2071 and climate change: will human ingenuity save the day?

Last night I saw the final performance of 2071 at The Royal Court Theatre in London. This was a presentation by UCL’s professor of climate change, Chris Rapley, who was Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, Director of the British Antarctic Survey and director of the Science Museum. He called the piece 2071 because in 2071 his granddaughter will be the age he is now. He wonders what sort of world she will live in, whether it will be inhabitable at all.
It was a compelling talk basically about how the world’s dependence on fossil fuels has disrupted global carbon cycles, accelerating global warming and potentially threatening the survival of human civilisation – certainly as it is today. Professor Rapley talked about his research in the polar regions and how the ice cap is melting. He recalled holding a piece of millennia-old ice core from Antarctica and as it melted in his hand breathing the air that was millions of years old. As this was a theatre performance, rather than a lecture, I was expecting a bit more drama rather than what was essentially a TED talk against a background of some albeit beautiful computer assisted design and musical score – or an audience Q&A afterwards. 2071 has understandably received mixed reviews. Nonetheless it was food for thought.
Last year I went to Arctic Lapland – to see the Northern Lights – and stayed at the Ice Hotel in Sweden. The nearest airport to the Ice Hotel is Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost town, 145km within the Arctic Circle. Kiruna is a mining town which is physically being moved – the entire town is being demolished and rebuilt 3km to the east – in order to avoid it being swallowed up by the activities of Sweden’s biggest iron ore mine which have expanded to reach 1km below Kiruna, undermining its foundations. Kiruna was was built in 1900 to support the mine, and its relationship with the mine has been described as symbiotic. In Kiruna man’s activity is literally destroying his habitat. But Kiruna can be relocated. The Ice Hotel is rebuilt every year.
We don’t have the option of moving away from the climate change issue and simply relocating or rebuilding elsewhere. But we can adapt. Professor Rapley’s presentation highlighted how we often don’t realise the need to do so until it is too late. His message is that governments need to stop talking about climate change and work together to find ways of doing something about it. He hopes that human ingenuity will save the day. His granddaughter wants to be an engineer so that she can look for a solution.

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Wedding aboard the Queen Mary 2

