King Of The Cragby Niall Grimes Sep/2011
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Some weird looking guy beside me turned round and asked me about a tattoo I had, but I told him to piss off, creep. I felt rejected. Look at them. What do they think they are, superstars? They're only bloody climbers same as me.
First weekend of spring. Can you believe it? I thought it would never come. All those pull-ups, all those sessions in the gym. How many traverses have I done this winter down that bloody wall?
But this year it will pay off. It will all be different. Shit, I can't wait to get off this motorway. Where is all this traffic coming from? Just because the sun is shining. Can nobody drive? "Get out of my way you asshole," Jesus. What's the point of having a BMW if seventy year olds are gonna prick along at forty-five in front of you? "C'mon you wankers. I've got a crag to get to."
Hathersage 3 miles.
At last. We'll just stop off and get some chalk in the shop, then off to Millstone. I love Millstone. Mike and Andy wanted to go to the limestone, but that's tough shit. I didn't pay twenty-two grand on a car to have someone else tell me where to go in it.
And what will I do? I could start off on the Embankment routes to warm up. Then do Regent Street or go down and do Billy Whizz. E2 5c's. And to think that last year I was falling off VS's and HVS's. But that was before I got fit; a winter well spent. What was it that that American said down the climbing wall? "Man, I'm goin' on the juice this win'er and when I come out I'm gonna be rippin' fuckin' heads off." That's exactly what I'm going to be doing. I reckon I'll be doing E4 at least in no time. E5's maybe.
I'm so psyched. There can't be a climbing mag I haven't read or a video I haven't seen. I like those American ones, but the English ones are best, all our lads out bouldering, or that fella jumping around his house.
Anyway, it's all here now. Spring has finally arrived. Look at my huge forearms. Look at how my biceps flex.
* * * * *MILLSTONE HERE I COME. * * * * *
Well I suppose it was there that things started. We got to Millstone, and I decided not to bother with the HVS's or E1's and just to get on Regent Street. I knew I'd find it easy, but I didn't. I fell off at about ten feet, pumped and shaking. I fell off again a few more times, and sacked it off about half way up. Well I had no choice. Mike couldn't belay for shit. Never paying out slack for clipping the rope, or holding me tight. "Take me tight you stupid spastic", I'd call to him. The moron must have been asleep. I could have killed him.
I was slowly losing my temper with those two. I lowered off and sent Andy round to abseil for the gear. Then when they were down I'd ask them what they wanted to do, and they hummed and hahed like they couldn't decide. There was a hundred VS's for the idiots to try. I lost my patience and decided to run up one of the E1's on the Embankment wall to get some mileage in.
Christ! I fell off that too.
I was getting extremely annoyed, and a little later when I had backed off a HVS, I just got in my car and drove off, leaving those other two oafs to make their own way back to London. Or to Hell if they liked. I was pretty damned angry. I drove to Sheffield to see an old mate, but he wasn't in, so I booked into a hotel near Sharrow, the Athena.
Beer was the only answer for it, so I drove up to the Broadfield, where I'd heard the climbers hung out and had a few beers. And it was there, sure enough, that I first saw Ben Moon, in the flesh. Wow! Ben Moon. From the magazines. The one who put up Revelations and Agincourt and Hubble, the hardest route in the world. E10. He came in a little later on in the evening, by which time I had had a few, talking to a couple of other people who I recognised from the magazines, but I didn't know their names. I looked at them. Shit, it must be great being Ben Moon's friend, I thought. I thought about Andy and Mike, the two useless twats. Ben Moon would give you slack. Ben Moon would encourage you and make you keen. He'd help.
I looked at them. Shit, I'd like to go climbing with Ben Moon, I thought.
Perhaps it was the alcohol in me or something, but, you know, dammit to hell, I decided I might just ask him to come climbing. After all, we were all just climbers, and I had a good car. But how would I ask him, I thought? "Hey Ben, let's go cragging tomorrow mate," or, "Hi there, Ben. Noakes is the name. Duncan Noakes. Let's you and me go bag a few E points tomorrow."
I tried to catch his eye as he was talking. He must see me and know I'm a climber. I was still wearing my climbing trousers and a fleece top. Though when I thought about this I began to get a little self-conscious, and flushed a little in the face, as I was sitting obviously alone, and the pub was pretty full. With girls. I must stand out a bit.
