We clicked back into our courses as if we had never been away, my slightly skewed beak bringing more than a few jokes, including one from our tutor. His was a cheeky remark about remembering the old formula ‘Grid to mag, add’ if I ever found myself following my nose.
Cheeky, but actually quite clever.
Thankfully, the time of year stopped us spending much time on or in the horrible wet stuff, although we did some canoe work in the swimming pool. Instead, there was an awful lot of book-based work, a surprising number of assignments linked to psychology and its relative, motivational leadership: how to persuade or cajole someone to keep moving when all they wanted to do was curl up on the ground and surrender to whatever was holding them back. Matthew, as usual, had a film or two for us, one being a deeply unpleasant reenactment called something like ‘Duel With An Teallach’, in which the accident scenes were horrifyingly real. ‘Touching the Void’ got an obligatory airing, and that one was all about self-motivation as Matt stressed.
“That’s the thing, people. Pick up your clients, students, whatever, and see them safe. Keep yourself going for their sake, too. And learn how to do it for yourself. That last one, think of it this way. Enfys?”
“You still on the Rescue?”
“When I’m not here, yes”
“How do you feel about dickheads? Idiots who go out in the wrong weather, with the wrong kit, or no proper kit at all?”
I found myself frowning.
“Not happy. Puts us at risk”
“That’s the answer I wanted, woman. You motivate yourself to get out, or down, so that the rescue folk, whether it’s mountain, lifeboat, whatever, don’t have to take those risks. So you need fitness, competence, self-reliance, if and when it all goes wrong. Enfys?”
“After all that, would you be happy leaving one of those dickheads on the hill?”
“God, no! They’re still people, aye?”
He smiled happily.
“The exact answer I was looking for. Our next session is all about lying to the client. No, not really, but you get my drift. See you all in a couple of days!”
He grinned as we all rose.
“And don’t tell anyone I said ‘dickheads’, okay?”
Food for thought, as were the imminent spectres of our exams and the events that were due after September. I lay in bed that night, Alys burbling slightly in her sleep beside me, and wondered how I would cope without her. It was to be our year of ‘work placements’, and while I was now securely in possession of an offer from Plas y Brenin, my lover was absolutely set on her Australian experience. I didn’t sleep well that night, and when I shuffled bleary-eyed into the kitchen to make two teas to take back upstairs, I found Kitzy there already. She looked at my red-rimmed eyes, and gave a wry grin.
“You not sleep either? Pot’s fresh”
I shook my head, deciding to have a cup to myself before taking a fresh one up for Alys.
“No, not really. Stuff on my mind”
“Crunchy exam worries?”
“Oh god yes, but more than that!”
“Alys told me, about her placement. Long way away”
“Yes… Long time apart. Not sure how I will cope, to be honest. I’ve become more than a little, I don’t know; just doesn’t feel right when she’s not there”
I found myself giggling just then, and waved away Kitzy’s little frown of puzzlement.
“Oh, just something Alys said, when your Mam worked out what was going on, about how I was sleeping with Lee!”
She dropped her eyes, lips quirking.
“Yeah. Not just you, in that place. Getting used to things…”
Suddenly, she was bright pink.
“No! Not that sort of thing! I mean the, the comfort stuff. I mean, it’s uncomfortable sometimes, cause he steals the duvet when he’s asleep, but…”
I put my mug down and stepped forward to jug her.
“Comfort in having someone warm beside you?”
“Yeah… and you missed a pun thing there. About someone warm?”
“And Lee is a warm person, for you, yes?”
“That’s it, Enfys. And he’s so shy, too shy really”
She pulled back a little to look me in the eyes.
“Remember that stuff in the personal motivation session? Imposter Syndrome? When they said that, all I could think about was Lee”
“I don’t mean ‘all I can think about, ever’, but that the whole thing described him so well, and it was like ticking a list of Lee boxes. How do I make it better?”
“How would I know, apart from what Alys does for me. Now, I have just had an idea. None of our placements start till after the Summer, do they?”
“They sort of depend on our exam results”
“Let’s just assume for now, okay?”
“Fancy a group weekend away? The August bank holiday weekend? Music festival?”
“That the one Jordan goes to?”
I snorted, remembering his innocent comment about an ‘absolutely fruitloop’ fiddler, and had to reach for a square of paper towel to wipe my nose.
“Yes, the same one. We have a load of friends go there, and there’s all sorts of things, including dances”
“I don’t know how to do that sort of dance, though”
I couldn’t hold back another snort, and Kitzy passed me more tissue as I explained.
“From what I’ve seen, neither do many of those on the dance floor. Half the fun’s in learning, like me and Alys had to. Shall we run it past the boys?”
