Legendary adventurer Myrtle Simpson talks to Sue Stockdale about her life. In part 1 of a two-part interview, Myrtle recalls her North Pole expedition attempt in 1969, and some of the adventures that she has undertaken with her husband and children. In January 2017 she was awarded the Polar Medal in recognition of her arctic achievements, and National Geographic named Myrtle as one of four women ‘who defied expectations and explored the world’.
Born in 1930, Myrtle Simpson began her early life in India, and then returned to Scotland after the war where she developed a love of climbing. Myrtle travelled to New Zealand and began working as a radiographer, spending weekends learning about climbing high peaks. After Mount Everest had been conquered in 1953 and the Himalayas became more popular and expensive for climbing expeditions, Myrtle and two friends decided to travel to Peru where they climbed numerous virgin peaks including a new route on Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru at 6768m.
After getting married and having children, Myrtle continued to travel along with her husband, Professor Hugh Simpson, a scientist and pioneer of breast cancer research, whose research took him to many remote places. Hugh and Myrtle crossed the Greenland ice cap on skis in 1965, and four years later attempted to reach the North Pole, setting the record for the farthest North reached by any unsupported expedition at the time.
As their family grew to four children, most summers saw the Simpsons travelling to remote parts of the world to carry out research with indigenous peoples while living off the land for months.
Myrtle’s adventures have been immortalised in an award-winning documentary “A Life on Ice” that premiered in 2019, winning several awards for ‘Best Exploration and Adventure film’ at film festivals around the world. She has also written several books including Due North, White Horizons and Home is a Tent.
All images kindly provided by Myrtle Simpson
Find out more about Myrtle Simpson A Life on Ice Documentary website
This series is kindly supported by Squadcast –the remote recording platform which empowers podcasters by capturing high-quality audio and video conversations.
Myrtle Simpson Quotes
‘We put the very last of our fuel into our Primus and realised that if the sea didn’t freeze that night, we’d had it’.
‘My very first memory was sitting on a mule in a basket’.
‘In those days, you could find unclaimed peaks and it was just absolutely magic to be a climber at the time’.
‘We had just a magic trip to Peru and climbed numerous virgin peaks, including a new route on the highest mountain in Peru’.
‘My daughter Rona was three and there was another local girl of three. And the two girls didn’t have a word of each other’s language but they never stopped talking to each other for three months’.
‘Early women explorers were nearly all botanists because that was something women were allowed to be, back into early Victorian times’.
‘I would find ordinary suburban life excruciatingly boring, but you don’t have to walk far into nature to really suddenly you feel yourself becoming alive’.
Myrtle Simpson Transcription
[00:00:] Sue: Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale, your host of Access to Inspiration, the podcast with a social mission to help you be inspired by people who may be unlike you. We hope their experiences and insights cause you to reflect on your own perspectives about the world and learn something. Remember, you can find a transcription of this episode and all our other episodes on our website at accesstoinspiration.org.
Well, you’ll know that this series is all about the theme of health and wellbeing, and we wanted to make sure that the guests represented a diverse range of ages, because health and wellbeing takes on different perspective depending on your age and stage in life. We’ve had a Millennial guest, a Gen Xer, and today’s guest represents the Silent Generation who were born between 1928 and 1945.
This generation experienced many difficult times and challenges and survival required grit and strength, as well as a strong sense of the determination, and I think you’ll definitely get a sense of this from our guest, Myrtle Simpson, who’s from Scotland. Myrtle is a legendary adventurer and who was part of an expedition team along with her husband in 1965 and skied across the Greenland ice cap.
Her extraordinary life was captured in an award-winning documentary, a Life on Ice that has been shown at many popular mountain film festivals around the world. Myrtle had so many exciting stories to share with us that we’ve split the interview into two episodes. So today you will hear about Myrtle’s early life and how she developed a loving for climbing and adventure, and why she took her children with her an expedition. I began by asking Myrtle about what her claim to sporting fame was.
[00:02:10] Myrtle: My claim to sporting fame is due to a failure. We didn’t get to the North Pole – disaster struck.
Sue: What happened?
[00:02:18] Myrtle: Oh, why we didn’t get there? Well, the thing was, like all these things, you need money. And our North Pole trip was called the Daily Telegraph north Pole thing. And I had promised to send them bits and pieces as we moved north and the thing that produced the electricity, went on fire.
And without that, we couldn’t find the Pole. And the reason we’d taken that of course was because I’d promised that I’d report to the Daily Telegraph guy. Anyway, the thing went on fire. So without it, we knew we couldn’t actually find the Pole because it moved so fast. And we were meeting scientists at the Pole to say we’d reached there. Anyway, the thing went on fire. And so we had to get back, but we had to get back before the summer melt.
We needed the ice to get us back to our start. Well, we were too late to start with. We put the very last of our fuel into our primus. And realized that if the sea, didn’t freeze that night, we’d had it. And I remember worrying, I didn’t care if we all drowned, but how awful if everyone else did. And I was left alone. Anyway, during the night I was sitting up, it began to freeze. So I woke up the others and we tiptoed across the ice. And we, we got there. Got home, but we didn’t get to the Pole.
Sue: well, sometimes there’s glorious failures and you learn a lot from those things.
[00:03:41] Myrtle: Thats what my husband said. He was rather good at these things. He said that Nansen said, you can have three failures. So I always say that to family when they say, oh, you know, can’t go any further, I say, you are allowed three failures in life and we give it another go. But of course we never had another go.
[00:03:59] Sue: I’m really curious to, to take us back to the start of your life, Myrtle. And I’m wondering where did you get this adventurous streak from?
[00:04:07] Myrtle: Well, my father was in the army. I was very lucky. My father was in the army, British army, but at that point, the Indian army officers were all Brits. So he was posted to Afghanistan and we set off for there when I was. I was born in 1930. So we went out actually, when I was five to Afghanistan and it was an absolutely magic life and the Brits as you know, the Raj and so on, they always had to go to the mountains, up to the hill stations for the summer. They couldn’t stand being in Delhi. So my very first memory was, sitting on a mule in a basket, we were on trek is what people used to do. They went on trek and we were doing that. Mums, and families went, we were called the baggage train. Anyway, that’s what they did in their spare time. They went up into hills and so I’d never felt frightened of steepness or snow. I just thought it was a magic environment. So then the war started and suddenly all the men evaporated. Indian army in their hundreds, British army, British officers in the Indian army, they all just vanished back to Europe and nobody really remembered the wives and children, the baggage train. So that’s sort of what happened. The women were left to try to find or make up a school and all that sort of stuff. And it was not till well into the war. I mean, it was 1943 that actually the baggage train arrived back in the UK.
[00:05:41] Sue: I love how you call yourself part of the baggage train.
[00:05:43] Myrtle: Well, that, that was what they called it, anyway. So I had discovered the hills before I married my husband, Hugh. I knew him from climbing. My father’s family came from Edinburgh, and Edinburgh hadn’t been bombed or anything like that. It hadn’t really been moved so suddenly into Edinburgh came my mum, well, our family. It was absolute chaos at that time with hundreds of soldiers coming back and nothing useful, like pensions for war widows or anything like that.
So suddenly in the middle of all that, was me who hadn’t been to school, so I stood out like I sore thumb, but I already knew the great excitement of going into the hills and Edinburgh surrounded by hills, particularly the Pentlands. And so all by myself, I’d walk around the Pentlands. And then I realized there were people there and there were actually a gang of people the same age as me, at that time, basically. These were Edinburgh University climbing club, so I sort of attached myself to them and Hugh was, he was among them, but when he graduated, he immediately went off to the Antarctic. And in those days working for the same system that’s around now that people going work for, they stayed for three years. Now. They go for about three months and fly back again. You know, people that are things like marine biologists. Anyway, Hugh went as a medic. He graduated as a medic on a Friday and on the Monday, he had to be in wherever it was to get the boat to the Antarctic. And that’s what they did. And of course my mother-in-law never forgave me that her darling son was away for three years. And when he came back, he got me in tow. Anyway, anyway he went to the Antarctic.
