Thursday, July 28, 2016

Eric Jones....The end of Tremadog's cafe society.

It was a tweet by Ed Douglas that alerted me to the fact that Welsh climbing legend Eric Jones was finally selling up his cafe/bunkhouse business and finally retiring. As if someone like Eric could ever retire! Incidentally, if you live in Wales or can get the ITV equivalent to iPlayer then there is a documentary ‘Never too old’ where Eric and his friend, the splendidly named Jeremy Trumper, climb The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. (ITV Wales 8pm Monday August 1st) I watched this when it was first aired on the Welsh language channel, S4c a couple of years ago and it’s well worth a watch.

It’s some years actually since I’ve been in Eric’s caff or even climbed at Tremadog but it was always a great haunt. Even when the weather was too wet to climb, you could always fester and watch some brave souls having an epic on Valerie’s Rib as the rain washed down the slab.

Of course being situated right under the cliffs, it has become par for the course for Eric to be called to action in the event of an accident or emergency. Sadly, on the odd occasion an accident has resulted in fatal consequences, more often than not though, it has just been a crag fast climber who has pushed their limits and found themselves strung out in no man’s land, unable to advance or retreat. One amusing incident recalled a climber with his knee totally jammed in the crack on Shadrach. A pleasant if unconventional VS climb with three options to climb the first pitch. Possibly the worst being the aforementioned crack-tip do ‘The Brothers Start’ to the right,much more pleasant.

With the leader totally jammed and unable to extract his knee, one of the party ran back to Eric's to grab a bottle of Fairy Liquid which on his return, was liberally applied over the now battered and bruised limb resulting in an eventual extraction.

The caff and its genial host have been part of the Welsh climbing scene for as long as most can remember so it will be sad to see him go.

Let’s hope whoever takes over Eric's business keeps it as is and doesn’t decide to turn it into a fast food outlet or curry house. Although ‘Climb and a Curry’ does have a ring to it actually!


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tell me when the light turns green

Still from 'The Wanderer': Craig Dinas, N Wales
I’ve been trying to digitalise some old VHS video tapes which contained a fair bit of camcorder footage and which with the system I’m using,copies straight onto DVD. So far...not so good. The old tapes have obviously deteriorated and the DVD copies are not exactly HD quality! Lots of flickering and glitches. Apparently that also has something to do with the recording software. The footage has lost quality when seen on TV but it does run at real time without flickering and glitches. I do have the original High 8 mini tapes so I’m tempted to see if I can record straight from the analogue camcorder to disc or hard drive.
Harold Drasdo on his own route.Moss Rib

Its an interesting thought though,when you consider the thousands of hours of rare and irreplaceable climbing/outdoor footage-both on cine film and video tape-  that is buried away  and forgotten in drawers,lofts,cupboards and sheds. I blogged a while ago about some rare climbing films which had totally disappeared and were last heard of in an elderly woman’s shed in Aberystwyth. Of course amateur footage taken by those recording their adventures is always going to be fascinating for the individual to look back on. However, there must also be a fair bit of as yet undiscovered footage taken on Cine 8 cameras and analogue camcorders which feature many iconic figures.

The late Harold Drasdo once loaned me a DVD of old climbing footage featuring Joe Brown. I recall there were at least five films going back to the 50‘s and 60‘s which included footage of JB climbing in Jordan. I’ve never seen or heard of these films being distributed in the wider world?

Phil Livesey at the start of The Wanderer

Talking of HD, it was nice to see I had a bit of footage of him climbing his own route, Moss Rib, which he put up with Tony Moulam on Craig Dinas near Betws y Coed.I’ll always regret not taking more camcorder footage of my climbing adventures as many of the people I climbed with are either now dead, have moved away,or have given up the activity. 

Ken Wilson’s recently republished ‘Snapshot’ was a remarkably prescient take on the world of climbing photography which although originally published in 1981, even then lamented the fact that the sexy action shot had become the norm within climbing media while the ‘snapshot’ which recorded more accurately climbing culture as most people experience it, was being forgotten. In a way, these old amateur video camera recordings from the 80‘s and 90‘s form an important part of Ken’s ‘Snapshot Culture’. Recording an important period in climbing history in all its glorious vivid over saturated glory! 

'The Big Yin' Pen Tyrau: Arenig Fawr

Fixing on a few stills from the footage, although as photographs they would be considered terrible, there is something of a ‘Lomo’ quality to them. They could have been taken on a plastic Holga camera...all light leaks, weird saturation, blur and Polaroid colours.

