Ernest Henry Shackleton
Henry Cecil John Hunt
Christian John Storey Bonington.
Three generations of inspirational British explorers. For chaps of a certain age, these names conjure up images of heroism and derring-do. Each have their rightful place in history as leaders of men that accomplished extraordinary feats. Whilst their names are part of our vocabulary, the names of their team members are less likely to be on the tip of the tongue. Who now remembers Burley, Wish, Shute, Jungle, Constant and Prone? Quite. Yet without these unsung heroes Shackleton, Hunt and Bonington would be obscure footnotes in the pages of British history.
For each of the last twenty-three years I have been a team member in expeditions to cross, on foot, from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland: The Great Outdoors Challenge. Putting together a team that is able to place a man at the east coast is a tricky affair as I'm sure Ernest and John would testify, if they were still around.
|THE RANKLING-LA [CLICK TO ENLARGE]|
Every year hordes of hopefuls apply for the limited number of places on the TGO Challenge. And who can blame them when there is the prospect of views like these; see above and below. Some prefer to take the Challenge on alone. Others pair up or travel in threes or fours. I've walked by myself, in pairs, threes and fours. This year we have opted for a tried and tested threesome, but not before a fair amount of soul-searching.
|BEYOND THE RANKLING-LA [CLICK TO ENLARGE]|
Other people are odd. They are very different indeed. Tiny foibles, that in the Axe and Compass after a few beers appear to be mere trifles, are enough for a fight to the death after two weeks in the empty quarter, as Gary Larson - the sole survivor of the Lewis and Clark expedition, was to discover.
Once again, we've decided to throw our caps into the ring and have applied for next year's Great Outdoors Challenge. Which brings me neatly to the matter of our own team selection.
It's important that prospective team members are of good character and sociable. This results in a well functioning team, a cohesive unit. I decided to search my extensive archives, including my little black book of people who have pissed me off, the inter-web and as many Criminal Records Office files that I could hack, until my unfortunate discovery, to track down the sordid details of each our team members.
The first chap, referred to here as 'me,' appears to be a saintly soul, a Grandfather and all round good egg. An extensive search produced just three photographs that cover this adventurer's lifespan. Yes. He definitely gets a place in the team.
|ME, SGURR NAN COIREACHAN, 2010 [CLICK TO ENLARGE]|
|ME, THE PENNINE WAY, 1976 [CLICK TO ENLARGE]|
|ME, CIRCA 1964, BRACKNELL CHURCH HALL|
I had a great deal of difficulty tracking down the details of the next member of our team - a certain Lord Elpus of Lord Elpus Hall. He has obviously spent a great deal of time cleaning up his murky presence on the worldwide-web. Just when I thought I had found something this was the usual result:
However, the scoundrel had forgotten about the Wayback Machine which produced these honeys.
|LORD ELPUS, 2001, ANNAPURNA SANCTUARY|
|LORD ELPUS, CIRCA 1953, CAMP III, RUM DOODLE|
|LORD ELPUS - RECENT PICTURE, YORKSHIRE|
From the little detail available it appears the character is ageless. His name has been linked to Brink's-Mat, and the Great Train Robbery. They say the true mastermind of those heists was never found. The only clue to his whereabouts is a ferocious black cat the size of a baby seal, colloquially referred to as 'Doodle.'
I had, however, no difficulty at all in finding the low-down (and dirty) of our third man on the rope. Stories and images of Mad'n'Bad appear across time and space. It is said his image is being carried on Voyager 1, now some thirteen billion miles from earth. Fortunately NASA declined to take a recording of his electric guitar solos, preferring instead to take Chuck Berry and Bach.
|MAD'N'BAD, NORTH WALL RUM DOODLE, 2010|
|MAD'N'BAD. COULD BE ANYWHERE, REALLY...|
|MAD'N'BAD. HE HAS A WEAKNESS FOR THE BLACK STUFF.|
What can I say? This chap has a record of broken legs, helicopter rescues, walking companions carried away, sobbing or threatening murder. And yet...
And yet we love the rascal to death. He's promised, should we gain a place, to put rubber stoppers on the points of his flailing walking poles and to walk in a polite line on the correct side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. He has promised not to stand with his hands on his hips and harrumph loudly at a distance of a mile further ahead. He has promised to carry a rucsac full of sloe gin and life-saving cans of beer.
There you have it. I give you our team. No one in their right minds would pay for them. We're good to go.
And if Christian John Storey Bonington is reading this and would like to tag along, I'm sure he would be most welcome. We could do with a decent leader...