Sunday, October 21, 2012


Miserable day: drizzly, dark, dismal day out - so stayed in. Treated myself to watching The Great White Silence - Herbert Ponting's documentary of Scott & Co's ill-fated 1912/13 journey to the South Pole. The film is not so much about the terrible trek to the Pole as much as all the preparation that went into it, the voyage on the Terra Nova, footage of penguins & seals etc, all done in sub-zero temperatures with neanderthal equipment at the dawn of film. The results were amazing at the time, and fabulous post-restoration. Another attraction is the new score by Simon Fisher Turner - electronic and utterly modern yet very sympathetic. 

Earlier this summer I read Sara Wheeler's Terra Incognita - an account of a several-month-long Antarctic writer-in-residency in more recent times. Two things, for me, came out of that. First, the sheer size (bigger than Europe), harshness (coldest, windiest, driest place on the planet) and nothingness of the place. The edges are vaguely interesting and there's the Trans Antarctic mountain range and the Pole itself has a certain resonance (and a research settlement), but the rest is a lot of nothing. Or as an OS mapper said: "Look at that. Nothing between us and the Pole except 1,250 miles of nothing. So much to map, so little time". The other thing that struck was the overriding (95%) maleness of its few thousand temporary inhabitants, mostly bearded geeky scientists, which made for a rather rough ride for Wheeler.
She's written a good book on the Arctic too - The Magnetic North - but that's another story.

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