Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Day 15 Trekking day 14 - Namchee Bazaar to Lukla

Waking up to another plate of the stodgiest, thickest pancakes ever doesn't really inspire me, nor anyone on the trip but we force it down with whatever sauces and sugars we can find. It might be the only thing we get for a while. I check on Joe and the poor chap is sweaty and stinky and looks as green as my socks.

Heading looking out on this early morning and Nir is there on the balconied courtyard in front of the tealodge smoking with Prem and a few of the guides and porters. Prem, the oddest bloke on the trek. Friendly and sometimes not understanding where you're at entirely but well meaning nonetheless.

We set off for another days trekking. I don't recognise the route through Namchee as we seemed to be taking a different route through the town. Suddenly we were out of the hilltown, going down that 800ft track which really took it out of most people coming up 12 days previous. Was it really 12 days? We've come to the last leg of our Himalayan adventure. By tomorrow night we'd be in a hotel room having a shower. I can't even really contemplate that, it is such a distant prospect, if anything like last night was to be endured. For the most part I knew that we were going downhill apart from the last section which was uphill, if I remember correctly. We passed the shop that Brooksie, Milo and I stopped at. Seeing familiar sights, sights which contain memories of the struggle to get up here. A strange and overwhelming sense of achievement comes over me in waves. I guess, yes, I have made it. All my worries about gambling with my condition suddenly melt away, all my fears about not making it. Not making it. Such a euphemism for those that didn't before us. Suddenly I felt more tired than I have ever felt in my short life. Still we have the long journey down, the endless zig-zagging down the dusty path. We lunch at Phakding where we have fishcakes. Rather disturbing as we are 100s if not 1000s of miles from he nearest coast. While waiting for the others to get there, I buy some trinkets for Mum and Aunty Janet from this Tibetan lady selling Tibetan jewellery. So I buy this pair of identical necklaces. Apparently they're Tibetan turquoise and not Nepali. To me, it looks like bits of molded plastic but as they only cost 800 rupees (£8) each, I think, 'Oh well, that's what they are in Accessorize'. Probably. )

The many river crossings that we took on the way up here, following the river, each one closer to Lukla. All the time going downhill, easier. We start going uphill and things are getting exciting - this is the last leg of the journey.

The group I'm in are in a long line, we sometimes see the leaders on the other side of a ravine so we can gauge their reaction every time they reach the next bend before they disappear round it. Slogging on we watch them closely, sometimes being given an update by James Pieterzoon, comedy banter over the airwaves building as we get closer. I turn a corner, squinting through the setting sun, to see an arch. I remember only walking through one arch, the one arch that signalled the start of the Himalayan trek. Could it be? Could it be the arch that signals the end of our Himalayan trek? I see the others get there and they jump up and down in excitement. Joy of joys. About 10 minutes later we get there and someone radios the other groups behind us that we have made it. We have made it. Fuck. I want to drop. Lukla is a bit hazy to me and I don't really notice much about it. I just want to sleep.

Going to the very first teahouse that we had breakfast in so many days ago I organise a room with Moulinex (Nick 'The Blender' Mullineux) who reputedly has the smelliest feet on the trip. Yes, reputation intact. He does. I really don't notice or mind. My body won't stop shivering. I can't move. I know that there is a Marathon in my jacket pocket hanging up on the door but I really can't move. I sleep.

A couple of hours later, I'm woken by someone telling me that it's dinner time. Food will do me good. Probably. I tried to get out of bed but it was really difficult, like I was weighted by stones in my pockets. Walking down the stairs was agonising as nothing would bend. I get to the dinning room and it's like conversation stopped and the piano stopped playing and the whores stopped doing their high-kicks. Apparently I looked awful - even Chris Martin asked if I was all right, it must have been that bad. Sadly, I was in no place to be jovial, I just needed sleep and perhaps a bit of food. I could hardly walk, my legs were the stiffest things, there was no moving me. I go back to my room and pass Kirt giving all our porters and guides, some people whom I had never really seen before, some I recognised, these amazing people who had carried our equipment, the heavy pitch, the generators, the satellite transmitter, the food, the fuel, my backpack, bless them, amazing, amazing people.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Day 14, Trekking Day 13 - Pheriche to Namche Bazaar

Last night I got talking to a German in our tealodge who was travelling up alone. Really brave or really stupid? I dunno. He managed to get himself caught out in the dark so was glad for the company as he was really scared that he had lost his way in the dark and didn't know where he was, passing only a few people, not really knowing whether he was on the right path. Thankfully he found himself at our tealodge. He was showing signs of AMS and I supplied him with ibuprofen as he'd already taken some paracetamol. I'm no medic but I did suggest that if he wasn't better in the morning, go and check himself out at the Mountain Rescue Centre, which was in Pheriche.

Also, the German couple who lived in Holland were there, with whom I got chatting to in Dengboche and who Dr Nick helped on the morning that I had decided to not come up. She was very chatty and grateful for his help and Dr Nick really helped her husband who was showing symptoms of AMS. Lovely couple. She gave me some Immodium.

I forgot to mention (while we're on the subject of people I was speaking to) that while at Gorak Shep I met a lovely young Britistani lady called Rahila Hussein who said she was on tour around the region, travelling up into Pakistan seeing relatives and picking up recipes for a cookbook. She's going to email me a recipe for a fish curry which I'll have to give her my opinion on. Hope she does.

Anyway, we carry on down to Namche Bazaar which we are all excited about. We seem to be travelling in several groups. The fast group, the slow group (me included) and the quarantined.

Immodium is working it's stuff and I'm glad. The route starts taking on familiar sights; the highest occupied village, the stone boundaried fields, the windy paths, all going down hill which was such a blessing. Eventually the track evened out but my tummy was getting the better of me. It was making me feel a bit weaker than usual. When we finally get to TyangBoche, I have o take an extended loo break as everyone seems to have got here earlier than I have. Was I that far behind? Am I with another group? I remember the hill track down with some fondness as we pass some trekkers on their ascent. They look tired and worn. We say, 'Not far now, and at the top you get to see Everest,'. I must admit a certain smugness did colour the undertone of my words, though the supportive look of recognition did try to convey a certain sympathy. I was chatting to Joe Williams for a bit before he got a bit quiet. I shared my last snickers with him as he was feeling hungry.

