(Wednesday , 20th December 1972)
The snow started falling as I was driving south from Llanrwst towards Bettws-y-Coed. It wasn’t all that heavy so I wasn’t all that concerned as it was still December and the heavy snow didn’t usually come in until late January or into February. I had other things occupying my mind. I was wondering whether Andy was going to say anything to anyone about what I had said to him last night. If it got back to school I wasn’t sure what would happen. Chances were that if the head didn’t sack me on the spot, he’d make it abundantly clear that he would expect me to find somewhere else to teach before the next term ended. And the chances of that would be slim – especially as it was unlikely that I’d get a decent reference from him once he knew.
I sighed and switched on the wipers to clear the snow from the windscreen.
What was really worrying me though was how this was likely to affect things between myself and Andy. We’d been close friends for a couple of years now. I valued his friendship. Truth be told, I needed his friendship. I didn’t make friends easily. Before I’d met Andy just over two years ago the only real friend I had had been Ash. I’d known her since I was at school. But she had no interest in the mountains – no interest in the great outdoors, rock climbing or winter mountaineering. True, she was a good and loyal friend, but we really had nothing in common. She was a woman when all was said and done. She didn’t have what I needed.
She’d guessed the truth long before I did myself. Indeed she’d told me the truth about myself long before I was even prepared to admit it to myself. “Woman’s intuition,” she had said, after we had tried dating for a few months and I’d failed to satisfy her. I had tried telling her that it was because I had to much respect for her. But she knew the real reason, even if I wasn’t prepared to accept what she was saying at the time. But at least we stayed friends. I’d dated a few women since. None of them had been satisfying either, and I’d finally come to accept myself.
I had first met Andy whilst descending Moel Siabod with a bunch of school kids a few years ago. One 14 year old lad had slipped and twisted his ankle. He hadn’t been seriously hurt, but was finding it difficult to walk. So myself and the other teacher in charge had taken turns carrying him piggy-back fashion down the mountain. He was a big heavy lump of a lad though, and we were finding the going slow as we had to take frequent rests. The school mini-bus was parked near Pont Cyfyng at the foot of the mountain. Once we got him there, we’d be able to drive him to hospital in Bangor and get the ankle checked out before heading back to the Centre. He would be able to ring his parents from there as well to let them know that he although he was hurt, he was not badly hurt. The rest of the kids thought it was a huge adventure. Indeed the injured lad himself was enjoying being the centre of attention.
Moel Siabod isn’t one of the most frequented mountains in Snowdonia, so we were surprised when we spotted someone climbing up towards us. That guy turned out to be Andy, who had been let down that weekend by a friend who had arranged to meet him on Llanberis pass to spend the weekend rock climbing. He’d decided late in the day to climb Siabod because, as he put it, he’d never climbed it before, and he’d be up and down before nightfall. Once we explained our problem he’d offered to help us with the piggy-backing.
When we got back to the mini-bus Andy had offered to take myself and the casualty in his Land Rover to Bangor and then drop us back at the Centre. It would kill a few hours for him he’d said. The twisted ankle turned out to be no more than a minor sprain. Andy and I had chatted all the way there and back. It turned out he was about to enter his last year at Manchester University studying History. So, as I was teaching at a secondary school in the Manchester area at the time, we’d exchanged telephone numbers with the suggestion that maybe we’d go out in the mountains together sometime in the future.
That was almost two and a half years ago, and since then we’d done more than just go mountaineering some weekend. True, we had spent many a weekend doing just that. But Andy had also introduced me to rock, and snow, and ice climbing. And I’d introduced him to kayaking and sailing. We’d become almost inseparable – so much so that, if one of us was seen out without the other we would be asked what had happened to our shadow.
And that was all that I had looked on him as for the first two years: a bloody good friend. But Ash had commented one day how glad she was that I had finally found my soul mate. I’d denied it of course, but she had just laughed and said that it was obvious. Whenever I was in his company I’d light up she claimed. But if my shadow, as she put it, wasn’t around, it was almost as though I was in the shadow. She’d laughed at her clever play on words when she’d said that. I’d just scowled back at her. She’d gone on to claim that Andy behaved exactly the same, and if we were still treating each other as just friends after all this time then it was time that one of us had the balls to tell the other how he was feeling. The way she had looked at me when she had said that suggested that she thought I was the one who should grow the pair.
