And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

17 March

1792
William Bagshaw Stevens,
teacher

‘Drank Tea at Spilsbury’s. Dalrymple there. Much conversation upon the Slave Trade. Dalrymple and Dodsly defended the Trade strongly upon the ground of Policy. I cannot but think that the Policy which disclaims honesty, humanity and religion is not the policy of a Good Man or a Great Minded Nation; but the Policy of a Thief, a Highwayman, and a Murderer.’

A disappointed man

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1861
Edmond de Goncourt,
writer

‘Flaubert said to us today: ‘The story, the plot of a novel is of no interest to me. When I write a novel I aim at rendering a color, a shade. For instance, in my Carthaginian novel, I want to do something purple. The rest, the characters and the plot, is a mere detail. In Madame Bovary, all I wanted to do was to render a grey colour, the mouldy colour of a wood-louse’s existence. The story of the novel mattered so little to me that a few days before starting on it I still had in mind a very different Madame Bovary from the one I created: the setting and the overall tone were the same, but she was to have been a chaste and devout old maid. And then I realized that she would have been an impossible character.’

Journal des Goncourt

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1955
Kenneth Williams,
actor and writer

‘The business of actually sustaining a performance night after night is peculiarly difficult for me: my temperament seems so against it. I am by nature erratic - given to enthusiasm which wane after a time; quick to grasp the bones of a subject, slow to develop them.’

Carry on carping

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1988
Theodore M. Hesburgh,
priest and administrator

‘Singapore is the world’s busiest harbor. Over 30,000 ships call here each year, with one leaving every ten minutes. Singapore was literally nothing until the visionary Sir Stamford Raffles arrived here in 1819 and got the ruling sultan to allow the British East India Company to establish a trading post at the mouth of the Singapore River. A few years later, the British had control of the whole island.

Singapore enjoys the second-highest standard of living in the Orient after Japan. Of the total population of 2.5 million, 77 percent are Chinese, 16 percent Malay, and 5 percent Indian. About 1 percent are Eurasians. The main languages here are Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil (spoken in southern India and parts of Sri Lanka).

Our tour today began with a ride through downtown streets full of high rises and luxury hotels. Because of the scarcity of land, 85 percent of the population here lives in high-rise apartments. Over 60 percent of the population is under the age of twenty. The average family here has about two children. As one goes over the long causeway, one can look to the right (eastward) to the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. To the left (westward) is the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca.

Our first stop was the old palace of the Sultan of Johore (presently king of Malaysia). It makes the White House look like an outhouse. We then visited the mosque, always a major landmark in any Muslim country. Here the Muslims make up about 55 percent of the total population. We visited a rubber plantation, where we saw the rubber flowing from the trees. Then we went to a rubber factory to see how they form the latex into big white blocks of rubber. From there we moved on to visit plantations where they grow cacao, coffee, bananas, and palms for palm oil.

After lunch at a Holiday Inn in Johore Bahru, we stopped at a memorial to those who were killed in World War II, then went back to the ship for Mass. I had Liam O’Murchu, alias Bill Murphy, give a homily in honor of St. Patrick. Bill is the only authentic Irishman on board, so I thought he should do the talking. I’m only half Irish, and Ned is in Katmandu. Anyway, Bill gave a great homily.’

To smell the roses

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1998
David Kim Hempleman-Adams,
explorer

‘We need to get to 84°10' North as soon as possible and get the airline companies lined up for an immediate resupply. I have decided that we might as well go for a resupply as soon as possible, while we know the weather is clear. Our fuel will run out in two days and the last thing we want is to spend three or four days hanging around waiting for the plane to come in. There is no point in having a resupply before we reach 84°10' North. We will have heavy sledges again after stocking up on new food rations, so if the resupply comes in any earlier it will defeat its whole purpose.

I budgeted for fifteen days on the first leg, but did not think for a moment we would be so far north by them. According to my initial plan we were scheduled to reach 84° 10' on day twenty-four, so we are ahead by around ten days. It is a delicate balance: every mile further north is nearer the Pole before the thaw starts, but the further north we go the more the air companies will charge us for the resupply. We will need to move very fast on the second leg to reach 86° 30', another 150 miles, by 15 April. This next third of the trip will be critical.

Our immediate concern is to start looking for a pan for the plane to land on, not an easy feat in the ice conditions we have encountered so far. I really thought the rubble would have ended by now and we would be on a succession of long, wide ice pans, interrupted by the occasional pressure ridge. The ice this year is different to any other I have experienced and my plans are in danger of being shot down.

Even today we do not encounter a single sizeable pan. It is bitterly cold with rubble all the way. It is staggering how we manage to cover six miles with our skis on and off every few minutes. In some spots it takes both of us to lift one sledge through the rubble. For over an hour it is one forty-foot ridge after another. It’s a very heavy workout, like doing six hours in the gym; we are really pushing it and I have to grit my teeth and dig deep.

I have a huge frostbite blister on my thumb and my toe is still causing me problems, made worse by the backbreaking conditions. I have now discovered that I also have some small spots of frostbite on my knee, brought on by kneeling down whenever I need to take off my skis, which in these conditions is frequently. My boot is still damaged and is secured to my ski by a length of wire. If my bindings were able to hold my boot I would normally simply push my ski pole down on the binding to release my boot; now I have to kneel down on one knee, pull up the clip and take the wire off the back of the boot. This tedious process makes my hands and left knee very cold, and I have to repeat it when we get to the other side of the rubble or pressure ridge.

We are in the middle of all this crap and I am worried about finding a landing strip - it seems ridiculous. Tonight I will radio for a resupply for tomorrow and hope we can find a landing strip in the meantime. It is a dangerous gamble because we will still have to pay for the flight if the plane has to turn back. [. . .]

At the end of the day we have covered six miles, extremely good considering it was the worst rubble so far on this expedition, and we are only a mile short of 84° 10' North. Last year we would have been happy to manage two miles in such conditions.’

Walking on thin ice

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In general, these diary extracts are quoted as given in the published (book or online) source referred to in the reference articles. Each extract may be all, a large part of, or a small part of the complete entry for that day. I have tried to indicate where text has been removed from within a quote by the use of trailing dots in square bracket.

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