Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Tears and heroism

Having recently read "The Birthday Boys" by Beryl Bainbridge, which was given to me as a birthday present by a dear friend, I discovered that I had two things in common with Scott of the Antarctic.  Of course he had qualities  - sheer heroism and the ability to lead a team - that I could not aspire to emulate, but two little things might be considered to be a start.

Bainbridge's approach was an interesting one, even if the title of her book was a little puzzling.  Each chapter was written in the words of a different crew member, starting off with Petty Officer Taff Evans, and ending up with Captain Lawrence Edward (Titus) Oates who's famous words "I'm just going outside, and I may be some time" were uttered on his birthday.

It is amazing to think that 100 years ago, nobody had ever been to the South Pole.  Two expeditions were in Antarctic, poised to make an attempt.  The world has moved a long way in the last century.

Of course the story does not end well for Scott and his companions.  Bainbridge's description of the whole 'adventure' was consistent with other accounts that I had previously read.  The organisation and resourcing of the expedition were meticulous and yet misguided, more like a boy-scouts' outing than a scientific expedition to one of the most hostile parts of the world.  They were brave men, but with the bad weather that they experienced they had little chance of success.  This was compounded by the strange and fateful decision that a team of five men would attempt to reach the pole, when the resources had been gathered for only four to do it.

In a strange English way they also felt cheated by Amundson who reached the pole before them, and survived the return journey.  How could he be so unsporting as to say that his expedition was going North, and then to go South instead?  How could he use dogs when man-hauling was the only 'proper' way to do polar exploration?  And yet Scott's use of mechanised equipment was not unsporting - even though it worked against them in the end due to unreliability of the machines.

One of the things I found that I have in common with Scott was an inability to organise things properly.  Yes - I am indulging in another bout of self-deprecation as another dear friend sometimes reminds me.  But I fear that I could organise things no better than Scott did.

The other was that he has a tendency towards lacrimosity, both in sad situations and (surprisingly) in happy occasions.  He found that it was embarrassing to him and to the other men around him. 

My female friends never seem to find my tears difficult to cope with.  Male friends and colleagues have looked very uncomfortable.  I ought to be accustomed to it by now but I am not!

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