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The Climbing Essays Paperback – 7 Jul 2007
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'Put an ear to this book and what will you hear?' writes Robert MacFarlane in the introduction to this exquisite collection of essays. 'You will hear the soft rasp of a chalked hand on a gritstone hold. You will hear the cow bell clink of hex on granite. You will hear the skirl of wind over wind drifted snow. You will hear the cry of a falling man and the seconds of silence after his death. You will hear the chatter in the Llanberis heights on a Saturday night. You will hear the jubilant shout of a climber mantling over the top of a big route, and into rich, quiet sunset light. You will hear a Himalayan ice fall noisily rearranging itself. You will hear voices raised in funeral song.'The tonal range of Perrin's writing is remarkable. From the mellifluous, supple rythms of 'so I went on that shattered hillside in company with a certain fear. It was so beautiful, I was lost' to the cocaine-laced intensity of his infamous ascent of Coronation Street. From the hedonism to the heartbreak; all the highs and the lows of life on 'climbing's wildest shore' are here.Highlights from the book include his elegy to Fachwen bouldering which begins: 'It was on the back of Al Harris's bike that I was first introduced to Fachwen. It wasn't a Kawasaki, it was a Greaves Scrambler and Al loved to do wheelies on it in the field on the front of his house. One day he took me for a ride over the back of Bigil. By the time I eventually parted company with his pillion there was enough adrenalin coursing round my veins to have kept San Francisco tripping for the whole of 1967 which was the year in question.'He touches upon deeper issues; his style way beyond the workaday prose of the outdoor journalist: 'What is it we seek from these mirrors in the cliffs? he asks . He believes in climbing as an almost mystical experience. One through which the outer landscape comes to shape the inner. What he criticises, is climbing as gymnastics, a purified exercise in dynamics and musculature.In his profile on Stevie Haston he writes 'the direction that Stevie's going and the direction climbing's going are divergent Britain. The stuff he does needs balls wheras the sport in this country is mostly just for twats'. He seems to sympathise with Jack Longland: (of Longland's climb on Cloggy) who says of modern climbing: 'I find it intensely boring, all these chaps doing something with or without bolts to the left or right of where somewhere else has been.' In the course of their discussions, Longland, would often turn the conversation round to more scurrilous topics. 'He once told me of the menage a trios he'd enjoyed as a Cambridge undergraduate with both Geoffrey and 'Len' (Eleanor) Winthrop Young - extracting from me the promise that I'd tell no one before his death and as many as possible thereafter.'And because Perrin has been absorbed into the very heart of the climbing world for four decades, the footnotes are a gossipy, scurrilous treat into the motivations and personalities of the key players. For Jim has known them all: Longland and Murray, Tilman and Shipton, Whillans and Bonington, Dawes and Fawcett, - all 'the sports great mediators and regulators'.This collection of writing is Perrin at his very best. His writing has stood the test of time; his words just as compelling on the third and fourth read as they were on the first. Anyone who has ever tried to write will read this and know they will never create anything that is half as good as this. Read it and weep. Oliver Metherell, Climber magazine, July 2007 On beauty - and the joy of gritstone This collection of Jim Perrin's climbing essays spans five decades and shows a great deal of passion and energy, says Ed Douglas Like so much else in modern life, the world of adventure is now turbo-charged by celebrity and consumerism. Sponsored to the hilt and never far from a film crew, men and women with the correct appeal - accent, apparel, jaw-line - flog unremarkable achievements to media outlets too uninterested to figure out the scam. Jim Perrin is part of a very different tradition, whose followers see hills and mountains as places of liberty and recreation, delighting in nature and the absence of rules and mocking the capitalistic hierarchy mountaineering has become. This collection of Perrin's climbing essays spans five decades and requires at least a nodding acquaintance with the sport. That fact itself has frustrated Perrin down the years. His lyric prose and tough reasonableness have drawn favourable comparisons with the spirit of William Hazlitt. But in a rock climber? Perrin kicks against the constrictions of his subject, seeing the truth of things pasted to a gritstone cliff while knowing that many readers will feel excluded. He prefaces this selection with a series of autobiographical sketches that are, by turn, chiselled and baroque, capturing the juxtaposition of post-war, working-class Manchester and the richly peopled world he found on the moors of Derbyshire and later in his spiritual homeland, Wales. Perrin grew up in fractured gloom, his parents forced to leave him with grandparents as they scraped a living and endured a joyless marriage. Highly intelligent, he earned himself a place at grammar school -'not a good move, given where I live' - and the consequent scrapping cost him