Put a lid on it

So, yesterday I decked. And it sucked.

I was lucky, I was only at about 3 metres and my head missed all the rocks on the floor. Granted, I was quite unlucky when I ran out of good holds, got pumped, fell, ripped my gear and landed on my back, but you have to look for the positives.

It was my own fault really. I was exploring a new route on a new crag, and ran out of positive holds within a couple of moves, but I carried on regardless, hoping to reach easier ground. When that didn’t happen, I made some sketchy moves to my left, to try and reach a ledge at the side of the face and make my way down.

Obviously, my plan didn’t work. When I fell, the cam at my waist height failed, and I was too far to the left of my previous gear for it to have any effect.

What happened next was a loud thud, lot of wheezing, a lot of lying on the floor, and a lot of “It’s wheeeeeeze fine, I’m wheeeeeeeeze just wheeeeeeeze winded.”

I wasn’t just winded, but a few days of Co-Codamol, and liberal doses of lying on the sofa, I’ll be fine.

The experience taught me a couple of things, which, as everyone I’ve seen so far has told me, is the upside of being in intense pain.

The first, and possibly most obvious, is that when onsighting at a new crag, a helmet is probably wise. Like I said, my head escaped unscathed, but it took a while for the colour to return to me shaken belayers face. Apparently I was only a couple of inches away from a cracked cranium.

The second is that if you own a shiny new bouldering mat, and you’re going to explore a new trad crag, you may as well put it in the car. It’s a great excuse to get it dirty. And since you’ve put it in the car, you may as well take it up to the crag. And it would seem silly to bring it that far and not put it at the bottom of the route.

There always will be debate about the ethics of bouldering mats and trad climbing, but I’m sold on the idea. Helmets, too, will be the subject of disagreement for as long as they exist. As a mountain biker and cycle-commuter in the city before I started climbing, I would never have dreamed of heading out on the road or trail without a lid. So why, then, was I happy to head into the vertical unknown, not knowing how loose the rock was, how easy the moves or how plentiful the gear placements? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m unlikely to be making the same mistake again.

Not for a while anyway.

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Dobre!

When I was packing the car, ready to drive from Cardiff to Mid Wales to meet the boys and drive to Heathrow together, I didn’t feel like I was about to hit the snow.

When we landed in Vienna, in sunshine and 20 degree heat, I really didn’t feel like I was just a train ride away from the mountains.

When Matt from Propaganda picked us up from the station in a drizzly and snow-free Liptovský Mikuláš, I didn’t feel like I was half an hour away from one of the best resorts in Europe.

We’d arrived too early to actually check in to the chalet, so we dropped our stuff off and got a bus straight to the bottom of the resorts 2 six-man chairs. It was the end of the season, but to me this just meant that lift passes were cheap, the queues were short and the pistes were quiet.

Admittedly, the snow wasn’t great. The base was there, but the start of the week saw some pretty severe ice, and the end of the week saw some deep slush. Don’t get me wrong, slush is good fun, especially when the skiers have turned it into a mogul playground, but if it was between riding slush and riding a park that wasn’t falling apart, I know which I’d choose.

However, we’d paid sod all to be out here for the week, and it was totally worth it. The park was small but perfectly formed, until it melted towards the end of the week, and those who enjoy going big had the Super Park to play with, with a few big kickers and some street rails, left over from the FIS Slopestyle Finals.

The big draw for Jasna, though, is the freeride. We didn’t get a chance to partake, due to going out at the very end of the worst season on record, but the potential is obvious. Between the pistes lie steep tree runs, some of which have downhill mountain bike tracks running through them, throwing some interesting features into the mix.

There’s huge powder runs to each side of the main resort slopes, pretty much serviced by the lifts in high season. Theres even a chalet about 50 metres from the summit, where you can stay for about €10 for the night if you’re desperate to catch those first fresh tracks in the morning. They also do the best goulash in Slovakia, I’m told.

Speaking of Slovak food, think of it as the Atkins diet with added garlic. The mountain favourite for us was Lángos, a kind of deep fried flatbread with cheese and loads of garlic. In town, the deep fried cheese was pretty good, along with the garlic soup (with cheese). Seeing a theme?
This is far from a criticism though, and if you don’t fancy the Slovak delicacies it’s easy to find pizza and other more Western favourites.

It would be wrong to big up this trip without bigging up the Propaganda chalet. The place had plenty to keep us entertained while we weren’t on the slopes. A couple of big TVs, an Xbox (with a Kinect setup), and a big film collection. Oh, and one of the old gondola cars out on the balcony, next to the barbeque, Obviously. Couple all this with daily trips to the local Tesco to pick up 60p beers, and you’ve got the recipe for an awesome week.

Visit snowboardslovakia.co.uk to find out more about Propaganda, who offer accommodation from as little as £225pppw in peak season, and full seasons for under a grand. They’re in the process of starting up Slovakia’s first wakeboarding holiday venture for the summer too, as well as chatting to local rock climbers about running guided climbing trips in the area. Very exciting stuff.

People Are Strange

An article written for a surf/boardsports magazine.

“Jim Morrison once said ʻpeople are strange, when youʼre a strangerʼ. He was wrong. People are always strange, whether theyʼre a stranger or not.

Everyone has their quirks.

We may find it crazy that some people are content in the warm safety of a life without risk, but why not? Itʼs human nature to seek comfort.

