Never again…

Tags: Marcus Brigstocke

“Never again… I’m never going back… Not even if hell freezes over”. Words I repeated so many times last year, usually to myself, but occasionally to anyone else who was willing to get near to a man who’s day was structured for the most part around vomiting, groaning and fear based perspiration. The last Cape Farewell trip – sailing from Spitsbergen in Norway across the open Arctic Sea to the east coast of Greenland – was tough. Tough like agreeing to have a ride a washing machine on a long synthetics cycle is tough. I was out of my depth in so many ways and iller than I recall ever having been in my comfortable life, including the time I ate indeterminate meat based matter in spicy stew in an Indonesian street market.

Hell has not frozen over as far as I know, nor for that matter has much of the Arctic this year, and yet here I am again. This time cruising up the west coast of Greenland, a country whose name should see them done by the trades descriptions people. Greenland is many things, it’s cold, large, snowy, beautiful, savage, unique and exciting but green it ain’t, in fact it’s most of it is practically monochrome. I did see some blue poo today, but that is what you get when Canada geese eat too many berries. I ate some too, not bad, a little pippy and somewhat bitter but not bad – sloeish. As a draw for tourists though, the appeal of the Greenland ‘pick your own’ scene has some distance to travel. It occurs to me I should probably make a note of times, dates and quantities of berry eating, in case I forget and end up visiting the on board doctor complaining of movements that look like smurfs.
I’m travelling on a Russian ice breaker (a large ship with a strengthened hull, not the kind of light hearted banter you open conversations with in Moscow – ‘Huh that Putin’s a one isn’t he? Did you see he shot a tiger in the head?’).

The odd thing is despite having come to the Arctic last year, written and performed loads of material on climate change, talked to countless school children about the environment, done battle with on-line sceptics (flat earthers), met my MP to demand the government reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, greened up our house and cycled my son to school… harmful climate change continues and CO2 emissions are going up! It’s baffling; I mean I fail to see what more I can do… Still, I thought I’d give it one more serious push this year, by coming to the Arctic again to find new solutions, exchange ideas with the brilliant people aboard, ask the scientists what’s to be done and when and continue to spread the love for mother earth – then if it’s still getting worse by 2009 I’ll give up and buy a Humvee, wrapped in a plastic bag, flown over from New Zealand, out of season, with a glove box full of delicious oil toffees and George Monbiot’s severed head.
We’re exploring Disco Bay, just off the west coast, about half way up Greenland, on the left. It’s called Disco Bay because Chic, Rose Royce and the Bee Gees played a massive concert here in 1976 to a largely baffled Inuit crowd, in fact, local legend has it that this where John Travolta first decided to get fat and become a Scientologist.

The science teams are measuring temperatures and salinity and releasing a deep sea probe which will keep beaming back info on the changes up here. They did the same on the last voyage on the east coast – in fact ‘Bob’ is still going strong a year on and every few weeks sends new alarming figures about the pace of warming back to the research institute in Southampton. ‘Bob’ the probe is probably lying though and has a tax raising agenda at heart, like all of us so called environmentalists. When will people realise that the ice isn’t melting at all, it’s merely hiding in liquid form beneath the surface of the sea.

As well as the probes, there is a team doing sound wave studies of the terrain at the bottom of the ocean to see how previous changes in sea levels and temperature have affected the landscape. So far the boat has been too noisy for it all to work, so I’ve offered to row. It might be slow but I like to help if I can.

The boat is huge, not at all like the Noorderlicht last year. There are about 40 passengers and 20 crew. So far, even in rough seas it’s altogether more pleasant than last year. I have to confess that on the first night I did hold on to the mattress pretty tightly for a few turbulent hours. I didn’t dare stand up (even when my chair fell over) for fear of an ejection – either my supper from inside me or me from inside my cabin, both options seemed likely and unwelcome.