an eye. Abandoning the classroom, Perrin found his aggression and energy, along with his mind, fully expressed by wilder spaces and the cast of characters he returns to again and again throughout his writing life: playful genius Joe Brown; white-maned radical Len Chadwick, striding the moors with his boots held together by string; mesmerising Eric Shipton, sacked from the 1953 Everest expedition in the cruellest circumstances; and Al Harris, a prodigious master of the revels and Perrin's partner in a pissed-up round of mechanical-digger jousting. The essays flick past in a sequence of intense bursts, conflating left-wing radicalism and lines of coke, the beat of a raven's wing with a horror at the limits we enforce on the world. Most moving of all is the agony and courage he shows in contemplating the suicide of his gifted son, Will. Perrin's mood and style are as mercurial as the weather on Bleaklow, but: 'There is a common element in all this,' he writes. 'It is beauty, and I am continually astonished how little is said about it in our modern world.' "I can't remember when I felt so eager to engage with a writer, and I urge this collection on anyone who thinks and argues about our reasons for doing what we do. Some of the climbing accounts are of the finest and there are warm evocations of sharply-observed hilscapes and their secret, foraging creatures ... his descriptions of the action of climbing are joyous, full of the love of life and grace on rock." Paddy O'Leary, Irish Mountain Log, Autumn 2006
About the Author
Jim Perrin is Britain's finest mountaineering and outdoor writer with regular, outstanding features in the Daily Telegraph, Climber and TGO. His 1985 biography of Menlove Edwards (Menlove) won the Boardman Tasker award and The Villain, a portrait of Don Whillans won the same award in 2005.
Top customer reviews
While a lot of it will be lost on non climbers, it will certainly provide you with a porthole in to the activity and the reasons why we do the things we do. Climbing is many things, from just a way of getting out at the weekends, to a highly self-destructive and lonely place. Nobody on the planet can get this on paper better than Jim Perrin.
His other books provide a huge service to the world of climbing and North Wales in their forensic level research and loving biographies of it's greatest characters. This one has a much more personal feel - the culmination of a life on the crag with it's ups and downs.
I got a hell of a lot of enjoyment from this book while lazing aroung in mountain huts and lying in the grass at the top of Tremadog reading about the great climbers who came before me and pawed the holds that I one day wish to aquaint myself with.
Jim Perrin was one of the foremost rock performers of the 1960's and 1970's, yet as well as climbing with his peers he climbed with old-timers and with succeeding generations, and he is still climbing at an extreme level. He was in the vanguard of those consigning aid-climbing to history, but he is no purist as he acknowledges with fluidity of debates on climbing ethics or acceptance of the aging process as he bridges aspiration and reality. Jim Perrin has the ability with words to alter perceptions of the past and re-orientate for the future.
After some initial autobiographical sketches it is other climbers, their styles, and the venues for climbing that provide the context for Jim's essays. In all cases these are exceptional, but perhaps pre-eminent are the pen-pictures of other master mountaineers and climbers. He uses subtle humour to achieve a blend of subjective introspection with being objectively outspoken, and sympathy together with being caustic, and defending as well as attacking; and though always powerful he is not dogmatic. In over 300 pages there are over 70 magnificent easily read short articles collected over 40 years. In addition to unequalled climbing commentaries from a talented climber `The Climbing Essays' encompasses more peripheral matters with independently expressed views. It is enhanced by such as direct consideration of literary subjects, tributes to other writers, or observations on the impact of photography.
Readers will be informed, entertained and enthralled, but must be prepared for eye-openers - there is no place where Jim Perrin fears to tread. His drug taking and permissiveness are somewhat bewildering to older generations, but without damage cannot be omitted from his essays. Similarly what may appear as unhealthy concentration on death is a vital element of exploration of risk and consequence. The introduction by Robert Macfarlane conveys it all, describing `The Climbing Essays' as mingling: "joy and tragedy and action and beauty of a climbing life lived to the uttermost: a life lived as fully on the lateral as on the vertical".
The first review of this book is comical in its length.- so self important. Who would read it? If a book needs so much explanation and pleading for it- is it any use.
For clean, unadulterated prose which explores the themes of nature and man`s place within I would suggest a range of other writers- Kathleen Jamie, Richard Mabey, Alice Oswald, John Burnside, MacFarlane, Deakin, Colin Thubron- a massively excellent and humane writer
Writing should open up the world not be clogged in its own preoccupations.
Not worth the money. Save it and take yourself for a trip to the outdoors.
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