Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A Nice Easy Start

I'm often the first to rise in the morning. I don't know why, I just don't sleep in. I'm not super keen or anything. I just worry too much. I can't bear to "waste the day" by committing some somnolent atrocity, like sleeping in until 9.

But perhaps that would be no bad thing, I pronounce to no-one in particular.

Right now, everyone is dog tired from four long days at the crag. Even so, I'm up at half past seven, with the birds. Or is it the sheep in the field next to the villa? Their symphony of bells can only descend into cacophony when one is attempting to sleep through the dawn. I pull on a vest and fill up the kettle. In the silence of the morning it sounds like a freight train as it comes to the boil. Cup of rubbish Spanish coffee in hand, I flick through an old copy of Hello! or New! or whatever it is - I can't tell the difference. It's the same one I leafed through yesterday morning in the same manner, and I was similarly disinterested then. The previous tenants of this ropey old villa didn't see fit to take it with them, but rather punish me instead. I am a rabbit in the headlights of its neon typeface.

Idly I allow my brain to lay waste to itself.

Slowly, one by one, the others drag themselves out of bed. Half eight, nine, and the villa begins to come to life once more. The kettle gets up a head of steam again, and again. The frontiersman of the Old West were mistaken when they uprooted their lives in search of black gold; truly it boils here on the kitchen worktop. The muesli is out and swiftly spilled on the table. A half-hearted effort is made to clean it up, but it's ok because I know someone - me - will probably pick at it later. And then it's croissants and toast and bananas and hot chocolate. I watch as this plague of locusts devours every edible item within view, bent on the destruction of that which would stand between them and a full belly.

While waiting for the feeding frenzy to burn itself out, I take a shower. Predictably, the pressure is low and the temperature of the water is tepid, at best. Slowly however it warms to be the perfect midpoint between bearable and scalding. I stand head bowed, and let the rivulets of lukewarm liquid run through my hair, down my spine, over my eyes. It's beautiful really, and for a few moments I'm encased in this shimmering shield. Then the soap gets in my eyes and I hear a knock on the door.

There are other people waiting, you know.

The final preparation ritual begins. We lay out our gear in quiet awe; carabiners and quickdraws, cams, nuts and slings. There really is no need as it is all exactly where it was before, in exactly the same condition. But feeling the weight in your hand, knowing the tangibility; That is as good a reason as any. As swiftly and as silently as they began, the rites draw to a close. Gear is gear, it is all there and in good order, why romance it further? Later in the car, I will find myself thumbing at a carabiner just to listen to its brave snap and click, to hear tell of its heroics and strength, the chill metal a reminder of trust earned.

Belts and harnesses are stuffed unceremoniously into bags as the group becomes restless, almost as one. We pile into the tired hire car and the boot doesn't shut. We pile out again, attempt to rearrange the mountains of equipment and not get frustrated that we still haven't left. At last all the doors shut and our day can begin. Or begin to begin, at least. The air conditioning doesn't work, and I don't know why I expected it to be magically better overnight. On most days we teeter on the edge of being entombed in a furnace but today, thankfully, the air is cooler.

A half-hearted flock of clouds dawdle across the sky.

For some reason the radio stations play only 1980s hits and flamenco. Have the Spanish really only just discovered Soft Cell? More importantly, am I allowed to enjoy the Abba? Motorways become normal roads, and the normal road becomes a track. This plucky Ford Fiesta was never meant to go off road, I can tell you that from bitter experience. To say that it struggles would be an understatement, and even to suggest that it soars like some elegant bird of prey would be an outright lie.

But finally, after too many bone shaking minutes, the crag hoves into view and it begins to rain. Perfect timing Spain, thank you. Optimistically we unpack our gear and set about finding a good first pitch to begin the day. Perhaps there is one which is a bit steep and will remain dry. Initial enthusiasm wanes swiftly as we fail to find a suitable candidate. The drizzle matures and the engorged clouds continue to unleash their payload with aplomb, the epitome of timely restraint and release.

We return to the car without a word, turn on the flamenco and eat more croissants.

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