Ben Moon was leaning against a little shelf talking to his friends, but he wasn't wearing any climbing gear at all. I was surprised by this, for in all the photos I had seen of him he was. Just blue cords and brown shoes. And a shirt. Anyone would think he was just an ordinary geezer.
After a little, his two friends walked off. This is it. Time to strike. I summoned my courage and decided to go for it. Just like that. He was stood, his back to the wall. Alone. Up I got, you know, as if I was going to the toilets or something, casual like, and circumnavigated the pool table between us, and crossed the line of his gaze. I stopped there, and looked at him. I had an opening planned.
"Have you ever done Embankment Route Three?", I asked.
"Say again," he said. I think I spoke too fast, what with nerves and the booze and that.
"Embankment Route Three. Have you tried that?"
He looked at me kind of strange, and I was sure I had spoken more slowly this time, but I repeated myself anyway, and he replied:
At last. I was getting somewhere. I told him I had tried it today, but it was wet. Then I asked him some more things, like if he was working any E11's, or what were the best routes for me to try in the Peak, E5's or E6's maybe. But he seemed fairly shy and didn't seem to know much. But I really liked him, and still wanted to ask him to go climbing.
"I was just going to the bar, Ben. Do you want a pint?"
"No. Someone's getting me one."
"Oh right. And are you going climbing tomorrow?"
"Where's that? Ravens Tor, or Stanage or something."
"Maybe I could go along there too."
"Maybe I could go along too. I wanted to try some things there too. Or I could hold your rope."
He looked at me.
".......Well the car's full."
"Come in mine. It's fast. A BMW."
"Sorry mate. My beer's ready. See you around."
Ben walked off to a little group, leaving me a little flustered, but buzzing. I felt shaky. Wait 'till I tell lads at the wall I was talking with Ben Moon in the pub. But I hadn't made any arrangements to go climbing with him. Shit. I really wanted to. Basically he seemed a bit unfriendly, but I bet he's a nice guy really, just busy, I thought. And just look at them all over there. That's Jerry Moffatt talking, isn't it? I wondered what he was going on about. I decided not to go and ask them. There were too many of them now.
Some weird looking guy beside me turned round and asked me about a tattoo I had, but I told him to piss off, creep. I felt rejected. Look at them. What do they think they are, superstars? They're only bloody climbers same as me.
I started to feel a bit annoyed. A bit pissed, and a bit annoyed, and the more I thought about the way Ben Moon had been, the more I thought "You asshole. You stuck up asshole."
I watched them all out of the corner of my eye, as Jerry Moffatt was saying goodbye to them. Now, I mightn't be no mathematician, but I am a quick thinker, and in that fraction of a second, my plan came to me.
Out I ran from the Broadfield. My car was parked just across the street. I fumbled with the keys and got in. Across the dark street, I saw Moffatt's figure emerge from the lighted doorway, alone. I turned the key, and the engine started, first time. As Moffatt walked along, I drove slowly behind him. I knew he must live locally, for The Broadfield was his local. He turned off up a smaller street, darker and quieter, and I saw my chance. I drove past him, and pulled in. My climbing gear was still in my car. I grabbed a handful. As he walked past, I opened my door and said,
"Hey you! Do you want a set of Rocks?"
He pulled up and looked at me. "Sorry mate," he said. "You got the wrong.........."
But I hadn't got the wrong anything.
Now I'm a big lad as you know, and I'd been doing the weights. So when I jumped out and threw my new gore-tex over his head, I soon had him under my control, and wrapped up in a nine mill. He shouted some things that weren't very nice, so I told him to shut up and he won't get hurt. I punched him a little punch somewhere around his face so as he'd know. Then I put my sleeping bag over him upside down. Sweet.
I drove him to Stoney Middleton. There's some great routes there, a bit polished maybe. Medusa, Dead Banana Crack. Bubbles Wall. I'll do them sometime.
The whole way out he kept roaring and shouting "Help! Help!" So I said, "It's nothing personal, Jerry, you understand mate?"
