This book is glorious. Old school. Happy. Terribly British. And I loved it.
Simple premise then – in 1956, aged 36 and longing for adventure, Eric Newby, walked out on his London career in advertising (and dress design).
And so began a journey from Mayfair to one of the most remote and beautiful wildernesses on the planet: Afghanistan.
A long the way, Newby persuades his Foreign Office chum Hugh Carless to accompany him on the expedition: his cable reading simply CAN YOU TRAVEL NURISTAN JUNE? And for good measure and just like that, the pair decide to climb Mir Samir a huge (and at that time unconquered) glacial peak at 20,000 ft in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, (north-east of Kabul) with no preparation or experience and just because they can.
Armed with a small informative pamphlet on how to traverse ice flows, two days rock climbing experience with a couple of welsh waitresses from a local B & B, copious (luckily) amounts of sulphur pills (for giardisis), a couple of ice picks (which pop up in wholly inappropriate places) and army issue weather proof suits (handy for trading with locals), the pair set out on a month long expedition and a proper old school adventure.
And it’s just struck me how entirely appropriate an analogy that is as I write this full of hope on the eve of the EU Referendum 😉
This orange book is a gem.
The cover is the exact same one I saw my father read so many years before. I remember him guffawing as he read it, really laughing out loud and I have to confess the book had much the same effect on me.
It’s this kind of humour:
Writing of their meeting with the hardened explorer Wilfred Thesinger, Newby says:
“We started to blow up our air-beds. ‘God you must be a couple of pansies,’ said Thesinger”
and this ” Sir those are not the feet of a man, but of a monkey”!
And it’s that sort of self-effacing wit that carries us through the book as the pair suffer terribly with hardship, dysentery, battered feet and hands, horrible digestive catastrophes – and somehow with a lightness of touch and the greatest of skill, Newby makes it funny.
The book is chock full of observations on a brutal country we shall never see:
descriptions of food
descriptions of the people and there are some fascinating photographic illustrations:
and full to the brim with a kind of gentle, golden humour as we are guided through the book – I love his liberal asides which seem so courteous: reader beware..
Its easy to see where other travel writers have found their style borrowing heavily from Newby and for all his roguishness, his amateurishness, his humility, awe and wonder and joy, this book inspires and uplifts in a way no other has lifted me recently – he is one of a by-gone generation, like my Dad who I miss every day.
Type in wanderlust and this book will be top of the tree. Type in adventure and this too will be right up there. Type in Nuristan and iconic travel books, vivid descriptions and photographs and there you have it.
And of the EU Referendum? As I write, the country goes to vote and I don’t know the outcome.
My Boss has always told me never to make a decision out of fear always chose love and courage and make your decision based wholly on that.
I like to think may be Eric Newby felt this way too.