Falling down a cliff – extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Happiness is when you are completely crazy and don’t know what the fuck is going on.



You have probably seen a film with the guy hanging off the cliff facing death and the whole of his life goes before his eyes. It is a recurring theme.

I’ve hung off a cliff.

Liz and I went on holiday illicitly, camping in Devon. Wow. I have a photo of her in our campsite. We pitched the tent between three dry stone wall of an old derelict barn. A most convenient campsite – sheltered and private. I was taking a photo and she was looking sexy and peeling her bikini top down. Incredibly, just as I was about to take the shot, a middle-aged couple walked past the front and Liz jerked the top up with an indignant look. That’s what I shot. It is a wonderful photo of her looking indignant.

Later we walked along the beach at Lyme Regis and there were fossils to be found. I’ve always loved fossils. I went back for a trowel and hammer and started digging in the blue lias shale, hoping to uncover a plesiosaur or an ichthyosaurus or two. At very least I wanted to find a nice full pyrites ammonite for Liz as a memento. In my usual manner, I became quite obsessive, particularly when I could not find what I wanted. All I was able to uncover were lousy flattened imprints. I wanted a good solid bronzed ammonite. I knew there was one in there. It had to be remarkable enough to impress Liz.

Liz sat on the beach in the sun. I became engrossed in digging in the shale and bashing open rocks. I had this notion that the best ones were higher up the layers in the cliff so I began working my way up the cliff face. The shale was very crumbly but I managed to secure footholds and handholds. I was hammering the trowel into the shale with the hammer so I could use the trowel as a piton for a handhold. Before long, without realising it, I had worked my way up to near the top.

I had just hammered the trowel in, when one foothold crumbled. I scrambled around with my foot to find another without success. Blue lias is like dried mud, layers of dried mud. It is very flaky. As I was feeling around with my foot the other foothold crumbled away. I was now high up the cliff clinging on to an embedded trowel and a handhold. I didn’t panic. It was all right. I had to get a new purchase in the lias, that’s all. It was OK. I looked down and it seemed a long way down to the rocks on the beach. Liz was not looking. I scrambled around with my feet but could not seem to find a crevice to get my toes into. The cliff was sheer and my arms were tiring. Then my handhold gave way and I knew I was in trouble. I was left hanging by two hands from the handle of the trowel and no matter how much I scrambled around I could not find a foothold. It was a matter of time. The trowel started slowly slipping out. I have to report that my life did not go through my mind, only a sense of foreboding accompanied by an exclamation or two.

The trowel finally came out and I went downwards.

Somehow I leaned into the cliff and clawed at the face with my nails and toes like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. I crashed down the cliff and hit the bottom along in the midst of an avalanche of debris. Liz screamed.

When the dust had settled I stood up virtually unharmed.

I have a photo of two long gouge marks down the cliff, made by my feet and clawed hands as I clawed at the cliff on the way to the beach. I escaped with ripped nails and multiple lacerations and bruises over arms, hands, belly and legs. Nothing too spectacular.

I laughed it off. It could easily have been a lot worse.



Happiness is the feeling you get when you survive something unscathed that could have come out a lot different.


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