Meanwhile, what really tipped it off was Everest was climbed. And every Scottish climber wanted to go to Nepal and have a go at the high tops, but at least go to New Zealand and learn about high tops. Cause our hills weren’t high enough. We’d all climbed in the Alps but we wanted to learn about steep snow and all that sort of stuff. So with a gang of other climbers, we went on the boat and were called the 10 pound poms it cost you 10 pounds, only seven, if you went to New Zealand and by this time I’d become a radiographer and you had had to get a three year contract and then you were in New Zealand, and the weekends in New Zealand. In those days, you could find unclimbed peaks and it was just absolutely magic to be a climber at the time. Anyway, I became aware of the fact that it cost, it was beginning to cost money to go to the Himalayas, but you didn’t have to pay anything to go and climb in Peru. But we needed three people and it was just the time that people were all beginning, their first jobs and so on. And we couldn’t find anyone. My climbing friend, Billy Wallace, and I, we needed a third person. And suddenly we remembered that Hugh was in the Antarctic coming home. He’d had his three years. So he got off the boat in Lima, and Billy and I having had a six week boat trip were standing there waiting for him. And we had this absolute magic climbing in Peru. And I’m always very surprised that still there are not many people going climbing in Peru, and it’s not like having to do a five week trek in. You can get the bus.
[00:09:35] Myrtle: and so we had just a magic trip to Peru and climbed numerous virgin peaks, including a new route on the highest mountain in Peru, which of course the Huascaran which had been climbed by an American woman actually, but years and years before there were masses of people who climbed it. But we had a new route on it by approaching from a different direction.
Sue: And were you at kind of, an oddity at that time being an adventurer and doing all this climbing?
Myrtle: Oh absolutely, particularly in south America, it was in all the papers, one woman and two men in a party of three. And I used to say to them above 18,000 feet, it doesn’t matter.
Myrtle: And I would say that when people say, how could you possibly go away with two men in one little tent? What they didn’t realize at that time too, we always slept in one sleeping bag. Because the magic of modern climbing equipment hadn’t really hit us.
Sue: Well, the sense I get from what you’re saying is you were, you were pulled by the idea of adventure and climbing.
Myrtle: well, as I say, my father was in the army, my mother came from a family that had worked with the Raj ever since it started, so her family had always lived among the mountains. There was two guys and me and apparently people were gambling at home, as to which of the two boys I’d marry, anyway, in the end, I chose Hugh not Billy. And so we got married just when we came home, he got the Polar Medal at that time for research and things he’d done in the Antarctic. And what sort of caused me getting to that film and onto your programme I’m sure, was the fact that I got my Polar Medal just a few years ago. And people say to me, oh, why should you get that? So I try to point out that it wasn’t because of Hugh in the Antarctic it was actually the travels and stuff we had done since then. I’m just justifying why I’m sitting here talking to you.
[00:10:46] Sue: Well, I absolutely think you don’t need to justify that at all. Your decades of experience and adventure, I can learn a lot from you Myrtle and be inspired by you. So I, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you setting out with the kind of equipment that you had in the days that you started.
[00:11:00] Myrtle: well, it was just amazing actually. I mean, I remember first going to a shop and in astonishment, seeing that you could buy a child’s anorak. We lived in Glasgow and I took my kids down to Greenock where there’s Blacks of Greenock, the firm that’s still going strong. They would allow me to stand the children on the sewing table and one of their girls would come and snip, and the new materials had just come out – Ventile. At that time, I’m talking about the early sixties, Ventile was the first windproof material that was being used for anoraks and things like that. Completely new idea, you know, before that the Scottish climbers were looking for routes before the war in the Alps and then in the Himalayas, they were still using tweed jackets.
Anyway, Ventile had been discovered. So the seamstresses would measure the children, holding the material up, clipping, round and show me where to put it, where to sew. And in those days, of course, every woman had a sewing machine. And knew how to use it. So I used to just stitch up the lines they’d painted for me. And hey presto my kids also had Ventile anoraks. But then suddenly shops realized, and now I hear people saying, oh yes, this shop only, only sells clothes for women and their clothes you could wear to a party, but they’re also made of windproof. And I’m amazed when I look at the price of them, because we of course bought all our equipment from the ex-army shops.
Everybody wore khaki whether it was skiing and new ski lifts were appearing in Scotland, or anyway. You still looked all dressed in grey because it was all, we all only place to buy equipment in those days was the ex-army shops. And they’re still there. But I think I’m the only person that looks drab grey when everyone else is in scarlets and stuff.[00:12:00]
[00:12:50] Sue: You’ve brought into the conversation, the fact that you have children, and I know that your children came with you at least at the end of your journey in Greenland. Tell me about that expedition to ski across the Greenland ice cap. Something I have done many, many years after you Myrtle, and I’m just, fascinated to learn about you being the first women to do that.
