The first adventure that I organised myself (well, actually, with my friend Lee, who you can see in this picture studying the European train timetable) was an interailing trip around Europ.
I knew that we would be spending a lot of time sat on a train, so choice of “anti-boredom” equipment was essential. I decided on a cassette walkman and 5 tapes, and a good book (I reasoned, that no matter what happens, a book can’t break, it’s battery’s can’t run out etc).
The question of course, was which book to take. I had seen an interview with Ranulph Fiennes. It made some kind of sense to me, that while going on an adventure, you could read about one of lifes great adventurers and his adventures.
So I bought, living dangerously, the autobiography of Ranulph Feinnes, listed in the Guinness book of records as the worlds greatest living adventurer.
It was a fascinating book, he talked about his life, the love of his then wife Ginny, time in the Army, exploring, facing danger and most of all, the inner ability to push yourself and not quit when things get tough.
Basically, loads of useful things, that would help me in later life, in all kinds of ways (some of them, years later, I didn’t actually realise I got from the book, which I’ll explain later).
Twenty years later, Sir Ranulph Fiennes comes to Chester, to give a talk. How could I miss it. A few days in advance, I spoke of my excitement, to colleagues at work. “What do you think is his best film” was a frequent comment.
For clarity, Ranulp Fiennes is the 3rd cousin of Ralph Fiennes, the actor from English patient and others.
I had expected a pretty informal quiet affair. Most people these days want to hear over-the-hill London gangsters or x big brother house mates speak, surely only a handful of people would turn up to listen to a real legend.
Wrong about that. 2000 people, fully booked, and more than 100 outside, hoping for a seat in the event of no shows (of which there were very few).
As he walked onto the stage, I was struck by how fit and healthy he looked, for a man of nearly 70. He spoke with charm and confidence, but at all times modest.
For the first hour, he spoke about his expeditions and adventures, and then for about half an hour about his family history. I wasn’t really interested in the family part, and I don’t believe in high birth anyway, but here, in no particular order, are the things that were said/happened in the first hour.
He was stationed with the Sultans army in Oman. The army had 1 boat and 2 aeroplanes, to fight against the Russian trained and equipped Marxist insurgents. They used 6 land rovers, to patrol a 2000 mile border. He explained that if the land rover drove over an anti tank mine, it would be blown more than 100 metres.
While stationed there he went looking for the lost city of Ubar. He made several trips out to find it, but didn’t succeed. At some point, a NASA satellite, scanned the area, and found a spot that formed a perfect right angle. Since they dont occur normally in nature, it was presumed that this was the lost city.
Ran managed to get hold of the grid reference and lead an expedition there. It wasn’t the city, and just to show how strange real life, is, was a naturally occurring right angle in nature !.
His wife Ginny died a few years ago. He spoke often about here in his book, and her contribution to his expeditions. Ginny’s father was critical of Ran. When the proposition of marriage was put to him, he cautioned her: this fellow is Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know. A phrase that Ran would later use to name one of his books.
During questions at the end, he was asked what his greatest achievement had been. He said simply it was being married to someone so special for 36 years.
Even though he has climbed Everest (the oldest UK person to do it) and the Eiger, he has vertigo and literally can’t look down at any point while mountaineering.
During an early trip across the Arctic, we saw pictures of some sort of cardboard potting shed that his wife had designed. They could be dropped by plane, and would provide shelter in the evening’s. He said that the snow would collect outside, which would strengthen them, but you would be trapped inside, until morning, when you dug yourself out.
Why would you want to go outside he asked rhetorical ?. Well, your cooking on pressurised petrol in a paper house !.
He spoke honestly about expeditions, and explained that it was all about sponsorship, and you had to pick something that would inspire company’s enough to pay for them. He said that the Arctic had inspired a lot of people in America and that’s why he had moved a lot of of his expeds from Africa.
One thing that surprised me about the Arctic and Antarctic adventures, was how long they took. On one occasion, he was dropped off by boat and set off on foot. The boat would sail around the other side and pick them up 18 months later.
Some interesting stuff about navigation. You basically, look at the time, and as you walk, measure the angle of your shadow. At the time of Scott, that was the best way to navigate in the polar regions, as it still today. He spoke very favourably of Scott and said many of his critics, had never ventured outside of their study.
While traversing Antarctica, they had a solar powered radio, that would run for 2 minutes each day. At one point, the radio said Britain has declared war with … (the battery’s ran out). Several days later, they established it was Argentina, but until that point, there had been constant debates about who it could be.
At other points, he mentioned leaving school with no A levels and growing up without a father (his father died before he was born in the 2nd world war).
I established throughout the talk, that he had little time for BBC film crews or Eaton, the school he criticised heavily in his book.
After a talk about his ancestors, he accepted questions from the audience. An annoying woman from the MOD language school, started to try and harras him, but he had no truck with her.
He was asked how he selected people for expeditions. I couldn’t believe it when he said something about how you can teach skills, but can’t teach personality traits.
Ive said that every time I’ve been recruiting someone. I forgot that the idea wasn’t my invention, it was something I had read in that book, on the train, all those years before.
He was asked, if he believed in a higher being. He replied that he had a heart attack on an Easyjet plane. For 3 days, he didn’t respond to resuscitation, and came around on the 13th attempt.
Commented that if he hadn’t been resuscitated, he would have been like that forever (after all, he was, to all intents and purposes dead). While in that state, for 3 days, he didn’t see god or angels or anything like that, and concluded that death, must be like having a really good sleep.
People say you should never meet you hero’s. Well I did and it was amazing.