Saturday, 22 December 2007

On Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

At the last club meeting, we were discussing alternative ways to spend the winter break, and reference was made to ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’. This was the poem Robert Frost (1874-1963) said was "my best bid for remembrance." Some confuse it with his other woodland poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. That’s the one that starts and ends
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …
And sorry I could not travel both
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This has been described as an 'autumnal' poem, and 'Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening' as a winter poem. It is set on 'the darkest evening of the year", implying the midwinter solstice which falls a few days before Xmas Eve. Spending Xmas in the woods today has a special appeal, for it is inherently less bleak than spending it in open country, and snow itself has a cushioning, deadening, effect. Even in urban settings, a heavy snowfall muffles sound so the day can be eerily quiet.
There’s an episode of the vintage sitcom Father Knows Best that illustrates the appeal of woods at Xmas. (As the title indicates, it belongs to an era of unquestioned certainties now long gone, though it was followed by 1970s Xmas specials, and is now being remade as a sendup.) The series’ all-American typical family, en route to visit country-dwelling relatives for Xmas, are forced by a Xmas Eve snowstorm to spend the night in a deserted forester’s cabin. The kids have been acting as spoilt ‘modern’ teens, whingeing about not having their own phones etc. But they rediscover an appreciation of the ‘thanksgiving’ basics by being snow-bound in a cabin. Since that time, many North American families have, or aspire to, a weekend cabin or cottage for this “R&R” purpose.
Frost’s poem is much darker, seen by some as a contemplation of “the dangerous seductiveness of the woods” – the seductive appeal of quietitude itself, to the point of contemplating death. This is a conception belonging to an age where the basics of survival are no longer central, as they had been until recently. The poem’s original inspiration had in fact been a family-duty trip at Christmas 1905, when “Frost had made an unsuccessful trip into town to sell eggs in order to raise money for his children's Christmas presents.” Today, its last lines can also be seen as social duty requiring one to postpone the personal, or natural desire to live the quiet life where one can spend one’s days and nights contemplating nature. Here it is, in full:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Woods in snow

Sunday, 16 December 2007

What Price Knowledge?

As I relaxed in the library of the Diogenes club, warming myself in front of the fire and enjoying some of their excellent brandy, I felt myself overtaken with a feeling of Christmas cheer. The room had recently been refurbished and more shelves had been put up to house the latest additions to our collection of learned volumes.

My good mood was probably due to the fact that I was full of good food and drink. Along with my companions, I had just partaken of the Club's legendary Christmas Dinner, a feast so decadent that I felt sure that I would not need to eat again for at least a week.

I found myself enjoying the momentary - and uncharacteristic - pause in the conversation, taking the opportunity to draw on my cigar and lose myself in the flames of the fire. The crackling sounds made by the logs were almost as hypnotic and no one seemed to want to break the spell.

"Of course, you know that all this stuff about peace and goodwill to all men is complete balderdash, don't you." said Manton, rousing everyone from their digestive reverie.

"For goodness sake, Manton, you may be the most cynical of us all, but that is a somewhat sweeping statement." said Treworthy. "Do you really expect us to believe that you are unmoved by the air of festivity and immune to the expressions of delight on the faces of the youngsters."

"They are all spoilt brats, heading for a life of heart attack-inducing obesity and planet-destroying consumerism, distinguished only by the fact that they are the first generation since the Second World War to be less literate and less intelligent than their moronic parents."

"I think you are mellowing as you approach your dotage, old boy." observed Travis, as he took another sip of brandy. "That's quite a restrained comment for you. One might even say laid-back. Either that or St Nicholas really has got you by the throat."

"The only person who has got me by the throat is my venomous ex-wife and her disgusting brood of relatives. Her incessant demands for maintenance have reached megalomanic proportions, even for her."

His ruddy face turned even redder, and he finished off his brandy with a huge mouthful, inducing a fit of coughing. Henry was at his elbow as if by magic, refilling his glass as he struggled for breath. After the lack of oxygen had calmed him down, he waited until Henry had relit his cigar.

"Every day I sink to my knees and give thanks to each of the major deities that I came to my senses before she was able to conceive."

