When I think of Bruce Chatwin, who was my friend, I am always reminded of a particular night, a dinner at the Royal Geographical Society, hearing him speaking animatedly about various high mountains he had climbed. And that struck me as very odd, because I knew he had never been much of a mountaineer.
I was some way down the table but I heard him clearly. He spoke in his usual way, very rapidly and insistently, stuttering and interrupting and laughing, until he had commanded enough attention to begin speechifying. Being Chatwin, he did not stop at the peaks he scaled. He had plans for further assaults and expeditions–all of them one-man affairs, no oxygen, minimum equipment, rush the summit–and as he appeared to be holding his listeners spellbound (they were murmuring, ‘Of course’ and ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘Quite right’), I peeked over to see their faces. On Chatwin’s right was Chris Bonington, conqueror of Nanga Parbat and numerous other twenty-thousand footers, and on his left, Lord Hunt, leader of the first successful expedition up Everest.
‘Chatter, chatter, chatter, Chatwin,’ a mutual friend once said to me. He was smiling, but you could tell his head still hurt. Bruce had just been his house-guest for a week. ‘He simply never stops.’