Some of us find happiness in braving the cold of the Atlantic Ocean to ride a wave, some of us find it dragging our knees through waist deep snow to find that one perfect line.

One of the most cherished memories I have is finding my way back to a deserted piste after being lost in a Bulgarian forest for hours. When I realised I had no idea where I was, I was miserable. When it got dark, I was miserable. When I was retracing my steps through ever deepening powder, I was tired. And miserable.

But when I think back on that few hours, I canʼt help but smile.

I can smile thinking back on all the times I was scared that Iʼd pushed it too far, because Iʼm sat here writing this. Every time I overcame whatever was in my way, I beat the forces of nature, I corrected my mistakes. And I made it back to the pub to tell my mates and laugh about it.

I think what separates those who chose to put themselves in risky situations and those who try and avoid them is just that. If you put yourself close to the edge, you are in control of it. You know where the edge is, and you know how close you can get. If you try and avoid the edge, if you put the edge to the back of your mind, you never know when you might fall off it. To the edgephobics, that probably seems crazy, but for me it’s the only way of life that seems normal.”

Follow the Leader

This was my answer to a D&AD competition brief, with the aim of promoting a new book which championed the art of copywriting. Click to view full size.


State of the Union

Another article written for the zine that never took off…
I think my first experience of Rise Against would have been sometime in 2004, probably listening to a group of people a few years older than me singing along to ‘Swing Life Away’ (Rise Against’s equivalent of Green Day’s ‘Good Riddance’. You know the kind of song I mean, the slow, heartfelt one that makes people get deep and thoughtful in the middle of a good party), and I thought it was awesome.

I thought a lot of things were awesome back then, so I forgot about them for a few years.

On rediscovering them sometime when I was in college, I wondered what I’d been missing. With a full throttle mix of political and romantic angst, the straight edge Chicago four peice have been making great punk albums for the last decade, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be calling it a day anytime soon. I managed to get a last minute ticket to see them at Cardiff’s student union, and I was far from disappointed.

The ongoing Iraq war has been fuel for the anti-establishment fire that R.A. are burning, with old tracks like ‘State Of The Union’ taking on new relevance, and new tracks like ‘Hero of War’ striking a chord with the crowd, with every fist in the sold out venue in the air. Older tracks met with just as much enthusiasm as any of their newer tracks, which I think shows what a dedicated following R.A. have, no one in the crowd only got excited for singles from the new album, and everyone got excited for classics like ‘Paper Wings’.

Sadly, I think they’ll be back in America by the time anyone reads this,but make sure you catch them next time round.
“The best way to support our troops is by not sending them into a war over resources”
-Tim McIlrath

Danger! Danger!

This is probably the first review I wrote, for a zine a friend of mine was setting up.

“After dropping the latex Rocky Balboa style robe, Tyler Spencer looks like someone who I’m pretty sure has taught me geography at some point. In a beige jacket (possibly with elbow pads, I didn’t check) and blue check shirt, him and the Detroit based six piece he fronts immediately take complete control of the crowd. It isn’t a big crowd, mind, the 300 capacity top floor of Cardiff’s iconic Clwb Ifor Bach nowhere near full to bursting. I expected more, to be honest, as this is Electric Six after all. You may know Tyler Spencer by his pseudonym Dick Valentine, and his band for their charting comedy-rock singles back in the early noughties.
It was only by chance that I ended up at the gig. After she messed up a transaction in a camping shop with the bands tour manager, he took pity on my girlfriend and put us both on the guestlist. Which was nice. It was one of those mistakes that definitely turned out to be a blessing.

Electric Six have much more dedicated following than I had expected, I had pictured the crowd being mostly comprised of people like me: curious to see what the band had done since ‘Danger! High Voltage’ and ‘Gay Bar’, and not really knowing what to expect. What I found, however, is that a lot of people are really into this band. This may just be because the people next to me gave the impression that they were either die hard fans or crystal meth addicts (I’m still unsure), but it did seem that most of the showgoers were singing along and punching the air in time with the drums.

Their seventeen song setlist featured all the classics, the two I previously mentioned and the slightly lesser know single ‘Dance Commander’, interspersed with tracks from all seven albums (Yeah, seven, who knew?). It all came together to form one of the most entertaining performances I’ve ever had the joy of seeing. Dick Valentine has the ability to both control the crowd  and create a sense of intimacy (dedicating songs to the Welsh women, who are apparently ‘Loyal to the dragon’, and reminiscing about the first time he managed to get on the internet in Wales) that very few frontmen posses, but all desire. The band, comprising of Mr. Valentine, a keyboard maestro, a drummer, two guitarists and a bassist, mix some heavily 80’s synth with some fairly ‘big’ rock riffs and drum beats you can really dance to, resulting in a sound somewhere between The Prodigy and AC/DC.

They strike me as a band who really, really don’t care what anyone says about them, they just enjoy making music you can really get into without worrying about the message. Valentine himself has claimed that around 90% of their songs are about absolutely nothing, and I think sometimes you need that.

This review would be incomplete without a mention Eureka Machines, one of the best supporting bands I’ve ever seen. They took the pre-headliner apathy of a normal crowd and pogoed it into submission.  The Leeds pop-punk fouresome had such enthusiasm and energy they even had me tapping my feet, and I’m a miserable bastard. When you take that sort of charisma and put it in a Kraftwerk-esque suit, you’re on to a winner. Their album, ‘Do Or Die’ is available online, and I’d recommend a listen.”