Andy Pollitt follows his interview with Jerry Moffatt with another of Britain's top climbers of the 80s, Chris Hamper. Now aged 59 and teaching physics in Norway, Chris is still climbing, despite his diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. In this interview, Andy reflects on their halcyon days of climbing together in the Peak, driving cool cars and making fashion faux pas...
Read Chris' UKC articles on his climbing and Parkinson's diagnosis:
Well, seriously, with a surname like Hamper what on earth did your dear parents think your nickname would be? Honestly, insensitive blighters aren’t they, parents! As you know, my ‘real’ name is Robert so touché but you were raised in a Baptist household in Coventry so maybe the ‘Christ’ in Christopher was appropriate?
So when did you start climbing Chris and was it mainly at Kenilworth Castle on the edges of the battlements?
CH: Hmm, didn’t know of anyone who called me Christmas. Chris Gore once told a girl he was sharing a house with that my name actually was Christmas and she believed him, she thought it was sad. Well, her name was Rocky and that’s a boy’s name.
AP: We referred to you as Christmas but only on the QT.
CH: I started when I was at infant school. Got my legs slapped for climbing a tree. When I went to big school they had a really bad wooden climbing wall. I was hopeless until I started using some of my dad’s old plimsols. They had been in the baptismal pool so many times the rubber had perished and gone really sticky. Stuck to the plywood like chuddy on the pavement.
It’s where I learnt that footholds are unnecessary.
My first experience on rock was Idwal slabs. It was very wet and our tents got blown down so we had to stay in the Barn. There were some big boys there, one of them was Chris Addy, he had a nickname too, Hunch. Met him again some years later when I went to Leeds Uni where I got to meet all of my heroes and found out that I could climb as hard as most of them. Hadn’t realised that Chris Addy’s nickname was secret too.
Served my gritstone apprenticeship under Steve Bancroft who would say how many runners I was allowed to take, if any.
AP: Know what? I honestly can’t recall our first meeting. It may’ve been a fleeting affair on a crag somewhere but you were friends with Chris Gore & Basher and ended up crashing numerous weekends at ours on Hunter House Rd.
The Leadmill, The Limit and Barry Noble’s Roxy Discotheque where we both met young ladies – you with your future wife, me with yet another future ex-girlfriend.
You drove a super red Alpha Spider and ‘whizzed’ around with the roof down in a Biggles scarf, hair blowing in the wind and getting rain-soaked but you looked cool (freezing actually). Definitely not the most practical car for cragging as it only had two seats and Basher was heavier than me, but sat on my lap all the way to Water-cum-Jolly and you both laughed when my legs went numb and I couldn’t walk down the dale with you. Miserable sods!
‘Us lot’ in’t Peak had heard of you, but no-one had ever met you and you stayed well under the radar looking like a derelict tramp with a plazzy Tesco’s bag then soloed some ridiculous stuff on the grit and freed Menopause at Stoney. What’s that quote from Jerry [Moffatt] when you two first met – “What? You freed that?” he goes. You were rather podgy at the time yet little did we know how obscenely powerful you were.
Where does that pure strength come from and is that why you kept snapping finger tendons? I wasn’t there, but apparently on one occasion it sounded like a gun had been fired and people ducked on the ‘Mayhem’ catwalk shortly followed by a screaming ‘fliiiiiip’ coz you never swore – ever!
CH: I don’t think I was really that strong, I jumped a lot and could do some tricks like one arms and front levers. Front levers are easy for me because my legs don’t weigh anything. I once broke one walking to work. It’s amazing they never broke when jumping off without a mat. I think it’s because my legs are so weak they simply collapse when I hit the ground.
That car was pretty cool, It’s like the one in the film “The Graduate”. I used to drive around playing Simon and Garfunkel wearing a strange cap that Jerry found and a white silk scarf. So the car was cool but I wasn’t. The idea was that it would attract girls but you don’t see many girls driving around the streets at night, well not the right sort anyway. My future wife Hilary didn’t like driving around in it, but Hil’s housemate (your girlfriend) did.
That tramp look was all part of a cunning plan. Arrive at the crag looking like a professional rock climber and people will have expectations, turn up like a tramp and they have none. Better say you’re rubbish and be good than say you’re good and be rubbish.
The snap was on Tony’ Ryan’s Caviar at Water-cum-Misery, feet popped and so did my tendon. Yeah I never swear. I think I actually said “ooyah”. ‘Banks’ and ‘Webbo’ tried to make me swear once, got me in a strangle-hold at the wall. I might’ve sworn if I wasn’t being strangled. First time I met you was at my house in Kenilworth. We travelled down to France together with Alison Hargreaves. Ian Parsons, the driver, kept making coffee with both hands while steering with his knee. You were in the A team and went to Verdon with Ron Fawcett, I was in the B team and went to Saleve with Billy Birkett.
