Conversations with my Mum
Mum met Dad at Liverpool University Climbing Club in the late sixties. The focus was a big indoor climbing wall and weekend trips to North Wales. Being even slightly associated with climbing in the late sixties and early seventies means you might just have rubbed shoulders with some of Britain's greatest climbers...Mum is down for the weekend and has picked up a book I've been reading: One Day as a Tiger: Alex MacIntyre and the Birth of Fast and Light Alpinism. I want to read it myself and am about to either a) offer her a book about gardening or b) bark at her to put down what she cannot possibly understand. Then she drops a bombshell...
'Ooh. Al Rouse. I know him.'
'What on earth are you running on about, Mother?'
'Al Rouse. I know him from Liverpool University Climbing Club.'
'Al Rouse went to Cambridge. Famously. Your wits are addled, Mother.'
'Yes, that's right. He went to Cambridge, but he started off, must have been in Merseyside Climbing Club. We saw him at the wall. We didn't know him well, just to say hello to.'
I wasn't expecting this. Al Rouse was known as an outstanding technical climber, the first Brit to summit on K2, sadly dying when caught in a storm on the descent. He was known for hard solos in North Wales, soloing The Boldest on Cloggwyn Du'r Arddu (put up by Peter Crew, now graded E4 5C), Suicide Wall (E2 5C) and Vector (E2 5C) and climbed the first E4 in Wales (Positron, now graded E5 6a). All this in the seventies mind, when E4 WAS E4, as any fucking grade-bore would correctly tell you.
'And him as well, Mike Hammill. He was hard, one of the really hard climbers at the wall. He had a face like a sledgehammer. Says here he moved to Leeds, maybe he did a Phd there. I've told you about him, he was always on about Stanage. Stanage, Stanage, Stanage.'
I am moderately stunned by this, and have a flick through Unjustifiable Risk: the Story of British Climbing.
'Any other celebrity climbers I should know about Mother? Bonington perhaps?'
'Who is that?'
I give up. For now.
Some time later...I am reading a book by Jim Perrin.
'Ooh. Jim Perrin. I know him,' pipes up Mum
Here we go again.
'Well, anyway, your Dad did. He was one of the gang that were always going to Wales every weekend.'
'Dad climbed with Jim Perrin?'
'Well not really. They were just all around though.' The lack of detail is maddening.
'What was Dad like as a climber?' I ask.
I had always been fairly aware that my Dad had been a climber, at least at a university club level. There had been an old Joe Brown helmet, that weighed a ton, knocking around our house as a child in Liverpool. I would wear it and pretend to be a paratrooper, jump down the stairs and then wander around with my head on one side because of its huge weight.
'He was quite good I think. He climbed Cemetary Gates I think. He got sick of it though. He felt it was a bit macho, it attracted a really macho kind of bloke - the kind who couldn't make it with women- and he got a bit sick of that. Plus he was concentrating on his finals. And going out with me.'
I suppress a shudder.
I had also been well aware that Dad didn't approve of climbing, at least in the outdoors. I knew that there had been some deaths involved in the club, which was fairly common for the time.
A memory pops up:
'Was there someone called Brazington? One of his mates?' I ask
'Yes, John Brazington. '
'Dad said he was short and strong, and once glassed a bloke at a party for changing the record, then handed himself into the police the next day. He said he was short and would get scared and would have to psych himself up three feet off the ground.'
|John Brazington belaying my Dad on Sickle, HVS, probably around 1969-ish|
A few days later, I actually find J Brazington, along with someone called R Kane in my Llanberis Slate Guide. They are down as having a first ascent of a route called Bluebottle, HVS in Gideon Quarry, Glyn Ronwy. It is down as a 'Bold direct start to Gideon, which in turn is a 'Historically important route,' being the 'first foray onto slate inspired by the view from Al Harris' house in Dinorwig.'
Cue: 'Yep, Al Harris,' from Mum.
' Who is this R Kane then? And is Brazington the same one Dad knew?
'Yes. It is. Rick Kane and John Brazington. They were both killed in the alps, they got avalanched. It was terrible. Rick Kane was a lovely bloke.'
And there they are, in the Llanberis Slate guide. I wonder if anyone else remembers them?