It’s been a month of ups and downs. At the start of June I headed up to the far North West corner of Scotland to tackle Am Buachaille – the third and ‘most serious of the big three British sea stacks’.
Lying 100m offshore it involves a bit of swim before you can start climbing. I’d always wondered how nearby Cape Wrath got its name; a few minutes exposure to horizontal rain and gravity-challenging wind gave me the answer.
A noise like a daemonic dishwasher turned out to be metre-high waves crashing through the channel we’d need to swim. We backed off.
For consolation we climbed a couple of 35m cliffs further round the beautiful, sandy crescent of Sandwood Bay – Am Buachaille sticking its finger up behind our backs as we did so. A far-from-wasted trip but one that left me feeling a little cheated.
40 hours later I was at the opposite end of the British Isles climbing onto the rear saddle of a mountain bike tandem, at the start of The South Downs Way. A 100 mile bridleway that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne over 11,000 feet of ascents and descents.
My two companions Simon and Mark took it in turns to pilot the bike and act as out-riders clearing the path ahead. Like jumbo jets tandems are most likely to crash on take off and landing.
The pay-off for all those hill climbs is the downhill sections on which we hit speeds of up to 40mph. Simon and Mark both confessed to moments of envy for my inability to see the precipitous path ahead. After two days hard pedalling and only a couple of minor tumbles the finish line at the end of a glorious hurtle down the track from Beachy Head came almost as a disappointment, we were having such fun!
So I returned to London feeling pretty good. Despite my sight loss I’d taken on the great outdoors and conquered bits of it. My remaining challenge, to swim The Henley Mile, is still a few weeks off but what better way to sooth my aching muscles and keep the ball rolling than a nice swim round Highgate Men’s Pond?
It’s only a mile away, across Hampstead Heath, along a well-trodden track I’ve used regularly for the past twenty years.
That said, as my remaining photoreceptors fizzle out, I do sometimes find myself marooned in places I know must be familiar but can’t recognise. I wonder, is this how encroaching Alzheimer’s feels?
The secret is not to let your concentration wander. I need to head straight till I reach The Model Boat Pond, then first right to avoid the unfenced path along the water’s edge.
It’s all going swimmingly till I find my way blocked by a construction site. This must be The Corporation of London’s bizarre project to build a dam against a 1 in 400,000 year biblical flood event.
Whatever, it and a monosyllabic workman-cum-sentry force me left, down an unfamiliar path; which disgorges me into a line of anglers.
At least, I reason, I must be close to a pond.
Closer than I think. My attempt to navigate the cast rods of these taciturn fisher-folk results in my taking an earlier plunge than I’d anticipated.
As I squelch home I reflect on the irony of being defeated by the tamed outdoors in my local park. Of how visual impairment magnifies small changes into major obstacles. And how much I have come to rely on other people to help me express my independence.
From the moment I watched a documentary of Chris Bonington and Tom Patey climb the perpendicular flanks of the Old Man of Hoy I knew that my life would not be complete until I had followed in their footholds. That was in 1983 when I was thirteen. Within months I was tackling my first crags and dreaming of standing atop Europe’s tallest sea stack with the Atlantic pounding 450 feet below. Those dreams went dark at nineteen when I learned I was going blind. I hung up my harness for twenty years and tried to ignore the twinge of desire I felt every time The Old Man appeared on TV.’ Middle aged, by now a family man, crime novelist and occasional radio personality, Red Szell’s life nonetheless felt incomplete. He was still climbing, but only indoors until he shared his old, unforgotten, dream with his buddies, Matthew and Andres, and it became obvious that an attempt had to be made. With the help of mountain guides Martin Moran and Nick Carter, and adventure cameraman Keith Partridge, supported by family and an ever growing following, Red set out to confront the Orcadian giant.
Publication date 16th April 2015 by Sandstone Press
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On the face of it househusband Joe Wynde has it all – apart from his sight.
Robbed of 90% of his vision by a degenerative eye disorder, Joe’s goals are simple; to raise his two sassy daughters properly while avoiding close physical contact with street furniture and bored banker’s wives.
Compared to the lifestyles of his wealthy neighbours this may seem unglamourous, but with financial crisis rocking The City, some of them are about to discover just how exposed they are.
When Joe is falsely accused of driving a fellow stay-at-home-dad to suicide, he turns to unrequited old flame Miranda Lethbridge for support. A journalist with a keen nose for local gossip, she smells a conspiracy, which draws them into a web of illicit affairs and blackmail amidst London’s wealthy elite.
A racket others will protect at all costs.
Blind Trust is a slow-burning thriller providing a unique insight into the world of those deprived of their major sense while casting a wry glance at the nature of wealth