Andy Kirkpatrick’s blog #4: ‘Old School’
The other day I found an old book on my shelf when its tatty green spine caught my eye as I thumbed across the shelf looking for something else. Many times before I had passed it by, but this time my eyes fixed on it and my book blindness, caused by its ever-presence, suddenly lifted. It has been there longer than any other book I have ever owned; over 30 years, and probably unread for over 20. The fact that I’d never given it away to a charity shop was a sign of its importance. I stopped and pulled it out.
The book was ‘Rock Climbing’ by Stan Wroe and was given to me by my father when I was 10 years old. I opened it up and saw his inscription to me: ‘To Andrew, may you climb many a mountain. With best wishes and love, Pete and Iona (your Dad)’. These words now seem prophetic and the sign-off also a bit odd/funny; my dad was absent a lot in my life, but not to the point that I didn’t remember who he was!
I began to flick through the book and the past familiar landmarks within the cover: the introduction by Joe Brown, photos of rock faces, gear and diagrams, each and every one ingrained in my memory. At 10 years old I had still not learnt to read, and like many other slow learners (they didn’t have special educational needs’ in the ’80s) I had been given this book twice; once with the pictures, and then again with the words when I had finally learned to read.
It was funny to see how much it had dated; the climbing trousers covering various styles of breaches, the most up-to-date rock boots a pair of Pierre Allain’s. My dad never believed in simply showing you how to do something, but would always give you some clues and leave it up to you to work it out instead. It was an unconventional approach but one that has worked out well for me since, especially in the days before the internet when learning new specialised skills with only the most basic of information was vital. Now we can just click on YouTube and get a blow-by-blow demo of any human skill, from mending an iPhone screen to building a bomb. The art of knowing how to learn has been all but lost (in fact we don’t even have to remember anything anymore, as it can be re-downloaded into our heads).
Flicking on through the book I thought about how important this and other similar books have been to me, sacred even. Tatty guidebooks full of ticks and dates, instructional books that had fallen apart due to my love and over-reading of them; every story, tip and scrap of knowledge absorbed. I flicked through the pages again, thinking how little that young boy understood about climbing back then, and that he had no idea where the pursuit of climbing adventures would eventually take him. I slipped it back onto the shelf and went back to writing my own climbing book, wondering where we both may be – along with climbing itself – in another 30 years time.
Andy Kirkpatrick is one of Britain’s leading climbers, with sidelines as an award-winning writer, speaker and stand-up comedian. Read more at www.andy-kirkpatrick.com