Echoes by Nick Bullock
Echoes by Nick Bullock
Echoes has been an interesting book to read. On the one hand I’ve found it incredibly interesting and enjoyable, but it’s also frustrated me at times. A number of years back I met Nick in the bar at Plas Y Brenin whilst on a BMC climbing meet. We spent a very enjoyable hour chatting over a couple of pints. He fascinated me then, and ever since. The life he leads is one that many of us, at some point, surely fancy for ourselves. He is a professional climber and mountaineer, and now writer, with no fixed abode (though he does own a house which he has paid off the mortgage for, and lives off the rental income), moving from one trip to the next, following the weather and a network of friends around the globe to suit his mood. I’m well aware that we are all the masters of our own destiny and can choose what we want to do, but I also believe that it takes a certain sort of person to lead Nick’s life. Anyhow, I digress.
As with most autobiographies found Nick’s back-story the most interesting part of the book. Something of a mischievous and under-achieving kid he went on to a string of random jobs including working at Alton Towers, and also spending some very unhappy time as a gamekeeper in North Wales. In his early twenties he ended up working as a prison officer, a role he would stick with for over a decade, before taking the plunge as described above. It’s his descriptions of prison life, infamous criminals such as Charles Bronson and the Kray Brothers, that I enjoyed most. I’ve rarely had such an insight into the machinations of our prisons. Whilst working in various high security prisons around the country he accidentally finds himself becoming drawn into the world of exercise – he trains and qualifies as a physical education officer within the prison service – and ultimately into the outdoors whilst on a training course at Plas Y Brenin. As you would expect from a man who has the courage of his convictions to resign from ‘regular’ life and live in his van, his drive and dedication lead to him quickly rising through the grades and becoming a very accomplished climber.
The book it comprised of 40 short chapters. The first half is generally focused on his life in the prison service, with occasional references to climbing, whilst the second half switches to his trips away from the service to Scotland, The Alps, Snowdonia, and the Greater Ranges, with plenty of references to his life and work back home. Initially the short chapters worked for me, each with a different story, but with some general continuity, but towards the end I struggled to piece together the references to previous climbs in previous chapters. There is little in the way of a timeline, so we don’t know how old he was when he did the various routes or left his job. Personally I’d have liked this information as I like to compare with my own life experiences – I used to go to secondary school a few miles from the estate he worked on as a game keeper, I think, at around the same time.
As the book winds to a close he makes more and more reference to the fact that his drive for climbing is really more of an addiction, and draws parallels between himself and the repeat offenders he spent so long living with. It’s an interesting parallel, and one that’s been made before, but rarely as rawly.
In all, it’s a thoroughly absorbing read, and more interesting than most books of its kind.