Thursday, 19 January 2012


I could feel myself brimming with tears this afternoon, looking at this picture in the wonderful exhibition of Antarctic photographs at the Queen's Gallery. (And do look at the magnificent website which is the next best thing to being there.)
It was taken at the South Pole, 100 years ago yesterday - and you can see the utter dejection in Scott's team who have just realised that Amundsen has beaten them to it.
Some of these images are so familiar from books, but it was mind-blowing seeing them for real. When you can see the cut crystal glasses and foil-wrapped chocolates on the table for Scott's final birthday dinner. (I don't think I've ever quite grasped the sheer beauty of Herbert Ponting's photography; no wonder he always referred to himself as a photographic artist.)
But I am a shameless eavesdropper on other people's conversations ... so imagine my excitement when I overheard a snatch of interesting talk, then minutes later found myself shaking hands with the grandson of Teddy Evans, who was Scott's second-in-command; the great-nephew of Bernard Day, who was in charge of the motor sledges; and a younger chap who proved to be a distant cousin of Ernest Shackleton. (I have to confess that Shackleton is my number one Antarctic hero!)
It made my day ...
Before you ask, they all looked like the kind of burly chap you'd be glad to have on board in a crisis.
Then Jules Evans, who is a composer, showed me pictures on his phone of a sound sculpture that he made when he visited Antarctica.
And all the way home I thought of my trip there in 2005, just before the start of the Antarctic winter. And the colours of the ice grottoes, and the breathing of whales at dawn, and the pancake ice beginning to form around our boat ...
And I remembered standing on deck as the last iceberg disappeared from view as we sailed for home.
I think about it so often - because what I want more than anything else in the world is the chance to go there again.

11 comments:

bookssnob said...

YOU WENT TO THE ANTARCTIC?! Why did I not know this?! Mary, that's amazing!

Thank you for reminding me of this exhibition - I keep meaning to go and will head on down this weekend. The V&A has a haunting photo of the expedition in their collection and the whole thing just brings me to tears whenever I think about it. Amazing.

mary said...

There's more to me than meets the eye, Rachel! Though I have to confess I went in comfort (apart from the night in the tent) and though we did set foot on the Continent, it was mostly on the Antarctic peninsula. But it was definitely the trip of my life.
I was swept away by the pictures. And couldn't believe I got the chance to shake hands with the descendants of heroes!

Sue said...

How completely fascinating. Thank you Mary.

Cait O'Connor said...

Amazing post.

Noelle said...

One exibition I would have loved to see Mary!
Thank you so much for sharing these very special moments! Ex-RAF hubby shares your love for Shackleton but I have always prefer Captain Scott and was very happy to share photos on my blog as well this week! Cambridge had a fascinating exibition also and was attended by Prince Philip. Do you happen to know what was unveiled that evening (a letter?)
Blessings,

Toffeeapple said...

Goodness, don't you have hidden depths? How exciting.

(Mary, this post keeps coming up on my Google Reader, I think this is the eighth or 9th time now, is there something that you perhaps need to do?)

mary said...

Rather a long way for you to come, Noelle! I think they've recently discovered a last letter from Wilson - who's seated on the right in the top picture. So maybe that's what you're thinking of. People were talking yesterday about a dinner in Cambridge with Prince Philip. (The Polar Institute is there.)

Toffeeapple, that sounds a real nuisance - I'm sorry - far too much of a good thing. However, I don't have a clue how to stop it unless anybody else has any suggestions?

Thrifty Household said...

Shameless plug here for the Scott Polar Research Institute here in Cambridge; they also have a special Scott exhibition on in their museum which includes the last letters, diaries, photos, etc... It's well worth a visit!
(Check out their website http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/)

mary said...

Feel free to plug away, Thrifty Household! I'm still kicking myself for not having a day in Cambridge when the Vermeer exhibition was on.

A Trifle Rushed said...

Mary, what a marvelous post. I heard the Sara Wheeler, extracts on the radio the week before last, which referenced Pontings photographs, it sounded fascinating. Like you I would be entranced to meet the descendants of those men, real 'true grit', and I'm a great fan of Shackleton.

mary said...

I like her books, Jude, and that new book she mentioned about the Japanese expedition sounded interesting.