In the news · Word of the week

Word of the week: Hope

Today is International Mountain Day. That’s a new one on me. According to its website, here, “The United Nations General Assembly designated 11 December ‘International Mountain Day’. As of 2003, it has been observed every year to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build alliances that will bring positive change to mountain peoples and environments around the world”. It also tells us, “Mountain tourism attracts about 15-20 per cent of global tourism”. My travels to date have clearly been in the other 80-85%. I have never been up a mountain. I have passed through one (via the Mont Blanc tunnel, on the way to Italy) but never climbed one, and have never gone skiing. None of this is likely to change any time soon.

To tie in with International Mountain Day it was announced that Mount Hope, in Antarctica, has been installed as the UK’s highest peak. As this piece on the BBC website notes, “Mt Hope, which is sited in the part of the Antarctic claimed by the UK, was recently re-measured and found to tower above the previous title holder, Mt Jackson, by a good 50m (160ft)”. It measures over 10,000 feet (3,239 metres).

As I heard about this mountain for the first time, earlier today, I was trying to remember something else named Hope that was in the news this year. What was it? It came to mind soon afterwards: the blue whale at the Natural History Museum, whose skeleton now hangs from the ceiling of the Hintze Hall. Back in January my daughter and I went to the museum to say our goodbyes to Dippy the Diplodocus, the dinosaur skeleton that had occupied the hall for over a century until then. I drafted something about it at the time but it feels too late to publish it now. Our visit was along the lines of our Marylebone Mornings, documented here nearly a year ago, and replaced since the summer with park runs. This piece in the New Scientist, from August, “The day Hope the whale stole the show”, is very enthusiastic about the new exhibit. My son and I went to see it around the same time. It’s well worth a look if you’re passing anywhere nearby.

Musing on the word “hope” has also brought to mind something that I have only heard about in quiz questions in recent years, about Pandora’s Box. When Pandora opened the box and unleashed a whole load of misery on mankind, what was the only thing left? The answer: Hope, or “Elpis” in Greek, according to this page on It makes me realize how little Greek mythology I have remembered, despite reading “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” (in their Penguin translations) in the 1980s, dipping into them every now and then in the decades since then, and hearing hundreds or even thousands of questions about Greek gods and heroes. A recent quiz question (on ITV’s “The Chase”, probably), asked for the name of Odysseus’s homeland, the place he was trying to return to after the Trojan War. My daughter could retrieve the information long before me (she’s studying the Greeks in her last year at primary school): Ithaca, of course it is.

Finally, on the subject of Hope, take a look at this classic Private Eye cover from last year, comparing a campaign poster for Barack Obama with someone who was, at the time, only a presidential hopeful.



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