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The Hidden Power of the Indoor Climbing Wall!


6 Minute Read

Earlier this year at 76 years old, I was about to hang up my climbing shoes and call it a day. The effort of lugging a heavy rucksack filled with climbing gear into the hills to a crag was getting too much. Even places close to the road often required a steep, albeit short, slog. And then, there were various bits of equipment to carry on the climb. In fact, for the previous two years, I had hardly managed to get out at all. In any case, most climbers pack it in long before reaching their 70s. And for the last 20 years, I have had to cope with a chronic pain condition from a severe injury after being hit by a large falling rock while climbing on a sea cliff. Even so, there was sadness about letting go of what had been an enduring passion in my life.

Although I started climbing when I went to university in my late teens, once I qualified and was working as a young hospital doctor I didn’t keep it up. It wasn’t until my mid-40s that I started again. My most active and successful climbing period was from 44 to 50. I was very competitive and quite obsessive. I remember spending hours poring over guide books, creating ‘tick lists’ and aspiring to ‘better my grades’. I usually climbed with a partner who was equally matched or a bit less accomplished. This meant I would frequently lead on the rope, which is what I preferred. I have also soloed where a single fall would have been fatal. This requires a certain level of confidence, rather than recklessness. The element of danger and excitement is what produces the adrenaline rush, which is addictive.

I moved to Snowdonia during the early 90s in order to be in the mountains and joined the local climbing club. I climbed every weekend, and midweek if I could. This was usually on home ground but there were special away meets to other areas in the UK. Climbing trips abroad would be arranged with another climber from the club. I worked as a locum GP, never wanting to commit to joining a partnership as I wanted as much time as possible to climb. My motto was – I work so that I can climb. I was an all-rounder, climbing on snow and ice as well as rock. Gym training was part of keeping fit although another saying was – the best training for climbing is climbing. With fitness came confidence and that led to a lack of fear and feeling of invincibility. Pushing myself to the physical and mental edge meant there were falls. Without the ability to factor in falling, climbers are held back from improving, by their fear of falling. These days it is possible to take courses, which address this.

All this came to an abrupt end a few weeks before my 51st birthday. I was climbing on a vertical limestone cliff in Pembrokeshire, S Wales when I was hit by a falling rock. I have no memory of it to this day and woke up in an intensive care ward three days later. The rock had shattered my ribs puncturing a lung, fractured and dislocated one ankle and shattered one side of my pelvis, splitting open the roof of the hip joint and removing a significant amount of the pelvis and overlying structures. Since then I have needed to walk with the aid of a stick and have chronic pain. I managed to return to work in under five months but couldn’t even look at a rock face for years.

When I was 65, I had an urge to climb again. I started climbing with a friend that I had a good partnership with pre-accident. I became passionately involved again, enjoying regular climbing to a reasonable standard, even spending many ecstatic hours bouldering on the rocks above my local beach, as training. Then my friend pulled off a loose rock while I was climbing with him and fell. The rock shattered into pieces on its way down and I was in its line of fire, although I wasn’t injured. He suffered an injury to one elbow, which stopped him climbing. However, it was like a deja vu scenario for me and triggered an emotional response. That was eight years ago and at that point, I lost motivation and when I did go out climbing with another old friend, I was not enjoying it and even feeling a bit scared. Although I carried on doing bits and pieces.

Recently and now at the age of 76, I heard enthusiastic accounts, from several old climbing friends, of the recently revamped and re-sited Beacon climbing wall in Caernarfon about 14 miles from where I live. Before the accident, I had looked down upon indoor sport climbing. I thought that it wasn’t the real thing and lacked the adventure and danger that went with being on a natural rock face, involving route finding, placing your own protective gear and dealing with changing weather, loose rock and more, in the ‘great outdoors.’ I considered it was basically for young gymnasts who had never climbed outdoors and never would. However, since then, it has evolved its own unique identity as a competitive sport, as well as becoming a popular pastime for a wide range of participants from children to men and women of all ages, many of whom also climb outdoors.

Finally, I agreed to meet an old climbing buddy there, after filling out an online questionnaire about previous experience and following their safety rules (all basically common sense) and signing up to membership. On stepping inside the building, it was a colourful space that transported me back to the wonder and magic of my many climbing times and memories. Memories of wanting nothing more than to feel rock under my fingers and space below my feet while executing the balletic upward dance when in ‘the zone.’ However, the enormous advantage of an indoor wall is there is no heavy gear to haul around. All I needed was a pair of light special climbing shoes, I own several pairs, and a chalk bag – freedom!!

