Memoirs of a young 1970s Mountain Climber
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive"- Walter Scott
When I was about eight years old, I attended a local catholic primary school, taught by both Nuns and lay people (non-nuns). The year was broken up into three terms. At the beginning of each term, our teacher would ask the pupils to stand at the front of the class and read out essays about what they had done during the holidays.
For my brother and me, holidays consisted mainly of watching the odd movie in town, playing with toys, reading comics and viewing whatever rubbish they had on television. Apart from that, we went to the park, and if the weather was okay, our parents would take us on picnics.
The other kids in my class always seemed to have far more exciting adventures and antics to share, making my stories appear to attract less interest. I got sick of this and started suspecting that they were merely making up these tales just to impress the class. It occurred to me, at the time, that the obvious solution would be to spice my holiday antics up with a few white lies, or at least exaggerations.
So, the very next chance I got, I concocted a story that I thought would be interesting. Unfortunately, I made it a little too interesting and found myself getting into a bit of trouble for it. I accounted how my family and I climbed Mount Everest, along with our grandfather (despite him having passed away long ago).
In essence it told the tale of how we climbed the mountain one afternoon, stayed the night in our tent and sleeping bags and then returned the next morning. I clearly remember drawing an illustration of my brother and me playing on the swings, in a park halfway up the mountain, whilst our parents and (late) Granddad had a rest. I bet you didn't know Mt Everest had swings on it.
Well, as you can imagine this got their attention. They were completely enthralled, especially the teacher, who for some reason seemed to have a slight suspicion I was making the whole lot of it up. To tell the truth, back then I had no idea where Mount Everest was and only mentioned the name because our parents had told us about Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous climb. I also had no idea just how high it really was, or impossible for two adults, a pair of young children and a long-deceased grandfather to climb in such a short time frame.
The barrage of questions became a little too much to bear and I found myself getting tongue tied trying to explain the route we took, but I could not bring myself to tell the truth. The class went for a trip to the local library and on the way, I was able to add more details of the climb and how the swings and park did not have any snow on it, and the planting of the family flag on the summit not far from Hillary's flag. I also told them I could see our school from there, but it looked so tiny. I told them that I accidently left my camera behind on the summit so I could not show them any photographs of our adventure.
Finally threatened with the choice of either coming clean or having the teacher ring my parents for confirmation of the climb, I confessed to have made the whole thing up. Despite receiving a couple of swats on the palm of my hand with a wooden ruler for telling lies, it was a relief to have such a weight off my shoulders.
The teacher kindly smoothed it over with the rest of the class and even gave me a good mark on my essay for being so imaginative. However, prudence inspired me to tear up and throw away the essay before my parents could read it. I doubted they would have seen the funny side. In hindsight I should have kept a copy of it.
That was probably the first time I ever wrote anything that had any impact on anyone and perhaps what started my interest in writing.