Perhaps an august body like the BMC might consider putting out a video appeal? Nudging the middle aged and older members of the climbing community to dig out those old videos and Cine reels before it’s too late?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Widening Gyre

And so it begins...or does it? After I blogged my predictions last week that the referendum would deliver a resounding ‘Remain’ vote, 17 million people-52% of the electorate- said ‘thanks but no thanks...we’re off!’. I went to bed on Thursday night reading that Nigel Farage ‘was conceding defeat’ and exit polls were showing 52/48 Remain and I woke up to be told that the world had turned upside down. Shock ! Since the result was announced the UK has gone a bit bat shit crazy! Hysteria and recrimination is the favoured currency, especially on the social media. The Guardianist constituency especially, has really lost it big time with some remarkably reactionary views surfacing. Views which are every bit as disturbing as those coming from the knucklehead right. As someone of a fairly tolerant and liberal persuasion who essentially values our electoral system in the UK for what it is; an imperfect but essentially worthy system of organizing society, I’ve been shocked by those who now see whole swathes of society as the enemy.

Not least the older generation and the working/underclass. One of the more disturbing manifestations of this was ‘that’ petition. A petition to overturn the referendum result and either allow parliament to ignore it or run it again. As the numbers mounted so did the million, two million...three million! Never mind the fact that the petition was futile, UK legislation does not allow for electoral rules to be changed AFTER a vote- and tainted with false votes-thousands of votes were registered as coming from Vatican City!- it was the principle which shocked me. Here was an essentially privileged class asking for a democratic vote to be overturned because basically, the vote didn’t go the right way. Think about that. Ignore the views of 17 million voters because they are old, unemployed and/or uneducated. Hence they are mostly racists and bigots.

I still struggle with the fact that so many intelligent liberal friends feel that it’s justifiable to ignore the result of a democratic election and struggle even more with the fact that if their wishes came about and their reactionary views were acted upon, then how could they not see how that would play out on the streets of Britain? Do they think that the explosion of anger and street violence which would spring from an election being sabotaged by the state and the views of millions ignored, would surely dwarf any fall out from Brexit? Economies can be fixed fairly quickly. Fluctuations are to be expected and can be lived through and ridden out in months or a few years at most. However, a society which falls apart through the manipulation of the democratic process may well have disastrous consequences which could resonate for far longer and impact far deeper.

These are strange days we are living through and the febrile atmosphere is stirring up a noxious cocktail of racism, class warfare and intolerance on all sides. I can only think of lines from Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’. How ‘The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity’. Except who are ‘the best’ and who are ‘the worst’. I just just can’t tell anymore?

Monday, June 20, 2016

The EU referendum: How would George Orwell vote?

This week the UK electorate will be asked to vote whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. Depending on your perspective a vote to leave will either unleash the hounds of economic hell or deliver a new dawn of prosperity and freedom. As always, the reality will inevitably be somewhere between the two polarized extremes.

As someone of a leftist green political persuasion who would cite independently minded, free thinking individuals like George Orwell and Edward Abbey amongst those whose ideas and works have impacted upon my own political philosophy, I have found myself pondering how would an English Socialist patriot like Orwell have voted if he were alive today? Indeed, as someone who fought in the Spanish Civil War against fascism and whose most popular works, 1984 and Animal Farm warned of the dangers of centralized bureaucracies then I have no doubt that Orwell-and Abbey if he had been a UK citizen-would have been in the leave camp. Orwell as a democrat would have hated the idea of political policies being made in Europe by a political elite which by virtue of the make up of the administration,was out of reach of the British electorate. It was a point that the late Tony Benn-a long term campaigner against the EU-laboured. The fact that in the UK we can throw out the government every five years through the ballot box. Something in an EU electoral context we most certainly cannot achieve.Not least as UK MEP’s constitute less than 10%-and shrinking-of the European parliament.

Heading for a landfill site.

As an environmentalist I have witnessed a serious decline in the state of the UK’s natural environment in the last last 40 years, not least driven by the obscene Common Agricultural Policy. Forget Barley Barons, wine and milk lakes, butter and grain mountains; forget ploughing crops into the ground to keep prices artificially high or the fish discard policy which has seen millions of tons of perfect fish thrown back dead into the sea to fulfill the insane fish quota system. I’m taking about the grubbing up of hedgerows, draining of wetlands and ponds, clearing of woodland, the overgrazing of our uplands, etc...all leading to a massive reduction in many animal, bird and plant species. Many driven to complete extinction by the crazy EU CAP subsidy system which encourages greedy farmers and landowners to milk the subsidy system dry while destroying the natural environment.

