In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
1987 Reflection/Penned 2007
I think it was Sinead O’Connor who sang, ‘You take my breath away.’ Even if it wasn’t the strange Sinead, it is a fine song, which often moves me. Several times in my life I have had my breath taken away. The last few balls of the second Test in 2005 before England beat Australia; the agonising micro seconds as Jonny Wilkinson’s drop kick hung in the Sydney night sky before England won the World Rugby Cup were two such incidents. The first time I put my arm around a live tiger, the first time I saw a tiger in the Indian forest and the first time I saw Sinatra in concert, were all occasions that took my breath away.
People generated the most memorable moments; the birth of my children and the first time I made love with Jeanne were unique. Thinking about it, each time I looked at her face in the next five years it seems she had the same effect.
Nature is also capable of producing the same feeling. In September 1987 I was in Las Vegas for a conference and on a day off, my German colleague, Hans Kleitt, and I decided on a sightseeing trip. We had a short but fascinating flight, followed by an even shorter bus ride.
The bus stopped in a large car park and our driver, a gentle, softly spoken man in his sixties, held open the door for us. “Go to the top of the hill, gentlemen and I will pick you up in two hours.”
We trudged up the hill, Hans towering six inches above me. Later in our relationship, as his frame filled, he acquired the nickname ‘Helmut Kohl.’ At the top of the car park the hill flattened out and we followed a red gravelled path to a silver metal fence. The view from here simply took my breath away and that state seemed to last for several minutes. There, spread out before us. was a magic vista, the Grand Canyon.
I had seen pictures of this marvel of the modern world, but here, looking out over this huge, millions of years old gorge, the physicality of the place reached out and overwhelmed me. The other side of the Canyon was perhaps two miles away and on either side it narrowed to a half or a third of that. It was perhaps a mile deep to where the brown ribbon of the Colorado River dribbled along impassively.
The sides of the gorge were a hundred shades of brown, black, gray and red and the rocks were layered horizontally down, down before being lost in the shadows at the bottom. The other side of the Canyon was bathed in a warm autumn sunshine, turning the reds and browns into a reflective gold.
The rocks formed moonscape formations like castles, and battlements, rising and falling. Here and there little patches of vegetation clung precariously to the sides of the canyon and larger groups of trees stood defiantly on flatter outcrops of sandy rock. Almost unseen, trailing along at the bottom, next to the slim brown river, the occasional path wound its serpentine, contour following way.
Away to our left a little party of tourists were at the start of a long walk on a narrow path which would eventually bring them to the bottom. Further down another group were on mules, heading the same way.
I thought about the staggering majesty and beauty of nature and compared it to the all too often shabbiness of man. Las Vegas was an unapologetically tawdry town, an oasis of bad taste set in the middle of a desert. The buildings were either stark concrete towers or neo classical affronts to the senses. Small chapels, offering 24-hour wedding services, lived cheek by unshaven jowl alongside the hotels and casinos. Prostitutes advertised in little newspapers, conveniently placed all over town. Ugly neon advertisements narrowed my eyes almost everywhere.
Not all was bad; I did get to see Sammy Davis Jr and the delicious Crystal Gayle. However, the abiding memory would be of empty eyed, slack mouthed, blue rinsed matrons, mechanically jerking the handle of the poker machines.
But here, on the South Rim of Grand Canyon, even Las Vegas could be forgiven. In a thousand years the gambling city may have slipped back into the desert from whence it came, but the Canyon would remain.
Written by my Father B.M