Souther than South West: five years on

Five years ago today. Blimey! Stepping on the train at Woking station, we were never the same again. South West Trains has that effect on a lot of people, but for most, it is some other reason than their destination is Antarctica.

In these post-Fiennes days, calling our little adventure an “Antarctic Odyssey” seems rather grand for what we actually did: sailing on a research vessel to and along the Antarctic Peninsular from the southern tip of South America, not even making it to the Antarctic Circle (quite), but to quote the cornerstone of nepotism, it’s all relative.

The relatives in question being, of course, Cim and her brother Jonas. And me, I’m a relative I suppose. If our trip would be considered one small step for Fiennes-kind, it was a very large step for a kidney transplantee, Cim (and the rest of us), and the more I think about it, the more the “odyssey” didn’t end when we stepped off a different South West Train and back into our reality.

An Antarctic "odessey" begins with South West Trains

March 2008: an Antarctic “odessey” begins with South West Trains

If you have followed the blog of old, you will know this: “working” for the Transplant Trust, going to 10 Downing Street, championing the cause of the Organ Donor campaign… If you’re new, that stuff is here, right up to about August 2010, which coincides with my starting a beer, whisky and food blog,

The hiatus also coincided with the loss of my hand-written travelogue, but since that has now turned up (OK I admit: tidying up is a good idea), perhaps it’s time to fill in some blanks. There are unwritten accounts both from our trip and what has happened since. But one day I will write, “It was twenty years ago today.” So, the biggest question for me is: Now what?

The Hjärta is delivered

The Hjärta has landed! Anders Jonasson of the Box Whisky, the Swedish malt whisky company hands over the bottle of Highland Park “Hjärta” to Cim in Östersund. This special bottle of whisky is a gift from Cim and me to Cim’s brother Jonas, to ceebrate the five years since Jonas donated a kidney to Cim.

The Highland Park Hjärta arrives in Östersun

Anders Jonasson hands over the Hjärta to Cim

The Hjärta, which means “heart” in Swedish, is a limited edition bottling for the Nordic market and seemed like the perfect choice for Jonas. You’d think, being made for Swedes it would be easy to get hold of in Sweden. Oh no…

In fact, this bottle was imported to Norway by the drinks company Maxxium, and bought for us by Jonathan di Blasi of Leikanger, Norway. Jonathan’s colleague Thomas drove it to Stockholm, handed it over to Angela d’Orazio of Mackmyra Whisky. She gave it to Tore Forsgren, who was driving north for Christmas, however, not to Östersund.

Luckily, through Angela’s whisky connections, she contacted Anders Jonasson who’s mum lives in the same street as Jonas, and he was driving up from Kramfors to Östersund, just at the point where he could make the pick-up from Tore. So, finally on 29 December, the prized, and much-driven bottle eventually finds its way to Jonas, who promptly declared it was too precious to drink. Of course, I was not going to listen to that!

See the beginning of the story:

Tactical Nuclear Penguin: The World’s Strongest Beer and The Ultimate Antarctic Beverage?

We interrupt our usual broadcasts to bring you news of something that actually involves Antarctica. Well, penguins anyway. Oh alright, two Scots dressed as penguins. But hey! It’s a world record claim involving a malt-based beverage, and as long-term Antarctic Odyssey readers will know, I claim the record for the world’s southernmost whisky tasting.

The fabulously hip Scottish brewery BrewDog has this week announced a new limited edition beer: Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which they claim is the world’s strongest beer at a whopping 32% ABV. As well as being so hip they have difficulty seeing over their pelvis, they do make exceedingly good beer. I’m a fan, and even at an eye-popping £30 for a bottle, I couldn’t resist.

BrewDog James and Tactical Nuclear Penguin

BrewDog James and friend unveil world's strongest beer: Tactical Nuclear Penguin

So, why talk about beer in a week that brought us an in-depth look from Radio 4 at the problems of the lack of organs for transplants? I’m not going to; I’ll leave the beer talk this time to the BrewDog guys. Go to their blog and watch the video, it gives the lowdown on Tactical Nuclear Penguin. And it’s very funny.

So, no beer tasting notes from me, there is another reason for this post, inspired by the thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to drink Tactical Nuclear Penguin to Antarctica?” You see, there’s a reason BrewDog has risen meteorically: they think big and they market themselves fantastically. If our Antarctic Odyssey has taught me anything it’s Dare Big And Dare Sooner. Whether I’ve learnt that lesson is another matter.

