South Georgia Newsletter, February 2013

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- Disclaimer: This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.

Epic Expedition Repeats Shackleton’s Amazing Feat

The tiny Alexandra Shackleton towed into King Edward Cove behind  Australis.
The tiny Alexandra Shackleton towed into King Edward Cove behind Australis.

The first successful attempt to recreate Shackleton’s boat journey and crossing of the Island was completed by members of the ‘Shackleton Epic Expedition’ on February 10th. The group, led by adventurer and environmentalist Tim Jarvis, were dressed in 1914 contemporary clothing and used the same sort of equipment used by Shackleton and his men in their attempt to reach a place from where they could effect the rescue of the remaining shipwrecked crew of the Endurance whom they left behind on Elephant Island.

Six men made the 800 nautical-mile boat journey in a replica of the lifeboat James Caird.

The modern expedition’s boat is called Alexandra Shackleton after Shackleton’s granddaughter who is also the expedition’s patron, and it was, according to Tim Jarvis, her idea that his next adventure should be an attempt to recreate her grandfather’s incredible journey.

Expedition Leader Tim Jarvis.
Expedition Leader Tim Jarvis.

The tiny 6.9m long craft was launched from Elephant Island on January 24th. Aboard were Skipper Nick Bubb; Royal Marine Mountain Leader WO2 Barry Gray; Sailor and Navigator Paul Larsen; Expedition Bosun Petty Officer Seb Coulthard RN who was representing the Royal Navy and who had spent much of the previous year fitting out the boat, complete with two watertight bulkheads, ready for the voyage; Expedition Cameraman Ed Wardle and Tim Jarvis.

The boat crossing was achieved in just 12 days, with mercifully better weather than Shackleton and his men experienced on their 17-day sea journey nearly 100 years before. Though they had been accompanied by their support yacht Australis, all navigation had been done by sextant and almanac with no assistance from the yacht, indeed at one stage, like Shackleton, it looked like they might miss the island, but a good sun fix got them back on course to the precise spot Shackleton had landed in King Haakon Bay. They landed on February 3rd on the beach at Peggotty Bluff.

Though the boat had performed well as a lifeboat, she had proved very hard to steer, with at times two men pulling on the ropes attached to the rudder to keep her on course.

At all times at least one man, wet through as they were for the entire trip, stood in the tiny cockpit exposed to the elements, but after the trip the sailors explained that manning the helm was often the preferred position to being crammed inside the hull with four other men in the tiny, wet, internal space. Big waves occasionally washed over the deck and down the hatch soaking everything down below. Again in an echo of the experiences of Shackleton and his men, Seb Coulthard said “As more moisture worked its way into the boat, the reindeer skins began to get wet and shed. The reindeer hair went absolutely everywhere, it was in your food, your drink, your clothing, your socks, everywhere!" As for food, the pemmican proved inedible to these modern men, they could not stomach the rich fatty food, but they said eating food had not felt like a priority during the boat journey. They, like Shackleton, were hit by a storm which generated huge waves, an experience described by one of the experienced adventurers as “terrifying."

For the crossing of South Georgia the plan was for three in contemporary gear, Jarvis, Gray and cameraman Ed Wardle, to be followed by another team of three, Coulthard, Bubb and Larsen, in modern kit as a safety backup. Their departure was delayed by bad weather, and once they had started they got trapped on Shackleton Gap in another storm. The wet leather boots they had worn from the beginning of the expedition had taken their toll and several were suffering from trench foot. This forced some of the trekkers to descend into Possession Bay to be picked up by the Australis. Jarvis and Gray stayed the night on the glacier in a tent then continued the walk, accompanied by Larsen, to complete the journey to Stromness.

Shackleton Epic Expedition members and Alexandra Shackleton toasting ‘The Boss’.
Shackleton Epic Expedition members and Alexandra Shackleton toasting ‘The Boss’.

Once the whole party were reunited they travelled round in Australis back to King Haakon Bay and took the lifeboat Alexandra Shackleton under tow to bring her round to moor at Grytviken. The next day, with superb timing, patron Alexandra Shackleton, arrived aboard a cruise ship in time for them all to gather in the cemetery to toast Shackleton 'The Boss'. Anyone who has read the books about the Endurance Expedition must admire what Shackleton and his men achieved, but the men of the Shackleton Epic Expedition, perhaps more than any others, truly now understand some of what they went through.

