Looking back at old photographs is like opening a time capsule, you just never know what you are going to find, and usually there are one or two little gems to bring a smile to your face.
I was at my partner’s parents home recently, Clare and Archie who are 83 and 98 years old, and over a cup of tea we were flicking through books of old photographs. The themes varied from trips overseas, the children growing up, and of Archie’s childhood in India.
You could pick any photograph and Archie would narrate a rich account of when it was taken, and the story behind those who were in it. And there were photographs of Clare’s childhood days, growing up in far western Queensland on the family’s sheep property, and of her days at boarding school in Charters Towers.
The conversation turned to our upcoming adventures, and my journey to climb an 8,000 metre peak close to where Archie grew up. Over the years I have listened to the many stories of Archie’s trips to Darjeeling, situated in the foothills of the Himalaya’s, and in later years of visits both he and Clare made back to Calcutta.
One story is about a mountaineering expedition group who turned up at the offices of James Wright and Company, General Merchants, the family business in Calcutta. The suave and handsome couple were in a rather irate mood as they stepped out of the taxi, demanding to know why they had not been met at the ship upon their arrival. Being general merchants, Archie and his father dealt in all kind of goods, and were the agent’s in India for the popular drink Ovaltine.
“These mountaineers were here to climb Mt Everest and they were going to drink Ovaltine all the way to the top, extolling its virtues to the world.”
It had all been arranged in England prior to their departure and there was surprise and indignation that they had not been afforded the courtesies expected upon their arrival. They even had a copy of the telegram from the Head of the company that made Ovaltine in England informing of their visit.
This was a gentlemanly age and young Archie arranged for the expedition to be put up at a first class hotel where they could rest after their long sea voyage, and ahead of their attempt to climb Mt Everest.
And rest and avail themselves they did indeed…
Unfortunately, there was to be no attempt on Mt Everest as the mountaineers were well practiced con people. After spending a number of nights in the luxury of the first class hotel, taking advantage of the young Fawthrop’s generous hospitality, they disappeared into the night, leaving Archie with an expensive hotel bill and the need to provide an account to his father of how he had been done by a slick group of con artists’.
But he could be forgiven, after all Ovaltine accompanied Sir Edmund Hilary on his ascent of Mt Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953, and the company went on to sponsor Chris Bonnington’s 1975 Everest expedition.
And speaking of Tenzing Norgay, as we continued our journey through the albums one particular photograph caught my attention, a black and white snapshot of Clare and Archie, and I was sure it was Tenzing Norgay, the famous mountaineer, standing beside them.
On a visit to Darjeeling, Archie and Clare met and spoke with Tenzing, a remarkable and quietly spoken man, whilst dining at the Darjeeling Club.
TomO, our son, was very excited at the discovery, a link to where we will travel next year when I attempt to climb three 6,000 metre peaks, Lobuche East, Island Peak, and Pokalde, all situated not too far from Mt Everest.
“Was the Ovaltine story and the photograph a sign-post on our own journey, a connection to the region brought about from Archie’s younger days? In the least, it enriches the experience for us…”
And as I climb in the Himalaya’s Archie’s Ovaltine story will be sure to put a smile on my face, warming me like a hot cup of Ovaltine on a bleak winter’s night…