Monday, July 20, 2009

On Thin Ice

The latest instalment of On Thin Ice – the programme in which Ben Fogle, James Cracknell and some Other Posh Bloke, armed with only plucky British amateurism and stiff upper lippery, attempt to walk to the South Pole less slowly than some efficient Norwegians – ended on an amusing note last night.

At the halfway point, Cracknell’s body is wrecked. He has rotten, infected feet, asthma, and pneumonia in his left lung. He hacks disgustingly and flops about like a drunk. A medic at the checkpoint examines him in dismay. This prompts Fogle to come out and say: “It’s not good. At the moment I would rate James’s chance of carrying on the race tomorrow as….. fifty/fifty.”

Fifty fifty! Tis a mere flesh wound!

“Why on earth are they doing this?” asked Mrs Brit.

She was being rhetorical but I answered anyway: “The human condition, emptiness, comradeship. Because they’re public schoolboys. You know how it is: men are different. Nothing we do makes practical sense. Why do we get so worked up about playing cricket against Australians?”

Also self-loathing, self-love, meaningless patriotism and a longing for the days of the Gentleman Explorer. Only the idle upper classes have ever had the time and money to waste on becoming this kind of hero; you can’t do it for a living.

Except, strangely, that this is now Ben Fogle’s living. He and Cracknell have forged careers out of pretending to be Gentleman Explorers. The danger is real but not real: they have medics at the halfway stage and all the territory is charted. The pain is self-inflicted but serves no higher purpose other than entertainment. This leaves the viewer in the curious position of being able to watch somebody going through terrible physical suffering without being obliged to feel the least bit of sympathy.

9 comments:

Gaw said...

Has more in common with eating kangaroo testicles in the jungle than old fashioned exploring. They just seem total wankers.

Peter Burnet said...

...and a longing for the days of the Gentleman Explorer

Yes, there does seem to be something cultural about this. I'm not going to waste hours googling, but if memory serves these one/two-man treks through dangerous wildernesses are very English. Perhaps German, too. I know our rescue services in the Arctic and Rockies are frequently driven to apoplexy by the need to rescue unprepared, under-equipped north Europeans at great cost and sometimes danger. The Americans seem more likely to invent another crazy extreme sport, parlay it into a cable TV contract and then lobby to make it an Olympic event.

You should all listen to your mums and just settle down with a nice cup of tea.

The Old Batsman said...

I like the norwegian pursuers. Can't work out who's filming it though, sometimes you seem to see a camera rig reflected in their sunglasses, and sometimes they seem to be doing it themselves.

Anyway, they're doing it because it's there. And because it's on TV, and might even be a book.

David said...

It is genuinely sad that "uncharted territory" is now merely an abstract concept; a metaphor with no referent.

Gadjo Dilo said...

They going to walk there again? Do they never learn? Next episode: Across the Andes by Frog.

Brit said...

Heh heh - that was a classic, wasn't it Gadjo? My favourite Ripping Yarn was the worst football team in the world one, though.

Peter Burnet said...

David, I'm not so sure. If a particle physicist ever succeeded in pictoralizing The Landscape, might he not put "Here be Dragons" at the edges of our universe?

Sean said...

Ben Fogle would make a good tin tin?

Ice,snow, beard and snot dont look too good on TV. I prefer Top Gears trek to the magnetic North Pole, rifles, gin and tonic, and spam in a 4x4, now that was good telly.

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curious position of being able to watch somebody going through terrible physical suffering without being obliged to feel the least bit of sympathy.