Virginia Barton

11 January 2019: Everest, conquered


11 January 2019



Where were you when the news came that Mt Everest had been climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay? Personally I was on the pavement outside the Grosvenor House Hotel (or was it the Dorchester?), pressed up against my sister in the pouring rain on Park Lane on Coronation Day. It was June 1953. A June such as you only find in England – cold and wet, day after day.

Our climate is supposed to be terribly good for your skin; that “English rose effect” old ladies used to refer to.

Quite honestly I’d rather have the tropical tan. Hong Kong was good for your skin because it was too hot to go out in in the summer and the winters were temperate. When we came back to the UK after seven years my mother said I had the look of a rich woman:

“It’s your hands dear; they don’t look as if they’ve done a day’s work.”

I was ashamed to admit that they hadn’t. We had Ah Sung and Ah Heung. One Commonplace I will tell you about them.


Where was I? Oh yes, up Everest. We suspected they kept the news from the public in order to break it on Coronation Day. It was pretty thrilling in those days.

Two a penny nowadays; climbers all over the shop, probably on tightropes or blindfolded or with both hands tied behind their backs. 4,000 have reached the summit since ’53. No, I should not mock. Many aspiring mountain toppers have died in the attempt despite modern safety requirements.


I have been thinking of Everest recently after a particularly nasty bout of ‘flu. Recovering from it has been like negotiating the lower slopes of the Himalayas wearing large furry bedroom slippers.

Other people’s illnesses are one of the most boring of subjects, so I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of my ‘flu. Does not your heart sink when you innocently ask a friend:

“How are you? I haven’t seen you about for a while.”

Then they launch into a lengthy account of some horrid disease you thought went out with the Plague.


One thing I can tell you, though – Mickey Mouse, an electric blanket and good old chicken soup will take care of ‘flu – should you be unlucky enough to get it.




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