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Review: Andy Kirkpatrick ‘Off the Wall’

Andy climbing El Cap. Photo: Speakers From The Edge

For those who’re not familiar with Sheffield, the city has a thriving climbing and general ‘outdoors’ culture, thanks largely to its geographical make-up (built on seven hills, located a stone’s throw away from the Peak District). So last week, when I attended ‘Off the Wall’ – a talk by experienced internationally-acclaimed mountaineer and comedian Andy Kirkpatrick, at The University of Sheffield, I expected the climbing fraternity to be out in force. Yes, the weather was arctic, but I couldn’t help thinking the ‘extreme’ conditions were rather apt (I arrived in walking boots, feet buried in two pairs of thick socks).

A quick once-over of the audience revealed a wide cross-section of young and old with a healthy balanced male/female ratio, who clearly hadn’t been deterred by the cold either. Once Andy launched into his show, we were soon hit with great doses of heart-warming humour and gentle semi-confessional observations, as he took us on a journey to try to understand what lies at the bottom of his inherent urge to climb, with the aid of stunning photography revealing some of the many wild places he’s conquered.

I’m not a climber (although I’m a passionate hill-walker) but my lack of knowledge or experience, didn’t affect my enjoyment of the night, as Andy’s well-paced show has a universal appeal – it’s a stand-up show, adventure photo-mentary and motivational talk all rolled into one.

One iconic mountain Andy focuses on is El Capitan, in California’s Yosemite Park. As he tells us he’s climbed El Cap, as it’s often called, 18 times, there’s no hint of alpha male, puffed-up chest posturing. Instead Andy gave us a hilarious anecdote about the merits of using pain au chocolat as a universal, language-busting measuring system, when explaining dimensions to fellow climbers from far-flung corners of the globe.

Andy on the Reticent Wall, El Cap. Photo: Speakers From The Edge

One point in the show really struck an inspirational chord with me, when Andy spoke about the thin line between bravery and zaniness/stupidity, which can equally apply to intrepid mountaineers, as it can in other areas of life. If the crazy, madcap or maverick survive their hare-brained adventure to tell their tale, they’re hailed and remembered as heroes.

Speaking to Rebecca Varley, of Sheffield-based company Speakers From The Edge, who organised ‘Off the Wall’ and also represent the best motivational speakers from the world of adventure, exploration and human endurance, after Andy’s show, she explained how Andy tailors each show to his audience, so Sheffield’s version had a bit more ‘climber speak’ than others in the tour. Maybe I know more about climbing than I thought!

Andy’s obviously a natural climber and fantastic entertainer to (well-trodden) boot. Go see him, if you want to experience a unique night that which takes comedy & motivational speaking to new undiscovered heights.

Andy’s last date of this current tour is on Monday 14 February 2011, at the Buxton Opera House. Click the following link for more information:

Interested in buying an ‘Off the Wall’ DVD? Click the following link:

To find out more about Speakers From The Edge visit:

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You tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine

Coming from a sector of journalism where personal ‘everyday’ stories are given the utmost value, I’m already sold on the idea that sharing one person’s human experience can be powerful, meaningful – and sometimes just plain old heartwarming.

So when I heard how telling real stories was forming the foundation of a unique, innovative project, called Storying Sheffield, in the English department of the University of Sheffield, I was immediately interested and intrigued in the idea behind the scheme.

The project led by Dr Brendan Stone involved undergraduate English students being paired with people from the Sheffield community, who were happy to share some experiences/memories/revelations about the lives they had lived so far to form a multi-media representation of themselves, and the city they called home.

The volunteers who told their story came from groups who tended to be socially-excluded, such as long-term users of mental health services. I had the chance to some of them talk about the profoundly positive effect Storying Sheffield had on their lives, at a one-day showcase of the resulting exhibition last Friday.

As Dr. Stone said in his introduction: ‘Telling stories is healing.’ I couldn’t agree more. These sweet snapshots of lives were told through a mixture of films, audio recordings, written text, food (yes, real food!), pictures, photographs – and even some live performance poetry.

I found this show of normally unheard voices as moving to consume as I’m sure it had been to create. From hearing some of the participants speak, it was a life-changing experience and tapped into a deep instinct we sometimes are in danger of forgetting in our 24-hour, there’s-an-app-for-that culture – for as long as we’ve existed as a species sharing stories with others has been a fundamental need, as essential as the air we breathe and water we drink.

There must be something in the great Sheffield air, as last week I introduced a new social enterprise I’m a voluntary director for called Silent Cities. One of our major aims is to harness creativity and give voices to those in society who are often left silent. It’s good to know we share this spirit with such a ground-breaking project like Storying Sheffield.

Until next week, keep sharing your stories!