Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The dark side of the Sun

Although we’ve just suffered another southerly blast in this most disappointing of summers, it’s always wise to use protection.

Showing more sense than I did, this Phasmatodea shelters from the sun, on our pod chair.

Summer used to reignite a love affair for me every year. It was an all-consuming passion which usually led to abandoned clothing scattered about prostrate, perspiring bodies. There was often a distressing amount of publicly exposed flesh, and sometimes whole groups of people were involved. The object of this obsession was spectacularly unfaithful, bestowing favours to any old passer-by, but it was only when this relationship literally tore a strip off me that I realised that my love affair with the sun might finally be over.

It certainly wasn’t love at first sight – quite the opposite, in fact. My family arrived in the early 1970s, fleeing the jaws of a Scottish winter to land squinting in the fierce summer sunshine, on the shimmering, bubbling tarmac of a Marlborough airstrip. Like many of my country-folk I was what is now known as a ‘‘ginga’’, with a milky-white complexion which instantly burned under the Pacific sun. It’s fair to say that Blenheim edges out Glasgow in terms of sunshine hours, and so a whole new world of hurt awaited me if I didn’t take precautions.

Although this was an age when parents cheerfully lathered their kids in coconut oil and flung them outside to get ‘‘nice and brown’’, my childhood summers were spent sensibly covered up or inside, never feeling that I was missing anything beyond stinging, peeling skin.
With adolescence came summer holiday work – always outdoors in baking temperatures – and an awkward new sense of self-image. Try as I might, long-sleeved skivvies could no longer cut it as either a summer fashion statement or practical agricultural work wear, and I had no choice but to grimace and bare it.

It wasn’t easy, but towards the end of my first summer spent working and socialising outside I remember glancing down at my own forearm and noticing with shock that it was darkening from the usual pink to a kind of orangey- brown – and I liked it. I felt like a newly born denizen of summer, no longer scorched and rejected, but finally accepted and welcomed into a bright new world. My days of cringing from the sun like some pale invertebrate clinging to the underside of a rotten log were over, and the following summer saw me hitting the rays hard. Endowed with a physique that once had well-meaning student nurses use me as the model for a skeletal system quiz, I now found that brown skin quite literally covered a multitude of sins. I looked healthy and felt healthy – sunlight gives you vitamin D and that was good for you, right? The real clincher was falling asleep outside and then finding later that the sun appeared to have dried up my teenage acne almost overnight. There was surely no end of benefits which our all-generous life-giving star bestowed and I basked in the rays whenever possible.

Years later, while preparing for a period living overseas I became aware of a shift in attitude to the sun. There was talk of something called melanoma as we left New Zealand, but that seemed to be a condition only older people got – whatever it was.

Living among the pasty Celts of my birth country once again, I found that the peer pressure to be brown made my devotion to the sun look positively indifferent.
When summer arrived – usually for a couple of mid-week days each year – sun-starved Scots would practically drop where they stood, instantly surrendering to the elusive rays. Parks would be strewn with inert bodies, like the aftermath of a sudden massacre, rapidly reddening expressions suggesting an attempt to tan through sheer force of will.
This compulsion was most obvious after the holiday season, when chocolate-brown workmates would make proud returns to work amidst a chorus of tan-envy, after immolating themselves for two weeks on a Spanish beach. And if these startling changes in skin colour sometimes looked suspiciously streaky, and a little orange, nothing was ever said. The fear of striking disappointing weather on a package holiday haunted everyone, as did the sense of defeat in having to apply a bottled tan, once home.

Returning to New Zealand in the mid-90s , I saw that change was obviously in the air. Everyone spoke of the ‘‘hole in the ozone layer’’ with dread, and beaches were noticeably quieter during the heat of the day. Sun hats and full-body swim suits for kids were everywhere, as was marketing for sunscreen. The Coppertone girl had been replaced by a milky slime which, we were told, could save our lives.
It’s not that I chose to disregard these near-hysterical messages; it was just that old habits die hard. Now living in the countryside with a large property to maintain, I was probably spending more time out in the sun than ever, and still never believing that the sun’s rays, now harmfully affecting almost 67,000 New Zealanders every year, could ever hurt me.
My long-overdue, Icarus-like plummet from the sun’s fiery influence probably began in the same way as it did for many thousands of people – with my partner noticing an odd patch of skin on my back. Even then, the area being out of my sight and therefore mind, made me delay another year until eventual bleeding finally led me ashen-faced to my GP.

