The Angry Corrie 44: Jan-Feb 2000

TAC 44 Index

Reviews 1 - Val Hamilton goes to see two Grand if not very Old Men

I KNOW that perception of age changes as you get older, but one week in November has forced me into a radical rethink. Not only did I have to grasp the ridiculous concept that a youthful friend was 60, I also went to hear two of the fittest pensioners around giving lectures. Sir Christian Bonington CBE and Hamish Brown were born within a week of each other in August 1934, yet I defy even the most cliché-ridden tabloid journalist to pigeon-hole them as "elderly".

It was interesting to see the similarities and contrasts in appearance and performance. On the Monday night Bonington spoke in aid of the leprosy charity, Lepra, at Kilgraston School, Bridge of Earn, about his three trips to the Tibetan mountain, Sepu Kangri. On the Wednesday Brown addressed the Stirling branch of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society on Morocco.

Both men were lean and fit. Bonington seemed the taller - sadly there's no Frindall-compiled source of moun-taineers' heights - and, perhaps because of this, looked a little gaunt rather than just slim. Bonington was greyer than Brown, especially in the beard, though Brown did have the advantage of a recently acquired Moroccan tan. (You fancy them, you do - Ed.)

One contrast was in their attitude to technology. Bonington loved it: his whole carefully-crafted show was presented from his Macintosh laptop, without a glitch. Dramatic photographs were intercut with occasional video and sound clips and routes were traced by moving red lines, rather than just a wobbly pointer. Brown was not even all that keen on the remote control of the slide projector. You could not imagine him taking solar-powered satellite phones to Morocco so he could set up a website, as Bonington had done in Tibet.

Both men are of course highly experienced professional speakers and both had excellent slides. Bonington was telling a particular story and so his lecture had an intrinsic structure. And it was a lecture, occasionally a little formal, whereas Brown, you felt, was just talking to you much as he would if showing his slides at home with a handheld viewer with dodgy batteries. Yet despite his apparent ease and fluency, I was perturbed to realise that the irritating person noisily jangling change in his pocket was in fact the speaker.

Bonington spoke for over two hours and there was no time for questions. My prepared question for Brown, "Why haven't you written a book about Morocco?" was answered during the talk by the information that the manuscript of his end-to-end Atlas walk is now complete. I look forward to its publication. Bonington's book about Sepu Kangri (Tibet's Secret Mountain, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999, written with his neurologist friend and co-explorer, Charlie Clarke), made me laugh aloud a couple of times in the early chapters but tailed off into yet another expedition account. The local colour, interesting at first, eventually verged on padding and there were more appendices than a doctoral thesis. There may be little to choose between the two men as speakers, but Brown, the poet, will always be in a different class as a writer.

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