In Which I Take A Moment To Gush About A Polar Explorer Of Yore…

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I’m still suffering from a distinct lack of kitchen mojo at the moment, and have been tucking in to far too many Chinese takeaways and veggie sausages. I was pondering a few posts about my Vegan Lifestylée, but you know that would just involve dog walks and vimto, so I figured that probably wasn’t for the best. Anyhoo, one of my strange little obsessions is the history of polar exploration, and I’m particularly fascinated (not surprisingly) by the Scott/Amundsen (British/Norwegian) race for the South Pole in 1911 which famously ended in tragedy for Scott’s party, and victory for Amundsen’s.

The great heroic tragedy of Scott’s effort dwarfed the celebration of Amundsen’s achievement, and I’m currently reading a book that talks about both men, their backgrounds and their expeditions.

I came across a passage that referred to Amundsen’s efforts as a younger man to gain some experience of sailing in Arctic waters, in order to increase his chances of being recruited on a polar expedition. In 1894 he was allowed to spend a season on the ice aboard a sealer, whose crew were to slaughter thousands of seals and seal pups. This passage made me swoon, just a little bit, for the 22 year old Norwegian, whose attitude was pretty progressive for its time, and for a man raised in rural Norway…

“Amundsen was shaken by his introduction to the wholesale slaughter of wild animals. He was not particularly squeamish, but he was appalled by the cruelty he saw and the effect on his shipmates. Bjarne Aagaard, one of the historians of Norwegian sealing and whaling, wrote:

‘When the hunting fever comes over a human being, the beast of prey emerges, and he who maintains otherwise has never been after seal or whale. All the veneer of culture is wiped off, and it is just a matter of kill, kill at any price, trample underfoot. Finally even the best are so brutalised by seeing the blood and gore, the pleading, dying eyes, and seething flesh, that he no longer feels the revulsion that gripped him the first time he killed a defenceless animal.’

This was one of the experiences that moulded Amundsun. He hunted when he had to, but he questioned the necessity for such prodigal and inhumane slaughter. He turned his back on blood-sports. He could never understand those who killed a fellow creature for pleasure.”

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