[00:13:11] Myrtle: First of all, when I, when I got married, I was far too selfish to sit at home and because of Hugh’s research that he’d been doing in the Antarctic and was still following through, we were going to go to Spitsbergen, Svalbard for three months for Hugh to do his research. He needed to go to where people could live on the Equator and then people that could have six months darkness and six months light, because he was studying hormones that apparently changed with all of that. It was a new sort of subject. I bought the food for the trip and all the rest of it, and suddenly I was pregnant and I thought, well, stay at home! I was jolly well not going to do that. So I thought, well, I thought about all the women that do travel all the time, babies or not. And of course that takes you north.
So on the way to Svalbard we stopped in Northern Norway, actually where the women follow the reindeer, and I had my newborn baby by that time in a rucksack and that’s hopeless as you know, they slither to the bottom. Well, the women treated in horror and produced the most beautiful cradle, which they then call a komse. You see them in museums and things, but I’ve never seen as nice a one as mine.
It’s completely windproof it’s reindeer skin with the fur on the inside. So babies just absolutely love it. And it sits on the top, on a sledge or whatever, but also of course it can sit on your back. I still feel guilty of the fact that the women of course inherit, it goes down the generation, it belongs to the women. And so it was a woman that said I could keep it. And I said, oh, what, what will you take? They didn’t want money. They’ve got plenty of money. They didn’t want any of our equipment. I thought they might like some of our camping equipment, but one of the men saw that we had a bottle of Drambuie in the back of our van and he sort of pointed it and said, oh, take that for it. So I gave it to him and, and got the komse and I feel guilty ever since that, I don’t expect the woman who gave it to me, got a sip of it and probably wouldn’t have wanted the whisky anyway.
Sue: So you, you were taking your children at that point on your travels.
Myrtle: Yes. I always, well really, because of my father being in the army and it being accepted, the fact that the wives and the children went, they don’t do that nowadays, of course in the British Army, but they did in those days, it was perfectly normal. The women followed. So if I happened to marry a guy that was doing his work, I was [00:15:00] jolly well going, going too.
[00:15:34] Sue: so you had your own kind of form of baggage train.
[00:15:37] Myrtle: Exactly. And then, we found that that’s where we wanted to go. Although I was a climber, Hugh wasn’t actually that, but he was an Arctic traveler and he’d been for three years in the Antarctic and been on thousands of miles, doing research and map making, all that sort of stuff. So putting our experiences together, we reckon we were dab hands at the high arctic. For a long time, Nansen had always been my hero. I dunno about you, but I just love the stories of Nansen. Do you know?
Sue: I know some of them and he was, of course was the first man to ski across the Greenland ice cap. Wasn’t he?
[00:16:15] Myrtle: Yes, exactly. At the time nobody knew what was in the middle. They even thought it might be green fields and pastures you didn’t really know what, or who lived there or, anything like that. It was Nansen who said a world without sun is like a world without love. And I think if you’re looking, for peaceful life go north. Anyway, we went to Svalbard and did our three months research. And then Hugh took his guinea pigs, which had been Glasgow university students and allowed them then they were all going, going, climbing. There’s a whole range of mountains, very little have been climbed in Spitzbergen and a friend came out to help me. And so we canoed. We found that the kumsa sat very well in the front of the kayak. So we went off by ourselves and I found that there was nothing stopping you taking children canoeing because it’s much easier to cope with them like that. So that’s really why I thought, well, why not take them.
Sue: As you, observe the world these days, Myrtle. And such a very often a focus on minimizing risk, health and safety. How do you assess your experience versus today’s way of operating adventurously?
[00:17:28] Myrtle: well, I’m always getting that question. How dangerous to take the children. You hear it all the time. Oh, how awful? How could you be such a frightful mother is to take your children anyway. I’ve always said, well, you have to know what the dangers are to start with. And you solve those before you leave home.
