Friday, 8 February 2013

Lazy days at Lazy Otter

Lazy Otter - 5 February 2013

Following the snow and its resultant flooding a couple of weeks ago, we had about a week of fair weather and mild temperatures. Now we’re back to below average temperatures and wintery showers so another good reason to have a few days on board. Do I really need a reason?

I arrived this morning, just before lunch and made sure Skylark was OK. I started the engine to give the batteries a boost, lit the fire and baled out a little water from the bilge under the calorifier. The pressure release valve is still dripping water; too much in my opinion. I’ll have it looked at again. Lunch was a pot of tuna/pasta courtesy of Tesco’s of Ely.

In the afternoon, I took a walk down the north side of the river to Stretham Pump and came back on the south side. As I got back to the boat, the darkening clouds started to offload a bit of snow – good timing. I called home and settled in to watch a some afternoon tv over a coffee.

Tomorrow, the plan is to go into Cambridge by mid morning and suss out the Scott Polar Expedition Museum. The great outflux (is that a word?) of traffic in the afternoon means I will leave no later than 3.30pm otherwise I will just add to the congestion.

Cambridge - 6 February 2013

There’s something about being on a boat that induces lethargy. Last night, I crawled into my very snug 1000g down sleeping bag at 10.30 and didn’t crawl out of it until 9.00 0’clock this morning. I must have looked like a Death’s Head Hawk Moth emerging from its chrysalis. My metamorphosis was aided by a very comfortable 6 degrees – almost spring-like. I had breakfast and a strong coffee, and then prepared for my trip into Cambridge. When I say ‘prepared’, what I really mean is I got dressed and left the boat.

I got into Cambridge at about 10.30 and went straight to the Scott Polar Institute.

What a great place to visit. It’s got a great deal of information and exhibits about life within the Arctic and Antarctic regions but also actual things belonging to the men who went with Scott on that last fateful trip. It’s quite moving to see the everyday bits and pieces used by the men who died; their compasses, clothes, tins of food, sewing kits, and most moving, their note books and letters home, many of which were the last ones they ever wrote.

Robert Falcon Scott was hailed as a great hero but he was also an unlikely leader. He almost didn’t get into the Navy because he was of tiny stature and prone to illness but he rose through the ranks to become one of the greatest leaders of the time. But how good was he? He clearly had what it took to mount an ambitious expedition to the South Pole, to encourage the patronage of wealthy benefactors and to lead a group of strong, like-minded men into a world of hardship and possible death but it’s interesting to compare him with Ernest Shackleton, one of his contemporaries.

Scott was a naval man through and through and his approach to planning the trip was well structured but a lot of his preparation was poorly informed. For instance, while he took dogs to pull his sledges, he also took ponies which were known to be poorly suited to an arctic environment. He even forgot to take worming tablets for the dogs; an oversight that caused significant problems for the teams. He also opted for the latest in Arctic vehicles; small tracked sledges powered by simple diesel engines. He was warned these would soon break down and, unlike a dead pony that could be fed to the dogs, machinery would just be a useless lump of metal. He persisted in his approach and paid for it later, dearly.

His unwavering determination may be explained by his upbringing and naval training. As a Naval Officer, he insisted on a strict discipline over his men and even required his subordinate Officers to maintain a rigid distance from the lower ranks as would happen in any naval vessel. Some of the civilian members of the team found his approach very difficult to live with.

Shackleton, on the other hand, was raised through the ranks of the merchant fleet and, as a result, had a much more flexible approach with his men, his planning and his overall management of the situations threy found themselves in. His foresight was arguably better than Scott’s and, when disaster threatened, it can also be argued that his leadership was better as a result. His ‘from the front’ form of leadership motivated his men and was probably the main reason why he was able to save his crew from what often appeared to be certain death on the ice flows.

One of his greatest assets, which would later be seen as a shortcoming, was his optimism. When the going was tough, his optimism motivated his men to keep going and give more but as the going got even tougher, his optimism began to wear thin with the men. In their diaries, his men often remarked that Shackleton appeared to lose his grip on reality. As time would tell, he managed to overcome the greatest of challenges. His optimism, however formed and presented, must have played a significant part in his achievements.

Scott, on the other hand, expected to reach the Pole and, while he had planned his return journey, he failed to plan sufficiently for disaster, unlike Shackleton. So, when disaster started to unroll, after finding that Amundsen had beaten them to the Pole, he and his crew were both demoralised and poorly prepared. His dogged determination to reach his base camp was regarded as a strength and he was hailed as a hero after news of his death reached England but, if you read the facts surrounding his attempt to escape the ice, you will see that he made poor decisions and mistakes that ultimately led to his death and the others who followed him.

Clearly they both acheived much more than I could ever achieve so, please don't take exception to my comments. But however you view them; their good points or their bad points, you can't help but feel awestruck by what they achieved.

But that doesn't alter my view, with the benefit of hindsight, if I had the choice of which man to follow, I would have hitched up with Shackleton.

I highly recommend a visit – it brought a lump to my throat!

On my way back to the Landy, I popped into the Fitzwilliam Museum for some more culture. What a grand place. And it's free!

It has a fantastic collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and things like that. Many of the pictures portrayed naked buxom women languishing on divans being pointed at by scantily dressed men and boys. I find this an odd subject and it wears a bit thin when you’ve seen a couple of hundred of them but it seemed to tickle the fancy of the rich and famous during the enlightenment. A lot of it was not exactly my ‘cup of tea’.  Or as an old friend of mine would say, ‘I wouldn't open the flaps of my wigwam to let that in’, but I don’t think he was talking about fine art at the time.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing the fairly modern pictures by Monet and Rodin, and I would recommend a visit even if this type of high art doesn’t float your boat. You never know, you might find something that does.

The inside of the building is a work of art. I managed to get past the guards looking for people armed with cameras.

Leaving Cambridge at 3.00pm was good not only to miss the rush hour traffic but some pretty heavy clouds had started to roll in. By the time I got back to Skylark, it was raining in a very wintery sort of way. I teased the fire back to life and settled in for the rest of the day and night.

Not sure what I will do tomorrow. I’ll wait and see if I wake up first.

Ely in the sun - 7 February 2013

Emerging from my chrysalis at 8.00 am, I decided to pop into Ely. The weather was better than I expected; quite warm and sunny. In a way, if I’d known the weather was going to be so nice, I would have taken the boat rather than the Landy. Anyway, apart from a bit of window shopping, I did some ‘hunting and gathering’ in Tesco’s and headed back to Skylark for lunch.

The afternoon turned cloudy so I decided to do a few jobs on the boat including more work to seal the portholes. That done, and with still a couple of hours daylight left, I went for a walk down the river. Everything was quiet although I did see a Barn Owl flying off over the fields. It was a shame I hadn’t noticed it while it was sitting in the nearby tree but their light brown camouflaged plumage makes it difficult to see them until they take flight.

I spent a quiet evening on board with a half bottle of plonk and a plate full of very fine pasty and tangy rice. I watched Silent Witness (or ‘Scare me Sh!tless’ as Kay calls it) and turned back into my chrysalis when my batteries started to dim the lights. I plan to go home tomorrow.

Home – 8 February 2013

A cold morning but I’m still cosy inside Skylark. While I packed up my things, I listened to the weather forecast. A couple of quiet days are expected then some more of the cold stuff. I’ll keep my diary clear (ha ha) to enable me to pop back if I need or want to.

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