In a previous post, I named Al Alvarez’s fantastic book ‘Feeding The Rat’ as being in my top five pieces of mountain literature. It’s a smashing little book by a great writer, about the climber Mo Anthoine, and in the last chapter he expands on the concept of ‘feeding the rat’, using Anthoine’s own words. For me it sums up perfectly why I challenge myself to do some of the things I do and, as Mo says, do a bit of suffering. The final line is a perfect summary of my philsophy and, I suspect, that of so many others out there.
“but every year you need to flush out your system and do a bit of suffering. it does you a power of good. i think it’s because there is always a question mark about how you would perform. you have an idea of yourself and it can be quite a shock when you don’t come up to your own expectations. if you just tootle along you can think you’re a pretty slick bloke until things go wrong and you find you’re nothing like what you imagined yourself to be. but if you deliberately put yourself in difficult situations, then you get a pretty good idea of how you are going. that’s why i like feeding the rat. it’s a sort of annual check-up on myself. the rat is you, really. it’s the other you, and it’s being fed by the you you think you are. and they are often very different people. but when they come close to each other, that’s smashing, that is. then the rat’s had a good meal and you come away feeling terrific. it’s a fairly rare thing, but you have to keep feeding the brute for your own peace of mind. and even if you did blow it, at least there wouldn’t be that great unknown. but to snuff it without knowing who you are and what you are capable of, i can’t think of anything sadder than that.”