Last Chance To See
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.