Here it is so white. It is so still and silent. Why, it is beautiful. We move on, and before long stop again to admire the view. It does not appear to have changed. It is still white. It is astonishingly white. It is so still, so still. So amazingly still, and so white. The sky is so blue. Everything is soft and white, and blue. We move on, and soon we stop as before to look around at the astonishing whiteness. It is white white; white piled onto white. It is so white. The white paint on the timber cottage 1500 kilometres north of here is only thinly representative, a foreign consul in a two-bit state. This is white. This is white white. All the furnishings are white. The welcoming mat is white. South has never ever looked so white. Eternity is white, and blue. A hillside of bright green grass is a science fiction. Popcorn is ludicrous. Ballroom dancing, however, would not be out of place down here. Nor the slow glacial accruements of a pension scheme. Talk of insurance has surprising avidity here. Most other things are eccentricities. A black umbrella, for example. Cats as pets. Carpet. Caged birds. Purple is unheard of, by the way. Yellow is comparatively new; introduced by pissing humans. Otherwise the fidelity shown towards white is breathtaking. Of course, white is all it knows, and it has worked hard to build a world out of white. Of its prejudices, there are a few. Quite a few, actually. There remains an urgent need for a persuasive voice to make the case for horseracing. Submarines are loathed, as sly cheating devices. Chewing gum is a vile practice. Chimney smoke and exhaust fumes are bewildering varieties of abuse, scarcely believable. The idea of a hedge is interesting but beside the point. Scissors are also interesting, but a puzzle. Dogs are fun. Dogs are beloved, and they are very welcome. In this white white world a dog’s pink tongue is astonishing. Military parades fail to reward attention, a salute is extremely theatrical. A wheel-drawn cart is another interesting but imperfect concept. In this white white world we learn to yield to particular memories and desires. A fur-collar coat that these days can only be bought in a costume-for-hire shop. A blow heater, or an oil heater, or an open fire, the shadows of the flames licking up the white walls. Duty is understood. The duty to whiteness is rigorously upheld. Duty of course is rarely straightforward. Duty killed Scott. Why did he not jettison those rock samples instead of hauling them all the way to the final camp? More generally, duty is not a word deserving of scorn. Whisper duty and the white plains and the white sides of Mt Misery suddenly look attentive. About now you may remember old westerns. In Mackenna’s Gold shown at the Woburn Theatre and seen by this road worker in 1965, the Indians suddenly lined the walls of the canyon. Advance anyway. In this way the New World draws in the old. The duty of this place is to be white, and as white as possible, and for the sky to be blue, as blue as possible, and with a few passing exceptions it always returns to the beginning, which is this astonishing white. A tropical parrot will never fly across this white plain. The roar of a boxing crowd will never be heard. An Arsenal shirt means nothing. A headline about a poor umpiring decision in cricket will pass without comment. So will any old howler, for that matter. Reputations matter even less. A fallen hero can walk here safe in the knowledge that he passes by without judgement. The agonies straining the smile on the face of the losing contestant at the Miss Universe beauty pageant are just as riveting here as elsewhere. At the same time, this white world knows next to nothing about the impulse or need to charm. Though at times it almost appears that the usually austere and lofty aspect of Mt Terror is just a bit interested in a smile. A gust of wind shifts. The gust is white. The gust lands on more white. And just then it is strikingly obvious as it has never quite been—that Highland dancing is ridiculous. Barbra Streisand oddly is not out of place. Though the respectful hush of snow prefers the gloved hands of Glenn Gould. A piano note may be heard for miles. With the sound off, how silly the Rolling Stones appear, though the Beatles not so. I had not considered the word ‘melancholic’ until now. But that old hula hoop has no place here either. It is what you bring with you.
It is what you bring with you, as well as what you pack and off-load. Shackleton brought a motorcar, the first seen down here. A suitcase is understandable. A container is grotesque. Indians aren’t seen much around these parts. Or Egyptians. Or Samoan rappers. Flax is just one of a pile of words that struggle for meaning. Laughter. Jokes. Both are appreciated. Especially snow jokes and jokes about getting lost and ending up in the Suez or some other made-up place. The laughter dies and the white white white world is still here like some endless hospital corridor whose end cannot be found. It is so extraordinarily white down here, white white white that poor design, poor intent is smelt a mile away. Desire leaves its grubby marks. Presumption. Ambition. Utility. The same words slapped down on the first road from Roman Gaul to Britain. Puppetry finds a natural home here. Look. A man pulls on his socks. Look. A man brushes his teeth. The man looks up, toothbrush in hand. The vigilance never ends. We will walk on. There is no end of white for company. I saw Yoko Ono before. Her black hair just whooshed up before me. It was astonishing because everything is white, and then this black flourish. Of course it wasn’t Yoko or even a crow. There are no crows down here. I had been rubbing my eyes against the insistence of everything being white; when half a dozen Yoko Onos drew their black wings. I was mistaken of course. And what I see before me now is correct. A tender regard is shown wet feet. Hot soup might well have been invented here. And gloves dreamt up long before they appeared. Stop, and take a moment to look at all this white heaped into pile upon pile of white. There are few other places on the planet that look the same now as they did when the Romans built a road across Europe. But, there is a problem with this astonishing white world. The problem is that it is what it is. And that is a shame, because it would be better if it could be more flat, more accommodating. So, with the help of friendly explosives we fill crevices with snow and ice, as we craft our way towards the Pole. I once saw on television open heart surgery on a Chinese man who remained conscious throughout the operation, thanks to the mysteries of acupuncture. As we uncork our explosives, another image comes to mind. It is my eleventh birthday and I have just been handed a beautifully illustrated edition of Gulliver’s Travels. There on the cover is a picture of Gulliver. He is so immense he takes up the entire cover, laid out as he is, corner to corner, like a drunk in recovery position, and tied down, every part of him—his arms, hands, legs, feet. However, the base of his head is raised so that the chin touches his chest, similar to the Chinese patient I saw receiving open heart surgery. What I am getting at here is that, like the surgeon, we also have a job to do. That, like the surgeon, we are being watched. And, like Gulliver, our patient is unable to lift a finger against our intent. This white world would be astonished to learn that cold can cause trees to explode. The impediment to its grasp of that knowledge is the preposterous idea of a tree. The Sioux and the Cree name the first moon of the year ‘the Moon of the exploding tree’. You might as well yell that information at the top of your lungs to a hall filled with village idiots. It is so difficult to say anything of a place that is so wholly and purely of itself. So we carry on, as we do, in the direction of south with our sticks of gelignite.
You keep feeling as though you have arrived. But you have only arrived at where you set off for, which as it turns out, appears to be very similar to where you set off from, and now you must push on for the place ahead, which, surely, will be very like the previous place. In this way ice miles are traversed, slowly and diligently, and in mistaken belief after mistaken belief.