Fred Hoyle An observer of the world and a ponderer on its problems ...
Hoyle inherited his lifelong passion for music from his parents.
His mother had studied music at the Royal Academy and was an accomplished singer and pianist. Hoyle recalls that hardly a day passed without her spending two or three hours at the piano. During the war, with her husband posted in France, she supplemented the family’s income by working at the local cinema, accompanying the silent films. She was dismissed by the manager, as her choice of music – Beethoven sonatas and other classical pieces - was not considered appropriate. She was quickly reinstated when attendance at the cinema fell, for the people went principally to hear Mrs Hoyle play.
His father played the violin. After the war his parents hosted regular musical soirées at home. With his early appreciation of music Hoyle would not ‘learn’ to play a musical instrument as the process and exercises were too boring. While he was rarely known to play, there is reference to him playing the piano in the pub after a day’s outing with the Cambridge University Rambling Club.
Out of the £15 allowance towards the expenses of further education awarded by the West Yorkshire authorities, Hoyle purchased a season ticket for six concerts given in Bradford by the Hallé Orchestra. The programme for his first symphony concert with a full orchestra included Schubert’s Unfinished, Sibelius’ Symphony Number Two and Beethoven’s Fifth conducted by Thomas Beecham.
In later life one of Hoyle’s extravagances was his top of the range amplifier and speakers allowing him to enjoy that first thrill of the live performance of Beethoven’s Fifth and other classical works in his own home.
Hoyle had an in depth knowledge of music. This was to reveal itself in his collaborations with the composer, Leo Smit, whom he met at a New York soirée in the autumn of 1953. Over several years they worked on an opera entitled ‘The Alchemy of Love’ where Hoyle wrote the libretto. The National Academy of Sciences, through the generosity of the Copernicus Society of America commissioned Hoyle and Smit to write a narrative and music to commemorate the Copernicus Quincentenary. This was first performed at the Academy’s auditorium in Washington DC on 22 April 1973.
Hoyle returned fitter and stronger than he had ever been. In order to maintain his fitness, he joined the Cambridge University Rambling Club in October 1935. He was still an undergraduate but many fellow members were already research students. He found their company stimulating and made lasting friendships. They walked the length and breadth of the countryside:
3 November 1935. Temp 62.5F. Warmest November day since 1885. Outing to Royston, Barley, Gt. Chisall, Elmdon, Littlebury Green and Saffron Walden.
During the summer terms of 1936 and 1937 the club varied its routine with several outings on the river canoeing and swimming. This was one of the happiest periods of his life where he was thoroughly stimulated by his work and had little in the way of responsibilities, financial pressure or stress.
Prior to his graduation in 1936, Hoyle was introduced to hitch hiking by an American member of the club, Ivan Inksetter, on a trip to Cornwall. Hoyle greatly enjoyed the wildness and ruggedness of the north Cornish coast. The area around Bedruthan Steps became the location of a wartime experiment and of several family caravanning holidays.
It was during this period that Hoyle took up the challenge of writing a series of short stories many of them written during his trips to Scotland following in the footsteps of such writers as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, W. Somerset Maugham and P.G. Woodhouse. The collection of stories were published in 1967 as Element 79.
Hoyle climbed his penultimate Munro, Ben Dearg, in September 1971, with a party planned for the summit of the final Munro in May 1972. Yet, it was not till October 1980 that Hoyle climbed Blaven quietly on his own.
When Hoyle finally left Cambridge in 1972 it was to the Lake District that he went and to a house, which Cook had found ‘For Sale’.
Cricket and other Sports
From an early age Hoyle would accompany his father to cricket matches. As a Yorkshireman, cricket was never far from his heart. In his colleague Ray Littleton he found a fellow enthusiast and they often played together.
In the autumn of 1992 Hoyle met Ray Lyttleton whilst in Cambridge and during there conversation Ray mentioned he'd been in touch with Sir Donald Bradman about the Pakistani bowlers. Hoyle took the opportunity to write to Bradman.
His understanding and enthusiasm for sport covered football, American football, baseball, rugby and in his University days canoeing.
At the first performance of 'Nicolaus Copernicus' Leo Smit's Introduction of Fred Hoyle to the audience as follows.
In the summer of 1812, Beethoven wrote an extraordinary letter of thanks to a musical child of eleven, who had sent him a home-made pocket book in token of appreciation. This letter contains the following awesome statement: "… do not merely practice art but penetrate the very heart of it, for only art and science elevate man to the Godhead ...".