You can catch up with the day to day events of the Shackleton Epic Expedition on their blog

The Alexandra Shackleton has been left moored at Grytviken and will be collected by a tour ship next month.
The Alexandra Shackleton has been left moored at Grytviken and will be collected by a tour ship next month.

End Of The Reindeer Project

Fieldwork for the first phase of the GSGSSI Reindeer Eradication Project was completed in mid-February. At the beginning of the month two vessels were still stationed in Husvik Harbour; one being used to butcher and freeze recovered meat, the other as a general support vessel.

Marksmen were deployed in the Stromness area following the herding operations to remove the remaining animals. Another team of marksmen was working in the more remote areas of the Barff Peninsula ahead of next summer’s clearance of the Barff herd. Whilst the marksmen were operating, exclusion zones were put in place, with shipping and visitors in the area required to keep clear of these during shooting operations for safety reasons.

At the end of the project the fencing and corrals were taken down and shipped out. Two huts remain on the Tonsberg Peninsula and may be moved to other areas of the island for the fieldwork next year.

Throughout the project field workers were employed to remove carcasses from the ground in the Stromness area. Sometimes this was assisted by the use of a quad bike. The carcasses were being removed ahead of the rat baiting that would shortly follow as part of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project (see below). The Sami herders, marksmen and most of other field workers left on the two vessels, returning via the Falkland Islands where the meat will be on sale.

A few live reindeer have been spotted in the Stromness area and will be removed in the coming weeks using a combination of GSGSSI and SGHT resources.

There was a more complete report on this project in the January edition of this newsletter.

Rat Eradication Underway Again

Lifting bait pods ashore to the Forward Operating Bases.
Lifting bait pods ashore to the Forward Operating Bases.

Phase 2 of the South Georgia Heritage Trust Habitat Restoration Project, to eradicate rodents from the Island, is underway. The main team arrived on their chartered support vessel RRS Shackleton on February 10th.

A tight squeeze to get three helicopters into the hold.
A tight squeeze to get three helicopters into the hold.

Some of the first things offloaded from the ship onto KEP jetty were the three helicopters. These had made the journey from the Falklands in a rather cramped ship’s hold. As each helicopter was craned off, the rotors were quickly fitted and the helicopter flown off to make room for the next aircraft and for containers of bait, fuel and stores to be offloaded. Many more containers remained on board and over the following days, when weather allowed, caches of bait, fuel and stores were off-loaded by boat and helicopter to a number of Forward Operating Bases around the northern end of the Island. Poor weather delayed the operation, but luckily the support ship was available for charter for a few more days and the last of the equipment and people were set ashore at Husvik before the vessel sailed on the 28th.

Stores are sorted in the hold.
Stores are sorted in the hold.

Most of the 25-strong field team arrived on the support ship, but a few remaining workers will arrive in early March to bring them up to full complement. The group includes three New Zealand and one British helicopter pilots.

Phase 1, the trial phase of the project, was already the largest attempted rat eradication globally and was undertaken two years ago in the Grytviken area. From monitoring in the area since, it appears to have been completely successful in removing rats from the three baited peninsulas. Phase 2 of the operation is to treat all the remaining rat infested areas, an area of 80,000 hectares, several times larger than the Phase 1 area, and will be done over two field seasons.

In the project newsletter ‘Project News’. Project Leader Tony Martin wrote, ”The scene is now set for baiting to commence at the beginning of March. Over the next three months 100 million bait pellets will be laid with mathematical precision as three former air ambulance helicopters crisscross the Island discharging their lethal cargo from giant hoppers suspended underneath. The helicopters will fly throughout the hours of daylight in a race against time as the days inexorably shorten and the Antarctic winter approaches. The target is to bait 60% of the remaining area infested by rats in the next few months.”

Asked in an interview what keeps him awake at night, Tony Martin said it is the unpredictability of the weather which could threaten the success of the project. Nevertheless he said: ”This is the most exciting and meaningful challenge of my life so far, and will leave a permanent legacy of global importance. Success on South Georgia will be a game-changer as it will alter the world's perception of what is possible in terms of rescuing island wildlife from centuries of human-induced destruction."