I shouldn't have done that really. Minutes later, Joe complains of feeling none too well and we all have to sit and take a break from walking at one of the bridges. A couple of shops that were there selling trinkets and bric-a-brac took our minds off the sick ones.

We continue along after it's decided that everyone is going to make the final push to Namche, no one is going to stay behind, despite the growing numbers of the unwell. Drisla and the other doctors confer that it's tough and that they should've stuck to their guns and not let us take the decision in travelling down over 3 days. It's really tiring for everyone and everyone seemed to be dropping like flies from exhaustion. I'm watching myself for signs of the lurgy. For too early for any of that nonsense if I got it from Joe. It'll hit me in Kathmandu if it does.

We struggle on through the closing darkness, I'm bringing up the rear. As ever. Curry has loaned me the use of his pole. I'm not sure if I can say anything other than double entendres as I'm really tired. It's my default setting. Every corner we turn we expect to see the familiar thighs of Namchee, with her populated crotch, but no. It doesn't happen. A few of the guys try to cheer me up by saying that we have left Khumjung ages ago, or bypassed it somehow. I can't see how that could've happened. Another corner, still no Namchee.

Just as the sun had gone behind the hill, just as it started getting cold, just as the blue sky had turned lavender, we turn a corner and see below us a house on a hillside on the next corner. Going past that, more houses, the dirt road turns to rough paving, houses appear on either sides, lights are glowing secrets behind curtained windows. A few smiling guides are on street corners telling us where to turn. We're in a different tealodge to the one we were in on the way up. This one I think takes all of us. I enter and dump bags, see others, organise a room, re-organise a room as Joe really needs to be quarantined.

I sit down to eat and I think I drink 3 cans of coke. I clearly need the sugar. Others arrive, looking pissed off. I don't think we look the most welcoming as we're just as zombied out as they are. Spirits are at their lowest amongst the whole troupe but no one has the energy to say anything apart from the medics. Early to bed methinks. Night night.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Trek Down. Gorak Shep to Pheriche Day 13, Trekking Day 12

These journal entries are made up from notes and scribbles, reminders of the journey down. I couldn't write that much as you will see why later.

We get up early the next day, some people have gotten up even earlier to go up to Kalapatthar, something which I hope I don't regret not doing. I know that the view of Everest is meant to be amazing from there but really, I should really have gone but I know that it'll just knacker me out for the rest of the day. I've had an amazing time getting up here, I've reached the goal of getting photos of the match, I've reached higher than any other Zubairi, I've pushed myself harder than I ever expected to. No, I'm going to stay in my bed for that extra hour. Joe had a better night's sleep I must say. There was no baby bear being attacked in the woods this time.

I wasn't looking forward to going over the Khumbu Glacier again. That journey up here was bad enough. It wasn't as if we were going to be going downhill, no, it was a constant going up to go down. Rocky but easier this time round, even though the first 45 minutes was going uphill as usual. This time I was travelling more in the group which was great. I think everyone's feeling glad to be heading home. We are in the first group to go. There's a 2nd group behind us and a third made up of the Kalapatthar climbers behind them.

Going past Lobuche we didn't hang about though we stop to collect water from the spring there and made our way back up again. We were heading towards Pheriche and not Dingboche this time to go and visit the Himalayan Rescue Association. On a hill I get some slide photos of the mountain and a sticker for my friend Din and his currypuff business in Manchester: Of course, going up the hill, I trail behind but we pass an old woman with a beautifully wrinkled face who was stood watching and praying with her beads. She becomes a character in a poem that I've been fermenting in my head. I give her a low namaste with both ands and she returns it, smiling and starts to walk with us, a little further behind me.

We get to the small plateau where the monuments are and take a rest. It still feels very sacred, this plateau with it's crown of mountains. More photos. I touch the boulder where Alex Lowe's name is carved by his friend, just for luck. Lucy, who usually finds descending difficult because of her knees is trailing behind so it's perfect excuse to catch up with her and sing our way down the hill. Eventually we reach Duggla (Thukla) again where we had that nice meal of noodles in spicy soup which was popular. So far in a morning we've done in a few hours what took us 2 days to ascend and I feel much relief that what we're doing is going to be fairly easy and spirits were up.

While we were eating, there was another group of us that were coming down, much slower and there seemed to be a problem. Suddenly the available medics left and joined that group. James Markby was not in a good way. Immediately he was laid down and covered and had a line put in him. There was a group around him, assisting, fetching water, keeping him warm. One of the other photographers was taking newsworthy shots. When it was apparent that Markby was showing signs of returning back to normality it was decided that the rest of us should continue. Apparently there was a virus going around which he was showing signs of. Dehydration, D and V. The medics suggested that they will travel with him until Pheriche, our next stop, where the Himalayan Mountain Rescue clinic was situated.

Lucy and I seem to be going a different way from the way we came. I think we're lower down the valley, the ridge with the path way above us. The first lot of our group were way ahead and at the bottom of the hill, looking like specks. There was another group way behind us, looking like specks. Perhaps further behind them was another group. We'd seem to be split into smaller groups. Dr. Isla suggested that there be a group of sickkies as it was apparent that there were more people showing symptoms of the virus.

Lucy and I were taking it slowly as I didn't want to put any additional pressure on her knees. It being rocky descending didn't make it any easier. We finally got to the bottom of the hill and the valley floor stretched for miles before us, with the river breaking cutting it's rough way over the rocky floor. Way, way in the distance it was grassy and welcoming, with a few scattered farms. The first lot were ahead, looking like dots and had just about reached the grassy section. Way ahead of that was a village, which must be Pheriche. It looked like the others would reach it in half an hour or so.

An hour later the first group were still dot sized but still hadn't reached the village. We'd got to the grassier section, taking stepping stones over the shallower part of the river. There were a few yaks here, cattle, being penned in stone walled fields. The grass. So green, so lush. "It could be the Peak District" noted Luce. She's probably right. I've never been to the Peak District. We'd not seen grass for days, and come to think of it, not much for about a week. It looked so green and rich. There was a baby yak, about the size of a full-grown goat which was so cute! Little baby yak! I hope Lucy's photo comes out.

Eventually the others reached the village and we got there probably half an hour or so after that. The sun was slowly going down behind the mountains and it was beginning to get chilly again.

