Wednesday 18 April 2012


Slowly reading Shakespeare's Henry V (after seeing the Kenneth Branagh film) and enjoying it - We band of brothers, we happy few...and alternating - this is bedtime reading -  with reading about Shackelton and his last trip to Antartica - (The Endurance, Shackelton's legendary Antarctic expedition, Alfred A. Knopf 1999).

None of my education took place in English, so never studied Shakespeare. I've tried to read him in the past, but only now is my command of English good enough to cope. Here is one word I loved: womby -  we would say something like womb-like nowadays...I search an old dictionary for some of the words I don't know and they are mostly there, whereas more modern words usually don't feature.

Something interesting: Shackelton, who was gifted with great leadership qualities and was mostly revered by his men (except for the grumpy, exceptionally skilled chippy McNish) felt threatened by one man and therefore kept him close to himself: the clever daring photographer Frank Hurley, also endowed with leadership qualities. Shackelton did not trust him. The two other men who helped run the expedition were loyal beyond questioning.The fantastic photos are the originals are Hurley's originals.The story reads easily and fast.

It is very harrowing: I've reached the point where they are in open boats after the ship sank. They had spent many months on an icefloe, sometimes having to watch all night in case it broke up and they were separated from their provisions and their goods. They slept in tents which were very thin, so thin that the wind could blow the cigarette smoke about inside them; they had no waterproof tent liners to lie on, no real protection. They had used igloos before - could they not build them now? The book is by Caroline Alexander and she evokes the atmosphere very well - so well that I've decided not to read the book just before going to sleep.

I lie awake and wonder: how did they arrange the toilets when they were on the floe? People only seem to suffer from sciatica - not diarrhea or digestive upsets, despite the odd food (penguin meat) - and they lie down for long periods because of it. They were together there for so long, what about homosexuality? There were 27 of them, so statistically there should have been 2 or three...

The link between Henry V and Shackelton's expedition is happiness: a strange bird, this happiness, who knows what makes it alight. One man - Lee - wrote in his diary about feeling extremely happy - and is described as a loner. I wonder if being stuck on an icefloe meant that he was at last part of a group even though they used his snoring as a pretext to get him out of one of the tents and make him sleep in the supplies hut...He was acutely aware of the food shortages and so was under no illusions.

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