My knee had begun to hurt again, and it felt stiff when I got out of bed; but effort seemed to ease it, so I took increasingly to the rocks behind Sankey’s house. There, a cheerful lad called “Red Haired Neil” to distinguish him from some other Neil who no longer lived locally, showed me how to solo with a Sony Walkman.
“Go on. Try it. Here.”
It was like discovering electricity.
“The big hazard at this crag is still falling in the dogshit,” said Neil;
but as long as I had the Walkman on I was invulnerable. I could thrive on risk. I played Brian Adams, “Straight From the Heart”: my intuition astonished me. I played Bruce Springsteen, “Ramrod”: problems succumbed so easily I was filled with energy. I played ZZ Top, “Deguello”: my aggression seemed endless. The music fell obliquely across the rock, illuminating it like a new wavelength of light to reveal brand new ways of climbing. It was still possible to be outfaced: but, burning magic fuels, I would know the end of the day had come only when my fingers let go of their own accord: I would look up suddenly, dazed with fatigue, adrenalin and rock-and-roll, to see headlights sweeping down Holme Moss and into the valley. My arms were grey with cold, the elbow joints painful from repeated pulling up, the fingertips sore and caked with chalk. Only then would I change back into my Nike shoes, turn the music up louder to combat a sudden sense of depression, and, shivering, walk down past Sankey’s cottage where the FOR SALE board had been up for a month.
I never saw anyone viewing it.
The front room curtains were down and all his furniture had gone: but you could see scattered across the bare floor the Subaru catalogues he had been poring over the month he died.
Towards the end of that fortnight the weather became strange and
undependable. Above the Holme Moss transmitter you could see alternating bands of weak sunshine and low thick cloud; shifts of pressure pumped them down from the plateau one after the other to give first a cold wind then a blue sky that seemed warmer than it was. Resting for a moment at the top of some problem, I would watch the late sun burning the bare trees and mill chimneys, igniting the windows of the double-glazed barn-conversions all the way to Greenfield. One minute things swam in light; the next they were flat and wintered, ordinary.
“It cuts like a knife,” whispered the Walkman: “But it feels so right.”
By now my leg ached all the time. At about two o’ clock on a Thursday afternoon–in one of those lenses of warmth and sunshine, with the Walkman turned up full so that energy and excitement flooded up inside me from moment to moment–I made a high step on a problem I had done a dozen times before. Something seemed to lurch inside my knee, like a small animal trying to escape. I was twenty five feet off the ground. A bit desperately, I threw my weight on to that leg and tried to stand up. Nothing happened, except that the headset of the Walkman came off and dangled on its wire in front of me, so that I stepped on it. The knee wouldn’t straighten. I tried to reverse the move, but I was already falling. Each time I hit something on the way down I thought, “That’s my shoulder, but it’s OK,” or, “That’s my foot, but it’s OK.” I could hear myself saying, “Christ! Christ!” I finished up in the heather under the climb, where the ground sloped away suddenly enough to absorb most of my momentum, with a sprained ankle and a few bruises. The sun had gone in. I was shaking. I could hear the motor of the Sony turning over creakily: and Mick’s clear voice in my head advising me,
“You’re not fit to be allowed out on your own, you incompetent wazzock.”
Fluid swelled the ankle, crushing the soft tissues until they blackened. I could still get about on it, but my knee would lock unexpectedly. I sat in the house for a week watching TV with the sound turned down and the Walkman turned up until it hurt my ears, trying to infer the news from jumbled footage of tanks and elder statesmen, the weather from the weatherman’s smile. High winds and rain were forecast until the New Year. Sometimes the moves I had done recently would pass before my closed eyes. Or I would hear jackdaws, and see with sudden heartbreaking clarity some crag in the summer sunshine: Hen Cloud, Bwlch y Moch, Beeston Tor.
“You can’t be ‘more or less’ lost,” I remembered someone saying.
You’re either lost or you aren’t.