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Old 05-23-2009, 09:59 AM
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Default Sir Ranulph Fiennes climbs Everest with his dad and grandad

By William Langley
Last Updated: 3:40PM BST 23 May 2009

Profile: In all Sir Ranulph Fiennes's exploits, whether walking to the Pole, unearthing lost cities or performing DIY amputations, the father and grandfather he never knew have led him on, says William Langley.
Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, six foot four tall, fiendishly handsome, usually described as "the world's greatest explorer", has struggled for decades with the perception that his adventuring owes more to eccentricity than the furtherance of knowledge.
Sir Ranulph disagrees. Everything he does, he says, has a sensible explanation and a practical value. Take the time his frostbitten fingers were playing up. When the medicine didn't work, he wandered into his woodshed, clamped his left hand into a vice, and trimmed the troublesome digits off with an electric saw. "Common sense," he explained later.
There were similarly sensible reasons for him to be at the top of Everest last week. First of all, he hadn't been there before. His previous attempt was abandoned when he had a heart attack 300 metres from the summit, and the one before that when he suffered vertigo on a narrow ledge in a snow storm. The failures served only to drive him on, as did the lure of the 3 million he was hoping to raise for charity, and the added distinction of becoming, at 65, the oldest Briton ever to reach the top.
But the real reason Sir Ranulph was standing on Everest with his dodgy ticker and terror of heights is that, whatever the attendant dangers, such exploits keep him alive. In his time, he has canoed up the Amazon, parachuted onto Norwegian glaciers, traversed both poles, auditioned (unsuccessfully) for the part of James Bond, discovered the Lost City of Ubar, and journeyed down the White Nile by hovercraft. But in the four decades he has been doing all this, the world has become a different place, and the big frustration for Ran and his ilk is the con****uous shortage of adventurous new things to do.
Adventure has become a sport even an entertainment. The deserts have all been crossed, so now people cross them while playing the trombone. There is almost nowhere left to explore, so explorers try to explore places differently by balloon, bicycle or pogo stick. With each new twist, poor Sir Ranulph the last of a noble breed, with his Etonian bearing, swamp-rotted toes and bite scars is portrayed as a kind of exotic oddity.
Those close to him including his late first wife, Ginny have broadly taken the view that, while he may be bonkers, he is no eccentric. Anthony Clare, the psychologist, in a radio programme that attempted to explore Sir Ranulph's psyche, described his efforts as "like stirring a void with a teaspoon". The suggestion was that Fiennes's public journeys were a substitution for inner journeys, explorations of mind and soul, that he was unwilling to make.
Certainly, his life has been full of complications. Descended from a blameless family of minor aristocrats whose bloodline stretches back to the time of Charlemagne, Ranulph, the 3rd baronet, was born in 1944. His father, a dashing colonel in the Royal Scots Greys, was wounded in Africa before being transferred to Italy, where he died in the battle of Monte Cassino, four months before his son's birth. By macabre coincidence, the 2nd baronet's own father had been killed in almost identical circumstances in the First World War. The father and grandfather he never knew have been constant presences in his life. "Sometimes, on difficult expeditions," he has said, "I used to imagine that the two people I was most proud of, my dad and granddad, were actually there, watching. I didn't want to let them down, so it was a good, very good inspiration to keep going."
He moved, with his mother and three sisters, to South Africa, where as the only boy in the family, he slipped into what he considered a suitably masculine role. "I remember once coming into the kitchen," he says, "and seeing this gorgeous chocolate cake. I said to Mary, our black cook, 'Can I have the chocolate cake?' She said: 'I've been told you can't have the chocolate cake'. I knew where my mother kept her Browning pistol. I went upstairs, got it, came back down, ****ed it, pointed it at Mary, and said: 'Mary, the chocolate cake'." In Africa he also acquired an appreciation of wild territory and wilder beasts, until he went to Eton aged 12.
It was a painful experience. Tall, tanned and unusually pretty, he was nicknamed "tart" by his schoolmates, had his bottom pinched and was blown kisses wherever he went. At one time, he says, he considered committing suicide by throwing himself into the Thames but, instead, decided to join the Army.
Failing to land a place at Sandhurst (it was now the Sixties, and he says he was "distracted by girls in miniskirts"), he joined the SAS, only to be thrown out eight years later for "misusing explosives". Disgraced and effectively unqualified, he pondered an unpromising future, until his childhood sweetheart, Virginia Pepper, whom he would later marry, suggested they make a journey down the Nile.
From this trip arose the idea of becoming a professional adventurer. He seized it with relish, poring over maps of the remoter parts of the world and studying the lives of the great explorers, especially that of his hero, Scott of the Antarctic. Six years ago, enraged by "ignorant revisionist historians", he published a powerful defence of Scott's leadership. "Most of those who attack Scott," he complained, "have never been anywhere colder than Glasgow on a February night. It's all part of the nasty modern habit of knocking our heroes."
This, says his friend and collaborator Dr Mike Stroud, speaks to Sir Ranulph's sense of loyalty and belief in the integrity that lies at the core of true adventure. "He never does anything that he doesn't honestly believe is going to do some good. I suppose he's grown hardened to the idea that he's some madcap aristocrat, born in the wrong era, but I've been all over the world with him and I can promise you he's a brave and serious man."
Six years ago bizarrely, given his dicings with death in hostile places he suffered a heart attack while boarding an EasyJet flight from Bristol to Edinburgh, and underwent double by-pass surgery. In 2004, Ginny died of stomach cancer at the age of 54, leaving Ranulph alone and bereft on their remote Exmoor farm. "I'd been married happily for 36 years," he said. "I had known her since she was nine and I was 12, and I'd been taking her out since she was 13. When she wasn't there, I desperately wanted not to succumb and vegetate, and there was a grave danger of that. I wanted something very sharp and very challenging, to try and snap out of it."
So began the charity work mostly for heart and cancer causes that now drives him on. He has since married again, to Louise Millington, a much younger horse trainer, and, to his bemusement, become a father for the first time. He knows his adventuring days are limited, but the lure stays strong. Asked last week if he'd be happy to die on Everest, he responded: "I wouldn't be happy to die anywhere. But being a coward, I'd like it to be quick and painless."
The peasant bourgeoisie and their self righteous inclinations are the wests cancer!
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Old 05-23-2009, 10:00 AM
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Spike Spike is offline
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The chocolate cake incident had me in creases
The peasant bourgeoisie and their self righteous inclinations are the wests cancer!
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