TRAVEL: COMPETITION: LITERALLY LOST NUMBER 85
Sunday 11 July 1999
My brother Rex was a year younger than me and he, too, was part of our family bee-keeping business. Rex and I worked well together as a team. He was smaller than me but very strong and vigorous. In the friendliest fashion we competed energetically with each other, often running side by side with heavy loads of honey to pile them on our truck. Why did we persist in working with a father who paid us so little and whose views varied so often from our own? The main reason I believe was because we actually enjoyed the bee-keeping. Our thirty-five apiaries were spread out on fertile dairy farms up to forty miles away, so we were always on the move. The spring and summer, when the bees were gathering nectar, was a time of great excitement. The weather made bee-keeping a tremendous gamble, of course. Each apiary we visited could have a substantial crop of honey in its hives or almost nothing. Rex and I revelled in the hard work and increasingly the field activity fell into our hands. Our father was a hard and somewhat ruthless man but I never lost my well concealed respect for his tremendous work ethic. But finally even he had reluctantly to concede that he would need to pay us just enough to live on - but no more!
When Rex married and started producing a family I was still warmly welcomed into his home. He was incredibly agreeable about the time I took off to go to the mountains and, in retrospect, I am all too aware that I abused his generosity and hospitality. Rex became an excellent carpenter and plumber which stood him in good stead in later years when he sold his bees and became a successful builder, which also opened up a whole new area of collaboration for us in the Himalayas. But that is looking ahead.
By 1946 my life started to assume a more regular pattern. We worked long and hard on the bees and received a modest salary. In return for the long hours we worked in the Christmas and New Year period my father agreed I should take an unpaid holiday at the end of January for summer mountaineering. The winter time was not so busy so I had little difficulty in getting to the mountains over that period. Despite my very modest income my needs were few, as I didn't smoke or drink and had a very limited social life.
Probably the most important turning point in my climbing career occurred when I met Harry Ayres, ----'s outstanding mountain guide. My climbing companion was Allan Odell and Harry's client was Susie Sanders, one of ----'s best known women climbers. We followed along behind Harry and Susie on Aiguille Rouge and Mount Haidinger and I was enormously impressed with his skill, in particular his ability to wield an ice axe on icy slopes. Later a client cancelled and Harry had a spare week so I joined up with him and we climbed Mount Cook, at 12,349 feet ----'s highest peak. I climbed a good deal with Harry after that and although I never achieved his degree of skill I learned a great deal from him and became a rather useful step- cutter.
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