The Bells, The Bells!


pic by Glenn Robbins

An extract from Andy Pollitt’s autobiography, Punk in the Gym.

The second ascent (onsight) of one of the hardest routes (at the time) in Britain.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game of snooker. Its angles, technicality and the need to always ‘think three moves ahead’ – so be mindful of ‘position’. Always. And chalk your tips often too …

We’re being very silly young men on a quartzite rock face so are deserved of the wooden spoon across the back of the legs from our mums. Lord only help us when Dad gets home and finds out what we’ve been up to … Quick, hide under the bed, I hear his clomping footsteps ascending the stairs.
We were on North Stack Wall that day you see.

Akin to a giant of a stowed-away billiard table – resting on its long side and leaning against the wall behind the comfy settee of the ‘man-cave’ that is Parliament House. Unused and unloved for quite some time. My fluffy old slippers and dressing gown set to one side. All my Rocks, tape slings and Friends scattered on top – thrown hurriedly so’s not to miss the tide.

I took commitment and self-belief to extraordinary levels for an onsight attempt to repeat The Bells, The Bells! It was six years since JR (John Redhead – Ed) had metaphorically ‘shook up the (climbing) world’ – à la Cassius Clay back in the late sixties – but I believed (or had convinced myself anyway) that I could do it. I figured I’d have to get at least sixty feet up it without falling. To fall any lower would only result in permanent disability. Quadriplegia. Wheelchair and full-time carer for the rest of my life. Maybe one wink for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’ in ten years’ time and all for a bloody rock climb. That was my greatest fear, not death; and I approached it, stewing all the same, in that headspace.

Mark Leach recently reminded me of a bizarre incident that happened shortly before I squeaked my boots and chalked up with butterflies and heavy breaths: after Bernard had dropped us at the South Stack car park Mark kept a safe distance behind me as we strolled across the heathery hilltop – I was not really talking. Quiet, deep – very deep – in thought, and psyching myself up for something momentous (Mark had an inkling and shuddered, thinking quite wisely that I was best left alone). But then I stopped dead in my tracks and bowed down, leaning over shouting something that Mark couldn’t quite grasp over the wind. Quickening his pace he caught up – my face and hands were an absolute mess of bright red blood. I’d worked myself up that much I’d brought on a massive nosebleed and the claret was streaming out of both nostrils. All over the place it was, so we tilted my head back and I pinched the bridge of my beak, blood literally pumping out of both holes whilst I spat out great congealed blobs of the stuff that had run back into my throat. He knew I ‘got off’ on North Stack Wall. He’d never been there before, so turning the next bluff and sighting that deserted and blank-looking face he knew I was having a case of ‘the shivers’; he then shuddered once more.

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