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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.

My Voice Lost and Found


1 Minute Read

Some things you just take for granted. Me being able to sing was one. When I was young I was one of those kids that used to get up and sing in front of my parents friends to entertain them. When I was in High School I was chosen to be part of an exclusive group of singers to perform madrigals. For a couple of years a dozen of us would go ‘on tour’ to Spain or Germany to perform in secondary schools in front of kids our own age. I loved singing those medieval songs almost as much as the mischief I made on those school trips. I remember more than one occasion, stripping off my horrible costume, a tartan floor length A-line skirt and matching waistcoat straight after a concert, and climbing out the hostel window with my friend Laurie so we could go in search of the young men who had come to see us perform.

At University I was rejected from singing with the school’s jazz band because I wasn’t doing a music degree and that was the criteria for anyone who wanted to sing with the group. And in my twenties I did lots of session singing, eventually rejoining Laurie and her sister to perform complicated three part harmonies that Laurie had devised as the band ‘The Dirty Blondes.’ We had a blast, singing at various pubs and clubs where I’m sure nobody really knew what to make of three twenty-something young women singing Andrew Sisters and Rogers & Hammerstein tunes when punk was all the rage.

By my late twenties I’d moved on, teaming up with a pianist where we would perform jazz standards for hours in tiny wine bars across the city. Singing and music was in my blood. My mother had sung on the radio as a child. My uncle played drums for Janis Joplin (whom I met when I was 6) and a distant cousin was Stan Getz.

In 1988 I met my husband who was not musical but was a total music geek and photojournalist. Although he was obsessed with music, he could never understand why I would want to sing in some half empty wine bar all evening for the price of a decent steak. So I stopped singing except for humming along to tunes on the radio or a Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald record. I gave birth to a couple of kids, my youngest of whom also inherited the family’s musical gene, and put my own singing years behind me.

It took a trip to Cherry Grove, Fire Island, and a good ten years into my marriage, to re-awaken my voice. I’d gone there with a man with whom I’d been having a long distance affair. He was a born and bred New Yorker and, being August, he suggested we spend a week there to get away from the heat of the city. The place was populated almost exclusively with gay men, so much so that we quickly got a reputation as the only straight people on the Island. It was Friday night when we popped into a piano bar. One after another, guys got up to perform show tunes or jazz standards. They were mostly buff, young men who were taking a break from a Broadway show and so the bar had been set pretty high for me. I hadn’t sung for over a decade but I’d told my lover enough that he knew that with enough provocation, I’d want to have a go.

I’ll never forget that night, I went up to the pianist and said, “My Funny Valentine. Key of G.” He started playing and all those years of being silent just fell away. Suddenly the room grew quiet. When I’d finished, I went to sit down and lots of guys came up to me and asked me where I performed in the city so they could hear me sing again. “I don’t perform,” I said. “I haven’t sung for a decade.” I started to cry. I suppose I felt cheated, that I’d stopped doing something I loved so much, just because my husband thought it was a bit silly. Although I still didn’t return to singing despite feeling validated that evening.

Then the menopause arrived, and along with hot flushes and sleepless nights, I lost my singing voice. When I tried to sing to songs on the radio, all that came out was a strange and unfamiliar croaky sound. I couldn’t hit the notes I used to and I couldn’t find my way around a tune. I grieved the loss of my voice much more than my sex drive or my waistline. Singing was just so much a part of me, I just never thought there would be a time when it was something I could no longer do. I stopped singing along to the radio because it was just too painful and derived pleasure listening on the sly to my youngest son and his beautiful, soulful voice as he sang along to R&B songs in his bedroom.

Over the last year I decided to try something new, I dropped down an octave, sounding more like Barry White than Barbara Streisand. I wasn’t ready to let go of the singer in me and discovered I could still carry a tune despite not being able to hit the high notes,

Recently my friend invited me to a burlesque karaoke night. I didn’t know what to expect but when they passed the book of songs around, I worked out that it wasn’t the burlesque performers who would be singing along to the backing track, it was the audience. After a drink, I decided to have a go. I picked my signature tune and one that I’d sung with the Dirty Blondes thirty years earlier – Fever. I dropped the song by an octave and, recalling that evening in the piano bar in Cherry Grove; I could feel the room go quiet. After I’d finished, a few people came up and told me how good I sounded. At the end of the night, I got back on stage (at the audience’s request) and sang another song. I felt transported back in time, only this time with my new, different voice.

