The Antarctic Alphabet is a series of micro-essays and prose poems, meditations inspired by my voyage to Antarctica in 2016 . Some (B to H, if you are curious) I wrote during the trip. Most have been written with the benefit of internet access, the ability to load photographs and without any seasickness involved.

The series is still evolving; once complete I hope to find a way to publish it with illustrations and photographs and maybe make performances as well. Each entry in the alphabet has cropped up in order since I first posted in February 2016. So far I have reached Q.  At N I decided it was time to gather the pieces together. I have therefore connected them all here, with links to the original posts. I have written them in alphabetical order, but you can read them in any order you like, or even make words from them.

A is, of course, for Antarctica, and also for Alexandra. Ensorcelled and spellbinding, white screens for our vaunting imagations  https://sailingtoantarctica.com/writers/a-is-for-an-antarcticalphabet/crane_exitpanorama


B is for borders: the contested and invisible world of national boundaries in the maze of the Straits.IMG_0458

C is for Capes, and convergence: places of wreckage and rounding. Drakes passage

D is for degrees (and, inevitably, for death), the latitude and longitude of mortality. Memento mori

E is for Europa, and for Europe. Written before the UK referendum, my support for the EU ideals is undiminished. HTB1ydvVHFXXXXaGXXXXq6xXFXXX1

F is for fur: driver of the get-rich-quick fantasy, the gold and oil of early Antarctic explorationFur. https://sailingtoantarctica.com/journey-blogs/antarcticalphabet-f-fur/

G is for geography and the genetic analyses which confound the maps. Human genome

H is for home, that contested, blurred vision on the horizon. Hearth and heart and home, the place we yearn to belong. moon earth blue marble_www.wallpaperhi.com_83

I is for ice, and the islands already vanishing as the ice strains and cracks. P1240674

J is for Jabberwock: the monster of dreams and mutation modelled by Carroll on Darwin's southern insights. 

The Jabberwocky (Tenniel)

The Jabberwocky (Tenniel)

K is for kelp and krill, fundamental parts of life on earth. P1250502

L is for language, the betrayals of understanding and rage visited on the Babelised nations of the UK, the harbinger of international disintegration which can only jeopardise Antarctica.Bransfield strait chart. https://sailingtoantarctica.com/journey-blogs/antarcticalphabet-l-language/

M is for migration, and life on Mars. Penguins build no boats to put their children in when the water becomes safer than the land. 15-195_perspective_2

N is for navigation, for the nostalgia of the good old days when uncertainty was a way of life, not a monster in the corner. Mattang stick chart

73979.ngsversion.1422284353225.adapt.1900.1O is for oil, the black gold of fantasy. O is for opening oceans, the vanishing ice and shifting geopolitics of polar regions.


At P we can allow ourselves to be political. Let us sound the battle-cry for #penguinrights. Suppose penguins took us humans to court for destroying their habitat? Suppose they won?

Penguins on the march at Right Whale Bay, South Georgia #penguinrights

Q is for question: the heart of the scientific method. Query Island, in Mikkelsen Bay was named in honour of that basic principle. In today's post truth, feel the feelz world, let's stand up for the hard questions for science.

R is for Rope The rhythm of coils passed hand to hand, or turned upon the deck in line with the lay. Wrapped round and hung, ready to hand, on pins and cleats, belayed and standing-by for work. Rope is part of the trinity of sail and hull harnessing the wind. Rope is magic and hard reality. The lay of the strand, wire rope or cable, is the direction in which the helix of the wires orbit the core. 


S is for sight: sight, language, reference and memory are contingent, rely on our agreement to shared understandings. Does what I see differ from what you see? The interior experience of vision is as unknown as the inside of the sun, reflected through our words and experience, measured abstractly by ever more specialised machinery. How do we know we share meaning: is grue real?


T is for Treaty. If the Treaty dies, the continent dies. When treaties are broken, people die. Treaties are agreements between those sovereign figments of our collective imagination, the nation-state. The Antarctic is different, but the same.

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