It's 'Sherpa time' without the mountain

It's 'Sherpa time' without the mountain

Towards the end of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's uncomfortable grilling by MPs last week he complained that preparing for the meeting had taken up a lot of "Sherpa time". As it seems unlikely Boris is planning an Everest expedition, the "Sherpas" he was referring to are apparently those people with the unenviable task of helping him prepare for such questioning, or more accurately, the ones who do all the hard work.

I admit to not being that familiar with "Sherpa time", although it has been in informal use for referring to those involved in preparatory work for important meetings, paving the way just like the Sherpa guides for mountaineers in the Himalayas. It could become something of a trendy expression while Boris is still at the helm.

The reference to Sherpas proved quite timely as Friday marked the 67th anniversary of the most famous Sherpa of all, Tenzing Norgay, standing proudly atop Everest with New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary.

It took a few days for news of the ascent of Everest to filter through to Britain. I am ancient enough to remember it being announced on the BBC on June 3, 1953, the same day as Queen Elizabeth's coronation and it definitely added to the feel-good factor. Everest was arguably the last hurrah of the British Empire. It was one of the few places on Earth that hadn't been touched by mankind.

Not a bad story

The journalist who cabled through the historic news from the base camp on Everest was Welshman James Morris of The Times newspaper. He later made news himself two decades later by having a sex change and becoming Jan Morris, a talented author and travel writer. Despite Morris's worthy efforts, the Everest report did not even appear on the front page, The Times refusing to break its tradition of carrying classified ads on Page 1.

Morris is still going strong aged 93. Referring to the Everest expedition she told the Guardian recently, "that wasn't a bad story was it?"

Photo op

The photograph that captured the world's imagination was of Tenzing standing at the summit with his ice-axe. It was taken by Hillary, but there was no similar photo of the New Zealand mountaineer. In his book High Adventure, Hillary explained: "As far as I know he (Tenzing) had never taken a photograph before, and the summit of Everest was hardly the place to show him how."

Tenzing, however, recalled it differently. In his own book, Man of Everest, he wrote: "I motioned to Hillary that I would now take his picture. But for some reason he shook his head. He did not want it."

Another question often raised is which of the two actually reached the summit first. According to expedition leader, Sir John Hunt, "They reached it together." Spoken like a true diplomat.

However, in his book Tenzing wrote: "Hillary stepped on top first, and I stepped up after him."

On top of the world

The best thing about the Everest expedition was that a couple of months later all us kids got the afternoon off school to go to the cinema and watch the film, Conquest of Everest. Hillary and Tenzing were real schoolboy heroes -- anyone who could get us an afternoon off school deserved such an accolade.

Little did I know that 16 years later I would be wandering around in Kathmandu, not exactly on the summit of Everest, but near enough as far as I was concerned. The Himalayas as a backdrop was something to behold for someone like me whose only previous experience of mountains had been walking up Snowdon on a wet Welsh afternoon.

It's scary to think that trip to Nepal was 51 years ago and my memories of Kathmandu are somewhat hazy, although I can recall surviving on lots of delicious banana pancakes. The only other tourists were a few hippies fresh from California enjoying the "high life". Evenings were spent in small cafes listening to Dylan, Cream, Hendrix and the Beatles and if I hadn't been broke I would have happily stayed there forever.

Although I would have probably got fed up with banana pancakes after a while.

Now showing

With cinemas in the US not being able to show any movies owing to the coronavirus, some have displayed considerable inventiveness with their marquees and billboards adapting to the situation with inspiration and wry humour.

One cinema marquee is advertising "Now Showing: No Close Encounters of Any Kind" while on a similar theme there is "Stand By Me … but six feet away." Also into social distancing is the cinema in Charlottesville with its marquee announcing "If you can read this we hope you are at least six feet away."

Coming soon

One that gives us wrinklies some hope announces "No Corona For Old Men" while throughout the US, cinema marquees are proclaiming "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." A Seattle theatre assures us "This Is Just An Intermission." Let's hope so. In Phoenixville one cinema is advertising "The Face Mask of Zorro" while another announces "Now Showing: Mr Smith Goes To Wash His Hands."

But perhaps the most poignant offering is the theatre in Jacksonville with the announcement: "Cinema closed until life doesn't feel like a movie."

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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