Oh What a Great Adventure!

Self is still in the Dr. Edward Wilson section of The Birthday Boys. For some reason, she is having difficulty getting out of it.

Dr. Wilson continues to document the youthful derring-do of the group. Such as, on p. 73, when Cherry-Garard (whose book, The Worst Journey in the World, self has read, btw) tries “to harpoon a sea-snake in one of the pools. It was about five feet in length, of a grey colour striped with yellow, and once speared it twisted and bucked so violently that Cherry (that is how Dr. Wilson refers to the lad, because who has the time to write Cherry-Garard in the pages of a journal?) almost lost it.”

Self is throwing in an illlustration by the tremendous artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 -1717)

Erythrolampus aesculapi (false coral snake), from the collection of watercolours in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, London

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Code of Manhood

Very evident in Dr. Wilson’s chapter. Self is nowhere near the end of the chapter, but there have already been three “crew horsing around and getting nekkid” scenes (which were not present at all in Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans’ chapter, which is why self brings it up). The crew horsing around naked is not exactly what you’d expect during a polar exhibition. But it is reminiscent of a kind of pre-World War I / English schoolboy innocence. Another instance of foreshadowing? We’ve already had one “Dr. Wilson gets a chill premonition” earlier, when the good doctor has a vision of a half-man, half-bird creature skimming its wicked talons across the waves.

Still in the doctor’s point of view, the crew arrive on South Trinidad Island and — what a contrast to the horsing around — they stumble across a bay “littered with the wreckage of ships; planks, hencoops, barrels, empty gin bottles, and the picked haunches of a pig.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Dr. Edward Wilson, July 1910

Self recognizes this name. His and Robert Falcon Scott are the two names she remembers most clearly from her earlier reading. And she likes him. Ugh, she hates getting attached to doomed characters.

The second chapter of The Birthday Boys is Wilson’s:

  • Lord knows what I should do if the crow’s nest wasn’t available to me. Quite apart from its being the best vantage point from which to work, it also enables me to be solitary. Constant companionship exhausts me, and but for my lonely hours up against the sky I would find the boisterous evenings unbearable. I’m something of a dull fish, and although I’m flattered when one or other of the chaps come to me with their grievances — and sooner or later they all do — I’m much afraid that my reputation for patience and impartiality stems more from lassitude than involvement. Better to say nothing than to condemn, and to laugh with than to criticise, and so much happier.

It is to Wilson that Bainbridge grants a vision. It’s just one sentence.

  • I was seeing the mission-room in my mind’s eye, those rows of shaven heads illuminated in a slant of sunlight writhing with dust, when by some trick of the early light in the sky above me, the sea below broke into a thousand glittering fragments, and in that heavenly dazzle I clearly saw a creature, half man, half bird, soaring above the waves.

Bainbridge’s writing is so beautiful: so elegant and exact.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Birthday Boys, p. 49

Beryl Bainbridge chooses to tell the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the south pole in first person, and places each chapter in the mind of a different crew member. Self thinks/remembers that the whole lot die, so this is quite a depressing book to be reading right now. She read it for the first time about 20 years ago, and it’s only now that bits and pieces are coming back to her. Such as: the farewell letters written by the men as they were dying on the ice. The diary of Robert Falcon Scott.

Chapter One (June 1910) is narrated by Petty Officer Edgar (Taff) Evans, whose voice has a certain air of stoicism. Evans describes things like how low the boat, the Terra Nova, sits in the water. How the boat was procured (on the cheap). How the expedition received extravagant attention from the press (Oh the irony). How the voyage is projected to take three years. How the Petty Officer knows not all the crew will make it.

The general impression left by Chapter One is that Scott cut corners. Most of Chapter One is engaged with Scott’s fundraising efforts, and how the amount raised didn’t seem to be quite enough. All these details will no doubt have tragic consequences. Scott was charismatic, but he was talking through his arse, the boat was pretty rickety, etc He’d already made one expedition to the Antarctic, which only made him more ambitious.

Chapter Two is related by Dr. Edward (Uncle Bill) Wilson, who is given to detached observation. For example:

  • The scenery was magnificent; abrupt precipices, wooded hills and crags, tumbling waters and a paradise of mosses, ferns and pink belladonna lilies. One moment the air was polluted with the odour of the black til (Oreodaphne foetens), so named because of its awful smell, and the next filled with the delicious scent of the beautiful lilly of the valley tree (Clethra arborea).

To Move from James D. Hornfischer to Beryl Bainbridge

It’s a somewhat surreal experience. Here are two excellent writers, both at the top of their game, both writing about the sea. She swears there are times when she’s reading Beryl Bainbridge’s first person narrative and she can almost imagine the character as a member of the crew on the ill-fated Hoel.

Both writers love detail. (Self loves detail, too. It’s all about verisimilitude)

Here is Bainbridge’s Petty Officer Edgar (Taff) Evans on p. 19:

  • The Owner’s paid 100 pounds out of expedition funds to have the Terra Nova registered as a yacht. This enables us to fly the White Ensign; more to the point, it means we can dodge the attentions of Board of Trade officials who would most certainly declare her an ill-founded ship within the meaning of the Act, seeing she’s wallowing so low in the water it was a waste of time to smudge out the Plimsoll line. Fresh painted lamp-black, with a funnel yellow as a buttercup and a neat white line all around her bows, she’s now as pretty as a picture. There’s one thing worries Lashly: she’s going to be the very devil when it comes to consuming coal.

Both writers, alas, are no longer with us. Hornfischer passed just this year, Bainbridge in 2010 (but dear blog readers will meet Hornfischer again, and soon. She’s added Ship of Ghosts to her reading list.)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Petty Officer Edgar (Taff) Evans, June 1910

There’s a trick to holding attention, to keeping interest at full pitch, and I learnt it as a boy from Idris Williams, the preacher in the chapel at the bottom of Glamorgan Street. It’s a matter of knowing which way the wind blows and of trimming sails accordingly. All the same, I’ve never found it necessary to alter my description of the cold, or of the ice flowers that bloomed in winter along the edges of the sea.

The Birthday Boys, p. 8

Farewell, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors; Hello, The Birthday Boys

Opening Sentence:

  • We left West India Dock for Cardiff on the first day of June.

Past Squares 23: Liverpool, November 2019

The Past Squares Challenge ends tomorrow. Becky, who hosts the challenge from Life of B, announced that the next Challenge will be in February.

The very best Chinese food in Liverpool is directly across from the Liverpool Cathedral. Self has a friend who moved to Manchester, and this friend knows all the BEST Chinese restaurants in Manchester and Liverpool.

The Museum of Liverpool, on Albert Dock, is one of those must-sees. And here is self! Who rarely appears in pictures! She’s wearing a hat given to her by a friend in Philadelphia, who told her this would be the only way to survive an English winter! Thanks much, Anne-Adele!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day, Last Saturday of August 2021

Nine of the twelve people who have ever walked on the moon came to Iceland first.

How Iceland Changed the World, p. 185

Photographing Public Art Challenge (PPAC) # 7: Central Coast

Self still playing catch-up on the Photographing Public Art Challenge, co-hosted by Cee Neuner and Marsha Ingrao, which she adores.

She just completed a road trip to the Central Coast. She loves doing road trips because it’s a break from the unrelenting heat in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Robin’s, 4095 Burton Drive, Cambria: Each Table Top is a unique patchwork of tiles. Mine had a plane.

Cambria Nursery, 2801 Eaton Road, Cambria

Fence as Art: Cambria Nursery, 2801 Eaton Road, Cambria

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