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RUM DOODLE DUM: What's in a name?

Want a good laugh on trek? Try W.E. Bowman’s ‘The Ascent of Rum Doodle’, the popular mountaineering spoof. I usually carry it to read aloud evenings to my trekking companions. They love it. It’s a scream! And, sometimes they do some ‘Rumdoodling’ of their own.

Rum Doodle is a 40,000½ foot peak (yeh, sure!) in the country of Yogistan (think Nepal). The ascenders are British (who else?) ’cuz the book was written in the mid-1950s by a Brit with mountain fever. When the narrator introduces his team, he seems to have forgotten himself (true to form). Their personal attributes and the inverse meanings of their names elude him. (Sarcasm prevails.)

TOM BURLEY, the team’s “strong man,” is known for “his prodigious feats of endurance.” He suffers, however, from London lassitude before they start, sea lassitude on the voyage to Bombay, and Base Camp lassitude on the mountain. So he’s anything but ‘burly’ or robust. (Poor guy.)

The expedition scientist is CHRISTOPHER WISH. If a ‘wish’ implies aspiration, hope or yearning, he’s off the chart. He wants to test “a mechanical glacier shovel and a three-ton pneumatic geologist’s hammer.” But when these “indispensable items” are disallowed, “Wish burst into tears and said that he might as well go home at once, as he did not seem to be appreciated.” (Sad case.)

DONALD SHUTE’s job is to ‘shoot’ the expedition photos. No chance. There are some funny scenes of him valiantly bungling them. (Click, click.)

HUMPHREY JUNGLE is a route finder you don’t want to follow. The world is his ‘jungle’—a muddle, a maze, a mess. He gets lost in London and barely makes it to Yogistan in time to follow the team. (Hmmm. Where’s he been?)

LANCELOT CONSTANT, diplomat and linguist, was chosen “especially for his social tact and good fellowship.” But he is neither a level headed diplomat nor an articulate linguist, and if being ‘constant’ implies stability or persistence, loyalty or trust, count him out. His skills are distinctly ‘inconstant’. (Dear Lancelot doesn’t fit in.) 

The expedition doctor is RIDLEY PRONE. You know, ‘prone’, as in flat, horizontal, lying down. He’s mostly ill and abed, incapable of moving on. (Pass the pills.)

We know the expedition leader only as ‘BINDER’, short for ‘Binder’s Butter Beans’. Ah, yes. Beans! When they bind you up with ‘gas’ (flatulence) you, too, would likely turn into a chatty, gossiping windbag. That’s Binder—full of himself and egotistically self-congratulatory. And about his fundamentally flawed teammates he expresses only unbridled confidence. (He’s delusional—‘full of beans’!)’ 

So, what’s the plot? Do these bumbling incompetents climb Rum Doodle or not? To find out (surprise, surprise!), read the book. There are probably enough new and used copies of it in Kathmandu to paper the palace walls. 

Some years ago while trekking with family up the trail to Manang (before the road), we read Rum Doodle aloud each day. It kept us laughing, and soon the happy teenagers with us made up Doodle-like names for one and all. I was ‘RECALL’, for telling a lot of stories from the past. My wife Kareen, with her daypack full of needy things (meds & bandages, creams & salves, needles & thread, etc.), was ‘SPARE’, for all the spare parts she carried. Our clever son Hans was ‘OMNI’, the omniscient, for all the answers he had, often to questions nobody asked. Our daughter Liesl was ‘PURPLE PETTICOAT’ because it showed below the hem of her skirt. And given her insatiable craving for potato chips, our niece Sara answered to ‘PRINGLES’. Chamba, our helper, a Tibetan fellow, had a cheery laugh, so we called him ‘CHUCKLES’. And our friend, Ram Krishna, was dubbed ‘DOUBTER’ because, alas, he didn’t believe any of the stories I told!

Strangers on the trail who heard us chatting must have thought us a bit loony. And when they were gone, out of sight and sound—guess what—we gave them names too.

RUMDOODLING, the name game, is a riot. 

‘The Ascent of Rum Doodle’ was first published at London in 1956. It is so popular that it is still available, several reprint editions later, in bookstores worldwide. The term ‘Rumdoodling’ is my invention;  and for even more fun check out the scene at www.rumdoodle.org.uk. As the indomitable ‘Recall’, I am a contributing storyteller to ECS and can be reached at don.editor@gmail.com.