Tag Archives: Captain Scott

Very gallant gentlemen

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It was like a large black diamond, about two inches across and each of its seven or eight facets had been carved and smoothed by aeons of icy wind and weather. It looked and felt like a precious stone. It was. It had been smuggled out from the Antartic, where no one is allowed to take anything from that pristine wilderness.

A friend had brought it out for us. For years I carried it from house to house, and on the last move it disappeared. I regret it more than anything else that I’ve ever lost or broken or damaged. Eight years later, I still feel sad to no longer have that irreplaceable, potent black stone sitting on my table among other treasures. It was the treasure of treasures.

But I still have my shelves of books on that mysterious continent, and the extraordinary men who couldn’t stay away from it. Captain Scott’s expedition is the one that still reverberates among the English… a bit like Dunkirk, his heroic failure somehow thrilled them more than if he had achieved his goal of getting to the South Pole first. Poor Amundsen who did, is hardly rated by Scott afficionadoes. He made it look easy, while Scott and his men laboured mightily.

Yet men who were quite ordinary have become legends since their snowy deaths back then – men like Captain Oates stepping outside the tent into a blizzard with his :’ I am just going outside and may be some time’, and heading off to die… his portrait entitled: “A very gallant gentleman” still proudly hangs in his old cavalry regiment’s mess. He knew his frostbitten feet were going to make the difference between Scott and the  other two getting back to safety, or being held up by him and never making it. But it was too late by then anyway, with the unexpectedly terrible weather making impossible the last few miles of the journey to safety.

Oates, who in spite of being taciturn, was a potent presence and a penetrating observer, was unimpressed by Captain Scott, and spent a great deal of his time before the expedition started, trying to cosset his Mongolian ponies, crouching with them in their freezing stalls, coaxing them to eat their in-edible rations, or rescuing harness, headstalls and any other object which the bored and ravenous animals were tempted to devour.

His cronies who shared one side of the cramped hut which was their home while wintering at Cape Evans, consisted of Bowers, Cherry-Garrard, Atkinson and Meares, who were known as The Tenement Dwellers, anti-feminist, anti-scientist, conservative and spartan – and, one has to add, narrow-minded and philistine.

The other side of the twenty-five foot wide hut were the scientists, who made a dainty attempt at home-making, mocked by Oates who called their space The Opium Den. They draped a curtain, scrounged from photographer Ponting, across their bunks to give themselves privacy. One added a branch acetylene light, another stained everything stainable with Condy’s fluid, making it a uniform red brown, the Norwegian, Gran, put red borders made from photographers’ material on their shelves, and another adorned his bunk with a piece of dark blue material which had started life as part of a Sunday altar cloth.

Yet all sixteen men relied on each other for company and comfort, succour and safety. They knew that their survival depended on each other, and perhaps in this way discovered for themselves the truth of the ideal society in which all life and all things and all men are connected to each other. No-one is separate from the whole, a truth which our civilisation as a whole, seems to have forgotten.

Writing of the expedition to Cape Crozier he made with Bowers and Wilson on their ‘worst journey in the world’, (the title of his book) Cherry Garrard said: ‘ And we DID stick it… we did not forget the Please and Thank you, which mean much in such circumstances, and all the little links with decent civilisation which we could still keep going. I’ll swear there was still a grace about us as we staggered in. And we kept our tempers – even with God.’ A bond of mysticism carried these three men through.

Tactful Dr Bill Wilson, secret disciple of St Francis, and known as Uncle Bill, was the advisor, peace-maker and comforter in this tiny society. Birdie Bowers, bachelor, tiger for punishment, endlessly strong and tireless long after everyone else was fainting with exhaustion, was the other closet mystic in the party – ” The purpose of life,” he wrote “… is to make a great decision – to choose between the material and the spiritual, and if we choose the spiritual we must work out our choice, and then it will run like a silver thread through the material… nothing that happens to our bodies really matters.”

And it’s this which is what makes Scott’s expedition so continuously fascinating, that they were people, who at the extremity of their strength, dying of starvation, continued to be kind and considerate to each other, and never did forget the pleases and thank you’s, the courtesies and the deeper meanings of  civilisation. Because they cared about their animals they didn’t kill and eat their dogs like Amundsen did, and Scott also refused to eat the ponies on their journey, which ultimately sealed their fate.

