Adélie penguins are really rather super groovy. And how do we know – have we ever met one? Nope, but we have read about them extensively and we really would like to own one! This is not, of course, to besmirch our beloved office pet; Chinese Dwarf hamster Beans. She is also really excellent, but we shall praise her another day, as today is Adélie Penguin day!
So how did we discover these gargantuan monsters? I (Mr. Wapojif) read an excellent travel book in 2010 called The Worst Journey in the World, by one Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Dramatic name, non, both in title and in author name? Yes, we can confirm no cherries were harmed in the making of this book (called “the best travel book ever” by some), and whilst the still rather dead Marco Polo would perhaps dispute this claim, at least The Worst Journey brought to my attention a beast of impossible coolness. The Adelie Penguin.
The Worst Journey in the World is about Captain Robert Scott’s fateful journey to the South Pole, which ended in tragedy in 1912. Any British readers wanting to ignore the tedium of the Queen’s celebrations or the Olympics can see many of the missions’ artifiacts in London during the course of this year.
Cherry-Garrad was a young (24) man who joined the mission (to reach the South Pole first – Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s team beat them to it) and would write the book a number of years later. After the First World War. That’s right, he was part of the team to reach the South Pole and then fought in the rather hellish First World War, then wrote a vast, 200,000 word travel book about the former experience! This boy was clearly something special. He also documented the Adélie Penguins extensively in his book, recalling numerous incidents with the beasts. He observed they were, “extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children or like old men, full of their own importance.”
Captain Scott found the little beings annoying and regarded them as “fatuous”. He was particularly irritated by how the penguins would leap up onto the ice floes where Scott and his team were going about their duties, “From the moment of landing on their feet their whole attitude expressed devouring curiosity and a pig-headed disregard for their own safety. They waddle forward, poking their heads to and fro in their usually absurd way, in spite of a string of howling dogs straining to get at them. ‘Hulloa!’ they seem to say, “here’s a game – what do all you ridiculous things want?” And they come a few steps nearer. The dogs make a rush as far as their harness or leashes allow. The penguins are not daunted in the least, but their ruffs go up and they squawk with semblance of anger.” This did lead to the demise of numerous Adélie penguins who took a step too far, but these little flightless birds were not at all daunted by the sight of a slobbering dog baying to get at them.
Cherry-Garrard noted one incident where a luckyAdélie got away with being torn to shreds; “Meares and Dimitri exercised the dog-teams out upon the larger floes when we were held up for any length of time. One day a team was tethered by the side of the ship, and a penguin sighted them and hurried from afar off. The dogs became frantic with excitement as he neared them: he supposed it was a greeting, and the louder they barked and the more they strained at their ropes, the faster he bustled to meet them. He was extremely angry with a man who went and saved him from a very sudden end, clinging to his trousers with his beak, and furiously beating his shins with his flippers.”
These daring, or obstinate, characteristics lead Cherry-Garrard to hold the birds in great regard, “Whatever [an Adélie] penguin does has individuality, and he lays bare his whole life for all to see. He cannot fly away. And because he is quaint in all that he does, but still more because he is fighting against bigger odds than any other bird, and fighting always with the most gallant pluck.” So all praise to the wonderful Adélie penguins – surely if humans could be as inquisitive and groovy as these little beasts the world would be a better place! And, also, seeing as Britain’s in the news at the moment it would be good to sing the praises of Captain Scott and his crew, in particular Apsley Cherry-Garrard who provided this most dramatic, and pedantic, account of their positively insane journey.
*All quotes from The Worst Journey in the World (Apsley Cherry-Garrard – Picador – 2001 version).