I was lucky – the area was diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma, the most common and least dangerous sun-induced form of skin cancer. Still it’s not to be taken lightly. An oval portion of skin and muscle 3.8 centimetres in length was promptly cut out of my back. 
The resulting scar is as pale as I was when I first arrived in New Zealand, and would probably burn very quickly in the sun, if I was foolish enough to give it the opportunity. I still love the sun, but clearly you can love something too much. Self-destructive relationships can leave scars, or worse. It’s better to learn and live.

Friday, 24 January 2014


A scrapbook of addenda

As the end of the month approaches I’ve realised that I’ve collected miscellaneous ephemera which relate to previous blog posts, but fell into my hands too late to be included at the time. Some of it, like the comments which appeared on the Marlborough Express facebook page in response to my Kaikoura UFOs infographic, (one of them suggesting an explanation I hadn’t come across before), seemed too quirky not to share.
So as usual, I crave your indulgence, and hope you find something here to enjoy, or at least divert.

In your face Marvel!  Second highest grossing movie nationwide for that week – never in our wildest dreams, right?


Thank you silly season!  I re-wrote a less personal and more factual version of my Snoopy’s Christmas blog for publication in late December and a few papers ran with it.  In fact, the Southland Times gave it most of a full page.

A selection of comments relating to the Kaikoura UFOs infographic which I completed on Christmas Eve: http://fasmatodea.blogspot.co.nz/2013/12/the-southern-lights.html  Four newspapers ran it on Boxing Day, making my all-nighter worth it.

My friend Dave, a Photoshop Jedi Master of huge renown, whipped up this suggestion for speedier crutches-based transportation. If only...

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Why, I otter...

In mid-November last year, news of another New Zealand cryptid raised its whiskery head...

Invercargill-based author Lloyd Esler made the news as he carried out research into sightings of the elusive New Zealand otter for a chapter of his upcoming book.
"I have spoken with 11 people who are either adamant they have seen an otter or are puzzled by an otter-like animal" Esler remarked. Particularly intrigued by the number of sightings and their concentration in one area, he admitted that this suggests a mystery animal existed in Western Southland.

Going  on to speculate about escaped imported otters giving rise to a small population, Esler surprisingly made no mention of the long history of the Waitoreke, or Kaukere, a supposed native mammal resembling an otter, (or in some cases, beaver) first mentioned by Captain Cook.

The infographic below gives a more detailed history of this intriguing, but admittedly unlikely, creature. It is interesting to note that in many cases sightings were made by people very capable of discerning an unknown creature from more common introduced species.


Friday, 17 January 2014

The stick walks again...

My ‘Christmas break’ appears to be over – thank goodness

'Papped' by a newspaper photographer during my
lunchtime peramble around Frank kitts lagoon
I’ve been walking unaided all week, admittedly with a comedy limp which I’m sure will fade with time to become my usual comedy walk. It’s been exactly four weeks since my un-heroic plummet from the apex of our Christmas tree left me with a broken toe, and hard lessons have been learned. We’ve bought a nice stable step-ladder, and I’m reconsidering the benefits of footwear whenever climbing on anything.

But now that I’ve had my first swim of the year at Oriental Bay, and am back at the gym, I am happy to consider myself convalesced. The crutches will be returned for the use of a more deserving person this weekend, but typically, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic about them.

Hobbling around brought forth a lot of seasonal kindness, patience and amusement from people around me, and my wonderful wife shouldered the extra burden this placed on her at this busiest time of the year without once pushing me over in frustration. 
As for myself, I’ll probably never forget tripoding through the otherwise silent streets in the grey dawn light of Christmas Eve, inching towards the lofty heights of Northland to feed my vacationing manager’s goldfish.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Matt Finish part two: Last Christmas

Out with the new, in with the old(er)

Possibly the only opportunity I'll have to post this sunrise photograph.
In a tenuous link to the Christmas special, the cloud formation
reminded me irresistibly of a Dalek saucer (see below).  No?  Just me then...

If you’ve just read the Matt Smith interview transcript in the previous post you’ll probably agree with the sentiment: “What a lovely man”.