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On 14th November, my friends Jan and Tony (known as T) were married on the Queen Mary 2, mid-way across the Atlantic during the transatlantic crossing from Southampton to Brooklyn New York. The wedding was in the Atlantic room at the front of the ship and conducted by the captain in accordance with the laws of Bermuda – a bit like having a marriage certificate from the Bermuda triangle!
The room was only slightly large for our party of ten, the captain and the three ship’s photographers. A few of us had brought our cameras. I did bring mine, but I will also be relying on my friend Ben, who took some fabulous photos. I have included one lovely photo I took on my phone and I will upload additional images when the ship’s internet allows, or certainly when I’m back on dry land.
I was a bit overcome by the wedding because it was so lovely, and also somewhat unsteady on my feet, not because of champagne, as we had that after the ceremony, but due to my very high heels and the rough weather which is particularly noticeable at the front of the ship. Captain Christopher Wells, who has been a ship’s captain for 40 years, explained as I was wobbling around that standing with your weight balanced evenly between your feet and not locking your knees helps stability. This is more like a neutral pose for dancing or martial arts, rather than a natural way of standing. It definitely helps. The Order of Service for the marriage included the precise location of the ship: latitude 52°28’1” N, longtitude 024°01’4”W.
It was a beautiful ceremony, the nicest and happiest civil ceremony I’ve ever been to, and there was a lot of giggling. Jan wore a sexy red satin dress, which suited her slim but voluptuous figure and bubbly personality. T was remarkably steady on his feet, and they both held it together pretty well. The two moments where everyone seemed to struggle not to burst into tears was when Stuart, Jan’s best (boy) friend, walked her up the aisle to give her away, and the reading, by Carol, who has been best friends (and colleagues) with Jan for 16 years, of ‘Love me when I’m old’, a funny and slightly naughty poem. It was so perfect that it got to us all and is the reason for my lack of good wedding photographs.
After the wedding and a lot more photographs, we all went to the champagne bar, which was brilliant. The girls – Carol, Stella and I – helped Jan choose a gorgeous designer watch as her wedding present for T. We then went to the Todd English restaurant, where the food was far superior to the Britannia, for a celebratory dinner. My previous reference to the passenger demographic of the ship was about the soft food, this time it is about attitude not age. Apparently the restaurant had some complaints about the laughter emanating from our table. Yes, of course we were drinking champagne, telling funny stories and laughing a lot, but it wasn’t late or raucous and I cannot comprehend how anyone on holiday could object to a happy wedding party.
After dinner we went on to a comedy show in the Royal Court Theatre. Jon Courtenay, pianist and comedian, played beautifully and shared some great gags about the QM2. I particularly recall two involving toilet humour: the first was about mishaps concerning the vacuum toilet system – umm, it’s important to get up before you flush and someone apparently tried to sue Cunard because they got stuck on the toilet! They were physically ok, but incredibly embarrassed because they had to call for help! However, I am reliably informed that this could not have actually happened as all the unfortunate passenger would have had to do to free themselves is lift the toilet seat to release the vacuum – assuming they weren’t sitting directly on the porcelain! The other story was more resonant. Jon recalled getting out of bed to go to the toilet and finding his bed had been made when he returned. This too is probably not true, but every time I go back to my stateroom, five seconds later the steward knocks on the door. This is solicitous, but can be awkward depending on the reason for returning to the room. If I’m online, it’s quite expensive as internet access is charged per minute, but it could be a lot worse!
Our champagne fuelled party giggled more than anyone, and I think Jon appreciated this as some of the audience looked like they were dead – I was quite relieved to see them getting their kicks in the casino later.
Silliness – nosing the captain! T’s daughter Alyssa has been doing this prank where you go up to people, including total strangers, and prod them with your nose! This can be done by going straight up to them and doing the deed, or in a ‘subtle way’, for example by dropping something on the floor and prodding them with your nose as you get up, so that it looks like you’ve touched them by mistake! And Alyssa managed to nose Captain Wells! This happened without any warning, so none of us captured it on camera!
Silliness 2 – stories about Jan and T. Carol related the story of how the happy couple met, from an office point of view! Jan and T met at a business event and it was love at first sight, or certainly lust! For the first time ever, Jan called into work to say she couldn’t come in – “I just can’t get out of bed,” she said. This was true, but she was not calling in sick!
Everyone around the table recounted how we had met Jan. For me it was pretty straightforward as I had interviewed her for a magazine. It was a phone interview and we got on so well that she invited me to her office for coffee the following week. We have been friends ever since.
There were a few stories of Jan being a bit of a heroine at parties and industry events, most of which involved champagne and people in various states of undress. I didn’t tell mine because it is not a wedding kind of story. But Jan has been my heroine too. Some years ago, I unwisely became involved in an upsetting situation with a deeply vindictive individual. Although at the time we had not been friends for very long, Jan was the first person to call me to check that I was ok. She was there for me immediately. There are times when you find out, among other things, who your real friends and heroes are. Years later, all of our circumstances are very different; with 20:20 hindsight, I’m so glad I found out. It is one important reason why I am where I am today.

All at sea – like sleeping with someone new

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This is the first instalment of my blog from the Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing from Southampton to Brooklyn, New York. The first night on board was disconcertingly like sleeping with someone new – I am not referring to sex, but the intimacy of sleeping together – and I have a cabin to myself! It was a stormy night and the bed was full of unfamiliar movements that were disturbing, in a vaguely exciting way.
This is my first ever sea voyage, a trip organised to celebrate the wedding of my friends Jan and Tony, known as T. Jan is English and T is American, and they decided to get married mid-Atlantic. So here we are. My blog about the wedding is to follow.
The first thing I noticed on arrival at Southampton was the sheer size of the ship, and the number of people who choose this way to travel to America in November. We are a mixed-age group of ten people ranging from early twenties to early fifties – the youngest being T’s daughter and her boyfriend – but we all felt very young as we boarded given that the majority of passengers seem to be retired people.
The time difference is disconcerting as the clocks go back one hour each night, but not every night, so that we arrive in New York without jet lag, which would be a bonus except that I am flying straight back to London.
On the first morning I got up an hour before I had ordered coffee in my stateroom, terminology for the luxurious cabin. I have an ocean view balcony stateroom – having taken the advice of the travel agent, and a colleague in the travel industry, I opted for a midship stateroom with a covered balcony, which was completely the right thing to do as it has been raining heavily on and off ever since we arrived, and I can stand outside and look at the sea without getting completely drenched.
The sea was foreboding before we left and on the first morning it was rough enough for several of the decks to be closed due to ‘inclement weather’. I took a walk on the soaking wet decks before they were closed. There were a few runners out, but I didn’t feel stable enough on my feet to run. My walk brought me to the gym and I managed about ten minutes of wobbly trotting on the treadmill and a slightly awkward stretch.
Every night we meet for dinner in the Britannia restaurant. There are two sittings, and we chose the late sitting at 8.30pm. We are seated together at the same table which is perfect because we are travelling as a group. However, if you were travelling alone or with just a few people, you might have to share a table every night with random strangers, which could be great or not so great depending on who you were seated with.
It is fun getting dressed up for an elegant dinner every night, but the downside of the passenger demographic is that the food is all pretty soft! On the first night I chose steak and chips which looked like it was going to be one of the few non-denture-friendly options, but that was soft too. Apparently, according to some who travel this way regularly, the first two days of this crossing were exceptionally rough, and on the second night of soft food and rough seas, I had to leave the karaoke bar early. I was concerned enough to get some seasickness pills from the purser, although I haven’t resorted to using them yet.
I found the spa, and bought a membership. In rough weather this is a better option than the gym, as it has Jacuzzis, saunas and massages, none of which require too much balancing, and the beauty salon, where I booked a manicure and hair styling – no scissors, as that would be risky given the movement of the ship…
To be continued…

