Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Three Cheers for Robin Knox-Johnston

To celebrate the Internet's first Robin Knox-Johnston day here are three reasons to give the chap three cheers.

1. For being "Distressingly Normal"

Recently there's been this program on aunty beeb called "Top Dogs: Adventures in War, Sea and Ice" in which Robin Knox-Johnston, BBC reporter John Simpson and Arctic explorer Ranulph Fiennes challenged each other to enter each other's world.

The final episode all three had to go to the wastes of northern Canada somewhere in Frobisher bay and hike through -30 C conditions. They only had to do it for a couple of days and it was clearly pretty horrific. But it suited the steely glint in Fiennes's eyes, the look of a man who would - and had - chopped off his own fingers after they got frost bite (and do it in his garden shed).

Some great men and women have that look: Ellen MacArthur did when I met her. Its a drive that makes them appear slightly un-human compared to us mortals.

But Robin, while determined, while resolved to drive himself, is clearly made of the same stuff of us. Indeed the psychiatrist that examined before and after the record breaking Golden Globe voyage around the world described him in both cases as "distressingly normal".


2. For Not Stopping at 70

Sir Robin was born 17th March 1939, making him just over 70 - many congratulations to him. But is his retiring to nursing home or hanging up his oillies? No sir, not by any means.

Recently he competed in the Velux around the world single handed race, handling super charged modern Open 60's, called appropriately Saga Insurance.

And in the Top Dogs program he was at it again sailing around Cape Horn once more, battling against the elements and southern oceans:

In that episode ice man Fiennes was sea sick while in the Arctic one John Simpson's fingers were in such danger from frost bite that he was evacuated by doctors order.

Only Sir Robin did all three tasks - hurrah!

3. For being British

We're a small country with banks that are managing to keep their heads above water just about as well as the Titanic, so its worth banging the drums for something or someone worth trumpeting.

I'm always a bit dubious about the jingoistic "we're the best" form of nationalism, so while I enjoyed our Olympics success accepted it was reflected glory.

But when I travel the world its interesting to see how people react when I say I'm from old blighty. There are things this country has done that aren't anything to be proud of, but if they (or you) know of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and his achievements and thinks of them as being in any way British, as British as pints of beer and marmite sandwiches, that can only be a good thing.

Hurrah, huzzah!

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