6 Mar 2011

Dangerous grandparents

Corsican bandit? Dangerous terrorist? No, but probably an English spy.

This is a photograph of my paternal grandfather, Ralph Patteson Cobbold, who, in 1897/1888, spent a year wandering around Central Asia in the area of the Hindou Kush and Pamir mountains, roughly speaking where Afghanistan, the then Indian part of the British Empire (now Pakistan), China and Russia come together. His declared objective was hunting mountain sheep (ovis poli), ibex, bears and tigers, and he looks more or less equipped for that in the picture above. But most contemporaries were firmly convinced that he was actually sent by the British government to spy on the Russians and their plans in the area.

Here is a satellite picture of the area. They didn't have satellites in those days. Or aeroplanes.

He was actually captured by the Russians at one point but escaped and walked back to Kashmir. As he put it in his book Innermost Asia, published in 1899, "I feel it is time to return as none of my boots have any leather left on their soles, I have lost all of my pack animals and have no money beyond that which I may borrow."

A little big man, he lived to be 94. Here he is dressed for the mountain conditions, which involved sleeping in yurts at minus 27 degrees.


  1. Who said life is hard today ? Thanks for that David ! What about the Stade Français ? I don't know the score… Hihi !

  2. The Stade Français must have played one of their worst games this year, and that's saying something! Perpignan were not very good either. I thought I was watching a game from the Féderal 1 league (third division). Totally depressing!

    Grandpa Cobbold was something, right? I have lots of good stories about him.

  3. Both chemists were on strike and the « pot belge » just sprang a leak !

  4. S’thing different : d’you think gran’dad could ride a moped and leave Kandahar with Bin Laden riding pillion? The attire is similar.
    And now totally different: went to visit (last day) the exhibition on the “Treasures of Imperial China” (no, not vitreous china) in Couvent des Dominicains today. Waw, highly recommended ! I’m very confu(ciu)sed for prefering lamb’s bout(ddhism) with min(g)t sauce above ta(o)ndoori chicken!

  5. Methinks we should send grandad in after Bin Laden. Pity he ain't around anymore. I mean Grandad, not sure about the other guy.
    On the question of mint sauce, according to food historians, during the 19th century the English ate more garlic than the French, and the French more mint than the English.

  6. That’s why the English remained in mint condition whereas the French always have been so garrulous.

  7. S’thing’d been on me mind foar a while, but dunno how t’express it ! I’ll giv’it a wee try.
    If G Bush jr has got kids – reckon it’s the case – they could well associate your title – Dangerous Grandparents – with an equally famous one: Inglorious Bastards.

  8. Yes, must be hard for them Bushies! I am very happy with my dangerous grandfather. Even if he didn't catch Bin Laden, who wasn't even a twinkle in his father's whatever, he did, I believe, catch the Mad Mollah, when sent to the Sudan by Haile Selassie the Negus of Ethiopia.