Friday, October 04, 2002


When you’re a student, only one thing matters in life. Drink. Lots of it, and prefarably as cheap as possible. So it was a throwaway remark by Clive that started it all off.

“Do you know how cheap beer is in Wales?”

We didn’t. He told us. We decided to go to Wales on holiday.

The whole affair was planned like a military operation. We were to take the train to Merthyr, and walk through Wales, climbing over three of the biggest mountains we could find. It would be a healthy two weeks of hiking and camping, set off with the desire to get rip-roaringly drunk whenever the opportunity presented. We bought piles of military-style dehydrated meals, and meticulously planned our route down to the last footstep. It was going to be hard work, but fun. You heard me: FUN!

It was late July when the six of us took off. Two hippies Steve and Martin, two slobs myself and Clive, and the brothers Pat and John. It was a blazing hot day when we finally got to Merthyr in the late morning, real T-shirt weather. It was just a shame we’d dressed for a crossing of the Antarctic. Our packs were so heavy with food, clothes and tents you’d have thought we’d have packed anvils. Then there was the small matter of the route march to the youth hostel near Brecon, about fifteen miles away. After about thirty minutes, we had reached the cemetary on the outskirts of Merthyr, half dead with exhaustion, we were more than willing to join the inhabitants.

Words cannot express the hell of that day. But I’ll give it a damn good try with “Bloody fucking awful”. We arrived about seven hours later, having taken a pointless “short cut” that had got us hopelessly lost 400 yards from our goal, sweating like pigs and about ten pounds lighter.

You think THAT was bad. You should have seen dinner. It came out of a vacuum sealed bag marked “risotto, just add water”. We did. We got cement. Cement that would block up your arsehole for weeks to come. We had bags and bags of the stuff too. They looked like torn up cardboard and became known as “Ratpacks”, on the assumption that only a rat would eat them. Or worse still, that was what they were made out of.

Dinner is served

The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and hopped around on blistered feet. We had a mountain to climb. The idea was that we’d climb Pen y Fan, go over the top and arrive in Brecon in the late afternoon, happy wanderers singing the joys of summer. Bollocks to that. Up the mountain with minimal gear and back down again, and stuff the those plans we’d spent weeks putting together.

With the sun still pelting down, it was a hard old slog up the mountain, I can tell you for nothing. And what did we do when we got there? Admire the view? Slap each other’s backs on a job well done? Nope. We threw stones down the side to see how far they’d roll. I had the find of the day - a large round boulder, about the size of a basketball and weighing about fifty pounds.

“Hey guys! Look at this!” I shouted, heaving my find over the edge. I fully expected it to fall about twenty yards and stop. Instead, it shot down the mountainside like shit from a goose gaining momentum as it went. About 1,000 feet below us there was a squad of soldiers on a mountain route march. Like a silent movie, we watched in horror as one of them pointed up the mountain at the guided missile approaching, and they scattered in all directions, quite literally for their lives. We hid.

For a full five minutes, the boulder of doom thundered on. At one stage it ripped through a flock of sheep, miraculously missing every one of the panicking beasts. Then it chased a horse for a full hundred yards before slamming into a dry stone wall, sending shards of shattered rock in all directions.

I was in fits of laughter. The lads weren’t. Steve the hippie, despite thinking the law was Babylon itself, was all in favour of handing me in to the police if I’d had killed anyone, and continuing the holiday without me. The others were in full agreement, and Pat and John already had me in an armlock, just in case I tried to make a break for it. Cheers, guys.

“You TWAT!” was the politest comment that the usually laid back Martin offered, though he was finally beginning to laugh by then. Back at the hostel, I was put on ratpack duty. For ever.

Clicky for part II of this epic tale of mirth and woe.

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