Screenshot 2015-09-20 18.12.17
I’m currently putting off writing a review of Communication Matters 2015, where I spent  last weekend.  Instead I find myself writing about climbing.
When I started regularly writing online, I began to develop a slightly strange attitude to events.  I like things to run smoothly, but I also like full scale cock-ups. Minor cock-ups are useless – they are both inconvenient and difficult to get an amusing 800 word rant out of.
I also end up collecting half-finnished anecdotes; like the man who refuses to throw away broken items because the necessary tool is bound to turn up in a car boot sale at some point.  I have a large collection of half written posts that are just waiting for me to have a the necessary life event before they can emerge, fully formed, as grown-up rants.
This week I had the pleasant experience of having both halves of a post arrive within days of each other.
Staying in conference accommodation at the University of Leeds, I took my more-enthusiasm-than-skill climbing kit down to the University Sport Centre.
“Hello, I’m here with a conference and I’d like to go bouldering please”  (for the uninitiated, bouldering is climbing without ropes only a short distance from the ground, over thick mats).
The bright and attentive student working on reception put a slight kink in my plan:
“I’m afraid you’ll have to do a belay test first” (belaying is what you do when you’re on the ground holding the rope for your climbing partner)
“Sorry, I actually just want to go bouldering… there’s only one of me you see…”
“Yes, you have to do a belay test before you go bouldering. It’s the policy.”
I digested this. The receptionist looked at me in the manner of someone who had made an obvious point to a slightly dim customer. I’m aware there is little point arguing with a ‘policy’. More to the point – while I’d happily take the policy author to task, I have my own policy of avoiding taking out frustration on customer staff who are generally blameless.  I decided to comply.  Besides, while I haven’t belay’d in a little while, the test would be a few minute job (I particularly enjoyed one at White Spider which just involved showing you a photo of a climbing scene and asking you to point out the dangerous bits).
“Okay then, can I have a quick belay test done”
“Sorry, none of our instructors are here… It’s health and safety you see…”
I gave up.  But it had been a long day
“Okay, so can I ask about the sauna then?”
“Oh yes, you can use the sauna”
“I don’t need to pass a swimming test or anything” (It really had been a long day and I apologise to the staff, although to be fair, I was also clearly amused rather than irritated – and she laughed too)
“No, no swimming test”
“Okay I’d like one entry for the sauna please”
“Oh, you can’t use it at the moment, because water polo are using the pool…”
So I had a night in instead.
Of course – the main factor here is that university sports centres aren’t judged like local authority ones – local authority ones are judged on the experience of the public – university sports centres are judged entirely on their performance with the university teams.
The other half of this came a few days later.
I, as a would-totally-be-carrying-a-card-if-there-was-a-card-available introvert, avoid conference dinners as a general policy and I slipped away after the last conference session to try a different climbing wall in Leeds.
City Bloc is nestled in a industrial area so generically nondescript that it defies even the emotion that would be conveyed by ‘grey’, but it turned out to be a wonderful find.
I wandered in to find a friendly receptionist behind a much-used desk and under a slightly too-dim bulb. She asked a few sensible questions – produced the standard ‘are you doing to die in my building’ form and, unprompted, told me that the Monday technique class was most of the way through, but she’d introduce me to the instructor anyway.  (I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but you’ll note that this helpfully also introduces the instruction to the fact that there’s a new person at the wall and they might be worth keeping an eye on).
The instructor had just finished his session – but very kindly said he’d stay on and show me around anyway. He worked out my level (V2-V3 for context), pointed out a bunch of nice routes that stretched me the right amount and introduced be to at least 11 of the 15 people on the mat.  He even mercifully choose the 11 who climbed at about my level rather than the four who where climbing much higher problems.
I’ll say this – the area was relatively small, the shower didn’t work, and there was probably relatively little to do for strong climbers coming very regularly – but it was still the friendliest climbing place I’ve been to.
Small venues like City Bloc live and die with their community, and in future, I’m going to be a little more careful to seek out a place that lives by its community, rather than one that lives by its status.

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