Friday, 8 January 2010

Nanook of the North......

Author's Note - to be read in the style of the account from an intrepid explorer of the 1920's, or a Boy's Own Adventure story.

We have safely returned from an expedition through the icy wastes to a faraway place known as Wunstopp, where we had heard tell of stocks of provisions to delight the eye.

Our preparations for the journey began early this morning as we assembled the equipment necessary for such a perilous journey...... ropes, crampons, belaying pins, ice picks and emergency rations in the form of a miniature bottle of Tia Maria attached onto Small Dog's collar.

As we had no flares, we took instead some leftover party poppers, which we had the foresight to dip in white spirit, planning to set light to them before pulling the strings.

Very quickly.

Sadly we had no opportunity to test these impromptu but ingenious devices in advance of the trek, but trusted to a higher authority that they would prove unnecessary.

Our equipment and supplies thus assembled, we thenceforth turned our attention to our clothing, and spent an hour or so adding layer upon layer till we could scarcely bend over. Only stand with our arms held out from our sides like a person wearing many, many clothes.

Fortunately, during our camping trips in the wilderness we have encountered much in the way of adverse weather conditions, and so we consider ourselves lucky to have developed myriad survival skills.

One such skill is the wearing of elastic bands over the top of socks before the application of wellington boots. Research into this method of containing sock slippage is in its infancy, and the minor drawback of causing gangrene in both feet due to the fact that no blood can flow beneath the bands is offset by the fact that when removing the boots, there is no embarrassing dangly sock foot.

PP took the precaution of further adding a fur-trapper hat, with the ear flaps tied securely under her chin and most fetching it looked too.

Not at all comical.

Small Dog was to be the expedition's lead dog, on the basis that if she fell down a crevasse we could most easily hoik her out by her harness. She was kitted out in a thick fleece jumper, followed by a thick fleece-lined coat, fastened by means of leather buckles. Thus attired she could barely move but nonetheless gamely struck out through the ice and snow, her scrabbling paws kicking up flurries of flakes in her wake.

We had planned to bivouac by the play equipment half way down the ravine, but the extreme cold, coupled with the copious amounts of yellow snow, forced us to revise our route. Therefore we made a detour and traversed across the ravine, which brought us into a field of dangerous pack ice.

How fortunate that we had the foresight to bring our crampons. It was the work of a mere hour and half to fasten them securely over our wellingtons, what with the constant falling over and resulting spinning slowly like an upturned turtle, flailing ineffectually in an attempt to right ourselves..

To our disappointment, after a short while of this, Small Dog seemed to want to disassociate herself from us and went a little way off, where she sat resolutely staring into the distance, deaf to our pleas for help.

Eventually we were able to continue, and with the aid of the crampons, set off at a blistering pace, covering a distance of almost 10 1/2 yards in the next 30 minutes.

During this time we met no other living soul. It was as if all creatures were somehow safe and warm elsewhere and the bleak whiteness of our surroundings, coupled with the keening wind, made us feel oddly sad.

And tired.

So very, very tired.

How we longed to curl up on the kerbside and slip into a dreamless sleep.

However we knew that to do so would almost certainly mean certain death. So we trudged onwards, Small Dog a mere speck in the distance.

Some time later we reached the bottom of the track, where gradually unaccustomed sounds of civilisation filtered through our chilled ears. Wheeled vehicles and even a solitary human being gradually came into view, and as we emerged from a forest path the wind dropped and we could discern a small settlement, wherein we espied the fabled Wunstopp.

Instantly, all fatigue forgotten, we plunged onwards through the snowdrifts and eventually arrived at the portals of the store, which seemed eerily deserted. The reason for this swiftly became apparent as I pushed open the door, almost falling inside, so great was my excitement at achieving our goal.

My delight was soon dashed as I gazed around at the empty shelves. Not a crumb of bread remained. Only some out of date teacakes which had had their monetary value reduced to mere pence. Milk also was nowhere to be seen. I fell upon the chilled food section with a cry of anguish, beating my poor, frostbitten hands on the bare space where the milk should have been.

But hush.

What is this? Our of the corner of my frost-rimmed eye, I spied a bottle of something white. Suspecting slow blindness may have affected my vision, I closed my eyes, shook my head and looked again. No, there was most definitely a bottle containing a white liquid.

Milk substitute.

The legend on the bottle declared that the contents tasted just like semi-skimmed milk. But it had been scientifically engineered to contain no dairy product.

I fell upon it with a sob. I cared not a fig whether it had been dog milk. The prospect of another day at base camp with porridge made without milk was too much to bear and so I grabbed the bottle and paid for it the princely sum of one pound. My frozen fingers fumbled with the coins and I could barely whisper my thanks to the young man behind the counter, before stumbling back out into the elements, holding the bottle aloft, triumphantly.