So though they failed to achieve their purpose, they remain inspirational.  They were ordinary men stretched to the limits of their endurance, and they never lost their decency, and goodness and humanity. This is why their story is so enduring. They were true to themselves and to their code of honour. They remind me that simple human decencies are actually what make men and women great and that these qualities are the bedrock of our civilisation.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A weekend lunch party at a friend’s house, seated on her veranda overlooking a turquoise sea, and embellished with sunshine, laughter, lots of rose to drink and delicious food, ending with summer pudding – what else on a perfect summer’s day? Here’s how to make this delicious and easy classic English pudding.

You need about two pounds of a mix of summer fruit and berries.  Keep strawberries separate from the rest. In a pan melt 175 gms of sugar with three tblspns of water. Then add the prepared fruit except the strawberries. Gently cook for a few minutes to soften. Line a pudding bowl with thinly cut slices of bread, no crusts, all fitted and slotted into each other so there are no cracks.

Pour the fruit into a sieve to strain off the juice. Fill the bowl with the fruit, adding the strawberries if you have them, in different layers. Soak slices of bread in some of the juice, and fit them over the top.  Weight the top with a plate and some heavy tins, and leave in the fridge overnight for at least six to seven hours. Turn out this wonderful looking pink pudding, and serve with lots of cream to eight delighted people.

 

Food for Thought

Always do your best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

Don Miguel Ruiz. ‘The Four Agreements’

 

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A peculiar Christmas feast and the 4th Wise Man

100_0742Polar explorer Captain Scott and his team celebrated Christmas on their way to the South Pole in 1911. As a foodie, I find their feast a little lacking in… je ne sais quoi …

After his historic Christmas dinner with Wilson and Oates, Bowers and Evans, Scott recorded in his diary what he grandly termed four courses: ” The first, pemmican, full whack, with slices of horse meat flavoured with onion and curry powder and thickened with biscuit; then an arrowroot, cocoa and biscuit hoosh sweetened; then a plum pudding; then cocoa with raisins, and finally a dessert of caramels and ginger.”

Pemmican was the classic polar food, preserved, dried meat and fat… not my idea of gourmet nosh, but Birdie Bowers, and Taff Evans both felt so filled with warmth and human kindness after this extraordinary collection of unpalatable rubbish, that they decided when they got back to England they would: “get hold of all the poor children we can and just stuff them full of nice things,” in bachelor Bowers’ words.

I just feel the polar feast could have been warmed up with a wee dram of whisky perhaps, or even a swig of medicinal brandy. But then, I feel the cold.

Bowers was responsible for this jolly Christmas celebration, having smuggled the food over and above the allowed weights for the journey. Once the recalcitrant and desperate Mongolian ponies – who had suffered so terribly on the sea journey to the Antarctic, and who had then struggled endlessly in appalling weather and conditions with food they couldn’t eat- had been killed, every man carried his own food and equipment on the heavy sleds.

Bowers had always sneaked his night-time biscuit to his pony. On the night before they were all killed, Wilson, St Francis’s man, gave his whole biscuit ration to the poor creatures, like the condemned man’s last meal. This was the only time I cried during the film: ‘Scott of the Antartic’ with John Mills.  I was twelve, and blow the men, it was the ponies I wept for.

Thankfully my Christmases have never been as cold as theirs, though it felt like it in the hall in which we rehearsed for the Nativity Play when I was five. I had no idea what a rehearsal was, or why we had been marched – or straggled would be a better word – to the hall just down the road. Neither did I really understand the story we were acting in. We seemed to stand around for hours in the unheated hall while teachers talked animatedly to each other, and shifted bodies and chairs around the stage.

I just knew that the white nightie thing I was wearing like all the other little girls, was freezing. To cap it all – like the other angels in their nighties – I had a boring triangle to keep chinging on. This was a watershed in my understanding of the world. I understood then for the first time, that boys had all the fun. Not only were they all dressed up as kings and shepherds, but they got to play drums and tambourines, trumpets and recorders.