I was thinking about George Orwell writing of that constituency Edward Abbey described as ‘kneejerk liberals’ or in modern parlance a ‘Guardianista’. Despite both men being on the political left, both had an equal contempt for both this political class and the conservative establishment. Writing in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ Orwell observed ‘ To this you have got to add the ugly fact that most middle class socialists,while theoretically pining for a classless society,cling like glue to their miserable fragments of social prestige. I remember my sensation of horror on first attending an ILP (Independent Labour Party) meeting in London; it might have been different in the North where the bourgeoisie are less thickly scattered. Are these mingy little beasts I thought, championing the working class? For every person there,male or female,bore the stigmata of sniffish middle class superiority. If a real working man, a miner dirty from the pit,had suddenly walked into their midst,they would have been angry,embarrassed and disgusted...’

I offer this as I have seen both in the news media and in the social media how working class so called ‘Brexiters’ are automatically labelled as racists and bigots if they raise the taboo subject of immigration into the equation. Happily for the Guardianista, established in a profession with a good income, a home and the means to travel and sate their passions, they do not have to suffer to the same extent the very real impact of the EU’s open door migration policies. Despite the often cited-and frankly asinine comment-that as only 2% of the UK is under concrete then we have plenty of room for more people, the fact is that EU economic migrants are not moving to The Knoydart Peninsular, The Outer Hebrides or Dartmoor,they are packing like sardines into London, The South East and the great conurbations. The effect on the working and underclasses has been profound. The depression of wages and rapid social cleansing through unaffordable housing. This sees previous working class districts in London either gentrified or turned into bedsit lands where family homes are divided into profitable single room bedsits or flats. Fine if you are a student or single person with an income,no use at all if you have a family. In London and elsewhere, this has seen the flight of the working/underclass to sink estates and far flung towns,distant from family and friends.

Of course the benefits of having a large pool of labour for the wider market economy means that with a surplus of labour, bosses can select employees who will work for less,work on zero hour contracts and refuse to employ anyone who belongs to a trade union. Not a problem if you are a recently arrived Romanian or Bulgarian who is used to working for peanuts back home but more a problem if you are a UK worker with a family to support and rent or a mortgage to pay. This of course is not to offer a racist spin on EU migration as the Pro EU campaigners would have it, but to point out the economic factors born from a left wing understanding of how market economies function.

In the Scottish referendum the highest support for independence came in the poorest districts of Glasgow and Dundee. Places where the working/underclass perceived they had nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain from leaving a political structure that wasn’t working for them and ditching the political machine-The Labour Party- which had taken them for granted and failed them. In the EU referendum there is the same distaste for a remote establishment which has failed them and it would be ironic if that class of people the Guardianists see as either noble savages or racists and bigots serve their revenge by voting the UK out of the EU.

From my perspective, I think the voters will swing behind the establishment and the appalling murder of Jo Cox by a right wing nut job will further cement the remain vote. However, I remain unconvinced that the EU is progressive, democratic or capable of reform. Whatever the vote, for the majority of people in the UK and in the wider EU, their lives will still be locked into economic cycles of boom and bust. Unemployment across the EU will still be rampant but the big corporations, agri-barons, farmers and the political establishment will still be the ones who benefit the most from locking us into this rigid economic structure. The natural environment will still suffer as a growing population sees more roads, more green field sites and more open countryside built over to accommodate a UK population predicted to rise to 80 million in the next thirty years.

Edward Abbey:No friend of the bureaucrat he.

 Edward Abbey once said “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” However, ‘comfortable delusions’ are always going to be easier to set your political compass by it seems.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Walking a tightrope:Why are we still denied a right to roam?'s happened again. For the third time in the last two years I've been stopped from walking freely in the hills and effectively told 'Get orf my land' Yes...this is North Wales 2016 even if a lot of landowners still think its 1916!

I had parked up at Bonwm just outside Corwen in NE Wales,with the aim of following an old quarryman's track which I've used dozens of times,to visit the old quarry of Penrhyn. You can make a nice circuit by breaking out of the quarry and entering the coniferous forest which loops back to the start. I've even parked a minibus full of kids at the start to take them up to explore the underground tunnels which begin within the impressive gallery which is as high as a church steeple.

On this occasion, I was stopped by some minion of the landowner, probably a gamekeeper, and told 'there was no access to the quarry and Mr Feckface doesn't like people crossing his land'. No access? Not even a well used track that until the early 1960's was the quarryman's route to work and which has been used by walkers ever since?

'What about the right to roam?' I asked..'The Right to Roam is crap and doesn't apply here!' Not wishing to get involved in a pointless discussion with some estate lick spittle I lifted the hound back in the car and drove a mile or so to another access point which was a designated right of way.

A couple of years ago I blogged about being thrown off Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) by a farmer near Beddgelert who refused to let me cross his land even though I was on a track recommended to me by a well known outdoors writer. I was attempting to meet up with friends on a David Hooper memorial walk and because I was unceremoniously turfed off the land I was unable to make it on time. More recently, a goon working for the German energy giant RWE threw me out of Clocaenog Forest because of the work on the wind farm they're constructing up there.