The general vibe was a friendly and family-oriented – from pre-teen kids having fun in the ‘crazy climb’ area watched by proud parents, to 60+-year-old men and women vets testing their skill and stamina. Also trendy looking climbers, teens and younger adults – male and female, impressively ascending bulging walls or swinging acrobatically in outrageous positions in the bouldering area. I was transfixed by these different climbing feats.

My previously held judgements were blown out of the air – I loved it and had come home! And now I am a regular visitor, enthusiastically anticipating my next projects. At the moment, they are running a lead climber competition during the winter, divided into age categories. Mine is the mega-vet at 70+. Maybe I’m in with a good chance as there can’t be many in this category, although I have been told there is one in his 80s! That itself is stepping outside my comfort zone, which is what it has always been about for me – the challenge.

AofA People: Pete Lawrence – Founder, Campfire Convention


13 Minute Read

Pete Lawrence, 61, created the concept for The Big Chill in the 90s, and went on to found Campfire Convention as an innovative social network, which also sparks membership-based events. They’re very much about making space for important conversations about values and the way people want to live, which will make the way for societal change. Their first outdoor Convention was in Hereford in 2016 and Brian Eno was one of the key speakers. They are launching a crowdfund Fire in the Belly on May 1st.

What do you do?

I am founder and firestarter for Campfire Convention. We are building a member-led online social network, free of advertising and algorithms, already putting on regular face-to-face events. We believe that we have the potential to evolve the way we do social networking as well as stepping up and actively facilitating change at the local level.

We’re busy getting our first crowdfund together which we’re calling Fire In the Belly and we’re launching it on May 1st. It’s important for us to enable the building of an alternative community-based social network that can work for the good of all. The funds will start to pay some of our wonderful volunteers such as our lead developer Tim who is upgrading our software and also working on some very exciting features.

A mentorship circle has formed around the crowdfund, almost by accident – members have stepped up and offered workshops or sessions around their skills and passions, and will share their wisdom for the benefit of all. I regard the nurturing of the concept and functions of elders as increasingly important in the world and hopefully, Campfire can play its part.

Much needs to change. In the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s now clear that the ‘surveillance capitalism’ model of social media is unsustainable, built as it is on monetising data. The full implications of us choosing a digital advertising platform as our presumed safe space in which to share all our most intimate thoughts, hopes, fears and passions are only now being realised. It creates a forum in which the owners of a gigantic operation rule the social media world, arguably the wider world too, for their own ends and for shareholder profit.

My vision for Campfire is to provide an alternative forum which actually does what it says on the ‘social network’ tin: in other words, to help to build and strengthen communities. Campfire works for its members and seeds new ideas and social change for the benefit of all. As part of our next phase, we’re looking to reward our members through a Karma Scheme, which simply measures input and remunerates accordingly. However, we need your help to ensure this dream of an ethical social network – that gives back, and builds real-world belonging – can become a sustainable reality.

The crowdfund will tell us whether we are on the right track. So if you’re looking for alternatives to the tech giants, please support us. fundrazr.com/campfireconvention (from May 1)

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

It’s pretty good in many respects. At 61, I feel unencumbered, liberated from much of the niggling commitments I had at earlier ages and more flexible in terms of how, when and where I work. I am privileged in that respect and I’m not taking anything for granted. I am thankful for my physical health and mental faculties are intact. Having already lived a full life with many memorable experiences, I honour every extra day that I am alive as a gift and a blessing. I don’t feel much different to how I felt when I was 30 in many respects. I’m still a teenager at heart!

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Hopefully, a modicum of wisdom from assorted life experiences, a host of stories and adventures, the responsibilities associated with two children, a house of my own, a motorhome, not to mention some unwelcome RSI and much greyer hair!

And what about sex?

What about it? Hard to know what to say. Sex hasn’t lost its appeal in any way. Quite the opposite, I very much enjoy the physical expression of love and connection, the ecstasy of explosive chemistry.

