Q. So you started climbing with your dad? And how did he start climbing?
A. He claims it was in wellies, his mother's clothes line, a bent scoutmaster, and vertical VS grass in Glencoe.
Q. Is that true?
Q. Does he have a favourite climb?
A. Little Chamonix.
Q. Any favourite phrases?
A. Little Chamonix... oh, and "Tight-Rope".
Q. Favourite piece of equipment?
A. A belayer heavier than him.
Q. Does he train?
A. We built a 35 degree wall in the garage. I use the front, he trains on the back.
Q. Favourite holds and moves?
A. Big jugs, whole body jams and half-nelsons on the neighbours kids.
Q. Are you ever embarrassed by him?
A. Are you kidding? He comes to the climbing wall sometimes! He thinks doing an Egyptian is a Tommy Cooper impression, whoever he was. I once overheard him saying to a nearby climber that he was flagging with the crimps on his slopers.
Q. Was he always interested in climbing?
A. He used to go caving. You can see it in his style. In fact, bringing him up the top of the Sentry Box pitch on Gimmer Crack, I thought he had gone caving again.
Q. Has he made any contributions to climbing?
A. He may have invented the head glissade and the two-lip rock suck while arranging pro.
Q. Has he done any damage to the sport?
A. He was so heavy at one time, I swear he pulled Bowden Doors 10 feet into the ground trying to start Tiger's Wall. Check the route length in the old guide.
Q. When is he happiest?
Q. Have you ever seen him frightened?
A. Is this a serious question? Just getting him over that bit of rail to the foot of the Dervish slab was an epic.
Q. What on earth was he doing there?
A. Photography, belaying, and carrying the food.
Q. What traits does he deplore most in others?
A. Ability, bigger lunch boxes.
Q. What trait does he deplore most in himself?
A. A dwindling supply of original excuses.
Q. How has he influenced your own approach to climbing?
A. Reverse psychology.
Q. What's in it for you in still taking him out?
A. He pays for everything. When he pops off, I'll inherit his equipment and open a museum...”
Now I come to think of it, I met such a specimen a few years ago on Shepherd's Crag before I knew I was one myself. I was doing what bumblies often do - introducing a young person to real climbing up to the 'Very Difficult' standard. Thanks to 19th century climbers, bumblies have access to suitably flattering descriptions of severity with which to impress lay people. It was my son's third day climbing, and I had decided he was ready to lead his first route. Admittedly this is not typical bumbly behaviour - a 2 year apprenticeship watching the mentor go through his repertoire of Diffs and V.Diffs is preferred, even if it involves climbing the same routes several times.
However, back to the anecdote - a speciality of the species. I had instructed my impatient youth up the first pitch, insisting he place at least 12 runners, just for the practice you understand. Arriving at a tree belay, he met what I now recognise as a Grand Master Bumbly. This huge silverback male was comfortably ensconced on the ledge with four points of attachment, one for each of the apprehensive family group below him. The result of this Masterclass in safety, was that the tree was fully wrapped in a giant sling condom. Nevertheless, the helpful King of the Bumblies took over the instruction of my lad and before half an hour of detailed demonstration had whizzed by, my son was ready to take in 40 metres of slack and bring up Father Bumble (me) on a correctly tight rope, none of this 'slacklining' rubbish I hear about these days.
By mid-afternoon we had verbally prepared our now shared trainee to set off on the second pitch. A gentle sparring conversation ensued, each of us dropping in more and more outrageous suggestions of what we had (allegedly) done and how much of a sacrifice it was to be here on this mere V. Diff, when we were obviously better suited to flashing up "classics" like Footless, White Noise, or having a look at Birkett's Fear of Failure (what a wimpish name eh?). By now my new friend had produced an accessory which out-bumbled me completely - a magnificently carved Meerschaum pipe. This polished chimney emitted clouds of Rough Shag. I have since been told that this still refers to a popular climbing activity, but none of my contemporaries seem to know what it means.
In a cloud of aromatic exhaust, I chatted on in a mildly competitive way, hinting that I too might have known Hamish, Joe, Doug, Chris, Don (what a character, eh!), Ron and Pete, young Ben and Jerry..... and wondered just how much of a risk to take. What about coyly asking if he knew my name? Had he done any of my routes? Did he know I had a gully named after me?
Suddenly I remembered my trainee leader. He was racing up the thinnest variations possible, way off route, no protection in place. Apologetically I interrupted the bullshit session to yell in a deliberately understated way, "You might get something in about there... I seem to remember a Rock 6 will do..." The youth hung off a remarkably instinctive-looking two finger lock-off, one foot on a wrinkle and looked down at me 70 feet below with a tolerant smile. "What for? This is a piece of piss." He vanished over the top, and one minute later he's taking in, no proper calls or anything. I looked at King Bumbly - ”Kids, eh? How do they ever hope to become like us?” He nods disapprovingly at my liberal weakness, disappears in a fresh cumulus, and starts instructing his own flock as I am jerked off my perch, scrabbling to release the belay before I'm upside down. "Hurry up Dad, I want to do Ardus, Eve, and Kransic next." Oh Shit! I need an injury, quick.
People have obviously been too polite to say anything to my face, or ask if I was born with red bootees, but in retrospect I can sense them thinking about it. This happens for example at the climbing wall, when I unload my Joe Brown sac, step into my Whillans, and balance my JB helmet on the top of my head. Is it the etriers which give it away? Or the peg hammer on a 10 foot hemp string? (Good tip that...got it from a French chap - Garcon, Gasthof, Gaston - I forget his name, but he had a lovely pullover). The huge ring of rusty pegs? The ex-RAF oval steel crabs? (What did they do with those - hang bombs under Lancasters? Is that what bombproof really means?). And the slippers - how was I to know that the sheepskin ones wouldn't do? The clues now seem so obvious.
Lately I've been resolving to break free. I've already ditched the red socks. I talk about 'training'. But I suspect it's futile. There must be a bumbly collective sub-conscious at work, a telepathic Bullshit Bumblehood, inescapable for those with well developed symptoms, demanding my loyalty. I've tried camouflage tactics like wearing a chalk bag and using low-level traversing as a cover. I bought modern equipment to flash about with, you know the stuff - wire-gate crabs, horseshoe-shaped rock boots, reversos, gri-gris, micro-nuts. It doesn't work for long. But unless you stop kidding yourself and others, and simply spend more time climbing than sounding off about it, you're stuck with it. Accept your lifetime membership for Bumbledom, and don't be shy about giving advice to other climbers. It's working for me...
Thankfully Ross has never actually been interviewed by a climbing magazine, so David's bumbly status is still a well kept family secret.