Wednesday, 28 April 2010


It must be about 35 years since my leg was in plaster.

It all came about because, many moons before and in what now seems a different lifetime, I had become involved in running a Scout troop. One of the leaders from another group with whom I was on friendly terms had taken up rock-climbing and I was persuaded to go along with him one Sunday. It may seem strange to people who know this south-eastern corner of England fairly superficially - or, indeed, to many who know it quite well - that we have here some of the finest rock-climbing in the country. About 30 miles to the north of Brighton are several outcrops of rocks which, although no more than 50 or 60 feet high, provide some particularly tricky climbing and which are considered to be an ideal training ground for better-known climbing areas such as the Lake District. Our rocks are sandstone, which is what makes them so tricky as they wear away very easily. What is a great handhold on one visit can have disappeared completely a month later. Climbs are graded from 1 to 6, 1 being the easiest, and there are sub-grades a to c within each grade. Although many of the climbs are in the easier grades, there are a good number of 5s and several 6s. I think 5a was about as good as I got.

Having been climbing with my mentor on a number of occasions, I was declared sufficiently trained to take parties of Scouts to the rocks, and so on one Sunday each month I did just that. It was easy enough to send one to the top of the rocks by the easy route and once there he would fix a belay to a suitable tree and send down both ends of the climbing rope. One of the party would be tied on to one end of the rope, while another would hold the loose end to stop the climber if - or rather, when - he fell. Once at the top, the climber would detach himself from the rope, throw down the end and walk round to reach the bottom again by the easy route.

I had negotiated a fairly tricky grade 4 (it was shortly to be reclassified as a 5) and was feeling pretty pleased with myself for having done so in an elegant fashion. I walked round to the easy way down and was walking back along the bottom of the face feeling cock-a-hoop when I slipped in a patch of mud and twisted my ankle badly. That was the end of climbing for me that day, and I found the mile-long walk back to the cars a painful experience.

I hobbled about all that week. The following Saturday, we took the children swimming as usual. One of the regular mothers was a nurse and when she saw my ankle she called over the swimming instructor for a second opinion. They both agreed that I should visit the hospital and the nurse drove me since the accident had been a week before. (One is supposed to have a doctor's referral if the accident was more than 24 hours before one's visit.) An x-ray confirmed the diagnosis: I had broken my ankle.

This left me with something of a dilemma: should I tell people that I had broken my ankle while climbing, suggesting that I was perhaps somewhat incompetent, or should I tell the truth and admit that I slipped in mud at the expense of being ridiculed? I think I varied the explanation depending on who was being told.

This picture of me abseiling was taken at about that time.


Uncle Skip, said...

I thought abseil was your verification word. We call it rappelling.
I've done it... with much trepidation.

Uncle Skip, said...

I was plastered once, too... toes to hip for about three months. The break wasn't bad, but the ligaments were another story.
Hit a mogul on a toboggan, went airborne and landed nose first (the toboggan, not me).