A different horizon – and a straight path between the stars

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A lot of blogs offer advice on how to achieve success or find happiness. I would not attempt to advise on either – both depend so much on subjective definitions – but I suppose this could count as guidance on finding clarity, which I constantly strive for in my writing, and generally. It is also sharing something that has helped me survive the last 18 months. When things get tough, I have taught myself to find a different horizon.

People who go on long trips as a way of dealing with significant moments in their lives often refer to the hope that they will ‘find themselves’ in unfamiliar surroundings.

A recent conversation with an inspirational filmmaker and educator included his story of a group of tourists travelling across Africa. The truck driver said: “When people say they are here to find themselves, I reply, ‘Why are you looking for yourself here? You didn’t leave yourself here’.”

Putting physical distance between yourself and your problems is one way of leaving yourself behind and making a fresh start. But if you don’t want to run away, but rather to find a way through the confusion, and you have imagination, you don’t need to travel far to explore different horizons. A conversation about space travel and following astronaut Chris Hadfield on twitter inspired me to look for the International Space Station passing overhead. It is an Arthur C. Clarke moment sitting on a London rooftop watching a spaceship’s straight, steady path across a star strewn sky – knowing that the spaceship is ‘one of ours’.

Clarity in writing – and in life – can be likened to finding that straight path between the stars. I worked all night to meet a deadline and submitted my copy early in the morning. Then I got on a train to visit an old friend who lives by the sea. A few hours later a walk along the coast in the sunshine revealed a different horizon and provided the impetus to write this and more.

Book review: Cold Feat – an inspirational Arctic adventure

In May 2013, Philip Goodeve-Docker died during a charity expedition to the Arctic when his tent was swept away by a violent snowstorm. Although his companions called for help, the best of modern technology was no match for the forces of nature. It took rescuers 30 hours to reach them, and by that time Philip had frozen to death.

This news story resonated with me because, just a few weeks earlier, I met polar explorer Duncan Eadie who has been on several expeditions to the Arctic. ‘Cold Feat’ is Duncan’s account of his first expedition – to the North Magnetic Pole. Duncan and a team of lawyers led by famous British explorer Pen Hadow braved the Arctic wilderness to trek to the top of the world. This book offers the reader a vivid glimpse of the place Philip described with unnerving prescience as one of the world’s most dazzling, beautiful yet deadly landscapes. It is an exhilarating and inspirational read.

The first few chapters cover Duncan’s determined efforts to join a polar expedition and the months of preparation: a demanding fitness regime where three daily gym sessions were supplemented by dragging tyres around the heath at night and gruelling training weekends; freezing different chocolate bars to find out which ones were still edible in Arctic conditions; and getting the right kit together, including shopping for ‘wind-proof’ underwear. Then the scene shifts to the pure, icy Arctic landscape and the characters that inhabit and explore it – and the real adventure begins.