Two recent editions of the ’Project News’ can be read on the SGHT website here. British pilot George Phillips is also writing a regular and well observed blog called ‘The Mad Ratters Teaparty’ which you can read at .

A timelapse film of the Habitat Restoration helicopters and stores being offloaded at the
KEP jetty.

Discovery House

The historic building Discovery House, built in 1925 as the marine laboratory for the Discovery Investigations, is undergoing a major refurbishment; externally, windows have been replaced and timbers fixed and painted and the internal work is almost complete. A team of seven GSGSSI builders have worked on the refurbishment throughout the summer and work will continue for another month, by which time the main works should be complete. Final fitting and assembly of furniture, laying of carpets etc will probably wait until the beginning of next summer. The building will be used as accommodation and offices for visiting Government personnel and others like the small science parties that can apply to GSGSSI to work here and be supported by the facilities and resources at the King Edward Point base.

The refurbished exterior of Discovery House.
The refurbished exterior of Discovery House.

The original building was designed to accommodate seven people and was described in the Discovery Reports as being “Of the bungalow type but has large storage space under the roof. In designing the house the severe climate of South Georgia, characterized by a heavy snowfall in winter and violent winds at all times of the year, was taken into special consideration. The building consists of a stout wooden framework bolted onto a concrete foundation, and the walls were constructed with the special object of insulating the house against the cold. The house is so placed that the widows of the laboratory face the beach, and the conservatory and windows of the living rooms, while having a restricted view, are on the sunny side of the house.”

How Discovery House looked when it was first built in 1925.
How Discovery House looked when it was first built in 1925.

The layout of the interior of the refurbished building is broadly similar to the original, but now with four double-bunk bunkrooms and an office on the beachward side; though the meeting room, living/dining room and conservatory (now called the Reading Room), are still on the sunny side. The roof space will once again be designated for storage.

Work continues to refurbish the interior.
Work continues to refurbish the interior.

Tourist Death Inquest Verdict

(Based on a report in Falkland Island newspaper Penguin News.)

The verdict from a Coroner’s inquest, convened to establish the facts surrounding the death of a tourist during a walk, was announced on February 1st.

Mrs Eileen Madden Larrimore died in January 2012 following an accident on a walk which is regularly undertaken by cruise ship passengers and staff. The route follows the last leg of Shackleton’s traverse of the Island, from Fortuna Bay to Stromness.

Mrs Larrimore, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States army, was travelling with her husband on the cruise ship Clipper Adventurer, which was on charter to tour operator Zegrahm Expeditions.

In delivering the verdict, Coroner Mr Carl Gumsley said that he would deliver a narrative verdict setting out a summary of what he found had happened, and that it was not his intention to make a judgement as to liability or blame.

The inquest heard that Mrs Larrimore died of multiple injuries sustained in a fall over a cliff. Her husband, Randall Larrimore, also went over the cliff while trying to save her, but survived the fall.

The Coroner found that the accident happened off the official route that was set out in the South Georgia Government Visitor Management Plan. No warnings had been given that the route would contain cliffs and no expedition staff were present at the area where the fall had taken place.

The severity of Mrs Larrimore’s injuries, and the remote location, made it very unlikely that she would have survived, but the Coroner concluded that the medical care received by Mrs Larrimore had not followed the recognised ABCDE method of dealing with trauma incidents.

Mr Gumsley said that he would be writing to Zegrahm Expeditions, to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) and to the South Georgia Government to ask them to consider ways of making passengers aware of the lack of medical and rescue facilities available on South Georgia and the lack of medivac capabilities. All these bodies would be asked to consider whether there should be improvements in the medical care provided on trips to such remote locations.

The Coroner noted that the South Georgia Government had changed the wording of the Visitor Management Plan, after the incident, to make the requirement to follow the official route more prescriptive.

Is South Georgia A Microcontinent?

Professor Felix Norman Teferle and Seth White at the new KEP Geodetic Observatory.
Professor Felix Norman Teferle and Seth White at the new KEP Geodetic Observatory.

A continuous Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) station has been installed on the top of Brown Mountain, above Grytviken. The data it will provide in the years ahead will help with various research projects, including project to investigate the hypothesis that South Georgia is a tectonic micro-continent.