We got to our tealodge in Pheriche and we were amazed at the luxuriousness of it. Compared to the one on Gorak Shep, this was positively The Shangri-La. The hotel, not the place (which I never thought was a real place until I saw it on a map). The tealodge where we dined was actually full so I shared with The Chidge in the tealodge over the way, which wasn't as nice but the facilities were just as clean.

Everybody seemed to be coming down with more and more symptoms of the virus. After I'd put my bags into my room, and had got settled with a cup of sweet milky tea, Lucy and I saw others running past the large windows up the track with a stretcher. Was it Markby? Who was it this time?

About half an hour later they arrived and the offending person was whisked away to a quarantined room and dealt medical attention. Then came dinner. Then another talk by the medics about how some people will be travelling tomorrow in a smaller, quarantine group as there were quite a few who were ill and contagious. It's possibly the virus, it might just be really bad guts but the medics weren't taking any chances.

So far today we'd done in 6 hours what it took 3 days coming up. We were in good spirits though everyone was beginning to get really tired and the ill people were making everyone a bit nervous and making people feel down. (Not the people themselves, just the fact that there was illness around. People don't like illness, it reminds us of mortality.)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Day 12, Trekking Day 11

Last night there was bad atmosphere in Camp Tenzing. A coupla guys didn't get picked for the team and the guys that were picked didn't feel that the whole thing was handled well. It's not an easy decision and it's not an easy job for anyone. The pressure has been on the Captains and vices to make a good choice. I guess the idea to film it gave the whole thing an unnecessary weight, taking it away from the camaraderie, the team spirit, the good feeling that everyone started this journey with. Shame really.

There was an announcement made from that there may be people trying to sabotage the match tomorrow and that we'd better watch out for people who would want to do that. It was suggested that someone be posted to watch over the pitch so no one steals it. James Peterson and a couple of others decide to take it up and roll it up and take it inside to protect it. It'd be easier to roll out now that it had already been set out from yesterday.

Joe was really noisy in his sleep. We chatted for a bit, about his disappointment, his theories about who was picked and why. I don't know if this is normal for Joe, but he does makes noise in his sleep like a baby bear being molested. Perhaps it's bad dreams, perhaps it's the altitude. Perhaps it's the disappointment of not making the 11.

The next morning Joe was up early, putting his uniform on, the pink Tenzing 20Twenty uniform, like pajamas. Undaunted by yesterdays decisions, he wanted to play cricket and be involved in what was going to be a good day.

Babywiping down, getting changed in that wooden khazi, getting all my equipment together - 2 cameras (need to check on George), sketchpads, water, purification tabs, chocolate, I set out to the other teahouse.

It's buzzing down there, Glen is about to make his selection. Apparently, they'd spoken to the people who hadn't made the cut earlier so this was no surprise to them. Yes, there was disappointment, but really, not as much as last night in our teahouse. After a rallying speech, the boys get ready for the match. I manage to get a set of batteries from George, he's feeling much much better, there's more colour in his face thank god.

Stepping out from their teahouse, the pitch had been set out already. There was an electricity in the air, the embankments around the oval were getting dotted with people who were there to watch the game. They'd heard about it from all they way up the track, from even before Lukla, the posters had been distributed all over the region. Some people had made it down from EBC to watch the match. Wow.

Team Captains Glen and Haydn

Yesterdays Avalanche

I'm not going to blog about the match itself as I really know not that much about the sport (a funny story that I was promised not to repeat by 3rd umpire Helen Curr was a few weeks before we left the UK, HC and Brooksie and I went round to Paola and Alex's house to have ice-cream and watch cricket so HC could explain things to us, from what she had learnt. Halfway through the DVD, I did have to ask 'So.... what's a run?' - I wasn't sure whether it was there and back or just there. But it did sound like I didn't know what a run was at all. The girls were in creases on the floor, until one of them sat up and looked at HC and said,'So, what is it?')

I set up my spot near one end of the wicket, not too far from George. There were lots of photo ops from the day. Lots of photos of the guys and gals and the locals watching the match. From the opening speeches by James Markby, the goodwill hugs from friends on the opposing teams to each other, this was the moment that possibilities are open. Who was going to win?

I'd make sketches of the mountains and the game while it was going on and every so often I'd make my rounds around the oval, to see if I can get a good angles of the match. At one point, I saw Joe Williams near the boundary and he called me over and asked me to take a picture of him, posing, walking away from the match towards me with Everest in the background. Something happened in the game and he turned away to run towards the match. I snapped one more photo of him starting to run. (I wouldn't know how much this photo would mean to me until I got back to England, but more of that later).

You can real Alan Curr's blog about the match here.

In the 2nd half of the match, I went for a higher view of the pitch and went up Kalapatthar.

Amazing. I came down and did more sketching. I also had to pose with the other Trektators while the the ITV guy took some shot of us cheering so they could edit into their programme.

James Butler and Graham The Mallard

Suddenly the game was over. People cheering, team captains were celebrated, losers commiserated, champagne was poured, cake was presented to everyone on the teams and trektators, made by the chef teams of Nepali who came up with us. It was all over. Photos, photos and more photos. Celebration drinks. I had one beer and 1 swig of champagne as I was watching the pennies. I couldn't afford much as I'd spent my dosh sending updates to twitter and facebook. I had my first cigarettes since day 4 of the trek. Feel a bit sick. Up earlyish tomorrow for the long trek down. The decision has been made todescend in 3 days to Lukla instead o f 4. Sounds like a good idea to get there earlier but might it take it out of us?

Oh, and this was what Creative Minds, our promoter made of it: This Amazing Video

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Day 11, Trekking day 10

Last night it dawned on Joe and Simmo that there was a distinct possibility that the game might be this morning, and not tomorrow, as planned, as Kirt and Wes and the captains had decided to make best of the good weather in case it doesn't last. It has been sunny everyday since we got here and fairly warm in the daytime, apart from when that wind was blowing through out bones. Drisla had been trying to contact anyone on radio who was already up in Gorak Shep to see what the situation was but all night had no response and even this morning there was radio silence. It made breakfast a silent affair as the boys were thinking that they had missed their opportunity to make history. It was once in a lifetime for them. Though they were feeling much better healthwise, they were keen to get up the track to Gorak Shep to see if they could get on the game.

Earlier this morning, I was awoken by Drisla at about 5, it was low light outside but by the tone of the way she said, 'Zooby, you're snoring. Again.' I kinda knew that I must've had a) a good sleep b) a rather large snoring session. Yes, I guess, I shared with Drisla for one night as the boys shared a room and we were keeping costs low by sharing. Because everything was pre-paid accommodation and food-wise, every time a person has something from the menu, it cost The Everest Test some dough.

