Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

Only Happy When it Rains…

It’s raining here. It’s been raining here for days. If it’s not raining then it’s starting to rain, or has just stopped, but will start again real soon. So soon, that the water will still be dripping off the trees from the last downpour when the next one starts. The forecast says more to come.

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Here Today Gone Tomorrow…

Here today, gone tomorrow,
Don’t need myself remembered
But what I help create and leave behind,
is important to me.- Jello Biafra (1990)

This appeared as the opening quote in the front of my PhD thesis in 1993. I was living on unemployment and trying to finish writing it before Christmas so it wouldn’t be hanging over me for the holidays. I remember printing the final copies for binding late one December evening. I left them on my desk and walked home. It was pouring with rain when I left the faculty building for the half hour walk home. I was soaked within a few minutes. By the time I got home, I might as well have been for a swim. As far as I was concerned, it was a perfect evening.

Twelve year’s later Jello Biafra’s post punk mantra still seems as relevant as it did that wet December night. Life is emphemeral and we can’t all leave it with memorials like Abraham Lincoln but that doesn’t mean that the small “monuments” we do leave behind aren’t important.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

The shark’s mouth was a few feet away, its mouth gaping as wide as my shoulders. Row upon row of dagger like teeth extended from its grey lips into the back of its mouth. It looked back at me with dead uncaring eyes. The moment had an air if inevitability, finality, about it. Too late to move out of the way, only dumb luck can save me now.

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Joe and Einstein

The Adirondacks in New York have some of the best winter climbing anywhere in the World. The long cold winters combined with periodic warm fronts produce spectacular ice formations. Chapel Pond Lake, just outside of Keene freezes solid.

On the far side of the lake, cliffs rise several hundred feet into the trees. In winter the drainage lines on the rock freeze up and ice covers the whole cliff. In 1969 Yvon Chouinard, introduced modern ice tools to the US, and made the first ascent of the most prominent line on the Cliff “Chouinard’s Gully”. Since then climbers have established numerous climbs above Chapel Pond.

A few winters back in late November my friend Joe was trying to get that year’s first ascent of Power Play. The route follows a series of iced rock corners and steps before finishing up a vertical curtain of ice. Early in the year the ice is thinner and more fragile making early accents that much more demanding. The lower parts of the route involve scratching up vertical rock using crampons and ice tools in tiny edges.

Joe was half way up the first pitch struggling with a small roof about eighty feet above the ground. His climbing partner, Laurie, was holding the other end of Joe’s rope. Joe struggled with the roof trying to arrange adequate gear to protect himself in the event of a fall. He thrashed around trying to get a better stance, periodically cursing. Laurie was patiently holding the rope and stamping her feet trying to stay warm. Finally, she shouts up, “Do you think you can do it?”

“If I knew I could do it… then I wouldn’t be here would I” was Joe’s reply.

Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I guess Joe say that doing something when you’re already sure of the outcome is the definition of banality.

Because Life is About Stories

Every story has a beginning…

I was living in Bath and occasionally working in out of an office on the Kings Road in London. The unfashionable west end, past Conran’s Bluebird and the World’s End pub. The company I was working for had sub let two floors of a drab 70’s office building from British Telecom. Downstairs was the London sales team, all double breasted suits and Tag Heuer watches. East end boys “largin’ it up”, “dooin’ deals” and quite a lot of coke too as rumour had it.

I hung out upstairs with the web development crowd. We were busy migrating a web site to a new server platform. I was fronting for the Bath end of the team, mainly scruffy content editors and geeky software development. The London lot did business development and focused on being “a bit more corporate”.

One of the developers who was working there was Kiko. Kiko was a Canadian of Japanese descent who’d ended up in London after an IT project in Luxemburg went bad. Kiko looked more like a musician with long hair and a worn denim jacket. He was on an extended busman’s holiday working his way around Europe doing software work to pay for it. We’d hired him to do some scut programming work on a couple of projects.

Kiko was one of the few people I’ve ever met who could tell interesting stories involving computers; the Mexico City millennium web site, winning a Webby Award, writing software for Corel, and a hardware startup in Toronto. Kiko invariably carried a small book pack with him. He’d take it to work but usually you’d find it sitting next to him in various pubs and restaurants. To my knowledge Kiko didn’t really have any other baggage.

Kiko collected stories. Invariably when he was telling them props for these appeared out of the book pack; a ticket for a Dead Kennedys gig, a prototype graphics chip or a stripped own PDA for use in a TV film.

Kiko would say “Life isn’t about collecting money or stuff, it’s about collecting stories”. The more stories you have the richer you are.

So here are mine…