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.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Day 5 Trek Day 4 Khumjung April 14th

‘Rest Day’

Today is one of our acclimatisation ‘rest’ days. Which means we go up a mountain (and I think we’re going to breach 4000 metres) and then come back down to sleep at the lower altitude. I got up early to take some photos of Khumjung and the mani stones that lined the avenue from the mountain pass. Got a great cow-yak photo.

It’s also the day of the ‘Everest Factor’. A piece of bonding fun that was dreamed up by Jamo Peterson. Some of the players got involved in teaching the kids at the Khumjung School the finer points of cricket. (The kids are on holiday this week but from the turnout it looks like they came just for the experience of meeting us. From what I saw, there seemed to be at least 3 different ages of kids. Some were really young and didn’t really do much cricket training but seemed to play loads of catching games. British Bulldog was one of them. Very sweet to see our lot playing mit kinder.

I got some lovely shots of people playing cricket and such the like with the slightly older kids. The Staveleys treated me to an apple pie and hotish chocolate which was a welcome treat. It was good to finally have some fruit, albeit tinned. When we got back to the teahouse, it was a great relief to see the Sharlands there. Neil looked much better than when I saw him yesterday morning and Tom was glad to be back with the pack.

Before lunch we went to the Khumjung Hospital which gets a lot of funding from various Hillary Foundations around the world, especially the Canadian branch. Hopefully our donations will help these good doctors get medical help to the local population. It was the only hospital in the district and seemed to serve around 7000 people, some of whom would travel the 3-4 hours to get to the hospital. The good doctor was one of three that was always on call at the hospital and seemed particularly proud that the women in their catchment area were very good at getting their children immunised and particular about showing off their immunisation records. For the ante-natal clinics that they run, the women would travel to the hospital on foot for the miles to get the right medical help and advice.

A small lunch break back at the teahouse and then the trek up the hill to acclimatise. Joe Williams and Chris Martin (not of Coldplay fame) dressed in costume to get comedy photos up the peak. Apparently Chrissy has really low-hangers. I wasn’t sure. I just thought that his tights were bunching funnily. We walked past the hospital again up some low rolling hills to the peak where there was a boulder on which we took turns to pose. The HomoErotic Super Heroes (Joe and Chris) made comedy poses on the same boulder, while beyond them the hill fell away to what looked like a 3000+ metre drop to the bottom of the mountain.

Now chat is important to most people, it really brings out our character and thinking. Somehow James Butler’s query of ‘Were the Jews involved in World War 2?’ earned him ‘Dick of The Day’ Award. Dick of the Day usually means wearing a cowbell on your pack (or around your neck) for the whole of the trek day. It must be more annoying than you think, especially after the first hour when you have this low-hanging thing hitting your legs constantly. My sympathies go out to Chris Martin and possibly his bedpartners.

The afternoon on the ridge was fairly relaxed, I managed to get some nice photos of people and was able to enjoy myself amongst the chatter. The tightness around my head was noticeable and was a concern today. I took it as read that this is what normally happens when you ascend so I didn’t mention it as it wasn’t a headache. This constant worry about my brain is beginning to wear thin though. It just kinda makes me pensive and probably aloof. But that's all it is. It also kinda makes me want to be on my own a lot of the time. Must change that.

Back at the teahouse after the trek down the teams got ready for the Everest Factor. Nerves were apparent, tensions were rising. Dinner out of the way and we start. Jamo takes the stage as emcee for the proceedings. I must say that I’ve never really appreciated James Peterson. I knew that he was amusing and had a wry Radio 4 sense of humour but seeing it translated to something useful is absolutely charming. He should consider it as a career.

The event itself was a bit of fun for the teams. Once the Hillarities realised that they had an actor among the teams, they tried to enrol me as honorary Hillarian. Sorry lads, teams have been picked. I’m a Trektator and proud. During last night’s rehearsal we’d heard that the Hillarities were doing the same song as us with the rather tedious 500 Miles. As Trektators, we’d decided to go with that first but change some of the lyrics to reflect the trek a bit more and that’d be our ‘edge’. It was also our weakest song.

I have no idea what the other teams sang (something to do with not recognising the song, or is that unfair? Haha) but perhaps because I just don’t know songs. I’m reliably informed that the Zingers did ‘Stand By Me’, the Hillarians did ‘Wonderful World’ and we did 500 Miles which saw the players tied and us with really low points. Rounds Two started with the Zingers doing ‘Living On A Prayer’ which started with a bit of theatrical genius. Not the fact that the boys were in costume (underwear from Primark over leggings. Very erm…. Fetching) but the fact that they had flashing head torches providing a bit of atmosphere. Not that that was theatrical genius but Haydn Main’s head torch didn’t have a ‘flash’ setting so he had to manually flash it by flapping his hand in front of the light to simulate it. Titters for those that noticed. Toovey did his best screaming through a sore throat. The Hillarians did ‘Afternoon Delight’ which I didn’t recognise but it got laughs in appropriate places and Chris Martin’s vocal instrumentation was par. We did Summer Loving which was always Rachel and my Karaoke favourite, though I could never get the end harmony so I just encouraged everyone to sing the last chorus. I knew it was going to be a winner mainly because it was an acting song and I knew how to play it. I did have to turn down the offer of sex from someone, goddamit. Yeah, even these boys were looking good after 4 days of trekking. Round 3 started with the Hillaries doing 500 Miles which was done in earnest and probably better sung than our version, and it had a bit of action. We did ‘We Are The Champions’ which was hilarious as there was a line which the rest of us could never sing so we just left it to Helen Curr to do. I gave my best Mercury impression (just a lot lower. He is a tenor with a high belt). The Zingers made us all go outside in the cold to watch theirs. And despite the Hillaries making taunts at them, I was moved by the Haka which was Preston’s idea, and I believe done with the utmost respect and integrity. Back inside we had a break while the scores were totted up to which the Sherpa sang us two traditional songs which to us sounded like ‘Bring on the Milky Tea’ or sounds to that effect, but got them singing and dancing and enjoying the night with us.

It was a load of fun for everyone and provided a perfect bonding-cum-light relief for everyone, showing each other that we don’t take ourselves that seriously. It ended up with the Sherpa coming first, garnering a perfect 10 from the judges, the Players got joint third and the Trektators got second place (or 1st in the Foreign Team category). I could say that it reflected the talent on board but I swear I saw Sharon Osbourne pass Simon Cowell his score, before even he knew what score he was giving. A fix? No… of course not. I'm sure it was all above board. Yeah. Right. But anyway, it was fun for everyone to be a bit silly for an evening.

I must say that even the judges had loads of fun. Ian Ditchburn’s Louis Walsh was double-entendre heaven. Dr Nick’s Randy Jackson was spot on, and Isla’s Sharon was aptly catty and sharp. Breck Lord’s Simon Cowell was amusing. Well, to me anyway. Whenever I hear Australians try to do English, they do end up sounding gay. But I suppose Simon Cowell sounds kinda gay and Breck was being accurate.

I had my first cigarette in 4 days as I was finally in a good mood. Perhaps buoyed by people coming up to me and commenting on the quality of my singing (according to Joe Williams I have the voice of an angel, bless him, and wants me to sing him to sleep, ahaha) but perhaps it was the first time in 5 days I was able to relax a bit. Tomorrow we go to Tengboche. It’s a monastery, one of the highest, if not the highest, in Nepal.