What are the dangers? Is there really going to be a tiger hiding behind an iceberg waiting to gobble you up. Well, of course there isn’t, maybe a polar bear. So in that case, you’d better find out what the real dangers are. You hear people even in Scotland saying, oh, it’s far too cold. So I think, well, cope with that before you leave home. That that’s what I’ve always said to people, and like teaching your children to ski in the summertime, go to one of these places, like very close. Near where I live, where they’ve got [00:18:00] plastic slope, where you can have lovely picnics in the summertime, down by loch take the kids down the summer and get them to learn to ski so that in the wintertime, they can have discovered the excitement of downhill skiing getting going fast. And so, you know, problems solved.
[00:18:29] Sue: So, so in terms of going to Greenland there, by the time you were embarking on that expedition, I think you had three children by that time and they joined you at the end, but how did you, how did you feel about leaving them in the first place to go off on that adventure?
[00:18:42] Myrtle: well that was, that was difficult, but obviously that was a step too far in way of danger. We couldn’t actually take the children. We traveled as light, as light as possible. So you couldn’t possibly take kids but we did the next best thing was that when we’d crossed Greenland, a friend of mine had arranged, she and I would collect for the Edinburgh Botanic gardens and she would bring out kayaks and our three kids. So the men then got in the kayaks and finished the journey that Nansen actually did, which was then up the coast of west Greenland to the main village township. And we settled down in a Glen where we knew that the Greenlanders came to collect their salmon from the river. And also, well, they got all their supplies ready for the winter, from there, like their fish and killing reindeer. And then. They used to cook it at that time with salt. They knew, knew all about that and that we could join them.
And we hoped we’d make friends. And I may say that by that time I had a three year old girl, my oldest, my daughter Rona was three and there was another girl, local girl of three. And the two girls didn’t have a word of each other’s language when they started. They never stopped talking to each other for the three months. And they still couldn’t understand a word of each other’s language, but it never stopped from talking and playing they immediately made dollies from seaweed and it was just a magic time. I think the privilege for the kids and we collected our plants.
[00:20:10] Sue: And just from reading your book and, and that part of your journey from my recollection, all you took in terms of resources was a fishing rod.
[00:20:28] Myrtle: Well, this is the point of knowing what the dangers are. You knock into run out of food in west Greenland. If you go at the time when the salmon are coming up the rivers. And in fact, I remember on another occasion hugh, who is a fisherman here and with his fishing rod and all the fuss that river fishers make. And he said, now keep the kids quiet. I’m going up the river. He came back with, I think, two fish. Meanwhile, I’d found I could stand up the mouth of the river with the net and just hoick them out the water. We had the whole ground covered in fish underneath us. If you go with there’s plenty of food, whether it’s Alaska where the brown bears are the problem, or Greenland where the polar bears as they’re getting less and less able to get their own field. If you go with there’s plenty of fish and plenty of alternatives, they don’t want to come and gobble you up.
Sue: So that was at the end of your Greenland crossing, which was obviously successful. What did you find were some of the biggest challenges that you faced on that Greenland journey considering it was the first time for your perspective, as a woman crossing Greenland.
[00:21:21] Myrtle: Well the main problem was to get onto the ice cap as I’m sure, you know, and I dunno what your first vista of Greenland was, but I’ll never forget the day I saw Greenland for the first time we were actually had the family and we were in Iceland. And we were walking around for the summer holidays around the horn of Iceland. That’s that bit, that sticks up on the left and we were crossing a river, as you do. And as I’m sure you’ve done on numerous occasions, the river is fine. What we’ve made in such a fuss about and just short of the far bank, it suddenly gets deep and I’d got on the children on my back in this komse and I realized there was no weight. So it was floating.
Myrtle: Well, obviously I took a leap as one does for the shore, for the other bank and caught hold of it. All right. I looked up on a way in the distance way, way on, I could just see a line of hills and I thought – that’s Greenland. I have to go there. It’s just get gets at you. And you know, that, that is your, well, that’s your north pole of your life. Everybody has, to have one, I think that’s, what’s lacking at the moment.
[00:22:25] Sue: How did you raise the money one of the things that puts people off doing adventures is it can cost a lot of money. How, how did you raise the money for that expedition?
[00:22:33] Myrtle: Well, luckily for me, because of Hugh’s research, he needed to go to places like Svalbard because that’s very thing his work work was to do with. That was his science that he was particularly involved in. So we usually went and dealt with his science had six weeks doing his science, and then got down to what I wanted to do, which was to make the journey or whatever, but Hugh was collecting sinophils sets a sort of scientific word that’s what he was collecting.