Which makes me feel terrible for what I’m going to say next: After last year’s series, I was looking forward to seeing Matt Smith go. I realise now that the fault probably wasn’t his, (possibly the poorest set of scripts since the series’ return) but the too-short trouser-legged, hand flapping, ‘clown music’-accompanied eleventh Doctor was definitely wearing a bit thin for me. To the extent that I wondered if several scenes might have been improved by he and Clara not arriving in a cloud of quick-fire, self-adoring quips. In fact, I even began to conclude that after a stunning debut in his first season, perhaps Smith had nothing left in the tank and was simply repeating or even parodying himself. Was casting someone so young and relatively inexperienced in such a demanding role simply an unsuccessful gamble?
Then the Day of the Doctor finally arrived and I was pleasantly surprised to see Smith not only hold his own against David Tennant and John Hurt without even seeming to try (no mean feat) but also match the screen-devouring presence of Tom Baker at his most twinklingly eccentric. Elsewhere he was undeniably the Doctor without even saying a word opposite David Bradley’s astonishing Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time.
So what happened? Was this an aberation, or was he somehow buoyed-up by the anniversary talent surrounding him? Well, the eleventh Doctor had one chance left to prove otherwise, so I finally sat down to watch his farewell story, Time of the Doctor, with great interest…
To begin at the ending, I wasted no time in spoilering the regeneration for myself on You Tube back in December. This is something of a shameless tradition – I know the ending, I just like to welcome in the new guy with everyone else. Smith’s farewell is genuinely moving, emotion reaching its peak with an unexpected but very welcome appearance from a certain leggy redhead. And then suddenly Clara and the third Scotsman to inhabit the role are gaping at one another in amazement. Capaldi instantly owns the TARDIS console – yes, I would say that, but it’s true – even if he appears to have no idea how to pilot it.
The story itself combines a Christmas setting with an eleventh Doctor greatest hits, a fusion of regeneration story and end-of-year festive special which mainly works well.

The crack in the universe, space armada of vengeful enemies, ecclesiastical army of Silence and Fields of Trenzalore are all revisited and, to varying extents, resolved. Weeping Angels and Silents get great, scary cameos, and the Cybermen appearances are better than the whole of last year’s Nightmare in Silver episode. The Daleks continue their excellent galaxy-conquering form from The Day of the Doctor but the Sontaran ‘skit’ is unforgivable. Let Strax be comedy relief if you must, but please treat this classic monster race with a little more respect next time.

Personal gripes aside, Steven Moffat somehow finding the space amongst all this to do justice to a new, fascinating character: Mother Superious Tasha Lem, deserves credit.
And as the youngest actor to play the Doctor bows out it’s ironic that we see him inhabit the Time Lord’s body for centuries longer than anyone else. There’s a good reason for this. Moffat could have side-stepped the decades-established limit on regenerations but instead plays by this rule and turns it to the story’s advantage. Unlike the Tenth Doctor, the Time Lords have learned to believe in second chances and finally show some gratitude.
As for Smith himself, at his eleventh hour he probably gives his best performance yet. He’s certainly given plenty to do and absolutely runs with it – despite what the Doctor says at the climax, he’s still ‘got plenty’. To my surprise, I’m going to miss the ‘raggedy Doctor’.
So as we look forward to Capaldi as Doctor 12, (or is it 14, or 1:2?) it only remains to quote Matt Smith back at himself:

“Cheers, mate!”

Peter Capaldi strikes the classic 'knitting pattern' pose. 
Of course it's somewhat staged, but in terms of Doctor Who publicity pics it does have form
(see below)

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Matt Finish part one: Look Who’s talking

The age of occasionally prickly encounters with actors playing the Doctor seem to be long past.  These days they seem to be the nicest people you could ever hope to chat with.

One of the first images showing Matt Smith in costume back in 2010.
His uncanny resemblance to Crispin Glover in the Back to the Future films
prompted my friend Peter to write: "I thought I told you never to come in here, McFly!"

My trials and tribulations of enjoying fiftieth anniversary Doctor Who continue, as mid January approached and I still hadn’t managed to see the 2013 Christmas special.
Back in 2011, thanks to the endless generosity of those lovely folks at Prime and Erica, the best TV week editor ever, I was one of the very first people in New Zealand to interview Matt Smith (a transcript follows).  But now it seemed I was to be one of the last to actually see him off.Obviously I have now, (thanks to another friend’s endless generosity) or I’d have very little to write about in the next post. But first, here is that brief interview with the impeccably courteous, although I suspect, mightily tired, Matt Smith.

Matt: Hello Alistair, how are you?

Al: I’m very well thanks Matt, it’s great to talk to you

M: Yeah, and you my friend.

A: Thank you! I just wanted to say: congratulations on a couple of year’s worth of fantastic episodes; you must be absolutely thrilled with how well everything’s gone?

M: Well…yeah, like anything it’s a work in progress and yeah, you just hope it steadily keeps improving… but yeah, of course it’s been a very pleasing journey and a very exciting one as well.

