Andy Pollitt has to be up there in the hall of fame of British rock climbing, not simply because of his wild cutting-edge routes and repeats, but due to the style he exuded doing it all: the long hair, the skinny tights, the headbands... He was a ‘rock star’ through and through.
However, despite his time at the top throughout the 80s and 90s he pretty much disappeared off the scene when he moved to Australia. Here in the UK we can be a funny bunch, blinkered only to the routes within our small island and focussed upon the achievements of those visitors who have climbed here (very few had heard of any of ‘Team America’ until they made their historic visit to Sheffield and virtually ‘ticked’ the grit!!). Maybe that’s overly harsh, but having climbed some of Andy’s routes when I was out in Australia a couple of years back I was gobsmacked by the quality. No offence to the Great Orme, but it’s no Taipan Wall…
Anyhow, I digress. Basically what I’m trying to say is that when he moved to Australia he didn’t stop existing, he continued to perform and develop at an exceptionally high level and the story that ensues from Down Under is just as rich as what took place before.
Back to the book:
The accurately named Punk in the Gym (which, I’m sorry Andy, is 1000 times better a title than ‘The Pollitt Bureau’) recounts the lot, from his early memories growing up in Dyserth, North Wales to his present day life working as a ropes access technician in Melbourne, Australia. The book strikes a particular chord if, like me, you have pored over climbing history, guidebooks and old editions of On the Edge, of which Andy is so pivotal a part. Not only does he expose a lot of his own character, but also the other characters around in that era, some of whom are well-known - Martin 'Basher' Atkinson, Jerry Moffat, Ben Moon, John Redhead - but also many less well-known such as Paul Williams (author of the legendary Rock Climbing in Snowdonia and 'Bumper Fun' Llanberis Guidebook), Glenn Robbins, Andy Boorman, and many more. As such, the book is brimming with a sense of nostalgia and inspiration in equal measure.
Andy’s apolitical viewpoint (i.e. he hasn’t got anything to lose from divulging the truth about what really happened throughout the indulgent year’s in the 80/90s) makes this refreshingly different from some recent publications, which have no doubt offered a more restrained view on events (I’m not naming any names here though…). By doing so, he comes across as both an honest and likeable individual and this is enhanced greatly by his conversational style of writing. Arguments between Andy and the Editor are all there in writing and made into jokes throughout the book, such as the reference to the title mentioned above. You gain a good sense of rapport through such bantering, which has always been the case with email/forum exchanges I've had with him, giving the impression of a genuine person - a climber and mate - not that I know him mind you, but you get what I mean (and I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying that)!
There’s no shying away from the sex, drugs and rock and roll, with endless ‘ciggies’, pints, and various other…well…’supplementaries’ consumed along the way. How they ever got round to climbing what they did I’ll never know! Whilst discussing the darker points within the book, Andy is honest, open, and truthful about his experiences suffering from bipolar disorder - he isn’t a man to hide his own feelings, which are very much laid out and open to bear. I personally found this account touching, as it provided an insight that allowed you to empathise with his position - not to mention his plight - during his many highs and lows. You can also see how these highs and lows have created someone of exceptional talent, both in climbing and in the workplace; yet obviously they had their price.
Aside from the writing it has to be said that Vertebrate have gone to town with the printing, including a great many of the superb action shots that characterise Andy so well, plus giving the book its own style, with its garish pink, larger than life, ultimately showbiz ‘Pollitt’ thing. The cover shot is enough to get anyone psyched for a 44-day redpoint effort on Punks in the Gym.
If you were around in the 80/90s, or are into the extremes of North Wales, Yorkshire, and the Peak then look no further for inspiration. After reading the book I was so psyched to climb some of the routes within it that I made a list (note to self: maybe I shouldn't admit to this). Andy’s honesty and openness regarding a whole range of matters, from climbing to women to his own psychological health means he comes across exceptionally well throughout the book and it was great to have him shed light on what happened after he left the UK for Australia. The story goes on and will continue to do so on the Forums (I hope) when Andy, aka. UKC User A P Melbourne, tears this review to shreds!!
- Punk in the Gym is available now from Vertebrate Publishing in hardback (£24) and ebook (£20)
- For more info see www.v-publishing.co.uk