Tuesday 25 June 2002

It was to be the culmination of our Welsh walking careers.

After six months of (ahem) preparation we headed for Snowdonia at the weekend. Once minor distractions like England whupping Denmark 3-0 and buying enough food to feed 400 people for a year and a half had been overcome we found ourselves in Pen-y-Pass car park at the foot of Snowdon at 10pm on Saturday night.

The plan was to walk to Snowdon's summit and bivvy for the night, arise at 4am and walk the Welsh 3000s - standing on all 14 (or 15 - much rampant controversy here apparently) summits over 3000 feet in Wales in one day. One glorious sun-drenched day that was to etch itself into my memory with views to Ireland and the English East Coast and the biggest dangers being sunburn, dehydration and achieving so much joy all of life seems flat afterwards. A total distance of around 30 miles with about 3000m of climbing, no mean feat.

So we walked up Snowdon in the gathering darkness. It was very cool, walking up a big lonely mountainside in the gloom, losing the path at times, feeling alone in the big mountain quiet. Unfortunately it was damp at low level, drizzling about midway up and pissing it down in a strong wind by the time we reached the summit cafe.

Bizarrely the lights were on in the summit cafe at 11:30pm, and I could see the flickerings of the Lewis-Tyson fight on a TV through some curtains. The cold hard floor of the cafe looked extremely welcoming when compared to the sodden, rain-lashed concrete of the cafe patio so we knocked on the window to ask for shelter. An angry looking bloke opened the curtains and used universally understood sign language to convey annoyance at this interruption of his pugilistic viewing and tell us in no uncertain terms exactly where we could put our sleeping bags, so we were forced to get the bivvy bags out.

I had the luxury of a Gore-Tex bivvy bag, four fleeces, two pairs of trousers and a sleeping bag, but getting into the bag whilst wet meant that the night for me consisted of a four hour shiver whilst waiting for dawn to reveal enough hillside to ensure safe passage. The others, in their bright orange plastic survival bags (like a posh bin bag, but without the drawstrings) must have found it even colder.

After several lifetimes of pretending to sleep we all got up and shivered in unison (and I'm talking deep, rock you to your core, failing to shiver = hypothermia type shivers here) and agreed that the winds were too strong for an attempt on the knife-edge ridge of Crib Goch, at 4am, in damp cloud and rain, whilst we were tired and cold. So we walked pathetically back to the car.

To compound the misery of the abandonment, the weather slowly cleared during the hour and a half descent until, by the time we reached the car park, there was only a little cloud on the peaks and luxuriant blue sky draped above the valleys. As we watched the sun and cheery scudding clouds over the course of the day it became obvious that Snowdonia had reserved its worst weather for us.

Still, we got to watch the Ireland game live.

Thursday 20 June 2002

TV ruined my life

My childhood involved a lot of telly, a lot of videos and a lot of books. I can only consciously remember the educational ones - Horizon documentaries about bombers, David Attenborough, the Hardy Boys - although there was probably a lot of dross in there too. But they all gave me a false belief that my life was telling a story that was bigger than me.

Whatever they look at - histories of entire countries, scientific discoveries, mid-life crises - books and television attempt to tell a story, create coherent narratives, plot character arcs and reach denouements. Things rarely just happen, there's always an underlying motive, a foreshadowing of events to come, an echoing of events that have passed.

It's endemic - witness football as the World Cup unravels; journalists tell stories of footballers' persecution and later renaissance, myriad stats tell the tale of previous encounters in an attempt to shadow the narrative of a forthcoming match. Look at Big Brother's attempts to weave stories through the housemates daily interactions, selecting and filtering to back an interpretation of events that paints villains and highlights heroes.

The downside of this is translating it into a belief that my life too follows a clear story, that the random events and occurrences that living has a habit of throwing up will slowly reveal themselves to be part of a complex tale of loves lost and gained, personal reinventions and redemptions, pain and nobility.

I don't think I'm alone in my search for a personal narrative to provide some degree of meaning and stability. Some believe in a God to provide the basis of a character arc of struggle followed by ultimate redemption. Others cling to psychologists' and counsellors' talk of key events and early role-models to explain personality traits, actions and motivations later in life.

It's comforting to believe there is a story that my life is following, that there's a happy ending somewhere out there with my name on it or that dark and malicious forces are responsible for any given series of events that go against me, but it's not true. Life's more soap opera than film - full of endless mini-storylines that don't satisfactorily resolve themselves and are wont to reappear at inopportune moments, culminating in an unfulfilling move to some town that's not in the show.

But it's a liberating, if rather frightening, realisation that there is no story to my life. No longer can I claim to be plagued by streaks of bad or good luck, alternatively things just happen. Instead of trusting my life to the hands of unseen narrative forces, I am the one who can take ultimate responsibility for writing my personal story.

Wednesday 12 June 2002