I felt as aggrieved as I did when I first saw huge Persil ads, in which the dark haired woman had the grubby grey sheets, and a bright blonde had the sparkling Persil washed sheets. Apparently blondes were better than brunettes.

But that’s another story… a year later my grandmother took me to a midnight carol service. I was riveted. A boy sang the first verse to: ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ in an un-earthly soaring treble, and then read the lesson. At one point his clear voice rang out with the words “And Mary pondered these things in her heart”. My heart leapt. I had no idea what the beautiful words meant, but for many years I treasured them and pondered them in my heart too.

The next memorable nativity play was when my daughter was five, and she was playing Mary. I thought she was utterly precious as she gazed at the world with her big brown eyes, her little face framed by a blue head covering, her solemn gaze taking in far more than I ever did. I sat and watched her with tears running down my face and my heart nearly burst with love. And the same when my small son sang the solo so sweetly at his Christmas concert.

Much the same too at all my grandsons’ nativity plays, only not tears, laughter. My heart nearly burst with love then too, and lots of giggles, as the head mistress darted down from her pulpit to drag a little finger from some-one’s little nose, and then he simply used the other finger on the other hand and the other nostril as soon as she was safely back in the pulpit.

None of them were magnificently garbed magi, just lowly shepherds … but we all sang the sombre, beautiful carol, ‘We three kings of Orient are…’ My favourite wise man is the fourth one, and that old Christmas legend telling his story is one of the most beautiful Christmas stories, to my mind…

He had set out with the other three Magi, but on the way, they came upon a traveller who’d had an accident, and the fourth wise man stopped to help him. Seeing he would be a while, he told the other three to carry on with their journey, and he would catch them up. But he never did, for he kept meeting some creature or traveller who needed his help to get them to safety, and by the time he got to Bethlehem the kings had been and gone, and so had the Child he was seeking.

He spent many years following the trail which had always gone cold when he got there, to Egypt and Nazareth and elsewhere. He was constantly delayed by yet another needy person who asked for his help. The gifts he brought and the stock of gold he had carried with him for the journey, dwindled until he had hardly enough left to buy himself food.

And then he heard that Jesus was in Jerusalem. He hurried there, and arrived in time to stand and watch Jesus carry his cross through the streets. He had one final treasure that he was keeping to give to the One he had been seeking, a beautiful sapphire jewel. But just before Jesus passed, a Roman soldier began to assault a young woman. The fourth wise man intervened, and by now, old and frail, was unable to stop the soldier. Finally he offered him his last possession, the precious sapphire, his gift for the Messiah, and the soldier took it and left.

At that moment Jesus reached the fourth wise man, and he knelt and asked Jesus’ forgiveness for having nothing for him because he’d stopped so often on the way to help the hungry or lost or needy. And Jesus looked at him and said: ‘For as much as you have done it unto these, you have done it unto me.’

In other words… we are all one… so a happy Christmas-tide to us all, dear friends around the world of blogging.

Food for threadbare gourmets

When Christmas is here, our little purply-red plums are ripe, and though I gave this recipe last year, I think it’s worth repeating  The plums which are only so-so for eating raw, are delicious when cooked. Every-one who receives a basket of these fruits also gets the recipe I use – borrowed from Nigella Lawson.

To a kilo of plums – more or less, use 300 ml of red wine – more rather than less! Nigella says stone them – I don’t bother, the stones come out quite easily when cooked.

Put the plums in an oven proof dish. In a saucepan boil the wine with two bay leaves, half a teasp of ground cinnamon, two cloves, one star anise, and 200g of honey. Pour over the plums, seal with foil or a lid, and bake for an hour or longer at 160 degrees, until they’re tender. You can keep them in the fridge for three days, and you can freeze them.

Serve with crème fraiche, ice-cream, or custard. I also think they’d be good with rice pudding on a cold day. The aromatic scent while they are cooking is so delectable that I’d love to catch it in a bottle and spray it regularly around the kitchen.

Food for thought

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Comedian  extraordinaire, Bob Hope  1903 – 2003 His grandson said that when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, he characteristically quipped: “ Surprise me .”

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