This hotel room has been painted over with emulsion so many times that it seems to be smaller than it ought to be. I meet Jim in the breakfast room. We eat, then drive to a car park below the mountain. We put on our boots and climb gently for an hour or so. Leaning on a gate, Jim reads from the guidebook. The next section is two thousand feet of unrelenting slog. This turns out to be an accurate description. Slog and sweat and rain and misery. I always forget the misery, or perhaps discount or suppress the memory. Why do I do this? When we reach the top I am elated by the view, and once again I forget the pain of the climb.
The land drops beneath my feet. The buildings in the valley are so far below that perspective fails and I am teetering.
How did I get here when I was down there in the valley just a few moments ago?
There’s a walk in the shape of a horseshoe on the top of these hills, all the time teetering on the top of the world. Green slopes and screes dropping away, miss a step and you might fall. I realise that we don’t have real mountains in this country, that Ben Nevis and Snowdon are pimples compared to Mount Rainier or Mont Blanc. But this hill is still high enough to once more give me the feeling that I experienced at the age of four when my parents took me up the Empire State Building, and my father lifted me to look over the rail. In the street below the cars looked like Dinky Toys and the people like ants.
How did I get here when I was down there in the street just a few moments ago?
Time feels like that to me. Things seem recent that happened 30 years ago. I find a photo in an album, the second birthday of my oldest child. It seems so close yet so far. And my perspective on time teeters. Just like on the mountain.
How did I get here when I was down there in the eighties just a few moments ago?
At a funeral there is an 90-year-old man who is the cousin of the woman who has died. They had played together as infants and remained friends ever since. The old man says to me, You know, life passes surprisingly quickly.
A man I knew would start a story with You know where the A12 meets the B1223 …. The main story could not begin until the person listening had demonstrated that they understood the precise location, by which time everyone was exhausted and the main story itself had lost all interest. But anyway, I think the mountain in this story is called Elidir Fawr and the room is in Betws-y-Coed.