Two years before I met Fred Hoyle in the fall of 1953, I had read his engrossing collection of BBC lectures, The Nature of the Universe, which revealed the Cosmos with a grandeur and subtlety I had not been conscious of before. I was particularly struck by the sweep and profundity of his personal view, reflecting man's inner aspiration, which is to share the consciousness of some chosen individual; a writer, Shakespeare, a mathematician, Gauss and a musician, Beethoven.
When I met Hoyle at a New Year soiree, hosted by Ruth Anshen, the editor of the World Perspective and Credo series, I was prepared for an encounter with creative scientific genius. What I had not anticipated was a musical awareness that transcended many a professional musician's scope and understanding. The physical manifestations of artistic pleasure in one seemingly reserved were released through a total surrender to the music's emotive power, producing a truly formidable specimen of music lover.
That evening I played my Fantasy: The Farewell, hot off the griddle, just finished a few days before. As I played I sensed the intensity of his concentration at the far end of the room and when I finished he leaped over to where I sat at the piano and began looking through the manuscript, his eye-glasses round with the mystery of musical hieroglyphics. He requested a repeat performance and after a second hearing said that it had struck him with some surprise that whereas a classical composer would certainly have shot the splendid passage in the build-up at the listener two or three times (and in the case of Schubert from four to six times!), I had been content with once. "What a prodigal fellow you must be!", he concluded.
The next day he climbed up to my attic apartment for a long afternoon of music by Hayden, Chopin, Stravinsky and his favourite, the mighty Ludwig. The impact of great music at close range prompted him to remark that most composers would have preferred a confining acoustical frame for their music rather than the vast caverns of 20th century box-office inspired architecture.
Upon returning to New York from Princeton a few months later, he phoned me from Penn station to say he'd be over in a few minutes. Nearly two hours later he turned up, sans overcoat, hat or gloves, suitcase in hand, chilled to the bone. He had taken a taxi but upon instinctively touching his breast pocket and finding it empty, he had proceeded to walk the 45 odd blocks in sub-freezing temperatures. His wallet had apparently been lifted while he was absorbed in calculating certain physical properties of ultra hot stars. When I asked why hadn't he kept the cab all the way as I would have gladly bailed him out, the author of the Frontiers of Astronomy and Of Men and Galaxies murmured, "Oh, I hadn't thought of that".
We continued to enjoy music and science sessions after I moved to Los Angeles, or Slippage City, as he called it, since he passed through about twice a year to check things out with Cal Tech and Mt Palomar people. But now there was something new to explore - the magnificent Indian country of Utah and Arizona, with which Hoyle was familiar since his camping trips there in the early 50s. He was my guide to the grey granite walls of Zion National Park, the fantastic, eroded red sandstone monoliths of Monument Valley and that great geological clock dating back 230 million years, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Hoyle, the voyager on Earth, as in space, was not content to view the spectacular panorama from the Canyon's rim, but headed straight for the precipitous Kaibab trail. About half a mile down Hoyle trotted out to the edge of the ledge which protruded into the vast void and waited for me to catch up. As I drew near him on trembling legs, caused by the breakdown of my braking muscles, he said to the Canyon, "Even Bartok cannot compete with Nature's stridency".
Hoyle drove the 600 miles from the Grand Canyon to Los Angeles in under 10 hours, and after dumping me at my house continued on to Pasadena where he spent the remaining hours before dawn re-writing a scene for an opera we were collaborating on.
About that time Hoyle had grown quite fond of a fortune-telling eight-ball which someone had stolen and given to me in token of sacred friendship. The black globe had a window into which an oracular message slid when gently shaken or turned. Hoyle analysed the magic toy and approved its excellent program of some 21 answers, the majority of which were affirmative, with several varieties of negative and one crafty "ask again later". At a party one night the eight-ball had performed perfectly earning Hoyle's respect and trust. The following day Hoyle (who was staying with me) was to fly east to keep a date with NASA people, while I had planned to fly north to Mt Ranier country. Around five a.m. I heard footsteps in the living room and peering out into the dimness I saw Hoyle padding about holding the eight-ball in both hands. He had asked the omniscient orb if he should in fact attend the space meeting and the answer had risen up without a moment's hesitation, Definitely Not! He promptly wired NASA his change of plan and a few hours later we were winging our way to the Northwest wilderness.
Some years ago, on Martha's Vineyard under a beautiful starlit sky, Hoyle and a child of nine went for a post dinner stroll. "Freddie, what are those stars up there" the little girl asked, poking a finger at the firmament? The Cosmologist looked down at his interrogator and gave her the facts of life. "There is something you should know about astronomers. There are two kinds of astronomers, the looking kind and the thinking kind. I'm the thinking kind". Then he looked up at the heavens and identified the constellation, Ursa Major.
It is with great personal pleasure that I introduce to you this extraordinary man, who, through the alchemy of physics, mathematics and imagination, has conjured up a vision of man in the Universe, matched only by those unfathomable creations of this World's greatest artists - Fred Hoyle.
His father was a merchant from Kraków and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy Toruń merchant. Nicolaus was the youngest of four children. His brother Andreas (Andrew) became an Augustinian canon at Frombork (Frauenburg). His sister Barbara, named after her mother, became a Benedictine nun and, in her final years (she died after 1517), prioress of a convent in Chełmno (Culm, Kulm). His sister Katharina married the businessman and Toruń city councilor Barthel Gertner and left five children, whom Copernicus looked after to the end of his life.
Copernicus never married or had children.
"Towards the close of 1542, he was seized with apoplexy and paralysis." He died on 24 May 1543, on the day that he was presented with an advance copy of his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.
The rambling club went far outside Cambridge each Sunday, usually some thirty miles in a hired bus from Drummer Street, immediately behind my rooms in the Emmanuel College hostel. We brought our own sandwiches and would eat them in a village pub somewhere in the wilds. The main business of the day was then to walk for perhaps three hours along small paths and often across ploughed fields thick with soft clay. To obviate arguments over the route, a 'leader' chosen in advance was supposed to have been over the route previously to ensure that we didn't end up in the wrong place on a short winter afternoon, the 'right place' being the spot where our hired bus had been instructed to meet us. The right place was also some pub, inn, or cafe where an excellent tea was to be had by one and all. After returning to Cambridge we took a bath and ate dinner individually, meeting afterwards for coffee in the rooms of the club's founder, Harry Marshall. Harry was the only one of my Cambridge friends to die in the Second World War. He entered the Foreign Service and was sent to Malaya in 1937. I was told he was upstate at the time of the Japanese invasion from the north in early 1942. Although not trained as a soldier, he volunteered for a holding operation and was not seen again.
For boots to be thoroughly comfortable you need feet with fronts like spades and short toes. Then the boots grip nicely the outsides of the feet and the toes do not slide on steep ground against the toe caps. Unfortunately my feet are the opposite, narrow with long toes. Only once did I ever get a pair of boots that gripped the outsides of my feet. Unfortunately again, they were cheap Swiss boots and so didn't last long. What I found is the firm fit of feet into boots improved my pace over awkward ground. Short length of leg and not too good balance slowed me on awkward ground but slack boots were an appreciable contributory factor.
In 1965 and to this point I had been using a German military style boot and I always had to treat them watchfully, with endemic problems over toes. On this trip I had new boots from Robert Lawrie in London. Foreign made but to Lawrie's design. They were broader fitting than the German boots, but strong and long lasting. When eventually I got these broken in they were about the best boots I ever had and it was a sad day when at last they started to leak. Never again did I get anything so good, despite trying to buy boots that were supposedly of the same pattern. ..."
Dick Cook wanted a mountain he hadn't climbed before. In view of the conditions, he chose, the simplest to meet this requirement, some twenty miles to the north across Stromeferry, a mountain called Moruisg, which would have been a simple lump of a thing on a fine summer's day. With a strong wind in our backs, we went up easily enough, although it became exceedingly cold on the top 1000 feet, making me glad I was wearing a down jacket under my anorak. The descent, in the face of a furious icy wind, was something else. My spectacles iced up immediately. Removing them made me half blind. We were all half blind anyway from the fine particles of ice that the wind drove like a million fiery darts into our faces, To counter the pain, I bit on the cord that fastened the hood of my anorak, finding, by the time we reached the bottom, that I had bitten it clean through. It was the worst wind I ever encountered. Not in its strength, for in later years, when I lived in the English Lake District, there were days when shepherds could not go along the roads except by clinging to the stone walls. And I once took fifteen minutes in a raging gale to climb the top fifty feet of Ben More Assynt. But the cold of it and the driven particles of ice were quite exceptional.
In the next days, there developed a snow condition on the mountain tops that, although uncommon, does happen within the experience of most mountaineers who visit Scotland in the spring months. In the Lake District, it happened once in the fifteen years I lived there. It has to do with a heavy spring snowfall followed by extreme cold, which freezes the surface into a layer of ice about an inch thick, through which an ice axe cuts easily but through which it is impossible to penetrate even with heavy boots. When this happened in the Lake District, the local hospitals filled with fallen visitors.