‘Cold Feat’ transports the reader to another world – you can almost smell the clean, bitterly cold Arctic air that freezes the hairs in your nose, and feel the deep pile carpet in the world’s northernmost hotel. You get to know the explorers’ routine – long days of riding skidoos or skiing pulling heavy sledges or ‘pulks’ across a harsh frozen terrain followed by hours of melting ice for cooking and making drinking water – the toilet issues and the physical hardships including eyes frozen shut, frostbite and broken teeth. You get to know their personalities – their individual strengths, skills and vulnerabilities and their fantastic team spirit; the ‘ice dance’ that kept them moving and the shared laughter that kept up their morale.

You also get to know Duncan – his warmth, humour and strength of character. Although there are some hilarious stories, there are also dilemmas, disappointments and intensely private moments: when his frozen fingers fumbled for his camera as he lingered outside the tent mesmerised by the dazzling beauty of the Arctic landscape, but he was too emotionally overcome to get the shot, his genuine, cold-sweat fear of a polar bear encounter. And the poignant moment when he placed a single stone from his father’s garden onto the Arctic stones that mark the North Magnetic Pole. These are not spoilers. There is a lot more to this story.

‘Cold Feat’ is a raw, personal account of the adventure of a lifetime interlaced with some history of polar exploration and quotations from famous explorers. There is also philosophy, including lessons that apply to life in general: to embrace the unknown without fear; to be as prepared as you can be, while recognising that you can’t be prepared for everything; to remember that getting there is the intention, but getting back is the imperative.

The blurb describes ‘Cold Feat’ as the story of an ordinary man going on an extraordinary journey. But nothing about Duncan or his book is ordinary. ‘Cold Feat’ is a beautifully written account of an extraordinary adventure of the kind that brings out the best in people – and risks the lives of the best people.

Iceland: Midsummer night’s dream with a slice of paradise

I recently attended a talk on blogging organised by the London Writers Café. We were asked what topics we blogged about and I mentioned travel as one of my main interests. I then realised that I hadn’t written a travel piece this year. So here is my take on midsummer in Iceland. Unusually for me, this was a holiday, not a business trip, so my insights and travel tips are from a slightly different perspective than usual.

Continuing my fixation with Scandinavia, I had been thinking about Iceland for some time. The original idea was to see the Northern Lights. Then the opportunity arose to take a few days’ holiday at midsummer, which I have long considered a special time of year. It turned out to be a midsummer night’s dream.

Iceland is the furthest north I have ever been – and I have visited Stockholm and Moscow. In the summer there is no night at all. It is the land of the midnight sun.

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We arrived in Reykjavik at about 11pm and the sun was dipping towards the horizon like a traditional sunset. But it never actually set. The landscape on the drive to Reykjavik was stunning – and reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus as sunset became sunrise.

We stayed at the Centerhotel Arnarhvoll http://www.centerhotels.com/our-hotels/hotel-arnarhvoll/ which we were told was fully booked, though we didn’t see many other people. Perhaps it’s because I’m from London, but to me Iceland is a land of empty spaces. Reykjavik is Iceland’s biggest city and most populated area and even with all the midsummer tourists, there did not seem to be many people around. The hotel was ten minutes’ walk from the city centre; the room had a sea view and so does the hotel’s Panorama Restaurant, which serves an incredibly varied breakfast and is perfect for an evening drink. As I said, I was on holiday, but I mention in passing that the Centerhotel Arnarhvoll has free wireless internet that works very well…

Iceland is a wonderful tourist destination. There is plenty to see and the people are great! The Icelandic language is based on Old Norse and is challenging to say the least. Icelanders recognise this and there are plenty of fun souvenir t-shirts. I bought one with the slogan “I don’t speak Icelandic”!

Everyone speaks English and in a useful way – not just prices and numbers, so it is easy to organise sightseeing and transportation. There is no touting or hassling even though tourism is a major industry. The souvenirs are brilliant, and sometimes bizarre, but Iceland is expensive, so it is best not to get too carried away. Think about what you would like to keep/wear when you are back at home. For example these onesies looked ever so cute in the shop, but we resisted…

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Íslandia is one of several shops that specialise in Icelandic souvenirs, notably the famous lopapeysa (Icelandic jumpers) which are sold all over Reykjavik – I bought a cardigan. It looks nice and kept me warm on late night sightseeing tours, but left bits of wool all over my black t-shirt… we bought books about legends, trolls and runes.