Filling water bottles we made our way up the rocky track over the glacier. Now, I was expecting, when someone said the word 'glacier' to be white and pure and somewhat beautiful. Not really anticipating that it was covered in scree (not very often I get to use the word 'scree', but I like it, it makes it feel very adventuresome) and was rocky and brown. Once we were high enough to see the Khumbu glacial valley, we did see high ice walls and icepools which gave away the fact we were following the glacier.

Joe was a star. Although my pack had gone ahead with the rest of the team yesterday, my equipment pack of 2 cameras, sleeping bag, toiletries, 4 litres of water was heavier than ever. At this altitude, breathing wasn't the best as the air was thinner. At some points we'd be higher than we were sleeping at later on tonight (which is a good thing for acclimatisation, but a bad thing when you're feeling a little weaker than ever). Ever so often, when I couldn't carry on, he'd offer to carry my pack for a while, just so we could get on. I took him up on the offer every so often but really, I couldn't let him do it the whole time.

Halfway up while we were on our many swap rests, these two Aussie dudes came clambering down the track and we'd got talking to them. Drisla asked them where they'd just come from (well, where else, but just in case they'd come straight from Base Camp) and the dreaded question, whether they knew if the game was today.

'Oe noe. The gayme's not teal tomorroe. Youe goies hev noe warries.' He couldn't have sounded more laid back. I shall italicise his words just to make them look like they're relaxing. The boys' relief was unmistakable.

After about 2 hours (I think), we'd crossed the glacier, gone even higher, scrambled over sharp rocks, rested countless times, we made our way over another hill and there below us, looking like matchboxes, were the teahouses of Gorak Shep. The rest was a relatively easier downhill.

When we got to the first teahouse, they said that we could eat as it was gone lunchtime. Joe and Simmo had to simulate entering the compound again as Wes wanted to film the last two players, lost heroes, re-joining the group. The guides were tucking in to a meal of dhalbatt which looked really tasty as we'd not really had any at this point, it was mainly fried potatoes and such the like. At least the dhall would have given us a source of protein which we were all missing... I said to Dharma, who was eating his lentils with gusto, 'that that looked really nice.' He said, 'No, you will have sandwiches,' smilingly, thinking I'd be pleased. My heart sank to think that I'll not have really tasted Nepali trekking cooking apart from potatoes.

I'd received message from FuddA that 'the eagle has landed' via radio and that my backpack was settled in her room awaiting my arrival. I'd be sharing with Joe, which was cool as he was funny and he chatted about stuff, and I think we were banished to each other's company as both of us were really loud in whatever noises we make while sleeping.

I went out onto the pitch after snacking on some dry cheese sarnies, feeling like a scolded child, for some reason. For some reason I get this image of my head of my friend Andrea Hall while eating these sandwiches. I have no idea why. I think it's just the way I was eating sandwiches. Reminded me of Andrea. Out on the pitch there was some sort of commotion going on. There were two groups of people dressed in what looked like uniforms of some sort, lined up in an orderly fashion, one group of Asian (probably Nepali) and the other were whites (I can't tell whether they're European or Oceanic or North American, so I'm gonna call them 'whites'. If you think that's me being racist, that's tough titty. They were white. Nuff said. Kirt was was in the middle of all of this hubbub, talking to some elderly chap with a cap on.

I walk around the site, the frozen lakebed. Like the rest of the 'glacier' I see no evidence of ice, or lake, or bed. A few people are at the far end of the oval, facing the other two teahouses where team Hillary are sleeping tonight. I check it out. Of course, it's slightly more welcoming, they seem to have got the better deal but at this late stage, who cares, you know. Who cares. I was excited to have reached Gorak Shep.

Some people go off to Everest Base Camp (or EBC, or even BC, as it's called by regulars) to check it out and check out the bakery. Yah. Bakery. I make an attempt to send some tweets and even check out facebook (why?) while here as there seems to be an internet connection here (I check my Blackberry just in case there is a signal. No) but at 25 rupes a minute, best left to do very little on it. Money is running out. That's why I thought I'd twitter. If you want to check out my tweets it's here.

Dinner around a noisy table. AlexFuddA says that she's running out of water. I say that we can go to the far side of the oval to check out the spring water there. I have 'muslims' which we can use to filter our water, referring to the two muslin filters that I brought with me for use with springwater. And muslims became the word du jour that made us laugh. No one is going to have a memory of this, or find it inoffensive apart from Alex and me. Any chance I got to take my helpful little muslims out, they got used. It was getting dark when we started to take water from the spring. There were some locals who were there too, so we waited for one of them to be free. Ice cold! Oh my god! I'd never felt anything that cold.

We head to our teahouse and the atmosphere is thick with something. The boys are sitting quietly and it is solemn. Ah. The team selection by captain Haydn and VC Goonit. Not an easy choice. Not sure where to look. Wes is documenting it on film with all the difficulties that entails, batteries running low, tape running out, not enough sound. The boys have to go into a room with Goonit, Haydn and Wes to be told whether they'd made the cut or not. Everyone thinks it's shitty and is a bit miserable about the whole thing. The chaps outside speculate on who is in and why they are in. It's not great. I can't really do anything to alleviate the tension so I go and check out what the other team is doing. They're not making their selection until the morning so the atmos might be a bit more relaxed.

When I get there, I see that George Powell, the lead photographer, is stretched out on the sofabench with VixNix tending to him and Drisla not far. I think he's got a line in him. He had to have been assisted the rest of the way from BC as he was severely dehydrated, his eyes were listless when I was trying to engage with him. Apparently he'd been up to Kalapatthar earlier that day, then gone on to BC, without any rest, with Kirt and VixNix.

I'd joked with him 'Get well Georgie, I don't know your camera!', which garnered a little smile, which made me feel a bit better. In all seriousness, I didn't know his camera, which was waaay better than mine (and besides, since my adapter went 'missing' on day 5, I'd never been able to successfully recharge my batteries for my digital, I was flying on slide film for the rest of the trip. I'm glad that I had 3 rolls left).