South Georgia, with its continental shelf area, lies between the Scotia and the South America tectonic plates and currently it is unclear if South Georgia is a crustal block of its own, a micro-continent, or is part of the Scotia plate.

Professor Felix Norman Teferle (University of Luxembourg) and Mr Seth White (UNAVCO, Inc.) were based at King Edward Point (KEP) for a week from February 7th whilst they installed the GNSS station and auxiliary equipment. The station, which is called the KEP Geodetic Observatory, is funded by the University of Luxembourg and has permission from GSGSSI to run for an initial ten year period.

The two scientists, who had planned for a month of field work, were very grateful for assistance both from the Royal Navy and local BAS and GSGSSI staff as their period on the Island was cut to just one week due to logistical constraints. A great start was given when the helicopter from HMS Edinburgh lifted the 600kg of equipment to the top of the mountain for them.

The KEP Geodetic Observatory will allow scientists to determine land movements at the site at the millimetre level, as well as establish a record of atmospheric conditions. The primary objective of the project is to monitor the vertical land movements at the tide gauge at KEP. The tide gauge measures sea level with respect to the land, so potential up or down movements of the land need to be monitored so that the sea level record can be corrected for these. Similar data sets are collected all over the world and allow oceanographers to compute a globally averaged change in sea level.

The scientists explained that a number of natural or human-induced processes can produce land level changes. For instance, in many places human-induced coastal subsidence dominates, but in South Georgia the vertical land movements are believed to be primarily of tectonic source, although a small contribution from past or present ice coverage of the Island and its surrounding continental shelf cannot be ruled out.

The scientists also established a small network of tide gauge benchmarks at KEP to monitor for the possibility that vertical movements of the KEP tide gauge may be due to instabilities of the structure the tide gauge is mounted on - the KEP jetty. Repeated measurements of these benchmarks will show if the KEP jetty is stable at the millimetre level or not.

According to the scientists the KEP Geodetic Observatory will also provide the first measurements of horizontal land movements in South Georgia. In a few years’ time these measurements might be able to answer the question about the status of South Georgia as a micro-continent.

Both scientists, having been struck by the beauty of South Georgia, are keen to return to the Island to install more GPS positions and to repeat surveys.

(Text with assistance from Norman Teferle)

Fishing and Shipping News

Both BAS ships in KE Cove was an unusual sight.
Both BAS ships in KE Cove was an unusual sight.

It was a much quieter month for cruise ships after the busy height of the tourist season in January, with just 5 cruise ships visiting Grytviken during February. There were also visits from five yachts including the replica of Shackleton’s rescue lifeboat James Caird (see above). The four main yachts were all on charter. There were also visits from two larger motor yachts, both on charter to a photographer.

Unusually both British Antarctic Survey vessels were in King Edward Cove together on the 23rd. Both vessels had also made calls into Cumberland Bay earlier in the month, RRS Shackleton whilst on charter to the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project, and RRS James Clark Ross on routine BAS business.

HMS Clyde was on patrol in South Georgia waters towards the end of the month and visited Grytviken between the 23rd and 25th.

Two fishing trawlers were operating in South Georgia waters targeting icefish during February, one of which was inspected and licensed on February 11th. As is usual for this species, catches have been variable. At the start catches were good, limited only by processing capacity of the vessel, and fish sizes were larger than usual. Only one vessel remained fishing by the end of the month.

A trawler in for inspection and licence.
A trawler in for inspection and licence.

Mike Stammers

Marine archaeologist Mike Stammers died recently.

Mike, who held the title of Keeper Emeritus of Merseyside Maritime Museum since retiring in 2003, had a passionate interest in maritime archaeology including that of South Georgia and the Falklands Islands.

For his work in maritime heritage he was described in an obituary on the National Historic Ships UK website as, “Perhaps our most accomplished modern practitioner, with outstanding curatorial, interpretation and collections management skills, who was also a fine scholar, widely familiar with the printed and manuscript sources for his subject both in this country and abroad, his record of publications for someone in his position is simply awesome, and includes definitive works of international scholarship in maritime history and nautical archaeology which will unquestionably stand the test of time.”

