Games People Play: Sir Chris Bonington, 64, Mountaineer

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The Independent Culture
AS A small boy, I had a passion for playing with toy soldiers. Things were scarce in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, until Hamley's toyshop received a huge consignment of Austrian Hapsburg solders. They were lead, absolutely lethal, but much nicer to play with than plastic, and my best schoolfriend David and I used them to stage elaborate 18th-century battles.

Our games were highly structured, throwing dice and measuring things out with rulers, and as we got older we went on to board war-gaming: the Battle of Waterloo, the Eastern Front - there were hundreds of different games, and they took ages to play.

David became a theoretician and went into the Civil Service, and in a way I carried on playing soldiers: I went to Sandhurst and then joined the Royal Tank Regiment.

I still read a terrific amount about military history, as I've always been fascinated by strategy. You could say that war is a study of incompetence, and the people who win are slightly less incompetent than their opponents.

I suspect that playing war-games has been helpful to me in climbing mountains, as the principles are similar. Your success all comes down to logistics: making sure that you have enough to eat, and getting the right stuff in the right place at the right time. And that's what war is all about - having enough fuel and ammunition when and where needed, so you can carry out your plan.

A lot of battles are won or lost on the quality of the logistics the commander puts in place, and the same kind of thing can happen on mountains. If you forget the matches, or something like that, it can be terribly serious.

Chris Bonington's book about Sepu Kangri, Tibet's secret mountain, is to be published in the spring