Ever the scientist, it was Abrahams who spoke next: "Evidence, Manton, evidence. You know the club rules. You have to back up generalisations with documentary evidence."

"He means the bit about it all being balderdash. We'll take your own lack of festive cheer as read." added Travis, helpfully.

"Very well. I do happen to have a little tale here told to me by one of my librarian colleagues, that may serve to illustrate my point, especially as it happened during the festive season last year."

I had never been too sure exactly what Manton's occupation was, but whatever it was that he did, he did it in the British Library.

"Now, you may think that the job of a librarian is somewhat boring..."

There was a flurry of mutterings from the rest of us along the lines of "Not at all" and "Wouldn't dream of it..." but Manton pushed on regardless.

"...but my tale concerns the head librarian at one the major Universities, name of Tremayne. He was highly respected, national reputation and all that. But over the course of a couple of months, things had started to go wrong at work."

"Don't tell me – he lost his date stamp" interjected Travis.

"Shut up Travis" said Treworthy, and then to Manton "What d'you mean?"

"Well, he arrived one day to find that his parking space had been allocated to someone else, and when he went to complain, no one seemed to know who had given the order. Then sometime later, he discovered that the phone had been removed from his office. The final straw was when he learned through a third party that the library building was going to be restructured , and a quarter of it's book stock sold off."

"Well, didn't he go and complain?"

"Of course he did. Made an appointment to see to see the Head of Academic Services. But he was told that the fellow was too busy to see him. Then, later that same afternoon, there was a knock on the door of his office, and in walked a chap in his twenties, about half the Tremayne's age. It turned out that he was the "Learning Resource Co-ordination Facilitator....."


"Ah, another one of these non-jobs that our new Vice-Chancellor has created." said Tremayne.

"Oh, I wouldn't call it a non-job, Mr Tremayne. Not when I'm paid sixty-five 65K a year."

"Sixty-five....... That's more than I get." Tremayne noticed how new – and expensive – the young man's suit was.

"Quite. So let's get down to business. I hear that you are unhappy about our new plans for the learning resource centre."

"If you mean the library, then yes. Why wasn't I informed of this through proper channels?"

"I'm sure you would have been, Mr Tremayne, in the fullness of time."

"In the fullness of time being after all the decisions are made, I take it?"


"This idea of getting rid of a quarter of the book stock. It's monstrous."

"Simple economics. We need more space."

"More space? Well of course we do. This is a library. We always need more space."

"Yes, but not for books."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"Mr Tremayne, according to your own records, a fifth of the bookstock in this library have never been taken out more than once, and a substantial proportion of those have never been taken out at all. There is no economic case for keeping those books."

"I don't deny the need for some ...."

"In fact, there are some voices, some very influential voices, who are openly talking of getting rid of books altogether."

"What?" Tremayne slumped down in his chair.

"Well, what is the point in keeping them? What use are they? We are living in the digital age now, Mr Tremayne."

"But you can't have library without books...."

"Which is why it is not called a library anymore. As I have already told you, it is a Learning Resource Centre. And...". He looked around at the clutter, the shelves of books and magazines and journals that were clearly awaiting sorting and cataloguing, "I think I should tell you that this is not the sort of image that we are trying to promote. Look around you. You are sitting in a room surrounded by dead information."

"What do you mean dead. It's kept safe, preserved for future generations. Without these books, we would have no information."

"Yes, but you can't do anything with it. You can't search it, you can't copy it, you can't transmit it anywhere. Have you any idea how students regard books nowadays, Mr Tremayne? I have had degree students tell me that they just don't use the library at all. Have you never wondered why you see so few of them up here now? In their eyes, the information isn't usable. You can't find anything, or if you can, you can't copy it."

"Yes you can – of course you can. That's my job. That's what I spend my life doing..."

"Exactly. I'm afraid you have become something of a bottleneck."

"A bottleneck....what do you mean?"

"Well, you see, the new vision that the university is trying to promote is that information should be free, it should flow like water. It's fluid, infinitely malleable. It doesn't belong to anyone. It shouldn't be stuck here, frozen into huge immovable slabs like the ones that you have surrounded yourself with."

"I am paid for my knowledge of these books. How to find information, classify it, copy it, select what is needed."

