I was brought up in an area of Salford near Manchester described in a book by Robert Roberts called ‘The Classic Slum’, an appellation coined for it in the mid 19th Century by Friedrich Engels who had interests in cotton mills in the area. Engels’ concern at the conditions in which people lived and the economic and social inequity which caused and allowed them led to the left wing philosophy for which he is best known. Being from the slum himself rather than merely observing it as an outsider, Roberts’ book is far more positive than Engels’ ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, focusing on qualities of resilience and resourcefulness.
Me? At the age of 12 I was introduced to the mountains of the Derbyshire Peak District and from then on I escaped there as often as I could, travelling by bus and train from the Classic Slum to the first National Park designated in Britain. At first I used to go with the local scout group but then I found that wasn’t often enough and soon I was going on my own. I was beguiled by the mountains and the solitude to be found there.
There was no lack of confidence. But there was inevitably a lack of imagination about the risks involved. Accidents happen because adverse circumstances and consequences are unimagined. Issues of safety never crossed my mind. When something went wrong I learned from it. That’s what experience is. It teaches you to be aware of potential dangers, imagine what might happen and take appropriate precautions. Over the decades that experience built up. My confidence was not diminished but was better informed, I could more accurately assess the risks and commit or avoid as appropriate.
But there is still the unimagined and I recognise that the unexpected might happen, maybe a complex of adverse coincidences, and bite me in the bum. Or worse.
Very occasionally something went seriously wrong and, being frank, it has been providential that I survived.
So when I decided to enter a writing competition on the subject of ‘A Narrow Escape’ I had material still relatively close to the forefront of my mind to work from. One condition of entry was that the incident should be real and not fictional. I wrote about one which happened to me as a young teenager in the Peak District but which resonated with a recent experience in the Canadian Rockies.
It didn’t even make the ‘longlist’ but you might like to read it: Escapes2
I’m honest enough to attribute my survival to the providence of God and not just my own skill, experience and resolve which at times are not enough. But when it is my time to go it would be nice if it could be in the mountains.