It is inevitable that the focus of attention is on the six-man Ice Group, especially as we near the coast of Antarctica and approach the daunting task ahead. They are the obvious heroes of our story and they have the toughest role to play. If they succeed, it is very likely that books will be written and films made about them. Indeed, a documentary is being filmed as I write, and Ran is preparing to author the expedition story. All attention is concentrated on the six of them. They are the leading players. They will make history.
However, they are not alone. It could be said that the true stars of this show are those who quietly and efficiently manage the show from the wings. You seldom see them and they don’t often occupy the limelight but they are there day after day to ensure that everything goes according to plan.
Courtesy of The Commonwealth, the expedition’s headquarters is in a small office in Marlborough House, just off Pall Mall, in London’s West End. This is the very active domain of Tris Kaye and Hugh Bowring. Between them, they feed the lines of communication back and forth from the expedition in the field and the ship on the one hand, to the trustees, sponsors, press and media, the education practitioners in Durham and the website on the other. The hunger for news and information is voracious.
For the past couple of weeks Tris has had a well-deserved break. The lead up to the expedition’s departure from London was a time when all hell broke loose. Work was both round-the-clock and round-the-bend. There was a crazy amount to do and not enough time to do it. Both Tris and Hugh went to help expedition members, Brian and Ian complete fitting out the Cabooses before they were loaded onto the ship. With the ship’s arrival in London, there were also school visits to arrange and sponsors’ functions to look after. And all this while loading the expedition 200 tons of hardware and consumables (including 1,000 drums of aviation fuel) in just five days. Everyone was exhausted. Tris did far more than his share and deserved the highest accolade. Everyone else, including Hugh, Isabelle, Vicky, Rosie and Spike were only a fraction less deserving! They were all five-star heroes. Despite many obstacles, the job got done and the ship sailed away leaving the sort of devastation that a hurricane leaves in its wake. Suddenly, the fervour of the moment is passed and a troubling stillness is left in the air. It isn’t easy to know what to do next. But, the storm’s afterbirth isn’t entirely lifeless and new stresses rapidly emerge from the ground into full sized, head on urgencies. And so the show goes on, bouncing off the walls, picking up all sorts of debris along the way which needs to be sorted and prioritised. Ropes are missing; someone’s ice boots don’t fit properly; the key to the container is missing; the Times needs a quote from Ran; a sponsor needs a photo for their house magazine; engine spares need to be shipped to Cape Town ahead of the expedition’s arrival; a film training session is scheduled for Thursday; a trustee meeting needs to be arranged – and so on. Not glamorous and certainly not as exciting as the perceived experience on board ship (but I have news for you – it’s not much different, except, on the ship, the office rolls and pitches more than Marlborough House). Nevertheless, it would be understandable if there was a sense of envy from those left behind for those setting off over the horizon. We do have the adventure to stimulate our efforts even if, sometimes, it is more mundane than it might appear.
So, spare a thought for those back home who, like Hugh, Tris and their team are working seven days a week in the engine room oiling the spinning wheels and keeping our great machine moving forward. Their efforts support the stage upon which the main players perform. They don’t get paid. No one gets paid. They do it because it is gripping and because they believe in seeing that Seeing is Believing raises the millions required to give children throughout the developing world the chance to see like the rest of us. A donation from you to Seeing is Believing will make our day and keep us all committed. The show must go on.
Yesterday was Hugh’s birthday – Belated Happy Birthday Hugh. Oh, and we got our permit to go south of 60S from the Foreign Office last Friday. Thank you Polar Desk!