Sunday, 22 August 2021

The Last Three Feet

Many years ago, a friend and I went rock climbing on Polldubh Crags in Glen Nevis. The route we chose to climb started not far from the road and I remember looking down between my feet to see that a number of people had gathered on the roadside to watch. Like all people watching such things, they were probably intrigued to see if I made it or if I fell off. Falling off was something I very much did not want to do.

Sometimes, if you're climbing, it's no big deal. You're roped up and well protected. If you fall, you'll fall a few feet and dangle in the air from your last point of protection. Obviously, you want to avoid doing so, as things can go wrong and equipment can fail but, as I said, it's usually no big deal. Here, though, it was. I was climbing up a vast slab of rock. Although the holds were big enough to accommodate my toes and the tips of my fingers, I could find nowhere to set up any kind of protection. 

I remember, too, looking up to see the top of the crag, only perhaps three feet away. I remember beginning to feel a sense of relief only to immediately dismiss it, as it occurred to me that the next three feet were no easier or safer than the fifty or so feet I'd already climbed. If I looked up I could see blades of grass and wildflowers overhanging the top edge of the slab. If I looked down between my feet I could see the rope, curving down away from me to my 'second' on his stance half way up the cliff. The onlookers, now tiny dots, were still down by the roadside. Had the remaining part of the climb been two feet from the ground, anyone would've been able to scramble up it without a second thought. It wasn't technically demanding in any way. As it was, it was perhaps the hardest three feet I ever climbed.

One of the attractions of rock climbing is its metaphorical relationships with life; and I often think of that climb, for the simple reason that life has a habit of throwing up situations like it from time to time. One such is finishing a book. You've written tens of thousands of words. You could possibly finish it off more or less as it is, but you feel you've a bit further to go. You need to write just a few thousand words more. Just a few thousand? You look down between your feet. Then you look up. You realise that the last few are no easier than the first few. However, it feels as if you've a lot more invested in them.

To my left, as I type, I've a pile of A4 sheets, a first draft waiting to be typed up. If I'd worked on them instead of writing this I'd be six inches closer to the top of the crag.


And if I'd spent the last few days adding to those sheets instead of making this short film, I'd be six inches closer still. Thing is, you have to be disciplined but you also get the feeling you have to give yourself a bit of slack if you're to give your best. 

Outside The Central Café

The other day I found myself in a local town. I'd taken someone to the hospital there for an appointment and had four hours to kill. I&#...