PP and Small Dog looked askance at my prize, and I fancied I heard Small Dog mutter that she'd have preferred dog milk, but I paid no heed.

We now faced the most daunting part of our trek, the uphill slog back to base camp. The sun had by now slipped behind banks of heavy, grey, menacing clouds. A freezing wind had suddenly appeared from nowhere and buffeted us from all sides. We shook hands gravely, embraced briefly and gave Small Dog an encouraging pat on the head. Pausing only to rope ourselves together, we began the long, slow trudge up the slope, upon which the ice lay several inches thick.

How many trials besieged us on the way back I cannot tell. My head was swimming, and as we gained altitude I began to feel strangely light, as if my spirit was leaving my corporeal self behind and floating on ahead of me, beckoning me forward.

I gritted my teeth, set my jaw and carried on, one heavy step after another. Even Small Dog, whose stamina is legendary seemed affected by an unusual malaise. Several times she stopped, whimpering plaintively, clearly pleading with us to pick her up and carry her. I instinctively knew that to do so would surely prove fatal, so I urged her onward with a encouraging, friendly tap with my boot.

Perhaps I should have removed the crampon first.

Finally, we reached the last section of our journey and the end was in sight. However the final 100 yards was the steepest part and several times I felt that we would achieve our goal. Small Dog, now lagging behind, used her snow-encrusted paws in the manner of sled-runners and allowed herself to be slowly hauled up the north face.

When we reached home, so great was our joy that all the perils of our journey and our great fatigue were forgotten. It took a mere 45 minutes to disrobe ourselves and divest Small Dog of her garments and cargo of snow, which had woven itself into her fur. She is now resting, comatose in her basket, twitching slightly.

During the writing of this missive, the warmth has at last returned to my fingers and I can almost feel my feet again. I have not yet removed my socks but I am reasonably confident that I still retain my full complement of toes.

I now look forward to a warm and cosy evening safe from the elements, and give heartfelt thanks that we successfully survived our excursion.

PS - this can in NO WAY be construed as displacement activity.


julie campbell said...

Belaying pins ??? ...........belaying pins ???? I am off to the frozen wastes of morrisons momentarily and now you tell me I need belaying pins !!! at least I have elastic bands for inside my wellies ;0)
julie, venturing out and praying for milk, bread and chocolate and failing that, whiskey ..........

Debie Lyons said...

(to be read in similar style)
Sandra it pleases me that you, small dog and PP managed to make such a horrible and difficult journey and get home safely. The treacherous barren snow and ice laden wastelands have caused much discomfort and unpleasantness to many. One can only assume that the vial of Tia Maria was consumed during the perilous treck back to base camp. I salute you and your intrepid companions. You have triumphed where many have failed.
(Happy New Year, keep warm and safe)
Debie xxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Your description had me rolling with laughter.

Poor SD though. You give her such a hard time.

What's happened to her blog?

Deep Squeaker said...

Mmmmmm... Dog milk.

Roll on the Wine Fairies!

*weaves exultantly*

Sandra Morris said...

Perhaps your journey will not be so arduous as to require belaying pins Julie.
I earnestly pray that it does not, lest you be properly scuppered and no mistake.
Good luck!

Sandra Morris said...

Many thanks for your kind felicitations. May I reassure you that the flask of Tia Maria was indeed consumed when we were but 10 yards from the door.
I shall overlook the unseemly scuffle we had with Small Dog over possession of the libation. Despite this we did most generously allow her to lick the lid
I hope that your own journeys will not be so hazardous and filled with peril.

Happy New Year to you too....

Sandra Morris said...

I am pleased that our near-death experience afforded you such amusement.
As to Small Dog, being of a hardy breed well inured to the frozen wastes of the northern reaches of this fair land, do not give her discomfort another thought.
Her weblog, like her, is languishing. I was of the opinion at the time she embarked upon the exercise that she did not have enough time on her paws and it has been proved to be so.
Perhaps she can be tempted out of retirement.......who can tell.

Sandra Morris said...

Deep Squeaker,
(For indeed I can see from the engraving that it is you)
I seem to be trapped in a 19th century literary mindset, from which I find it quite impossible to escape.

Perhaps when the Wine Fairies visit me later this evening, they will be able to dispel this sad affliction.

What think you?

Anonymous said...

Surely your expedition where you managed all three to return safely demands celebration tonight. A couple of bottled of chilled white stuff - and I don't mean milk.

Deep Squeaker said...

I think a more esoteric approach to spelling along the Molesworthian genre may be on the cards post-Wine-Fairies.

As any fule kno.

Sandra Morris said...

Ho yus.

I have just declared yardarm.