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.