Thursday, 22 October 2009

Dogging, Spotting, Buttering and Buildering

Earlier this year I was asked to contribute some photographs to book called “Revelations”.  “Revelations” ( is the story of Jerry Moffatt, who during the 1980’s was widely regarded as the best rock climber in the world. Jerry became 'the best' not only by climbing cliffs, but also, by endless days and hours of ‘Buildering’. Buildering- a term used to describe the art of urban climbing has nowadays become an activity in its own right (see utube – “Buildering in Bonn”, for example), but back in the 1980’s buildering was practiced as stamina training for 'real' climbing on rock. Here’s Jerry traversing a street in Sheffield.

Long white tennis socks were compulsory; John McEnroe was Wimbledon Champion and all the best Californian climbers sported them. Here’s Jim Collins, the famous American climber/builderer and white sock wearer, talking about the specialist buildering techniques he employed, towards achieving the hardest climb in the world at the time, a route in Eldorado Canyon, named ‘Genesis’ “I built a “Genesis machine” out of buildering problems. It was two hundred yards long and I named it the ‘Genocide traverse’. “It took me six weeks of four-six hours a day to put the whole thing together. I got blisters on my fingers from 'buildering’ so much. At one point I even carried a needle in my teeth so I could drain the blisters in the middle of the traverse... I dreamed about it (Genesis) about five or six times a week” (Randell, G. Inside the Arena, Mountain no.72, March/April, 1980, Sheffield, pp.32-38.)

Besides photographing Jerry, I often ‘Spotted’ him, as he buildered. When spotting a climber your goal is to soften the fall that the climber will take and to protect their head and neck. Your hands should be outstretched so that if the climber falls they will touch the climber’s lats (on their back, just below the shoulders, near the armpits) and you can keep the climber from falling uncontrolled. Some key points...use spoons not forks (your hands should look like spoons not forks).

Here’s a female builderer being spotted incorrectly (note the dangerous state of the spotter’s hands - ‘forks not spoons’) as she climbs a ‘buttered bog block’ (toilet block) in Bristol. The bog was buttered to increase its difficulty; a total reversal of the rock-climber's habit of applying gymnastic chalk for a better grip.  

By the end of Jerry’s “Revelations” we learn that he has given up climbing, taken up golf and become a businessman. Swapped 'gripping adventures' on rock, for the grip of a wood, six-iron or putter; traded a life on the dole for the life of a property developer; Jerry's progressed from self-development on buildings, to the development of buildings for himself.
When we were both seventeen, traversing the deserted streets of Sheffield, we existed on the dole. When I look-up ‘dole’ the index of “Revelations” (p.239) I find it sandwiched between ‘Dogging’, ‘Dominator’ and dyslexia. Dogging (or ‘Hang-dogging’) is the dubious rock climbing technique whereby a climber hangs off the ropes whilst he rehearses (wires) a difficult (his next) move.

‘Spotting’, ‘dogging’, buttered bog-blocks – I’m transported back (with my block of lard) to those lovers-lanes of old; nowadays, ‘dogging spots’. Spot is a popular name for a dog. And a ‘dog-leg’ describes the shape of a hole that turns back on itself, on a golf course.
Compare my ‘spotting’ of Jerry (1982) to my latest dog-shot (2008). 

Between these two dog spots, twenty-six years of my life.

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