Dave Ison. The Ison Factor. I think I first heard the nickname before I met the man himself. And as such I made the mistake of thinking it was only a nickname. I was wrong. The Ison Factor wasn’t just a name; it was an attempt to define who he was, what he brought with him, his utterly unique affect upon us all. It was a quirk of some sociological mathematic theory; take any social equation, apply The Ison Factor, and you could expect very different results.
I first met Dave at Bangor in 1994. Keen to experience all the great climbing North Wales had to offer I joined the legendary Bangor University Mountaineering Society – BUMS of which Dave was already an infamous member. Right from the off it was obvious that this guy who lived in the foothills of the Carneddau mountains was an inimitable character. Being a few years older and therefore assumedly more responsible, Dave was one of the few permitted to drive the University minibuses. I distinctly recall often arriving at our chosen climbing venues feeling that I’d expended my quota of adrenaline for the day thanks to these drives…
His choice of climbs too were not your run-of-the-mill popular classics, he preferred the esoteric, old fashioned struggle-style routes. Poor protection, loose rock and heady exposure were what got his eyes twinkling. And if the routes themselves didn’t deliver the excitement, he had been known to inadvertently up the ante; he once fought and wobbled his way to the top of a notoriously difficult Tremadog climb only to discover he’d not put his harness on properly!
This slapdash, messy approach was something of a theme in Dave’s life, often to the frustrations of his house mates, but I think he just knew what really mattered and what didn’t.
He graduated University and stuck around in North Wales for a bit continuing to climb and party as keenly as ever. But ultimately the lack of local jobs options forced him to look further afield. He did have a brief spell as a pensions salesman, but was probably too honest and, having exhausted his social circle, he’d run out of clients… He moved around the UK after this, linking Telford to Norwich and finally ending up working as a software developer in Glasgow.
It was while living in Scotland and attending a BUMS reunion that friends noticed something amiss. Dave was persuaded to see his doctor and there followed the diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour. He quit work and moved back to Telford, seamlessly slotting into the group of close friends he’d been part of nearly ten years previously.
Though I knew Dave pretty well through the BUMS years, it was in the time after his diagnosis that I got to know him profoundly. I took to visiting him weekly while I was between night shifts in Shrewsbury and it wasn’t long before simple coffee sessions evolved into much more adventurous endeavours.
The first theme for our adventures were the quarry hunts. Inspired by a failed attempt by Dave to recall the location of an old sandstone pit he’d climbing in as a youth we googled “disused quarries – Shropshire”. The resultant list was over twelve hundred long! My reaction to this was to think we were looking for a needle in a Haystack; Dave’s was to see twelve hundred as a challenge.
Thus was born his obsession with visiting, photographing and logging every quarry that this county had to offer. Indeed anyone who’s ever taken a car journey with Dave in recent years will, I’m sure, have heard the words: “Quarry over there”. Dave truly loved this new game, he once told me: “Some people spot birds. Some people bag Munros. I hunt quarries”. It didn’t always go smoothly though, it was in the majority of cases essentially a targeted trespass. And given that our protagonist could neither explain what he was doing there nor beat a hasty retreat, it could lead to trouble…
Obviously a hard morning’s quarry hunting could give one quite a hunger and so we visited an inordinate number of pubs and cafes throughout the county, and enjoyed arguing over which were the best long after the food had been digested. For the record, Dave’s final favourite was The Queens at Horton, a title it clinched due to it having, according to him, “the coolest urinals I’ve ever seen”.
Another of his obsessive projects was the Lilleshall Monument Calendar. Originally his weekly trips to photograph the monument were posted on Facebook; a typically pragmatic way to, quote, “show everyone I was still alive” but a friend at the Severn Hospice suggested he create a calendar of the images. Dave not only did this but also built a website on which to sell them and a charity for the funds to go into, finally presenting a jumbo cheque to the Hospice at a characteristically disorganised fish and chip supper at the Church in Muxton. The calendar project inspired many people, the Shropshire Star and other local papers ran several stories on his efforts and I’m still not sure if the newspaper photographer who accompanied Dave to the monument to take pictures for the story, quite believed that this guy really did cycle and walk up to the monument every week.
Cycling was freedom for Dave. Back on his familiar two wheels he shed the balance and coordination issues he had whilst walking and could cover many miles in a day. He’d regularly complete round trips of over ninety miles whilst quarry hunting, going swimming or simply catching up with friends.
Over six years into his five year maximum life expectancy, his condition did start to rapidly worsen. His pride, determination and stubbornness meant he resisted moving into care for as long as, if not longer than, was humanly possible.
I’m sure that everyone who visited him in the Severn Hospice was as apprehensive as I was the first time, on how this loss of independence would make him feel. We needn’t have worried. Dave was still very much Dave, making the nurses laugh, staying upbeat and positive in spite of it all. Every time I left the Hospice I did so with seemingly incompatible emotions; I felt deeply sad about Dave’s situation but would be giggling happily about what a laugh we’d just had…. The Ison Factor.
So perhaps The Ison Factor will remain undefined and undefinable. It has some obvious components: strength, determination, pride, kindness, bravery, messiness, generosity and humour to name but a few. I think it’s probably gonna be one of those things we’ll all notice more, now that it’s gone.
We’ll miss you Dave x