South. An enduring obsession

cherryI’m reading this at the moment. It’s a beautifully written biography of Apsely Cherry-Garrard, the youngest member of Scott’s fatal Antarctic expedition to be the first to the South Pole in 1911. I love a good icy exploration story, and it reminds me of my long standing obsession with the Shackleton Endurance story.

I first read South, Shackleton’s account of the expedition, in the 90’s. It was a bit of a desperation Christmas present buy for my partner at the time – I had never heard of it, but thought it sounded right up his street. And mine, what a coincidence. It was an absolutely engrossing read and after finishing it I insisted on sharing the story with everyone I knew, as excitedly as possible. If you already know the story you might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs. If not, here’s a summary.

Shackleton had already been on two Antarctic adventures, one with Scott and one which he led. After the British failure to be the first to the South Pole, it was considered that the last remaining ‘big trip’ in Antarctica would be to cross the continent from sea to sea. Shackleton began the shaky process of raising funds for this trip and was ready to depart just as the First World War began in 1914. Despite offering the services of his crew and ship for the war effort he was told by the king to ‘proceed’ and his ship The Endurance sailed for Antarctica. They arrived in the Weddell Sea in December 1914, by January the ship was trapped in the ice, frozen in place and unable to move. As the dark Antarctic winter set in, the crew set up quarters on the ship and remained there until the ice began to shift and break up as the spring arrived. Although there was an initial hope that they would now be able to sail closer to land, this was dashed as the ship, caught in the immense force of the breaking ice, was crushed and sank leaving the crew stranded on the drifting pack.

crushed(Hurley’s photo)

As part of the crew on the expedition, Shackleton had taken Australian photographer Frank Hurley to document the trip – recognising that then, as now, a good visual record of the journey would make for an enthralling and better paid lecture trip once the journey was over. Hurley’s photographic record of the expedition is still one of the great documentary photography accounts of all time. The crew removed as much as they could carry from the ship and as it was crushed in the ice Hurley went back on board to dive beneath the icy water to bring out as many of his photographic plates as he could rescue. He and Shackleton went though these and chose the 120 best ones to keep and carry on the rescue journey they were about to undertake. Hurley smashed the rest, saying that if they were intact he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop himself trying to get back to them, potentially putting himself and any others at risk. It seems crazy, in those desperate circumstances, to keep so many heavy glass photographic plates, but really it was an act of optimism – Shackleton knew that if they made it back to the UK, he would be in a much better position to make money from his story if it was accompanied by Hurley’s photographs. Part of the money he had raised was publishers’ advances on the sale of the story.

The crew of the Endurance camped on a drifting ice flow for two months hoping it would take them near one of the islands off the coast of Antarctica, but had to move as the ice was threatening to break up. They dragged their three life boats to a bigger ice flow and once more set up camp, killing the sledge dogs and the carpenter’s cat, Mrs Chippy, before they left, much to everyone’s distress. On this flow again they drifted further away from land until eventually the break up of the ice and the possibility of floating past any conceivable land forced them to take to the lifeboats. They reached Elephant Island after 5 days stressful, difficult rowing in tiny boats on 14th April 1916. They had spent over a year and a half in the extreme isolation of the Antarctic waters with no hope of rescue. Elephant Island was not on any shipping routes and Shackleton knew that to stand any chance of rescue they would have to try and reach the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 nautical miles away.

They prepared the biggest of the lifeboats, the James Caird, to undertake the exceptionally dangerous journey across one of the most turbulent seas in the world and Shackleton chose 5 of the men to take with him. They left the rest of the crew on a sliver of land at the edge of the inhospitable island, camped in a set up created from the upturned lifeboats and a range of canvas bits and pieces. Amazingly, the James Caird made it, in a misery of freezing saltwater and moulting reindeer skin, landing on the wrong side of South Georgia Island on the 9th May 1916. Shackleton, Crean and Worsley then made a 36 hour crossing of the mountainous interior of the island to arrive like some terrifying yetties at the South Georgia whaling station. It took him three more months to find a ship capable of getting through the ice surrounding Elephant Island to rescue the men. No one had died and only one member of the 28 strong party had lost any extremities to frost bite. It is really an astounding story, even by the standards of those times of ‘heroic’ exploration.


So, I have been embroiled in this story for a long time. Caroline Alexander’s beautiful book The Endurance came out in 1998, illustrated throughout by Hurley’s photographs. I bought it and the story became a little more well known again. My brother rang me up in the late 90s telling me he had been asked to make a soundtrack to an exhibition about Shackleton to be held at his old school, Dulwich College, did I know anything about him? We got off the phone an hour later and I cycled over to his work place to drop him off a copy of South. He was gripped too. The exhibition was excellent and the story was revived a little more. Alongside the James Caird, which was permanently now on display in the College, the exhibition also had a number of prints of Hurley’s photos. Now you can look up the photos on Google and can see them easily, but then, at the end of the 90s they were not so readily available for viewing and it was exciting to see them. I found out that a limited edition of some of these prints were on sale through a fine art gallery and when I received some London allowance work related back pay bonus I spent it on a print (it wasn’t a huge amount of money, just more than I would normally spend on something so ephemeral). So I have, hanging in my living room, an actual print taken from those original plates which Hurley rescued from the ship and carried on that long and dangerous journey. To a documentary photography fan and Endurance expedition devotee, this is mind blowing.