For any outdoor person who believes passionately in the public's right to roam freely in the uplands and open countryside then still being denied access by landowners, private companies and their jobsworth minions is truly galling in this day and age. It's worth repeating a point I've made before about access. One of the many failings of the three Blair governments was its failure to deliver a promised right to roam bill. As is the norm in many European countries including Scotland. What was delivered was the half baked cRow act which in the vernacular of my home city 'Is neither me arse nor me elbow'!

As things stand, with a right wing government made up of the very people who hold private property as sacred and who jealously guard privileged positions, there is no hope of getting an access bill off the ground any time soon. Perhaps the increased powers being given to The Welsh Assembly might help circumnavigate the dead hand of Westminster in this, but to be honest, I'm not sure just how much power the assembly has actually got in this matter. it stands, recreational walkers are still being denied free access to the countryside despite the best efforts of campaigners going back nearly 100 years. The depressing thing is, I'm not sure I'll ever see the right to roam in England and Wales in my lifetime. What a backward country this still is in so many ways!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Great Countryside Media Swindle!

I was reading Robert McFarlane’s article on ‘Britain’s Wild Places’ in the Guardian today. I’m never too sure about RM and where he fits into the outdoor writing field? I’ve enjoyed and agreed with many of his articles but can never get a handle on his books which I often find unreadable. My misgivings perhaps relate to his place within a British media which in recent years has become corralled into a narrow and obsessive promotion and presentation of the UK countryside as a bucolic heaven on earth. In its way it is-as it was in Ruskin’s day- a largely metropolitan perception of what the countryside actually is with regards to ecology, socio/cultural issues and how it relates to rural areas in other parts of the world.

At its worst it is a BBC Countryfile view of the countryside. Basically an insidious piece of NFU propaganda aimed at ignorant townies. A countryside which never was. Where heroic farmers tend their rare breed cattle, make cheese in their outbuildings and welcome the return of the migrating wild geese. In Countryfileworld, there is no grubbing up of hedges,draining of ponds,gruesome snares,moles hanging on fences,overstocked uplands grazed to the bone and unable to naturally regenerate. There are no generous subsidies for ‘improvements’, no closing of rights of way and farmers shouting ‘get orf my land!’. It’s a saccharine coated cloying world where a blonde bimbo bends the willow and her boring straight laced side kick waves a fly road over dappled waters.

Basically, the success of Countryfile has spawned an industry. Every channel now has a ‘Secret Britain, Unspoiled Britain,Beautiful Britain, Hidden Britain etc etc, where celebrities repeat the mantra that 'Britain is the most beautiful country in the world’ while rolling cheese wheels down a hillside, Smoking herring and bumping into ‘local history experts’.

Which brings me back to Robert MacFarlane. His Guardian piece falls dangerously into the Tourist industry territory in the way he follows the Countryfile narrative. Claiming somewhat absurdly, that we have wilderness in the UK which we patently don’t have. We have increasingly threatened areas of wildness which is not the same. Given the UK population is 64 million and predicted to hit 70 million within ten years, then we have to accept that short of a catastrophic apocalypse then we will never see wilderness- and those lost species it once supported, like bears, wolves and lynx,- ever again.

To compound the media countryside narrative, MacFarland offers a handy list at the foot of his article of ‘Wild Hotspots’, In its way its the ‘Wainwright Paradox’. A writer who claims to be at home in the wild places but who unintentionally through his writing, holds up a big sign saying ‘Tourists this Way’!  I have a terrible feeling that we’ll be seeing ‘Davina McCall’s Wild Hotspots’ on ITV any day now!.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wild Flowers at Hillsborough

I remember the day of the Hillsborough disaster as though it was yesterday. I was climbing at Tremadog on a perfect spring day. I can even remember the routes we did- Hogmanny Hangover, Merlin and One Step in the Clouds. As a football fan brought up on Merseyside I was keen to find out between climbs, how my team-Everton- were getting on in the other-forgotten-semi final that day and kept asking bemused climbers if they knew the football scores...they didn't...middle class gits!

Driving home at twilight, the Moelwyns were particularly stunning. Dusted in salmon pink against a rainbow sky. On the way home, we called in on my Scouse friend Mark- who should have been climbing with us that day- and he looked grey when he answered the door.

There on TV I watched the terrible aftermath.

The next day I picked wild flowers from the Welsh hedgerows and drove to Anfield with my family were we laid our little posy with the mountain of flowers, scarves and photographs and just stood there in a stunned murmer.

There but for the grace of God went I for many a time I had been caught up in the chaos which sprang from 60.000 people funneling into and out of a football ground. Another day, another time it could have been my Dad, my mates or myself.

God bless the 96 and their familes.