This previously unpublished article is part of a lecture Paul Pritchard gave in Slovenia, Italy and France in 2009. It has been adapted from the introduction to Paul's book Deep Play.
"The Eighties was a unique era in British climbing: a time of flux. It was a time of economic depression. A generation floating between two other distinct eras. There was the climbing superstar culture of the 1970s, with its big names - Rouse, Scott, Macintyre, Boardman and Tasker - and it's major sponsored expeditions..."
This has been discussed on here before. Having a huge piece of text that looks like a title in the middle of the text (and, usually, just before the parent sentence) is distracting. Why not box off the pull quotes to the side, as they would be in a magazine?
It's a shame because it makes me slightly annoyed, when I should be enjoying a good read.
I prefer them in the new way. An alternative would be to box them, but have them spanning the page (i.e. as they were but in a box). I too read them as I would a title, only to read exactly the same thing a moment later. It is only a minor niggle though.
Fantastic! It's great to hear from legends of other eras. Paul's was a lifestyle those of my generation can only imagine but touching that kind of history is a big part of what I for one get out of climbing.
I personally think the quotes probably look better as they are now.
In reply to UKC Articles: This article strikes me as a bit self valedictory. I'm not against dole climbers, I've been one myself, but ultimately it does mean you are taking money from those that work, and achieving an unfair advantage over them in climbing terms to boot.
I would take issue that the 80s were so special in terms of danger and adventure. All generations have achieved that.
Plenty of people working climbers today might sneer at the standards of the full timers of the early 80s. In some respects, they have 'stolen' the first ascents of plum lines off those who could have done so in better style - ie while contributing to wider society. Maybe being on the dole should be regarded as a point of aid.
We need a sliding scale. As a desk-jockey unfortunatlely you're going to have to rename yourself DJyo-yo. To truly deserve the onsight moniker you're going to need to retrain as a doctor and try routes every three years in the 2 day window when you fly (sorry, take the low-carbon train) back to the UK from your voluntary humanitarian post on a project in Eritrea.
MattDTC05 Oct 2010
In reply to DJonsight:
I think your'e right, the 80s weren't any more special than earlier decades. But i think Paul is right that the early 90s marked the end of the doley/drop out lifestyle for lots of climbers. Around the early 90s it became much harder to sign on and obviously not looking for work, and also sports climbing and competing started to take off in a bigger way which changed the way climbing was portrayed.
In reply to UKC Articles: I don't think it's a criticism (or at least not a major one), but I was doing a little research around Paul Pritchard (I read Deep Play some years ago) off the back of his article. His wikipedia biography is concise but suprisingly familiar, shouldn't you acknowledge that sort of thing?
In reply to toad: I think he's giving Margaret Thatcher more than her due with regard to her support of the dolie climber. Was it not under Thatcher that if you voluntarily gave up your job you were unable to receive unemployment benefit for 6 months? I knew a very good climber who was hit very hard by this legislation.
My own view was always pretty similar to Paul's - in a country where a substantial number of people were unemployed through no fault of their own, I thought it a really good thing that some of them could get enough dole money to practise something like climbing or writing to a high level.
In reply to UKC Articles:
A very thought provoking article from a generation I admittedly find difficult to imagine. Brilliant.
Thanks to Paul and UKC.
guywillett06 Oct 2010
In reply to UKC Articles: Great article by an outstanding climber from a great era...my only criticism is that I think Paul's bio is too understated (though that is probably how he would want it to be).
He is far more than a force in the lancashire quarries. His contribution to north wales, patagonia etc is huge in my opinion. He was/is an inspiration to me without knowing much about his lancashire quarries activities...
In reply to UKC Articles:
Erm I'm not really sure how to put this without sounding pedantic and it is also with the greatest respect to the original author.
