I’ve got an uncle that is a little odd and does odd things. Not to me. Put down that phone to social services. He lived on a boat for a while and entertained himself by beading his hair and watching it sway as the waves rocked his leaking shell of a home. To keep warm he smeared nut oil on his body as insulation. He smelled of nut oil. A lot. He picked up a broken microwave for the boat too. There was no electricity on the boat so that was okay but he was convinced that putting tin foil on his head and placing it inside the oven would allow him to pick up television signals thanks to the way the cooking electronics were arranged. He went on a holiday to the Canary Islands and had everything stolen except for an inflatable bed and a tub of butter. He fell asleep on the bed, floated off to sea, used the butter as suntan lotion, and suffered third degree burns. He then stumbled upon a collapsed hotel inhabited by a gang of homosexuals (their preferred haunt) who chased him up a hillside until he lost them by hiding in a cave. One time he said to me "the Winter Olympics causes mental anguish". He may be odd and do odd things but he was right about that.
Now there’s mental anguish …
Figure skating causes brain pain, for example, because it is so mind-numbingly awful. Tinny speakers outputting 2 watts of raw Latvian folk music out of time to a couple spinning and sliding around an ice rink in matching polyester and rhinestone outfits is neither technical nor artistic and may even violate the Geneva Convention on torture. Cross-country skiing needs more bear attacks and someone needs to tell the snowboarders that there’s a supercool rad half-pipe just over that precipice dudes. Trying to guess the circumference of speed skaters’ thighs hurts right behind the eyes and causes trembling in the extremities. I tried to watch the Super-G and got a headache too. Why? From trying to work out why it was postponed just because it was snowing. How can you postpone an event that takes place in snowy regions of the world on snow in snow equipment because there’s snow? That’s like cancelling a deep-sea dive because there’s a chance of rain.
And then there’s mental anguish …
When I see those white mountain scenes, those white vistas, and those treelines (white), I’m reminded of the time I set out to taunt the Yeti. It was an act of bravery I’d told myself beforehand and wasn’t borne of a cruel streak that runs down my back and inside my underwear where it is mistaken for sweat. I was going to perform some deed that was unique in history or of which there survived no written record. I would impress the young ladies who hitherto had remained resolute in their steadfast lack of impression with regards to me. That was back when impressing the young ladies was an important aspect of my life; back before it was replaced with merely trying not to send them screaming from my presence in utter revulsion, of course.
I did my homework. I looked up everything there was to know about the Yeti at the time. Back then there was nothing you would recognise as today’s internet – just alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.star-trek.tribbles and a message board for fans of Def Leppard – but we had things called "libraries" and liked to perform activities called "ram-raiding W.H. Smiths" and it wasn’t long before I became something of a Yeti expert, or Yetixpert as I called myself. But nobody else would.
For instance: I knew the Yeti spoke French and my ‘B’ grade G.C.S.E. in the language would come in useful; I knew what yeti-guano looked and tasted like so I could be sure I was on the right track; I knew the creature’s most likely altitude at the time of year I would be travelling so as to reduce the hunting area; I knew that getting to the Himalayas would be a doddle thanks to my Young Person’s Railcard and my Cloak of Confusion (+3 against Pixies) which bestowed upon me cheap travel through Europe and the ability to blend in with the local populace outside its borders respectively; I knew that the Chinese would try to stop me and I knew I couldn’t allow that.
The eighties were over and everyone had got used to the fact that the nineties were up and running and there was nothing else but to grin and bear it. And I was snaking my way across the globe in search of the snowman that everyone labels "abominable" so I could taunt it. Time is what you make of it and I spent the days and weeks travelling through country after country hard-at-work. I would practice my taunts on indigenous people, honing my delivery, seeking advice as necessary. Twice I was nearly killed by angry mobs and I considered those moments as towering successes. I wrote down in my diary "if you can irk a Kurd you can vex a Yeti" with the intention of introducing it as a proverb into the English language. Events would unfold to quash my plan but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had adventures before reaching Tibet and I may expound on them some other day but this tale is not about rescuing an Afghani princess from christmas tree lights, how to survive when stuck in the plug of a Turkish bath, or why "Welcome to Myanmar" means so much more than just missing the stop at Tibet. Instead, let us picture a young me calf-deep in a snow drift on an unforgettable mountainside in the Himalayan range.
I would describe the cold but I would not do it justice. Let me simply say that the ground was littered with witch’s nipples. I was wrapped in numerous external layers of what had once been animals purchased from a trading station and suffered less than had I decided to press on protected only by my Aran cardigan from Marks & Spencers yet still the chill penetrated to the core. With hindsight I may also have been wearing the hedgehog underwear inside out which couldn’t have helped the comfort factor.
It was – you may be surprised to hear – at nearly the stroke of midday when I happened upon the source of my transcontinental jaunt. Yet I (that’s a sort of pun there) expected no less for I knew the beast was completely diurnal and a deep sleeper once the sun dipped below the horizon. I had crested a steep incline gasping in the thin air when some inner sense made me freeze and hold my breath. A primaeval instinct perhaps or had my eyes seen some movement or shape suddenly alien in this plain and inhospitable environment that my brain simply refused to process without further inspection? Whichever it was, there slowly detached from a wall of snow-covered rock to my left a giant. From the top of his ten-feet tall frame to the tip of his toes on feet larger than my head he was all hair, matted with ice. Eyes like ink turned to look at me as he stopped and stared. It was the Yeti.
I was there for a purpose and the Yeti, as you might expect, is very wary of the human animal. I had only a few seconds to do what I came to do before – I was sure – all I would see would be the back of this mighty animal loping away at a speed I couldn’t hope to match on that terrain. When presented with opportunity you must grab it with both hands and smother it to your bosom and so I pulled the flounderskin scarf from my mouth and shouted:
"Tu n’es qu’un petit singe!"
There was a giant roar of thunder that filled the air and I turned and ran, sprinting, falling over, relying on gravity to take me away. A taunt like that would not simply be ignored – could not simply be ignored -, I thought. But I was wrong. Running headlong into a petrified tree jutting from the path I was momentarily dazed and glanced back up the snowy gradient. The Yeti was not following and had not disappeared in the other direction either; he stood in the exact same spot, hands clasped to his eyes, shoulders shaking uncontrollably. I had made him cry. How quickly bravery is replaced by shame.
The roar which still echoed was not rage nor, even, was it torment but, as bad luck would have it, the noise an avalanche makes when set off by a young person shouting without due care and attention on an unforgettable mountainside in the Himalayan range. I was swept to the bottom, stripped of layers of cat wool and snail fur, stripped of dignity, and stripped of a chance to apologise and so I made my way home again vowing to try to forget the time I decided to taunt the Yeti.