And you count those from urine samples. So we were guinea pigs for Hugh, which meant that, that at specific times of the day, he wanted us to be his guinea pigs. As we ate up the food sled got lighter, but it also got heavier at the same time, bringing Hugh’s samples on the way home. But also of course I soon found that, magazines and everything. If you could make yourself a good enough travel writer or get feeling of where you were, you could, in those days, there were masses of magazines. I’m very, very sorry for young writers nowadays. They haven’t got that outlet, but whether it was Readers Digest and you’d get a big sum of money or the National Geographic, for instance or else the local, the were mags said, you, you could flog them. Alright, you could get enough money to keep, keep yourselves going. Yes, that’s really how I brought in any cash and Hugh was doing his research. Because it was new research, people were very interested in it and he had his own lab in Glasgow university.
[00:23:58] Sue: You had your funding, both of you to go on your, journey. Did you know that you would be first, the first women to get across the Greenland ice cap, at the point you were doing it?
[00:24:07] Myrtle: no, that has never been a priority. I I’ve never thought like that. I just wanted to go selfishly, I suppose for myself, but I never ever thought that, I’d end up as. Oh, you know, as the first person. I never, I have never, and I’ve never really met anyone. I would call a real explorer. Who, who does think like that you’ve gone because you’re passionate about the land or the people, or what grows there, or, in fact it’s botanists is the early, early women explorers were nearly all botanists because that was something women were allowed to be right back into early Victorian times. A lot of those early, people that brought the plants back and so on, they were all botanists and they got a chance to go because people could accept that they needed to go and see what they were. The people that brought back the flowers that in our gardens and so on nowadays, it was women botanists. Well, I was no botanist. As I had said, I never went to school properly in the early days. So I’m coming, you know, I’ve never been to uni, I’m completely uneducated, but you can still collect plants for other people.
[00:25:12] Sue: I, I think what your Myrtle is educated about life and educated about, the adventurous mindset, the can do mindset. Having done that Greenland expedition and, and for any listener that gets a hold of your book its definitely well worth a reach. Having completed that expedition, what did you learn? What did you learn about yourself?
[00:25:30] Myrtle: Oh, I’ve learned everything that’s kept me going ever since. I mean, here I live at the end of a road by myself, you know, I’m 90 something or other, and I find other people saying, oh, you know, doesn’t this get you down all that. Things do get me done. Of course they do, get you down but not, not that.
I think there are four things you really learn. First of all, you, you learn that nobody’s going to help your stile. There’s no point in setting off unless lets you know how to get over that flipping stile. That’s self reliance. Nobody’s going to help you. You’ve gotta keep going. One, one little step in front of the other. And I always say Chinese footsteps, little shuffling footsteps. If you keep going long enough, you, you get there. That’s two.
Then I say priorities. What really are the real dangers are going to stop you, and you’ll find that in fact, you can solve many of them like if it’s gonna be too cold and we, our first trip crossing Greenland and we got minus 54, and that was actually colder than we, than we were anytime on our north Pole journey. And you think, oh, how can you keep out the cold? Well, you, what did Nansen make his vests of and all that, you can solve those and I think the other thing priority is you know, you’ve gotta solve dangers before you leave home, but then you’ve gotta be glad to be alive.
And as you know, the excitement of whether it’s a little Pentland on the back of Edinburgh or every city in the, in Britain, the hills are not so very far away isn’t it great to be there. And I would find ordinary suburban life, excruciatingly boring, but you don’t have to walk far to, to really suddenly you feel yourself becoming alive.
And I think for elderly people, and I see so many people of my age say, oh, you’re so lucky. And I think lucky, what about? To be able to walk somewhere or something? I think too many elderly people think, gosh, I’m old, I’d better. I’d better stop doing things. I’d better go and sit on sofa instead of taking a dog for the walk round the block, I think an awful lot of elderly people, are maybe by their families slightly getting pushed into the corner and don’t join in. Nobody’s interested in what I think, sort of thing. That’s just silly old granny, you’ve gotta keep going. And you’ve gotta be glad to be alive or else. You’ve got to have a north Pole to head for all of us at any age.
