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The Tom Crean Diary of Polar Exploration

Dear Thelma

Books, books and more books! Unbelievably, Tawny Owl’s secret chest (which nobody was allowed touch upon “pain of maim”) contains nothing but books on chiropody and some finely-bound tomes on French petticoats before the Revolution. You can imagine our chagrin upon learning that what we’d suspected was emergency food supplies or “literature of a distracting nature” (Scott’s words) turns out to be this awful drivel. Cooper reserved an especial derision for the publications’ proprietor, arguing that Tawny Owl should be made to clean the latrines for the remainder of our time in the frozen north. Scott was slightly more sanguine and argued that we should remould the Owl as a footstool; at least then we’d make some use of him. Bloom for his part quite enjoyed the article in one of the books about toenail jam and how to eliminate it with certain ointments derived from fermented seaweed.

Palmer came to me the other night in secret and said he had begun to doubt Scott’s authority and worried that we’ll never reach the Pole.

“I mean, where are we anyway? Does anybody even know?”

“Hush now, baby,” I assured him, stroking his little cheek, “didn’t Scott tell your mammy he’d get you home safe even if it killed him?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, clearly disillusioned with the whole project (but not swatting my arm away either I should say), “Scott says a lot of things. Remember when he told Bloom that marmalade can be made from any fruit and that it wasn’t an exclusively orange-derived condiment and Bloom wrote home to his mother, calling her a liar because she’d perpetuated the fallacy that reading makes you stupider. He’s writing to her again today; God only knows what.”

“What’s the harm when there’s nobody to post it?” I reasoned.

“How long have we been here in this waste?” he spat.

“You mean the tent? Look, I’ll clean it when I get a chance…I just…”

“I mean here, this place, this vast nothingness. I mean, what’s the point?”

“Now, enough of that. We’re here for our King and for Britain. We’re here because we’re men; we are pioneers; we’re here because it’s there!”

“What, though? What’s there!”

“Here, have a Polo mint.”

“Any of those other ones?”

“Which now, the chocolatey ones is it?”

“They’re chocolatey but have a swirly caramel centre too, so I wouldn’t necessarily go straight in with the assertion that they’re chocolately, certainly not to the exclusion of all other ingredients.”

“Like caramel.”

“Yes. And nougat.”