Punk In The Gym - Andy Pollitt
Andy Pollitt’s book was given to me by Vertebrate Publishing, the Sheffield-based business responsible for the majority of the recent climbing biographies, with a twinkle of the eye and a “this one’s a bit different” recommendation. Although I haven’t been around as long as Pollitt, Moon, Moffatt and co, I’m not that far behind, and my early climbing years overlapped enough with theirs to recognise many of the names, routes, places and anecdotes. Many years ago (2005 actually) I copied Andy into an email I sent out to promote a screening of a bouldering film I was organising for some visiting American hot shots. He sent a terse reply back - “why would I be interested in this? and don’t contact me again”. No pleasantries, no sign off. Suffice to say I never contacted him again, and thought, what he was a bit of a rude chap.
I’ve just put down Andy’s book and am not entirely sure what to think. It’s definitely interesting, though really only to climbers, and probably to climbers of a certain era or with an interest in the history of British climbing in the 80s and early 90s. Given the fact that Andy wrote it (with an edit from his ex school teacher Andy Boorman!) it’s written surprisingly well. Think Johnny Dawes’s book, but actually much more fluid. There’s a definite structure to it, and many of the chapters stand alone as great stories, but he does have a habit of heading off on tangents and sometimes spends a little too long discussing things in too much detail for the average reader (am thinking some of the ropes access sections). It’s very honest, to the point of being overly so in places.
Let me explain. Andy was (and still is I guess) a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand clearly hugely talented and at the forefront of world climbing, pushing standards with the greats. On the other hand he’s something of a wild child, a chain smoker, heavy drinker and ladies man who suffers bouts of depression. It’s that penultimate phrase that irked me whilst reading the book. Barely a page goes by without some reference to his exploits with the opposite sex. It clearly plays a huge role in defining who he is, but to my mind is a very outdated desirable characteristic.
The above I guess comes across a little negatively, but I did enjoy the book. I must have as I finished it in a week. It’s a window into a world long gone, arguably a much cleaner window than I’ve seen through before. I've never met Andy and I am quite sure that if I did, I would like the guy. That’s his thing. He’s clearly charming and charismatic. But the picture he has painted of himself is hard to warm to. I take my hat off to him for having the ability and energy to write the book, to have kept detailed diaries over the years which has allowed him to recall in such detail what he did when, and with whom. At times he is describing what he did as if it were last week, such is the detail. Having grown up in Snowdonia climbing on many of the same crags, and then moved to the Peak, I very much enjoyed reading about my own stomping grounds, albeit on the routes I was never good enough to get on! One day I’d like to meet him and forget about the email all those years ago.
If you’ve enjoyed any of the other books of this era - Moffatt, Moon, Fawcett, Dawes, McClure - then you ought to read this one too. Thanks Andy.
More info on the book at Vertebrate Publishing