It was the early eighties and work in Lancashire was hard to come by, especially for a couple of school leavers. Bolton had had the heart torn out of it by Maggie. The dole queues stretched down Bradshaw Gate where the Tech Wall was situated, in the seedy part of town. Prostitutes solicited for business on grimy, poorly lit streets, "you can have one of us for a tenner or both of us for fifteen quid" she said. Shoplifting was a way of life, as was running from the law.
In the winter months, when Wilton was dripping with slime, me and Nelson PK would spend our days skulking at the end of a brick gymnasium. At that time Bolton Tech Wall was as famous as the Leeds Uni Wall. Both were constructed of brick - some bricks were missing and some were sticking out. Finger holds were chiselled into the mortar. This, of course, was before 'Dicky Dunne' opened in Bradford, and before the legendary Altrincham Wall. Both these newfangled walls had natural stones set in concrete.
At the door, the climbers who could afford it paid their 50p to Quinny and Dennis, who were PE teachers at the tech, and no slouches on the wall either. Me and Nelson would sneak past to avoid paying and Dennis would always pretend not to notice.
We would empty our Karrimor Alpinists onto the floor in an explosion of chalk, bought by the half-pound from Boots Chemist. A bumbag full of antique pennies (for use as a weight belt), Power Putty, Marks & Spencer's mini-briefs, bakers hats from Leachy (who had found work at a bakery), a Cure CD (the one with Love Cats on it), a B52s CD (the one with Rock Lobster on it), emery boards, nail clippers, little bottles of tincture of Benzoin and several pairs of colourful nylon lycra tights from British Home Stores. All the climbers would get changed in the gymnasium, even though the gym had changing rooms; exhibitionists I suppose.
You might think that a static unchanging wall would get boring - no holds to unscrew and swap. But, it was like a real crag, where the problems would stay forever and become classics… 'The Concrete Leap' - up to grab the hanging paver and then layback up it… 'The Riser' - a line of brick edges with the crux at twenty feet. There were no mats, just a parquet floor… 'The Wooden Roof' - really high up that you had to cut loose on… 'Concrete Corner' - one wall brick edges and one wall marble smooth concrete… And, of course Monksy's Traverse.
This was a masterpiece: five sections of cream painted brickwork, divided by metal girders, running the whole length of the gymnasium. Intense, without as much as a single foothold the width of a fag packet. I remember the savage finger traverse section, nails making popping sounds as they caught the back of the hold. The difficult jump-swap-hands on the downward pointing pebble set in concrete. Dipping in my chalk bag and the fluorescently lit air filled with a shimmering cloud of powder. It was rumoured that Edlinger had flashed Monksy's Traverse. Nicky Conway once spent three hours on the damn thing, traversing it at least twenty-five times.
The cream of North West climbing were there on a Thursday night, with Mark Leach, Dave Kenyon, Phil Davidson, Joe Healey, Mick Lovatt, John Monks, Greg Rimmer and Jerry Peel you could be forgiven for thinking that the average climber climbed E7!
Then there was John Hartley, steady in his Ron Hills, the formidable Ann Smith, Jerry up there brick-edge cruising in his B3s, The Prophet giving us his Thursday evening stand-up routine, Lonny with his handshake of steel, The Moss Bros, Micky J (how is that man still alive), Dave Barton, his brittle ankles, twenty-five foot up and crimping like a disease, Hank in his too-short shorts playing badminton, Nickie Wright, Carol Vigano, Grids, Shaps, Wendy, Henry, Geoff Mann. Too many to name them all. We never got tired of it. We created new problems every week, test-pieces that took months to crack. For us it was our one-night-a-week centre of the universe. The best wall in the land. You knew you were in for a whole lot of piss taking and pull-ups, quality banter and bench-presses.
Leachy built a Bachar Ladder out of an old static and suspended it from the steel work in the roof. He had Ament's Master of Rock and had seen a picture of John Gill using one. The bottom was clipped to a bolt low down and we would pretend we were John Bachar, locking-off in the Californian way.
Being out of work, me and Nelson would spend whole days in there, perched like gargoyles up high on the red brick wall, watching the girls playing volley ball. We were frequently locked in while Mike and Dennis went for lunch. Then off to the Duck and Firkin (which we always spoonerised) for several pints of Snakebite.
That gymnasium was demolished years ago. I wish I had saved that downward pointing pebble from the rubble.
Note on Nicknames:
The Prophet - Tony Preston
Lonny - Ian Lonsdale (The infamous landlord of The Black Dog in Belmont)
The Moss Bros - Steve and Andy Moss who built Monksy's Traverse
Micky J - Mick Johnston
Henry - Ian Horrocks
Grids - Andrew Gridley
Shaps - Steve Sharples
Wendy - Geoff Hibbert
Hank - Hank Pasquill (Ryan's dad)