Since signing up for the CHAS Arctic Trek 2018, I’ve been called generous and brave on numerous occasions. But on the night of the CHAS Rocking Horse Ball 2016, I can safely say I was neither of these things. Impulsive perhaps. Naïve maybe. In truth, I was mostly a bit sozzled and highly emotional. But generous and brave? Not a bit of it.
So how did I accidentally sign up to trek across the freezing Arctic wilderness? I will tell you.
24 June 2016, Prestonfield House Hotel, Edinburgh. A steady stream of taxis delivers guests to a gin and champagne reception. Summer sun glows across the lawns. The hotel’s resident peacocks, so accustomed to the chirrup and chatter of excited ball-goers, sit in the branches of stately trees and don’t give us a second look.
I partake of a glass of fizz. Somebody tops it up. I suspect this happens quite a few times. I’m too busy air-kissing and giving small whoops of delight as I greet friends and we slowly make our way into the big, circular, twinkling room that is Prestonfield’s Stables. We gather around our table. Another glass of bubbles? Don’t mind if I do. Well, isn’t this splendid.
After a while, a mum walks onto the stage and tells us the tender, funny, devastating, uplifting, gut-wrenching, heartwarming story about her involvement with Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS). I’m helpless in the face of her heroism. And while I’m at my most awe-struck and vulnerable, they get the auction underway. Before long I hear, “Item 3: a once-in-a-lifetime trek across the Arctic Circle. Who will start me at £1,500?”
I glance at the auction catalogue. This is what I see:
- A blanket of untouched snow stretching out beneath a vast glimmering Arctic sky
- A pleasant amble across said snowy paradise
- The glittery green spangles of the northern lights
- A 5* snow hotel
This is what I don’t see:
- 70km of packed ice, frozen rivers and freezing wilderness
- Tents. (I don’t camp. It’s a thing of mine. Four solid walls, a floor, a roof: that’s where I’m at accommodation-wise.)
- Pulks. (I don’t know what a pulk is.)
I am sitting next to my friend Sarah. Sarah keeps sticking up her hand as the bidding goes to and fro. But the prize is for two people, and her husband isn’t there. She isn’t sure if he’d be up for it. The auctioneer points at Sarah – are you in? She hesitates. So I mutter into her ear, “I’ll go with you.”
“You sure?” she says, and I nod. Before I can further consider that answer, her hand is back up. And just like that, we ‘win’ the prize.
So you see, that’s not brave. That’s rash. The mum who stood up to share her story and bare her soul – she gets the medal for bravery.
And the medal for generosity? At a charity auction, that surely has to go to the donor of the prize, not the bidder. It’s the donors who are really giving something away. The bidders, after all, get something for their money. Consider the artist who donates a painting. That could be two months’ work, handed away right there. I bet it’s pretty rare for the bidder to spend two months’ salary buying it.
In my case, I casually blasted my auction budget on this trek. In front of all those people I looked like I was splashing lots of cash for a brilliant cause. Which I was in a way – but look at what I got for it. Six days in a part of the world I would probably never get to see, doing something I would never get to do otherwise. The chance to challenge my comfortable, cosy, middle-of-the-road existence with a once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless I love it so much I go back, but I currently doubt that). As the brochure says, I’ll always be able to bore people at dinner parties with my stories of “when I was in the Arctic…”
Put it like that, I got a bargain.
A company called Breaking Strain Events donated this trek. They won’t make a profit from my ticket. So let’s raise a glass to them, because they deserve the generous accolade, not me. And they deserve a little promotion off the back of it too. So now that you’ve finished reading this, go and check out Breaking Strain Events. You never know, you might accidentally get yourself signed up for a chilly stroll across the Arctic.
If you’d like to, you can donate to CHAS via my justgiving page