Last Chance To See

Film, Observatory

Well, the response to news that scientists have been stunned to discover that the Arctic ice will be completely gone in about four years was predictable; they’re getting excited about drilling up the oil and minerals underneath, rushing to Armageddon. Now’s the time to visit the Maldives and Venice if you haven’t been (Venice is nice at Christmas, I can’t recommend the Maldives unless you’re on your honeymoon – I felt dead out of place).

But in the New Year I’m going to Iceland, on what’s starting to look like a ‘Last Chance To See’ trip – like those British explorers who headed off into the Congo to wipe out the last surviving animals – except that I’ll be researching for a new project. As always the wonderful and sorely missed Douglas Adams got it right in his book ‘Last Chance To See’, in which he went in search of the last remaining examples of rare species. The book is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and is essential reading.

However, at the moment I’m mainlly reading James Morris’s dazzling ‘Pax Brittanica’ trilogy, all 1,600 pages of it, concerning the rise and fall of the British Empire, and it’s full of English settlers rushing overseas to slaughter animals for dinner. One banquet in Hudson Bay had starters of moose noses and buffalo tongues. Another general in India travelled on hunting trips with 10,000 natives bearing things like harpsichords and wardrobes for dogs before gunning down all the wildlife. No wonder there’s nothing left to visit.

Joking aside, the books are enjoyably anecdotal while sweeping a great arc across empire and commerce, and go a long way to explaining the roots of our overseas relationships. The chapter on the British in Afghanistan reveals ancient antipathies, and Morris is unafraid to express opinions untempered by post-modern rewrites of history.

4 comments on “Last Chance To See”

  1. Brian says:

    I find myself rather bemused that you refer to James Morris as the author of “Pax Britannica.” Technically correct I suppose given that is how it was originally published, however, since becoming Jan Morris in 1972 all her publications now carry her name, including “Coronation Everest.” Even if you are reading an early edition of the series I think that seeing as you provide a nice little review of it would be decent to acknowledge the author’s current persona.

    And yes, the series is a great read. It is history but not written as a historian would have written them and I fully agree with your reference to their anecdotal element.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    The books do sound interesting, particularly for me the section on Afghanistan. And it always was a “mine field” of ancient antipathies, ages before it was an actual mine field. It is one of those countries that you either love or hate and for friendly foreigners at least, it was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, it is now a shooting gallery, but of course to some extent it always was. V. Putin is enjoying at laugh at us Americans now, and unfortunately he is right. We don’t think as the Afghans do.
    Where I ask is Flashman when the world needs him?

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Only Flashman could save us in Afghanistan. A number of years ago someone from the American State Department was speaking at a luncheon at the Board of Trade in Vancouver and I heard his speech in some horror because it sounded as if he had not read any background on the area. He spoke as if it would be easy to walk in, clean out the communists (who obviously had not done a proper hearts and minds on the people), and free the country for democracy. During the Q&A I asked if he wasn’t concerned about ending up as the British had, losing a whole regiment in there. I actually heard an old geezer across the room going ‘harumph’ and there was not much support for my view, including a remark from the chair that I sounded like the demonstrators who gathered across the street (in front of the American consulate). I wish I could see that gentleman again (any of them, in fact) and see if the intervening years have proved me even close to correct (as opposed to the Board member who phoned my husband and told him to muzzle his wife.)

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    What? Let no one muzzle you, Helen!
    My wife and I woke up to the six am news on Boxing Day (after we – the U.S. – had just attacked Tora Dora) and howled when we heard our troops had hired some Afghan rebels to betray the location of Osama bin Laden. “NO!” Then the reporter said Osama has escaped. “Damn right he did. Probably took the iron stove and the full bedroom set!” we yelled. The Afghan guides were smart enough to get cash from the U.S. and from bin Laden. Twice the pay is way okay. “Anybody want to buy the Bagram bridge?” We can be so darned innocent it is Mark Twain painful (Innocents Abroad reference). Calling Captain Youngblood.
    Glad you said your peace and a rousing and long wet raspberry to that Board member. My lord, what would MY dear German wife have done? It is not something one would want to dwell on.

Comments are closed.

Posted In