Another dip of the head, and the difference between Warren and her became even clearer to me. Warren’s handicap had always been his lack of self-worth, that imposter syndrome Kitzy had mentioned, whereas hers was what seemed like crippling shyness. Their courage, though, was equal. What is courage without fear?
We were on a roll, it seemed, for after I had taken my lover’s morning brew to her, and we had all stumbled through the day’s classes, it was Kitzy who raised the subject of the festival when we all got home, and her laptop was the one used by four of them to secure tickets. I was a little torn, for it would take away some of the ‘us’ time before we were to part for a year. Reason reasserted itself, of course, for there would never have been real privacy for us given who we were to stay with.
Job done, woman smiling and just a shedload of lectures and exams to get through.
That went to the back of my mind the next day, as Matt gave one of the most entertaining session we had ever received from him.
“Now then, you horrible lot, as promised, I bring you ‘How to lie to your client’. Officially, of course, this session is called ‘Maximising client engagement and experience’, but ignore that. Anyone got the original two-volume Ogwen and Carneddau guide?”
I put my hand up.
“Dad has, and I think I know where this is going. Photo of a second coming over a block, looking really gripped?”
Matt grinned again, and nodded.
“Enfys can now keep her gob shut for a bit, as…there we are”
He had set up the overhead projector with a copy of the photo in question, and it blossomed into full colour on the screen. Matt used a laser pointer to draw attention to the facial expression and position of the climber’s hands.
“Now, anyone else that knows this picture can also keep schtumm, so… Jordan? You familiar with this one?”
“Not me, no”
“Can you give an estimate for the technical grade for that move?”
“Um, without seeing the rest of the rock, and where his feet are… guessing 4c?”
“Any other estimates?”
There were several other guesses, all settling around 4a to 4c, while Matt grinned.
“Anyone here know where that picture was taken? Enfys, I’ll come to you if we get no answers”
In the end, as Matt waved me in, I had to say “Finish of Ivy Chimney, on the Milestone”
“But that’s a piece of---”
Matt interrupted him, “---exposed hard moves to the finish, and around 1c in tech grade. Here’s a pic from the other side”
A new slide came on, taken from the niche at the top of the Ivy Chimney reached after popping out of the hole in the wall. There was laughter at how obviously simple it was, and Matt held up his hands.
“Yup. Hilarious. That photo was of a client, taken by a pro guide. It’s carefully angled, and makes it look as if the paying customer is really ‘out there’, and even id the man never climbed again, I bet he has a framed print of that at home. Not everyone can handle even the simplest of routes. It may be a fear of heights, it may be a lack of strength. There are many people who think it’s going to be really fun until they come to the reality, and sometimes even the idea of the walk-in is too much.
“So set yourselves up with an alternative, and with that an explanation. If your punter balks at the walk-in to the Idwal Slabs, there’s Little Tryfan, or even Chapel Rocks, and a tale of how the Kitchen brews bad weather, and those clouds look a bit threatening. No, Jordan: any clouds. Especially the ones that have just gone behind Tryfan.
“The other aspect is limiting ambitions. Let’s say you have just done Crib Goch, or maybe the circuit from Pen yr Ole Wen, and you are not confident on the hill sense or the fitness of your client. Find a reason not to head onto Lliwedd, or out to Foel Grach. In short, get them off the hill before they need Enfys’ lot and a helicopter. Lie. Lie. Lie. But make it credible and deniable”
He clicked the picture back to the first one.
“And if you are here, or somewhere like it, big up the route. Enfys?”
“Sum up the finish of the previous pitch, from a leader’s viewpoint, please”
“Oh, scary if you don’t expect it. You’re in a nice safe chimney, and then you pop out of a hole onto a very exposed wall, with a slight overhang to get past. Plenty of really good holds, but it’s all stress blinkers and head games”
“Right. So this complete novice, face all screwed up on the simplest of moves, has actually just had a real fright and is completely out of their comfort zone, am I right?”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that”
“Exactly. What we aim to do in adventure sports is give people the feeling of getting out of their comfort zone, of having an adventure, without either thing actually happening. Tref: can you define an adventure for me?”
“Um, something exciting, something dramatic, with a bit of risk involved?”
“Not quite. An adventure is something exciting, dramatic, frightening, risky, that happens to someone else. It’s what Enfys and her mates in the Rescue go out to pick people up from. That is what we are trying to offer: the appearance of adventure without the actual objective risk. The skill of an instructor is to take their client to the edge of their comfort zone, and bring them back from it, whether it be trad climbing or a K1 in a white water section. And lie about it”
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