It turns out that the 'elderly chap' from earlier today is Russell Brice, one of the best known expedition leaders around and the others were part of the HimEx team - his clients and guides. A few months ago, when Russell Brice got wind of what Kirt was attempting to achieve, for a laugh, he got it in his head that he was going to challenge Kirt to a game even higher than the one that we were going to play tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Shittyfuckfuck. It's happening. This is where it's gonna be. After a year of my involvement, it's just hit me. It finishes tomorrow.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Day 10, Trekking Day 9 - Holed up in Lobuche

I woke up this morning after not feeling very well last night.

After we got to the teahouse in Lobuche yesterday evening, I found a room and for the first time I was in a room by myself which was unusual. Everyone seemed to have organised who they were sharing with along the trek. When does this happen? I had a headache along the trek and who I would be sharing with wasn't really a concern, not that it was anyway, everyone's a good sort, but it would've been good to see if there was anyone I particulalrly got on with that wsa sans roommate. Not sure why I was bothered tonight of all nights. Though to be honest, it was a relief. Not that 'relief' was going to be any of my activities this evening.

After dumping my stuff on the bed, I made my way to the tearoom and had a milky tea with some paracetamol and ibuprofen. Not feeling well at all. After resting a bit listening to the chat from other people, I wasn't sure what was going on and I thought I might need a sleep. I got up and almost immediately needed to sit down again, dizzy, the room blurring like a photograph.

I asked for another tea and sat nursing it for a few more minutes to see if it was just temporary. I let Dr Nick know and he asked if I had taken anything, there was chat in the room and it was kinda comforting, not that I knew what it was about. I decided that I should try and sleep at least for a little bit.

Someone passed me on the stairs and said something but I'm not sure who it was or what he'd asked (from a conversation I had recently with Curry, it was him. Apparently I wasn't taking anything in, who he was, what he had asked me and dubbed me 'Zombie Zoob' a this point in the book that he is writing about our adventures. I hope it gets published, I'd like to read it). I slept, I think, for a while, Dr. Nick came up to check on me as I'd told him that I wasn't sharing with anyone. When it came to dinnertime I made my way downstairs for something to eat, feeling a little more myself. (No, still, not a 'relief' reference).

It was actually after dinner when I came down but they'd saved some for me and I sat with Paola and Alex and Brooksie. Apparently I looked like death. But I needed to eat and I was greatful for the feed. Not that I ate much of it. Another plateful of fried spiced potatoes really didn't appeal at this point. Kirt came along from the other teahouse and sat with us for a bit. Paola asked me about the poem that I read out last night. I coudn't say much about it, well, nothing intelligent and witty apart from the fact that it wasn't autobiographical, apart from the line 'We were on holiday in Scarborough'. The rest is just fiction with a little of what goes through my head daily. Kirt said that it was the strangest thing that he'd heard. I dunno. It's not so strange is it? It's comedic. Alex recently told me that on the night people were a little wierded out by it, but she was proud that I'd read it out and that she was secretly thought to herself, 'Yeah, he's MY friend, I love it'. Hearing this recently made me smile inside.

So today I wake up and feel a hundred times better. Dr. Nick came to check on me at midnight (I think, or did I just imagine it). After my wipedown with my babywipes, I go downstairs to get breakfasted up and join the teams for the final push. Yes, today we reach Gorak Shep, the end point of our trek up to Mt Everest.Wow.

Joe Williams, it turns out was also taken ill last night and was given the option to stay on another night to fully recover. I asked Dr Nick if I could do the same and she said that it was probably the best idea. We would be joined by Drisla and Simmo as they were on their way up from Duggla. I went to the other teahouse as all our stuff had been collected by the porters, ready to be taken up. I took my sleeping bag and washing stuff out, my diary and writing things, to stay the night. On way way to the other house, I saw the route upto Gorak Shep. It didn't look particularly inviting. I've made the right choice.

Joe emerged looking tired and had some tea and breakfast, we were able to order food off the menu, something I was looking forward to.

More tea and I sat out in the sunshine writing this blog. I'm in the middle of a conversation with some people from Seattle who were on their way up to Base Camp (or B.C. as it's known) and an Aussie bunch (one of whom "isn't on cipro, yet". Tasteful.)

Then another two joined me at the table from up the track. They'd just come down. For some reason, my Malaydar was going off like mad. The chap speaking was an Indian guy from South Africa (I think they call them 'coloureds'). The Seattlites didn't really take to him as he seemed to know too much. "Nobody likes know it alls".

I had to ask. Yes, the other guy was Imran and was surprised as I was to find another Malaysian (yes, though I am semi-Asian, I'm still Malay. We sat chatting for a bit). He's on a 'spiritual quest' which piqued my interest as Malays aren't known for their spirituality. Belief in God, Islam and such the like, yes. But spirituality? Interesting. Not your typical songkok-wearing, tourism-friendly smile Malay here. Imran and the South African finished their feed and made their way down the track to Dingboche but as they were leaving I gave my card to Imran and he looked at it 'Wah, ACTOR!' he exclaimed, smiling, 'It's not every day that I get a card that says "actor" on it. I forget what it was that he does. This wasn't the last time Imran and I saw each other on the trip. I wanted to ask more about his spiritual quest. Perhaps he'll email me. Readers will be interested to know that Imran has since been a keen reader of my blogs and comments once or twice.

Then I met two English guys, Colin and Nick who had met the other team yesterday in the teahouse in Duggla. They'd left Drisla and Simmo who were apparently 20 minutes behind them so I could expect them soon. They did arrive, but perhaps 2 hours after Nick and Colin got there. Colin used to work for the RSC and did LX for them before moving to Leamington Spa to do computer programming.

When Drisla and Simmo got there, they settled and we got some lunch together with Joe. I was hyper-aware that this was probably the first time I'd spoken to Simmo and the first time he'd asked me anything. Bizarre, after 9 days of travelling together. But hey, I hadn't really spoken to anyone mid-trek, everyone's keen to compete with each other on some front or another. I don't go in for that, I find competitive chat tiring, very few of the chaps actually have conversations with each other, I've noticed. Must be a sportsman thing. I'm far too collaborative and silly. Perhaps not quite when I'm so far removed from comfort zones. If you join in I'll play along. Besides, I haven't got a cultural reference for 'Point Break'. It's never been on my list of 'must sees'.

Simmo is a hard-landscaper and quite the humourist, but you have to listen really hard. I have since met his sister who apparently looks like him. She doesn't. Thankfully.

