In this blog, Jerry reflects on his Father's passing and his fascinating life fuelled by his adventurous spirit.
2015 – A BIG YEAR FOR A SMALL JABBER...!
"Brian lay in front of me, his breath came in short, raspy draughts. He was dying. Slowly but surely his life was slipping from him and I felt like any son would do – alone, insecure, confused and frightened at how life can appear so short and humans can, at times like these, be so incredibly fragile. I had rushed back from Switzerland to be by his side. Guilt, as always, had driven me hard. Hard and fast up the Eiger’s North Wall, hard and fast on the roads back to Southern France to my home, and then back across France to the UK. It had been a race against time. How guilty would I have been if he had drifted away without me? The gamble had paid off but now I knew he was going. He had hung on for over a decade through countless operations, surgery and pain. Slowly the silence enveloped me, and the adrenaline and energy seeped away until all that was left was a still dizziness. I was numb. I was bereft of emotion. The realization bit into me as I held his hand over the last few days of a long life, and I thought back to just a few months before when I had last seen him.
It was November 2014 and I was in SW Wales, at Cwm Broch, a small 10 acre “farmlet”, Brian’s home for 30 years. He had just woken up after his usual afternoon nap and he asked for me as he had experienced some dizziness. As I helped him he told me about his 4 boxes. This was his speech, if you like, that he had prepared to tell before his death. He had clearly spent some time thinking about this and he really wanted to tell me all about it. I realized that what he was telling me was how he had divided up his life into four parts. But clearly, the most important point for father was that this was his way of saying “Thank You God” for what he believed was his wonderful life.
BOX NUMBER 1
Brian Jack O’Brien-Gore was born on Nov 7 in Ilford Essex in 1926. Apparently his mother, Louisa had a bad case of hiccups at the time of registering the birth and so the bemused registrar wrote down the name Brian ……TWICE!
He grew up in London during the start of WW2, where planes and bombs were a daily feature of the adventurous young Gore. Father told me he was about 11 years old when he recalls standing on a heap of rubble watching the German bombers coming up the Thames and the English spitfires and hurricanes zipping between them causing chaos.
When I was 8 years old I was so excited, so proud and so happy that my father took me to see the premiere of the film “Battle of Britain”. Anyone who knows me will tell you how rubbish my memory is, but that was in 1969 and I still vividly remember those amazing aerial aerobatics.
Eventually Gaffa, Brian’s father, was told to leave London after the printing business where he worked, was bombed. The family moved down to Ludlow in Shropshire, where for more than 4 years, my father lived with his sister Sheila and his mother Louisa as they ran the village pub. It was there in Ludlow that the teenage Brian first discovered his greatest love- the love of the country.
Brian soon got involved in rural war time England. He would tickle trout, poach rabbits, shoot pigeons and most importantly help on a nearby farm. He learnt to plough using horses. It was at dusk, one evening, as he watched the sun drop into the darkness that he realized that he wanted to be a farmer. In many ways that was his life – father started on the land and it was where he was to end his days surrounded by nature. Brian went to Harper Adams Agricultural College aged 17. He graduated in 1945 and then left for India 2 years later.
BOX NUMBER 2
Father spent 7 years as a tea planter in the Nilgiri hills of Southern India. From the age of 21 he was in charge of a plantation of roughly 1000 acres. He was directly responsible for an army of workers. He was the chief minister and governor, mother tells me he was even the midwife – hard to imagine. He presided over cases of incest, adultery and witchcraft. He organized maintenance teams to keep the jungle roads around him open and even got himself a guru, a religious teacher who clearly did a great job. You have got to see the photographs of father being levitated – and don’t forget they didn’t have Photoshop back then!
So one day when he was told that a tiger had attacked and taken one of the young children from his village he knew it was his responsibility and that he had to act quickly. Man-eating Tigers were often old wounded males who would choose easy prey as they could no longer hunt successfully. Killing man-eating tigers was not something that they had covered at Agricultural College so he literally made it up as he went along. He got hold of the biggest gun he could find, a dead goat as bait and a small hand torch, and headed for the jungle. It didn’t end well.
In the middle of the night, positioned high up in a tree above the dead goat my father sensing more than actually seeing the form of a large animal feasting below him took careful aim and fired. Now you have to understand that my father was always a great shot but in those days- he says- he could split match sticks with his trusty .22 rifle with which he used to practice regularly. Sadly, this time his weapon was an elephant gun and when he fired it the recoil knocked him clean out of the tree backwards and he landed in a pitiful heap. Gone was the goat, as was the tiger and as was his testerone driven pride!
BOX NUMBER 3
In 1954 Brian came back from India and after years of correspondence by letter he married his devoted partner Muriel in the spring of 1956. As he told me with his cheeky grin, he now desperately needed money for his latest extremely expensive acquisition – Mother!
Father started work literally as a tea boy in an advertising firm in Bath – he must have loved the stuff. He quickly found his niche – not drinking tea – but within advertising and within 6 years he was off to London and had taken and passed his directors exam in advertising. In London he worked as an account executive for Garland Compton which was to become Saatchi and Saatchi, one of the most famous and successful advertising companies in the world. From there he went on to become Marketing Director of Rank Bush Murphy. It was the heady days of entertaining clients; in that era, and now we are talking about the 1970’s, your expense account was larger than your actual salary and The Dorchester, or The Dorch as father used to refer to it, one of the best 5 star hotels in London, became his local “Pub”. Growing up in that era as a young teenager I honestly thought adults drank gin and tonic instead of water.
I remember him jet-setting off to attend breakfasts in Tokyo, and dinners in Los Angeles. Even when he lived in Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, my home for over 18 years, my parents would disappear at weekends as guests of generous clients who would delight at Father’s stories and his creative wit.
In 1980, when I flew off to California to start my climbing life amongst the Big Walls of Yosemite, Brian, Muriel and Sarah were on their way down to Cardigan to start a new life or awaken an old one in the countryside of SW Wales where my father found his own unique “Happy Place” at Cwm Broch. Box Number 4 was about to be opened.
Still reflecting on all his happy, innocent days living the Welsh farming lifestyle, I realized how different my life was by comparison. A life spent on the World’s rock and ice walls is never going to be one that “normal” people can relate to, but it saddened me to think that the man whose hand I was holding now, who had known me for 54 of his 89 years, actually did not know me at all. Did he understand or could have even comprehended that less than a week ago I was balanced on 1 inch long spikes of metal stuck into thin, almost vertical ice on one of the most inhospitable and dangerous mountain faces on the planet? Despite the fact that I have been doing this game for more than 35 years, did Brian ever know or want to know what drives me to such extreme areas of the world? I know the answer and it eats into every fibre of my being, and it probably always will."
Above: Jerry with his father, Brian, in April 2014.