That’s the thing about getting older. It’s about acceptance and celebrating that transition. I won’t lie. It’s been hard getting used to not being able be sing like I used to, but hey – I can still make a room go quiet. And I have a new voice. That is something to relish.

Cultivating A Flamboyant Mindset


1 Minute Read

This week I have been spending time contemplating my own relationship with flamboyance; Am I flamboyant enough to attend an event for ‘Seriously Flamboyant People’ I ask myself? In order to address this I thought I would begin with the

The Oxford Dictionary definition of Flamboyant, an adjective meaning:

  • (Of a person or their behaviour) tending to attract attention because of their exuberance, confidence, and stylishness.
  • Bright, colourful, and very noticeable – ‘a flamboyant bow tie’

Well I can do bright, colourful and noticeable some days. On those days when I wake up wanting to proclaim my positive exuberance to the rest of the world, or at least my fellow tube travellers, I will wear loud, outrageous clashing tones and revel in the attention. My eccentricity makes me all sorts of friends. But there are also mornings when the last thing I desire is high-visibility, does that mean that when I dress in Navy-Blue I am not being Flamboyant? Confidence I can manage only flittingly, exuberance after a glass of wine and I like to think of myself as subtly-stylish.

Self-differentiation is the process of psychologically distancing oneself from membership of one’s age group, and/or focusing on aspects of one’s self-concept that are different from the general consensus of how we should behave. I want to self-differentiate in my own way which will vary depending on how I feel when I stand before my clothes each morning. I may not want to look outrageously-flamboyant every day. However I want to feel flamboyantly-outrageous every day.

For me that is about viewing the world as full of opportunity, as making new connections, as being creative; sometimes it means I will act in a disgracefully extravert manner, with colourful language to match my gold-boots. However I can be flamboyant in my head without leaving my flat or getting out of my pyjamas. Is it possible that I can maintain the joy that flamboyance implies without informing the whole of London? Can I cultivate internal flamboyance? And what would that feel like?

I am fifty-two and I don’t have any intention of succumbing to Age Based Stereotype Threat (ABST), a theoretical viewpoint that states an individual feels threat when facing a situation that puts them at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about their group (Lamont,Swift, & Abrams,2015). So in other words, I’m not about to start dressing in an age appropriate manner just to fit in with ageist stereotypes. But I’m not always in the right emotional place to want to swing to the opposite sartorial spectrum and become an ‘Advanced Style’ advocate; I Love Ari Seth Cohen’s colourful characters, I just couldn’t carry it off personally.

‘You can’t challenge bias unless you are aware of it, and everyone is biased some of the time…. Consciousness-raising is a tool that uses the power of personal experience to unpack unconscious prejudices’ (Applewhite 2015)

Connecting with positive-aging-consciousness-raising groups, such as Advantages of Age, remind me of the gender politics of the 1970s and 1980s when I enjoyed becoming a feminist and bonding with subcultures through the way we dressed, as well as shared ideologies. I knew I was a real feminist because I wore dungarees, just as I knew I was a baby-punk because I had blue hair. Is there a dress-code for subverting the aging narrative? Does dressing against the ‘norm’, wearing flamboyance, signify our intention to develop a way for ‘older’ people to acknowledge their own internalized ageist prejudice and thereby transcend it? What if I don’t want to toe-the-line with this new dress-code?

Groups are able to offer safe spaces for the first steps of people’s probing the myths and stereotypes that they have internalized consciously or unconsciously over a lifetime. But does being part of this new positive aging agenda come with its own code of conformity? Can we develop an all-inclusive ‘club’ that is truly diverse, a place where it is encouraged to express your internal flamboyance without being coerced to step too far outside your sartorial comfort zone?

So my concern is can I belong without being outwardly flamboyant? How can I balance my desire to be accepted whilst holding on to my own style, which can veer towards the normal-boring end of the scale, and signify my flamboyant mindset?

I have suddenly realised this is an on-going dilemma for me, I have been here before. I wonder if it is my lack of commitment to a cause, or my insecurity. I have always wanted to be in the cool-gang, but find myself hanging around on the outskirts, a flamboyant imposter in norm-core clothing.

So if you see me looking less than flamboyant please try to see beyond my sensible skirt; Inside I have a truly radical flamboyant heart that occasionally plucks up courage to wear Gold boots.

Surprise Me

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