Friday, 19 October 2012

Ecce Homo (erectus)


When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Well that may be true for some rare breed of people, but when I am under pressure, I tend to adopt an inane smile and hum little songs to myself.

There are two famous explorers who live in my vicinity, and I have met both of them. Of course, being an explorer in today's small world means that there are so few places which do not have human footprints all over them, and now that the indigenous inhabitants of thousands of years standing (homo erectus,  calm down, John) have finally been granted the status of 'human', explorers now usually have to be referred to as 'adventurers'.

Being an 'adventurer' simply involves deliberately placing yourself into an uncomfortable or life-threatening situation, as far as I can tell - something I only ever seem to do as an unfortunate or necessary consequence of the fulfilment of a different, primary ambition: crossing the road or making a grab at someone else's wife, for instance.

And yet there are people out there who go even further out by walking across the polar regions in temperatures of -60, hanging off ledges of rock in the mountains of the Himalayas, sailing across a stormy ocean in a pedalo, etc. etc.

It is not as if these people are actually stupid. Something else seems to drive them into stupid situations.  They were talking about the eventful life of Patrick Leigh-Fermor the other day - he who started out his adult life by walking out of a pub in London, and not stopping until he reached Constantinople. He then went on to capture a German general on the occupied island of Crete, at the same time as writing poetry and speaking in at least 7 languages. Evidently, he also had the gift of making everyone and anyone who was in his company feel as though they were as special as him - that takes real skill.

I started out my adult life by walking into a pub, and I have hardly ever left it, or left the people in it feeling very special either.

A friend lent me a copy of 'Touching the Void' a couple of years ago, and I managed to get as far as when the bloke falls into the crevasse, then I put it down, never to pick it up again. As much as I like armchair exploring, that book is just too damn uncomfortable to read. There isn't even any 'stiff upper-lip' stuff going on in it, what with his partner going off and leaving him for dead and all.

I had a dream last night - the first night of unbroken sleep I have had for quite a while. In it, I decided that I was going to run to some destination a few miles away - because I could.

The run involved massively steep steps, hills and vales - mountains, even - and although I was breathing reasonably heavily, the run was almost effortless. I was overtaking everyone else, and I felt as though I could have run all night.

In reality, I have never been able to run very far or very fast - even when I was young and at my fittest. These days, my feet are even flatter than they were as a child, my knees are swollen and my legs are even skinnier than they were when I was 18 or so, and there is very little likelihood of them getting any stouter for any reason other than gout.

I still retain enough upper-body strength to work though, and - never being able to run away - this has also stood me in good stead when confronting irate husbands whose wives I have made a grab at, as mentioned above. They never knew I was only standing there because I couldn't run, did they?

I think that all sportspeople, explorers or adventurers are simply endorphin or adrenalin-junkies. We all get off on something, and I find obsessive runners of either sex just as repulsive as any other junkies. At least real junkies don't develop an overblown sense of superiority.

28 comments:

  1. Nowadays anybody can be dropped off almost anywhere by helicopter, so the adventurous 'getting there' part is almost redundant. Should we presume that bravado has taken over?

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  2. I have to say I struggle to understand why Sir Ranulph Fiennes wants to spend months crossing the Antarctic next year. What is the appeal? Is he going to discover the south pole? (I recently discovered my great grandmother was born at the North Pole. Apparently it's a pub in Fulham...)

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    1. It's because he failed on the last attempt. They are bad losers. North Pole pub? Great name, good excuse.

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  3. Even HM Queen has been dropped into the Olympic Stadium by helicopter, hasn't she???
    Incidentally - the farmer and I went to see Touching the Void (the film) and the only seats left were on the front row. Believe me, that was much too close to the action for comfort. The cold sweats almost froze on my forehead.

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    1. I renamed the book, 'Touching the Cloth'.

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  4. There is an adequate amount to do without poking around for extra ordinary things to do simply because one can.

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    1. I agree with you now, Joanne, but I might not have in my youth.

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  5. One of Himself's relations was none other than Sir Ernest Shackleton, and i thought it'd be interesting to retrace his steps minus having to get stuck in the ice and leave crew behind to winter over in Antarctica.

    I did have one trip where i walked places that few if any human had ever trod. The experience was amazing and indescribable.

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    1. I am deeply impressed! You were not even directly related!

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  6. It takes all sorts I guess but I'm not one of them !!
    .............. my husbands Great, Great ( not sure how many Greats) uncle was the carpenter on HMS Resolute....one of the ships sent to find Sir John Franklin who was lost up the Northwest Passage ( Oooo eeerrrr !!) in the Arctic, although I don't think that my husband follows in his footsteps. He has never even wanted to go skiing !

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    1. You all have such illustrious relations. I am amazed that Cro didn't mention his great x whatever discovering Australia.

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    2. He who should never be named!!

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  7. I always want to be one of those types...and even try on occasion...but then walking dead or some other blissful show apears on my flat screen and I become fast friends with my arm chair once again :)

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    1. I understand, Monkeyman. I really do. You are excused exploration lessons - again.

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    2. why thank you, kind sir :)

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  8. apologies for banging on about spinal injuries but some literature points out that some people that take huge chances in life ( extreme sports and the like) ay exhibit some para suicidal ideas....

    just a thought!

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    1. You may have a very good point, John. I have always been into self-preservation, which could also explain my armchair exploration, though it doesn't explain my fondness for cigarettes, alcohol and other men's girlfriends.

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  9. I would call the latter an "extreme sport"

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  10. Not extreme enough these days, sorry to say.

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    1. You are naughty ......but I like you !..... a la Dick Emery. X

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    2. A la just plain dick, maybe. Have a great time in Rome!

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  11. Your description of your dream would suggest a great weight having been lifted from your shoulders. I hope so.

    Or is it just that the barmaid's husband has been given the slip. Again.

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  12. I met sir Ranulph Twisleton Wykeham Fiennes some years ago when he mislaid his briefcase. It involved chocolate and Faberge style golden eggs. I've never been able to reconcile this meeting with his personsa as an Arctic explorer.

    Your blog post reminded me of the recently published scary ghost story Dark Matter, set in the Arctic. Echoes of the stories of Mr EM's strange relative Edgar.



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    1. Yes I heard about 'Dark Matter' - a film shot entirely using the ordinary crew of the station as actors. I want to see it.

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  13. There's a new biog of Patrick Leigh-Fermor just published, by Artemis Cooper. Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Yes - it was Artemis Cooper who said how he made everyone in his presence feel special.

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