With no wind on the day after our ascent of Moruisg, we climbed Aonach Meadhoin above Cluanie and then, for about two hours, traversed the ridge towards the Five Sisters. The icy surface continued all the way down from the summit ridge to the road 2000 feet below, which is just what an unchecked slip would have led to, a 2000-foot fall onto the projecting rocks of the Shiel Valley. To cut one's way down with an axe would be immensely fatiguing, and it would hardly be possible for a lone climber without the gift of powerful legs. One easy way is to carry crampons, which, in later years, I always did routinely from late November to the last of the spring snows. A second, even easier way, if you are lucky, and if the descent is down a southern slope on a clear day, is to depend on the warmth of the spring Sun. By about 2:00 P.M., the direct heat of the Sun may have melted the hard icy surface. What happens then is wonderful to a degree it is difficult to describe. All in a moment, you go from being totally helpless in the absence of ice axe and crampons to being totally in command of the situation. This happens in the moment when the boot bites through to softer snow beneath the upper crust, which still remains strong enough, however, to banish the possibility of avalanche.
Descending now needs no conscious downward movement. All you have to do is prance, and down you go, smoothly and at speed. But not silently, for the multitude of little ice chips you have set free go down with you in a cloud that makes a singing noise. Because this condition never occurs except on a clear blue day with the Sun bright towards the south, all the mountains around you are ablaze with light. There is just one snag, however: the descent seems over almost before it begins, so swiftly do you go, even down several thousand feet. The finest of scree slopes does not compare with it. In that week, we experienced singing snow twice, on the day above Cluanie and in Glen Lyon on our last day.
On a summer day, the traveler on the way to the Isle of Skye who turns west at Invergarry will see a striking mountain to the west that remains in view through much of the long ascent of the road towards Cluanie. This is Gairich, on the south side of Loch Quoich. The north ridge plunges to the loch as straight as a ruler. We made our way to the dam at the lower end of the loch, leaving the car there. The day was overcast and forbidding, so that we would hardly have thought of tackling Gairich had it not been for the exhilaration of the previous day. First, we had a six-mile slog over uneven, partially snow-covered ground to reach the starting point, with the prospect of a six-mile slog later in the day back to the car. We found a gully up to the north ridge and then a long, steeply rising ridge to the top. Ice was everywhere to a depth of a few inches, the snow cover having been blown away by the winds of previous days. Crampons made light of the ridge, however, both up and down. It was my first fairly lengthy experience in the use of crampons, and I was amazed at the security they conferred. In my twenties, I had come to fear ice. Now, at fifty, I lost some of the fear, thanks to the crampons. So even that apparently unpromising day turned out to be exhilarating in its own way. It also turned out remarkable in a respect none of us had quite experienced before. Arriving back at the car, we drank enormous quantities of tea, and we also consumed large quantities of a huge cake that Norman Baggaley had brought along. Then the unslakable thirst continued through an evening spent at the Lovat Arms in Fort Augustus. Why we had lost so much water on an apparently cold day, I never quite understood.
A day of fantastic wind followed. Since snow was blown up in the air to form diffuse white clouds several thousand feet above the mountain tops, it must surely have been even fiercer than the day on Moruisg. It needed only a glance at the conditions, otherwise sunlit again, to tell us nothing was possible except to drive along gently to the south. We did this, arriving eventually at the Breadalbane Arms in Kenmore at the lower end of Loch Tay, whence, on the morrow, we made our final foray into Glen Lyon, again being favoured by singing snow.
