The boiler broke down last weekend, and I remained wrapped in layers to type. I detest the damp and cold – not ideal for someone born in the Northern hemisphere.
So for my trip tomorrow I think I must have gone mad. How did I ever get talked into this? My ideal holiday is a desert trek to the equator. In London spring arrived last week, the cherry blossom came out and short sleeves were back for 48 hours. Now it’s miserable again – so why am I going as close as I can get to the bloody North Pole?
Partly because I wanted a break after ‘Bryant & May: Wild Chamber’ comes out, partly because I was talked into it by mad friends, partly because this could well be the last year of summer ice before large parts of the Arctic Circle merely become a great bare sea. I also blame the TV series ‘Fortitude’, which was shot in Iceland but is obviously set in Svalbard, a community of some 2,000 souls on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Phillip Pullman set part of his Northern Lights trilogy there. How far North is it? A clue; Google Maps doesn’t go any higher. We’re at the top of the page.
I’m attracted to stories in extreme places, from ‘Kolymsky Heights’ by Lionel Davidson to ‘Brazilian Adventure’ by Peter Fleming. The idea that humans can be psychologically tested by environment is an intriguing one (although I did stumble over Adam Roberts’ philosophical arctic-set ‘The Thing Itself’).
I’ll be flying to Oslo then heading North to Longyearben to stay on the edge of the sea before setting off on snowmobile and dog sled trips to the furthest points. The area was once used as a whaling base, and has abandoned coal mining towns. There are no roads, but it had better have broadband. My idea of roughing it is a hotel with a limited cable selection.
To prepare for this I had to visit a shop called Black’s, not previously on my radar. I walked in and thought I can’t wear anything from here, it’s all so drab! It turns out that Black’s, which sells the sort of bottles survivalists filter their own pee through, are all over the place, but have remained as invisible to me over the years as ‘Top Gear’ and football.
I have an extravagant history of accidents in far-off locations (there was that falling-down-a-glacier incident in Iceland, for example, and the flooding drama in Sri Lanka) so expect reports of disastrous situations starting from March 25th onwards.
After I’ll be heading to Barcelona to start writing again, and getting a warm-up. BTW, if anyone has tips for Svalbard, let me know!