An exceptionally moving story about a courageous autistic boy, and the effect he had on all who knew him, written by his father, a successful mountaineer.
“Like the swallows, Ollie came in the spring and left in the autumn. Dancing, singing, swooping — there was something birdlike about his energy, joy and laughter — but also the fleeting, transitory, enigmatic quality of his life. At the age of two he lost the ability to speak, when autism turned his life — and ours — into a baffling challenge. Then at four he almost died from Leukemia. Chemotherapy worked its magic, but at six he had a relapse. He fought hard and made a full recovery. Then, just six months from the Official All Clear, a brain tumour was discovered. After a brave struggle, he died very suddenly. His body had gone into meltdown. He was twelve.
“This is not a story of passive suffering or failure. Ollie had extraordinary courage. Time after time he bounced back, determined to enjoy life. He had astonishing endurance.”
“I would like to explore the journey we made with Ollie and to tell his story. Unlike a mountaineer, pursuing extreme experiences for self-gratification, he had difficulty thrust upon him — his courage was real. For me, too, although I did not have to do all the physical pain and suffering, the journey was far more compelling than any expedition.”
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Stephen Venables, Ollie’s father, has climbed extensively throughout the world and has created many new routes and first ascents. A former winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize and the Grand Award at Banff, the International Mountain Literature Festival, he lives in Bath with his wife Rosie and Ollie’s brother, Edmond.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
We buried him on the last day of October, a day of low clouds scudding through a sodden sky. The matting draped over the excavated mound of stony earth was luminous green, like the artificial seaweed in an oldfashioned fishmonger. The real grass underfoot was cold and dank where Edmond, Rosie and I -- brother, mother, father -- stood closest to the grave, flinching at the terrible finality of those ancient words, 'Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust'. Echoing their elemental truth, the coffin settled with a hollow groan in its hard bed, oak reverberating on rock.
The service ended and the others stood back slightly in a hushed semicircle while we three stooped to admire the flowers. Then Rosie began suddenly to laugh. Uncles, aunts, godparents and grandparents shuffled uncomfortably behind us: oh no, she's finally cracked! Another peal of laughter rang brightly through the silent cemetery and she pointed at the puzzling floral arrangement of brilliant banded colours which I had taken for some kind of funerary urn. 'Look,' she giggled, 'it's a watering can! That's what it is: see -- it's even got a sprinkler rose.' And I looked closer and laughed too at the cheerful sunflower spout from which sprinkled a threaded arc of pale slender grass seeds. It was the perfect tribute from his special school to the boy called Ollie, whose obsessive baffling passion for watering cans seemed emblematic of his whole gigantic, quirky, funny, beautiful, enigmatic, defiant personality.
Like the swallows he arrived in the spring and left in the autumn. In between, we joined him on a journey which lasted twelve years and four months. At first we never called him Ollie, preferring his full name, Oliver. I liked the unhurried resonance of those three soft syllables and it was only after something happened in his brain, upsetting the whole subtle balance of sensory perceptions to the point where language became almost impossible for him to process, that we changed to the simpler 'Ollie', so much easier to hear and to say.
Now that perky staccato seems inseparable from the boy we loved, synonymous with the laughter he brought to our lives. But also inseparable from a kind of radiance -- an innate joyfulness which was never quashed, despite the huge challenges he had to face. So, as I try to tell the story of how he grappled with those challenges, I shall call him Ollie, right from the beginning. But what was the beginning? How did it start -- this extraordinary journey, this adventure which so totally changed and enriched our lives?
I suppose that it really began in a country churchyard, another graveyard, on a hot June afternoon in 1986 -- a sudden meeting of strangers' eyes over the headstones as Rosie and I wandered out independently from the wedding of two mutual friends. At the reception afterwards she was bubbling and flirtatious. She was thirty, had just finished studying aesthetics at Goldsmiths' College in London, and was about to start teaching at a rumbustious inner-city primary school. She was brave and beautiful and she was married to someone else.
I managed to forget about her and was soon gone -- away to the Alps to climb mountains, because climbing mountains was what I did. That summer's glorious odyssey culminated in success on a climb I had dreamed about for fifteen years -- the magnificent, awesome, irresistible North Face of the Eiger. In October I returned, elated but penniless, to London and, with no other jobs on the immediate horizon, started working at my Eiger companion Luke's furniture-making business in Covent Garden. My first book, about mountain explorations in Kashmir, had just been published and one lunchtime I had to go over to the BBC for a radio interview. I was on my way back to the workshop from Broadcasting House, threading the jostling crowds, anonymous in a city of eight million people, when I suddenly saw her -- emerging from a wine bar in a burst of golden laughter. I shouted across the street 'Rosie!' There was a moment of startled incomprehension, then sudden recall and a hurried exchange of phone numbers before she rushed off to catch up with her sister who asked, 'Who was that strange man?'
Another three years passed before the strange man was taken to meet Rosie's parents. During those three years she left an unsatisfactory marriage and enjoyed a brief spell of manless contentment before I began to see more of her. Meanwhile I had given up carpentry and committed myself to the vagaries of freelance writing and lecturing, based around my expeditions. It was a momentous time, making epic journeys through the Karakoram, climbing a spectacular new route up Mount Everest and, back in London, falling in love with Rosie. Then one summer's evening in 1989, in a friend's Shropshire garden, she told me to propose to her. So I did; and the following day we went to tell her parents.
Her mother, Kay, was admirably direct: 'We think you're a splendid chap, Stephen; we just wish you had a bit of money.' Robin was more tolerant of my wayward life, attributing romantic and completely unrealistic notions of courage and heroism to my rather selfindulgent Everest climb of the previous year. He seemed confident that, somehow, I would support his youngest daughter, and his only real concern was that she should have babies.'She has a very strong maternal instinct, you know. She always wanted to have children and I think she really needs that fulfilment.'
I mumbled agreement, hoping privately to defer fatherhood for a little longer. In any case, we had first to sort out somewhere to live. Rosie wanted to stay in London. I wanted a little more space, with a garden, close to the country. She agreed reluctantly to move a hundred miles west to Larkhall, on the edge of Bath. My parents had lived for twelve years on the other side of the city, so I knew the area quite well and had grown fond of its steep hills, winding valleys and villages built of mellow, golden, oolitic limestone. Of course it is a landscape which can seem cloyingly pretty, verging even on the twee, and in the city itself, for all its gracious beauty, I still yearn for some outrageous brash modernism to challenge the relentless Georgian respectability; but Larkhall, on the edge of town, is less obviously bourgeois.There we took out a mortgage on a small Victorian terrace house with bedroom and study upstairs, and downstairs, adjoining the kitchen, a single long room with space for the Broadwood grand piano I had just inherited from my godfather.We moved in September 1989, ten weeks before I was due to depart on an expedition to the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. It was an oddly turbulent time. Rosie missed London and hated the temporary job she had taken at the local infants' school; and we still had to adjust to our strange new shared life, knowing that any progress was soon going to be disrupted by four months' separation.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Book Description Hutchinson, 2006. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0091800250