At first light Boz was up, clip board in hand, dishing out orders.
“Ferdy, you will take off as soon as you are ready. Follow a bearing for Edinburgh and when you’re over the castle turn due north.
“Bert, you go with Strawberry in the second skidoo. Strawberry, if you insist on driving you must lend Bert your atlas so he can navigate, but don’t go off on your own, follow us.
“Phoebles, Ginsbergbear and I will lead ‘cos we have the compass.” He proudly produced his prized Dan Dare Club Junior Space Cadet’s compass in its red and yellow plastic case. “We must get off the sea-ice as soon as possible. North Shields should be pretty well due west from here. Once we are on shore we will make straight for Strathbogie.”
He strolled over to what the sailors insisted on calling The Shack, a bell tent close to the base of the tall radio mast. Within, shouting above the throbbing noise of a diesel generator, he addressed the Wireless Operator. “WHEN WE ARE CLOSE TO OUR DESTINATION WE WILL RING WICK RADIO ON GINSBERGBEAR’S I-PHONE, SO LISTEN OUT TO THEM!” Back in the open air he conveyed their plans to the CPO whose party was detailed to maintain the base.
It would be a while yet before the skidoos had steam up so the adventurers lined the runway to wave Ferdinand off. He emerged from his tent in flying helmet and goggles, sheepskin flying jacket and boots. He gave them a casual wave as he scrambled into the rear cockpit and could be seen adjusting the heading on the gimballed compass. The forward cockpit was stuffed with supplies. One of the ordinary seamen spun the propeller and the Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major five-cylinder, air-cooled, radial engine sputtered into life. The craft gathered speed down the runway, the rotor blades began to turn and she lifted skywards. Ferdy circled the camp once and then receded towards the NNW. Phoebles found he was still waving as the tiny red dot disappeared.
The group split, returning to their duties as the overland party. Strawberry mounted one of the snowmobiles with Bert Wold perched on top of the sledge’s cargo, wielding the atlas. With the exception of Strawberry in his orange furs they were all but indistinguishable in matching reindeer hide parkas with faux fur lined hoods obtained from Harrods’ Explorer Dept (3rd Floor). Bert however wore a Harris Tweed bespoke overcoat over his red flannelette shirt, his best Keir Hardy flat cap held down by a hand knitted muffler secured under his chin. Boris, in Red October black fur hat with Soviet Navy officer’s cap badge took the second vehicle with Phoebles behind him on the sledge, wearing a khaki budionovka pixie hat with large red star. Ginsbergbear, in a rainbow Peruvian woolly bobble hat, made himself comfortable amongst the luggage and called up the GPS app on his i-Phone. With a twist of the throttles, a wave to the Naval detail, in a cloud of steam, they were on their way.
The Brockhouse Corgis whispered chuffs, belched thick, oily smoke, the ice beneath the runners shushed and scraped. The dark uniformed cluster of Russians sang a baritone lament:
Cold, hard, empty.
Light that has left me,
How could I know that you would die?
…Let us go; the sea is waiting for us.
The vastness of the sea is calling us – and the tides!
…Sail on fearlessly,
Pride of the Northern Seas.
Hope of the Revolution…*
As the sleighs bounced over the uneven ground and the haunting notes faded on the chill, biting wind, ice chips flew from the tracks, looming seracs groaned as they thrust skywards and flexing skids screeched their protests. Our heroes were tossed, toppled and jarred as the sledges pitched from hummock to drift.
*Russian translation by Herman Sinitzen