[00:27:50] Sue: And, you described that sense of aliveness Myrtle that you get when you get out of up into the hills, out into nature. What is it that that nature does for you? What is it that gives that sense of aliveness to you?
Myrtle: Well, I think one of the things is to buy a packet of seeds, and plant them. And I often do that now, what do I give to so and so elderly and decrepit, oh, I’ll give them a packet of seeds and they’ll put ’em in the ground and they’ll think, gosh, they won’t be up this week, but they might come up next week.
Wonder if those tulips were really bloom in my garden or window sill or whatever. Or, you know, keep a dog breed, some pups. Isn’t that exciting? There’s so many excitements that, that you can follow up. And I need excitements and, and I get a lot of it in my garden. I’m just at the moment trying to make nasturtiums hang. And if you keep the bulb if you keep the flowers they, you get a dry seed. That’s done that plant and its seed the next year. Hey, presto, suddenly your nasturtiums will be six long instead of an inch.
Sue: You role model, Myrtle this sense of curiosity and wonder in the world and what’s possible. And I also get the sense of hope that the planting, the seed, the waiting, encouraging somebody to wait for the tulip is about possibility in the future?
Myrtle: Oh, absolutely. You’ve gotta be glad to be alive, to look to the future or else. Now it’s very easy not to do any of that, you know, put your head under the duvet, and just stay there. Hoping that spring will come well it might not.
[00:29:26] Myrtle: but you can see that it does come. If you do something about it. You know, we say to people, for instance, keep skiing. It’s a fantastic sport for the elderly, because the uplift will take, I don’t mean not CrossCountry skiing, but downhill ski for the elderly you should definitely keep doing. And I know so many people that are infinitely better skiers than me, women, and they’ve given up, and that’s absolutely daft because it’s normal for the uplift to get you uphill. And all you’ve got to do is ski down and you can go as fast or as slow as you like. So it’s a perfect thing to do, but the ski club I belong to has a race at the end of the season. That’s in 10 year age groups.
[00:30:04] Myrtle: and I’ve found for many years now, I haven’t had anyone to ski against. Well, there is one person and it’s a man and he’s 103 and he rings me up and he’s called George Stewart. And he lives in Perth. He rings me up with advice. Like, have you got your shoes on, done up properly, not slopping around in pair of slippers, which I am at the moment, because you mustn’t fall. You can’t fall because then you break your hip so, its the same things, look after yourself. What are the dangers? Well, the dangers of being ill is you lose your balance. You know, people say to me, why dont I buy one of these bikes, that’ll go at 40 miles an hour. Well, I know where I went. I’ve lost my sense of balance and I’ll fall. So I don’t that.
Sue: but you did do other things though. You go swimming in the river.
[00:30:49] Myrtle: Oh, well, swimming is magic at a sport. As you get older more, I have friends who go and spend hours in gyms or with very expensive physios and give them exercises to do, to keep them going. Go for a swim. All your muscles are used and you’re not stretching. Now you have to go with the times. Of course, and I find that I can’t set off doing my normal crawl at speed. But most whatever, however old and decrepit, you can slip into the water and lie in your back and paddle your feet. And I’ve found something that’s amazing that grandchildren, even as small as four and five, can say, Hey granny, if you’re too tired now, get on my paddle board and you can launch on that, pull yourself on like a dead fish and then a child as young as that can stand up on it with a paddle and give you a little trip. And they’re thrilled to do that.
[00:31:45] Sue: Sounds like you have got all your grandchildren involved there too.
Myrtle: But I mean, most, people live further south than I do. So the water’s warmer, and you know, it’s the cold that gets you as you get older and older, but it doesn’t seem to get, get you when you’re swimming. As long as you keep moving and you can keep moving however old you are.
[00:32:06] Sue: Well, it was a real pleasure to speak with Myrtle and to hear about her Arctic adventures, and I hope it has given you some insight into the mindset and approach that she took on her travels and maybe how it’s different from today. Next week we’ll be back with part two of this interview when Myrtle will talk about attending COP 26, the UN Climate Change Conference back in 2020, and also how she spent months living with a tribe in the rainforest in Surinam with her husband and four children. I hope you can join us again then.
Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra
Producer: Sue Stockdale