Following his visit to assess the wrecks in the Falkland Islands, Mike Stammers made a brief visit to South Georgia in April 1992. The main objective was to produce an up-to-date survey of the maritime heritage of South Georgia, and one specific task was to assess the condition of the two large metal sailing ship hulks, Brutus and Bayard. In the last year he had been advising on a survey of the remains of the wooden three-master Louise, which lies outside Grytviken.

Mike stammers died on January 30th aged 69.

(Info Penguin News)

George Spenceley

George Spenceley , the photographer on Duncan Carse’s SG Surveys in 1955-56 has died.

George Spenceley was an accomplished mountaineer, his love of outdoor pursuits started in his schooldays when he took up caving and rock climbing.

He was a second pilot in the RAF during the 2nd World War, and survived 38 bombing operations before being shot down over Germany in June 1942. He was the sole survivor of the crash but suffered severe injuries. Once released from hospital he was incarcerated in a Prisoner of War camp for three years.

After the war he took up teaching, but spent most of his spare time in the mountains and it was a friend who brought the advertisement for a mountaineering photographer on the South Georgia Surveys to his attention. He was immediately captivated by the Island. On September 24th 1955 after his first sight of the Island he wrote in his diary, “I got up soon after 5am, and hurried on deck to see the finest coastline perhaps anywhere in the world. Ahead and on either side extended a fabulous skyline of shapely peaks.” He was less enthralled by the industrial whaling scene at Leith however, “We all walked through this hideous shanty whaling town, where 500-odd men have been wintering, to the open ground beyond where the snow was clean and crisp.”

During the survey that summer the eight-man survey team covered areas towards the northern end of the Island, making several forays inland covering the area around the Kohl-Larsen Plateau; west of the Bay of Isles; and then between Royal Bay and Drygalski Fjord at the southern end of the island – the overland travel was not without its adventures with runaway sledges; men dropping down crevasses; and such severe weather with tents blown away and conditions in the camps sometimes so terrifying that they feared for their lives more than once. Overall this was the happiest and most successful of the South Georgia Surveys.

After the Survey George Spenceley returned to teaching. In 1957 he was Deputy Leader on a major climbing expedition to Nepal, and once again he was to be the sole survivor of an accident when an icefall killed three of the four men on the rope whilst they were climbing Langpoo Gang.

He continued to travel widely and was a member of the Alpine Club, and after retirement he continued a busy lecture programme, and according to fellow survey member Alec Trendall, his successful career, combining lecturing and worldwide travel, all started when Duncan Carse invited him to South Georgia.

George Spenceley was married twice. He had three sons with his first wife Marjorie, from whom he was amicably separated before marrying travel writer Sylvie. He died peacefully at home on February 13th aged 91.

His work at South Georgia is celebrated in the name of the Spenceley Glacier, which runs through the middle of the Island.

Bird Island Diary

By Hannah Wood, BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

Much like every month on Bird Island, February has hurtled by in a bit of a blur, and we now find ourselves with little over a week until the final ship call of this summer season! How has this happened so soon?!

On the work front everyone has been as busy as ever. Jen and Steph have been in the lab analysing diet samples from grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses, their most exciting discovery being a set of fur seal pup lungs! A reminder that these beautiful birds feed on a wide range of available food and don’t turn their beaks up at much! This is the month that the wandering albatross chicks start to hatch, so daily checks of the nests on the Ridge are taking place and the first chick was heard ‘pipping’ from within its egg on the 24th. Two days later a fluffy Egbert broke through his shell, much to our excitement, and he is doing well so far! In total 7 chicks have now hatched and their progress will be carefully monitored by Steph until they fledge next year.

Wandering albatross family. Photo Steph Winnard.
Wandering albatross family. Photo Steph Winnard.

Ruth and Jerry have had their hands very full with work on a variety of the island birds this month, but particularly the macaroni penguins. After last month’s gentoo-fest, February was the time for the macs to steal the limelight! Mac-month has included diet sampling and many hours spent in the lab sifting through fishy bits and krill-like crustacean remains to determine what adults have been out catching and feeding to their chicks. At Little Mac adults have been pit-tagged so that they can be identified as they come and go across the penguin weigh-bridge at the entrance to the colony. Ruth also reported the exodus of adults from Big Mac as they all go to sea to forage before retuning en-masse to moult in a couple of weeks. A strange lull in activity on the normally hectic colony as the chicks are left to their own devices and the population falls by around 80,000 penguins in a matter of days.

