Concerning Nell: exposure and down

As I drove up to the ‘home’ (I can’t bring myself to say ‘unit’ or ‘hospital’, as found on the signage) where my aunts now live, a small grey critter was trundling back and forth over the expanse of grass — a perpetual lawnmower (I’m told that it alarms the amnesiac residents, who inwardly inhabit the pre-automated era). We see cats riding about on its robo-vacuum equivalent, thanks to Insta. I can’t help thinking how helpful it would be to have a new book fitted with the same mechanism: tiny legs or wheels to convey it about as it noses into this niche or that, sniffing out interest, reporting back, or replicating itself on the spot and exacting money… Getting out and peddling itself, in other words.

I think Nell would have been averse to publicity, although I’ve found one photo of her in the Otago Daily Times, 1960, with her local croquet team (not the pic below). Yet here I am, hawking her about. I have a boxful to sell, I flourish her on emails, paste her face on social media — how strange this scenario would have seemed to someone who never knew a computer.

Nell had a son who was briefly somewhat famous and whose name is familiar still to climbers in West Otago. As a biochemist, he did promising research on the development of insulin. Academic work didn’t stop him squeezing two Himalayan expeditions into 1954, the year before he completed his PhD. In one with Ed Hilary and fellow Kiwis, he led the first ascent of Mt Baruntse. Then he joined an Oxford University team making a survey of West Nepal. He was the team’s climbing advisor and photographer of flora. The PhD was awarded after his death in 1955 and, thereafter, money was given anonymously for the Colin Todd Memorial Hut to be built on the flanks of Tititea/Mt Aspiring.

Building crew 1960

I’ve made a wide circuit, from aunts and lawn-mowers to mountain huts. Let me see if I can link them up. One of the aunts gave me a 20-below Fairydown sleeping bag for my 21st birthday (made here in Dunedin by Arthur Ellis), a treasured possession that accompanied me four years later when, pregnant and feeling sick most of the time, I was co-warden for the summer with R at the Mt Aspiring Hut. I relished nights in the sleeping bag — for the hours of nausea-free sleep. The other day, emptying cupboards in the old house, I found its replica (if something was worth buying, the aunts bought two, or three or more). Unused, kilos in weight, unbelievably cosy.

I googled and, surprise, up came this exhibit from the Canterbury Museum: Maker: Fairydown
Production date: 1953
Description: One yellow Fairydown brand ‘Twenty Below’ model sleeping bag with a hood. Used by Edmond Hillary during the first ascent of Everest.

Edmond Hillary’s ‘yellow’ Twenty Below

I guess Uncle Colin would’ve had one too. His down jacket appears in the novel, a tragic element.