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Woman: Sorry to be late. This club’s a bit off the beaten track, isn’t it? Thought I’d never find it!
Secretary: You don’t have an in-car satellite navigation system, then?
Woman: A sat-nav? No I don’t, though I suppose I should invest in one. I often have this sort of trouble – getting to a town’s a piece of cake, but after that… well. It’s not so much the cost – my friends all have them and tell me the price is going down all the time. But electronic gadgets aren’t my favourite things. Fine when they work; nightmare when they don’t . A little black box could hardly have been less useful than my map today, though!
Secretary: I wouldn’t be without mine now. I won’t try and blind you with science, but I do know quite a bit about satellites. The technology’s amazing – position can be pinpointed to within a metre. Of course, accuracy’s down to the mapping companies who do the updating work, but new models come out all the time . It’s entirely up to you of course, but imagine never having to ask for directions again!
Woman: That’d be good – I’ll certainly give it some thought!
Paula: We both grew up in a fairly rough part of the city, Mike, so I’m assuming you used comedy to keep yourself safe – and popular in the long run!
Mike: Well, in school, as you know, if you could run fast or make people laugh, you had a very good chance of surviving and emerging unscathed. I wasn’t a fast runner, so I exploited comedy to avoid unwelcome attention. It seemed to come easy , and it worked.
Paula: Your type of comedy is less spontaneous than reflective. You see things from your own point of view, don’t you, and create a world for other people to see. Whereas I explore the world that’s already there, which most people don’t see.
Mike: Don’t you think that the key to achieving what you want in life is the realisation that it’s going to be tough, and the sheer persistence that gets you there in the end?
Paula: What you have to have is massive self-confidence. With that you can do anything.
Mike: And being specific about what it is you want to do.
Paula: Ah well, that goes without saying .
Woman: If you’re English, a nice sad nineteenth-century romance is very useful if you’re on holiday and you get attacked by homesickness because it conjures up dripping English autumn days perfectly.
Man: I always take something by this chap who’s written a number of books about the criminal underworld of Boston, Massachusetts, which is hardly culturally or geographically a place that I know , but I find it fascinating. There’s no doubt about it if you compile, as I do, dictionaries of slang for a living , one is drawn inevitably not alas to the great classics, who are on the whole rather light on slang, but to someone like this fellow who has this amazing ability, far beyond quoting, of writing 20 or 40 pages of dialogue in almost incomprehensible slang, which I have the most wonderful time going through. I find it very alluring.
Ruth Sampson: Last year I found myself flying to the Arctic Circle with five biologists from the Canadian Wildlife Service. As our small plane descended towards a snow covered runway, I looked out of the window at the frozen ocean below. I could see small holes in the ice, and, around them, lots of extraordinary little figures rather like ants. I was told they were seals , basking on the ice in the sun. Ten minutes after we’d landed, I had my first sighting of a wolf , which my eagle eyed colleagues pointed out to me at least seven hundred metres away, and later on I was lucky enough to see a caribou with its huge antlers at much closer range.
At first sight, the Arctic seems to be a kind of desert, but there are plants and animals around – you just have to look around for them. You may find what’s called an oasis – this is a little confined area with access to water, where vegetation can establish itself and provide nutrients for animals . Arctic plants have evolved to cope with this harsh environment, like the yellow Arctic poppy, which only has a tiny tuft of leaves visible, as the bulk of the plant – a network of roots – stays underground . Its leaves remain green all winter, so it can make the most of the short growing season. The diversity of bird species decreases as you travel north, but there are birds which spend the winter here, and others that come back in the spring. Most of these birds get their nourishment from seeds , although a predator like the snowy owl feeds on small mammals called lemmings, and others do manage to find fish.
For accommodation, we had tents which looked just like the igloos the local Inuit people build out of ice, with little tunnels at the front , only ours were orange and made of nylon! And our only connection to the outside world was our radio link. You notice how light the snow cover is – it scatters with the wind, and there are hardly any deep drifts.
Apart from the cold, the main hazard is the wildlife, and I received a brief introduction on the correct action to take if a polar bear came to visit . There are other large animals, like the musk ox, but they seldom pose a threat. Another thing was that recording the team’s descriptions of wildlife, which was my task, was incredibly difficult. The recorder itself was fine, but batteries just don’t work in the cold , so I had to hold them inside my thick coat to keep them warm.