I’m still a subscriber to the view that an open-minded approach to sexual experiences can be enthralling, enlightening and totally inspirational. In my younger years, I was often chasing the next sexual adventure and the thrill. Today, I might be less likely to have spontaneous sex on a Greyhound bus with a stranger, but my attitude is more about going into an encounter with that same sense of adventure but keeping my eyes and other senses as wide open as possible. Respect for the other person or people in a sexual experience is paramount. The imagination is the supreme gift.

And relationships?

Relationships make the world go round and often richly repay time investment. Several people have commented on the tribute that I have just written on Campfire for my good friend who died, saying that it’s refreshing and even unusual for a man to write in that way about another man. To me, it’s just second nature to pour my heart out and to be open about the impact and effect of a friendship or good relationship, whatever the gender. I vividly remember a Campfire Conversation in Winchcombe based around the word ‘relationship’ which was one of the best sessions we have done yet. People were in tears – one because of the power and memories of a positive friendship, the other because a chance sexual encounter had led to an HIV infection. This was human relationships, raw and exposed. It was hugely cathartic for many.

How free do you feel?

I don’t feel burdened at the moment. Most importantly I am lucky to be generally free of illness and will be extremely grateful for that while it lasts. I am fortunate to have a house without a mortgage and I don’t feel bogged down by grief, guilt, emotion or other human characteristics that can prevent freedom. Having a year living in my motorhome was a great eye-opener in terms of unloading possessions and learning to live out of a suitcase. It showed me that if you don’t have an address, you’re outside the system and hard to track. But that also has a downside in that it’s much harder to insure a vehicle, for instance. Surveillance capitalism is everywhere.

I became much more conscious of my footprint on this planet because I lived with limitations on water, electrics, lights, fuel and other ‘luxuries’ that we often take for granted. I learned a more frugal approach, which has shaped other things, from the choice of food I eat, the clothes, goods I purchase and generally limiting my consumption wherever possible.

Whether ‘freedom’ is totally desirable is another talking point. Some might argue that freedom often equates to the freedom to exploit others, for example. A rallying call from some right-wing politicians for ‘a bonfire of regulation’ tells its own story. Often a degree of regulation and some agreed values and principles, rules, laws can be liberating or reassuring for sections of society. It comes down to whose interests the ‘freedoms’ work for. Raoul Martinez’s excellent book ‘Creating Freedom’ expands on this.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of everyone who played their part in the rollercoaster journey that was The Big Chill, which was a highlight of my life and showed me the power of community and how life-changing bringing people together can be. And it was great fun and I have met so many people through it that I still stay in touch with. We’re aiming to have a little reunion this summer, which I’m hoping to confirm very soon.

Also, bucking the 80s trend of overblown studio recordings by making an album on a £1 recording budget which sold close to a million copies gave me a certain sense of satisfaction and was my first business venture after making the leap into the unknown world of being self-employed.

I’m proud of my kids too. And my friends.

What keeps you inspired?

People – their diversity, their unique genius, foibles, quirks, ideas, their creativity…

Music – the universal language.

Art – creativity in all its forms.

Political change-makers – those working for a better world.

When are you happiest?

When I’m creating. It’s a great outlet. When I’m in a yoga class and not distracted by more worldly irritants, when I’m in stimulating company, with friends or with my children, when I’m immersed in a sunset or sunrise, swimming in the clean waters of the Aegean or listening to a great musical work and otherwise involved in someone else’s creative spark or humour.

And where does your creativity go?

Being creative in all sorts of ways – musically, sexually, in preparing food, in conceptualising ideas while I’m walking, showering or sitting on the beach. For me, nothing beats the reward of seeing other peoples’ ideas spark into life. If Campfire can grow into a platform that can hold space for this, it will be serving its purpose. Much of my creative juices are expended on my laptop, whether in writing, photo manipulation, making short films, music or podcasts. I love my computer (in preference to my mobile) but would love to be doing more with my hands other than tapping keys!

What’s your philosophy of living?

To live every day mindfully, take notice of what is around me, think not of outcomes but of the moment, listen to others, learn, be humble, be grateful, celebrate this life in all its myriad forms, strive to serve the greater good. Stand resolute in the face of challenges, setbacks and negative influences. Aspire to a calm state of mind, whether through meditation and yoga (both should be mandatory for politicians!) or through other regular practice. Reach out, share and be as inclusive as possible. Do something helpful for somebody else whenever possible. Work towards a society based around the motivation inspired by the question ‘what can we build together?’ rather than ‘what’s in it for me?’ Aspire to spread hope and positivity.

