Thursday, 5 November 2009

Douglas Foot, Duckless Feet And More Sniffing Around The Chalk-Face

Douglas Foot. How could I have forgotten a name like that? Foot was a sniffer. (“On Powdering Your Nose”, 31/10/09; where all the names of the glues just ‘stuck’; but I couldn’t recall the names of any of my fellow glue- sniffers.) And it was always Douglas, never Doug; because Doug Foot sounded too much like Bigfoot.

No, we never called him Doug Foot, even when we were “glued out of our Meindl’s” (Meindl is a reputable brand of mountain boots - “Meindls get you high”). This is the Meindl Eagle.

I can’t picture Foot - and I don’t have any photographs to remind me (we rarely snapped and sniffed – too much camera-shake); So I’m left with nothing but a name; there’s a gap where Foot’s face should be. The nearest thing I have is a photograph of some ‘duckless’ feet.

The duck has become unstuck. All that remains is dried glue (like semen), and a gap where the duck should be - “this bird has flown” (Lennon & McCartney, "Norwegian Wood", from “Rubber Soul", 1965).

Years ago the climb ‘to do’, was a route called “Footless Crow”. All new rock climbs are given a name by the climber who makes the first ascent (many are named after rock-albums or song titles; the Lake District boasts some truly dreadful rock & roll route-inspired names like, “Sultans Of Swing” and “Gates Of Delirium”; This is how the rock-rag, Crags (no.8, 1977) broke the news of the third ascent of “Footless Crow”.

Mick Fowler (an appropriate surname, given the name of the route) is a Taxman as well as a climber - he’s very high up in the revenue – used to police the whole of South West London; : "Taxman", also the title of another Beatles Song, from "Revolver" (1966).
Mick Fowler’s autobiography, “Vertical Pleasure – The Secret Life of a Taxman(1996), chronicles his rise to fame on and off the rocks: from the tiny (but desperate) sandstone outcrops of East Sussex, to the snow-capped peaks of Patagonia. But there is one utterly eccentric style of climbing Fowler has made his own: desperate and extremely dangerous ascents of chalk cliffs in South East England: Beachy Head and the White Cliffs of Dover.

The revenue inspector treats the vertical chalk as ice (dry ice?) and ascends it with the aid of ice axes and crampons. This form of climbing is very much ‘an acquired taste’ and unsurprisingly, has few imitators. Apart from dealing with the extreme looseness and unpredictable nature of the vertical chalk (massive rock-falls are common on these one hundred and twenty metre cliffs!) the revenue inspector is often attached by angry, nesting Fulmars (fulmars eject an evil smelling stomach oil over their victims!). One of Fowler’s ‘epics’ on Beachy Head was even reported on News At Ten. Here’s our heavily powdered taxman (more Yeti than revenue inspector) after a difficult day at the chalk-face.
Sometimes Fowler climbs ‘real’ ice – but in the most unlikely of locations: back in the late 1970’s Fowler made the first and last ascent of a freak ice stalactite (the result of a burst frozen drainpipe) on St Pancras Station, London.

What's a 'Wool Competition'? Wool; ectoplasm; noses; glue; chalk; drainpipes; Douglas Foot (I wonder if he’s still alive and sniffing?).
Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row links drainpipes and sniffing: “He looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette then he went off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet”. And there are several routes (on cliffs as far apart as Cornwall, Lancashire and the South of France) all named Desolation Row.
But by far the best new-route-name I know of was conceived and first climbed by a one-time climbing companion of mine, Chris Plant. Where Douglas Foot used to get ‘high’, Chris Plant would ‘creep across’ (I was friendly with Plant the same time I was friends with that other more famous traverser, Jerry Moffatt – see Dogging, Spotting, Buttering and Buildering”, 22 October, 2009 blog).
Chris Plant was literally, a ‘creeper’ as well as a climber - a creeper with a weight problem: he traversed across the back wall of Lawencefield quarry (known as the ‘Great Wall’) in Derbyshire to produce his very own “Heavy Plant Crossing”.

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