A: I bet! If I can just take you right back to the very beginning; what was it like literally stepping into somebody else’s shoes for your introductory scene? You just don’t get that with other programmes, do you?

M: No, but one of the great televisual revelations of the show, is that conceit behind it – it’s just so brilliant that someone can keep turning into another man, continually you know? And that moment is quite an odd one; I mean I shot my regeneration scene three months before I actually started shooting the series…

M: Yeah, and David, who at that time was still the Doctor, had like another few months of shooting left, and it was literally, I think he was filming his regeneration for ‘The End of Time’ on the TARDIS, he did that, and it was kind of like ‘one in and one out’. He did that, and then I came in, and he came back on afterwards…umm, it was quite…bizarre… (laughs)

A: And did you come in with a clearly formed idea of how you wanted to play the Doctor, Matt, or did he evolve over time?

M: I think it sort of evolved over time, really. I always knew that he had to be really clever, and I looked a lot, actually, at Albert Einstein, and started writing some short stories about the Doctor and Einstein, just, because I had 6 months yeah, before I could actually start prepping any scripts, because I got the job in November, and started shooting in July.

A: That’s a long lead-in, isn’t it?

M: Yeah, it is, isn’t it, and um, but then, you know, I had to wait for scripts, of course, to really sort of inform the man, you know, but I knew that he was clever, and silly, really. A bit like Einstein, you know?

A: I suppose so! And I’m interested to know, what’s your particular take: Do you think the Doctor is the Monster’s worst nightmare and a mighty warrior, or is he just a mad man in a box?

M: Do you know what? I think he’s both. Yeah, I think he’s both and that’s the great thing about the Doctor, as soon as you think you’ve got him pinned, he’ll surprise you. And I think that’s the remarkable thing about the character, he’s never one thing, literally in the space of about five lines he can be ten things. You know, he goes from nought to fifty in a matter of seconds, and I think that’s one of the great virtues of the character, particularly to play it because it affords you such opportunity for invention, you know?

A: I know that we no longer have confidential with us…

M: (sadly)Yeah....

A: …but just thinking about all the other pressures you have in playing the role, the public appearances, the publicity and audio work – how do you keep your energy levels up for that kind of demand?

M: Well, you know, it’s a fun job to do, and it’s an exciting part to play and I suppose, you know I probably won’t have another part or an opportunity like this, quite like this one, again in my life. So, you know, that’s fuel for the fire really. And also, like anything, it’s my job. It’s like if you work on a building site, and it’s freezing cold and you know, it’s like - it’s six till six, you do it ‘cause you’ve gotta pay the bills, man. Its work – I’m employed to work hard, so I do.

A: You certainly do! I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the upcoming Christmas special?

M: Yes. Yes I can, it’s a brilliant adventure actually and we’ve got Claire Skinner from outnumbered, and Bill Bailey, who’s a very funny comic... and there’s something sort of ethereal about this year’s. Whereas last year’s was a great big romp, there’s something sort of wonderfully, ethereally Christmas about this year’s special, which I think is marvellous. It’s...the Doctor sort of meets a family in distress, who are going to have a very torrid and awful Christmas, and needless to say, he sets about making sure that doesn’t happen. But does it in a sort of ridiculously Doctor way and starts, you know, and starts leading them straight into danger.

A: I’ve heard a rumour that it may have a sort of Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe theme to it, this year?

M: We-e-e-ell, that’s a very interesting rumour. Very interesting rumour. Who knows, it may do – and that’s all I’ll say.

A: OK! Last year’s Christmas special was wonderful, of course, and it must have been quite an experience to work with Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins?

M: Yeah, God, absolutely. Gambon was incredible, and me and Katherine would hang off his every word. Really, every day he was full of the most brilliant anecdotes and stories about all the brill… (enormous involuntary yawn)… brilliant actors and actresses he’s worked with. It, it, oh yeah, it was a dream come true for me, really, because he’s definitely one of my favourite actors, from over the past few years, and such a brilliant man and put such a great sensibility on the whole thing. And what struck me most about him is how playful he was – wonderfully playful.

A: I know how much you love football, is it true that it almost became your career?

M: Yeah, it is. I was a footballer up until the age of sixteen. And then I got a back injury, actually, and sadly had to stop playing. But I was very fortunate because I had a teacher who encouraged me into drama after that, and so I found a new passion and something that I loved.

A: So that helped you through a grieving process?

