I know, gone missing again, for far too long this time but once again the world seems to have managed without me!!
Of course, while I trust you realise that comment is not to be taken seriously, the sheer irrelevance of my life in the overall passage of time has been put squarely into perspective by a recent visit to some icebergs and glaciers, not to mention a couple of hundred thousand penguins! And by holding a lump of ice that could well have been more than 80,000 years old.
In between trying to sound intelligent and knowledgable about such topics as China, finance, the Middle East, plus anything else that takes my fancy actually - I do take holidays from time to time. Us retired people are supposed to do that and it's a concept with which I am in total agreement, even if I don't always follow my own advice - but I digress.
I have just come back from an amazing trip down to the Antarctic Peninsula; the South American side of it rather than the New Zealand side where a Russian ship is currently stuck fast. So much for global warming, perhaps!!
I don't really have enough space in a Blog like this to write pages and pages of detail, but what I want to convey to any interested readers is the fact that for once in my life and I am in total awe of nature, and of the people immersed in it.
I have been on cruises before. Visited places from the comfort of a ship, eaten too much, occasionally listened to lectures given by people of varying competence, enthusiasm and relevance, be entertained ... you get the picture. But this was something totally different.
This was described as an Expedition - and so it was. Zodiac Landing Craft at 5 a.m. - on holiday??!! Penguins? If you had shown me a picture of an upright bird that walks funnily 6 weeks ago I could have told you it was a penguin. Now, if it comes from the Anatarctic I can probably tell you what sort of penguin it is. Unless you have walked on ice, stared out a fur seal that was getting a little too close for comfort, marvelled at a battle between a pair of elephant seals, or watched a "pack" of Orcas hunt down a Minke whale - you perhaps won't understand my enthusiasm.
But doing this in the company of an expedition team that were hugely knowledgable, fun to be with, and could talk about glaciers, penguins and seals, birds, botany, whales, krill - yes, even krill for goodness sake, old whaling stations and Ernest Shackleton - and make it sound completely fascinating, was as good as it gets. Oh, and climate change was on the agenda of course. Global warming is not a term that the team used often, but climate change was the buzzword because it is not just about the temperatures. It's about ecology, food supplies (krill again), where the creatures of the sea are having to look for food that is becoming more scarce, and how they adapt - or are not in some cases. Learning why the Antarctic needs to be preserved as far as possible, leading to closely monitored and controlled visits to the region by small expedition ships - and in danger of being upset by jet set tourists who want to pay huge sums of money to fly in and fly out so they can say been there - done that; tick the box!
And the fellow expeditioners; by and large friendly, unstuffy and wholly participative - of many nationalities and ages - from a young Finnish boy of 18, to a couple of Americans from Hawaii in their mid 80s who joined in every single thing going - including in the case of one of them a 7km hike through snow and ice. And a great bunch, Chinese and a Malaysian, from Hong Kong too.
And all around you, certainly once you were down on the Peninsula, was nature in the raw. Glaciers of the most amazing colours, containing water that had been trapped for thousands of years.
Wild life that you will not see anywhere else. A realisation that explorers like Shackleton (and if you ever want to read a gripping story of human endeavour - read Alfred Lansing's book "Endurance; Shackelton's Incredible Voyage") were truly men of steel. And you meet some of the people who live in the various research camps. A team from Argentina who spend a year in their camp - Esperanza - families included, and four girls in Port Lochroy who do four months at a time - and all totally reliant on the odd cruise ship to bring supplies.
It was totally fascinating, it was also a sense of achievement and it has heightened my awareness of the world in which we live. Of course we all recognise the need to be ecologically friendly, and we read the arguments for and against climate change - but we don't all do much else about it, preferring perhaps to leave it to others. This won't do any more, at least not for me. Not now I understand more about the long term effects of our action (or inaction), and the legacy we are likely to leave our children and grandchildren.
Add to that, there are now so many more places to go and explore, to understand them better. The bucket just got a lot deeper.