And so, after a lot of soul searching, that’s exactly what I had done late last night. Andy was staying in his lodgings for the first week of the Christmas vacation before heading back to Leicester to spend the rest of the holiday with his parents. We’d been out for a few drinks and I’d walked back home with him with the intention of taking the late night bus home. It was whilst we were drinking coffee that I told him how I felt. His reaction hadn’t been the one I had been hoping for. He’d raged about why I was telling him this now. I’d got annoyed and stormed out. As he called something after me as I was heading down the street, I’d told him to just go fuck himself and walked even faster away from him. When I got home I’d drunk several large shots of whisky before stumbling into bed and falling into a night of troubled sleep.
I’d woken up the next morning with something of a hangover and a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’d fucked up a really important friendship – and I wasn’t sure what Andy was going to do or say next. I’d told him my secret, and the danger was that he would not keep it to himself. The cat was truly out of the bag. If my life wasn’t ruined, my Christmas certainly was going to be. How was I going to face my family over the Christmas period if this news got back to them?
So I’d done what I often do when I couldn’t see a solution to a problem. I’d run away from it. After a tearful phone conversation with Ash I had rung my parents and told them that I wouldn’t be home for Christmas as I had decided to go mountaineering in Scotland. Why did I lie about my destination? Probably because they knew where the school’s Outdoor Pursuits Centre was in Snowdonia. I just didn’t want them, or one of my brothers or sisters tracking me down there if the shit hit the fan over the Christmas period. I just wanted to get away somewhere where I wouldn’t be disturbed whilst I had a chance to think and maybe salvage what I could from the situation.
I stopped at the garage in Bettws to fill up with petrol and buy a few provisions. The owner knew me by name as I often called in there on my visits into Snowdonia, as he sold mountaineering and rock-climbing equipment. I asked him whether there would be much snow fall. He said the forecast was just for a small amount. He did mention that you can never be sure in the mountain, though. I thanked and paid him and pushed on towards Dolwydellan, still more concerned with the events of last night – and the possible fallout from them – than the mere weather. A few miles past Dolwydellan I made the turn up the mountain road towards the Centre.
Although this was a public road it was only really wide enough for one vehicle, and the going was quite steep in places. The Centre was a little over three miles up it. It had originally been several cottages belonging to the disused slate mines. Workers in the mines had stayed in them. When the mines had closed sometime in the fifties the cottages had been abandoned. The school had bought them at a bargain price in the late sixties and had converted them into an Outdoor Pursuits Centre. Groups of a dozen or so pupils, along with several teachers would come down at weekends, or longer periods occasionally during the school holidays, to hill-walk, mountaineer, and generally enjoy the outdoor life. It was actually a great asset to the school – and most of the pupils would look forward to the chance to get away to Snowdonia for a weekend at least once a year.
As I drove up the hill the snow on the road became deeper. It also started to fall faster. Indeed I was finding it difficult to even see where I was going due to the headlights being reflected back at me by the huge snowdrops. I suppose that was when I actually started to concentrate on my driving rather than my other problem. I was frightened of actually stopping the car, as I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to start forward again up the hill with the loose snow.
Finally the inevitable happened. I slowed down too much on a slight bend, the wheels lost their grip, and the car was going nowhere. Or to be truthful it was refusing to go where I wanted it to. It would lurch from side to side, but it was not going to go forward up the hill. The danger was that it was going to slide off the edge of the tarmac onto the snow covered grass. I depressed the clutch, applied the hand break, and put it in neutral. Getting out of it, I fished my flash lamp out of the boot and took stock of my surroundings. I knew I had certainly come a good way up the mountain, but honestly didn’t have a clue how far exactly. The Centre may have been just a few hundred yards away, or it could be as much as a couple of miles.
Shining the flash lamp around revealed that I was basically in a white-out. The tyre tracks behind the car were rapidly being filled by the falling snow. Any attempt to drive backwards would be foolhardy in the extreme. Any attempt to walk out of here when I could hardly see more than a couple of feet in either direction would probably result in me dying of exposure. So I decided to do the only sensible thing in this situation and stay with the vehicle. At least I had some provisions with me – not to mention a four-seasons sleeping bag. It might be uncomfortable – but I could sit or sleep it out in the car until daylight at least, when hopefully the snow would have stopped falling and I could get my bearings and decide on the best course of action. As the car had no radio to keep me entertained I removed my shoes, got into the sleeping bag, and went to sleep on the back seat.