M: Perhaps! And, you know, acting is a strange therapy of sorts, in many ways. It’s a really odd one – wouldn’t sort of recommend it, but, um, but never-the-less it seems to be one.

A: I was just looking back at other things you’ve done, Matt. It seems you had at least two huge roles back in 2007 and haven’t really looked back since. So it seems your career has had a very rapid trajectory – would you agree?

M: Well, I don’t know really. It’s still in its formative stages, in many ways. Who knows, I think I’ve been very fortunate to do a job like the Doctor where you get to experience so many elements of being an actor and being in a TV Show but, I don’t know really, I think it’s all relative really… I mean, of course, I sort of take your point, I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with interesting jobs.

A: As you said yourself, you obviously work hard for it. I was lucky enough to see a recording of the Proms from last year

M: Ooo, yeah, fun!

A: Yes – and you seemed to be very comfortable performing to a live audience – is that something you enjoy?

M: Oh yes... God, yeah, I absolutely loved it. It was, um, you know, the Albert Hall in front of five to six thousand people. It was an incredible experience that I shall never forget, actually, and nice to do a bit of theatre as well, because when I’m doing television, I miss the theatre hugely, actually, um, but, um, it was wonderful!

A: With Doctor Who this year, obviously something a bit different was done, with the series being split into two parts. Was it something which you felt worked well?

M: Yeah, I did actually, because I think so much of Doctor Who is about the sort of build-up and anticipation that surrounds it. I think there was something really interesting about (A) the path of storytelling that took place this year in Doctor Who and (B) the structure in which that was delivered and I think, I mean, for me, it was quite tantalising to have a cliff hanger and then go “Wow! What does episode eight hold?” And it sort of makes it last a bit longer as well.

A: It does, yes. When this was all being mapped out, did Steven Moffat sit down with you and talk you through the whole thing and how it was going to work, or did you just have to pick it up as you went along?

M: Well, no. I mean, he was brilliant, you know and he gave me very clear boundaries and ideas for the Doctor, particularly in the first season, quite clear sort of story arcs. In the second season less so, because it was very serialised and obviously I couldn’t know too much. Um, so I think he enjoyed keeping information in the second season. But I mean, He’s wonderful and it’s a privilege to work for such a kind and brilliant man.

A: It seems a few hints were dropped at the end of the series, about a possible direction that the Doctor might be going in, specifically the ‘stepping back into the shadows’ thing. What does that mean for your character as you see it? Or will you wait and find out?

M: Well, that’s a good question, a very good question...um, I mean, this is the sort of wonderful thing about Doctor Who, that only Steven Moffat really knows, because I just haven’t got a script, you know. So at this stage, we don’t start shooting season three until February, um, so, ah, I don’t know. But it’s exciting never-the-less. I’m intrigues by the idea of the Doctor going back into the shadows and sort of, you know, not being too loud. He says “I’ve got too noisy” so perhaps he feels he needs to perhaps stop swooping in for a bit, so I don’t know?

[Alistair, have you got one more question? It’s almost time up]

A: Sure. Matt, I’m not going to finish with a question, I just like to say that I’ve been a fan of the programme for over four decades and I think your performance is right up there, it’s absolutely magical and I hope you stay as long as you keep enjoying it.

M: Oh, that’s really, really kind Alistair, thank you so much for saying so, that’s...um, ah, and great questions as well. I have to say; clearly you watch the show in some detail.

A: I do, and I’m very much looking forward to the Christmas special.

M: Well I hope you enjoy!

A: I’m sure I will, so Matt, thanks for all your time, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

M: Cheers Mate!

An article I wrote shortly after the announcement of Matt Smith in the role.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Looking down on creation

A Christmas tree might have proved an unsafe height recently, but we once climbed to an oxygen-starved 5545m.  

"Not too much further."
 The film Beyond the Edge http://fasmatodea.blogspot.co.nz/2013/12/yearly-projections.html has made me think that it’s time to recount our own humble Himalayan adventure.  Ever since a Kiwi beekeeper climbed to the highest point on Earth in 1953, Mt Everest has felt to many almost like a distant annex of New Zealand. It isn’t, of course. It’s a sacred mountain puzzlingly named after a 19th-century British surveyor, but known more authentically and evocatively to local people as Chomolungma or Sagarmatha – the great Mother Goddess. Either way, many New Zealanders are drawn to trek the Himalayan foothills, enjoying even more goodwill from the Nepalese than usual thanks to the humanitarian legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary. At the end of 1994, we were among them.

