To dare & endure.
Antony Jinman is not keen on autographs. 'Children would come up after a talk with a scrap of paper and ask me to sign it,' he says. 'I used to say, "I'm exactly the same as you".' This was too much for the kids. Now Jinman signs postcards that encourage his audience. 'I try to write a personal message, acknowledge that everyone can make a difference and tell them not be embarrassed by what you're doing,' he says.
Jinman always wanted to visit the Polar Regions. But a fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) took him back to one place he never wanted to go again. The idea of going into a school to do public speaking used to petrify me,' he says. Six hundred school visits later and Jinman makes his living through the development of an educational social network that connects students with Arctic experts. 'Before the fellowship from the WCMT, I never had a sponsor. I always put in my own money. My office for those early years was my bedroom and a laptop In Plymouth,' he says.
At 25, Jinman went on his first Arctic expedition. 'The Arctic was everything I expected it to be,' he says. Jinman had been working towards the Arctic, first in the Navy and later as a tour guide in a Swedish ice hotel.
On his first Arctic trip he worked with the Sami people to come to grips with the environment. Later he would spend time with the Inuit. 'Some Inuit have gone from the stone age to the space age in a generation,' says Jinman.
Inuit young deal with problems--drink, drugs and lack of purpose--similar to those for the young in the UK. Jinman thinks the solutions are the same, too. 'There are lessons from the elders, like us they take the young on week-long trips to help them reconnect with nature,' he says. Documenting changes in culture and environment would be central to his WCMT fellowship.
WCMT fellowships reward what is brought back from a trip as much as the expedition itself. 'The entire ethos of the grant and the work of the WCMT is about bettering your own community,' says Jinman. 'My biggest tip for anyone applying for a fellowship is to think about how what you are doing can benefit society and your community.
'My proposal for the fellowship was to go to Baffin Island to document winter and summer season travelling through the environment at that time of year,' he continues. Along the journey he aimed to record, through photographs and videos, how a changing climate hit the area.
But first he had to get the fellowship. 'The interview for the WCMT was really tough,' says Jinman. 'You walk into a room with a panel after being with the other people up for interview.'
Culture shock can happen with an Inuit on Baffin Island, or before a formal interview panel in Kensington. 'Sometimes I'm very aware of Plymouth. It can be an isolated part of the world, especially when I was in my mid-20s and hadn't spent much time in London.' In a way, what Jinman did was similar to what he had already done in his visits to the Arctic where had learned how to close a culture gap, and fast. How he did it he can't recall.
Baffin Island contains Auyuittuq National Park. Auyuittuq means 'the land that never melts' in the local language. 'There were places where you could see that eight years ago there was a glacier and now it was gone,' says Jinman.
This was his third crossing over Baffin, so he met old friends. 'You don't think about northern Canada as a frontier, but with the opening of the Northwest Passage, that's exactly what it is,' he says. A key part of his educational talks are about floods and climate change in the melting land that never melts. 'I'm not qualified to say what's happening there, but I was able to bring back what people who live in the area are saying about its changing,' says Jinman.
Culture was also changing in the region. Not only were social networks altering life in isolated communities, but a European Union restriction on seal products hit seal skin prices. 'Inuit seal products are still buyable in Europe, but public perception about seal as a clothing source has an impact on economies of smaller communities,' says Jinman. 'People in the west see it one way, but for the Inuit it's their cultural identity.'
For Jinman, this expedition to Baffin Island secured his move into educational work. 'Live learning is the next big thing. I want to pioneer it in schools, and I've found a niche in helping graduates and post-graduates organise expeditions,' he says. Jinman has led three of these trips back to Baffin Island since his original WCMT-funded journey.
Jinman is now Plymouth University's explorer-in-residence, the only one in the country. 'It's a bit of a contradiction,' he says. A sign on campus points to the thousands of miles to the North Pole in one direction, and the few metres to the explorer-in-residence on the other. 'Expeditions ... you get introduced as a polar explorer to the North Pole and the South Pole and they sound like great feats, but if I was to write a book it would have very small chapters,' says Jinman.
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
A longer book could be written on the organisation that is required to launch the expeditions. At the moment, Jinman is planning to take 12 young scientists to Baffin Island in 2016. 'The project will take two years of planning and will last at least three months,' he says.
Some companies might provide a simple itinerary for a trip to the Polar Regions and see to all the preparations, but Jinman goes further. People leave his expeditions with the skills to plan more of their own. 'They do their own fundraising, business plans, logistics and finance. They do everything,' he says. There is real self-sufficiency, although Jinman watches for health and safety and the final, painful decision to hold someone back who is not ready for the expedition. They have to decide themselves who goes and who does not,' he says.
An ideal mentor, Jinman allows the participants to learn as he did, planning from home in Plymouth but with a not-so-slight advantage.
WHAT WOULD CHURCHILL DO?
If it came to advice from Churchill then Jinman would take 'Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in,' Churchill's words when he spoke at Harrow School in 1941. Words that describe the eight years Jinman spent worrying about finance for his staff.
'You have to acknowledge and deal with those things when you have the responsibility,' he says. 'If you have a good idea, a passion--pursue it. Those words from Churchill are so true in life in general. What's important is to surround yourself with people who support and believe in you. As for the official distances and statistical stuff ... I suppose I've skied to the North Pole, skied solo to the South Pole, I've done 16 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, I stood at the South Pole 102 years after Scott ...'
That's Antony Jinman, though. It's what he does. What he overcame with the fellowship was less tangible than the extreme, alien Polar climate. 'In 20111 was awarded an honorary doctorate in education. I was chuffed to get that after nine years working on online projects. Probably it was a happier day than standing at the Poles.'
Applications for Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowships open in May 2015. Submissions remain open until September. By April 2016, successful applicants will be on their adventures. To apply for a fellowship, visit www.wcmt.org.uk
Felicity Aston used her Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship to select women from across the Commonwealth for a skiing expedition to the South Pole. She had 800 applicants for the journey. However, not everyone understood the concept on first hearing about the project. In Ghana, during a breathless explanation on local radio, the host interrupted her to ask, 'So what is skiing, anyway?'
'I bought a big book about Churchill for the interview,' says Aston. 'It was fascinating and helped me talk about how he was an advocate for the Commonwealth.'
'Obviously, it helps to know something about Churchill in the interview,' says Will Millard, whose fellowship allowed him to explore West Papua's ancient trade routes. Asked how he would describe Churchill to people, Millard described his role in World War II and his Nobel Prize for Literature.
There was a painting on the wall, and when they asked, "What else would you say about him?" everyone on the panel was looking at the painting. So I said, "Oh, he was a painter".' It was a small embarrassment for a fellowship that paid for Millard's expedition shipping costs on an expensive Indonesian airline.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LOUISE BIDDLE & JOSEPHINE BEYNO
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|Title Annotation:||EXPEDITIONS: Polar regions; conversation with explorer Antony Jinman|
|Comment:||To dare & endure.(EXPEDITIONS: Polar regions)(conversation with explorer Antony Jinman)|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2015|
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