And so it was that Andy found me in the early hours of the morning. I had pulled the top of the bag over my head to keep warm so I’d neither heard the sound of the engine – nor seen the headlights – of his Land Rover as he’d driven up behind me. The first thing I knew was when he’d already opened the back door of my car and grabbed my foot and told me to wake up.
Poking my head out of the sleeping bag I looked at him in confusion and simply asked, “Where the fuck did you come from?”
“Manchester. Where else?” he replied.
“Yea , but how did you get here?”
“In the bloody Land Rover. What did you think? That I flew here?”
I was staring to wake up properly. “No, what I am asking is what are you doing here? Why have you come? How did you know I’d be here?”
“Look, Simon,” he responded, “let’s leave all the questions for the time being. Get out of that bloody sleeping bag, and let’s see if we can get your car moving. It’s fucking freezing out here.”
I struggled out of my sleeping bag and tugged on the pair of hiking boots I had left on the floor behind the driver’s seat. As I was lacing them up Andy fetched a thermos flask of strong sweet coffee from his vehicle. He poured me a mug of it and told me to drink it down as I needed to both warm up and wake up. I actually did feel a whole lot more alive after several mouthfuls.
I looked around and saw that the snow had stopped falling. The luminous fingers on my wristwatch showed that it was just after 1 am. It was still dark but the white of the snow reflected enough the lights from Andy’s headlamps for me to be able to see much of my surroundings. Andy was walking down the hill away from me, swinging his flash lamp from side to side. I struggled to my feet, grabbed my own lamp and started down after him.
“Where are you going?” I shouted to him.
“There’s a pulling in point down here somewhere,” he replied. “I’m assuming your back-wheel drive car can’t go upwards in this snow. So I’m looking to see if we can find somewhere we can get you car off the road safely, so I can get the Land Rover past you and we can get up to the Centre.”
“Hang on a mo,” I called down. “I’ll help. You got your ice axe with you? If we went down one each side of the road and prodded the snow at each side with the axe, we’d have a better chance of finding the hard standing.”
“You’re waking up, I see,” he responded.
He came back, we each got an ice axe from our respective vehicles and started walking back down the road, one each side of it. It turned out that it was little more than 200 yards away. We left a flash lamp beside it and returned to the vehicles. Andy slowly reversed down using the rear spot light on his land rover for help, and I slowly reversed my car behind him. He got out and guided me slowly into the passing spot. He suggested that he could try towing me up to the Centre, which he reckoned was only about a mile up the road. I grabbed my sleeping bag off the back seat saying, “Let’s leave that till the morning, I’m freezing here.”
Sitting beside him in the warmth of his Land Rover as we slowly made our way up the hill I turned to him and asked how on earth he knew where I would be.
“Ash told me,” he said.
“Good job you didn’t ring my parents. They’d have sent you on a wild goose chase to the Cairngorms.”
“Why did you tell them a lie like that?” was his response.
“Didn’t want them finding me.”
“Why ever not?”
“Wasn’t sure if you were going to tell them about last night.”
“You should know me better than that. That sort of news, if they are ever to hear it, should come from you.”
“Well you didn’t seem all that happy about it.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Well you started shouting and asking me why I was telling you.”
“I think what I asked was why you were telling me now. And then you just got up and walked out on me.”
I was starting to get confused. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Simon! How long have we known each other. Why did you wait all this time before telling me?” His voice sounded softer now.
“Well I wasn’t sure how you’d take it.”
“I’ve known you for well over two years. I’ve seen you date any number of girls in that time. You any idea how hard it has been for me not to show my jealousy? I’ve fancied you from the first day I met you.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Yes, big fucking oh,” he replied, taking his left hand off the wheel and laying it on my right one.”So why did it take you all this time?” Basically the same question I’d freaked on the night before. But this time I understood why he was asking the question.
“Fear, I suppose.”
“Well I’m glad you finally conquered your fear,” he said squeezing my hand.
“Me too,” I replied as the Centre came into view in front of us.
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