Working Class

By Pete Kirton. This piece first appeared in Northumbrian Mountaineering Club (see Member's Newsletter and is reproduced with the kind permission of Pete Kirton and the NMC. Check and for information about Northumberland bouldering.

Nic Crawshaw on Working Class, Font 8A+, Bowden Doors.
Photo by Mark Somerville of

Working Class was a twenty-foot gauntlet of flat black adamantine sandstone, gracing the more manly, northern end of Bowden Doors. Leaning slightly towards the Cheviot Hills and tendonitis it was a blatant unshirkable challenge, striking Robert Smith and myself all the more painfully because of its tantalising almost possibility. So it was nothing more than a presumptuous name and a mutual aim, the only thing we did share apart from thermos flasks and spectacularly rococo legs. Blonde moustachioed guru versus unsightly stooge we bouldered, bitched and competed with each other over three Northumbrian winters and "Working Class" offered a tough battleground for our wildly differing climbing styles.

Smith was gnarlier than me by almost ten years, a decade of hard uncomfortable graft keeping other people warm and amorous by felting, the roofs of Tyneside. Arriving at Bowden Doors like a case history from a sociology text, on day release from a distant world of Embassy No 6, pub dominoes, bent deals and straight sex, he would roll up his sweater sleeve to boast, crowning cliché, a tattooed forearm. But bickering our way leftwards along the crag, bouldering at half throttle to save skin, energy and ego for the 'Class', he displayed a spontaneous fluid dynamism breezily divorced from monotonous toil, with a brace and timing I never witnessed the equal of. He had already capitalised on this aerial talent by greedily sandwiching Working Class between sister problems "Toffs" and "Poverty". Both demanded crux jumps off the ground, so as climbs they were unique; once settled on the rock you gained a valid tick. Which I never did. "Poverty" ('because there's nowt there') was Smith's showpiece, and so specialist it must have been personally tailored. Starting by standing diagonally left of the problem, he sprinted aggressively towards it then, time for bed, boing, snatched at poor holds and frantically clamped on. All he missed was Margot Fonteyn.

Fortunately for me "Working Class" itself promised to be far less effete, no place for Morris Dancing. Fortunately, because although Smith's adolescent biceps were passably masculine, disparately weak fingers condemned him to history, not mythology. All that balletic finesse throttled by his own dud tips, then trampled upon by my brutish storm-trooping rockattack. Beauty and The Beast, our similar reach and span sharpened a fine dichotomy by ensuring that we fought on a symmetrical court. My only other weapon was an outspoken cultivated arrogance. Knowledge acquired by much obsequious toadying to the country's top climbers had impressed upon me the importance of a well nurtured ego in sapping ones opponent's confidence. With practice, to catatonia.

The blistered and creased upper part of the Class was weeny riddled, so the problem was reaching the first crease at twelve feet. A rounded ear-shaped layaway gained at a stretch from the ground was the sole employable hold in that slippery pre-resin era. Well, confronted by overhanging slopeys, Smith reacted like a nun in a kipper shed so moving and thinking laterally he concocted a bizarre and subtle solution begging a sort of off-beat pansy dynamic. After the initial southpaw crank onto the wall he crouched sideways on then he stood up on nothing in an attempt to grab the crease with his left hand. This rash dismissal of the only decent hold was compounded by the moves off-balance nature forcing a token pirouette out and away from the wall, not so much hitting the crease as waving it a dizzy farewell. My own prosaic answer was of course the antithesis of Smith's febrile choreography. A savage full frontal layback linking the ear to the crease was my overambitious intention, shot down by screaming fingers and overawed overrated arms.

By Christmas '84 I had quit climbing, a two-month bender precipitating long term admission to St Nick's on diagnosis of bipolar syndrome. Phil Davidson hit the County the week following my hospitalisation in Spring '85, and managed a three fall rockover on lousy holds, stabbing us with a contemptuous and shaming 6b grade. This kicked the old man back into his second childhood and success on the dynamic one Wednesday evening in June. A ward orderly told me all this with solicitous but needless regard for my condition. After all, nobody likes to see Nastase beaten by Roscoe Tanner. And besides, the food's very nice in here.