On the day of icy wind on Moruisg, there was honey in the comb for tea at the hotel in Ardelve. After dinner in front of a blazing fire, Dick Cook produced the little suitcase in which he kept his stock of maps. He often did this in the evening, usually to take out a gardening periodical. On this evening, however, he took out a slim volume in which, after carefully leafing through a number of pages, he entered a tick from a pencil, a single tick mark. Curious to understand what was happening, I asked to see the volume. It had the title Munro's Tables, from an original compilation by Sir Hugh Munro. Inquiring as to what this meant, Norman explained that a Munro was a separate peak above 3000 feet in height. Munro's Tables listed all there were in Scotland, about 280. Moruisg had been one that neither Dick nor Norman had "done" before, which was why Dick had now added a tick mark against it. When Norman asked how many of the 280 I had "done" myself, I began by thinking I had done quite a lot, but, after about an hour of study, I answered in a chagrined way: "Only about thirty." Norman had done eighty, and Dick had done about 160. Each night thereafter, I studied Munro's Tables with growing wonder. Pretty soon, after returning to Cambridge, I acquired a copy for myself, discovering, on Ordnance Survey maps, mountains by the score that, until then, I didn't know existed. If the five "Munros" we had just climbed could yield such splendid days, what might the 245 still unknown summits reveal? I decided that I would climb all 280, beginning in 1965 at the age of fifty. The long hard day on Gairich suggested that I had built up, since January, a fair measure of toughness. Although cramponing down a long icy slope is not difficult technically, it puts a strain on the legs and particularly on the knees. The welcome fact that my formerly weak left knee had shown no recurrence of the ligament strain suggested that my hitherto persistent trouble with my knee was behind me now. So why not? In September 1964, I had sought to flyaway a free bird, only to be enticed back into the cage. Climbing all the Munros would be something of a substitute for being a free bird.
The weather was good, the skies clear, the air temperature not too high for uphill walking. A party of four young people, two men and two girls, approached the top of the mountain. The summit cairn was already tenanted by a brown-faced man, who seemed almost infinitely old to those young people. They passed the time of day, and the brown-faced man made the obvious joke about getting himself a lady companion. Then he set off down the gently sloping northern side, leaving the young people to laugh at a still better joke-the ice ax dangling across his back. Was the old boy really expecting snow in the middle of the summer?
Soon the young people were running down the same northern side of the mountain. It was good going, so they made a fast pace, gaining ground on the old man. Five hundred feet down from the summit, a subsidiary, twisting rocky ridge branched off to the right. It led down through the northern cliffs to the floor of the magnificent corrie below. It was not a difficult route by real climbing standards, but it needed constant care. The young people, as they charged down the more gentle upper slopes, were surprised to see the old man turn off the easier main ridge onto the subsidiary ridge. This was the route they intended to take themselves.
The brown-faced man was not more than a hundred feet below them when they started down the first broken rocks. They expected to catch him very quickly, but this was not what happened. Steadily, the gap between the solitary man and the twenty-year-olds opened up. The rougher the descent, the more the old man went ahead. He was using the ice ax skillfully, using it to save his legs from the jarring of the multitude of awkward downward steps. Year by year the legs accumulate small, irreparable damage to ligaments and cartilage, damage which the body cannot repair. Old legs, like old trees, carry the total debit of accidental damage taken over a whole lifetime. With the aid of his ax, the old man had learned to overcome something of this inevitable handicap, giving his superb natural balance an opportunity to show itself. An observer would have seen four healthy youngsters letting themselves carefully down little rock walls, down bits of scree and steep grass. He would also have seen the old man forging ahead of them moving smoothly and gracefully, apparently without haste, in the style of the true mountaineer.
The youngsters didn't laugh at the sight of the ax when they came for a second time on the brown-faced man. He was sitting beside the lochan that nestled in the floor of the corrie. He'd been sitting there for perhaps twenty minutes, watching them, munching bits of chocolate mixed together with an apple. He offered them some of the chocolate and they were not embarrassed to accept it, as they would have been if he had offered it at the cairn at the top. Then they were off along the path at a good clip, anxious to do the six miles back to the nearest village before the shops closed for the day. The old man stayed on long after the young people had gone. He sat in the afternoon sunshine, not because he was tired, but because he was in no hurry. It was a curious thing, as he had grown older he had got less tired, not more tired. Tweaks and twinges, yes, tired legs, no. The last time he had felt really tired was so far back in the past that he couldn't even bring it to mind. Where age showed itself, he thought wryly, was in his attitude to discomfort. He could face rain, wind, or blizzard with the same determination he'd always had, but unnecessary discomfort made him acutely miserable. It made him miserable to eat a bad dinner when he could get a good one, to sleep in an uncomfortable bed when a comfortable one was available, to stump ten miles along a hard road when he could ride in a car.
The ax was standing upright a few yards away, where he had stabbed it into soft ground. It was strong and light, beautifully made and. like himself, it was old. The ax had been given to him many years ago by an Italian mountaineer, a pioneer in South America. How many places had it stood as it was standing now? On first ascents in the Andes, on many an Alpine peak.
