Holding on to Little Dribbling

There is a haze of bluebells in the woods – just starting to burst forth but it will be a week or two before we see them in their full glory – and hopefully I have got a week off from needles etc. so I thought I would talk about something else. I have mentioned a couple of books in this blog so I decided to tell you a bit about them. One was by Bill Bryson who is one of my favourite authors and the other by Jo Gambi.

I came across Jo Gambi some years ago when we went to an illustrated talk she was giving in Thame – the friends we went with were keen photographers which is why we went, but it was more than just a photographic journey. I had the opportunity to have a few words with her and buy a copy of her book “Holding on: A story of love and survival”. It tells of how she met her husband Rob, of his battle with cancer and of their climbing exploits.

If I work at it I can draw a lot of parallels between the Gambis and me: Jo grew up not far from here as did I (Penn for Jo, Oxford for me), Rob was born in Australia and I have visited Australia, Jo studied at Brunel as did I (Physiotherapy 2008 for Jo, Engineering 1971 for me), Rob was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy, the Gambis have been to Antarctica. I have climbed the highest mountain in the UK, the Gambis have climbed the highest mountain in the world. So you see we are practically related.

You may have spotted that the parallels have unravelled a bit. I use the word climb in the context of an eight hour walk up what is really a very big hill, for the Gambis a climb is a challenge using ropes, oxygen and climbing equipment and involving lots of planning and time. I could never do what they have done but I can appreciate their achievements.  However the comparison is useful – if my cancer is Ben Nevis, Rob’s is Everest.  We share common ground but have very different experiences. This will be true for other cancer sufferers – some are faced with Kilimanjaro, others with Snowdon – and some will face it in fair weather and others through storms.

I mentioned Jo Gambi’s book in Three days, three needles because it has the only description of going through chemotherapy that I have read. Rob took up climbing after he met Jo even though he is afraid of heights. After they were married he had a relapse and had to undergo chemotherapy and so they set themselves the challenge of climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents and subsequently they skied to both Poles. It is well worth reading and includes one of the best short accounts of climbing Everest that I have read. It would have been getting on for ten years ago that I heard Jo talk but looking at their website it looks as if Rob is still in remission and has carved out a successful career while they now have two sons.

I mentioned the other book, Bill Bryson’s Return to Little Dribbling,  in Hang on, let’s just step back a bit. It allowed me to refer to  my “Bryson issue” instead of going into detail. This is probably unfair on Bill but he chose the title for his book. I have been a Bryson fan since reading Notes from a Small Island. I had another of his books with me when I went in for my recent overnight stay.

When work colleagues visited our office in Philadelphia for the first time I used to encourage them to read one of his books such as “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America” on the plane over. They were soon hooked and would pick up his other books and then complain to me when they got dirty looks on the tube for laughing out loud! I have read most, if not all, of his books and they are all informative and amusing which makes for an enjoyable read.  It was Bryson who first introduced me to stromatolites (in Bill Bryson Down Under).

I later “met” the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool which is at the southern end of Shark Bay in Western Australia. It  has a very restricted water flow which results in a hypersaline environment – just the right conditions for stromatolites.  They are rock like structures built by single celled cyanobacteria. They look like rocky stalks sticking up from the sea bed clustered together in a great group. Some of them have concave tops and generally they are slightly narrower at the base than they are at the top. They are in a shallow tidal area and if we hadn’t been told we would have assumed that they were just a result of water and wind erosion.


The stromatolites that we saw are 2,000 to 3,000 years old but similar to those that existed up to 3.5 billion years ago. At that time the atmosphere contained only 1% oxygen. The cyanobacteria formed extensive stromatolite reefs and released increasing amounts of oxygen into the atmosphere. So without them life as we know it would not be possible. There are now only three places they are found – two in the Bahamas and one at Hamelin Pool where they were discovered in 1956.

So thank you stromatolites, for providing us with oxygen, thank you Jo Gambi for explaining chemotherapy and thank you Bill Bryson for your latest book title.

Next post: Why do wombats do cube shaped poos?

Previous post: Another day, another needle

One thought on “Holding on to Little Dribbling

  1. Thank you again Tim, now that I’ve ‘refound’ your blog I am learning so much and have put a note to myself to read the Bill Bryson book I was given about 3 years ago. and… Jo Gambi’s book should also go on my reading list as I find any account of climbing on Everest quite fascinating. I met Chris Bonington some years ago, took his portrait (in B&W and subsequently exhibited) and he signed my copy of his book which is still a treasured possession. Please continue this blog mate, I look forward to the next episode. Peter


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