Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review: Dancing on Ice by Jeremy Scott

I just loved this book.

Dancing on Ice by Jeremy Scott tells the story of the British Arctic Air Route Expedition to Greenland in 1930 - 31 by a group of young men fresh from uni (mostly Cambridge).

It was the era of bright young things, flappers, jazz, Bertie Wooster, the charleston, stiff upper lips and ripping yarns read by public school boys such as these.

The idea was that the development of air travel to America would require observational data which was thin on the ground, particularly in the middle of Greenland. So they set off to collect it and to prove they were true men of the British Empire.

As mentioned in the previous post they brought a surreal air to their travels, famously dancing on ice. They were welcomed by the Inuits (who they called Eskimos) of the east coast of Greenland that had had very little contact with the outside world before them.

The Inuit culture was overwhelmingly communal and open to outsiders. Where as the vision of the expedition hut had been a bit like a common room at school or uni, with the mingling of local women it became more like a country house retreat, where the sport was hunting for seals rather than shooting pheasants. And yes, the following year included the birth of a mixed race child.

The weather station high on the Greenland ice pack was however no picnic. Porting supplies to it was so hard that there was only enough for one person, Courtauld, who became the most solitary prisoner on Earth, literally buried alive in a land with 130 mph winds and -50C temperatures.

Courtauld came from a rich family that raised a media storm when the first relief expedition failed to find the station, and it is possible that this story became the seed from which Arthur Ransome's Winter Holiday was born, as it was written just a year or two later.

A great read full of curios and interesting characters, and an absolute bargain if you can get it second hand on Amazon as I did.

No comments: