How would you like to go on a freebie to the Arctic Circle for a couple of weeks? Here’s the deal: all your travel expenses are taken care of; you stay on a beautiful old sailing ship, most likely in some remote, picturesque bay far off the tourist map; you’ll see killer whales and polar bears, possibly even the odd narwhal; you’ll get to zoom around the pristine wilderness on skidoos; your food is prepared by a top Italian chef; there’s lashings of booze (albeit rather heady North African plonk); almost all your travelling companions will be famous in some way: Vikram Seth, Rachel Whiteread, Ian McEwan, Marcus Brigstocke.
Oh all right — I lost you with Marcus Brigstocke. But up until that point it was sounding pretty tasty, wasn’t it? I know I’d be sorely tempted to go on a trip like that. I’ve been up there myself — a 300-mile round trip around Svalbard on skidoos in search of polar bears — and it really is one of the most awesome landscapes you’ll ever see. That extraordinary, near-perpetual light you get in spring. The mewing of the kittiwakes over the fjords, with distant white mountains which yet look so eerily close, and could have been the models for the kingdom of the armoured bears in Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. God, I’d go again like a shot.
And I almost could have done too, because a few years ago I went to interview the artist who organises these expeditions, for a well-funded charity called Cape Farewell. His name’s David Buckland and he often invites journalists along to give his trips publicity. There’s just one snag — quite a major one if you’re me: you kind of have to believe in man-made global warming.
I say ‘kind of’ because, I suppose, at a push you could go on the trip as a closet denier and spend the whole time faking it. ‘Yes, yes! So beautiful and moving!’ you could say as KT Tunstall sang to you her latest composition — ‘Lonely Polar Bear On A Meltin’ Ice Floe’ — while bald, vegan turntable maestro Moby droned on in the background telling anyone who’d listen that, of course, the real elephant in the room with global warming is our ongoing disgusting practice of eating dead animals. But I think the billowing clouds of Algerian-plonk-fuelled sanctimoniousness might drive you mad in the end.
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