It was almost fifteen years since the day on the Obergabelhorn. With a guide, he had traversed the Weisshorn, descending the Schaligrat. The following day they had set out for the traverse of the Wellenkuppe and the Obergabelhorn. It was all perfectly straightforward. They had crossed the summit of the Wellenkuppe to the Great Gendarme. After the Gendarme they came to the steepening rocks of the Obergabelhorn itself. From here on, the climb was essentially on rock, so he had stopped to put the ax head safely into his rucksack - that was before rucksacks were made with special loops at the top and bottom for fastening an ax. The guide had been impatient with him for stopping. Couldn't he wedge the ax into the rucksack straps in the same way the guide himself had done? He had tried it, but during the climb there came a moment when he was forced to stoop and the ax had slipped out. It dropped on to an exceedingly steep snowslope flanking the ridge on which they were climbing. He had watched it slide with increasing speed, down toward the glacier thousands of feet below. Then it happened in a flash. The ax took a bounce, upended itself, and miraculously dug its point deep into a snowy ledge. There it stuck, standing upright, just as it was doing now.
He told the guide he was going down to retrieve it, but the guide said no, the slope was far too steep. They had argued, both determined men. To him, there was no question of leaving the ax. If it had gone down to the glacier, all very well. He would have written it off. But it hadn't. It had stopped. It was holding itself up, waiting to be fetched.
To the Swiss, this was a case of insanity. The route ahead to the summit of the Obergabelhorn was a rock climb, as also was the descent by the Arbengrat. An ax was almost superfluous from here on. Certainly there was no danger in going on. Equally certain, there was danger in attempting to retrieve the ax which his client had been fool enough to drop.
So they had argued, one in English, one in German, not able to understand each other very well. At last the Englishman had told the guide to fix his own price for the retrieval of the ax, but retrieved it was going to be, even if he had to go alone for it. This changed the situation, for a guide is paid to risk his life in his client's interest.
The guide had lowered the Englishman on a two-hundred foot rope. Then the guide had climbed down to him in his steps, and they had again run out the rope. This brought him off the horribly steep part of the slope, to the ledges where the ax had fastened itself. With the ax, now, getting back to the ridge had not been impossibly difficult. Details of the rest of the traverse were almost lost from memory.
The guide had more than doubled his tariff for the day. The old man still remembered the two hundred francs be had paid over. A lot for an ax, but then it had been impossible to leave it, with its hand outstretched to him like that.
With a sigh, the brown-faced man got to his feet, slipped the ax through the special loop in his rucksack, and started down the track from the lochan to the lower valley.
A highly exuberant project from the late 1960s, which I completed in these years, was the climbing of all the Scottish mountains with heights above 3000 feet, some 280 of them, the so-called Munros. Ben Dearg, some 3550 feet in height and about ten miles southeast of Ullapool, was my penultimate Munro. I had been lucky to get through a forestry gate at Inverlael, gaining a couple of miles by car along a rough road up the valley of the river Lael. Ben Dearg was the second of two Munros that day. There was an interesting corrie (a cup-shaped depression) between them that I crossed in gathering cloud and rain, aware that, because of deteriorating weather, it would be a tricky matter to find the way out again-or, at any rate, to find it with the precision required to take me directly back down to my car in the Lael Valley. It was just the kind of situation Joe Jennings revelled in. Once he had oriented himself with map and compass, Joe would stride along without ever needing to reorient himself again. Never in the many days we spent together did he emerge anywhere but at our intended destination. When a heavy mist is down, I, in contrast, have to crawl along, reorienting myself every half minute. I was much aided that day by an excellent compass that I strapped on my wrist like a watch, making it easy to take a look at it every half minute or so. By this technique, I had found that, provided you have read the map correctly and have kept fixedly on the right compass bearing, there is nowhere you can be, in the long run, except in the right place. Even so, I was much pleased when I reached the track down the Lael Valley, arriving at my car in plenty of time to get back to my somewhat distant hotel in time for dinner-or so I thought. But, just as I stopped the car at the forestry gate near the main road, there was an ominous click from the gearbox, which turned out to be jammed. Luckily, it was the sort of jam that could be rocked out, but I wasn't strong enough to do it alone, and, by the time I had found help (the day was Sunday), I was indeed late for dinner.
Clearly, this was not major trouble, but, had I been Dick Cook, I would have taken it as an omen: this was in September 1971, two months before the Cambridge disaster. There was another omen not long afterwards. I used to keep the excellent compass in the flap of my rucksack, so that it was always there should I need it. Otherwise, I simply forgot about it, the way I always fail to think about small things that seem to be in order. Shortly after climbing Ben Dearg, I checked my rucksack after a plane flight to find that the glass on the compass had been smashed by baggage handlers. I never found another as good, a further indication of how things do not necessarily improve with time.
