A Strange Approach To A True Tale

By Bernie Bell

We recently watched a television programme which we had recorded, called ‘The Secret Life of Ice’. It was on BBC 4 on the 5th April.  It was of great interest, in a number of ways.   So, I tried to find it on the BBC iPlayer, so that I could send a link to the John Rae Society – you’ll see why, later…….


It’s no longer available – probably  too long since it was actually on the telly – but I’m mentioning it, so that those who are interested, can watch out for it being on the telly again.

As the name implies, it’s mostly about ice……..something which fascinates me. It’s clear, but the action of light through it, produces colours – sometimes deep, rich, beautiful blues https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_ice_(glacial)

It’s liquid, but it ….isn’t.  It can become liquid again, very easily – even just with a bit of pressure, ice – melts. Then re-forms.  It preserves, but can destroy, by its scouring, grinding action.

The idea of bubbles in ice, absolutely fascinates/intrigues me.  Especially bubbles in very old ice.  Air, caught in ancient ice, and what that air might contain – like core samples, but air, not earth.  The air of that time, caught in the ice.  I love that idea.

Ice preserves. For good or ill.

The programme reminded me of some of what Robert MacFarlane writes of, in ‘Underland’  https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/07/08/down-down-deeper-and-down/ , where he discusses some of the things which emerge from ice, or which might emerge in the future, such as Camp Century https://www.wired.com/story/the-top-secret-cold-war-project-that-pulled-climate-science-from-the-ice/

Sometimes, things are purposely placed deep in ice, and  those who place them think they will be ‘preserved for eternity’. What a short-term view. Do they not look at the history of the earth?  How sea-bed becomes mountain, jungle becomes desert, mountain becomes valley or sea-bed?  Unbelievable.  Preserved for eternity – Pshaw. People do play fast and loose with the concept of ‘eternity’.

But back to the ‘The Secret Life of Ice’ television programme.  I wish, I wish, I could have caught it in time to place a link to it here. It was presented by Dr. Gabrielle Walker, who….presents – she doesn’t pontificate, she doesn’t over-emphasise or over-simplify.  She doesn’t speak to us as though we are five-year-olds, or as though we all have Doctorates! She …presents….information, a lot of information, and ideas. I was hoping she might present more television programmes, but, I think she has a niche area of study – so, maybe not.  I’ll watch out for her, as she has a refreshing way of …presenting.

Towards the end of the programme, she included some very interesting material about the bodies of some of the Franklin Expedition being found, preserved in ice .  It’s a rather strange interpretation of it all, with no mention of the Good Doctor (John Rae).  The programme contains much of interest anyway, but for someone with an interest in John Rae, the bit about the Franklin Expedition, adds something extra. https://secretsoftheice.com/news/2019/10/28/franklin-expedition/

I’ll mention that I think that what they did with the remains of the people they found, is wrong, all wrong. If you’re dealing with a culture which doesn’t mind what happens to the body, once the spirit has gone, fair enough – but, these people were from a culture (Victorian England) which very much believed that when you were buried, you should stay buried, and be shown respect. It even showed one of the headstones, with ‘Sacred to the memory of….’ carved on it – didn’t that give them pause for thought?

The burials weren’t even from a very long time ago.

That’s just my view of disrespect in the name of science – which happens far too often.

Andrew Appleby, President of the John Rae Society, has made a sculpture of the two John’s – Rae & Franklin – in which Mr Franklin look uncannily like a portrait which was featured in the television programme.

The Two Johns Andrew Appleby

The Two Johns by Andrew Appleby

For more general info. about John Rae/the Franklin Expedition and The Hall of Clestrain, you could go to the John Rae Society website   https://www.johnraesociety.com/   or read some previous articles in The Orkney News  https://theorkneynews.scot/?s=John+Rae

The story continues, and spreads…………

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3 replies »

  1. PS
    We were talking with someone today – 31st May 2020, who reminded us that it is 175 years, to the day – 31st May 1845, since the ships ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ stopped off at Stromness to stock up on supplies, and men, before setting off on the Franklin expedition to try to find the North-west Passage.
    Our chum’s mind was full of this, as he is presently reading the book ‘Erebus’ by Michael Palin



  2. Ice, melts. Permafrost, thaws. Pipe lines, shift.

    We have to work with nature – that’s what John Rae learnt from the Inuit.

    I need to stop thinking about the ramifications of this. There’s just too much happening at the present time. How much time do we have?

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