That's me: Graham Desroy

Posted by Niall Grimes on 04/08/2006
Graham Desroy. Photo: Niall Grimes.

Graham Desroy - known affectionately as “Streaky” - moved from his native Wolverhampton in 1973 to be part of a vibrant Leeds climbing scene. During an almost 30-year stint there he made a distinctive mark on the area, not only through his climbing accomplishments, but also through the production of several timeless guidebooks, and an equally timeless taste in clothing.

His white flares, Hawaiian shirts and red bandanas are still talked about in the fashion circles of Hebden Bridge to this very day. When not uncoordinating his wardrobe he has been heavily involved in climbing competitions, building climbing walls, hardwear and softwear design, and many other aspects of the business of climbing. He now resides in Llanberis, works part time for DMM, and is a part owner of Ground Up, a locally based guidebook producing outfit. He has two children: Liam, 19, and Naomi, 21. He also enjoys canoeing, mountain biking, snowboarding, surfing and meeting young people.

When I eventually started to climb well at the old Leeds University Wall, people just said it was because I was tall. “You’re just a big streak of bacon,” they said, and it stuck. So when I went to the UIAA General Assembly as Dennis Gray’s driver, he introduced me to the President of the Italian and Swiss Alpine Associations as Streaky Bacon, one of the top ten thousand climbers in Yorkshire.

I guess I’m famous as the person who wears white flares. We used to get our white polyester cotton trousers from Alexander Workwear in Leeds. They were hardwearing and stuck to the grit. We would wear them all the time. Then when I worked at Troll, I designed a pair of white climbing trousers, and had them make me a special personal limited run of flared versions.

I told my son Liam I was going to do Jerry’s Roof on my 50th birthday, and I did. I was hungover too. The day before we had a chilli vodka and wrestling competition. Then next day we went to the problem, a V9 in the Llanberis Pass, and I fluked it. I was over the moon, and to cap it all, he couldn’t do it.

I don’t know what I did right, but my kids seem to like me. Liam will phone me up and see if I want to go to Europe with him, bouldering, and in October I’m off to the Himalaya with my daughter Naomi.

A guidebook writes itself if the time is right. I started compiling them in my time in Leeds. I produced New Grit to update the old Yorkshire Grit guide, then did Lime Crimes along with Pete Livesey. Then the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club phoned me up and said: “look, we’re hacked off with you doing your own guides, so you can do the next limestone guide for us”. I worked with a great bunch of people, and it was the perfect time to do a limestone guide. But it was a lot of work, and I swore I’d never, ever do another.

I’m working on the North Wales Select guide with Simon Panton and his Ground Up crew. I like his attitude, and he’s had me out in North Wales all summer, doing everything from V Diff’s on Tryfan to E5’s on Gogarth. It’s been great. I live in North Wales and I love it. The scene’s amazing and there’s so much to do. Every Wednesday night every climber in Llanberis goes to the Gallt-y-Glyn for Pizza and a Pint. There’s old people, young people, boulderers, trad climbers, people of all abilities. It makes me feel that the British climbing scene is a very healthy thing indeed.

Yesterday I was stood on a tabletop with Fred Hall swinging between my legs. Fred is DMM’s metal guru, he designs the hardwear. While I locked off a new belay device that he had designed, Fred swung about on a short length of rope talking about football. It’s called product testing.

Some people always think the end is nigh. Bolts, bouldering, competitions, they’re all going to kill it. But if you’ve been climbing as long as I have, then you’ll see that there’s always something new coming along. If there weren’t, then the sport would die. I’ve enjoyed all these things, and many more besides.

It’s natural to want to put something back in the sport. Apart from guidebooks, I was the British Climbing Team Competition Manager for five years, was on the Competitions Committee, and served on the ICC (which sets the rules for competitions). I worked out one year that I’d spent 27 weekends in meetings. When you want to throttle the person speaking in a committee meeting, then it’s time to get out.

I now work in communications. In DMM there are two sides. The engineering side, which I call The Dark Half, and the sales side, which I call Fantasy Island. They exist only 200 metres apart, but it’s like they’re on different planets. I try to get them to communicate with each other. It’s not easy.

Sometimes it’s best to let other people make your decisions. I love Wales, but because of work and wanting to see my kids, I was going to move back to Leeds. Then they sat me down and pointed out that all my friends were in Wales and that my kids saw me all the time anyway. They told me to sell my house in Leeds, buy one in Wales, give them what was left of the money and sod off. They were right.



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