My last Munro was Blaven, a distant extension of the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye. I had planned with friends to make an event out of it in May 1972, carrying up bottles of champagne and a generally sumptuous repast. But the events in Cambridge destroyed this plan, which required joie de vivre as well as good food and champagne. Nor was the wish there from 1972 to 1975, nor was there the opportunity from 1975 through early 1977. Then, at last, after returning to Cockley Moor in the spring of 1977, I thought again of Blaven. It made little sense, however, to revive the idea of a party. I would go there quietly, alone, and finish what I had begun so zestfully twelve years earlier. Thereafter, I made several trips to Skye, but, on each occasion, the weather turned indescribably foul, to a point where I began to think that I was destined never to climb Blaven. Dick Cook, with whom I had done the first Munro in 1965, Moruisg, attributed personalities to mountains. If a mountain, even a very difficult one, took a liking to you, it would let you through to its summit with little trouble. But, if you got yourself, for some reason, into the bad books of even an easy mountain, there was no way you were going to climb it without trouble. It was a philosophy I found curious, but, since it had carried Dick safely up all the classic climbs in the Alps and to the summit of a 21,000-foot Himalayan peak when he had reached the advanced age of 57 years, I had to respect it.
I had begun to think I was surely in Blaven's bad books when, on 23 October 1980, I awoke in a hotel in Broadford on the Isle of Skye to a cloudless morning. The intention in 1972 had been to make the rock climbing traverse from the nearby mountain of Clach Glas, but now, done at the end of October after a cold, clear night, I judged this to be out of the question. Cold autumn nights can lead to conditions as bad as real winter. The rocks first become wet after rain and the water then freezes to give a thin layer of ice (verglas, as Alpine mountaineers call it) everywhere. Old-style clinker-nailed boots help by cutting through the thin ice, but modern rubber-soled boots leave you stumbling helplessly.
Blaven is a humpbacked mountain with two tops differing in height by a mere eleven feet, the northern top being the higher. There is an easy route up the northern top on its eastern side and another up a stony gully between the two, but my climbers' guidebook praised the long southern ridge from Camasunary, the name given to a croft about three miles to the north of the village of Elgol. Since this would give superb views over the main Cuillin summits to the west, I decided to take it, the other routes being dull slogs. So I drove from Broadford to Elgol and made my way along a track to an enclosure of fields at Camasunary. The southern ridge was delightful, just as the guidebook said it would be, but, the higher I climbed, the more I began to feel that Blaven really had me in its bad books, with consequences that Dick Cook would have predicted. Somewhere ticking in my mind I remembered it was a rock climb between the two tops of Blaven, that it wasn't just an easy rise of eleven feet, as my guidebook seemed to suggest. I arrived on the southern top at noon to find it was so. There was a steep plunge of 150 feet to a gap beyond, and the rock was indeed slippery with verglas, out of the question for a lone man of 65, never too much of a rock climber anyway. Trusting the guidebook was the same flaw of temperament that had made me trust precedent in Cambridge.
The crags fell away steeply on both sides of the ridge. Because of the icy state of the rocks, it seemed pointless to examine them in detail. Indeed, the rocks to the west were just as intractable for me as the ridge itself, while there seemed to be an essentially vertical precipice on the eastern side. But you can never be quite certain in the Cuillins; things that appear to be impossible may turn out otherwise, like problems in life. The weathering of this remarkable 75-million-year-old volcano has produced an amazing variety of freak rock formations. Descending a little to the east, I saw a gully going steeply down to screes now perhaps 200 feet below. The gully was evidently straightforward for perhaps 100 feet, where it was blocked by a big boulder, beyond which I could see only the lower screes. Without too much hope, I made my way gingerly down to the boulder to find that, on its outer, eastern side, the cliff did indeed fall, as I had expected, vertically to the screes. But on its upper side, amazingly, there was a groove containing a trap dike of firm, ice-free gabbro rock that went down to the bottom like a steep flight of steps. The boulder was so shaped, moreover, that I could squeeze between it and the upper side of the gully so as to reach the trap dike. Fifteen minutes later, I was on the northern top. It had been my persistence, Dick Cook would have said, that had caused the mountain to relent, a point of view well understood by Greek authors before their culture was overwhelmed by the Romans and the Christians, the latter with a preference for devilry and witchcraft over the spirits of the groves, the rivers, and the mountains.
