In this exclusive extract from his new book - Punk in the Gym - Andy Pollitt takes us back to times past and his relationship with the late and great Paul Williams.
Paul lived in a lovely old house called Tal y Waenydd in a hamlet just outside ‘beris called Penisarwaen – pronounced ‘Pen-isar-wine’ for those who struggle with our Welsh sounds. Paul would always try to embarrass the girls in the petrol station at Llandudno Junction (pronounced ‘Thlandidno’ if you can’t pronounce ‘Ll’) when the girls would go, ‘How do you spell that?’, whilst writing his address on the back of the petrol cheques (yes, we used to do that!).
‘P.E.N.I.S … ’ he’d spell slowly, then pause till they went all red in the face. Got ‘em every time he did! Oh how he giggled! Toilet humour, fart jokes and sexist and racist quips were common from Paul, and I often cringed. I figured he was bitter about previous failed relationship/s, but thought he was better than that and didn’t need to sink to such depths to get a laugh. Not that I didn’t chortle too, albeit sometimes in genuine embarrassment. Notwithstanding, I adored that man. I once overheard Paul play a most beautiful and moving piece of classical piano; he’d never mentioned he could do that and seemed quite sheepish about it. Almost embarrassed. Nonsense, it was breathtaking.
I did countless climbs with Paul in ’83, not only at Pen Trwyn though, as he knew and loved all the mountain and sea cliff crags and would, over that summer, guide me to pretty much all of them.
Paul was ‘me Dad’. Referred to me as ‘me lad’ or ‘Son’, even though he spoke, just occasionally – although only ever fondly – about his natural boy Chris. I hung off every word Paul said and was totally absorbed with his tales of finding classic unclimbed lines, and of knowing and climbing with all the ‘big names’. Ron Fawcett recalls a ‘Welsh scene where Paul was such a pivotal part: supporting, prodding and entertaining us in so many ways. Right place, right time, Andy.’
I freed Pen Trwyn’s The Disillusioned Screw Machine with Paul – JR had given me ‘tight’ on it the previous year and wasn’t bothered about coming back to it, said he had some ‘amazing, scary madness up on Cloggy, youth.’ In fairness, it was Liverpudlian climber Tom Jones who passed the aid point first, but he couldn’t do the rest of it.
Again with Paul, the second ascent of Pete Livesey’s Zero – a genuine frightener on Idwal’s Suicide Wall. On my first attempt, facing a ground fall from about seventy feet, my left index finger ended up in the pocket that my hex 3 needed to be in. Committing to the ‘dead-point’ principle, I pulled my finger out with a ‘pop’ and hurriedly stacked the little nut upright to cam it in the pocket, then grabbed it and clipped my rope in. On reaching the ground after a rapid but gentle lower-off, the nut must’ve come out of tension so slid all the way back down to the bottom … along with my rope a second or two later!
Thankfully the next day went better …
Sometime later I belayed Jerry as he boldly flashed Zero’s third ascent, then we both led Ron’s Mur y Meirwon – aka Wall of the Dead. Chris Gore also went up and led Zero – probably (and not surprisingly) one of the last trad routes he ever did. It was wonderful to be back out in the mountains again with Jerry – both of us all ‘grown up’ by now, and we’d not shared a few days together like this for several years. The previous day we’d been fortunate that Paul’s advice was sound as usual and we did the third ascent of The Red Ring and first of the year of Nexus Direct in the Pass.