I love Swami Satanyanda’s ‘Sankapla’, which might be a good place to start in terms of how to approach life.

I thank my friend Kimm sent it to me today.

I am an invisible child of a thousand faces of love,

That floats over the swirling sea of life,

Surrounded by the meadows of the winged shepherds,

Where divine love and beauty,

The stillness of midnight summer’s warmth pervades.

Life often cuts at my body and mind

And though blood may be seen passing,

And a cry might be heard,

Do not be deceived that sorrow could dwell within my being

Or suffering within my soul.

There will never be a storm

That can wash the path from my feet,

The direction from my heart,

The light from my eyes,

Or the purpose from this life.

I know that I am untouchable to the forces

As long as I have a direction, an aim, a goal:

To serve, to love, and to give.

Strength lies in the magnification of the secret qualities

Of my own personality, my own character

And though I am only a messenger,

I am me.

Let me decorate many hearts

And paint a thousand faces with colours of inspiration

And soft, silent sounds of value.

Let me be like a child,

Run barefoot through the forest

Of laughing and crying people,

Giving flowers of imagination and wonder,

That God gives free.

Shall I fall on bended knees,

And wait for someone to bless me

With happiness and a life of golden dreams?

No, I shall run into the desert of life with my arms open,

Sometimes falling, sometimes stumbling,

But always picking myself up,

A thousand times if necessary,

Sometimes happy.

Often life will burn me,

Often life will caress me tenderly

And many of my days will be haunted

With complications and obstacles,

And there will be moments so beautiful

That my soul will weep in ecstasy.

I shall be a witness,

But never shall I run

Or turn from life, from me.

Never shall I forsake myself

Or the timeless lessons I have taught myself,

Nor shall I let the value

Of divine inspiration and being be lost.

My rainbow-covered bubble will carry me

Further than beyond the horizon’s settings,

Forever to serve, to love, and to live.

And dying?

That’s a very pertinent question as someone I would consider my best friend died last week. I think he had a good death surrounded by friends and loved ones in his last few days, though the traumas around his unexpected stroke a week before were not good in any sense. But somehow death brings others together, not only in grief but in celebration of that person’s life and we have to keep that at the forefront. It’s been a tough start to the year as I’ve lost six friends in quick succession and found myself thinking about death almost every day. But many positive things have come out of that, not least attending my first Death Café in Frome and finding that I had the space and support to properly grieve for my mother who died when I was 15. At the time I wasn’t allowed to. There was something extraordinarily powerful about crying with others, grieving together for the whole world, for sadness, for the miracle of life and the cycle of life and death. It was very moving for all of us.

Dare I hope that I will not live my final years in pain, depression or other suffering?

Are you still dreaming?

More than ever. Collective dreaming. Imagining a different world. What are we dreaming of for Campfire? For starters, an end of quite a lot that’s prevalent at the moment – outmoded politics, right-wing ideology, and surveillance capitalism. An end to a world increasingly fuelled by mistrust. What do we want? Obviously, a thriving community would be the holy grail and much could spark from that. A vibrant website and exciting events are our first priority, but our vision can extend a lot wider. We can play our part in social change, in helping create a fairer society and in empowering our own membership, both individually and collectively by providing an environment where ideas can lead to inspiration. Debate can lead to community determination, co-creativity can lead to collaboration and realisation, which in turn can lead to recognition, confidence and hopefully financial rewards too. We must hold on to hope above all, when hope dies the spirit is extinguished. None of these desires or actions are a universal panacea but the important thing is to not lose sight of the fact that each one of us can make a real difference, though every conversation and interaction that we have.

My personal dreams overlap with what I wish for in my work life. The expression ‘work-life balance’ is meaningless – but I also dream of a more harmonious, less self-centred society that prefers building bridges to walls.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I’m not really the one to decide that! However, outrageousness becomes more subtle with age and thoughts and ideas can be just as outrageous as actions at times. I have just been sitting in a tea hut in East Wittering writing this Q&A. To the outside world, I probably looked pretty dull and boring but who could have imagined what was in my head! I’m refusing to spill all the ‘clickbait’ beans here.

You can find the Campfire Convention crowdfunding campaign here:

https://fundrazr.com/campfireconvention

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