In 40 years of expeditioning I’ve slept on camp beds in the bush, jungle hammocks, foam rubber mats on glacier rocks, upturned inflatable boats and ‘bivvy’ bags in Tibetan snow.
As a solider I’ve made my bed in muddy trenches and even on a pile of dead goats in an Iranian helicopter carrying supplies to a beleaguered garrison in Oman.
I reckon I can sleep anywhere at anytime and I often do …. even on the back of an elephant whilst tracking giant jumbos in the remote forests of Nepal. Although a snake and a rat once chased each other repeatedly across my sleeping bag in a front line bunker it is not those who share my bed that usually bother me. However on an expedition on a South American river I did have a strange experience. My bunk was beneath the chart table in a crude wooden shack that served as our ‘Operations Room’ on the deck of a noisy Brazilian freighter. Escorting a fleet of traditional reed boats from Bolivia to Buenos Aires we were studying the ancient trade routes. In order to gather archaeological information we gave medical aid to the Indians and one grateful group presented us with a hairy, ginger, Paraguayan piglet whom we named Rocket. Thriving rapidly on leftover food from a bucket labelled “Rocket fuel” he soon became a lively pet …. especially at night.
The Patagonian wind was bitterly cold at 3am when the sound of deep breathing woke me. Wondering if the adjutant who shared the wooden hut was getting fruity, I lay still and listened carefully. Then to my horror someone began to lick my feet. “Such affection will not enhance your promotion prospects,” I growled disentangling myself from the blankets. A shrill squeal resulted and our piglet emerged. Heaving the protesting porker out I tried to sleep but he’d been gathered up by a member of the crew and popped into the bed of another. Pandemonium broke out when the occupant returned from a late night party and a tirade of curses woke me once again.
I enjoyed a much more comfortable bed in the Senate House of a university where I had gone to lecture. After an exhausting day I longed for sleep as I was ushered to my quarters in the 16th Century wing. A single table lamp cast a dull light on the enormous bed and a coal fire bathed the panelled room in a faint glow. Sinking into the deep feather mattress I only glanced at one feature of my lodging. Over the mantelpiece hung the portrait of a severe-looking old man whose eyes stared directly at me.
The fire was out and the room cold when an especially vivid unpleasant nightmare had me sitting bolt upright. Convinced I was not alone I flicked on the light. Nothing was amiss but the old man’s eyes still gazed straight at me. “A bad dream” I thought returning to my slumbers. Departing at dawn I asked the Hall Porter whose portrait it was. “Ah that be Judge Jeffreys” he said shaking his head, “you know, Sir, the hanging judge”. “Yes” I murmured, “I do know what you mean – he was my ancestor”.
Colonel John Nicholas Blashford-Snell OBE is a former British Army officer, explorer and author. He was educated at Victoria College, Jersey and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, then commissioned into the Royal Engineers.
He found fame in 1968 when as a Captain in the Royal Engineers he led the first descent of the infamous Blue Nile. He has been making headlines ever since with intrepid expeditions and is a founder-member of the Scientific Exploration Society, the parent body for many world-wide ventures. Inspired by the spirit of Sir Francis Drake’s voyage 400 years ago, Colonel Blashford-Snell was also the driving force behind Operations Drake and Raleigh which saw thousands of young men and women from 50 nations take part in challenges and worthwhile expeditions all over the world.