Which leads me to think it’s time for a new adventure. There is another trip down south organised by Australian explorer Peter Bland, with whom we travelled before. It’s in February, which is big dare but perhaps too long a shot in too short a time. How about taking the Penguin to the Arctic? We’ve talked about doing a North Pole trip with our Transplant friends, again for The Transplant Trust. One said it needn’t just be kidneys, it could be a mixed grill. I still fancy Antarctica, but we could at least go for the wolrd’s most northerly beer tasting. Who’s up for it?

Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog on Vimeo.

Shackleton’s Whisky Stash Found

If you’ve been on this blog before, you might be aware of my claim to the World’s southernmost whisky tasting, from our trip to Antarctica in March 2008. It seems the pioneer Ernest Shackleton was tasting whisky on the continent nearly 100 years before me.

According to this article in the Global Post, “Polar explorers of that era relied on their alcohol of choice to help them and their crews through the long Antarctic nights and insomnia-inducing days.”

Two cases of Mackinlay’s blended Scotch whisky were found at Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royd by conservators from the New Zealand Antarctica Heritage Trust. The question they’re asking is what will it taste like now? According to Richard “The Nose” Paterson, master blender, if the bottles’ seals are unbroken, they’d taste much as they did in 1909.

That’s all very interesting and historical, but I don’t think Shackleton’s drams constituted a whisky tasting. My claim still stands!

Read the full story here.

An “Ordinary” Job: Making Someone “Supernormal”

The best description I have heard of Cim so far: “Supernormal”. Dr Malcolm Brown of  Astellas Pharmaceuticals came up with that during our presentation on 3 July at the Staines-based pharmaceutical company, near Heathrow. Astellas is the company that makes Prograf, the anti- rejection drug Cim has taken ever since her kidney transplant in December 2004.

Out on the road again with the Transplant Trust charity in advance of National Transplant Week, and an opportunity to give our talk “From Dialysis to Antarctica” – albeit in short form. It’s great to get out there and show people how well Cim is – it’s part of our way of putting something back.

Dr Brown is a former transplant surgeon himself and used this Learning Lunch to introduce the topics of  transplantation to an audience within Astellas that included the transplant side and others. We had an audience of  about 70 Astellas employees volunteering to spend their lunch hour finding out what the Company does in the world.

We were far from the only draw: Vashti Poole talked about the Transplant Trust and there were some very touching videos about the contribution the medication that Astella produces makes to the lives of transplant patients and also the sponsorship Astellas is involved in with foundations such as Tackers, who make possible a skiing holiday for groups of teenage transplant kids.

Very encouraging for us to hear back from Astellas staff  about how seeing a real live former kidney patient has benefited from their products. Somebody said what sometimes seems like an “ordinary” job is given a different perspective when you see how as an employee, they have contributed to the real difference their company has made.

120 Degrees of Separation: Whisky at 55° 42′ N

Whisky Tasting: 55° 42′ N, originally uploaded by maltjerry.

The second leg of the “World’s Most Latitudinally Separated Annual Whisky Tasting” in The Bishops Arms, Lund, Sweden. Latitude 55° 42′ N.

Present: Helen, Rickard, Brian, Jerry and Ron. Photo taken by cj.

The first leg was offshore from Vernadsky Base, Antarctica, March 18 2008. Latitude 65° 15′ S. As Ron pointed out, that is 120 degrees of separation. Can anyone beat that?

We tasted Scapa 14 yo, Talisker 175, and Ardbeg Uigeadail.

Brian doesn’t usually drink whisky, saying the time he tasted one he liked was in 1993. Very gamely taking part in this tasting, he professed to being seriously impressed by the Uigeadail. I’d say “knocked out” but that could be taken the wrong way.

Celebrating Four Years

An even longer while since I was last spotted here, but I couldn’t miss marking today, as it’s the fourth anniversary of Cim receiving a kidney from her brother.

I’m just really happy that we’ve had our lives changed immeasurably by Jonas’ generosity and I hope he enjoys  the whisky we’ve had secreted in the back of his daughter’s wardrobe since September. Thanks again, Jonas. You are my hero.

We received a DVD in the post from the company that we went with to Antarctica, and it prompted me to look through our photos from the trip.  Here’s a couple:

Camping on Antarctica

Camping on Antarctica

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica