Hull: City of Culture.
Hull is now officially the City of Culture. It joins places like Liverpool and Glasgow: shit reputations but actually quite fun to live in. And of course, it aids the great British tradition of making anything funny by using a non-glamourous place-name next to something pompous. The Military History of Slough. Stuff like that.
All the Hullites interviewed on the BBC come up with some pretty good reasons Hull should be famous: ending the slave trade, the Housemartins/Beautiful South, starting the English Civil War outside the chip shop on Clarence Street. Inexplicably though, they failed to mention two of Hull's greatest exports: climbers Andy Kirkpatrick and John Redhead.
Of the two, Andy Kirkpatrick is the better known. Partly because of his extremely popular stand-up gigs which masquerade as climbing lectures. If you haven't been to one then watch this. A mime of his mate failing to place gear and doing little squeaks of effort ... I've had to have a tension relieving laugh just thinking of it. His books are worth a pop as well, Psychovertical is great, so is Cold Wars. His blog is a mixture of technical detail and advice, excruciatingly honest details of relationships failing, and poorly thought out but strongly held opinions. Its basically like being with your mate in the pub.
Basically, he's a funny bastard who has done some gnarly shit. He specialised in aid climbing, which is a super-niche, unless you get to Yosemite, when it is absolutely crucial. The normal run of things in the UK was that climbers would use a point of aid- just one or two - to get over the hardest bits of climbs where there weren't any holds. So the climber would stand in a loop of rope or a sling and place a bit more gear then get past it and start climbing again. This wasn't softness or inability either, climbers like Joe Brown were not above using a point of aid on hard climbs. Then smart arses would 'free' it, climb it in a 'purer' style i.e. just pulling on the rock.
Andy, however, like a few others really specialised in using aid. His climbs - and he describes this well in Psychovertical and Cold Wars- often come down to standing in etriers (daisy chain loops of webbing) which were attached to tiny match-head sized lumps of copper or credit card sized pieces of steel delicately jammed into an uncertain crack, a long twenty-second fall above certain death. More than enough time to really think about what's going to happen.
Specialising in this gave Andy a really thorough knowledge of rope work and tricks with knots and gear. I'm looking forward to reading his book of mountaineering tips; hopefully its a mixture of his humour and diagrams of ropes. Win!
In other words, while aid climbing might be seen as inferior in the bullshitty hierarchy of climbing, it is no softer, nor safer. Andy is nails hard, and the more so because he seems usually to climb with a) only himself or b) nutters he doesn't know that well. Makes for great reading and entertaining shows. His blog also has a lot of genuine insight, told in brutal honesty
Andy is happy to describe himself as 'Hull's second best climber'. Second to John Redhead.
John Redhead is in stark contrast to Andy. He is an artist, and in the late '70s early '80s one of the leading climbers. He did a lot of really hard, cutting edge climbs on Clogwyn D'ur Arddu, Gogarth - and my favourite - On The Slate.
The names of John's climbs stand out: Go through a list of the and find out the point at which you are offended: Tormented Ejaculation, Cockblock, Raped by Affection, Menopausal Discharge, Menstrual Gossip. Cystitis by Proxy. Sounds like a Cannibal Corpse Album. Most of his climb names are actually the names of paintings he has done, highly intricate works he gave to his mates and collects up occasionally for a public exhibition.
Johnny's climbs are often bold and really technical: his mate Andy Newton told me he could keep a calm head long after anyone else would have frightened themselves off the rock.
Unlike Andy, John didn't find the same level of media accessibility. This is partly because he did things like publish '...and one for the crow' with the most beautiful climbing photos at the price of £60. It is worth it, but no one's going to find that out because they won't give it the chance. Most climbers would buy an extra cam, or three guidebooks. Shame! There's a stack (three) of them in V12.
|The cover art was never meant to be mainstream|
John's thoughts occasionally emerge from the Footless Crow blog from time to time, and they are often gems of offence and grumpiness. My favourite is the one where he returns to Llanberis, to find the place changed: 'What the Fuck? Cyclists!' He is his own - uncompromising - person, and you can like him, or fuck off.
So well done Hull, for producing two genius climbers who learnt to climb on the tower blocks and in the local quarries. And shame on the people of Hull for not mentioning them in your street interviews and vox-pops with the BBC! Normal people's priorities defy explanation.