On the whole I like the human race. I am sure there must be individuals I hate but, after a quarter of a century teaching adolescents, I can’t think of any worthy of a good throttling. I expect there were some prime candidates for retrospective birth control (the decade after pill), but I have always stuck to the principle that every teenager is a potential human being. True, I have never met a monster – a Hitler, Stalin or a Trump – so perhaps I have led a sheltered life. Or maybe I have just been lucky with my Ofsted inspectors.
Anyway, I have been thinking about the meaning of Life, the Universe and Litter ever since I started my latest jaunt to the summit of Mount Everest “the blinking hard way”.
It may seem trivial compared to war, hunger and pestilence, but it litter-ally makes my blood boil, which is a pretty messy sight. The galling thing is not the rubbish itself – although that can be pretty epic, like the aftermath of the “celebrations” in Liverpool pictured below – it is the mentality of people who drop litter. They know full well that what they are doing is wrong. Worse still, people only do it when they think they can get away with it. There is not a scrap of the stuff in the vast US national parks where the fines are huge and the Rangers armed. Clearly, people will do the right thing when there is no other choice. Maybe I don’t like the human race so much after all.
Perhaps I am also straying too near to the land of Misanthropia if I say that humans are like rats: fine when there’s only one of them, but loathsome in large numbers. As I blink my way towards the ice shelves, ladder bridges and sheer bloody slog of the upper levels of Everest, the main problem is not savage nature but other climbers. Basically we are in a vertical traffic jam, waiting for better weather and for other people to get the hell off the summit.
However, there was one group I was happy to allow to overtake us: a group of six charming locals who described themselves in their fantastic English as “Sherpas and Sherpesses”. They seemed to have an unfeasible amount of baggage with them. They were pulling two improvised sledges containing “plastic bags and stuff”. The plan was to get to the summit, add their prayer flags to the growing pile and then pick up every piece of rubbish they could find between the peak and Base Camp. I asked why they were risking life and limb just to clean up other people’s mess and they said it was their sacred duty, but that the extra three months’ wages didn’t hurt.
Apparently a previous sweep of the middle and lower levels had yielded 11 tonnes (11,000 kilos) of rubbish including food wrappings, cans, bottles, large quantities of deep frozen human waste and empty toxic cylinders. Oh, and four dead bodies. I was going to ask about the toxic cylinders but I thought about the dead bodies and decided that was already too much information. No matter how virtual the challenge was, the last thing I needed was a reminder of my imminent demise.
Because there are no two ways about it: I am living on borrowed time, on a knife edge. Or, in the words of Tom Lehrer, “sliding down the razor blade of life”. In my case, the fat lady’s already into her third encore. As one solicitous friend said to me recently “I wouldn’t bother starting any new box sets”.
Nevertheless, I have now completed four years since my diagnosis of motor neurone disease. That’s twice as long as I was expected to live, thanks largely to Brenda and kitchen roll. So I think it’s time to celebrate. And where better to party than the top of the world? I will be there soon, fingers crossed. For a few short minutes, I’ll be able to stand there knackered and blinked out. Then I will raise a glass of vintage port in a toast to life and everything that’s good in the world.
And I hope you will join me. But why port, I hear you say. Isn’t that a drink for retired captains – a girl in every port and a port in every girl? An expensive and dated tipple? Well yes, but it’s also the only thing Brenda can pipette into my mouth which still reminds me of life. It’s something worth waiting for: never drink port until it’s old enough to vote.
There are practical considerations too. It is easier to carry than a bottle of champagne. Nobody wants a repeat of the K2 exploding bottle incident. Constant shaking, tight cork, fizzy wine and low atmospheric pressure combine to make a cocktail you will not enjoy, unless you’re a fan of Moēt et Shotgun. So it’s port for me. And yes, we will be taking our empties down with us.
PS If you want to find out whether I blinking well make it to the top of the world, follow me on Facebook or read my story here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Phil-Rossall3
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