I decided to use this story in my previous job as a unit of work with year 8, thinking that they would be interested in the real life adventurous nature of it. Although I haven’t got a proper worked out unit to hand (it was a while ago and annoyingly I can’t find any of the resources) here are some of the things I did with it. To start I chose 6 of Hurley’s photos which roughly told the story and asked them to sequence them into a narrative, then write the story. I ran it on the board as a slideshow with a soundtrack of cracking ice which I had made for something else and can’t now find. We made a timeline of events – there’s a very good account of the story here,  with a timeline and map here.

I made biographies of some of the crew, using the information on this very useful site here. Students then had to embellish these and write a diary entry at the point when the ship sank , from the point of view of their chosen crew member. This PBS Nova site has extracts of Shackleton’s ski and motor-sledge expert, Thomas Orde-Lees’s diary in it’s original form which we didn’t use but would if I did this again. Because my students were all big dog fans, we also read about the Endurance dogs here. We created a wordwall of words to describe the Antarctic based on slideshow I put together of modern photos. The class had also read the play version of Frankenstein before we started this unit and were very taken with the image at the beginning and the end of Frankenstein chasing his monster across the ice – iciness was already in their heads.

wordfotoWe used the words to make Wordfotos using the I Pad app and some of Hurley’s original photos. They then had to use the words to write a final letter home which their crew member would keep on them in case of death, describing where they were and how they were feeling. And of course, we aged these with authentic looking tea for display. We also spent a bit of time measuring the room to see just how big the 23ft James Caird was. Not very big! Because of the nature of that job and my disorganisation, it wasn’t a very carefully worked out unit, however I really enjoyed teaching it and the most of the students produced some independent work which they were proud of.

The stories which mean something to us are important, I’m not sure what it says about me that many of mine are stories of survival in very extreme circumstances, but they’re worth sharing.

NB – there is a whole website of materials and lesson plans from Shackleton in Schools here, and the Shackleton 100 site here celebrating 100 years since the launch of the expedition – haven’t had a good look at this yet.


Supply teaching – a personal view

Rather annoyingly WordPress doesn’t let you embed videos into the post, I knocked this one together as described below. * horses Who, in their right mind would to do supply? I have spent this academic year ‘on supply’ and have loved it. For the previous year and a half I worked in a school in Special Measures. A victim of the cult of WWOD (What Would Ofsted Do), I had been broken. My sense of self as a teacher crushed under the boot of a dozen consultants, confused and befuddled by a dizzying array of ever changing policies and procedures, unable to get any momentum because of major half termly timetable changes. The cult never managed to rebuild me in its image, and as the summer started I realised I was going to have to stage an intervention and get myself out of its grasp. My dad had been diagnosed with dementia in New Zealand and I wanted to go and visit him, I was on a fixed term contract so simply had to decide not to apply for a full time job, rather than actually leave (I’m not sure I would have got a job there anyway). I decided to take a year out and go on supply. It was the best decision I could have made and has made me realise that I do want to stay in teaching, despite the drawbacks.

My first supply job was in a further ed college out in the countryside, as a support worker working with students with special needs. It was run partly on Steiner principles and included lots of craft based activity as well as horticulture and farming. I only agreed to work for one week as it was support work and not as well paid as teaching. I stayed for seven. I learnt how to turn a piece of wood on a pole laithe, how to make paper by hand, how to milk a cow (!) – it was like having occupational therapy but being paid for it. There were a few of us broken teachers on supply there, and in the beautiful English countryside we healed up. I found my confidence again, and was happy to give teaching another go when my agency offered me a three day a week long term post. It was great, a really well run, lovely place to work with excellent staff and really nice students. I went to New Zealand for 6 weeks, came back and went back there. I filled in the extra days with day to day work which is interesting – it’s mainly in special ed so a different set of challenges from mainstream supply. I like these challenges, but I won’t lie, I have also liked the lack of committment and the distance I have from the internal politics of each workplace. Everyone I have worked with has been helpful and friendly even when obviously rushed off their feet. I thank them for that.


There was a point, standing in the surf on another stunning NZ beach, when I thought about making this a lifestyle choice – supply teaching for most of the year, spending a month in Jan/Feb visting my extensive NZ family. Of course, I can’t afford to do that – although you might think supply is well paid, when you’re doing agency work it isn’t. And of course, those 3 months of desperately necessary  ‘holidays’ – are just 3 months of no pay. Not to mention the complete lack of any pension contributions. So I won’t be doing this long term. As we wend our way towards the end of the school year, the work has started drying up and I have realised that this was just a year out, a break from the misery of working in a school in SM. I feel rested and ready for action again, although obviously skint. I would recommend it to anyone who is feeling bruised and battered by teaching as a way of getting your mojo back – I’m looking forward again to getting stuck in and to being responsible. Let’s hope I feel the same this time next year!


