Mexico extract

Grey whale. Image by Mark Carwardine

An extract from Last Chance to See - Return

Just a brief flirtation with a whale is often all it takes to turn normal, quiet, unflappable people into delirious, jabbering extroverts. On whale-watching trips almost everyone becomes the life and soul of the party. I have seen grown men and women dance around the deck, break into song, burst into tears, slap one another on the back and do all the things that normal, quiet, unflappable people are not supposed to do.

I have done them myself and I laughed as I watched Stephen and the crew falling under the spell. Their lives would never be quite the same again.

Stephen Fry with a grey whale
Photo by Mark Carwardine

There is something about whales that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and makes you think about them morning, noon and night. At the risk of sounding theatrical, emotional and (heaven forbid) unscientific, they make you feel good. After a really close encounter, it is hard to remain emotionally stable for several weeks afterwards. Eventually, the jabbering and the delirium subside, but you are still left with a good feeling that never really wanes. There is an immense and lasting satisfaction in simply knowing the whales are out there, wild and free. So when you are back home and sitting watching the rain on a grey Monday morning, all you have to do is to cast your mind back... and think of whales. You'll get the same uplifting feeling, the same good vibes, and you will survive until Tuesday.

By now, if you haven't already seen a whale, you may be wondering if six months on the road with Stephen has had some weird and deleterious effect on me. I wouldn't blame you. If I had read this 30 years ago, before my first close encounter with a whale, I would have been wondering exactly the same thing.

A grey whale 'spyhopping'
Photo by Mark Carwardine

But it's not Stephen's fault. Ask someone else who has seen a whale and they will explain that I'm not quite as barmy and irrational as you might think. There are plenty of 'whale junkies' out there - people, like me, who have to see a whale at frequent intervals just to survive their normal daily lives.

So even if I am crazy, I am definitely not alone.

Stephen, for one, is a recent convert. He summed up our close encounters better than I've heard anyone sum it up before or since.

'Suck my pants and call me Noreen' he enthused. 'What a phenomenal experience. Epic. Epic. Epic.'

Copyright: Last Chance to See - Return by Mark Carwardine and Stephen Fry, to be published in October 2009 by HarperCollins.

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