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'I always lead from the front, because only I know where I want to go' Ranulph Fiennes
It has to be said, my limits and those of Sir Ranulph Fiennes are so very, very different. I spent a beautiful April day sat in my back garden reading his book 'Beyond the Limits', with a small break in the middle to go for a glorious walk in a local bluebell wood. Ranulph fiennes in his life has circumnavigated the globe via the two poles and chopped his own fingers due to frost bite, two things I can categorically know for sure that I will never do.
'Beyond the Limits' has the tag line; 'lessons learned from a Lifetime's adventures' and that is precisely what the book does, it is the autobiography of his life from his post failed A levels Army career to the expedition in Canada where he lost his fingers. Each chapter is styled to cover various stages of the learning curve that he has gone through over his life to become what the Guiness Book of Records describes as the greatest living explorer.
This is possibly the most down to earth, common sense book on management technique I have ever read, but unfortunately is unlikely to be adopted by any of the big corporate companies of today, as they are all run by corporate yes men, who once a rule is written down, however silly, will follow it to its bitter end. Fiennes is the sort of character who when he is getting corporate negativity from one level of the machine, just goes straight to the top, which in some cases has been the Prince of Wales. So consequently he usually gets what he wants.
At the end of each chapter there is a single page that lists the various lessons that he has picked up from this expedition. Some are plainly obvious, but the problem with the obvious is that it so often gets over looked. Some of my favourites are:
Always lead with subtlety
Sarcasm and Mockery are fun but can easily go wrong
Never waste time applying to the boss's secretary if you can go straight to the boss
Watch out for the temptation of lingering too long in a warm hut when your schedule is tight and the weather may change
Try chewing a few prawns before you announce to the world that you intend to devour the whole lobster
Pick your team on character, not skill. You can teach skills you can't change characters
Each chapter of the book generally covers a separate expedition starting with his army posting to Dhofar and the challenges of leading a multi-cultural team, to his decision to become an adventurer which was very much a practical career choice rather than the romantic notion of 'because it's there.' There are fascinating reports of expeditions through Canada, Norway, the circumnavigation of the poles, unsupported trip to the North Pole and trips across Antarctica. What did surprise me is these days you don't really think that we have rival explorers as in the days of Scott and Amundsen, but the Norwegians are just as much competition as they always were and not always completely honest with it either. The quest to be first is as healthy a competition as it always was but there are fewer and more dangerous firsts to attain.
I am a true armchair explorer, I love books with beautiful pictures of remote places that I will never visit, showing a romantic view of different cultures and phenomenal artistic photographs of icy wilderness. This book does not satisfy these requirements on any level, if you want a book with pretty pictures of the North Pole go for something else. Fiennes is a very practical man, he does this for a living because it was something he could do and make money from when he didn't have the requisite A levels to get into Sandhurst. There are a couple of 'pretty' pictures in the book, beautiful blue ice, a polar bear that is only just visible behind the boat. But most of them are practical pictures, the team that was on the expedition, the equipment, the fire when they lost their store cupboard and contents in the Arctic. Then you get down to the real nitty gritty, the chill blains on Fiennes toe (I read that page really, really quickly it was revolting to look at) and worst of all the dead fingers when he had put his hands into freezing water to retrieve a line for a sledge, without which they would have possibly all died, but it resulted in him losing the fingers.
So whilst this is in no way a pretty, travel book it is a fascinating insight into a remarkable man, told through his travels into some of the most inaccessible places on the planet. But unlike your average pretty travel book it pulls no punches, it tells you the reality of travel into these areas, it is not safe terrain and you have to be really well prepared to undertake these excursions, very great men have lost their lives in the quest to be first through some of these areas. I am sure we all remember the Top Gear boys sipping gin and tonic on a trip to the North Pole, they spoke to him before they left and I don't remember his exact words but it can be paraphrased into 'a naïve bunch of unprepared idiots' fortunately their supporting production team weren't and they all returned safely.
I bought our copy for my girls when we all went to hear him speak at a fund raiser for the wildfowl and wetlands trust, he is an excellent speaker and I would recommend it if you get the opportunity to see him. I don't recall how much we paid for it, but it is signed with a dedication to them. It is available on Amazon for £14.62 hardback and £12.49 paperback with the usual array of cheap second hand options in the marketplace.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH