'Four of my fingers were solid' Matthew Hancock MP
This article is from the December 2012 issue of Total Politics
I’ve been a cricketer for as long as I can remember. Days of glorious sunshine watching Lancashire at Old Trafford. Afternoons in the pavilion at my Chester club, evenings playing in the rain in the garden; it’s safe to say my enthusiasm is better than my ability.
So in 2005, while planning a two-man expedition to the North Pole, when a tentative sponsor offered to back us if we played cricket there, I leapt at the chance. My rationale was simple. We’d been planning the trip for several months. We were raising money for Cancer Research UK and carrying out experiments for the European Space Agency. We needed a sponsor, and wrote to hundreds of companies.
Brit Insurance wrote back, explaining with the air of a classic rejection letter, that they only sponsored cricket: “But can you remember Buzz Aldrin playing golf on the moon? You can play cricket at the North Pole.” With that, our sponsorship was secured, and my passion for cricket became an unlikely world record attempt.
For months we trained. Then we flew to Resolute Bay in the northern reaches of Canada, and acclimatised at the hut previously frequented by Ranulph Fiennes and other Arctic heroes.
At last, we set out. Dragging everything we needed for eight hours a day across the sea ice was torment. It wasn’t the cold so much as the constant, unstinting effort that was the problem, but the beauty of the desolate Arctic landscape and the freedom that comes with being hundreds of miles from the nearest human made up for it.
One evening, with the temperature dropping to minus 40, the tent ripped as we were pitching it. Immediately, I went to sew it up, discarding my outer gloves, keen to get the tent up and the fire on inside. The nip of the cold went away after a minute or so, and I got the job done.
But the numbness of my fingers was a warning I should have heeded. Four of my fingers were solid; the frozen stumps rang out as I tapped them against my metal water can.
You don’t lose fingers to frostbite unless you thaw them out and refreeze them. So to save my fingers, the only option was to call in support and the next day a rescue plane was summoned.
While we waited, we made stumps of our ski-poles and played the most northerly game of cricket in history. I couldn’t hold the ball too well, so after scoring a couple of runs batting first, you can imagine my relief when I bowled my teammate for a duck.
My fingers are now mostly recovered, save for mild arthritis in one joint. And I continue my enthusiasm for cricket in the milder environment of the Lords and Commons Cricket Club, which plays a full fixture list and against other parliaments from around the world.
Arriving in parliament also taught me a thing or two about world records. Expounding one day about mine, a fellow new MP calmly listened, and told me: “I heard about your record. My mother broke it.”
Matthew Hancock is minister for skills and the Conservative MP for West Suffolk