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The small plane owned by the Foundation Company of Canada headed for Baffin Bay in the northern arctic, and crossed the tree line: the point of no return. Inside, Jim was squeezed in with the latest intake of migrant workers, and musing with silent irony on the link between his prep school Terra Nova and Newfoundland, off to the right below. In the bag at his feet were books to keep him sane, and P.G. Wodehouse and the World of Blandings mischievously led the way; in those pages Lord Emsworth had recommended flight to Canada whenever scandal threatened. ‘So you are going to the Canadian arctic,’ began the introductory booklet in his pocket ambiguously. ‘It is an experience that [you] are not likely to forget.’ Montreal had been a disappointment. He had lasted two weeks as a clerk in Frank Farrell’s advertising agency, and a day in a stockbroker ’s office, and by the end of the first month his money was running out. With his first pay cheque he had treated himself to a long-promised Zeiss Contaflex camera to record impressions, but he could buy no extra rolls of film, and passing the Hotel Mount Royal he had to content himself with memorising the brassy blondes and hardfaced men knocking back whisky sours in the redplush bar. The papers were full of the recent death of James Dean, and Rebel Without a Cause was showing, but he could not afford a ticket. A temporary dishwashing job or a long cigarette butt took on ‘a providential glamour’, and it had been discouraging to find there was nothing ‘intrinsically romantic’ about having all the time in the world to write. ‘This kind of life,’ he filed away for future reference, ‘is just terribly tiring, demoralizing and a constant strain.’ His lucky break had been a chance encounter with an Old Rossallian working in the city, who tipped him off that huge money was to be made up in the Arctic on the Distant Early Warning radar system, and told him where to sign on. He had his muscular CHAPTER FIVE A Ballistic Missile 1955–1956 55 build, not his reference, to thank for the prompt seven-month contract. The DEW Line was the West’s defence against Russian H Bomb attack, composed of a chain of radar stations from Greenland to Alaska that hosted massive dishes tilted back to scan the skies; each wheeled imperceptibly, on hair-trigger alert for danger coming over the pole. The emergency Strategic Air Command had been launched on signals subsequently found to be as innocuous as moon echoes and flocks of geese, and the recent Bikini Atoll tests had heightened international tension, as well as fear of further error. Jim had debated the nuclear deterrent fervently at Rossall three years before, following America’s entry in the H Bomb stakes, and during the final term at Castle Park much attention had been paid to the mass petition by Nobel Prize winners which stated that radioactivity could wipe out entire nations. Bertrand Russell’s new manifesto – ‘Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?’ – had dramatically been endorsed by Einstein two days before he died, and news broadcasts had been leading with Russia’s offer to abolish 75 per cent of nuclear stocks. It was an interesting time to arrive. An atomic war . . . and yet it could not happen. Or could it? On the ground, blurred by snow and sombre skies, the Arctic stretched monotonously for hundreds of thousands of square miles. Usually the sun was below the horizon and it was searingly cold, with a wind that never abated and numbed the nerves, peeling away unprotected skin. Insulating layers of clothes were vital, and the minimum clothing allowed indoors was wool underwear, tweed trousers, and a heavyweight sweater over a jersey shirt. An arctic suit and triple mitts were compulsory out of doors, and feet were protected by double pairs of woollen socks, followed by densely woven cloth duffles and Mukluk boots with two insoles, one of felt and the other of wire mesh, to avoid picking up frost crystals. As soon as Jim was in funds he bought a genuine Eskimo parka in Frobisher Bay, reporting to Robert by post that it was very cold but warm in the bank balance. It was a physical, tough life, and before going to bed at night everything worn that day had first to be dried out; the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781909005075
Print ISBN
9781859184899
MARC Record
OCLC
830022803
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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