Frost on my Moustache: The arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer
by Tim Moore
ISBN: 0 349 11153 7
The Lord of the subtitle is the First Marquess Dufferin, a Victorian
explorer who sailed in his own yacht from Scotland to Iceland, Norway,
Jan Mayen and Spitzbergen in 1856.
The loafer and author is a journalist whose wife is Icelandic; it was
she who came across a copy of Dufferin's account of his journey Letters
From High Latitudes in a secondhand bookshop, which inspired Tim
Moore to retrace his steps.
Here we have an hilarious account of the modern voyage. Setting off
from Grimsby in an Icelandic container ship, Moore's worst fears are
realised when they sail into gale force 7 conditions. He is not a good
sailor. You would not want to share a cabin with him. The unbearable
journey takes four days and one can't help but feel sorry for the poor
They dock at Reykjavik in glorious sunshine. Moore sets off on his
mountain bike, despite a painful twisted ankle: 'In the end it took
me an hour and a bit to pedal the 8 kilometres (including stupidity
detour) to my in-law's place.' He has a better insight into Iceland
than most travellers and isn't afraid to voice his opinion. 'I'm going
to get into trouble for saying this,' he says, 'but Reykjavik is not
lovely.' Brave man.
The next stage of the journey is by mountain bike across Iceland's
interior, together with his brother-in-law. This is when I really began
to like the author. He is not the intrepid, daring explorer of most
travel books, but an ordinary person who does some rather daft things.
And so ill-prepared for his cycle journey one wonders why he didn't
just turn back.
Why, oh why Moore chose to hitch a lift to Norway in a 62-foot Viking
boat I do not know. I don't think he did either. The boat was part of
a convoy returning from the bi-annual Viking Festival and the voyage
would take two weeks. Even his in-laws thought he was brave.
Of Norway he said many kind words, for which I award him extra brownie
points. From Bodø he boarded a military flight to Jan Mayen island,
not without its traumas. Another boat trip took the masochist to Spitzbergen.
Here he is tempted to do some climbing - in his cycling shoes. 'The
moss petered out; the gradient increased. After ten minutes or so I
found myself dropping to all fours, sometimes slipping slightly.' This
endeared me further, as I've had similar experiences myself. Peculiarly,
he tries again a day later with a couple of students; it ended with
him 'pledging never, ever to go for a walk with Norwegians again.' Well,
try wearing climbing boots next time.
Throughout the book references are made to Dufferin's personal record
and comparisons made with the two expeditions. Its historical content,
factual and honest account make this book interesting as well as entertaining.
As Sir Ranulph Fiennes remarks on the jacket, 'Tim Moore would probably
not be my first choice of companion for a rigorous polar expedition,
but I would pack his excellent book. Terrific fun.'
Reviewed by S.G.Servian