We have a couple of Greenlandic guides with us – Ludvig and Karen who grew up on this coast and know much of the heritage and culture of this place. The story of how the 57,000 people who inhabit the largest island on earth (2,175,600 km2 of which 1,850,000 km2 is ice) and how they’ve survived in an oddly convivial and balanced relationship with their environment and nature is a strange and enticing one. When the Christians came here and decided that these people, who had been here for 1000’s of years would be ever so much better off with Jesus to help them get through the long winter night, they had to change the Lord’s prayer from ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily seal’. Bread being as baffling to the Inuit then as the idea of James Blunt is to us today – even if you know what is, why consume it? We’ve been fine for years thanks.

We had a great trudge through the town today. It is Sunday so not much was open, though I suspect that Monday might look and feel rather the same. The houses were brightly coloured, the fine misty rain made your bones wet and there was a fair bit of meat and fishy bits hanging up outside the dwellings on racks. It put me in mind of an out of season Minehead only not as hostile. I saw many packs of dogs waiting outside their owners houses, waiting for a bit of the hanging meat or fishy bits, waiting for the winter to make sense of the urge in them to run and run and run until they drop while someone stands on a sledge behind them shouting pointing and scooting. These dogs have been part bred with wolves (a bitch in heat tethered in the wild, so that Mr Wolf can have his wicked wolfish way with her) so they can’t bark exactly, but instead offer a rather doggish half bark and half howl. It was everywhere and there was no getting away from it. Joining in certainly didn’t help. For some reason I had a vision of a floppy, fat tied, git with a pink face and a brace of respectable GCSE’s, stepping out of his Foxtons mini and wondering how the hell he was going to shift the attractive, 2 bed, 1 bath, lounge/kitchen/reception with great views of Icebergs with that incessant yelpy din everywhere. A very pleasing fate indeed, I thought.

So far this trip is fantastic. Tiring, a little scary and I miss my family, but there are some extraordinary people here with me and it’s proving stimulating and fun to get to know them all. In truth I feel somewhat like a 2nd year at the start of new school term, able to tell the others what it was like for us last year and how we got through it, with a mix of heroism, bravery, grit and a truly staggering amount of throwing up and crying.

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    4 Comments

    1. Pippa Prideaux

      Posted Monday 29 Sep at 21:38 | Permalink

      Hi Marcus, I am delighted to hear that you are not throwing up this time. It must be much more possible to take in what you are there to see without your head in a bucket. .
      We had a delightful weekend with your family, all in very good form. The kids have grown up so much over the summer. They are both brilliant apple pickers.
      Good luck with the trip. I hope it gives you a lot of material to tell the world what is going on and what we all need to do about it. You can tell it in the sort of words that people actually listen to.
      Lots of love,
      Pippa xxxxx

    2. Chris Wilkinson

      Posted Monday 29 Sep at 22:55 | Permalink

      Very good.
      A blog that made me laugh out loud several times (although thankfully not quite loud enough to wake my children – please don’t get too much funnier Mr Brigstocke!), but still featuring the important message of the whole trip.
      I’m glad I’ve found this site (www.capefarewell.com) this year and will keep checking in to see what’s happening.

    3. Carol brigstocke

      Posted Monday 29 Sep at 23:11 | Permalink

      hi Marco – are you going to be able to have a go at dog sledding – it is amazing and I think would be much more exciting there than in Canada. I do so wish that you were being televised live doing all this amazing stuff, especially with such a diverse group of people who, I am sure would have a great influence on the general public, if as I say we could share the whole experience with you – not just on the internet. Take care and come home safely lots of love Mum

    4. Lucy Little

      Posted Thursday 2 Oct at 01:55 | Permalink

      Hi Marco
      Sounds as if we can’t say “I told you so”!!!
      Sounds much better than before and hugely interesting – looking forward to reading more and hearing more when you get back. The photos posted are amazing – what a spectacular place, lets hope it stays that way.
      All well here apart from Meggy’s fractured elbow!
      Talk to you soon
      Lupe