The Tom Crean Diary of Polar Exploration Apr04

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The Tom Crean Diary of Polar Exploration

Dear Thelma

We awoke to the sounds of Scratcher and The Shifter howling at the snow. Scott was already up and about and had found time to fashion a kind of bowl for trifle or punch from the abundant supply of ice and snow all around us. Browny busied himself making a fire upon which we would later toast onions and he’d toast his digits. Cooper though, was sleeping so deep that Scott declared him dead and ordered us to leave him where he lay and decamp. Were it not for The Shifter in a moment of canine canniness sticking his tongue into Cooper’s open mouth, forcing our companion into wakefulness, he might have died of sleep. As Scott later jocundly remarked, too much of a good thing can kill you. He was of course referring to sleep. Meaning of course, that we’d have left Cooper, with no food, and he would have starved. Thus is a roundabout way of saying the sleep would have killed him. When we got the joke, we guffawed and chuckled to ourselves, inhaling deeply from our pipes, which we had previously stuffed with what little hair was left over after Palmer’s preening and some stale tobacco Tawny Owl had kept for a rainy day behind his tonsils.

The going became rough at about ten to eleven that morning by our reckoning. Time is hard to gauge out here, and pocket watches have to be wound. We had all, at one time or another, forgotten to wind our watches, and now we shared a range of times, from early morning to early afternoon. We devised a system to best judge the passage of the hours through a formula of long division and adding, taking the earliest time, adding it to the latest time, and dividing the result by the number in our party. Tawny felt the dogs should also be included, hence the need for long division.

 The snow fell thickly in front of us and Scott ordered us to hold hands. Naturally Scott felt absolutely no inhibitions about this with his Public School education. The rest of us had our reservations and Browny refused point blank, preferring instead to firmly clamp down on Scratcher’s tail with his eleven remaining teeth.

Midday, and the wind has picked up. We appear to be walking straight up into the air, although this flies in the face of the conventional sciences. Scott suggests that this alteration in gravity may be due to our proximity to the Pole or that we’re walking vertically.

We marvel at the random nature of snow, shaping itself so perfectly into an elephant and we wonder what mysteries must surely await us as we continue. Another minute passes and The Scratcher reveals that it isn’t in fact a hillock at all. True to form he has tunnelled  his way into the mound to reveal what appears to be an elephant completely covered in red, knotted hair, the style and like of which is often found in Scotland and parts of Mayo and Cavan.

Scott takes the opportunity to consult his tome. It’s called My Little Mammoth.  Through a series of deductions and observations, he narrows the frozen creature down to two possibilities. Wisely stroking his beard and soul patch he suggests we are either face to face with a legendary Manticore complete with the body of a lion, the wings of a dragon and a human head, or else a Mammoth.

It took us the better part of what little light was left in the day to reveal enough of the beast to determine that it was in fact a mammoth. Scott was overjoyed but, Tawny, Browny and Cooper were fearful of the behemoth before us, revealed in the snow. Cooper muttered something about Mammoths bringing bad luck to travellers. I pictured a Kerry tinker falling foul of a mammoth when he tried to sell it a carpet.

Scott stayed up late into the night making notes. He nodded to me and winked. This isn’t unusual:  ‘The mammoth will be the making of us, once we get it back to civilisation,’ he whispered. He said he had a plan. He would tie a dog to each tusk and the rest of us would push the mammoth back down the glacier for 600 miles. It was an ambitious task, but one of which I thoroughly approved. It seemed like just the kind of caper to raise the spirits of the men.

We made camp beside the mammoth. I slept soundly, but when I awoke I discovered that someone had eaten it during the night as we slept. We chose not to speculate on its disappearance, as it would create dissension amongst us. Scott chalked it down to experience and forbade us to ever mention it again. The only record of it ever having existed, lies now within the pages of this diary. But on the dark evenings that were to come, I often speculated, repeating that old truism as I looked at the sleeping faces of my companions: Bíonn caora dhubh ar an tréad is gile.