The Two-Headed Whale by Sandy Winterbottom

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THE BLURB

In 2016, Sandy Winterbottom embarked on an epic six-week tall-ship voyage from Uruguay to Antarctica. At the mid-way stop in South Georgia, her pristine image of the Antarctic was shattered when she discovered the dark legacy of twentieth-century industrial-scale whaling, enraged by what she found, she was quick to blame the men who undertook this wholesale slaughter. But then she stumbled upon the grave of an eighteen-year-old whaler from Edinburgh who she could not allow to bear the brunt of the blame. There are two sides to every story.

The Two-headed Whale brings vividly to life the spectacular scenery and wildlife of the vast Southern Ocean, set alongside the true story of Anthony Ford, the boy in the grave, and he sailed the same seas and toiled in an industry where profits outranked human life. This compelling account challenges our preconceptions of the Antarctic, weaving in themes of colonialism, capitalism and its link to both environmental and human exploitation. Drawing together threads of nature and travel writing with an unflinching narrative of life onboard a whaling factory ship and the legacy it left behind, The Two-headed Whale leaves us questioning our troubled relationship with the extraordinary abundance of this planet.

WHAT I LEARNED

I am a lifelong sea glass collector, I have jars of the stuff on the window ledges, little special pieces planted around the house, and can often find a rogue piece in a coat pocket I haven’t worn for a while. It never fails to make me smile. It makes my simple heart happy to see that in the houses of anyone I have spent time on the shore with now live glass jars or vases with the start of sea glass collections. And the joy when you find a perfect piece, years in the making, and you can’t help but wonder where it started and where it’s been. For me hours can be spent searching, the worries and stresses of life ebbing away with every passing second. Try it – one of life’s simplest pleasures.

I think this is one of those quotes that will mean different things to different people depending on what’s happening in your life at the moment of reading. For me just now there’s a wee bit of stress and challenge that I would give anything to have the sun and rain of the shore bleach away and fade out for a while…but that’s just my take at this particular moment. There’s so much more you could take from this passage.

This just made me literally laugh out loud! I feel this needs merchandise! T-shirts, hoodies, badges and bags that all simply say, “I’ll get thrown out of the vegans for this.”

So much honesty in these words. It’s so easy to focus on the person suffering from depression and forget the unquestionable impact this condition has on the people living “depression adjacent”. I think it’s human nature when you love someone to want to make them “better” when you see them suffering and struggling. It’s a hard lesson to learn that it’s not always within your power. Then there’s the guilt associated as you try and go on living your life as best you can whilst the other person struggles – the worry of adding stress by asking them along to things with you as you continue on, the worry of causing upset if you don’t ask because you don’t want to cause worry…worry, worry, worry. It’s so easy to lose yourself along the way…

There’s something incredibly soul cleansing about standing by a sea of big crashing raging waves. I can almost feel, sense and smell this beautiful description.

Shackelton’s story has a habit of finding me and has done for a number of years now…whether through the random meeting of a wonderful man who recreated the journey, or a channel-hop found documentary, a reference in another unrelated book or novel, an encounter with a local author whose fascination with Shackleton is inspiring and infectious to say the least (yes, Sandy, that’s you!), or, even just last night, the topic of a letter written to a magazine I was reading. Hope, survival, endurance and optimism – the vital ingredients to life. Maybe this is a journey I’m destined to take…

This struck a chord with me. I’ve always been an adventurer. I’ve always taken the road with no signpost to see where it ends up. I’ve played the “left and right” game in the car with my daughter more times than I can count. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, or a post lockdown Covid thing, but just recently something has changed and not being able to get home has, at times, become an all-consuming thought. I never thought I would see the day when I brought a train journey forward by 24 hours to get home rather than just wander and explore where I was, but I have done that in the last 6 months. Life is an interesting undertaking!

Chances are it’s your love of books that’s brought you to this image in the first place – so no explanation needed!

I wonder if some of us spend so long doing what we think is needed to keep things together because we’ve done it for so long that we forget that actually that’s not all there is… and maybe if we stopped, stepped back and just breathed the worst wouldn’t happen. Is it a load we have to carry ourselves, or if we took a break would others step in to help?

Just another beautiful observation…

Shackleton bookshelf and research rabbit hole activated…

So many things about this book struck such a personal chord with me, but this maybe more than most. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Special familiar places with special familiar people…does life really get any better than that? But maybe, just maybe, we can only find and appreciate those special places and people after the striving and exploring? Maybe that’s what truly lets us discover what, where and who home is for us.

School careers offices used to be such special places!

Let’s raise a toast to forever stomping new paths in hefty boots!

Is it something in our DNA that makes us want to “own” the beauty and destroy the very thing we so admired in the first place? A need to capture its “spirit” and “uniqueness” and call them our own? Will we ever learn?

It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been lucky enough to have with life’s special people, a lifetime isn’t ever enough.

I can feel the peace and contentment in this passage. Bliss.

I’ve said it before and I will no doubt say it again, but there is something special about reading. It’s no exaggeration to say that reading has saved me in so many ways so many times. I wish this for you too.

I heard something recently, I forget where or who from, but the woman was saying she felt like such a fraud when people told her she was strong. Her husband died young, she weas raising 3 little children on her own but couldn’t feel “strong”. She felt that life had given her no other option…

And so we rise…

and yet we are courageous and endure…
It’s important to remember that no matter what we are facing, no matter what is being thrown our way, that the best is yet to come. It’s a cliche because it’s true. No matter how dark things are right now I promise you there will be a moment in the not-so-distant future where you realise you are smiling, and happy, and even if it is just for a moment, that you wouldn’t have wanted to have missed it for anything.

It’s my feeling that life gives you the people, song lyrics, books, blog posts, podcasts and experiences we need at the time we need them the most, if we are just open to them. Keep your eyes, mind and heart open, always.

Another cliche, but life is happening, right now, in this moment right here. Are you doing it the way you would choose to?

I will forever be grateful for lockdown, for the chance to stop, to reset, to spend precious time with precious people without interruption or distraction – time that myself and my daughter wouldn’t have had if not for a global pandemic. I think whilst in the midst of it, it was easy to not recognise this for how special it was – that’s down to my personality (I have never liked being told I can’t do things – a strong rebellious streak I think it might be labelled!), but I appreciate home, and peace, and time out so much more now without feeling the need to fill every second. I have learned to just “be”.

May every single person living with the dark cloud of depression find the strength to waken every day and look in hope for that speck on the horizon…

I must go…immediately…
Sandy’s descriptions are so transportive and beautifully observed. I could be standing in that room.

A timely reminder that we are so much more than the titles others choose to give us and what they choose to see. These incredible men worked so hard to provide for their families and endured so much in the process. A lesson in remembering who you are, always.

This! Every single last word of this! We are living in unprecedented, extraordinary times facing unprecedented, extraordinary challenges. I am willing to bet more than a few of us are lying awake at night thinking and worrying about so many things. Communication will get us through – and while we talk about the things that are making us lose sleep we realise we aren’t on our own.

…and that’s ok, maybe even how it should be. Allow yourself to feel it…

…and that will get us through.

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