By Michael Palin
This weekend two people who I admired very much died. Jan Morris and Hamish MacInnes. Both were in their 90’s, both had lived quite extraordinary lives, and I was fortunate enough to spend some time with both of them. Jan Morris was the author of Venice, one of the best travel books I ever read. It made me want to go to Venice and when I went there, with Helen, in 1967, it made being there even better.
Before she underwent gender reassignment (or ‘changed sex’ as Jan always called it) she was James Morris, the reporter for the Times on the Everest expedition of 1953, and it was he who not only broke the story of Hillary and Tensing’s success, but made sure the news got through on the day of the Queen’s coronation.
The other, more personal loss was my old friend Hamish MacInnes, who could have been a member of the Everest expedition in 1953, but didn’t like big expeditions, and went instead to climb an equally dangerous mountain nearby.
Hamish MacInnes was a true adventurer, whose life embodied many people’s dreams, including my own. A climber of great skill and daring who would choose the awkward and difficult route precisely because it was awkward and difficult. A man who led mountain rescue teams but also advised the directors of Monty Python and The Holy Grail how best to throw bodies into gorges. If climbing equipment wasn’t up to the job, he’d not only invent something that was, he’d build it himself. He wrote stories and doubled for Clint Eastwood. Hamish was a free spirit, who made his own rules and went his own way, and lived many lives in one.
In this increasingly regulated world it is very sad to lose two people who embodied such inspirational eccentricity.
But the good news of the weekend is that Terry Gilliam is not at all dead and turned 80 years old on Sunday. Inspirational eccentricity lives!