Mechanics and Mates

I woke on the Tuesday morning tempted to sack off the Landy repairs until later in the week. Very tempted. Three things stopped me: first and foremost that it was a terrible idea, wouldn’t do the car any good and the job needed doing so we should do it. Second, the weather forecast, for while Tuesday was dry and glorious sunshine, it wasn’t supposed to stay that way all week and having to faff under the bonnet in the pissing rain didn’t appeal. Thirdly, i’d mentioned to Simon that i’m really not conditioned for multiple days in a row at the moment and woke creaking and aching. Although that was also motivation not to get this job done…

So we sucked it up, and got the tools out. After all, this job isn’t a big one, i’d done it before and knew exactly what to do so we could quickly faff with spanners and head out in the afternoon. [For those of a mechanical bent, the problem was that the front section of the exhaust had slipped off the manifold. All we needed to do was slacken off the nuts to the middle section, push it back up into place and tighten everything back up. Or so i thought]

Bolts slack, i pushed the exhaust back into place and we started to tighten the nuts again. Just a quick test, i started the engine and we watched, disappointed and slightly perplexed, as the exhaust slowly slipped down again.


All of a sudden, i had the same feeling of dread and fear that had engulfed me in that small park in Bayreuth, Germany three years previous. Our fix didn’t work and if we couldn’t find one that would, we were, to put it bluntly, fucked.

I phoned my dad for advice and was told to pack out the manifold with an old dog food tin. Lacking in options and needing a working vehicle, i set to the tin and mangled it with a Leatherman, cutting a section of thin metal to plug the gap. It took a while, Leatherman tools not being ideal for this job but eventually we had it in place and tightened everything up. Test: fail. Shit.

While i’d been cutting away though, Simon had spotted something i’d half noticed a little earlier: a bracket, half way down the vertical section of the exhaust. It was broken on one side, with a bolt in the engine block doing absolutely nothing. The side of the bracket still in tact, meanwhile, was lacking it’s bolt. I phoned home for more advice. Of course the bracket holds it up! The manifold clamp is nowhere near strong enough to hold it in place! Of course.


So we pulled the bolt out and tried it in the other side. After ten to fifteen minutes of attempting to get the blasted thing started, we both agreed we needed a smaller bolt. Shit.

Thankfully, this wasn’t Southern Germany, this was Fontainebleau and my local knowledge was substantially better than anywhere else in Europe. For future reference, reader, if you ever need one, there is a hardware shop in Milly la Foret, next to the Intermarche. So, packing everything we might need for our days activities, that is now where we headed.

By this time, it was around 12:30 and we arrived to find the shop closed, but only until 2:00. What followed was an hour and a half of worry, cigarettes and pizza while we sat eagerly waiting the shutters to go up, while i pondered how bad this could potentially be. Thankfully, we had no need to worry.

Two o’clock came and we headed in, Simon asking for a fractionally smaller bolt while i searched around. We found one, were graciously offered it gratuit, and headed back to the car park to finish the job. Excited now at the prospect of our newfound mechanical expertise, the tools again came out, the new bolt fitted and on our test, the entire thing stayed exactly where it should. We’d done it! and were thrilled.

I phoned dad back to tell him. “Hey dad, we fixed it!”

“You fixed it?!” I will never forget the surprise in his voice. Or let him forget it either.

Suddenly buoyed by our success, we headed straight out to Franchard Isatis, listening intently to unimportant noises and creaks. Thankfully, we didn’t put up with it for long, Isatis not being a far drive, and pulled pads from the car. The objective for the day: Divine Decadence 7b+

It’s a climb we’d both tried on a previous trip and been close. There are two starts: a low start at 7b+ and a sitting start proper at 7c. Last time, i’d got it from a move higher than the low start (two moves in on the sit) but was perplexed at the feet for the first move. It had seemed a mystery until we came back home and saw a video, unlocking it all.

Now returned, i was itching to get it finished. We dropped the pads, quickly repeated Le Surplomb Statique 6a and got started. But it was as brutal as the last time i’d tried it! The foot just wouldn’t work.

After a look at 27crags, we got on Surplomb Gauge 7a and decreed it a superb line. Frustrated that Divine Decadence was proving nigh on impossible, we tried Surplomb Gauge assis 7b+ and were equally perplexed. Irritated at being thwarted on the starting move only of two separate problems, Simon sacked it but it hadn’t quite sapped my resolve quite yet.

I thought about it briefly and scoped out a lower foothold. There was a blindingly obvious one that i’d overlooked by using the video beta i’d arrived with. Let this be a lesson to us all! Sometimes video beta is the wrong beta for you…

I lowered down into position and the heel stuck, so i thrust my right arm up and stuck the crucial sloper. For fuck’s sake! i thought, why couldn’t i do that hours ago?!


But by this time, i was spent. Considering we were pretty tired first thing in the morning, this was no surprise and so we left, me cursing my own ineptitude. Tomorrow, Simon’s “female friend” would be with us for the day and i would have the evening to myself. We’d agreed to go to Bas Cuvier for convenience and so Si could try Biceps Mou 7b+ so i was looking at it as a kind of rest day. This one would go in a couple of days.

But the day wasn’t quite done yet. Battered and beaten, we left but had the invitation from Norbert from the previous day. I’ll be honest and say there was a part of me that wanted to go purely to make a good contact in the forest but that was only a part: from the short time we’d met him, Norbert had come across super cool and you have to respect a man who will invite you to his house like that, just because you’re a fellow member of the climbing fraternity. So despite the tiredness, we headed over.

I am so glad we did! Norbert was indeed even cooler than the first time we’d met and the house was a true climbers house – i can think of one just like this in Sheffield but there are hundreds. A large house, with constantly changing inhabitants, all climbers, there was a fingerboard in the living room next to a pull up bar, not to mention the training den in the loft.

The people there were also super friendly – climbers all. In fact, the one Frenchman sat on the sofa after we arrived had recently won a national competition, although i forget his name. They were a typically international crew too; even without us, we had at least one Pole and one American in a group no bigger than half a dozen.

The conversation flowed (mostly in English) mostly focused on beta for projects and beer – the smallest details of projects discussed. We had our photos taken for the Wall of Visitors – where everyone who had been had been snapped and sat there proudly underneath the fingerboard. It was a truly surreal but utterly incredible experience.

The Wall of Visitors. Everyone who visits has their picture taken and goes on the wall. A fantastic idea!
The Wall of Visitors. Everyone who visits has their picture taken and goes on the wall. A fantastic idea!

We weren’t just offered a bed for that night, the gang was so friendly the invitation was left open. We were also invited to Norbert’s birthday party later in the week and left safe in the knowledge that if we ever found ourselves around Fontainebleau, we always had a place to stay.

You can say what you like about climbers but they are incredibly friendly. Throughout the years, i’ve met endless amounts of such people, some of which are now very close friends and it’s a great group to be associated with. Norbert is just one such example and a brilliant one at that.


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