This too shall pass

Tags: Marcus Brigstocke

Thank you to all the bloggers, critics, supporters and climate change Armageddon fan club members out there filling the skies with messages of support and love and bafflement – deftly plucked out of the clear cold air by Kathy and team in their electronic catching glove and passed on to us all. The interest in what we are doing up here floating, trudging, debating and snowballing our way round the Arctic is invigorating and also grounds me (poor metaphor on a boat, I know) at a time when everything else seems so utterly extraordinary and unreal. Hearing from back home makes it feel that this is more than just a big poncy gang of greenies bellowing into the wind while no one listens. Hectoring like misguided enviro-priests who’ve missed the central point that Sarah Palin has embedded in her baked Alaska of a brain – that this all part of God’s great plan for the world. Palin sees God as an Emo teenager going through a needlessly destructive stage, self harming and breaking all his things in a fit of adolescent petulance. “Just keep on loving him and don’t ask too many questions, he’ll grow out of it once he’s let off steam, now lets’ get some drilling done in the pristine wilderness”. She is wrong (and mental and greedy and dangerous too, but that is for another time).

Hearing from my own family has been the highlight of all the communication; I love you with all my heart and thank you for understanding why I’m away. The boat’s great, no polar bears as yet but we’ve seen two humpback whales, a lot of icebergs and I’m learning lots.

One of you keen minded end of the world watchers out there asked about the saying ‘this too shall pass’ and how the climate changes in the Arctic relate to this theme. Well… (Hand shoots up, teacher spots it, nods and the nerd is acknowledged) Please miss, may I have a go? ‘This too shall pass’ is for afterwards, when it’s over. If your child’s beloved pet falls in sea and is yelping, gulping, paddling furiously with pleading eyes searching the shore for any sign of help, you don’t tell your child ‘this too shall pass’ and watch it die, shrugging and lurching at platitudes. You try to get the wretched creature out of the water and to safety. If you try, and fail, and the pet dies then you get to say ‘this too shall pass’ in an effort to help the child through whatever sadness and pain they are feeling. The point is that the speed at which things are passing is affected by us, we are not passively standing on the shoreline while the pet drowns, we put it there and at present we have our foot on it’s head.

‘This too shall pass’ is a great way of looking at the world from a personal point of view it has helped me through some of the hardest times in my life, grief, anxiety, pain and the Bush administration, all will pass in time and what is left behind offers chances to learn… and in the case of that oil soaked vandal and incurious zealot in the White House a chance to dance, sing and rejoice when his time ends in just a few more weeks and he shuffles off back to Texas to count his loot and drown puppies.

‘This too shall pass’ must never be allowed to be a call to arms for the apathetic and complacent – it can’t be because if there’s one thing the apathetic and complacent don’t like it’s a call to arms.
“Arms? What now? Naaaahh, I can’t be bothered, can you call us to arms again later? I’ll see if I fancy it then.”

Being alive is more than a spectator sport, unless you are on heavy medication or from Switzerland.

Our destiny is not fixed; it is changeable for better or worse, always. At any time you can get up out of your seat and pull the lever that stops the train – to hell with the maximum fine of up to £200. Get to your feet, give that lever a yank and see if anyone else in the carriage thinks like you do that the driver must be drunk, blind or suicidal. You might be surprised. And even if you do find you are wrong and everyone glares at you and tuts and looks at their watches and harrumphs because they are going to be late for another day of hurling their bank around the world markets like it’s a dodgem car – as you face reddens at having made such a fuss, you can always comfort yourself by saying ‘this too shall pass’.

The last few days have thrown down the gauntlet for description, but since seasickness has not had me yet blowing my lunch over the side of the boat, arched and shivering like a cat dealing with a fur ball I am willing to try. I feel well and feisty too.

We have been near the town of Ilulissat at the mouth of a huge fiord, which serves as a giant bowling lane for icebergs. A monster glacier, fed by the Greenland icecap, advancing a staggering 38 meters a day (roughly the same speed as big wanker in a 4X4 driving through London), shears off enormous icebergs, as large as hospitals which shuffle, creak and grumble forward to the open sea with all the urgency of a Goth on his way to swimming gala on a hot day. Splitting with thunderous cracks and tumbling over themselves in the sea as they decay in the sun and increasingly tepid Arctic sea.

Last night, we were led by Karen, our Greenlandic guide, into her home town (Ilulissat) to a smoky pub to enjoy the ‘Disco Bay Blues’ band thunder through covers and originals of equal quality. Lyrics to make the most assured womaniser blush were pinging off the walls and proved equally alarming on the rebound. Even Peter Stringfellow would have said – ‘cor, that’s a bit strong’. The lead singer gave his best screwed up guitar face, like each twang of the strings was a dagger in his eye, but despite the gurning contortions he rocked the Murphy’s drinking hut and smoke box like a sexist Greenlandic earthquake (I’m unclear as to how earthquakes can be sexist but I invite you to enjoy the imagery if you care to). Extensive and enthusiastic use of the Hammond organ had many of us throwing shapes with our new Inuit friends, who dance with varying precision and style, but always with a cigarette held firmly in place between pursed lips.