In 1971, we had planned for champagne and a goose (or a turkey, at least) for the summit party. Now, it was a solitary flask of tea and a packet of Mr. Kipling's apple pies. As I ate the pies, I looked across at the main ridge of the Cuillin Hills, stretching tortuously from Garsbheinn to Sgurr nan Gillean, which I had first visited in 1936 at the threshold of my research career.
As I descended the mountain by the way I had come, it was no longer so cloudless; but the sky was still softly suffused with blue, and-immediately at my feet, as it seemed-the islands to the south of Skye were dotted in a richly coloured sea. I had enjoyed many beautiful days in my youthful wanderings on the Cuillin Hills, but none to surpass the beauty of that late October day on which I climbed my last Munro.
2 Holden Street,
S.A. 5068, 30th Nov. 1992.
Yes the great bowling controversy has reached Australia and it is of some moment because the Pakistanis will be playing here this summer.
Although I have no personal experience of what has occurred there seems to be solid evidence that the Pakistani bowlers (more so than those of any other country) have learnt an art of roughing up one side of a cricket ball in such a manner that it will swing more.
With a new ball it would appear (as set out by you in one of your letters) that the ball can be made to SWING by pointing the seam, at the moment of delivery, in a certain direction.
I am unaware of any scientific explanation as to why a ball will swing more, and later, if one side is roughed up.
On the question of the baseball pitchers making a “Break” or "Swerve", I believe this is a totally different matter in that movement in the air (which in their case I call SWERVE not SWING) is caused by spin.
If a right hand bowler bowls to a right hand batsman and puts sufficient off break spin on the ball, it will swerve towards slips. Conversely the leg break
bowler delivers a ball which will swerve towards the leg side. Also excessive top spin causes a ball to drop in its flight.
These things can be clearly and better demonstrated by using a tennis ball, which has no protruding stitches.
But heaven forbid that we should allow bowlers in cricket to throw or pitch the ball. That would very quickly destroy the art of bowlermanship. We move on to your scientific inquisition into the phenomenon of swing which continues to interest us.
As you know a cricket ball is made up of four outer quarters of leather. But a less expensive ball can be made using only two pieces of leather - which does away with stitching down the sides.
This two piece ball (as it is called) is often used where cost is a factor - the 2 piece ball is much cheaper. But with top bowlers operating the two piece ball swings so far that batting can become rather farcical. I once played in such a game where the opening bowler was swinging the ball so far he was bowling wides and we just had to change the ball.
Thank you for your interest. If you have any further observations let us have them.
With kind regards,
Willy Fowler wrote …
In this collaborative work with Fred Hoyle I learned an enormous amount about physics and astronomy from him. But I learned other things in addition. He introduced me to cricket by taking me to a test match at Lords between Pakistan and England and he taught me the fine points of the game. He also took me to rugby union and association football matches at the university grounds and I learned about these games from him. I may have repaid him somewhat in regard to certain esoteric points about American baseball and football but he seemed to know a lot about these games when I first met him. In fact he seemed to know a lot about everything, but more about that later.
As the year 1935-6 progressed, I never lost the fitness I'd acquired in the Scottish Highlands. Indeed from Easter onwards, instead of retreating into my books as in former years, the amount of outdoor activity increased still more. As well as the Sunday walks, I would often go canoeing on weekdays with Charles Goodwin and George Carson. We were emphatic in preferring a heavy wooden affair, which we hired on a long-term basis from a boathouse just below Magdalene Bridge, to the lightweight jobs that rode higher and higher as they picked up speed, making it impossible to get what we considered a satisfactory bite from the paddles. The paddles were one-sided with handles. Eventually there became only one possible arrangement - Charles Goodwin in the front on the left, myself in the middle paddling on the right, and George Carson in the guiding spot at the rear, paddling either side according to the expediencies of the moment. You grasped the crosspiece at the end of the paddle with one hand and delivered the stroke with that hand and corresponding shoulder, the other hand beginning each stroke firmly holding the paddle shaft immediately above the blade. At the last moment you had to whip your lower thumb away from the shaft to avoid it being crushed against the side of the boat. The problem was to get our timing co-ordinated with the strongest strokes we could manage and without ruining the lower thumb and fingers. From that time in 1936 through two consecutive summers until Charles Goodwin left Cambridge, we prided ourselves on being the fastest craft on the River Cam. I can't be certain we were, but I can say that nobody ever beat us in a challenge. Our time from Byron's Pool to the Garden House Hotel became incredibly short.
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