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Deep Play

AuthorPaul Pritchard
Publisher Bāton Wicks
Format192 pages
Reviewed byEd Douglas
DateSaturday, 12 December 1998
Rating 4 out of 5

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Deep Play's first chapter was worth the Boardman Tasker on its own. Not since The Hard Years has the social background of a leading protagonist been so effectively drawn. Touching on themes of economic deprivation, failing education standards and the brutish myopia that affected Britain, but especially England, in the 1980s, Pritchard illustrates how climbing was, at least then, a rare way to escape from monochrome to glorious Technicolor.

The other essays in the book detail the vibrant Llanberis scene of the mid 1980s, Pritchard and Dawes’s visionary fun on Sron Ulladale, their dope-soaked introduction to the Himalaya and Pritchard’s eventual graduation on big walls from Patagonia to Baffin.

Much more than his achievements on the rock, which are considerable, is the imagination Pritchard brings to bear in both climbing and describing them. He has a raw, original sense of imagery which is brimful of energy and reminded me of the writing of Menlove Edwards, although Pritchard’s underlying philosophy is altogether brighter.

The drifting consciousness of the essay A Game One Climber Played mirrors Pritchard’s perilous state after falling badly and near-fatally in Wen Zawn. There is a rhythm to this piece, and an acute observation, that make it hypnotically compelling in the way a good piece by that essay-meister Jim Perrin manages.

It is unequivocally a climber’s book in the way that Jon Krakauer’s best-selling account of the Everest tragedy was not. It’s about damp hovels and bad food, loose connections to the rest of world and a love of landscape, the kind of observations you can only make after staring at tiny inflections in the rock with the possibility of a bad fall should you read them wrong.

This lack of compromise in dealing with his subject matter will restrict his audience to the village and at first this irritated me. Perhaps with more editorial glue and a little judicious pruning, this hard-core appeal could have been broadened slightly. But then again, Pritchard describes himself as a climber first and foremost. Why should he compromise?

Many of these essays first appeared in On The Edge magazine and its editor deserves great credit for giving Pritchard space to breathe, but having them in one volume reworked and re-edited with the time that only book-publishing can afford is worthwhile.

Pritchard has been presented by his publisher as an antidote to the commercial tedium that climbing is – apparently – becoming. There is some truth in this, at least in an international context, but this book should not be seen as the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

The cast list Pritchard offers us – Silvo Karo, Noel Craine, Simon Yates, Andy Parkin et al – serves notice that while brain-dead commercialism is growing apace, the old way of seeing things is renewed and extended by this generation as it was by the last. There are many good things happening in British climbing. Pritchard has proved their most effective chronicler.

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