'Odd One Out'

Dinorwic Quarry, Llanberis
Dinorwic Quarry, Llanberis

“Disbarred!” shouted Innis with his high pitched giggle, pointing and laughing.  It was our group’s latest in joke but when Innis said it, all it did was point up that he was still the outsider.  We had all, Innis included, just passed our Law exams and so, especially over drinks, if someone told a feeble joke, made a factual mistake about something, or voiced a deliberately controversial opinion (because we were all busy about being flamboyantly different) somebody else would, with a dandyish flourish, cry:

“Disbarred!” to great hilarity, since we all found ourselves highly amusing.

Innis was short and already stoutening, his naturally powder pink cheeks now rouge red from heat and ale.  Tonight, in addition, he wore a blazingly scarlet waistcoat. 

“Christ, Innis!  You look like the Master of Hounds!” was how he had been greeted when he had arrived, proud in it.

Innis, despite being from Scottish money and a private school far more high faluting than any of ours, was always receiving taunts suggesting that he was of a lesser class.  There was no doubting he would have been bullied at school.  He had a seeming elasticity of temperament and lack of insight, however, which enabled him to withstand it.  Nobody had ever been able to shake Innis off, and so Innis had seen himself as an integral part of our group for the last several years.  Although nobody ever invited him, Innis always turned up.

We had an unofficial club down at a small, out of the way local we went to and because we had been free spending regulars from the University, the landlord turned an indulgently deaf ear when we got rowdy like this.  We regarded ourselves as exclusive, of course but the truth was that the rest of the customers simply didn’t bother with us.  They had real lives to live with one another and our youthful posturing was quite irrelevant to them.

This one was a pre-youth hostel and hill walking gathering.  Nobody had told Innis that we were going to Snowdonia but, of course, he knew anyway and asked what time we were setting off.

“I’ve got my any day travel rail tickets,” he said, brandishing them.

It was, after all, just post exams and a time of relaxed celebration, so although there were a couple of suppressed groans through which Innis grinned indefatigably, we told him.  This image of him amongst us, impudent as a robin in his red waistcoat and with his roundly solid dark eyes about which there was something impenetrable, bright upon us, caught in my mind that night.

In Snowdonia, we found ourselves in a place of slate quarries, the mountainsides littered with grey shards and the exposed slate rock faces reflected grimly in the grey waters below.  There was no prettiness in the surroundings and the frequent rain gave them a forbiddingly barren grandeur.  The clouds hanging over the mountains were as grey as the slate, and the rain from them as grey as the reflected grey water it poured into.  The quarry pools were so clear and sheer that there was no telling how deep they were.  

There was history here, of interest to us, and we found climbing up the tracks where the quarrymen had gone and following the narrow gauge lines they had trundled their filled trucks up and down, fascinating.  We talked about the dangers they had faced from blasting and injury, how unprotected they were.  A few of us had idealistic hopes of representing good causes in the future.

We had gone up a long way and came out where there were wide views across the dark peaks.  As a group, we felt pretty sure of our way, that it would be easy to follow the tracks back down as we found the clouds falling down all around us in a chilling fog.  In fact, like many walkers, we were unprepared.  The trackline we were following ran out and it was raining hard.

“This isn’t right!” shouted Des eventually.  “Where the bloody hell are we?”

“Wait a minute, are we all here?”.

“Stay together!”

“Where’s Innis?”

We all began calling out together.  Innis had, I was sure, been bouncing along ahead of us only minutes before, eagerly leading us on by the track and bubbling with enthusiasm.  None of us could see him now.

“Innis!  Innis!”  I shouted.

“We need to go back, we’re near some kind of edge!” Des called out to us.

Thoughts of those sheer sided quarry waters, invisible to us but all around, sent a chill through all of us, I think.

“Where is he?”

“Damn bloody Innis!  He should never have been here in the first place!”

Des, as we all called Dennis, was our natural pack leader, the easy and assured one who was tall and good looking, an eloquent speaker always talked of as having a great future ahead of him.  His natural graces had for the present deserted him but he was only saying what we all thought.

“Wouldn’t he have cried out if he’d fallen?”

“Perhaps he just got too far ahead of us?”


The air was too damp for echoes.  We felt our way back carefully along the narrow gauge track, coming out at a scree, the broken slate flakes loose underfoot.  We had emerged by another old spoil heap, unstable for navigating in poor visibility.  Our woollen jumpers were becoming clogged and damp under our waterproofs, the jackets soaked through.  Boots and socks were saturated dead weights on numb feet.  We could hear water running nearby.  If we were near waterfalls, then we were truly lost, for we had passed none on the way up.

We struggled around, with slips and falls, near misses at steep edges, doggedly moving but realising, belatedly, that we were moving up again and not down.  The rain eventually stopped and a dreary wind finally blew off the cloud, leaving the sky a flat, grey plain above us.  About us was desolate isolation from crag to crag.  We were completely lost but could at least begin to navigate down.  We wouldn’t even know where to begin to direct potential rescuers to find Innis.  

Hours seemed to pass and several did.  By now, one of our party was being supported with a twisted foot.  Des had cuts on his face where he had been grazed by rocks when he had stumbled over himself.

Finally, we emerged at the gate of some kind of smallholding, where on guard sheepdogs snarled and barked the farmer out of doors and to our aid.  We were returned in the back of a muddy land rover - jaded, bruised, sullen and soaked but at least safe - to the youth hostel.  Its minimal cheer was as welcome as Nirvana and we stumbled in, ready to raise the alarm for Innis.  

There was a small, communal area, where a fire was lit in the hearth, and there, to our astonishment, quite safe and dry, sat Innis at his ease.  He pointed at us, in our dishevelled state and crowed,

“Disbarred!”, that hard, round eye of his as bright as ever.

“Innis!” we all cried.  “Where did you go?”

“I told you to follow me,” he said.  “But none of you ever listen to me, do you?”  

None of us recalled him telling us anything but he was quite right, none of us ever did listen to Innis. 

“I grew up walking Ben Nevis,” he said.  “So navigating this was nothing to me.  Disbarred!” he cried again in his odd way, pointing around at each of us in turn.

I wondered if I were the only one thinking that he had left us up there deliberately to take our chances and, not only that, but that he would have been quite indifferent to our fate.  I remembered that, of all of us newly qualified and idealistic lawyers to be, Innis was the only one who claimed to believe in capital punishment and even went so far as to state that if it had still been possible, his ambition would be to end up as a hanging judge.  It was, of course, partly to sound outrageous, but still, we found it a strange and unpleasant thing.  

Innis wore his red waistcoat again, and again I thought of the robin, in reality an aggressively territorial bird, albeit bold and inquisitive,  We had excluded Innis and left him out.  Today, he had almost successfully aimed at excluding us, permanently.  Or, had he?

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