I agree it's good to reminisce and a great story is an essential way to log first hand the emotions and experiences of the time. It is also a particularly valuable and entertaining contribution especially when written by someone with a wealth of experience and a contribution to the climbing scene in the UK as Paul Pritchard. But for those who experienced that era and for anyone who can do a small bit of googling the slight exagerations from the start mount and devalue the story a bit. For instance unumployment in 1983 didn't go above 3.2million, £100,000 in 1975 would be about £500,000 now (still quite a lot) and the UK wasn't in a depression.
Perhaps the reason I thought I'd write this down is that a)no one where I am really give's a monkeys what I say b)I've had a couple of pints and c)there are plenty of people going about similar quests, working the system, now driving a van through europe living on relatively meagre expenses and repeating hard lines. I wouldn't like it if their stories in 20 years time, no matter how entertaining, began with the doom of the 2009 depression where unemployment grew to 5 million and back then £1 would feed you for three days (if that is possible I'd like to know how).
I suppose all climbers are prone to slight exageration but it's just a bit of a shame when you realise one of your heroes has the same affliction.
> At Hulton, near my home, some of our neighbours went through the picket lines to work because their families needed food. They compromised principles, though they agreed with the strikers' cause. Moral decay had been forced.
This part is wonderful. Where would the selfish consumer of today be if it hadn´t been for this forced moral decay?
> For instance unumployment in 1983 didn't go above 3.2million, ... and the UK wasn't in a depression.
The official unemployment rate (registered and receiving state benefit) may have been 3.2 million but the unemployment level (not in paid work) was much higher. The massaging of figures was notorious. There was tacit encouragement to take sickness benefit rather than the dole, (non)job creation schemes, and the infamous enterprise allowance (numerous 'professional climbers' came and went). 4.5 million not in paid work was a figure much quoted at the time.
Technically it may not have been a depression but unemployment was high and continued to grow for four years after the 1980-81 recession ended which was the main thrust of Paul's arguement.
In reply to DJonsight:
> I would take issue that the 80s were so special in terms of danger and adventure. All generations have achieved that.
In terms achievement, 80s rock-climbers are clearly head and shoulders above any other generation from this country. When else have UK climbers traveled the world, repeated the hardest routes in the hot-spots of the time, and put up even harder test-pieces? It certainly doesn't happen now, present-day heroes like Dave Macleod are notably local in their achievements. Brown and Whillans may be important in a UK context but were merely catching up with standards achieved in the 1930s in Dresden and The Dolomites.
Technical standards rose more between 1980 and 1990 than in any other decade. At the start of the decade the top routes like Bastille and Strawberries were ~F7c (and before anyone says they were trad. routes, both were red-pointed on in-situ gear). At the end of the decade we had reached 8c, a huge leap forward, and 8c+ came a few months later with Liquid Ambar 8c/+ and Hubble 8c+). That's 7 grades; in another 20 years we've crawled to two grades harder. Danger and adventure are more subjective, but Indian Face (1986) anyone?
I think Paul is entirely correct in his thesis. Spain is the present global centre of hard rock-climbing. Spanish youth unemployment is currently 40%. I think the two are connected as they were in 1980s Britain.
> Plenty of people working climbers today might sneer at the standards of the full timers of the early 80s.
They might, but they wouldn't if they had even the slightest insight into the relative standards of the time.
Indeed - though the massaging was done by the Labour Party and their chums, who routinely added a million or two to the official figures in their claims.
It wasn't until 1997 when the unemployment figures really started to be fixed, by redefining the young unemployed as being in training. But somehow nobody seemed to care any more. I wonder what the current figures would be if measured in the same way as in the 80s.
> I wonder what the current figures would be if measured in the same way as in the 80s.
My memory is that they were never measured "in the same way" in the 80s. I can't remember whether it was during the first Thatcher government or during her whole period in govt. but the how unemployment was calculated changed many times - I have the number 14 in my head although no source to hand.
In reply to TobyA:
I think you're right - keep changing the basis, so nobody can tell that things are getting worse.
New Labour learnt well from her, making even bigger changes that mask the real figures much more effectively. But nobody seems to care much these days.