Travelling to the roof of the world had been a long-held ambition and returning to a New Zealand summer after several years away presented the opportunity to fulfil this dream. But actually reaching Nepal turned into a nightmare when we became stranded in Moscow and were forced to take an unplanned, expensive flight to Delhi to get out of Russia.
India couldn’t have been more welcoming, but we had our hearts set firmly on Nepal and we were soon part of a surge of humanity filling a night train to the northern border. Sleeping fitfully in our berths, we rattled through one of the world’s most venerable and spiritual lands, while a constellation of well-meaning eyes and smiling teeth glowed in the darkness of the carriage around us.

Finally arriving in Nepal felt like reaching the Promised Land, and we began with a truncated trek through the Annapurna circuit as a warm-up for the higher Himalayan trails. We were introduced to the rhythms of early rising and retiring, with the hours in between punishing us with endless climbing and rewarding with breathtaking views. We reached altitudes above 3000 metres, very modest compared with what we would face later, but high enough to matter when I had to literally crawl out of a steep but admittedly beautiful valley, weakened by the first of many stomach upsets. Trekkers are always warned that altitude sickness is the greatest enemy, but unfamiliar bacteria in your digestive tract can floor you more effectively. The ensuing 11-hour night bus to Kathmandu was an exhausting experience, almost every minute of the journey spent with my body clenched against cramps.

Dawn in a new city, even one as crowded and noisy as Nepal’s capital, can have a restorative effect and, after a frenzy of permit applications and transport bookings, we were heading into the Sagarmatha National Park to begin our weeks-long ascent to the Mt Everest base camp. We soon met up with a shifting roster of new friends and together had experiences that will remain with me forever as a personal cinematic montage. Roll sequence: Gazing contentedly at distant peaks from a recently conquered ridge, crossing outrageously high and unsafe wooden bridges, watching langur monkeys playing in the trees, turning a Buddhist prayer wheel as we pass one of many monasteries and exchanging ‘‘namaste’’s with smiling Nepalese sherpas as they jog past us with twice their own body weight strapped across their shoulders.

Now intercut with gut-busting climbs of hundreds of metres straight up, suddenly gasping awake from sleep apnoea because of the thinning oxygen as we ascended towards base camp, almost falling down a mountain when I foolishly climbed a peak by myself and, yes, my recurring stomach upsets. But even this had its amusing side. The night before our final climb to 5545m and an unsurpassed view of the great Mother Goddess, I was awoken by an all-too familiar urgent need and quickly found a latrine hut. Pulling open the door, I was confronted by a huge, shaggy, heavy-breathing figure stamping its displeasure on the wooden floor, and almost lost all control in shock. It was not the fabled yeti, but a yak which had somehow found its way inside and shut the door.
The encounter might have inspired me to visit Khumjung Monastery on our way back down, where I had heard a famous yeti scalp was kept. I spent a serene afternoon sipping tea and eating bread and jam with a novice monk whose command of English was only slightly better than my Nepalese. Despite momentarily startling him with my enthusiastic mime of a yeti, I was honoured with a viewing of many other religious relics, but left with the mystery of the Abominable Snowman very much intact.   Our trek eventually ended when we bumped and rattled our way off the edge of a cliff and safely into the air, at the infamous Lukla airstrip. Although our pilot appeared to be reading a newspaper throughout our flight back to Kathmandu, we arrived safely for a few days of relaxing apr├Ęs trek. We dined at restaurants and drank beer, neither of which was easy to do in the mountains. Perhaps it was letting my guard down and not eating as cautiously as I should have, which caused me to become seriously ill this time.

Coming out of a mild delirium in which I imagined the folds in my bed sheets were distant mountain ranges, I found our new trekking friends had come to say goodbye. ‘‘You’re not seeing me at my best,’’ I said, a little bizarrely. ‘‘We already have,’’ they replied with smiles equal parts worried and reassuring. It was to be many weeks before I was anywhere near my best again.
Rose literally carried me back to New Zealand, a lifesaving feat made easier by my plummeting body weight. Arriving back at Christmas was the worst possible time for diagnosis and treatment, but being unable to move by this point meant that I had plenty of opportunity to recover from renal failure by myself. It seems that recurring illness had dehydrated me once too often, as far as my kidneys were concerned. It wasn’t the merriest of Christmases, but I was home and safe. My mother arranged a special repeat Christmas dinner several weeks later, as I slept through December 25. It had been a summer of unsurpassed heights and life ebbing lows and, when my health returned, I had been changed in many ways. I had glimpsed the roof of the world, but also learnt to never take feeling well for granted again