The rest of the base was also able to share a MAC-nificent day out at Little Mac where we weighed and pit-tagged 100 chicks. It was a VERY messy morning, the smell of penguins is certainly a unique and lingering one.

Seal work this month began with puppy weighing on Main Bay, which involved the efforts of the entire base. Once again 100 pups were weighed and unfortunately it appears that they are still much skinnier this year than in previous years. However, they still have time to bulk up a bit before they are fully weaned. Tagging of SSB pups is now conducted opportunistically whenever somebody (usually a birder) stumbles across an adventurous pup hidden up in tussock somewhere. We have now reached nearly 400 pups, a brilliant result, and we will hopefully see lots of them returning in the coming years. This month we have encountered two young females who have been entangled in discarded fishing gear. We successfully removed the plastic, and happily neither of the seals were badly cut by the rope, but it is always a shame to see animals caught up in human rubbish, and a reminder of how marine pollution affects species even in remote areas.

Storm petrel chick at home in a rat box. Photo Tamsin Bell.
Storm petrel chick at home in a rat box. Photo Tamsin Bell.

During her routine rat-box checks, Tamsin found an unexpected but very welcome visitor, a storm petrel chick! Apparently a rat-box makes a cosy and convenient house; we only hope that the word spreads!

February also saw an exciting break from normal work as we had a Search and Rescue exercise. Jen radioed from Main Bay to say that she had fallen and hurt her ankle. The whole base leapt into action and in no time at all we had her stretchered up and being carried back home. Although this was only a practice exercise it was a great opportunity for us to test out our ability to work as a team in a stressful situation. All in all it was a great success and a good confidence booster, especially for the new winterers.

Photo John Ashburner.
Photo John Ashburner.

Around the island we have had a few confused looking chinstrap penguins and a couple of straggler elephant seals hanging out on the beaches. Most of the kings have finished moulting and have said goodbye, but there is still a small huddle on Landing Beach looking very sleek and smart. The right whales that were seen feeding around the North Cliffs at the beginning of the month now seem to have moved on, but we hope it’s not the last we will see of them! The weather has been up to its usual tricks of four seasons in under an hour, but between the horizontal snow showers we have had blazing sunshine, and even ventured out to have a barbeque on the picnic bench!

It’s a sad sight to see the big cardboard boxes of personal gear being filled up as the some of us prepare to leave, but they have a fantastic journey ahead, going back via King Edward Point, Signy and Rothera. Those of us left behind are a little jealous of their tour and the opportunity to sail beyond 60 degrees south and visit the Antarctic Peninsula, but we look forward to the postcards and wish them a safe and not too rocky journey with lots of whales!

South Georgia Snippets

HMS Clyde stopped in during a routine patrol.
HMS Clyde stopped in during a routine patrol.

Visit of HMS Clyde: HMS Clyde was on patrol in South Georgia waters towards the end of the month and visited Grytviken between the 23rd and 25th. Aboard was the Commander of British Forces in the Falkland Islands, Brig. Aldridge and his wife who were making their first visit to the Island. Also visiting was the Attorney General Mark Lewis. Several from KEP were invited aboard HMS Clyde for lunch, with a reciprocal invite for a dinner at Carse House. With the vessel alongside the KEP jetty, the crew were able to enjoy some of the local walks and visits to the historic whaling station at Grytviken and Museum.

Book review for artist Bruce Pearson’s ‘Troubled Waters’: A review of this beautiful and richly illustrated book which explores the interaction of albatrosses with the fishing industry at sea, has been reviewed by John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer on the ACAP website. You can read the review here.

Dates for Your Diary:

On April 23rd there will be an illustrated lecture entitled ‘In the Footsteps of Polar Giants: An illustrated lecture by Henry Worsley’, given at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in aid of The Shackleton Foundation. Henry Worsley will be talking about his two polar journeys - a personal reflection using his diary entries and photographs and some original film footage from Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen expeditions.

The lecture will take place at 7.15pm on April 23rd at the RGS, 1 Kensington Gore, London, UK. Tickets £20 from .

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