Mum was (we’re going back a bit here) keen for me to read Swift comic and, when old enough, Eagle. We were that kind of family, aspirational. I suppose we still are. Not for us as youngsters the simple delights of the Beano or Dandy. That came later in my post- ironic phase (roughly from university onwards…)
Anyway, while most Eagle readers of my generation may fondly recall Dan Dare and the Mekon, Storm Nelson or the tales of Scottish detective Harris Tweed, my strongest memory is of a one -off account of the “lost” Everest expedition of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine
I was old enough to know about the great 1953 “conquest of Everest” by Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tensing Norgay – it was a very big news item! But I was gripped by the idea that a much earlier (1924 to be precise) expedition might have reached the ultimate goal, but that the fate of the “summit” pair was unknown, including the (possibly important) question of whether Mallory and Irvine actually made it to the top and came a cropper on the way down or perished while still heading upwards. I say “possibly” important as some would no doubt feel that getting back alive formed an essential element of the project.
Andrew Irvine, back row left, and George Mallory, back row, next to Irvine
The story has continued to run intermittently ever since with carefully argued theories supporting both “yes, they probably made it” or “no, afraid not”. What isn’t disputed is that they didn’t make it back down, either live or dead, and neither the immediate search and rescue attempt nor the years that followed threw up any firm evidence one way or another. No pocket camera with a selfie pic of the two of them smiling at the summit, no T-shirt proclaiming “We summited in the Himalayas”.
Mallory was the best known and most accomplished climber of his generation. He it was who, when asked by an American journalist why he wanted to climb Everest, famously replied “Because it is there.” Close friends apparently insisted that the response was meant to be off-putting from a man weary of answering questions that he found irrelevant and repetitive. Whatever, those few words seem to have taken on a life of their own…
While we are unlikely ever to discover just what befell the two climbers in 1924, what is certain is that nobody climbed as high again for another quarter of a century as the (well in excess of) 28,000 feet that they were observed to have reached by others in the expedition before they disappeared into the mists and into history. Indeed, none of the fourteen Himalayan peaks over 8,000 metres (26, 240 feet) would be climbed until the 1950 French ascent of Annapurna. Whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the very summit of Everest, they deserve to be remembered for their achievements as well as the manner of their passing. And this with 1924 equipment and while wearing hobnail boots, cotton wind suits and as many other layers as they could comfortably wear under their tweed jackets.
My longstanding interest in the near-mythical “did they, didn’t they”” and “how did they die?” of the ill-fated 1924 Everest expedition was piqued a few years go by the publicity afforded to the “1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition” led by my near namesake and accomplished American climber Conrad Anker. Although they had a number of possible secondary objectives in mind (and Anker reached the summit for the first time), the clear purpose of the expedition was to follow up on previous rumours and suggestions emanating over the years that a corpse from the relevant period just might have been spotted in the “right area” if one were seeking the last resting place of George Mallory or Andrew Irvine and whatever clues that may furnish to their demise.
If, like me, you watched the TV documentary about the expedition or picked it up as a news item (I recall it was treated at the time as quite a big thing and not confined to the Nerd channels), you may be aware that they succeeded in finding the mortal remains of the great George Mallory, paid their appropriate respects, very carefully examined and in some cases removed small artefacts and, in accordance with usual practice, left him up there.
An excellent account of both the 1924 expedition and the 1999 Conor Anker 1999 one exists in the form of Anker’s book “The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mount Everest” which I’ve recently finished and, for anyone out there with a gleam of interest in the story, can thoroughly recommend.
Spoiler alert: no sign yet of Andrew Irvine!
Changing subject, some of you are aware that I’m receiving radiotherapy treatment. I was warned at the outset that there might be side effects but they would be hard to predict. The rather comprehensive list of ‘possibles’ included ‘character change”, which sounded fun.
Does this suggest that I might no longer fancy my Friday night Indian takeaways? Not retain my recall of such essential nuggets of information as old Football League grounds, capital cities and the latest names of emerging nations, effectively b*gg*ring our decent record in pub or cruise quizzes?
What if I suddenly presented, heaven forfend, as ‘opinionated’? A passionate Trump supporter? Someone who found they could actually identify a fragment of point to Brexit? Please, if this last, feel free to shoot me…
Another side effect of the overall treatment package seems to be an unavoidable rise in blood sugar levels, which is, I can see a ‘bad thing’. Happily, if I now indulge in my lifelong tendency to binge on chocolate or sweeties, Mrs Blog is swiftly on hand to sacrifice herself on my behalf and eat them before I can reach them.
I owe her so much.
The precision of the radiotherapy bombardment (you’d worry if it was otherwise) requires a very tightly made to measure mask, such that, on emerging to rejoin the outside world, you might on some days bear for a while an intriguing lattice across the cheeks, prompting the greeting, ‘Hi Waffle Face!’ But I guess I’ve been called worse things in my time…
It seems to be a mixed summer weatherwise but Mrs Blog and I certainly enjoyed some splendid bluebells earlier this year…
Mrs B taking a morning stroll through our small but invaluable patch of woodland…
…and now a wonderful display of water lilies at Sheffield Park.
On our most recent visit there we watched a striking family of Egyptian Geese and wondered if, as descendants of earlier exotic imports, they might be categorised as illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, or indeed victims of trafficking, and therefore how should they be treated. Perhaps I currently have too much time on my hands.
Mrs Blog has been hard at work over the last few weeks single-handedly renovating our shamefully neglected garden and pond using just a fork, spade and bucket as relaxation when she’s finished work for the day. While I focus on the household’s priorities like our response to emerging news items and the continuing shame of just about everything our government says and does, Mrs Blog concentrates on the digging, planting and maintenance. From my position on the patio I am able to contribute advice, for which she is of course most grateful.
Not quite the way she wants it yet but a work in progress, and a credit to her…
One of this Blog’s most passionate foci is its devotion to Liverpool Football Club, so it will be no surprise if I mention in passing that the outcome of the recent final of a major European tournament was ‘a tad disappointing’. That said, is it wide of the mark to suggest that the whole adventure of reaching the final appears to be making a sustainable contribution to a growing city pride and ‘community regeneration’?
The same thought arose in connection with the success a few weeks earlier of Birkenhead’s own Tranmere Rovers, many Merseysiders’ (including me) ‘second team’ in the play-off final at Wembley which secured their return to the grown-up Football League from the depths of the Fox’s Biscuit Conference or the Dave’s Scrapyard League or whatever its current nomenclature. I may (may??) have been a rarity in having watched the whole game live on TV, but the passion on display amongst the 10,000 or so Rovers fans present and the clear, unlimited joy and relief visible at the final whistle, suggested that the result might mean more to Tranmere than to their undoubtedly impressive opponents on the day, Boreham Wood, from Hertfordshire’s sylvan acres. But who knows?
Followers of this blog will also be aware of its enthusiasm and support for the incredible effort and achievement in the last century of the suffragettes, suffragists and others devoted to securing Votes for Women and other progressive measures. It was therefore what I understand we are obliged to call nowadays a ‘no-brainer’ that Mrs Blog and I would attend a recent appearance at the Charleston Literary Festival, just a few miles along the road, by Helen Pankhurst (great granddaughter of Emmeline, granddaughter of Sylvia, and a most helpful contributor to my own recent book)
Helen P signing my copy of her recent book Words Not Deeds: The Story of Women’s Rights Then and Now at Charleston provided me with the opportunity to deliver personally a copy of my own new book for which Helen had kindly provided very supportive words for the front cover by way of endorsement
The presentation at the festival was a ‘two-hander’ by Helen and Jane Robinson, writer inter alia of Hearts and Minds – “The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote” – which I have just finished reading.
The focus of this ‘hot off the press’ tome is the somewhat neglected six-week protest march undertaken in 1913 by thousands of non-militant supporters of votes for women, known as the Great Pilgrimage. Converging from places as scattered as Newcastle and Carlisle in the north, Cromer and Yarmouth in the east, Bangor in Wales, and Land’s End, Portsmouth, Brighton and Margate in the south, 50,000 ‘rallied’ in Hyde Park.
Jane Robinson also authored “Bluestockings: the remarkable story of the first women to fight for an education”, which, comprising elements both horrifying and risible, led to a brilliant play at Shakespeare’s Globe a couple of years back.
… and ‘A Force to be Reckoned With: a History of the Women’s Institute’ – which, again, I can wholeheartedly recommend.
My own recent endeavours in authorship – “Northern Soles: a Coast to Coast Walk” – have, I am pleased and grateful to say, been boosted recently by some very positive reviews on Amazon and in relevant periodicals, and a supportive “twitter push” by my own favourite travel writer, Tim Moore (Spanish Steps, The Cyclist who Went Out in the Cold, French Revolutions…)
Please feel free to see whether you agree!
Cheers and best wishes!