Coming off a little down time myself it might be good to check in with Cherry and the men to see what kept them sane.
On holidays the men tended to treat themselves to unimaginable delights like sweetened condensed milk or a square of “plum-duff” (see WW: Stiff Upper Lip). One Easter in the hut they had for breakfast tinned haddock
made by Oates with great care, a biscuit and cheese hoosh for lunch, and a pemmican fry this evening, followed by cocoa with a tin of sweetened Nestles milk in it, truly a great luxury. For the rest we mended our finnesko (booties) and read Bleak House.
There will be a full post about the food some other Wednesday, perhaps. What I’m interested in are the diversions. I’m convinced I should read Dickens’s Bleak House, or at least rent it, at least to see what about it grabbed Cherry:
Bleak House was the most successful book I ever took away sledging, though a volume of poetry was useful, because it gave one something to learn by heart and repeat during the blank hours of the daily march….
Scott spent most of his time working, but was also
fond of his pipe and a good book, Browning, Hardy (Tess was one of his favourites), Galsworthy. Barrie was one of his greatest friends.
Wilson brought On the Origin of Species along on their final journey, and the men read it to each other in the tent.
When in the hut, the party held to a weekly or twice-weekly regimen of evening lectures that rotated among the officers. On that same Easter Sunday,
Meares told us how the Chinese who were going to war with the Lolos (who are one of the Eighteen tribes on the borders of Thibet and China) tied the Lolo hostage to a bench, and, having cut his throat, caught the blood which dripped from it. Into this they dipped their flag, and then cut out the heart and liver, which the officers ate, while the men ate the rest!
Ponting, the expedition’s photographer (he preferred “camera artist”), was a popular lecturer on account of his large collection of slides. His talk on Japan was particularly popular either because of his insight into unfamiliar Asian customs or his pictures of geishas.
Elsewhere in the library
we were moderately well provided with good modern fiction, and very well provided with such authors as Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Bulwer-Lytton and Dickens…. We certainly should have taken with us as much of Shaw, Barker, Ibsen and Wells as we could lay our hands on, for the train of ideas started by these works… would have been a godsend to us in our isolated circumstances.
And wouldn’t you know it,
The one type of book in which we were rich was Arctic and Antarctic travel…. They were extremely popular, though it is probably true that these are books which you want rather to read on your return than when you are actually experiencing a similar life.
They had a pianola (a player piano) – lucky because they didn’t have anyone who could actually play the piano. Also a gramophone and some records:
It was usual to start the gramophone after dinner, and its value may be imagined. It is necessary to be cut off from civilization and all that it means to enable you to realize fully the power music has to recall the past, or the depths of meaning in it to soothe the present and give hope for the future.
Tobacco was cherished:
The business of eating over, pipes were lit without further formality. I mention pipes only because while we had a most bountiful supply of tobacco… cigarettes were an article of some value, and in a land where the ordinary forms of currency are valueless they became a frequent stake to venture when making bets.
They had good, polite arguments, too, something that has become all too rare in our own age of political polarization. The men called them cags.
A Cag is an argument, sometimes well informed and always heated, upon any subject under the sun, or temporarily in our case, the moon…. They began on the smallest of excuses, they continued through the widest field, they never ended; they were left in mid air, perhaps to be caught up again and twisted and tortured months after.
In all, the warm, roomy hut was such a change from a tent on the Barrier that Cherry was forced to downplay it:
Whatever merit there may be in going to the Antarctic, once there you must not credit yourself for being there. To spend a year in the hut at Cape Evans because you explore is no more laudable than to spend a month at Davos because you have consumption, or to spend an English winter at the Berkeley hotel. It is just the most comfortable thing and the easiest thing to do under the circumstances.