Short Tales #6 (Republished)

Shackleton’s Compass by Ian Frearson

I was on one occasion asked to stand in for BBC’s John Simpson who was booked to deliver a lecture at Leicester University. Naturally mine was on the Arctic and not War regions of the Middle East. One of the items I took to pass round at the dinner table as an ice breaker was a prismatic compass that I claimed had belonged to and been used by Shackleton. As it happened I was telling the truth.

This is a lovely piece of kit manufactured by Stanley of London, with locking mechanism, sighting prism and a pair of glass screens, one neutral density, one green. This made a major impression on those there, which was a good job since the audience were not told of John Simpson’s replacement until the actual time for delivery.

On hearing the sad news four people immediately got up & walked out of the lecture hall. Admittedly they were Afghanistan students so it was not unexpected and my lecture did seem to go down alright. John did invite me to dinner with him the following year by way of thanks.

Oh yes, the compass. Well it was owned and used by Shackleton – Michael Shackleton of Bristol University, on a field trip to Svalbard in 1977. Pity he was not related to the great Sir Earnest though. Ah well, perhaps a little more interesting words next time.

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