25 February 2012

Wilfred Thesiger: A Charmed Existence

I met Wilfred Thesiger for the first time in June 1964 at his mother's top-storey flat in Chelsea. He was then aged fifty-four. He was sunburnt, tall, with broad shoulders and with deep-set grey eyes. As we shook hands I noticed the exceptional length of his fingers. He wore an obviously well-cut, rather loose-fitting dark suit. I remember clearly that he smelt of brilliantine and mothballs. He spoke quietly, with an air of understated authority. His voice was high-pitched and nasal; even by the standards of that time, his rarified pronunciation seemed oddly affected. He had a distinctive habit of emphasising prepositions in phrases such as 'All this was utterly meaningless to me'. He moved slowly and deliberately, with long ponderous strides; yet he gave somehow the impression he was also capable of lightning fast reactions. Later, I heard that he had been a source of inspiration for Ian Fleming's fictional hero James Bond. Whether or not this was true, Thesiger, like Bond, was larger than life; and, like Bond, he appeared to have led a charmed existence.

Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer, Alexander Maitland (2007)


Cave Dweller said...

I can't remember that Fleming had Bond perform even one circumcision in either the bush or the desert.

I will grant, however, that he might occasionally have done so metaphorically.

La Sombra Sofisticada said...

They don't make (many) men like that anymore.

Michael said...

His book "The Life of My Choice" says it all. Very good writer.

DEK said...

It is still amazing to me that someone like Thesiger could have flourished so long into our own time. He seemed to belong to an earlier, more heroic age.

As he said of himself:

"Journeying at walking pace under conditions of some hardship, I was perhaps the last explorer in the tradition of the past. I was happiest when I had no communication with the outside world, when I was utterly dependent on my tribal companions. ... Among my many rewards was, in Abyssinia, to have been the first European to explore the Sultanate of Aussa; in Arabia, to have reached the oasis of Liwa, and to have found the fabled quicksands of Umm al Sammim; and, in so many of my travels, to have been there just in time."

And that was part of Thesiger's good fortune: that in these desolate and remote places he had been there just in time, before the modern world swept them away.

Pink Benny said...

Thank you for the post. This evening I shall have a drink in honor of a life well lived.