Joy of joys. We all have yaksteak. Feeling the colour coming back into my cheeks already.

The Walker in The Hills

Monday, 27 July 2009

Day 9 Trekking Day 8 Dengboche to Lobuche

So today we're up early to get a start on the trek. We follow practically the same route up to the stupa that we did yesterday on our acclimatisation trek but then we go over the hump and along a ridge following the valley floor. The landscape is breathtaking. You have to stop and look around you to see these mountains which seem to rise out of nowhere like a stone titan's surfing waves.

Dr Lord gave us a little speech about the next section as we were in the Khumbu valley and from here on in it gets pretty dusty, if anyone brought facemasks, then this would be the time to wear them.

We're following another river and eventually we cross it as a rocky point over a low wooden bridge. Someone noted that we more-or-less walked straight over. Usually at this pass we'd have to wait for people on the other side to cross first and it'd be the Himalayan traffic-jam. We see that above is an outpost called Duggla (or Thukla, depending on where you read your maps) where we had a memorable meal of spicy noodle soup. It was probably the best thing we'd had so far on the trip - It wasn't pasta and it wasn't potatoes. Noodles in soup with a smattering of vegetables.

While we were eating we could see the trek ahead. A rocky hill that just seemed to go on forever. We were watching other trekking teams ascend and roughly timed them on their ascent. They seemed to take forever to disappear. Some of them we smaller than ants and weren't even halfway up the hill. It looked very daunting. I wasn't looking forward to it whatsoever.

I was developing a slight headache so I tried sleeping for a bit and taking a paracetamol or two. I think I managed to sleep for about 15 minutes before I was woken up to gather my things and leave. Much refreshed and headache seems to have lifted slightly.

(me and Dr Nick have 40 winks. Or maybe it was just about 20)

Simmo(nds) wasn't feeling very well so was left behind with Dr Isla Cox to rest for a day in Dukla (Thuggla). It was decided that he does have AMS and was presenting all the classic symptoms but we all went ahead leaving him in Isla's capables.

The rocky hill that stretched above us was a bit of a chore but we took frequent rest stops. Trekking in the Himalayas seems to be a constant struggle to stay at a comfortable temperature. I'm wearing quite a heavy tog NorthFace down jacket, a windproof inner layer as well as a technical underlayer and generally when I'm stood still, it's fine but moving and especially with uphills, it gets pretty hot and sweaty zipping and unzipping the windproof, taking the down jacket off, gloves, hat, pack, moan, moan, moan.... it's beautiful here at the top. This a a holy place.

We're resting for half an hour at what seems to be a basin shaped plateau (which, I guess, isn't technically a plateau) at the top of the rocky hill. At the crest of it we turned around to see the teahouse which looked like half a postage stamp. I hope Simmo is okay. There are prayer flags stretching from one peak of the crest to the other, forming a welcome gate to this place. There's a stupa here with more flags flying. In the base of the rocky basin there are what looks like granite boulders with carvings on them. We look around and there are memorials and monuments all over the place. Everyone seems to recognise names of people, perhaps more famous climbers that have tried scaling Everest. Walking around, I find a boulder tucked into a far corner where I find a simple carving to someone. It's stupid to cry over people you don't know but I guess, it's like watching films where you invest in the truth of the film and something sad happens, I can't help but cry. I don't know who this person is but I've invested in the truth of this mountain that it can be unforgiving and that there are dangers on it. I can only imagine what went on. Did they only make it this far? No. Surely not. These people are surely more heroic than I, though I am reminded that that some have fallen before this point of the route up to Everest. I suspect that our little trek is nothing to what ever Alex Lowe had gone through. If I get back down I will find out who this person is and what they did and why an anonymous friend carved their name in a rock. It's simple but beautiful, out of the way of the main route through this place. And sitting by the rock, looking around, it's like we're being watched by the Gods on all sides in their towering majesty. No wonder they chose this spot as the place to place the monuments to the fallen. They can rest protected.

When we continued our journey, we are all a little subdued and more than moved by the sacrosanctity of this hill.

Further along after much deep thought and subdued walking, I finally hit on the answer.

"Mansion House. The tube stop with all the vowels in the alphabet is Mansion House!"

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Day 8 Trekking Rest Day 7

Dingboche. Or is it Dengboche? The plan for the morning of this 'rest' day is to nudge 5000m and stay up there for an hour, shocking our bodies into acclimatising. The route up was pretty hard going really. We got some group shots and there was this stupa half way up where we took some more photos. The guides showed us the way that we were going the next day from that point. The valley lay on the other side of this hill where we were going (Lobuche).

Today was also Kinsey 'Kimbo' Hern's 28th Birthday and the guys had arranged a little something of a 'show and tell' for him, unbeknownst to himself. I was a little afraid that I didn't know Kinsey enough to write him a poem especially for him despite my asking him over the course of the past few days a random set of questions, which I thought might help my understanding of Kimbo. He's one of those enigmas that follows their own logic but seems rather odd to the outside world. I completely identify with that so I thought I'd re-write something that I wrote when I was 28. I'll take the references out of breasts 'giving up their milky goodness' and the passages lifted from Blake. And I don't think the girls would want to hear about 'fizzing at the bunghole' either. I mean it's just too too rude, even by my standards. Perhaps in quiet pubs in Hampstead but not when you're trying to climb a mountain.

The climb up this particular hill was tiring and was meant to take only 2.5 hours to get up and 30 mins down. It didn't seem to be doing that. The trek up took nearly 4 hours for me and over an hour down. I was only able to rest for about 30 mins instead of the hour that we were meant to get. Not sure if that was any good for me. We reached about 4900 metres which is the height that we'd be sleeping in tomorrow night in Lobuche. The views of the Khumbu valley were amazing. I never expected the world to exist in a place of such beauty. Only in films. From where we were we could see the journey we will be taking tomorrow, all the way up this valley, all the way for what looked like miles and miles of steady sloping valley floor, past stone houses, past streams between mountains that stretched to the sky and ended in clouds like benign volcanoes. Beauty. Beauty. Beauty. As far as the eye can see.

Jameau Pederskin, Kimbo Hern and Jambo 'Kenya' Markby

Kimbo wasn't sure how to answer ' Do you like wolves?' question. He was a bit back footed. I mean, it's a simple yes/no question. But no, he'd never met any. (I knew I get Kimbologic to these questions, excellent). What's your favourite sandwich? (Easy - Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato. I like the fact he didn't say BLT. It shows a savouring of those words, like he wanted them right now. I fancy a nice sandwich at that time, no bacon though).