I kicked down the door of one of the old quarry huts, took him in, and tied him to a pipe. And I took away his clothes, just in case, like. I hoped he wouldn't get a chill, but I'm sure he's tough. Just in case, I threw a blanket over him.
That night Jerry and me talked for ages. There was loads I wanted to know, whether he thought Wallnuts were better than Rocks, or what he thought about these new Friend things that I had a set of. I also asked him about push ups and pull ups, and training in general, of course. I told him about the routes I had done that day, though I pretended I hadn't fallen off them. Maybe Regent Street was E3, I suggested. Have you done Embankment Route Three?
But Jerry didn't seem to know much either. I was disappointed he didn't want to talk more about climbing. He just wanted to keep saying "What the hell are you doing with me," or "Let me go you creep." So I had to slap him a couple more times, not hard.
Eventually, I told him what was going to happen.
"It's like this, Jerry. I want to climb with Ben Moon. You are Ben Moon's best friend. You are my hostage. You convince Ben Moon to climb with me or I'll smash your hands up."
I showed him a heavy lump of iron, and made a swinging motion towards his hands. I didn't hit him of course. Just pretend. He didn't agree at first. He said:
"No wayyy man. You must be mad."
I laughed when he said that, but when I swung the iron bar back really hard as if I was going to crack his head open with it, he changed his mind to:
Good man, Jerry. I took my mobile phone out of the leather pouch on my waist where I always carry it.
"Good thing it's Saturday," I told him. "With my company local calls are free at weekends. Now what's Ben Moon's number?"
Jerry complained because it was three in the morning, but I said "Shut up, Jerry. The number?"
He told me, off the top of his head, and I entered it. I won't say what it is, for then everyone would phone him, but I put it into the memory for the future. Actually I could tell you now myself what it is off the top of my head, but I think he's changed it since.
The number rang, and after four beep beeps it was picked up. A sleepy girl's voice answered, and I was a bit surprised at this.
"Hello. Could I speak to Ben Moon please?"
"Who is this?" she asked.
I thought for an instant. "A friend of Jerry Moffatt's."
"Hello Ben. It's me again, you remember, from the Broadfield? Well, I just remembered that I left without making the final arrangements about climbing tomorrow, and I thought I better give you a ring."
"Who the hell is this. How did you get this number?"
"Yeah. I thought maybe we could go to Millstone and do some of those cracks. Or maybe you would like to go to the limestone? I mean I'm always open to suggestions."
"What's going on. Is this a joke?"
"I've got a full rack and all, so if....."
"Look. It's the middle of the bloody night. I don't know who you are, I don't know why you are calling me, and most of all I don't want to go climbing with you tomorrow. Do you understand? Now get the hell off this line and don't call back."
The line went dead.
"Oh dear, Jerry. I forgot to mention that if he didn't go I was going to break your arms. I mean, he didn't give me a chance, did he? I'll try again, Jerry, and this time you better speak to him. Now no monkey business, or telling him where you are or anything, okay. Remember the iron bar?"
I got Ben Moon's number up on the display, and pressed 'dial'. This time Ben answered himself:
"Look you prick......."he started off. I held the phone to Jerry's face.
"Ben! Ben! Don't hang up. It's me, Jerry....Yeah....Now listen. Some psycho here has bloody kidnapped me and reckons that unless you take him climbing or something he's going to smash me up......Well he seems serious from where I'm sitting...... I'm tied to a pipe and he's taken all my clothes. He's standing beside me with an iron bar."
I grabbed the phone back, and suggested that in the light of this new information, he should reconsider his rash statements of earlier on. He wasn't really convinced until I started punching Jerry so he could hear. "Okay, okay," he said.
After that we made arrangements for picking him up and the time and that. Everything was sweet.
"See you tomorrow then, Ben. Nine o'clock mate. Oh and remember. No cops, or your friend gets it."
I liked saying that. It sounded like something from a film.
What a nice guy Ben is, I thought. And Jerry too. I was so excited about it all I couldn't sleep. I talked more to Jerry and told him that "Of course I would never have hurt you. I was only bluffing. You understand mate, eh?"
But I couldn't untie him, for even though he said he wouldn't run away, I couldn't take a chance at this stage. We just talked on into the night about climbing and Ben and that, and I think he really got to like me like I liked him.
