Cold Feet

A Teacher's Tale

Oct 2007

Royal Geographical Society

The great "official" launch of the expedition was on Wednesday 24th October. We started the day with a tour of the House of Commons. I met up with Chris Henstock, one of the Trustees, outside the Houses of Parliament. After gradually gathering the rest of the party (with some extra excitement from Amy and Dave!) we had a brilliant tour with a very entertaining guide. Perhaps it was her background as a Swedish National which made her view on our own political history so sardonic and amusing? We had some splendid stories and it was a great experience. Everyone was getting geared up for the official state-opening of Parliament, so there was a lot of activity.
I was totally stunned by Westminster Hall. What an incredible history this single room has had. The awesome Hammer Beam Roof took my breath away. Tom Levitt, our sponsoring MP was charming and the place was heaving with activity. The only shame was that the House of Commons was sitting so we did not get to see it. However, we did get to see the ceremony that goes with the start of business, with the procession of the Speaker and his party through the central octagon. (The bit you often see on TV).

After lunch with my family just off Oxford Street, I set off back to the Houses of Parliament for the second round. This was a meeting with Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, and a photo opportunity for all in Westminster Hall again. Everyone in the party was there, including Richard Wyllie and his "minder" Rob Collister. This was my first time meeting Rob and it was the first time that we have all been gathered together since Norway.

In the evening we had the reception at the Royal Geographical Society. A nice introduction from Tom Heap was followed by a fascinating outline of the TransAntarctic Expedition itself from Peter Fuchs. Lloyd Peck then gave a terrific (and very funny) outline of the Science going on in Antarctica now; liberally peppering the story with brilliant references to one of my all-time-favourite movies from 1951: "The Thing"!
We were all called up on stage and promptly put on the spot by Tom Heap with a few questions. I wish that I had known it was coming, but I did what I could.
The reception was very busy with a constant flow of people keen to talk. It was wonderful to speak to so many friendly and enthusiastic people and some, of course, had great stories to tell themselves. It was a long late journey back to Royston but a very successful evening.

Final Assembly

So... One last blast; with a final Senior School Assembly. An almost direct re-run of the assembly a year earlier, in which I appeared wearing Steve's borrowed kit. Today I strode on in all my own gear. Ludicrously hot of course, so, after a brief introduction, I unloaded the outer layers to the sound of "The Stripper". (Thank you Ms Choudhury for turning it on!). This seemed to put everyone in a good mood.
It was nice to finally present Lucy Hewson with a small prize for designing my Sledging Pennant. I was able to run throught the process that had brought me to this point and to thank everyone for their support. I was also able to outline the sequence of events that will take place over the time running up to Christmas. You can see these in the timetable section of this site. I can't believe that I'm finally going either!
Thank you to everyone who wished me well and signed a card.
I spent a little time setting up a display board that I hope will carry copies of the bulletins and give a little info about where I have gone.

All set for a great adventure? Lots of last-minute stuff to do still.

Antarctic Lecture and Auction

I spent the hours between the end of the College day and 7.00 pm trying to get everything ready for Peter's lecture and for the auction that would follow it. Richard arrived to film the event and I had him buying lettuces (for the Giant Snails) to get change for the float; followed by a stint folding programmes.

Peter Fuchs arrived and we got him as close to the Arden Room as possible and found a suitable chair from which he could deliver his lecture. Although I had sold a few tickets in advance, it would have been very poor if more had not come. In the end we had a good-sized audience of about 50 who sat utterly involved in Peter's excellent account of the coldest, windiest, highest, driest desert on the planet.

The interval was a great opportunity to chat and a glass of wine steadied my nerves sufficiently for the auction. The bidding was quite fierce at times and although a couple of items didn't sell, nearly everything did and a good sum was raised.

In the end, thanks to the enormous goodwill and enthusiasm of everyone who helped and came along, an event that I had lost sleep over turned out to be great fun.

A visit to Peter Fuchs

Today we all made our way to Peter and Ann Fuchs' home in Leicestershire. There was more kit business from Steve and we tried on the Muckluck boots that will be the basic boot we move around in when we don't need to wear crampons. They are much more substantial and well-insulated than I thought they would be and seem impressively warm. I also picked up a huge green rucksack (provided by Cotswold Outdoors, who are one of our sponsors). This should be the bag in which I get all this gear to South America.
Ann provided us with a magnificent lunch and then we got to examine Sir Vivian's original Antarctic kit. It was quite an eerie experience to be zipped into Sir Vivian's own sleeping bag and to know that this had been his on the crossing of Antarctica. The sleeping bag was an absolute monster in size and weight and Phil did his best to make sure that I couldn't get out of it without help! The older gear all seems warm and we thought that the inner silk gloves were wonderfully comfortable. However, we also agreed that the modern kit is much better in terms of its bulk and weight. Peter read us a few extracts from the original expedition log and gave us a taste of the conditions to be faced.
We moved to another room to watch some of the film of the expedition as shot by George Lowe. It was moving to see Sir Vivian in the same hat and sweater that I had just held in my hands. The same patches on the seams of his hat clearly visible. The film gave a taste of the huge preparation that went into this enterprise. It was also interesting to hear Sir Vivian talk about the many things that were just not known about the weather, geography and geology of the interior of the continent and which could only be uncovered by serious scientific study of the sort that the TAE was to undertake.
Richard and his colleague, Wendy, came to film the afternoon and much fun was had faking arrivals and departures for the camera while we tried to keep track of Fiji's valient resistance to the South Africans in the World Cup.

Ann will be bringing Peter down to Freman College to give his talk on Antarctica on Thursday evening. Richard is coming to film it too. I just hope I can succeed in attracting an audience.

Ralph Sadleir School

Today, I made a visit to the other main feeder Middle School in Puckeridge. I made a big effort to "re-vamp" my talk and improve it but I think that the consequence was that I was a little longer than planned. The pupils are keen and interested and seemed to find it engaging. I still feel that a talk like this cries out for questions and answers, however, I'm going to have much more to say when I have actually completed the trip and then we can probably have much more substantial talks and lots of new pictures.

I have started to get e-mails from students at Edwinstree who obviously think that I have gone already! Lots of questions about huskies and penguins. I feel a bit of a fraud, knowing that I certainly wont see the former and am unlikely to see the latter (except, possibly, in Chile).