What would you usually be doing on his birthday? Did he expect to be doing this?

Walking down I'd noticed that my hand had swollen up. Rather worrying. I thought this was the start of the angio-neurotic oedema. Hells teeth. It had gone by the time I'd descended. Speaking to Dr Nick he said peripheral oedema was quite normal at high altitudes. Oh good.

There was an internet cafe in Dingboche which was 25 rupees a minute. Updated my twitter. Some of the boys went to play snooker (or was it pool?) which the owners had helicopter flown.

That evening was the Kimbo Birthday Surprise Show And Tell. I think that was even better than the Everest Factor because it was more personal and it had everyone (or most everyone) doing something or other for Kimbo. Goonit asked if I was going to sing but all I knew were ballads or Joni or lovesongs. Not really appropriate for Kimbo. Really. Nice looking as he is. Even I can't do that. Chris Martin (not from ColdPizza) emceed the event and a great job. We got more of a taste of his stand-up style, which I preferred to the charity gig that he did (ain't that always the way). Goonit and him did a song to start the proceedings.

There was a damn fine bit of garage rap and beatboxing from MC Shark (Joe Williams) feat. Miles Nathan and Jules Staveley. There were also stories and jokes told by other people. For the first time on the trip I'd heard Simmo speak and was pleasantly surprised at the joke he came out with, loving the opera impression he gives. Lucy Brooks shared with everyone a photo of Kimbo in his youth playing on the beach as they were childhood friends.

Here's the poem I recited for Kimbo, should you be interested.

It was the Summer of My Youth

We were on holiday in Scarborough

When I came into myself.

She was older than me

Mousey haired, looking for marriage,

Wore a green pinny

And worked behind the glass

At the BP garage

Over the road.

She came over on her tea-break

To smoke the fags

I'd bought my dad an hour ago.

I kissed her body -

This was Yorkshire -

She smelt like kippers

I walked around the holiday home

And wore her like slippers.

She said 'Can you prove your love?'

I slipped my hand in and wore her like a glove.

The North sea spume splashed

On her promenade walls,

The spray ran down in rivulets

On her high harbour front.

Her mouth was full

With talk of years and ages.

She protested I could be her son!

I replied, 'I'm the little brother you never had -

Now kiss me.'

I realise now that I missed a trick there, not rhyming 'front' with anything other than 'son' but hey, that was the re-write at the 11th hour. I recently recited this to a mixed group of artists and performers, some women were of the age the woman in the poem could have been and they found the last line incredibly sexy. I found that reaction a little bizarre but perhaps it means different things to different ages. Such is the power of Art.

The other question I asked Kimbo on the hill which I forgot about was "What would he usually be doing on his birthday? Did he think he was going to be doing this on his birthday?" Because he lives in the countryside of Herefordshireshire Kimbo doesn't usually spend his birthday with his friends because most of the time it's half term so they used to go on holiday with their parents (how old are his friends?) so he never usually gets to see his friends so this was kinda different for him. (Yes, that, and the fact that we were 4000 metres above sea-level.) I was happy that my comedy poem was part of the fabric woven into that birthday blanket. (WTF is a Birthday Blanket? I think the altitude has either affected my handwriting or my mind!)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Day 7, Trekking Day 6 Tengboche to Dengboche

We were told that if we went to the early morning prayers we could ask the Rinpoche for blessings. From yesterday I knew that he was in Kathmandu so it'll be the assistant Rinpoche. Whatever that is. Abbot. I've looked it up. I'd noticed that during the prayers all the monks were presented with food and tea or maybe soup to eat. Some of it was biscuitty and wafery things, the sort you'd get in a Costcutter back home. Didn't look particularly ascetic.

On the way to Dengboche I was happily in the company for some of the way of Toovey and Hill(s) who devise list games with each other. The one I joined in on was naming the film where the hero had died. Now, I'm never the best with people's names anyway, unless I'm facebook friends with them so actors' names are the one thing I'm frightfully bad at. (Does that make me a bad actor?) But I managed to get quite high on the rounds. Jameau had posed the question what tube stop on the London Underground has the longest sequence of consonants. Easy. Knightsbridge. 6 consonants in a row. The other one was what tube stop has all the vowels in it. Hmmm I'll have to think about that one a bit more.

One of the things that I'd noticed was how little these people expected to live on, how little they needed. We passed a series of walled fields where we saw one of the locals were throwing rocks at a group of what looked like goats. I was going to ask him to stop as it seemed horrific that someone should be harming someone else's livestock. I'm glad I didn't as apparently they weren't goats but wild mountain deer and they'd broken down the wall and made an entrance and were slowly demolishing a farmer's crop of potatoes. I tried pitching some rocks at the deer but my efforts feel short of anything that was even in the deer hearing range so I gave up and said that we'd tell someone in the village further up the track. Pangboche was where we filled up on more chocolate and was able to stop for a toilet break.

We are so privileged living in the Western world. We want for everything and we get it so easily. We don't have to wait for a delivery from a passing train of yak to get the next bag of rice or potatoes or medicines, or we don't have to walk for 3 days to the next outpost to get stuff that we need. If we want food we just go to Tescos and get it, or heat it up in the stove (I don't own a microwave) or go out to a restaurant to eat. Alex Fudda made a good point saying how privileged we are on this trip. We turn up to teahouses and wait to be served, we can still shower if we want to pay for it, we sleep in beds.

This is an extraordinarily short blog. What's going on? I remember walking into the village with Hill(s) and Butler at the time and we were being greeted by trekkers going down hill. We didn't quite understand their smiles and cheers of encouragement. What was that all about. Their encouraging 'Not long now boys' type chat just wasn't what we were wanting to hear. Give us a break ladies. Every cow or dog or yak that we passed Butler's one joke of 'Ah Mrs Martin, such a pleasure to see you' was trying to prove the comedy rule that a comedy line is funny once, thrice or twenty-seven times. I think that he was at about at the 23rd time that day. Was I going to stick around to wait for the 27th? It'd be a masochistic mission.