"People can make their own copies of things now, Mr Tremayne. They can find anything they want in the blink of an eye. People have huge amounts of information on their computers now."

"Just because you can make a copy of something doesn't mean that you understand it. Information is the relationship beween data and meaning. It has to be given context."

"Which can be done by the simple use of a search engine. Anyone can do it."

"Then why don't they? Look at the world around you – what have we achieved with all this free knowledge? When I was a young man, all we had were typewriters and sliderules. Searching through a filing cabinet could take the best part of a day. And yet we managed to land a man on the moon. What have we got now? Videogames and reality TV. And global warming. Hardly a giant leap for mankind, is it."

"Mr Tremayne, you seem determined to make this difficult...."

"Difficult? My god when the Head of Academic Services hears about this..."

"He won't, because the post no longer exists. Like yours.".

"I beg your pardon?"

"The Learning Resource Centre is going to be remodelled, the books are going to be sold off, and you will not have an office because your job will no longer exist."


"You don't fit in with the new vision."

"I shall talk to the Vice-Chancellor...."

"Well before you do, I think I should tell you that the visionary in question is the Vice-Chancellor. However, it is entirely up to you."


"And that was about it really. The young einsatzgruppen-exekutiv said all the usual rubbish about giving him an excellent reference and all that, but the poor old boy was a broken man. Never really recovered."

There was a pause while we contemplated the uncertainties of our existence. Treworthy broke the silence.

"Well, I feel sorry for him, poor devil, but I'm afraid I'm on the side of the University. You have to move with the times.... Is there any more brandy Henry?"

"I shall go and see sir."

"Yes, but they didn't have to be so brutal about it, did they. And breaking up the library's book collection like that just seems wrong to me. God knows what happened to them." I said. Manton's story had depressed me.

"It did seem a little harsh." said Travis, his usual wit having momentarily deserted him.

"Well, I wouldn't worry about it too much." said Manton. "If it is any consolation, the University got such a bad report from the inspectors the following year, that the Vice-Chancellor was forced to resign amidst rumours of financial irregularities and the whole lot was restructured again, which meant that they got rid of most of the people like the Learning Resource Facilitator."

"I bet they replaced them with an equally useless bunch though." said Travis.

"All the same, it would be nice to think that some good came out of the whole ghastly episode." said Treworthy, as the butler returned with a fresh supply of brandy, and recharged his glass. "What do you think Henry?"

"I feel sure that every cloud has a silver lining, Sir." said Henry, as he went back to dusting the latest additions to the club's collection of books.

Friday, 14 December 2007

The Simple Life - Read All About It

The complaint Christmas has become too materialistic is so familiar it needs no further explanation. The title of this blog being Stories From The Diogenes Club, here are ten inspirational stories in the spirit of Diogenes. For those who intend, as I do, to spend Xmas quietly reading, these are ten books about, or sometimes by, those who pursued the simple life in their own ways. For there are more interesting ways to attempt the simple life than living in a barrel in Athens marketplace and insulting curious visitors.
Proceeding chronologically, our top-ten book list would have to start with Defoe's 1719 Robinson Crusoe [
free e-text version here], the original 'desert island' novel, based on a true story. Defoe's was a hit inspirational tale of survival, though today it seems somewhat naive in its slightly capitalistic and Christian-evangelist handling of themes of self-reliance and enterprise. The novel, written as if it were a real memoir, started an ongoing desert-island-castaway literary genre (from Swiss Family Robinson to plane-crash survivor stories like Cast Away with Tom Hanks). The list of real-life castaways includes some (like Gerald Kingsland and Lucy Irvine) who got themselves deliberately stranded as a lifestyle experiment (Wikipedia page here). The real-life original of Crusoe, Alexander Selkirk, had done this, and after being rescued lived in a cave on his family property as a hermit until the new-found celebrity created by Defoe's book led to a stream of visitors, which forced him to return to sea, where he perished.
The first such inspirational work in American literature, with major impact, would be
Walden (1854) . Henry David Thoreau's journal of his year or so living in a log cabin he builds by a pond in rural Vermont as an attempt at 'voluntary simplicity' became part of the modern American dream, rediscovered in the Sixties as part of the back-to-the-land approach to dropout culture.
Thoreau's WaldenWe should also list his 1861 essay collection
Walking here. It is the philosophical forerunner of the 'long walk' type of travel book, where the geographic journey is paralleled by an inner one, a journey which clears the mind of non-essentials.
When Thor Heyerdahl's The Kon-Tiki Expedition (1950) was sent to a New York publisher, her famous response was: who wants to read about a bunch of crazy Scandinavians crossing the Pacific on a balsa raft? Of course she could not have been more wrong - it was merely the forerunner of a new genre. The account provided a new way of vicariously experiencing getting back to basics while retracing an 'ancestral' route, and even had a desert-island finale as the raft grounded after 4000 miles on a coral reef near Tahiti.
In US literature Western novels dominate here: the typical hero is a 'saddle tramp', an exemplar of rugged individualism who owns and needs no more than can fit on a saddle, and sleeps by a campfire under the stars. In fact frontier literature went back to the so-called captivity narrative, an early sensational memoir or pseudo-memoir where a ‘civilised’ protagonist is made captive and forced to 'go native' - taking a native wife and so on. This was eventually worked into the conventional 20th-C western in novels like Will Henry's 1950 No Survivors, a pseudo-memoir where the narrator John Clayton (the birth-name of another Simple Lifer better known as Tarzan) is an ex Confederate who lives with the Sioux until dragged into the middle of Custer's last battle, which he survives. (If it sounds familiar it's because the story was later parodied in Little Big Man, and reworked in Dances With Wolves).
The 20th-Century conservation movement began in Canada with the nature writings of Grey Owl, who made the beaver a Canadian national symbol in the 1930s. He was actually an impostor, an Englishman from Hastings called Archie Belaney who after WWI service turned his back on civilisation forever and went to live his life in the Canadian woods as an Ojibwa Indian hunter and trapper. The biography Wilderness Man is the main one of several by his publisher Lovat Dickson, who knew him from his English tours. Grey Owl not only wrote outdoors books like Pilgrims Of The Wild but exploited his colourful image to promote the conservationist cause through gruelling speaking tours, which killed him – he died of exhaustion within days of returning to his log cabin.
Of course in the modern era it isn't practical for most people to go off into the wilderness for extended periods to pursue the simple life. The modern urban variant is the 'bohemian' option, pursued by many a starting writer - living a spare solo existence in a room in a strange town or city to be alone with one's thoughts. An example of this is Jean Paul Sartre's 1938 diary-style existentialist novel Nausea, where the
alienated writer-protagonist finds his sojourn alone in a provincial French seaside town leads to an intellectual breakthrough.
There have of course been genuine hermits throughout history, the famous British one being Myrddin The Wild. In 1985 Nikolai Tolstoi (descendant of the Russian novelist) wrote one of those 'in quest of' books searching for the historical figure who inspired the Merlin of the Arthurian Romances. His The Quest For Merlin describes his search for biographical information regarding this 6th C. hermit who, after giving his king some disastrous advice, cast himself away in the Scottish Border Forests to live in a hut with only a piglet for company, where he wrote poetry and struggled to keep his sanity as he was overwhelmed by the awen, the bardic inspiration that can drive men mad.
Fantasy-SF literature has also contributed the idea of time warps whereby a modern civilised type can return to a primitive, perhaps ancestral environment. In England, this is “The Wildwood,” and the classic here, in terms of convincing detail, is a 1984 novel (again written in memoir or journal style) by Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood. Here the English hero spends months at a time on expeditions exploring a local woodland where a mysterious shamanistic vortex has created a Wildwood where ‘mythago’ (mythic-image) entities survive from Celtic, Saxon and prehistoric eras.
Of course, the token version of 'back to nature' is the modern camping trip, which in literature lends itself to satire (going back to Three Men In A Boat) where the characters are unable to abandon their civilised ways, even briefly. A modern non-fiction example set in wilder surroundings (America’s Appalachian Trail) is humourist-turned-conservationist Bill Bryson's autobiographical 1998
A Walk In The Woods, where the desire for ‘the wilderness experience’ is offset by inability to abandon modern comforts like junk food.
The simple life is a major and increasingly popular theme in literature, and even if you can't live it at the moment, you can still read all about it.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Conan Doyle And The Bohemian Element

In Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World, the young reporter Malone is told by his beloved Gladys she could never marry a man without the fame and sense of adventure of the sort demonstrated by explorers like Stanley and Burton. So to prove himself, he signs on to accompany the expedition to the ‘lost world’ jungle plateau with its living dinosaurs. After many adventures, he returns successful, to find Gladys has married a solicitor’s clerk.
Whether Conan Doyle was out to prove anything, to himself or the women in his life, is a moot point. He never quite became an explorer, though he had both the physique and the temperament to test himself against challenge and material privation, in what today we would call adventure travel. As he told his mother early on, "I've got a strong Bohemian element in me," he wrote her on one of his early voyages, "and the life seems to suit me."
His wanderlust would have qualified him for membership in the prestigious Travellers Club (where you had to have travelled at least 500 miles in a straight line from London to join) even before he turned 21 and completed his degree.
For while still a medical student, he had travelled to Austria to study, as he would later in life. In his final year of study he signed on as a ship’s surgeon on a whaler bound for Greenland waters. Harpooning sperm whales in boats launched from a sailing ship was a dangerous business (Moby Dick was inspired by a real incident). Doyle also spent days leaping between ice floes, falling in several times while trying to kill seals. He signed on for another voyage, this time to the “White Man’s Graveyard” of the West African coast. While swimming around the ship, he was ‘nearly eaten by a shark’ and the ship caught fire on its return voyage.
In 1892, now a fulltime author, he went on a horseback trip in Norway, visiting a leper colony, and trying to speak Norwegian – something that cost him his horse, which he accidentally gave away.
He was a lifelong sports enthusiast, and it was an 1893 trip to the Swiss Alps to take his consumptive first wife Louisa to a sanatorium that led to his popularising skiing – then not a recognised sport. (A trip to a dramatic local waterfall on this same visit also gave him the idea how, at last, he could kill off Holmes.)
In 1896 he sailed 800 miles up the Nile on a tour boat which was fired upon by disaffected locals, risking capture by hostile Dervishes. He also crossed overland by carriage to visit a remote Coptic monastery on the edge of the Nile Delta.
In 1898, when Kitchener’s army began to advance up the Nile to take Khartoum, he signed up as a war correspondent and travelled south by camel into the Sudan to a desert fort, returning frustrated at the lack of immediate action.
In the Boer War, he tried to sign up as a private, but (being 40) was rejected and so (like Watson) became an Army doctor, saving lives in a typhoid epidemic.
On the voyage home from Africa, he met Bertram Fletcher, who gave him the idea for his 1902 Holmes comeback novel The Hound Of The Baskervilles, with its bleak Dartmoor setting, which he enjoyed exploring on foot, looking for sites which would figure in the story.
In 1902 he also took up ballooning, then flew in a biplane in the hope of making the first parachute jump.
He was also a keen early adopter of the new automobiles and motorbikes, despite a serious crash in 1904 where only his physique saved him from being crushed by his overturned Wolseley tourer. (As well as boxing, cricket, skiing and snowshoeing, he also practiced hill walking and rock climbing.) In 1911, he joined the Royal Automobile Club's racing team in a rally called the Prince Henry Tour, where some forty British drivers raced from Cologne to Southampton to Edinburgh to London against fifty Germans, a contest that nearly ended in a mass brawl when the British team won.
His 1912 The Lost World was partly inspired by his sighting, on his honeymoon cruise in 1907 with his 2nd wife Jean, a sea monster he identified as an ichthyosaurus.
In 1914, he visited the Canadian Rockies, riding, fishing, walking – though now travelling in more comfortable style, for he was now 55.
After the war, he kept travelling, mainly to promote his pet cause of Spiritualism. In 1928 he spent five months travelling around southern Africa, hunting and sightseeing. His final trip was a tour around ‘Protestant’ Europe, which he had to cut short due to chest pains. As a doctor, he knew what that meant, and he confined himself thereafter to his Surrey home ground. Then he went on what as a Spiritualist he regarded as the greatest adventure of all, dying peacefully in his garden in 1930, aged 71.
Today people travel from all over the world to Minstead in the New Forest to visit his gravesite. In 1925, he built a final home near here, where the postman would not deliver letters due to the rumours of strange goings-on - seances and suchlike. But for a fire in 1929, he would’ve died here. His family duly had his coffin and his wife Jean’s relocated here, in the heart of the New Forest, setting of his own favourite among his novels, the mediaeval romance The White Company. His tombstone bears the knightly epitaph “Steel true, blade straight.” This was from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, a tribute to his own spouse. Another RLS poem, ‘Requiem,’ might have been equally apt for Conan Doyle: ‘Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill.’
Conan Doyle's gravesite at Minstead in the New Forest

