John Appleby - A Tribute Article

© UKC News

Liverpudlian new-router and founder of the popular Footless Crow climbing blog, John Appleby, died in a climbing accident earlier this month. Mick Ward pens a tribute, originally posted in this thread

Calling Commander Appleby

It's not as though I don't know this stuff. The sad truth is that I know it all too well. Been here so many times before. Yet I never saw this one coming. Not you, John, not you. I didn't think it would be you.

John Appleby.
© John Appleby

The silly thing is that we never even met. Yet for year after year you were an integral part of my life – and many other people's lives. I'd get up in the morning, have a brew, fire up the ancient laptop. And, almost without fail, you'd be there with some outing, some observation, some snippet of wry humour.

Often there would be an exchange of banter and of course that's what it's all about. There are millions of people with whom I have precious little in common. But when you find someone with whom you've got a huge amount in common, well, you treasure it.

But did I treasure it enough? Sure, I'd reply but I wouldn't put stuff on myself. Too lazy? Too private? I always let John make the running. He must have thought wouldn't it be nice if someone else got off their arse once in a while. But, whether they did or didn't, he just carried on, bless him.

Sometimes we'd fall out. Though our underlying values were near-identical, occasionally our  opinions sharply differed. We'd bicker. Or even have a spat. Fair play to him though, it never got personal. He'd always stick to honest argument, however astringent. Sometimes we'd simply agree to disagree. Next day it would all be forgotten. We'd be back to normal again. Like an old married couple.

John became well-known through Footless Crow. I doubt he ever wanted to be well-known. He aimed for 'the best in British outdoor writing' - and it was. For year after year, he'd publish or republish articles mostly about climbing but sometimes about other aspects of the outdoors. Many of these articles were favourites which I hadn't seen in decades. If John hadn't dug them out and put them on, I'd probably never have had the chance to read them again. Many younger people wouldn't have had the chance to read them at all. Footless Crow was a vital resource to the climbing community. For year after year John put those articles on, simply from the goodness of his heart. He gave so much to us. I hope that Footless Crow will continue, dedicated to his memory.

In his inimitable manner John became a highly influential figure in the climbing world. He probably wasn't too bothered about stuff like fingerboards but, while these are important, I'm sure we'd all agree that there are other things which are far more important. Simply being out on the hills in all weathers, revelling in it. Being able to communicate the feeling to so many others.

John had a deep appreciation of our shared history, our shared culture. You could ask him the most obscure question and he'd probably know the answer.

What John really loved was getting out into the hills, well off the beaten track, finding an unclimbed line and doing it. He had a long friendship with Harold Drasdo. The Welsh mountains are littered with their routes. In the 1950s Harold discovered the Poisoned Glen in Donegal and made first ascents of majestic 1,000 foot lines. Some years ago John went to Donegal but typically it rained. I always had a notion that we'd go there together, repeat some of Harold's famous routes and put up other ones ourselves. But now we never will.

I had another notion that I'd walk into Pete's Eats in Llanberis and John would be sitting there with his bosom buddy, John Redhead. They'd be sharing a plate of chips. (Somehow they'd be my chips which the artful pair had mysteriously purloined.) Needless to say the banter would be merciless. John had a piercing Scouse wit. He was quick to prick the bubble of bombast. We live in an age of utter political bullshit. John saw straight through it. And he'd say so.

Beneath the acerbic wit, he was kind, considerate. There was a heartbreaking account of him finding a dog which had been appallingly ill-treated. John agonised over what to do. Eventually he persuaded the indifferent owner to give him the dog. Instant hefty vet's bills! Teal, the new arrival, became best pals with John's beloved hound, Fergus. I used to look at John's photographs of them together, wagging their tails in doggy heaven. Safe behind the keyboard, I'd sniffle. But both dogs were getting on, neither in the best of shape…

I glance across the room at my fingerboard. Don't want to use it today. Some more sniffling going on. Safe behind the keyboard, me.

Some people are in your head forever. John's in mine. Some days we may bicker. Or even have a spat. Next day we'll be back to normal. Like an old married couple.

John took a brilliant selfie. He looked indomitable. Scott of the Antarctic. To tease him, I invented the staunch persona of Commander Appleby. Commander Appleby was made of the right stuff. Stiff upper lip. Hard as nails. If you wanted to get things done - with no damned nonsense – you'd get straight on the blower to Commander Appleby.

But then (shock horror!) Appleby turned rogue. Went off the reservation. Had to task a squad of Black Ops chappies to hunt him down. They vainly scoured the Welsh hills, cold, wet and miserable - while all the time he was having a few pints in his local with his old mate, Harold.  

I used to jest about Commander Appleby's last mission. Now his last mission's been and gone. The jest's on me, John. This time it's on me.

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28 Mar, 2022

Well written Mick. I always wondered about the Redhead connection, and now I know. We shall all miss the Footless Crow blog. You only die once but you have every other day to make a difference. Living life without wasting a day as John has done.

28 Mar, 2022

Wonderful tribute.

29 Mar, 2022

Sad times... his relentless archival and writings are something I hadn't realised I was massively taking for granted. Throughout ups and downs in my climbing, lockdowns etc, John & Footless Crow were a constant source that I delved into and drifted off for a short while when I needed it. RIP.

29 Mar, 2022

Lovely writing as ever Mick. I never met John either, but I always enjoyed diving into the archives of Footless Crow. A sad loss.

29 Mar, 2022
Blimey that’s a shock. Like Mick I never met John and I had my disagreements with him but Footless Crow stood out as a unique part of British rock climbing culture - independent, imaginative, opinionated and robust. John will be really missed.
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