Norse legends refer to the various “hidden people” that include elves, trolls and fairies. Trolls in Iceland are not necessarily bad, though they can be dangerous. They are sometimes depicted as lovable characters, sometimes as massive smelly destructive monsters. It depends what you read. I met this cute troll in the city centre.

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Had we been staying longer, we might have considered a day at Magnús Skarphéðinsson’s famous elf school, and I did email, but apparently it only happens on Fridays… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_Elf_School

24-hour daylight means you can do a lot, if you have the energy – and we certainly did! We got back to the hotel well after midnight each night and it felt surreal walking back in broad daylight in the early hours of the morning.

Reykjavik sightseeing and culture

We visited Hallgrímskirkja, the big church in the city centre, just in time to listen to choir practice before climbing the tower to take photographs of the marvellous views across the city and the harbour. Then we walked down Skólavörðustígur, a street full of arts and crafts galleries and cafés that leads into Laugavegur, the main shopping street.

The Settlement Exhibition http://www.minjasafnreykjavikur.is/english/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-4206/ in the city centre beneath the Hotel Centrum is worth a visit. It is a relatively small exhibition of the history and archaeology of an early Icelandic settlement and includes numerous interactive elements.

The Reykjavik Art Museum is on three sites http://www.artmuseum.is/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-2173/3432_read-6298/  We visited Kjarvalsstaðir, which focuses on painting and sculpture and is a short walk from the city centre. The permanent exhibition of key works by Icelandic landscape painters, notably Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885–1972), is an excellent example of how Iceland’s unique and fabulous scenery has influenced and inspired its art.

Food and drink

This was not a ‘foodie’ holiday. Icelandic menus include unusual items like whale and puffin, but if, like me, you’re not keen to eat the local species, there is a wide variety of restaurants and cafes, including pizza and sushi as well as conventional Scandinavian food. We liked sitting in the sun at Café Babalú, a hip rooftop vegetarian café. As with many Scandinavian destinations, the coffee is excellent.

We particularly enjoyed a meal in Hornið, one of the city’s oldest bistros (I thought it might have a Viking theme, but Hornið means corner in Icelandic, and the food is Italian-style…)

Reykjavik has a massive choice of bars and clubs including Kaffibarinn owned by Damon Albarn (look out for the London Underground style sign).

The Golden Circle

A major cultural highlight was an evening Golden Circle tour which included Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall. The trip takes about three hours each way and passes through some spectacular scenery. The rugged volcanic landscape is breathtaking – it feels like we are on a tour of a different planet.

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We saw the site of Iceland’s ancient parliament and the point at which the European and North American continents meet. Apparently the two continents are gradually moving apart. I discovered that it is not possible to stand with one foot on each continent…

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Gullfoss is breathtaking, and definitely reminiscent of the Prometheus movie. It is a steep and slippery walk from the car park to the waterfall, and perhaps because we were there at night, even though it was light, there was a strong wind and a chill in the air, so it is important to have appropriate footwear and something warm to wear – the shop sells Icelandic knitwear and hot drinks, but it helps to be prepared because it really is worth getting close to the waterfall and experiencing the power of this wild and wonderful landscape at close quarters.

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On the way back we visited Geysir, a spouting hot spring that gave its name to geysers worldwide. The original Geysir is dormant, but nearby Strokkur, apparently the world’s most active geyser, erupts every 5-10 minutes.

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This was a long tour, but every element was amazing and it was a photographer’s dream. The photographs on this blog were taken with an iPhone 4S and a Nikon Coolpix compact camera. I have posted more photographs on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/joannagoodman/

The Blue Lagoon

I have saved the best for last as I will never forget the Blue Lagoon http://www.bluelagoon.com/ The brochures raise expectations and the experience exceeded them. My photographs are not adjusted – it really was this colour.

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The spa is very well organised with spotlessly clean changing rooms, showers and lockers. Towels and bathrobes are provided – you only need to bring a swimming costume. Various spa treatments are available, but we just swam around and enjoyed the unique experience. The water is almost too warm and there is a swim-up bar with a good selection of alcoholic and soft drinks. Silica mud is available to put on your skin and you can buy this to take back. I didn’t try it as my skin is quite sensitive, and following the advice of the hotel receptionist, I kept my (long) hair out of the water.

Relaxing in warm blue water drinking strawberry wine was a slice of paradise that will keep me smiling for a long time. However, sunscreen is important as the sun is quite strong and reflects off the bright water. As you can see from my picture below, I didn’t apply enough…

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