Wednesday 7 August 2013

This week I have mostly been reading



Shipton and Tilman by Jim Perrin

There are several biographies of both these giants of the tweed jacket and tricounis era of mountaineering, but Mr.Perrin here concentrates on their relationship, and particularly it's expression during the 1930s when they did so much, together and with others, to explore ( a word which had real meaning in those days) the high regions of the Himalaya.

The sub-plot is the development of the (relatively) lightweight fast-moving expedition, living off the land.

This is a good book, a serious book, almost a scholarly book, in fact.

“So, it's boring and hard to read ?”

No, not really.

But if your recent reading has been the latest Jackie Collins , you will have to devote a few pages to acclimatisation.The syntax is precise and measured, the frequent fascinating footnotes slow the readers' progress, but, for me, this is merely deferred gratification.

This is not a one night stand of a book. Nor is it a cosy pipe and slippers, finish-each-others-sentences book. Rather it is an intense passionate, but ultimately doomed affair of a book.

 These were no working class heroes – no Joe Browns or Don Whillans.They were of their time. Their ability to endure hardships honed by cold baths and cross country runs experienced during their developing years at minor public schools.They inhabited the world of Kenya’s Happy Valley, of the Planters Club, of dinners at Browns and randy widows (Shipton only – Tilman was of more monastic bent !)

  The whole book reeks of understatement and English reserve


Tilman relates how he and Odell celebrated the long awaited summiting of Nanda Devi - “ I believe we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands upon it”

Perrin comments thus -“It is a wholly characteristic Tilman comment, that familiar operative principle of reductive irony used to check the expression of emotions for which words would inevitably seem insufficient, refuge taken in an odd and satirical version of litotes therefore.”


Incidentally, Tillman's book about this expedition is reputedly the inspiration for “The Ascent of Rum Doodle”

This is not a masterpiece. As Perrin points out, it has been a much loved and much worked-on project. Perhaps it suffers from that. And from the fact that, at the end of the period in question (1939), both protagonists had long and eventful lives still ahead of them – briefly alluded to in an essentially unsatisfactory and anticlimactic epilogue

I was interested to read on the dust jacket that Mr Perrin is currently working on a book about George Borrow. My much read copy of Wild Wales is inscribed “Capel Curig  1958”





  1. Sounds like a fascinating read!

    1. Not perhaps everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed it.

  2. From Inland Voyage to Wild Wales. I've got a copy somewhere, with very flimsy pages, of Borrow's book, which I read many years ago. I seem to recall him being a very interesting bloke, so I shall look into Perrin's book when it appears.
    Cheers, Alen

    1. Quite few parallels between RLS and Borrow.
      Jim Perrin can be a bit verbose, but his use of language can be very refreshing in this age of txt spk.(Former YCL, I believe)
      You know, I had never noticed how thin the pages are - almost like an old bible.