Jez and I looked up at the Cromlech and laughed, recalling he’d been seriously cross when I’d fumbled his brand new Friend 2 whilst attempting Right Wall a few years earlier – it hit the slab beneath him but span off, his Christmas present lost on day one. That was when we were merely ‘children’ – throwing ourselves at life and nothing would get in our way. Ha! We climbed on double eleven-millimetre ropes then – for extra security. Jerry’s was yellow, mine a mail order blue one from Alpine Sports in London. Andy B had taught me double rope technique on our usual nine- millimetres, but with two elevens – stupidly ‘crossed’ and causing a whole world of drag – I was approaching the ‘furthest out from protection bit’ of the entire route: I’m pumped stupid, but youthful and determined to reach the famous Girdle Ledge – so, telling Jerry to ‘watch me!’, strenuously drag through about six feet of slack and start slapping. But it’s damp, slopey and far too hard and thus not to be, so I take the inevitable ‘screamer’ down the wall and come to a sudden whiplashing ‘Agghhhh … !’ as the ropes pull around my (then) orange and white Whillans harness. What the heck? Jerry’s above me! On the starting ledge and my feet are inches off the ground: ‘Giz a foot Jez, please.’ He wasn’t happy and shouted at me about his Friend and how I’d now gone and used up one of the six falls his new rope was rated for …
Anyway, dear Paul wasn’t bothered with leading much – even though he could when he put his mind to it: think The Weaver at Tremadog, brilliant, and all Paul’s own work – and much preferred being party to harder new routes (particularly if they were noteworthy), so he usually aligned himself as a seconder to the ‘names’. Now that’s not being disrespectful or disparaging to my old mate (God bless him), and to his credit it was his keen eye that spotted the majority of the 1980s’ Welsh classics and shared them with the likes of Jim Moran, ‘Big’ Ron Fawcett, John Redhead and later little young me. I was indeed in privileged company.
I did though once psyche him up with a fresh, newly cleaned and bolted little ‘toy’ climb on Pen Trwyn’s Hanging Rock: ‘Ere ya go Dad, one for you, enjoy.’
It was the obvious central line and involved a strenuous ‘pop’ for a really decent hold from where you could easily clip the conveniently placed second bolt.
Roland Foster from New Zealand was with us and it was his turn to hold PW’s rope. Roland and I had Paul primed and pumped-up on cafe coffee and ‘sweet meats’, but every time he got to the slap he went straight for the quickdraw and not for the hold.
‘Paul!’ (Cross now, so not ‘Dad’.) ‘For fuck’s sake, you know the hold’s a sinker, why do you keep grabbing the sling?’ I admonished. ‘This is too frustrating to watch.’
Again and again Paul got there, and again and again he’d throw two fingers into the ‘biner, not four into the big incut. Another whimpering ‘slack please’ from Paul (as a car drives over my rope – ‘be careful Roland, please’) and finally a ‘no’ from ‘Ro-ey’ to PW.
‘F*cking slack I said.’
‘I’ll fckn kill you Foster, now last chance … ’
‘I told you, Paul: slack’s for leading, not dogging!’ … and I’m watching all this unfold, gently peeing myself. Now Paul was a big fellow and Roland a bit of a runt like me, so Paul lifted him clean off his feet with one huge bicep and clipped both the rope and the dangling Kiwi into the runner and promptly fell off … (I couldn’t contain myself and just kept laughing and spluttering; that was so much harder than the move Paul was meant to be doing) … and when they shot past each other (Paul was by far the heavier of the pair) he threw an enormous clenched fist at Roland, and I completely lost the plot in hysterics.
It then got even more ridiculous as Ro-ey was now twenty feet up the crag, locked off on his belay device, and PW was on the ground with me. Roland was loathe to lower himself off and Paul couldn’t untie with him hanging off the rope, so I stepped in and brokered a ‘no bashing’ deal before whisking Paul down to Parisella’s whilst the Kiwi ran for his life.
After more cafe coffee and sugary treats we strolled back up the Marine Drive. I’d hold the rope this time and’d ‘had words’ with me Dad.
Minutes later … De Torquemada E4 6b … Led by Paul Williams, 24 July 1983, with a well-deserved ‘Yes!’ at the top.
‘Let’s go to the mountains next week, Son,’ Paul suggested on the drive home. ‘Get away from these crowds … ’
Buy Punk in the Gym from Vertebrate Publishing here.