dreaming of a colder country
Today has been an un-achieving day. When we went to get younger son ready for school, we found him still fast asleep, which is almost unheard of. My husband carried him through to our bed, and there he lay, looking pale and wan and complaining that everything ached (‘even my toes are aching’). Yes, there is a bug going through the school, and it has reached us. After he was sick while getting dressed, I realised that we were in for a very quiet day at home. So son has spent most of today lying on the sofa, watching DVDs and looking wabbit. (That’s not a bunny with a speech impediment, but a good Scots word that means something like ‘pale and feeble’.) And his mother has spent the day trying, but failing, to get much done in between tending to the invalid.
Now, there are certain rules that apply to poorly children, as any parent will know, and anyone else will no doubt remember from their own childhood. (I’m talking about a child with a bug, nothing worse.) Rule number one is, they always throw up on the soft furnishings, don’t they, never in the loo or the bucket? Yup, I’ve inflicted this rule on my own mum in my time, and now I am the one snapping on the rubber gloves and reaching wearily for the scrubbing brush.
Luckily, rule number two is that children always look especially sweet and precious when they are feeling rotten. This means that the parent will find them adorable even as they are throwing up on the carpet. Nevertheless, it’s a relief that small son is now at the tetchy convalescent stage: recovered just enough to be bored of having no energy. Funny how one can welcome the return of a bit of cheekiness.
Anyhoo, since I have been stuck at home on nursing duty, my mind has been free to wander today. And it has wandered to thoughts of possible future holidays. In Greenland. Yes, I am dreaming of escaping the cold Scottish winter to a holiday in the Arctic. No, really, it does make sense. Let me explain.
Well, firstly, I love it when it’s cold and dry outdoors. Admittedly, it doesn’t often get properly cold here in Scotland – it’s not like living in Manitoba or Outer Mongolia – but my favourite weather of the past year was when it was ten or more degrees below freezing, with blue skies and powdery snow. As long as, crucially, you have the appropriate clothing, cold is fine. I prefer mucking about in the snow to sweating self-consciously on a hot beach any day. (And motherhood means that snow gear is rather more suited to my figure than a bikini.)
And then there’s the pull of the North. While my poor husband is longing for Mediterranean sunshine and la dolce vita, I have succeeded in persuading the family into (wonderful) summer holidays in Orkney and Denmark in the past two years. The last time we went to anywhere that might reasonably be called Southern Europe was circa 2003. It’s not that I haven’t loved previous visits to France, Germany, Italy and so on…but there is so much to discover to the north of the Scottish mainland, about which I know comparatively so little. Shetland is on my fantasy holiday agenda; so is Fair Isle, and Norway, and Lapland. Places that do not figure in every weekend travel supplement. I am intrigued by the clean air and big skies, the history of human and animal migrations, the flora and bird-life of the far north, at once familiar and strange to a Scot. And so, watching a good programme last night about life in Greenland and other parts of the Arctic (‘Human Planet: Arctic – Life in the Deep Freeze’, BBC1), it was inevitable that I should be inspired to find out more about Greenland. ‘When you’ve seen the world,’ runs the saying, ‘there’s always Greenland.’
One thing for which I would not be going to Greenland is the food. The programme’s depiction of the Inuit delicacy kiviaq (seabirds fermented inside a seal carcass) was enough to put me off my scrambled eggs. As long as I could stick to reindeer venison, berries and fish, I should be fine. The wildlife, on the other hand, initially looks cosily recognisable to a Scot: Greenland, like the Highlands, has ptarmigan, mountain hares, white-tailed eagles and reindeer. But it also has narwhals – narwhals! whose tusks were once mistaken for unicorn horns – and it is a home to that itinerant symbol of the Arctic, the polar bear. Actually, I would not be sorry if I never came within sight of a polar bear. It’s probably safer for the bear, and certainly safer for the human, if our two species keep well away from each other. But just knowing that they are on the same land mass..!
There are several travel companies who arrange guided tours in Greenland for greenhorns like me. Many of them include the option of a trip by dog-sled. Imagine bundling the children up in sealskins and snuggling down together under reindeer furs for a dog-sled ride across the ice sheet. Imagine the colours of the sea ice seen from a boat, or the deep silence of the snows on the ice sheet, or watching the darkness lit up by the aurora borealis. What an unforgettable experience it would be for the children – and indeed for their parents.
We may never get there. It would be a very expensive trip, I think, and the lure of southern sun might prove stronger for the rest of the family. But this January, dreaming about the Arctic is keeping me warm.