Reaching your 18th birthday is seen as a coming of age. You can marry, drink, vote, serve on a jury and legally get a tattoo..! My 18th birthday was marked with a disco. It was 1987 and Rick Astley was riding high in the charts, as was Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, The Bee Gees and most of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable. The Compact Disc was launched and I was driving a 1977 Metallic Gold Morris Marina with a huge Ghetto Blaster across the back seat. I thought I was cool…
Today is another 18th birthday. Today is the day that Steve Ball, Antony Hollinshead and myself set off for the summit of Mt McKinley. What happened in the next 24 hours would change and possibly define all of our lives. It would be nice if we could be remembered for our finest and best moments, but those next 24 hours were hardly what we were expecting. The story has gone into history, but the experience has not.
The picture above is the last shot I have of me in one piece. I’m leading a section of the Orient Express, unaware of what was to come only a few hours later.
I openly tell people ‘Suffering frostbite was the best thing that could have happened to me’. If that statement sounds rash, let me assure you that it is based on years of reflection, thought, understanding and forgiving. We all need a kick up the backside at times. For some it’s the loss of a love, for others a medical emergency. Whatever it is, we need to listen to the message we’re given and act upon it. We can choose to be engulfed by bad luck or a bad accident, or we can prove who we are by how we recover, how we adapt, how we choose to live our lives, and how we affect those around us. We rarely get to choose when and how to die, but we can choose how to live. One day your time will come and I wonder how you wish to be remembered..? As someone who achieved..? Someone who helped their community..? Someone who loved and was loved..? I certainly don’t wasn’t to die in an unused body. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote – “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
There is however, a line to draw. In this world of digital media, we are surrounded, even battered by everyone achieving (seemingly) everything. Perfection looks all important, as does standing from the highest mountain shouting ‘Look at Me..!’ When I suffered frostbite, mobile phones were in their infancy (and only used as a telephone), e-mail was on a dial-up send/receive basis and my expedition pictures were shot on 35mm slide film. We took time to think, time to consider and time to reflect. Now all we seem to do is rush. The world begs us to take every opportunity, whatever the cost. Perhaps we need to let some of them pass us by, if only to prove to us how unimportant many of them are.
Recently a few friends walked up Snowdon for a birthday celebration. The weather was typically wet and windy. Upon their return, one remarked ‘Nigel, I don’t know how you do it..!’ ‘Do what..?’ I enquired. ‘Climb mountains with no fingers or toes’. After 18 years, I don’t know any other. When I look back at pictures taken before my injuries, my limbs look strange. My fingers look long and slim, my feet big and broad. I’ll have to wait until my 60th birthday to have lived with half and half in my life. I’m regularly asked why I don’t use an adapted car, or have a house full of gadgets, or live off the state. The answer is simple – I live with what I live with. I hold no regrets for what happened, there is no-one to blame, no fingers to point. The 21st century seems full of accusation, blame and compensation, but who are we blaming..? We took a decision, ran with it and live with the consequences. Sometimes you win, sometime you lose. Stop seeking blame and look to the future. Stop being a victim, and be a victor.
30 years on, my Marina is gone and my days as a DJ are over. Rick Astley is back though and my old Ghetto Blaster now plays Radio 2 in my garage. Instead of an evening of stripagrams, dancing half-naked to the Timewarp, and getting very drunk, my company will be candlelight and one of the finest malt whisky’s from my collection.
How times change…