Eventually the group is whittled down to just two of us from the Patrons who are able and willing to travel to the Arctic and join up with Andy. Penny Govett, a feisty art collector who heads the arranging of the Patrons’ art events, and myself. When we realise that we are the only ones, and that all the others have dropped out for a myriad of reasons, we arrange to meet in order to take a long, cool and hard look at each other.
The unspoken thoughts in both our minds are surely: ‘Do we want to spend so much intensive time together, can we get along during such a tough trip, will we complement each other or end up hating each other’s company?’ They are unanswerable questions, only time will tell. But in the end the lure of the Arctic, the call of the wild, wins through and our overwhelming desire is a streetcar to our North Pole destination. There are, in fact, to be two others going with us on the expedition; Fabian Carlsson, the Norwegian owner of the gallery handling Andy Goldsworthy as an artist, and Erik Mustad, a Swede and an old friend of Fabian. Erik lives and works between Norway and Switzerland and will join up with the three of us in Montreal.
Arctic Ocean On World Map Photo Gallery
The trip is being co-ordinated by James Bustard for the Fabian Carlsson Gallery and Anne Berthoud, another gallery owner and keen supporter of Andy’s work. Over the next few weeks all of us meet several times to confirm the travel arrangements, to decide on suitable equipment and the gear we need to take with us, but above all to lend moral support and encouragement to each other as the departure date looms ever nearer. We intend to take only the minimum baggage and leave behind whatever is not really essential. We need to travel light, indeed preferably with hand luggage only. We will be flying mostly in small aeroplanes where weight will be a major consideration. As a kind of homage to the Arctic adventure I design a T-shirt with the logo: ‘Monday at the North Pole 24 April’. The die is cast we can’t waste the T-shirts, we definitely have to go now and must reach the Pole on that date. The only trouble is that the weather will be beyond our control and it will eventually decide whether we, or indeed Andy, will make it to the North Pole for 24 April.
Fabian Carlsson is initially very ebullient but then starts to become rather despondent as the plans and arrangements begin to change. Particularly as he has done his costings on the basis of a much larger group and as people drop out the costs start to soar. Still, he is a man of his word; he has made a commitment to Andy and he refuses to cancel. Also, as a London gallery owner with plenty of media publicity organised, Fabian doesn’t want to lose face and the potentially substantial sales of the Arctic cibachrome photographs. I become somewhat worried however that he might be cutting corners on the back-up and safety arrangements in the Arctic.
Furthermore, there is an even bigger concern from Fabian’s point of view; the Arctic region where we will be mostly based is an alcohol-free zone and the Inuit are, officially at any rate, forbidden to sell spirits and drinks. For a Norwegian, particularly someone like Fabian, this is a totally unacceptable position and he decides to jettison much of his personal clothing and equipment in order to carry with him a good supply of whisky and brandy for the whole trip. Erik Mustad, Fabian’s drinking companion from old, is also told to stock up likewise. Throughout the Arctic, you could always tell when Fabian was approaching as there would be plenty of bottle-clinking noises to advise us of his imminent presence.
Andy Goldsworthy sets off, some four weeks before us, and soon it will be our turn. It’s not easy to prepare for a trip to the Arctic; there are no longer any polar bears in England. Even London’s Regent’s Park Zoo doesn’t have them any more. After seeing their awe-inspiring, intensely wild but natural habitat I am certainly very pleased about that. When starting my own family there used to be a small, much-loved polar bear cub in London Zoo called Brumas. Sadly he is no more. Although in some ways perhaps it is just as well, as the tiny area that was allotted to the polar bears in the zoo could never compensate for the vastness of the Arctic and the freedom it allows, no matter how many fish the keepers might throw their way.
I know the journeys and our time in the extreme cold will be onerous and exhausting, so at least I must keep as fit as possible. Therefore in the run-up to setting off, I decide to run and run. Most nights, all the way up to Highgate and around the surrounding Hampstead hills, building up my stamina as much as possible. I also do regular weight training sessions, paying particular attention to the ankles and knees. In the bitter cold I know how easy it would be to wrench a leg muscle and I must prepare myself for anything I might encounter within the frozen ice lands.
Also I need to learn more about the Arctic, its remoteness and its animals, as well as more about those that have journeyed and explored there and endeavoured to reach the North Pole. Soon, hopefully, it will be my time.
Japan’s most important early poet, Matsuo Basho, always advised of the necessity of combining the spiritual rudiments of Zen together with Tao, ‘Learn the rules well and then forget them. If you want to learn about the pine go to the pine, about bamboo go to the bamboo. Poetry arises by itself when you and the object have become one.’ Basho could find the meaning of the universe in the smallest detail. Perhaps I would find something within the vast Arctic.
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