The high point, literally, of my summer was the week I spent in the far north, at the Arctic Haven, a twelve-bedroom timber-built lodge in Nunavut, Canada’s Inuit province. I flew to Calgary via Yellowknife, then on — with a dozen other seasoned explorers — in a Dash-7 to an airstrip in the tundra. That first night — and every night when the sky was clear — the aurora borealis put on its spectacular display. Seeing the Northern Lights flashing and shimmering — green, gold and silver, with occasional shooting stars adding to the fun — was definitely one of the lodge’s USPs.
For me the great excitement of this Arctic trip was the famous caribou migration in Nunavut and the North-West Territory. A great herd of animals, 300,000 strong, migrates each spring from the shelter of the boreal forest to seek out the delectable mosses and lichens of the tundra, now warmed by the spring sunshine. On the northward migration, the herd is in a hurry. The females will bear their calves almost as soon as they cross the treeline. The return migration, which I was privileged to witness, was a more leisurely affair.
I shall never forget my first sight of a bull caribou, with his magnificent rack of antlers, leading his band of females across the rapids at the northern end of the lake where the river runs out into the Arctic Ocean.
The lodge, amazingly, has wifi, so I was able to reply to some last queries from the Robson Press, as it prepared to bring out my new book. I was astonished by the speed at which the publishers moved. Only days after I had returned to the UK, printed copies of Stanley, I Resume were available. (The book is the second half of my memoir, the first — published in 2009 — being entitled Stanley, I Presume.)
The official launch of Stanley, I Resume was at Daunt’s splendid old bookshop in Marylebone High Street. The place, I am glad to say, was crowded and well over 100 copies were sold. I stood on the balcony at the far end of the room, looking down at the gathering below and feeling a bit like Mussolini addressing the crowd in Rome’s Piazza Venezia.
THE HAGUE CONVENTION
This being the party conference season, I drove up to Birmingham for a signing in Blackwell’s pop-up bookshop on the first day of the Conservative conference. It was a good time to choose, since delegates had gathered in large numbers to hear William Hague’s final address to the faithful. After 37 years of attending Conservative party conferences, Hague told us, the time had come for him to leave the stage.
Listening to him, I realised — not for the first time — that he has a superb grasp of the English language. Not for him the short, sharp, sound-bite sentences so beloved of today’s politicians. Hague is not afraid of rolling periods, over a hundred words long. Of course, that wonderful Yorkshire accent helps.
I had to get up early the next day, to review the papers on LBC’s Nick Ferrari Breakfast Show from an amazing space-age broadcasting module outside Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, where the conference was being held. We went on air at 7am.
LBC is no longer just a London broadcaster: it has gone national, if not global, and Ferrari is one of the stars. Almost an aurora borealis all on his own.
There was plenty of news that morning. The Tories were reeling from yet another defection to UKIP. A Tory minister had resigned after being caught in a ‘sting’ set up by the Sunday Mirror (no need to repeat the sordid details here). But George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, was about to rally the troops with promises to slash ‘death taxes’.
Ferrari, I am glad to say, paused every now and then in mid-flow to sing the virtues of my new book. Since he has over one million regular listeners, I’m expecting a rush to the bookshops.
BORIS, THE EARLY WORKS
Alas, I missed the mayor of London’s speech to the conference. I much regret it. I have been listening to Boris since he was born on 19 June 1964 and I always enjoy what he has to say. The other day, on the wall of an outhouse on my Exmoor farm, I found what I believe may be Boris’s first literary effort (he must have been four or five at the time). It read, in bold capital letters: ‘BOO TO GROWN-UPS!’
There is no such thing nowadays as a free launch. I had to leave Birmingham once the Ferrari show was over to drive to Henley for the first day of that town’s well-regarded literary festival. My daughter Rachel, author and columnist and former editor of The Lady, interviewed me about my new book before a packed house. Rachel was definitely the star of the show. That’s fine by me. I can think of far worse fates than being outgunned by one’s own children.
Stanley, I Resume is published by the Robson Press