Tuesday, August 03, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

The other day, my Fanny and I went out for the annual Inspection of the Grounds. We like to make a day of it – after we have checked the traps and upped the swans, counted the water horses and lobbed a few eggs at the Hermit, we like to take a light luncheon in the Mausoleum before making our way home through the tunnels, happy and satisfied and slung about with whatever critters Fanny has bagged for the pot. That girl is an absolute demon with a slingshot.

We hold the Inspection in August because we are Very British Masochists and we get a twisted kick out of crushed hopes and rain-soaked sandwiches. This year Fanny and I waddled out swaddled in so many layers that the first cloudburst rendered us immobile, two waterlogged zeppelins pinned prostrate by the weight of sopping wool. We were stuck there for several hours but we minded not; we are British, and weather was occurring, and so we had plenty to complain about. Nothing passes the time better than a good old moan.

Eventually, Fanny chewed her way out of her argyle gaol and dragged me home, where we sat clad in towelling togas before the three-bar fire, sipping on dripping-tea and soaking our feet in Epsom salts. I must own that I was nodding off, lulled away to dreamland by the gassy heat and the steam from drying long-johns, when Fanny poked me rather cruelly with the back-scratcher and reminded me that we had to write a review. She booted up the damnable machine and, with the crossness of a nap-denied old clown, I started to read.

Immediately, I suffered an acute attack of weather-envy. The blog at hand is written by a man who lives in Arctic Bay. Arctic Bay is very cold indeed, and I realised with some degree of peeve that I could no longer complain about English summers. Arctic Bay is the kind of place where one doesn’t see the sun for months at a time and England doesn’t have it quite that bad, no matter what those who have holidayed in Skegness may lead you to believe.

So, who is this man who lives so far away in such a stark and beautiful land? He is Clare Kines, a retired Mountie who moved to Arctic Bay, met his lovely second wife Leah, adopted two almost unbearably charming children and made a thoroughly pleasant life for himself. He has been blogging for a very, very long time, totting up well over a thousand posts. Clare’s blog is mostly concerned with the cataloguing of flora and fauna . He photographs and describes a huge number of species, and it is most touching to see his children joining in his passion.

I found it all terribly soothing. There is an inevitable poetry in nature writing, in the Purple Saxifrage and the Arctic Dryads, the Snow Buntings and Horned Larks, the Cackling Geese and the Red-Throated Loons and the wolves and the ravens and the sundogs in the sky. Nature makes the plainest writing bloom, hothouses lines like ‘a bumblebee amongst the wealth of River Beauty’. Clare is no Dave Attenborough -his writing can be a tad workmanlike and sometimes the passion is subsumed beneath a trainspottery recitation of fact – but I could read this stuff for hours. I like learning things, even though I am neither a gentleman nor a scholar.

Elsewhere, Clare writes about the construction of his house, what he gets up to with his family and what life is like in Arctic Bay. There are some posts that could do with a bit more detail and some that could do with a good deal less. He has some good lines (I could sworn this dog had a penis when she was a puppy) and he writes movingly about subjects that mean a lot to him. He can write very well, although he is guilty of the sinful ‘I’m tired’ post, when he just flings up some photos or a few hasty sentences. Nice as his pictures are, they would be nicer if he kept them to one side until he had the strength to write something pretty to go with them.

All in all, it would be hard to strip such a fascinating way of life of all interest. After all, as Clare says, this is a place where you can look out of your front door and see Killer Whales and narwhal, where seal hunts are social events and where Gyrfalcons wheel overhead. It is a place where one has one’s shopping delivered once a year. Just for titters, Fanny and I tried to work out what we’d have to order were we to stock the larder just once in a twelvemonth. We should need a fleet of juggernauts for the gin alone.

As you all know, certain diplomatic sore spots have prevented my Fanny and I leaving these shores for many a moon. It wasn’t always that way - in days of yore we would think nothing of chartering a biplane to Bruges for a spot of brekker – and I am sure that one day we will be free to roam again. When that day comes we will head north, to Arctic Bay and beyond, and we will build ourselves a cold palace and sit on whalebone thrones, swathed in fur and sucking blubber in the blue ice-light. Fanny can feed me on gull eggs and blueberry wine and then harnessed to my sled she’ll haul me on into the unsetting sun.

Pardon me, I’m getting carried away. Must have Fanny get a man out to look at this gas fire. So, to come, reluctant as always, to what passes for a point, I would like to thank Clare for adding to my vocabulary and providing me with frigid fantasies enough to see me through the damp drear of an English August. I rather enjoyed dipping a toe into his world. There were no thrills and/or spills, nothing shocking or outrageous, just the gentle pottering of a man who, after sad and hard times, has found a measure of peace.

I give Clare two stars, and am off to dress Fanny as a narwhal.


  1. This blog reminded me of Never Cry Wolf a bit. It was, I'll agree, quite soothing to read. It didn't give me the rib tickle of something like passiveaggressivenotes.com but it gave me a soothing feeling not unlike a small dispensary of meds.

  2. It's about 111 here and I'd love to see an iceberg right about now. The pictures are gorgeous.

    Forcey--is swan upping anything like cow tipping?

  3. I don't know.

    To me it's not enough to know what it's like in one or other part of the world. I need to know what it's like in the person's head that's there.

  4. Forget The House & other Arctic whatnots, I want to read Forcemeat's blog. I think he might be my Great Uncle Everad.

  5. Madame, I agree, with more narrative slipped in with the pictures, I might actually come back.

  6. Thanks for the review Forcemeat (Lord Forcemeat?)

    The blog does tend to be photo heavy these days, but with 8 or so months of weather photos are a quick and easy way to keep content on there, and be out enjoying the non-winter, instead of the computer.

    I appreciate the thoughts on where I can improve. Keep watching, hopefully I'll not disappoint.

  7. Speaking of Monty Python, who's hotter, John Cleese or Michael Palin?

  8. Palin. I saw him on Hardtalk a few months back, and he held his own very well. Not that that is a measure of hotness. Cleese is probably more creative. But then, that isn't a measure of hotness either. So we'll just go by looks.

  9. I just got back from Alaska, so one would think I'd want to read Clare's blog, but really, I just want to sit by the fire and eat turkish delight with forcemeat while fanny applies liniment to our swollen gouty ankles.

  10. I love this blog and have been following it for years. Clare is known as the "Godfather of Nunavut Blogging".

  11. Yeah, this site is one of my favourite northern blogs.

  12. And I firmly remain, as ever, a devoted member of the Forcemeat Fan Club. I think I shall run for President come the next election.


Grow a pair.