I normally don’t like running book excerpts since they drop you into the middle of a scene/story, and I’m never able to really follow what the heck is going on. I made an exception with this one, however, because I found it funny and interesting enough to make me want to read more. Plus, the early 1980s British counter-culture climbing scene is one of the wildest, most storied eras in our sport, a time when people were free to run around and act like utter derelicts and dirtbags—aka, my kind of people. Hope you enjoy this drug-addled, dick-shriveled excerpt from Andy Pollitt’s forthcoming book, Punk in the Gym. Also, be sure to watch the three videos from Mt. Arapiles at the end that I embedded. Classic! —AB
The Lakes, Shrivel-dick and Vaudeville
A few of us spent New Year 1983–84 in Ambleside in the Lake District—a beautiful place where Chris’s girlfriend “Roo” lived (Roo as in Rooley, not Kanga). Some friends of mine were staying in the town too, having just arrived from the Midlands, and this most certainly added to the ‘Amble-iance’ of the place, especially as they’d brought “gear” with them. Loads of it, and “Ha-Ha!” we naughty few laughed, demonically, as we took turns sniffing at the little packets.
Roo (non-participator in our nonsense) had booked us in to Zeffirelli’s—the more upmarket restaurant of the two in town that could be bothered opening—where we all congregated for supper and sang Auld Lang Syne gaily as the snowflakes fell outside the pretty, candlelit windows …
Rubbish! It was degging it down and we were all rat-arsed, no one gave a toss about the snow and by my count at least three of us were off our heads … Upmarket my … —we were a flippin’ disgrace!
Scotch Ben had spag bol or something tomato-ey all down his “clean” shirt (clean meaning the lesser-worn one) and a friend of Judith’s took this length of spaghetti in her mouth and … went, “Pwap, ahh” and licked her lips at the end, winking at me … “I’m in,” I thought and went to boot my mate under the table but instead caught someone else square on the knee. “Sorry lass!” Ben knew exactly what I meant and smirked quietly.
It was a welcome change from the Porter Cottage in Hunters Bar, as well as being my first-ever New Year away from my Welsh North Wales. “The shoplifting’s piss-easy,” I wrote on a postcard to my Mum. “Surprisingly lax security for such a bustling town” – see if she ever read ‘em, as Mum would’ve been more interested in the “pretty photo” side depicting Loch Ness or whatever pond it was those Lakelanders were so proud of.
Just not the general store though: “They’re our friends, And.”
“OK, understood Jude.”
“… ith,” Chris chips in… “It’s … ith.” I thought he was lisping. “Jude-ith, And.”
“Oh, sorry, can I have an ‘e’ as in ‘And-e’ then Christopher?” And we’re off … clutching sides in agony … dying flies, Stellas tumbling over.
I put on a particularly lovely hand-knitted woolly jumper and walked straight out of the “Particularly Lovely Hand-Knitted Woolly Jumper” shop wearing a “touristy special”—a £99 price tag slapped over a 14-quid one hanging off the back and the hanger still inside the neck, a great big question mark sticking up. Hmm, naughty indeed.
I awoke that first Lakeland morning in the bed of Judith’s randy friend—the spaghetti slurper from Zeffirelli’s had struck—exactly as Chris and Basher had prewarned me she might!
First proper day there and Tim and I got to sample the thuggish delights of the Bowderstone after a lengthy “hitch and hike: down (or is it up?) Borrowdale. This impressive boulder played host to Pete Kirton and Jerry’s ultimate power problems. Inaudible Vaudeville was a classic and that afternoon is the first I can recall of feeling that initial vague, dull ache in my shoulders. Confession time: I’d snorted two thick lines of speed—my first ever, so threw and threw and threw myself at those severely overhanging problems, unable to sit still and rest between goes, garbling giggly gibberish at a million miles an hour with Tim, but loving every minute of life, totally whizzing. Damn the cold. We ran down to the gate and back … garbling more about The Bowderiser.
More “lines” that evening and round two in the fart sack with “what’s-her-face.”
“Does funny things to me that speed … ” I say, apologetically … previous night we’d banged like a shithouse door in a storm … for ages … but now, down there, I looked like I’d just walked out of a freezing-cold lake. No penis. None. Not even a shrunken, tidily thing—nothing! Gone inside. Not coming out to play … and I’m in a hot, nude chick’s bed. Fuck! Or not, as the case may be.
“It’s called shrivel-dick you useless prat … ” she mocked, not even feigning sympathy.
“How long does it last?” (Horrified.)
“A couple of days, see ya, I’m off out.”
“Aww, well fuck me!”
“I would if you were up to it … ” and slammed the door.
Two more “speedy” days and I hitched back to Hunters Bar, but spent a day and a half in bed on the come-down, curled up in the fetal position, sobbing, unable to get up and absolutely hating life, wishing I was dead. I swore I’d never touch that stuff again – and to this very day I haven’t. Zippy, by then resident at no. 84, would pop up to check on me from time to time. I’ll never forget that … “Top bloke,” Zips, as we say in “Upsidedownland.”
About the Author
Andy Pollitt was born in Prestatyn, North Wales, on 26 October 1963. He grew up in Dyserth village and was introduced to climbing at school by Andy Boorman, one of his school teachers. He was immediately hooked, and the two Andys would go on to become lifelong friends.
Following his apprenticeship, and over the course of the 1980s and early ’90s, Andy Pollitt went on to become one of Britain’s most iconic climbers, pushing standards with friends Jerry Moffatt, Martin ‘Basher’ Atkinson and others. He made early repeats of legendary routes such as John Redhead’s The Bells, The Bells! on Gogarth’s North Stack Wall, and cutting-edge first ascents of his own, including The Hollow Man on North Stack, and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on Peak District gritstone. In 1992, after forty-four days of attempts spread over three trips to Australia across two years, he nally redpointed Wolfgang Güllich’s route Punks in the Gym (the world’s first 5.14a) at Mount Arapiles, and then immediately gave up climbing—for good. Andy has lived in Melbourne, Australia, since 1993 where he has enjoyed a successful career in the rope-access industry.
About Punk in the Gym, (from Vertebrate Publishing)
Andy Pollitt is as close to a Hollywood A-lister as the climbing world will ever get. Alongside co-stars like Jerry Moffatt, John Redhead and Malcolm ‘HB’ Matheson, he brought us sexy climbing—gone were the beards and woolly socks. Andy was all skin-tight pink Lycra, vests and brooding looks.
For those watching, Andy Pollitt had it all. But Punk in the Gym gives us the whole truth. The self-doubt, the depression, the drinking, the cigarettes, the womanizing, the injuries, the loss of a father and the trouble that brings, and a need for something—for recognition, a release for the pain, and, for Andy, more drinking, more tears, bigger run-outs.
With nothing held back, Andy tells his roller-coaster story from the U.K. to Australia, exactly as it happened. Exposing his fragile ego and leaving us to laugh, cry, marvel and judge, this is a sports autobiography like no other.