KT Tunstall, with all the pluck of a foot stomping musical powerhouse leapt up with husband Luke on drums and for moment parted the soup like cigarette fug with her exquisite voice and melodies. Robyn Hitchcock was a man on fire both on harmonica and in inspired interpretations of ‘Cocaine’ and ‘Come Together’. As we continued to marinate in nicotine and tar DJ Jarvis Cocker unleashed his Disco Bay Disco and the response was unanimous and rapturous. As if that weren’t enough there was then a party at a house belonging to a man introduced to me as Tony Cornflakes (who knows how that happened? Maybe he has the breakfast cereal market cornered in Northwest Greenland having done in Barry Muesli and Helen Weetabix). Martha Wainwright, Leslie Feist and K.T. all took turns to sing and play alongside Ludvig, (our other Greenlandic guide an Atlas like lad and kinder than you’d think possible – think Philip Pullman’s Iorek Burnison but without his armour). We made up blues songs and tried to remember lyrics to the classics, rarely getting beyond the first chorus as each song descended into giggling, applause and “does anyone know how ‘Wish You Were Here’ starts?” I don’t want people to think of me as a nerdy muso fan boy, pleasure cruising round the Arctic in a froth of rock hero excitement but to put it bluntly I wouldn’t have swapped that night for anything. Not even the severed, still blinking head of Dick Cheney on a plate.

So how is all this fixing climate change? Well clearly it’s not in it’s own right, but the debates and discussions continue with enthusiasm and passion meandering through earnest consensus to heartfelt disagreement but with each of us using the time to re-frame how we look at and talk about responses to the biggest issue facing mankind.

Francesca did something that I found genuinely provocative and troubling with a 6-kilo bottle of CO2 (for any of my comedian mates reading this – no, not what you are thinking). She offset the CO2 on a gold standard carbon offsetting website before she came here then carried the bottle onto a pristine bit of Greenlandic hillside and while we looked on let it’s contents blast into the clear cold air. Direct, reckless, blatant, defiant pollution, captured on film and memory card and through our gawping disbelieving appalled eyes. Watching someone carry out an act of vandalism like that was ugly and disturbing and certainly questionable but I thought her courageous project grabbed the nettle with clarity and focus. Offsetting is a great start and I’d encourage anyone to do it if they really can’t find a way to reduce their output. In fact for people still taking flights and not bothering to pay the tiny amount on top to offset it – grow up, it’s adult time now, take responsibility for yourselves. If you could see what you are putting in the air you wouldn’t do it. Think of greenhouse gas emissions as the crisp packet shoved in a hedge, or the polystyrene chip tray flung into the ditch, or the Coke can ejected from the car window onto the verge. If CO2 was bright green and smelly, obviously it would never have been allowed to reach the levels it has but it’s transparency and the illusion of disappearance into nothingness has let us ignore it. That is why Francesca’s performance was so brilliant. Watching someone do it that was close to unbearable, yet I’ve seen the same thing done so many times at my son’s school, as parents sit in armoured troop carriers with engines idling for no reason at all. See CO2 or ‘SeeO2’ – there you go, there’s a new bumper sticker for the thoughtless. The whole notion of offsetting is highly problematic but it’s a great start, the very best that some people can do and I salute the effort. I look forward to the day when all of us do it for our total emissions and the offsetting companies have to put in an order for a second planet to plant trees on because this one’s full.

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    3 Comments

    1. Carol brigstocke

      Posted Thursday 2 Oct at 17:09 | Permalink

      Hi Marco
      What an amazing blog – you took me through an entire gamut of emotions from feeling as cross as you about many of the things you talk about – a bit smug about my hybrid car…..the sheer joy of your Disko Bay night and at times I felt as if I was standing in a card shop laughing out loud at the cards, but actually I am in the office by myself – not in a card shop, and just sat here laughing with you about some of the good things in life and the things that give us all pleasure and the way you can make me laugh. Its not long till you are home now – we are off to Croatia tomorrow, but will talk when we get back – lots of love Mum

    2. 0emissions

      Posted Sunday 5 Oct at 14:56 | Permalink

      Good point about the visibility. Maybe we could get a colorant added. ShouldnT be green tho. Maybe magenta or orange.

    3. rachel

      Posted Tuesday 7 Oct at 23:16 | Permalink

      Thanks for the response Marcus. The analogy about the child’s pet brings it to a practical, understandable and totally human level. Brilliant treatment of a theory from the heart. Also, if you’d told me in advance, I’d have got Cheney and Bush’s heads in exchange for that night at Murphy’s. Totally unreal!
      Rachel