Love of the Common People…

Social networking is both a useful tool and an invasive curse.  It has allowed us to advertise what we do and where we are, but also invite the world into our homes and create a world of voyeurism and mental stress.  Last year I noticed an invitation on the web to a reunion party from my comprehensive school.  It was over 30 years since the class of 1985 had walked away from Belper High School and made their way in the world.  I didn’t think long before pressing accept.  I thought it would be good to catch up with old friends and talk over old times.  It was to be held in January, in a local pub, so I could wander down on foot, enjoy a few drinks and wander back home.  It seemed perfect…

1985 was a time of electronic music, permed hair and shoulder pads.  I have to admit having tints put in, although these days, the grey has taken over.  I was a DJ back then, and although my New Romantic, House Music and Break Dancing days are over, I still love music and have an extensive vinyl collection from my time behind the decks.

I arrived late at the reunion, as I’d only returned from Scotland the day before and had extensive family commitments.  As I opened the pub door, I was met with an unusual array of drunken cheers and sheepish looks.  It felt odd to say the least, but I ordered a pint and began to chat.  I have to admit that I didn’t recognise some people, but some I did and some I still knew well.  Living in the same town all my life means that I bump into folk now and again, although I’m constantly amazed that many of us only live streets apart and haven’t seen each other in years.  I soon discovered that in over 30 years few people had changed.  The popular ones were still popular, the loud ones were still loud and the quiet ones still sat in the corners.

Stories and questions were soon exchanged, as were opinions…

“What you do is wonderful.  You’re a real inspiration…”

“You’ve done so much with your life…”

“You’re irresponsible and must scare your family witless…”

“You’re the oldest 48-year-old I’ve ever known…” (This is a new one.  Almost on par with, “are you Jamie Vardy’s Dad..?”)

“You can’t work, you’re always away.  Aren’t you sponsored..?” (This statement is a constant irritation in my life as people assume that I’m rich or some kind of adventure playboy.  I got a job as soon as I left school and have been hard at it for almost 33 years).

I felt the evening changing.  I felt stifled and unable to breathe.  Not with my lungs, but with my soul…

It soon became apparent that most of the people in the room shared only one thing in common with me – we’d been at school together.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected anything different, but Belper High School was legendary for its Outdoor Pursuits lessons (OP), were we all had (and I mean had), to try sailing, canoeing, climbing, abseiling, potholing etc.  Some hated it, some loved it, but hardly anyone seemed to still take part.  Families, work and life seemed to have sponged the adventures away.  I’ve never had children of my own, but I do support my family a great deal and always will.  Balancing this love with work and adventure has been a difficult battle, but it’s what I do.  It’s who I am.  We’re all very different people, living very different lives in very different ways.

I felt like the elephant in the room…

A crowd of folk left to go dancing at a pub in the town centre, but for once I was happy to have work the next day and made my excuses.  I bid them farewell and walked up the hill in the darkness.  I’m a slow thinker and mused over the evening for the next few days.  I remembered a testimonial from a speech i’d given in Manchester awhile back…

“An engineer by trade, he is far from your average fellow. After a long hard day ploughing through paperwork and darting between meetings, most of us would like nothing more to collapse in front of our ˜Freeview’ or ˜Sky Plus’ with a hot cup of tea or something stronger. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s what normal, sane people do. But as we’re busy fumbling for the remote, you can be sure that somewhere, thousands of feet above sea level on some snowy peak, there is a small band of utter lunatics clipping on their crampons, ready to risk life and limb for a bit of an adventure. It is here, amongst these madmen, that you will most likely find Nigel Vardy”.

Over the next few days, I spoke to some close friends about the reunion.  Their words were straight and to the point…

“People don’t understand you Nigel, you’re very different and always will be”

“You shouldn’t have expected anything less”

“I was invited to a reunion a few years ago and kept well clear”

I’ve always had the ability to be blind to the bleedingly obvious…

We need to celebrate everyone’s differences, but we need to understand them too.  Many think mountaineering is the most dangerous and crazy thing in the world, but it’s what I do.  I’m not a man for sun-beds, out-of-town shopping on a Sunday or watching box sets on TV, but if that’s your thing, then you go for it.

We all have a place in this world.  We all have a group or a tribe or a gang, (or whatever you wish to call them) out there somewhere.  We need to find these people and embrace them.  From Gardening to Golf, Birdwatching to Belly Dancing, Metal Detecting to Mountaineering, we all need to find our people and if were lucky, ourselves.

