before conceding its impossibility - that one is simply posing; decorating the difficulties with a fumbling presence."

Compare and contrast to this:

""if a line inspires you it doesn't matter how long it takes""

The former quotation stems from North Wales trad stalwart George Smith. I always enjoy his pieces on North Wales Bouldering (as do many others judging by recent UKB comments) and find them very much akin to the style of writing found in the Guardian's Country Diary (of which I have an excellent compendium - you really ought to purchase it). I love this quotation for the author's humourous self-deprecation and answerability only to himself.

The latter quotation excites and instills fear in equal measure for it's cold, hard, eternal, unknowing, brute nerve - non disistam.

It may come as no surprise to you that the utterer of these words is John Gaskins. I feel no shame in admitting the level of inspiration that John has afforded me with over the course of my climbing and study life. I feel no shame in admitting also that the past seven years in university have tested me to the ends of the earth. I have for long been at the bottom of a financial ruin to pursue a single-minded academic intention and as strange and fanatical as it may sound to you, the transcendental presence of such committed individuals who have achieved so much have always kept me headstrong.Thus far, he has been the only deserver of a place in my fingerboard hall of fame mounted above the door.

That is why Mr Smith, I hope you will always write in such an excellent fashion as you do and Mr Gaskins, you really don't need to write or say anything more to keep my commitment to the project going. Thank you, really.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Waller Waller Waller woo

My head says Gaskins but my body says Waller. It's perhaps a bit extreme at both ends of the spectrum but at some point in time, you'll probably have experienced the gist of what I'm getting at. Three weeks spent so far in Leeds and life is really quite good. It's been great reacquainting myself with the city and being situated a few hundred metres from City Bloc. I can't big the style of setting up enough and there's an ace little scene going on in there. Perhaps it's the scale and the intrinsic intimacy of the place that brings it to life much like the atmosphere of the old Climbing House in Liverpool. I've been trying to work my way through as many circuit problems as my Victor Meldrew lower back will allow. Thankfully, owing to some good stretching advice and an enforced routine, things are starting to gradually ease up now and I can move my leg a fair bit more than in previous weeks. How fucking interesting for you. As much as I'm loving the close proximity to some exquisite grit crags, my mind is absolutely honed in on my ultimate aim which is to box off my project. I've been doing a lot of conditioning work with weights, the bar and the fingerboard and it feels good to be swinging around on back two once more. There's really quite some work to do over the next few months but I'm hoping come the Christmas vacation, I'll be in relatively good nick to attempt it once more when home with the rents. It'll be interesting too to see if I can gain momentum with this fat burning diet plan I've adopted. Let's hope so otherwise it's Wallertime.
I know at least one man that finds him handsome anyway.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Pastures old

Finally, everything seems to be falling nicely into place. After a frantic week spent calling, prospecting and visiting, we've finally found and been able to move into a really nice apartment in the centre of Leeds. Not only is the apartment super nice but the River Aire is outside the door and City Bloc just around the corner. Being both a keen fisherman and (trying to be) a climber, this can only bode well in the stimulus department. I had been a bit reticent at first about leaving Liverpool but I'm really not sure why now. The Leeds lads and lasses will undoubtedly have a good scene and plenty of actual rock to boot. I had my inaugural City Bloc session this afternoon and all concerned have done a very good job of providing precisely what one wants in an indoor wall; well, that's certainly the way I see it. The space has been really well thought out and large roofs have been wisely omitted given the fairly slender width of the building. Varied consistent angles and great hold selections were very welcome and problems throughout all grades I'd say were very well set. It's been around the seven week mark of having had a super painful lower back injury and so it was nice to feel in control working through these. Massive props to all concerned. Just my possessions to collect from Wirral now and some life admin then hopefully in a few months I'll have gotten a lot of mileage in and be fully immersed in all of the delights that Yorkshire has to offer. "Lovely stuff, not my words Michael, the words of Shakin' Stevens". What a peg to have outside your door!
Finally, a lesson we should all learn when in a toilet cubicle