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The Original Diogenes Club

Last time, I raised the question whether there could have been a real-life Victorian counterpart to Conan Doyle’s fictional Diogenes Club. That is, how he might have been inspired by the fact London gentlemen’s clubs were also often travellers’ clubs that were a home-away-from-home for returning explorers, who often patriotically collected intelligence for the Foreign Office. Holmes himself, after faking his death at Reichenbach Falls, goes off travelling for several years, to Tibet (disguised as an explorer called Sigerson), to Persia, on to Mecca (in Arab disguise, obviously) and then off up the Nile to Khartoum for a political interview with the Khalifa, returning with information for the Foreign Office.
Conan Doyle’s stories have the Club’s co-founder Mycroft Holmes as a major player in Whitehall, but there is nothing in the original canon about the Club being an intelligence front or cover for sending out expeditions. Whitehall of course always had a stake in exploration, for Britain would have a territorial claim if a British explorer planted the flag somewhere in remote unmapped territory. These explorers were men who would go out and live a lifestyle as basic as that of Diogenes, returning with useful intelligence which would help expedite colonisation. This was how the Empire developed, in the path of men such as Sir Richard Francis Burton and John Speke, whose 1856-8 Nile expedition nearly cost both men their lives. Their joint expedition was officially to ascertain the truth of the report by Diogenes the ancient Greek explorer that the Nile arose from lakes fed by snow-capped peaks on the Equator. In reality it was sponsored by the Foreign Office, acting through the Royal Geographic Society.
Penguin Classics cover of Conan Doyle's The Lost World, 1912Thus in reality, there would have been no need for Whitehall to set up an entire front organisation to despatch ‘civilian’ expeditions to the remote frontiers of Empire to gather military and political intelligence. The Royal Geographic Society in London provided such a semi-official function, from 1830 on, and distinguished explorers had a private London base at the Travellers Club, where they could stay. Both institutions still exist, the authentic originals of Conan Doyle’s Diogenes Club.
Some explorers, like Burton and later TE Lawrence, would go out for extended periods in native disguise – real-life counterparts of Kipling’s Kim in India and The Four Feathers’s Harry Faversham in the Sudan. (Burton’s visit to Mecca, if his native disguise had been uncovered, would have got him killed.) Even when there was no need to travel as a native, conditions in the field were often so appalling that they made Diogenes’s lifestyle look comfortable. RGS members like Stanley and Livingstone, Shackleton, and later Sir Edmund Hillary became national heroes whose accounts and lectures gripped the nation with their descriptions of hardship, from being mauled by a lion (Livingstone) to having the expedition’s ship crushed by Antarctic ice (Shackleton).
Conan Doyle himself was also publicly associated with exploration through his classic 1912 adventure novel The Lost World, wherein his hero Professor Challenger explores the real, but then almost-inaccessible, Venezuelan plateau of Mt
Roraima, and discovers an evolutionary pocket where apemen and dinosaurs co-exist. Mt Roraima was another example of politics intruding on exploration, for it stood on the Venezuela-British Guiana-Brazil boundary, and a few years before Britain and the US had been rattling sabres over the issue. The US claimed it was in their sphere of influence, but it was ‘discovered’ in 1838 by Robert Schomburgk, who was German born but sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society; the first ascent, in 1884, was by a British colonial official, Everard im Thurn. Later President of another expedition-sponsoring body, the Royal Anthropological Institute, he gave a lecture on Roraima attended by a young Conan Doyle. The future author of The Lost World would leave the comfortable world of London clubland to head off on his own less well-known outdoors adventures across the globe – of which more next time.