AP: We’ve talked about that, can you enlighten the readership?
CH: I was flying off overhangs being caught by Billy Birkett while you were with the crème de menthe down south. I did a one arm pull up on a door lintel - OK, I was quite strong - impressed some Polish climbers who then invited me there to try their routes in Poland. I ended up with a broken pelvis and an interesting adventure involving doctors smoking in the theatre, graffiti’d bedrooms, self-administered morphine and Animal Farm.
AP: Then you moved to Sheffield and married Hilary and I was seeing ‘Hilda’s’ best friend so it was a social thing too. I remember your dodgy ankles as you ascended the stairs, click, click, click with every step. We trained hard together too at Sandford Grove Rd and you were positively beastly on my Woodie.
CH: I may have been a beast but I was never beastly. The ankles were a result of the fall in Poland, I think.
AP: That was when Jerry, Gore & Biff were doing the competition circuit en France et Italia so we climbed a lot together. I remember the Leeds 1989 competition – Britain’s first, but I think you fell off and disappointed yourself and I only got pipped for 1st place by the adorable Simon Nadin. That was the time when you were on-sighting 7-plusses like Glue Machine and Fossil’s Wall - that took me two days…Pretty impressive considering you were the only one of us who had a job!
CH: I could only climb at the weekend so had to try harder. I was also scared of falling off. It’s amazing how hard you can hold on when petrified. You boys would climb up, try a move and jump off. I’d climb up and hang on.
I still have the video of that comp. Had a look at it the other day and was horrified to find someone had taped over it. Gutted but only temporarily when I realised this was just what was on the tape before they recorded my 3 rounds. Our first daughter had just been born so no time to climb, just did pull ups on a fingerboard and lost some kilos. Chubby no more. Even though I say so myself, I made the comp route look about VS.
AP: I wish I had a copy of that comp but lost it years ago. What a fairy-tale ending with Jerry winning. Then your teaching career took a massive change and with wife & small children in tow you accepted a residential position at Atlantic College college in S. Wales. Am sure it would’ve been a wrench for you & Hilary to leave Sheff and you were both sorely missed. Climbing-wise by none more so than me, so I hooked up with ‘Scotch’ Ben Masterson who continued your devilish trick of burning me off. Thanks lads!
CH: There were a couple of notable exceptions to my winning streak. I never managed your Boot Boys, just couldn’t get my feet to stay on the holds. Should’ve kept those old plimmies of my Dad’s. The other was Powerplant, where I didn’t have the leg muscles to make the knee bar work.
AP: We did however spend Easter in Cornwall with the Rabbingtons and Boysens but Glenn Robbins and I arrived late on the back of an RAC truck coz I’d blown the engine. (Thanks again for the six hundred you lent me for a new one). The pasties were delish but we were appalled with all the chips!
CH: There has been a lot of debate about that one. I was a bit cryptic in an article which was really just meant to be a vehicle for Glenn’s superb photos. In one of me on Rats in a Rage, the colours in my T shirt are the same as the colours in my shoes, tights and chalk bag. Glenn was a real pro, and when I first saw Mark Edwards' name on Facebook I wrote to him hoping that we could still be friends. We are, water under the bridge.
AP: Same here, have conversed since and he’s a jolly nice chap. After S. Wales you migrated to Norway and we all pretty much lost contact.
CH: Not really, still in contact with the others, it's just you Down Under I never see.
AP: Coz yer lazy and haven’t bothered! Then again, the Spanish hook-up you recently enjoyed with Basher, Gore & Leachy that I was invited to was a major ‘dropped bollock’ on my behalf as it could've been the only chance we’d ever catch up again. My bad, sorry (No money).
Two final things Chris: Many heart simply sank and tears were shed, believe me, when you let us know you had Parkinson’s. It was brave of you to go public and your two articles on here were very well received. Your TED talk I enjoyed too but the sound is a bit low for my old age hearing.
CH: It’s not so bad really. Just got a spacky hand, shake a bit, look cross and can’t sleep. Making the most of the time when I can still do the things I want to do but have an excuse not to do the things I don’t. Not looking forward to the next stage but so far so good. Still hoping to bag an 8a before it’s really too late, been doing a bit of training and started eating tinned fish for lunch like Chris Gore does. Lost some kilos. I can still do one-armers on my right and levers are easy. There is a muddy hillside behind our house with a crag in it, I spend all my free time digging it out. Not sure what is most satisfying, trundling boulders or peeling off turf.
AP: If nothing else matters Chris, you did leave Hamper's Hang on the grit as a legacy. Well done.
CH: Not such a big legacy compared to all of your new routes, but at least no one can ever ask “What did he ever do on grit”?
AP: I hope you can make it down here to Melbourne before, well, you know, (and others can guess).
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