Thursday 11 June 2020

Slatehead by Peter Goulding BLOG TOUR @Flatlandclimber @newwelshreview #Slatehead @WriterForster

Bobby Drury left Liverpool after O-levels, knowing he had f***ed them up. Free now, he hitched to Snowdonia. His mum came crying on the phone, ‘You’ve failed them all.’ Bobby knew that. ‘No, Mum, I’ve led Vector.’ This was Thatcher’s lost generation. The slate quarries were walking distance; they’d have a smoke, a party in an abandoned hut, try and climb something. A small culture emerged of punks, nutters, artists and petty thieves, crawling up abandoned rock, then heading to the disco at the Dolbadarn. These were the Slateheads.
The people in these interleaving worlds – the punk dole dropout star- climbers; the Victorian quarrymen pioneers; the Welsh-speaking grandson of a ropeman, abseiling in to bolt sport climbs like Orangutang Overhang in the Noughties, Lee and his mates slogging west today – all are polished like nuggets in this 360° view over patience, pride, respect, thrill, movement, the competing claims of home and agency, and above all, a belief in second chances.

Slatehead: The Ascent of Britain’s Slate-climbing Scene by Peter Goulding is published by New Welsh Review under the New Welsh Rarebyte imprint on 4 June 2020 in e-book format for £9.99 (and in paperback format on 29 October 2020) 

I'm delighted to welcome the author here to Random Things today, with a guest post, as part of the Blog Tour. Thanks to Julia Forster and New Welsh Review who invited me to take part.

Guest Post: Pork Pies and Butty Boxes
by Peter Goulding

“This,” says Lee, “is the best pork pie you’ll have.”  He holds one up, it is in cellophane packing with a pink label.  Then he stops and thinks, a climber’s ethic of total honesty.  “Factory made.  The best factory made pork pie you’ll have.”
            We are in Llanberis Spar choosing our lunches and snacks.  Nutrition is important we’re told, but we like tasty things, and it is hard to make your sandwiches when you are camping in a ‘two-person’ tent.  Easier just to say, I’m on holiday, and see what the local shop has got.  Plus you can feel virtuous about supporting the local economy.
            I’ve got a few things I always buy.  A net bag of satsumas and a polythene pack of bananas.  How come the fair-trade organic ones are always wrapped in plastic?  How come any banana is wrapped at all?  If anything they need a rigid tube -cardboard would be fine- to go in, so they don’t get smushed by my carabiners and rope.  
            Next pattern: go Mediterranean.  Pot of olives, plastic, with a film top.  They’ve got flakes of chili in the oil.  Then a pack of rolls.  I can’t find hummus anywhere.  There’s a big Welsh lad reloading cheese in the fridge.  I feel embarrassed asking, as if I’m tentatively buying drugs. “Sorry mate, I don’t suppose there’s any hummus anywhere is there?” 
            He doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.  “Over here, mate.  Two for one: red pepper hummus look.”
            Nearly equipped for a day’s climbing.  Got the basics, but you always need incentivising treats.  Jaffa Cakes.  Cola bottles, cellophane pack.
            It is too much food.  At the van, I have a quick faff, splitting all the foods into two groups, today and tomorrow.  We’ll still go into the Spar again though, I think it’s just part of the slate quarry climbing ritual.

*          *          *
We eat in the shadow of one of the half-wrecked quarry buildings, our backs against the blocks of slate.  Small ferns grow from clumps of ancient lime mortar.  This is an old blast shelter rather than the bigger caban, their canteen, that the quarrymen met in for lunch.
            The first sound film in Welsh was Y Chwarelwr, (The Quarrymen), you can find it on the internet.  One scene has the quarrymen in their caban, someone has chalked ‘HOTEL RITZ’ on the door.  The men sitting at big bench tables, two big kettles are brewing over a medium sized plate -iron stove.  They drink out of china cups, or tin or enamel.  Best of all are their sandwich boxes, like my grandad’s tobacco tins, but bigger.  Whoever made these sandwich tins was a genius, they aren’t rectangular.  Instead, the top of them curves in an arc.  If you want to describe the shape, you would say it is the shape of a slice of bread, which would fit perfectly inside without getting crushed. 
            In the film, the quarrymen-at-lunch are three days into their Eisteddfod or competition. If it’s not the best Eisteddfod, then at least it’s the longest.  One of the quarrymen stands up and sings, and his mates bang their sandwich tins on the tables.  This is no fiction.  It was typical to be discussing poetry and politics and making a contribution to Welsh language culture on the bosses’ time.   At the dinner table, they sorted out whip arounds for the sick, the men with dust-filled lungs, crushed hands and feet.
            I pick up an olive from the plastic pot I bought earlier.  There is a small cube of feta cheese which sticks to its side, but drops off just as I lift the olive to my mouth.  The feta lands on a plate of slate, with a dribble of olive oil dashed across it.  For a second it looks like a highly expensive dish served on an old roofing tile at a poncey restaurant. 
            Five Second Rule. I pick it up and eat it. 
            My fingers are now oily, over the chalk I’ve been using for better grip.  I’ll have to wipe them carefully so I don’t give away any advantage of friction.  Lots of the holds on slate are nice and sharp, or in-cut, so to hold them is like picking a vinyl record out of its sleeve.  But others are flat, and a little bit of grease would be enough to make them slide off and fall.
            Lee eats his pork pie.
            “How is it?” I ask.
            “Doesn’t disappoint.”

Praise for Slatehead
‘Witty, absorbing, wide-ranging and razor-sharp account of a love affair with rock’ Helen Mort
 ‘Good and clear and honest. Like the climbers it presents, the story is careful and risk-taking, ambitious and humble. These are the things of great writing.’ Cynan Jones
‘Peter Goulding gives a personal account of falling in love with the north Wales slate quarries, immersing himself in the climbs and the history... As well as the climbing scene, Peter has done a great job of looking into the life and hazards of the quarrymen themselves, their past times and some of the histories of the conflicts between the communities and the clueless aristocratic quarry owners who cared little for the health of employees... An intriguing read.’ James (Caff) McHaffie
'Incredibly gripping and emotional... a cast of wonderful characters... thrilling and nerve-wracking... I longed for these heroes to achieve their aims... Feels like a group rock and roll biography.' Cathryn Summerhayes, Curtis Brown 

Peter Goulding is a climber and writer from the north of England. He was born in Liverpool in 1978, lived in County Durham for years, and currently lives with his partner and son in rural Norfolk. 

He works at Center Parcs as an instructor, and goes climbing to north Wales and the Peak District as often as he can. In 2019, he won the New Welsh Writing Awards: Rheidol Prize for Writing with a Welsh Theme or Setting. 

Author Twitter Handle:  @Flatlandclimber

Publisher Twitter Handle: @newwelshreview

Author Website:

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