Across Continents

Ken's Blog

No Champagne?

"What, no champagne? I can only assume you’re suffering from cycle lassitude" exclaimed Ghee, son of author W E Bowman. I’d been lent a copy of ’The Ascent of Rum Doodle’, his father’s witty, fictional account of the ascent of a 40,000 and 1/2 foot high Himalyan peak by a well-intentioned, if bumbling, English expedition. First published in 1956, some have suggested it’s a parody of the conquering of Everest three years earlier, but, as far as I’m aware, this has never been confirmed. Pure coincidence, no doubt.

The story itself is told from the leader’s perspective, recounted with an innocence, a naivety, that comes only of seeing good in everyone and everything, quite oblivious to what’s really going on around him. Reassuring I thought. What was certain is I’d no Champagne, frequently prescribed to members of the expedition for its medicinal properties. But, in Malta, I’d at least managed to indulge in a decent cup of English tea, which was fortifying enough. Life’s little luxuries can sometimes make the unbearable tolerable.

I’d felt a certain resonance with some of the expedition’s members. Jungle, the navigator, who, despite forever getting lost, never gives up. We probably shared similar, and quite useless, mapping. Constant, the diplomat and linguist, whose terrible abilities at either often place the whole adventure in jeopardy, largely through confusion. Prone, the expedition doctor, who seemed to succombe to all manner of illness, although, cheerfully I thought, more than I had. Or at least he’d not had endure shards of dental pain.

I’d not the luxury of a cook to prepare my meals, nor, it seemed, had the expedition. Pong, the locally employed chap given this task, had an uncanny ability to take the finest ingredients and reduce them to a nauseating brew. This was something I’d had to learn to do myself.

But the real similarities lay in the seemingly unsurmountable linguistic difficulties encountered in some of the more remote regions of the World. They too were battling with the ’Stans, admittedly just one rather than my four, having to cross the fictional Yogistan to reach Rum Doodle. The local lingo required mastery of gurgling noises from the pit of one’s stomach to convey the exact meaning of words. The scope for mispronunciation was understandably immense. I was glad I just had the tonal challenges of Chinese to come. Assuming they give me a visa.

[With thanks to Ghee Bowman, and Peter and Carol for loan of the book. For more information about W E Bowman, including details of real ’Rum Doodles’, visit For a definitive account of the first ascent of Mount Everest, read ’Coronation Everest’ by Jan Morris’, a Times journalist embedded with the expedition. And if you are so bold as to think you can list all the ’Stans, drop me a line, we’ll compare notes. First correct answer gets a mention in the blog! Closing date for entries Summer 2013.]


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