Bill Magowan. 1951-2018
Bill was my friend.
I received an introduction back, I think, in 1998, and arranged to go for a week rock climbing in Scotland with this guy I had only just met, who was a presbyterian from north Antrim and who didn’t take a drink. I recall remarking to my late wife Irene that it might be a long week.
In the event, we got on like a house on fire. Like most good friendships, a common interest can bond two individuals of very differing character. Trips to Scotland (again) Cornwall, Lundy Island, Norway, and the French and Swiss Alps followed. There was banter, some of it characteristically abrasive, but never a cross word, and much hilarity.
A climbing partner is a powerful bond, each relying on the other for the judgement and support to survive, in what can be a challenging and hostile environment. The shared physical and spiritual experiences of our adventures has left me with many memories.
Climbing Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis in perfect winter conditions, with Bill leading the Eastern traverse, and me arriving at the belay to be roundly abused for leaving one of his wires in a crack half way across. As it was corroded and rusty, I thought it had been ‘In situ’. I recall saying to him, “Bill you don’t have any old wires”. His reply was typically pithy, “ Well, I don’t have now”.
Getting seriously off route on the Aiguille Dibona, me out on a small exposed ledge and Bill reading me out the guide book instructions, (translated from google) which made no sense, then having to down climb before we found the correct line.
Bill tied to a steel cable on the Mont Aiguille in an electric thunderstorm urging me on, as I tried to slither up a chimney (without touching the cable) leading to the top, that had suddenly become a waterfall.
Never entirely comfortable in a group, Bill was at his best with a friend, two at most, he didn’t need any more, and if you were that friend, he was loyal and giving with whatever he had. A character who put the stamp of his own personality on everything he did, be it his stove pipe hat, or bumble bee climbing outfit. He loved gadgets of all sorts, which came and went, courtesy of Gumtree or Ebay.
I had always assumed that his devout abstinence from alcohol was a lifestyle choice, and even when he told me that he had an addiction in the past, I didn’t really take it seriously.
Sadly, the demon resurfaced, and fed upon the ensuing troubles, creating a downward spiral that Bill fought as best he could, but addiction is a terrible illness, worse because we, who are not affected, do not, or prefer not to, understand.
I don’t think I have ever met a more intelligent human being, a veritable walking encyclopedia, and to get on the wrong side of this intellect, or his razor sharp wit, was not something to be sought. In short, he didn’t tolerate fools gladly, and anyone to promote ideas without some scientific foundation tended to be very sorry they had raised the subject. Religion, having no scientific foundation, obviously did not escape.F
Following his cancer treatment, he never got back to the level of fitness he needed to get back out climbing, but found much reward in part time work as an extra in the movies. Over a pensioners’ lunch in Limavady, he would regale me with stories of The Queen of Dragons, Ned Stark and co.
Bill, I will miss you, am truly glad to have known you, and feel privileged to have called myself your friend.