I thought the following morning would never come but it did. What a great day's climbing me and Ben had. I think about it now almost every day, and I always tell all the people who come in about me and Ben and Jerry, but I don't think they know who they are. First off, he took me to his training cellar. He showed me all his best problems, but I couldn't really do anything there. I asked him how hard they were, E16 or 17 or what, but they didn't have E grades. After that at Stanage we did Right Unconquerable, and Ben said how good it was, and complemented me on how well I'd climbed it. I said "Oh HVS's are nothing to me."
I told him I had always wanted a go on Hubble just to see how hard it was.
"I have been training a bit this winter, gotten pretty strong. You never know, I might do the second ascent."
But Ben told me it already had been repeated, but we went there anyway, and we got a top rope on it. It was completely desperate, and I couldn't really do it. The holds were non-existant.
"That's frigging hard, Ben," I told him. "You really showed those Froggy wankers who's best with that one mate."
I told him the grade seemed right to me, and he said "Good to hear that."
We stayed there for the rest of the day, and we all had a good laugh, and Ben thought I really showed promise. I said to Ben that we should go out again tomorrow. He said "Yeah, and let's bring Jerry too, he'd like it." "Okay," I said..
Ben promised he'd never tell anyone about what had happened, and said don't worry, neither would Jerry. I was really excited thinking about what a brilliant day I had had, and how tomorrow would be even better.
"This has been the best day of my life," I told Ben.
We got in the BM, and I took him to the hut at Stoney. Inside the hut Jerry was still there tied up, but he looked tired. He was glad to see Ben. He looked a bit scared of me when I pulled out my big knife, but I said,"Don't worry mate, we're here to take you climbing."
I went behind him and cut the ropes. He stood up, but was a little shaky.
"Sorry Jerry. You must be starving," I said.
I led him out into the dusk. Next thing, all these lights turned onto me, and men started shouting "Hands up" and all sorts of stuff. Jerry and Ben ran off. I couldn't understand it. People, maybe police or something, ran up to me and put handcuffs on. They had guns. "Someone's spilled the beans," I said, and looked at Ben. I was annoyed at him, but I can see why he did it, I suppose.
After that I think I was taken to court or something. I must have been found guilty, I don't remember. That must have been quite long ago because I think I have been in this place for ages.
Still, I can't wait to get out again so I can go climbing again with my mates Ben and Jerry. What a couple of great guys they are.
all photos © Jerry Moffat.
Niall is the ghost writer of Jerry Moffat's biography Revelations, the BMC Guidebook Supremo - talk about the right person for the job -, writer of entertaining and slightly off-beat climbing essays, a stand up comedian, columnist at the USA's Rock and Ice magazine, husband, father and eternal climbing enthusiast.
Niall is one of our best climbing writers. He's unique, he's special, he's a national climbing treasure and ought to have one of those blue plaques from English Heritage attached to his forehead, except he's Irish.
Born in 1968 in Derry, Northern Ireland to Polly and Joe. His Da was a fitter at DuPont, a chemical works on the outskirts of town. Ma looked after Da, Niall and his three brothers: Brendan, Brian and Desmond. He lived in Derry until his early twenties going to St Columb's College, a boys school where he studied Latin and played with bunsen burners. He passed all his O levels but failed all his A levels.
The family was Catholic; retreats, benediction, confession, communion, guilt and saying the rosary in the evening while they continued to watch Magnum P.I. with the sound turned down.
He got into climbing via the Scouts, soloing an easy route in combat boots but that night he saw Lakeland Rock with Pete Whillance on TV. The fire was lit and by chance, Raymond, the brother of Niall's best friend Paul had started climbing with the only other climber in Derry and after loads of begging they took them out.
Niall is well traveled - especially to Banff where he has picked up several literature awards - and his climbing highlights include Primrose Dihedral on Moses Tower in the Canyonlands, Fur Tappers on The Baroness in Greenland, Flesh at Muckross Head and Main Mast on Sail Rock, Donegal.
He lives in Sheffield with his wife Helen and daughter Erin.
I asked Niall a few questions about his essay King Of The Crag.
When was the article published?
This was actually one of the first articles I ever had published, one of the first I ever wrote actually. I had just left university so it was about 1994 or 95.
