Dear Roger Mear

So your lone mission to conquer the Antarctic has ended in ... rescue. Wilderness: 6. Silly explorer: nil
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I've just read that your plan to walk across the Antarctic has come to grief 500 miles and six weeks into that icy vastness. Apparently, you suffered "equipment failure" (it happens, even to the best of us). Subsequently, and at not inconsiderable expense, a doctor and two guides rushed to your rescue and airlifted you to safety.

Meanwhile, some cocky young Norwegian who had the cheek to give you a few days' head start is currently well on his way to achieving your goal, namely to be the first person to walk alone and unsupported across Antarctica. At first, the press billed your trek as "The Last Great Adventure". Once the Norwegian threw his sponsored ski cap into the ring, of course, it became "The Last Great Race for Glory". Talk about tempting fate.

After all, there is something depressingly familiar, self-contradictory, and typically British about all this. For a start, your failure mirrors the race for the South Pole in 1912, when Robert Falcon Scott, having been pipped to the post by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, compounded his ineptitude by dying, along with his entire crew, on the return journey.

I was also puzzled by your justification for this silly jaunt: you told the press that your principal reason was a desire to experience solitude. You said of yourself and your Norwegian nemesis: "I think both of us would prefer the other not to be there. For both of us, the main reason for going was to be alone in Antarctica."

Let me get this straight. You want to be alone? Like Greta Garbo, you mean? And you think that an entire continent - a completely barren and unpopulated one at that - is not big enough for the two of you? Well, excuse me, but I think that kind of breathless egotism deserves little more than to limp home with its arse in a sling.

Then there is the supposed good cause behind your frosty frolics. It says here you were raising funds for the Wilderness Trust, a British charity which takes people on tours of the world's remaining wilderness areas. But isn't it a tad ironical - paradoxical, even - that one with such a yearning for solitude and wilderness should raise money for a charity that organises tourist visits to the same? Or am I missing something here?

Let's face it, Roger. There is something profoundly Victorian in all of this, something that smacks of jingoism and the worst excesses of our patriarchal, colonial mentality. You can practically hear the Pathe newsreel announcer: "See the proud Brits conquer the desert of ice! See their bravery in the face of overwhelming odds! Marvel as they tame nature and bring her under their domain!"

Only it doesn't happen like that any more, mate. The speed with which your frostbitten butt was saved clearly demonstrates that there is no true wilderness left. It's all over, that Brits-vs-the-world lark. The same goes for rivalry with Johnny Foreigner. We're all in this together from now on, and the sooner we realise it, the better. You want to be alone? Buy some sunglasses.

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