* The ‘art’ bit * This video is a bit of an experiment with the trailers function on I Movie on the i pad. The music is from – where Moby lets indie film-makers and students use his music for free. I wanted to try this out too – you have to register and request permission to use it, but I think it would be a massively useful resource for Media students in particular looking for soundtrack music. Not sure it’s quite right for this, but it was knocked together in about an hour including getting the photos from my knackered old phone. Lots of educational potential.

In the Dog House

I moved into this house just over 10 years ago, and in the November held my first ever Totterdown Frontroom ‘event’ here. We decided to do In the Dog House – partly because me and my friend that I was doing it with both love dogs, and partly because I had a ‘thing’ I’d made as part of my MA about our family dog. This was an interactive piece made in Director, including sound, family photos and short video clips, with all of the members of my family sharing their memories of the dog. Interesting because they were very personal to us (and different from each others) but at the same time quite universal to anyone who has had a family dog. I am currently trying (without much success, or to be fair, much effort) to rebuild this Director thing in Flash to put it in its entirety on the web. It has a lot of content which will need to be streamed and that’s something I don’t know much about.dogs

We invited others to contribute dog related items and even had a couple of guest appearances from local dogs. It was great, very enjoyable to put together. We also put out a pad of post its and asked people to share their dog memories – just as an aside. In the end the post its became a big part of the ‘exhibition’ and people were coming specially to share their pics and memories. We kept them all and stuck them in a sketch book, which I have just found in the bank holiday clearout. With the magic of the CamScanner app + Flipsnack I’ve made it into a flipbook which hopefully you can view on any device. It’s partly an experiment to see how easy it is to do as I think it would make a good classroom exercise, however Flipsnack is a subscription only service if you want more than 3 books and it includes a watermark on the embed coded one so probably isn’t really viable. Also it would appear that I can’t embed it on this free WordPress blog, although if anyone knows otherwise please let me know. Here’s a link to it.

In the Dog House

If you have any dog related memories you’d like to share, feel free in the comments. But be nice!

Getting the hang of Pinterest

I liked the look of Pinterest – I like the fact that links are displayed visually on ‘boards’ which make it easy to see what they might be about. However, every time I tried to use it I got stuck. I’ve finally got the hang of it now, and am now not sure why I was having trouble. Anyway – this is how I do it, on I pad and on Chrome on PC.

I Pad

Install the Pinterest app on the i pad. This also installs the ‘pin it’ bookmarklet into Safari. When you find something on the Internet you want to pin, click on bookmarks, then ‘pin it’.

This brings up the Pinterest interface. You can choose the board you want to pin the link to or create a new one. Choose the image you want to pin. Write a description of the link, click ‘pin it’ and that’s it.

To save to Pinterest from Twitter, I click on a Twitter link, then open it in Safari, then pin using the above process. Although it’s not a one click solution, it does mean all those juicy useful Twitter links can be easily archived. The alternative I also use is to save to Pocket from Twitter, then at some later date go through the Pocket links and pin them using Chrome on my PC.

Chrome (it’s almost as if this has been planned!)

I use Chrome as my PC browser  however this is, I’m sure, also just as easy in Firefox. Pinning to Pinterest in Chrome is really simple. Install the Pinterest extension from the Chromestore and while you’re about it also install the Shotpin extension (more later). This installs a Pinterest pin icon on the toolbar and (from what I remember on first use) lets you associate this with your Pinterest account.


When you find a link you want to save you just click on the toolbar pin, choose the board you want to save to + write a description. If there are lots of images on a link page, you can choose which one you want to use as your pinned image.

This leads onto the problem with Pinterest – if there’s no image on a page it is more difficult to pin the link. For this I use Shotpin – also a Chrome extension. On the picture above its the less sophisticated pin next to the bookmarks star. It becomes active if you’re on a page which has no images to pin – click on it and you can select any part of the page as your image and save to Pinterest in the same way.


I think one of the things that confused me when I first started was that Pinterest shows you all the images on a page and you choose one as your ‘pinned’ image. Also, when I tried clicking on a link I’d saved it took me to a larger copy of the image and some info about the link – to get to the link itself you need to click again.

Rachel Jones @rlj1981 uses Pinterest with students as a research tool and has blogged about that here Rachel also has loads of good boards Mark Anderson @ictevangelist has written about ways teachers may use Pinterest here and also has loads of good boards There will be very many others – I haven’t been using it long and just use it as a means of social bookmarking which is nicer than Delicious.

My boards are  here – I particularly like the photography one, and there are some really useful links on the  Music Industry for Media Studies, most of which have come from tweets by various people.

Any suggestions for use, boards to follow etc, please leave a comment. Thanks for reading.