Where did you get the idea for the article?
I got the idea from a Robert de Niro movie called King of Comedy. De Niro played a highly strung amateur comedian called Rupert Pupkin who was trying to break into the big time but without success. He kept bugging his hero, Jerry Lee Lewis, for a slot on his prime time show but he wasn't very good. Eventually he kidnaps Lewis, his ransom demand being a slot on his show. I watched this one evening by myself and wondered would the idea work for climbing. I didn't own a computer and went round to my friends Simon and Michelle's and wrote it. The story just popped out.
Did you know Ben and Jerry at the time?
I had met Ben a few times, often managing to disguise my awe, but had never met Jerry. You never saw Jerry around much.
I had never been in a fast car before, had never met Jerry before, had never seen a top climber's cock before. It was great fun.
How did you approach them and how were they to work with?
I wrote the article and sent it to Neil Pearsons at On The Edge magazine. They had published one of my articles before. I think he sent it to Ben and Jerry (I would never have dared) and told me to ring Ben and ask about doing some photos. I nervously rang Ben and he said "Yeah, me and Jerry have read the article and we like it."
I was psyched. We arranged a day and went out in Ben's left-hand drive M3. It was sensory overload for me. I had never been in a fast car before, had never met Jerry before, had never seen a top climber's cock before. It was great fun. Walking up to Stanage Jerry, ever the professional, always aware of his need for media coverage, said "This is great Ben, we won't need to do another route this year thanks to this".
If you were to do the article today which top climbers would you choose to do it with? I suppose what I am asking is who are today's Ben and Jerry?
If you were writing this again you would need to do it with Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra. Britain has loads of great climbers today but none of them quite have that A-List charisma that Ben and Jerry had. It would only work with celebrities. But then again, if Chris Sharma was told that I might pop Ondra, would he comply? I mean, let's look at this from a professional point of view, that sponsorship deal with the watch company might be up for review soon.
Mick Ryan, Senior Editor at UKClimbing.com and UKHillwalking.com, wrote about Niall Grimes in the introduction to the UKC article: Magic in the Air
I asked floppy-haired outdoor event impresario Matt Heason about Niall, in particular about the Niall's Ape Index lecture series in Sheffield, a series of evenings in the late 90's/early Noughties where top climbers gave slide presentations interspersed with Niall's stand-up comedy routines.
I actually started Heason Events as a result of Niall's Ape Index lectures. I used to attend them religiously and did my best to promote them via planetFear who I worked for part time. I recall the last ever Ape Index. It was at the Bryncliffe Oaks in Netheredge. I was outside in the car park helping Niall carry out some of his AV kit to the car and I was complaining that this was the last one ever.
He said that running Ape Index was worse than giving birth. I mockingly asked how did he know, and he replied, quick as a flash "have you ever given birth?" with a wry grin. He had a point I suppose. I figured that once he had stopped them there was a gap in the market and sought his advice to kind of resurrect them. I think the main reason they weren't as successful as they should have been, financially, is that he knew so many of the people who were at the lectures and let them in for free. He never made any money. Typical climbers I suppose. Typical Grimer too though. Generous to a fault. I have never been able to stand on stage and host an event the way he can, but I try to make sure that everybody who comes in pays to be there!
He was hilarious, controversial and a little too pickled to be running the show; always funny. I remember Dave Turnbull (BMC head honcho) giving a talk about his and John Arran's Long Hope route (the original version) and Grimer getting more and more loud as the evening wore on. Despite having asked Dave to do the show he was actually heckling him!
At one point Dave was trying to describe the scale of a sea stack in the background of a photo. Niall piped up and asked whether the pony in the foreground was bigger. It raised a laugh. But from them on with every other slide he made reference to his new measurement scale – the 'pony'. After twenty minutes or so of this Dave was looking visibly rattled, but it was all in good fun and the crowd loved it. Another time I recall him starting the show off with a slide of a Sheffield bus. He talked for probably 15 minutes about that bus and had 150 people in stitches. I often pitied the main acts who had to follow him!
The event is: Word of Mouth with Niall Grimes and Andy Kirkpatrick. More details of this great weekend outdoor/climbing festival at: www.alpkit.com