Monday, July 23, 2012

The Worst Journey in the World Cherry Gerrad

© Peter Hargreaves mmxii

This wonderful photograph of the Emperor Penguins was discovered on Facebook and was taken by Peter Hargreaves.

I have alway loved the Emperor Penguin ever since I read the book The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry Gerrard who was part of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott.

It tells of extreme hardship and the meaning of human suffering under extreme conditions. The text is very hard to read as it describes the horrendous journey and the disastrous outcome in great detail. One can almost live every horrible step.

The scientific reason was to collect the eggs of the Emperor Penguin to study the embryos. This could only be done in the polar winter so the whole journey was undertaken in the worst of possible weather. The trip nearly killed them.

For me the most poignant moment in the whole book was the last chapter when Cherry-Gerrard takes the precious eggs to the Natural History Museum. In the time that they had been away science had moved on and nobody cared a jot about Cherry-Gerrard or the eggs. They did not want to know.

He arrived at 10 am to be told to leave the eggs on receptionist's desk. Considering these eggs had nearly cost him his life Cherry Gerrard was a trifle annoyed. He refused to leave them without talking to someone and had to suffer the indignity of having to wait i the entrance hall until late afternoon when somebody in authority could be found to receive them.  Even then the recipient was cold and unwelcoming.

How often have most of us had the experience of the smirk and distain of an unobliging secretary who protects his/her boss! The BBC variety used to be awfully good at this. Scared me stiff!

That somebody never realized that his rudeness and lack of empathy would be immortalized in this amazing book.

Whenever I see an Emperor Penguin I think of him. It may have been a useless journey scientifically but it is a wonderful example of just how courageous and brave humans can be. Cherry Gerrard's book is his gift to posterity. Everyone should read it.

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