Perhaps if the so-called "cuts" start to bite and unemployment increases, it will become an issue again.
In reply to Tom Chamberlain: Yes I was baiting a bit, I really wanted to get some discussion on this issue rather than the style of pull out quotes.
As I said, I've been a dole climber, and I still feel the pull of that lifestyle, so I think about this issue quite a bit, especially when I'm sat in the office watching the sun shine outside, like today.
But when I was on the dole, I rehearsed the arguments put forward by Paul in this article, and they didn't work for me, because i knew I was kidding myself. That's why I think I recognise a tone of self-justification in the article.
When I was on the dole, one of my housemates who worked used to climb at a similar level and would give us doles a lot of banter about the advantages we enjoyed. I now climb with quite a few full timers and I know how he felt, and admire him all the more for keeping up.
Later I went to America and met their drop-out climbers, who wouldn't dream of taking money from the state, and I prefered their more self reliant, independent ethos. In this country, a lot of people seem to look to the state to sort them out.
I really admire the climbers of the 80s, they are my heros, but that doesn't mean they weren't flawed, everyone is. I never like to hear one generation banging on that it was the best - not pretty, I'm afraid.
Which isn't to say this isn't a good article, I wouldn't be writing all this if it wasn't.
In reply to Toreador: A pedantic few points maybe but the more recent changes to measurement of unemployment (the claimant count) brought us into line with international standards which was useful for comparison with other countries in the EU for example. Secondly, the ONS compile the figures not the government. Thirdly, the last government never denied that unemployment figures never captured the much higher rate of people who didn't work long term, and indeed they were pretty obsessed with trying to reduce 'worklessness' (ineffectively perhaps).
If you want to score party political points you could point to the much more significant 'massaging' done by diverting young people into education, and masking lack of private sector jobs growth by employing more in teh public sector.
I definitely agree with DJonsight about how it is unpleasant to hear one generation banging on that it was the best.
I definitely looked up to this generation of climbers and agree that the dole lifestyle contributed massively to the leap forward in standards that happened in the 80s. To some degree I'm pretty envious of that lifestyle myself.
But this article, and others that I have read by that generation, the most irritating of which of was one by John Redhead (admittedly perhaps slightly the generation before) in Climb magazine, seem to imply that there is only one way to climb. I'm not sure that we have lost the sense of adventure, but regardless, 'adventure' and bold leads are not the only way to climb. These kind of comments seem to me to be in a strange way elitist- only those willing to live in a shed in Stoney and lead hard trad can claim to be true climbers- and seem to be trying to devalue subsequent achievements.
Climbing is a broad church, if you're a sponsored boulderer or a weekend warrior you're still contributing to our sport and shouldn't be made to feel that your efforts are in some way illegitimate in comparison to 80s generation.
In reply to UKC Articles: I also wondered a bit about this paragraph:
"About that time big business also came into the climbing scene buying out small climbing gear manufacturers and pretty soon you have huge trade shows run by business people who didn't know much about climbing. They are the ones who were more impressed by the public view and less by the climbers view."
The trade show point may or may not be fair - I don't go to them so don't know - but I was trying to think of smaller climbing firms that were bought out. The has been some consolidation - POD, Outdoor Designs and RAB being bought by Equip, but as far as I know that is all they do - so its a very top end focus still. DMM and Wild Country have some interlocking form of ownership, a few small firms disappeared - HB, Faces, J-Rat spring to mind. And some firm became big player in general outdoor sports, North Face being the obvious example. But can anyone think of big, non-sport related firms buying out small climbing firms? Amer Sports buying Arcteryx I guess? But I can't think of others off the top of my head...
In reply to flaneur: Thanks, although that's very recent - not really fitting in with time frame that Pritchard is suggest, but I will read the supertopo thread with interest! In the interest of balance it should be noted that DMM make the Rebel ice axe in military all black. I've always wondered what you might need a stealth ice axe for! Abseiling gear - sure, but an ice axe!?