I think the trailer for the Kendal Mountain Festival 2017 sums it up very well…

I hear there are further school reunions planned, but I think I’ll give them a miss.  My people belong to the mountains and that where me, my soul and I should be.

I need to find my people again.  Perhaps we will understand each other and breathe together…

7 thoughts on “Love of the Common People…”

  1. Nigel, just found your blog after Googling Alison Hargreaves and trying to remember who the OP tutors at the High School were. I started by Googling ‘Alpe d’Huez’ because of today’s TdF stage, which then made me think of Tom Simpson, the British cyclist who died on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour, which then made me think about Alison, who I knew slightly through her father, which then made me think about the OP team at Belper because the OP tutor was my Group Tutor in the first intake to the High School in 1973. (And I can’t remember any of the OP tutors’ names!)

    I’m not an outdoorsy type, though we did do a Group weekend camping and kayaking at Trearddur Bay in Wales – my first time under canvas, which made me decide that camping was something I could put up with if I had to (came in useful in later life going to festivals). I got out of the kayaking by a) having the excuse of not being a swimmer, and b) taking my camera along so my role was documenting the weekend.

    Nonetheless, I too rejoice in high and wild places, and like you I also don’t follow the herd when it comes to how I occupy myself once I leave the Day Job. I’ve moved away from Belper, and whilst I pass through perhaps once or twice a year, I’ve rarely been ‘boots on the ground’ there and am now a bit out of touch. I gather the town has been through a bit of a renaissance in recent years. I agree with you over how we fund our obsessions. Like anyone with a consuming interest, we tend to put that interest high on our list of priorities – indeed. sometimes right at the top – and accept what follows as part of following our hearts.

    I think it’s easier these days to follow the different path because social media allows us to connect with like-minded individuals either next door or half a world away (though for some, that experience started much longer ago). Even so, it still takes some dedication and clarity of mind to follow your own path. And you can also find that some people who you connect with turn out to have other views and opinions you disagree with. That can be a problem; sometimes you can cope with it and find a way to maintain the connection, but at other times you cannot. I think that’s also a part of the learning process; it teaches you that absolutes are not always achievable. And this is also something about reunions – I’ve never really been to any, and the few contacts I’ve renewed with former Strutts people are not ones I’ve maintained, mainly because just too much water has flowed beneath that particular bridge for those particular acquaintences. And again, that’s part and parcel of following your own path, because all too often that path doesn’t loop back to its starting point; as Tolkien said, “The road goes ever on”.

    1. Hi Robert,

      Thanks for getting in touch. Pete Clarke did a great deal climbing and abseiling I think. Mr Morley took sailing and he taught us basic canoe safety in the swimming pool at High School. I also remember well being tipped into the Res at Hogston on many an occasion..!

      By the way, did you know that Alison has a memorial bench at Belper River Gardens..?

      If you’re ever passing through Belper, feel free to drop me a line…

  2. Can totally identify with your feelings Nigel. I felt the same at both a “youth club” reunion and a physio school reunion and have not returned. I keep in touch with those who truly are my friends and have learnt to accept that I just don’t fit in with some people’s idea of the norm. Very interesting to see how people’s lives evolve, but from a distance – FB is great for allowing that! I too get fed up with the assumption that if the choices you’ve made give the appearance of a privileged life that it somehow must mean you’ve had it easy! Keep your soul intact Nigel!

  3. This very true to the heart I say heart but in reality i mean mind and thats a vast endless and unexplored place that we may never figure out until the day it ceased to exist, its funny but like minded folk seam to connect with every word you have wrote and seam to understand where to find these reasons from the deep like you say you are what you are .
    If we could put everything in boxes like most blokes do we are organised chaos everything is in its place but we have to move all the boxes around to search for our own mindset adventure the more remote the more wild the passion for exploration , there is no wonder a lot of folk can’t connect with us until they explore the chaos in our minds they never will understand us , im not sure that some of the words that describes us are correct , like selfish by doing our own thing ,egoism, thoughtless and foolish , brave , looking for respect , want to be famous to impress folk , well if thats what people think they are sad . we sometimes do daft things in life when we look back but we would never want to go back and change it we are to busy getting on with what we are doing now like you said its the way we are . We can live with it so let us, thats what i say , let those that persue their own life enjoy what they do and we can look after our selves , its our life and we are living it we can only do what we can but bygum we giving it a good go

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment Michael. We all have our place in the world and some people are lucky to find their true meaning here also. We go our different directions, walk our own paths and learn through living. If we all respect everyones views and opinions, the world will be a much better place.

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