Passed/Failed: John Blashford-Snell

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The Independent Online
Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE, 61, is an explorer, author and former Royal Engineer. He sets off in 10 days' time to Bolivia's Lake Titikaka, the world's highest navigable lake. His expedition will test the theory that pre-Inca inhabitants used reed boats in their extensive trading - and also that the original Atlantis is situated in the locality. (Expedition website: http://kota-mama.awc.co.uk.) He was the director of Operations Drake and Raleigh and now runs the Starting Point Appeal 23. Recent books include `Mammoth Hunt', written with the actress Rula Lenska.

Froggy would a-wooing go? During the war I went to a kindergarten in Hereford, called something like Mrs Gibson's School for Mature Girls and Little Boys. We boys were the lackeys of these girls, who would have "weddings" every break, and we had to get married to them. One day we put frogspawn down some girl's knickers and were sent home.

Poker-faced? Then I went to Scudamore School, a marvellous local state school, where I became very streetwise. I put this to good use at St Michael's, a choir school in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. My father was a chaplain - an army chaplain - and got a discount. I couldn't sing so was sent to the back of the class, where I played poker.

Up periscope? Then, at about 13, I went to Victoria College in Jersey. One learnt to swim. Underwater diving was coming in at the time. I designed myself diving apparatus, converted from equipment for escaping from U- boats which had been left behind by the Germans. I nearly died. I remember being sunk, with bricks tied round my waist, off the harbour wall. My friend said, "Give a tug and I'll pull you up." The air began to taste awful. I gave a pull - and the rope snaked down into the water; it wasn't tied to anything. I couldn't untie the knots round the bricks, so climbed up the wall with my fingernails. My chum had been distracted: I saw him chatting up two girls.

Take me to your leadership candidate Geography was my great subject, and it was my only A-level. At 18 I passed the Civil Service Commission, which got me into Sandhurst. As well as the exam, you had to command a group of people, give speeches and show leadership. I modelled my selection procedure for Drake and Raleigh on this. This was a two-year course, like a university at which the Officers Training Corps had been allowed to run wild. It was more academic than now, because today people would go to university, and also very physical, with lots of tough training. This was my alma mater. We used to drive cars with bald tyres and no brakes, and kidnap girls from finishing schools - but it didn't matter so long as you were on parade at 8am. A good training for war, or escape from prisoner of war camps. You came out as a second lieutenant, the lowest of the low.

Giving the demolition orders? Then I went on a Young Officers' Course for a year in Chatham. The Royal Engineers are quite tough to get in; I was lucky, not being academic. "Sappers" are sort of the Army's explorers and the Army's Navy. I learnt to blow things up and build bridges. Then I was sent to Cyprus, where I was in command of an underwater section, playing cowboys and Indians. Luckily the Indians weren't much good.

Niece work? Although I didn't have the privilege of going to a university, I have an honorary doctorate of engineering at Bournemouth. Thanks to Dame Margot Fonteyn, I also have an honorary doctorate at Durham; her niece came on an expedition of mine, and I later received the summons to go to receive my doctorate and kiss Dame Margot on both cheeks.

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