Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thatcherism and the rise and fall of the UB-40 climber


One of the numerous social phenomenons associated with the post 79 Thatcher era was the rise and rise of the UB-40 climber.For those outside the UK, a UB-40 form was used for signing on as unemployed and claiming state benefits. Given the Thatcher government's economic philosophy- wholesale privatisation, refusing state aid to struggling industries-so called lame ducks- wiping out entire industries such as ship building and coal mining and transforming the UK economy from a manufacturing base to a service and finance based economy; it was not surprising that unemployment went through the roof.

Officially,over three million were unemployed although the true figure was probably double that. Not least in northern cities like Liverpool where unemployment was over 30% of the total work force.

For the climbing community however,the enforced exclusion from the work force was a perfect opportunity to put that free time into doing something positive. Not least, spending every spare minute on the rock face. Not just getting stuck into UK campaigns but quite often taking off abroad. The tales of the UK climbing vagabond abroad provides a rich seam of anecdotes. Often living in Alpine camp sites like Snells Field, these climbing dole-ites would often supplement their meagre benefits with a spot of private enterprise. In particular, 'lifting' outdoor clothing and equipment from local stores and flogging it on to fellow climbers.

In was during this period that technical standards went up exponentially to the number of unemployed. with record numbers of climbers hitting the crags 7 days a week, standards went up considerably. Given the leftist bent of the majority of climbers,then it's no surprise to see on the social networks that there is little wailing and gnashing of teeth at her passing. In fact I had a spit coffee over the keyboard moment when I read comedian Frankie Boyle's tweet..'first time I've ever been able to wear my black suit and tap dancing shoes at the same time'!  For climbers of a certain age however, the Thatcher years provided a unique period of development and self expression. The UB-40 climber...gone but forever in our thoughts.

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