Every shop we passed on the one fairly easy slope would claim that Dingboche was higher than the next shop by a good 40 metres, even though they were next to each other. Rather amusing. Perhaps they knew that by the time trekkers got to this point, they'd only look up at the shop they were going into and not actually at any others after that. Who knows?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Day 6 Trek Day 5 Khumjung to Tengboche (Tyangboche)

What scares me about journeys is not knowing exactly what is on the road ahead. It's like devising a play, I guess. You know you have certain goals but you don't know what accidental twists of plot will happen - what amazing scenes, what points of tension will capture the imagination, what difficult uphill paths will break you down. You push yourself to just keep going until that goal in reached. That's what I think I've learnt about myself so far. No matter how hard it is and the tears are trembling just on the rim of my eyes like they do in Japanese cartoons, I just keep going. Despite the constant fear of not finding the next toilet before the next urge takes me, I keep going. Somehow it's easier to keep going the more I'm by myself. If I was with others a bit more I'd probably argue myself down off this mountain. For most of today I was trailing behind, not wanting to rush up the mountain. Today was going to be a 3-4 hour trek. Why are we going downhill? Not looking forward to the uphills anymore. More Downhill to go Uphill Frustrations. We found a bridge to hang the prayer flags from the schoolkids back in England. Reading some of them was mindblowing. These kids. Not about playstations or more toys. Not about World Peace either. But something more local to them. One flag asked for no more stabbings in the area, another asked to cure their dad's cancer. Simple. Basic. Pure. Now their payers are fluttering hundreds of feet above a river, thousands of feet above sea-level from a suspension bridge on the roof of the world

.After the bridge we start to make our ascent and it goes from quite rocky terrain near the valley to a lush greener terrain. Not that wooded but decidedly more deciduous than previous. Up the track on a grassy hill were the tealodges at Tengboche (Tyang Buche). Others were already putting their packs in rooms etc. I followed the ridge further to the other teahouse as the first one had already been occupied. Someone says to me to follow the 2nd tea lodge and walk past it. The guide I was with pointed to something in the distance. Something I thought I'd never get to see. In this amazing landscape, with more prayer flags flying high above our heads, a beautiful monastery to our right behind the tealodges, way, way in the distance. Behind the ridge of Lhotse in an almost cloudless early afternoon sky sitting protected. Serene. Invincible. Everest. I put on my sunglasses. I am crying. What a faggot.

After a while I stopped and thought, 'Where's Kirt? Where's my friend? I need a picture of this.'

After putting my stuff in a three-man room (I'm sharing with the Sharlands! Yayy, They're nice chaps. Don't take themselves too seriously, I like that) and getting some milky tea some of the players practice cricket just to see what it's like at this altitude. It's going to be harder when they get up another couple of thousand metres but might as well make the opportunity of the time and the altitude to get used to it. I go exploring the monastery. I can see the George and Wesley are there already and have tried to take photos of the acolytes and monks. I'm there to sketch. I took some film of the prayer wheels and some shots of the building. I was surprised that it wasn't as old as I thought but then one of the monks told me that the original was burnt in a fire and that it was rebuilt with money donated by the Himalayan Trust. I had a fun time sketching. Curiosity always gets the better of people when sketching and they will crowd around looking over your shoulder to see what you are doing. For some reason, I never get fazed by this, not that I sketch in public at all. Perhaps it's the art school brashness that I still retain. I doubt it. I can remain unattached from this. Especially since it's quite a technical drawing. One of the older monks comes up to me to see what I'm sketching and nods in slow approval. He asked to take my pad and looked through it with more nodding and saying 'Very good,' while looking at the sketches of the players in Phakding. I wish I could take a photo of him while he does that. but I guess that would be rude, while he's talking to me. I continue sketching. Some off the younger boys shuffle around me to get a better look at what I'm doing. I guess I'm waiting until 4pm when we are allowed in the monastery itself to witness the prayer session. One of them says that Mingmo is also a very good drawer and I'm introduced to Mingmo but he's too shy to show any of his drawings.

The doctors come up and take pictures of the monks around me while I have them distracted and talks to them up at the top of the steps. An acolyte remains by me, watching intently, silently as I measure the building with my pencil. I've not done that for years but it's good to be doing it now. Suddenly there's a low horn coming from somewhere. Up on the 3rd floor of the monastery two windows are open next to each other and two monks at either window are sounding the call to prayer with conch shells. Where do they get conch shells this high up the mountain?

We get ushered into the inner courtyard to wait for the monks to take their places inside the building. One of the monks is really old and has to be almost carried up the stairs. Inside, we take our shoes off, observe to 'No flash' signs (apart from Alex Fudda who manages to not stop her auto flash and is asked to leave. Ooops!) and we're greeted by loud music of various horns, cymbals and pipes. It's quite dark apart from the lights from the windows and the flicker of the electric lights which sometimes go off and we're plunged back into darkness.I get stuck into sketching the scene as the light is so low that I'm not getting a clear image. The sound of the monastery at prayers is amazing. It's the low drones of 30 voices all reciting the same verse at different points of their breath. Transfixing. I'm sat opposite the monk that looked through my sketchbook and sketched away. He reminds me of a friend's dad. I look up during sketching once and I see that he's looking directly at me, his lips moving, the sound of is voice mixed in with the other voices. He's noticed that it's him that I've been sketching a lot of. Oh shit, I've done it now, I've ruined his concentration. He smiles and starts to giggle but still maintains the chanting. Thank god. Must be all that meditation that they do. Either that or he's perfected the art of keeping his lips moving and it'll look like you're singing, as perfected by Jen Gladstone at school.

Outside in the now chilly evening air I bump into Mingmo and a rounder monk who want to see my sketchbook. I show them the sketch of the building and the monk during prayer. The get excited and point at it and they did tell me his name but I didn't write it down. Apparently it was correct. I managed to get his surly demeanor.

I must be slightly affected by the altitude. I was convinced after dinner that David Kirtley had a speech impediment. I just didn't understand what he was saying, or trying to say. We had only been given a serving and a half of food and were all still a bit hungry. David who was sat next to me, kept on saying that in the other lodge, the other lot had fiths. I was sure he was trying to say that they had fish (something I was missing greatly) and spent an amusing five minutes trying to decipher what he was actually trying to say. Perhaps I was going deaf and I needed to blow my ears out or something. But he kept on repeating it. I would perhaps have said it another way - 'The other lot had five helpings' pour l'example, but it amused me enough to think that Dave had a speech impediment. Even though I know he speaks very well.