The polar bears made me do it…

Students at another university have for decades complained about the painting of polar bears savaging the sinister blood red sails of a wrecked ship that stares down at them from the exam room wall.  They claim it has caused all students who sit directly before it to fail.  Urban myths have arisen about students who were driven to suicide (apparently in the exam room – and no, this never happened) but only after scrawling “the polar bears made me do it” on their exam paper.  Well, it’s one step up from the inky hand print and “I am a fish” of Red Dwarf fame.  If that reference eludes you, watch the pilot episode of Red Dwarf free on BoB.  Many other good things are also available to view for free.  

The real mystery is why the university never took it down or moved it to another location, preferring instead to cloak it in a flag to protect the terrified exam candidates from its malign influence.Happily, no-one has yet claimed that staring into the benign if beady eyes of our resident penguin has led to mesmeric episodes of wanton madness.  It is hard to see what effect Pablo could have other than an urge to conscientiously recycle or to eat more oily fish.

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

4 comments on “The polar bears made me do it…
  1. This is on the walls of Royal Holloway art gallery. I am surprised they use the space for exams. They certainly would not be able to move the painting out of a space where there are dozens of other paintings. Why would they want to? Perhaps they could cover it with a cloth as a temporary measure? This painting is based on the doomed Sir John Franklin expedition to the Arctic when the entire crew disappeared without trace. Another explorer Dr John Rea went to investigate and it was discovered the crew had resorted to cannibalism. The British government (plus Franklin’s wife) were scandalised and discredited his findings. A painting was commissioned showing the British public that it was the polar bears wot dun it guv. The only problem was that Franklin was in an area where there were no polar bears. There were a few local tribes but that was it. It was an extremely unforgiving place but he was determined to find the North West Passage. It’s a really interesting story. It was to be many years before the real story was finally accepted to be true after other explorers found more bones. The Innuit tribes had passed down the story of the English men who ate each other and were able to show them some of the bones and graves. Forensics have since showed the men had stripped the bones down to the marrow. It’s really grisly stuff. Not for the faint hearted!

      • I forgot to say that I saw this painting in the art gallery several years ago. If you get the chance to visit this gallery it is a total gem of a place. Notwithstanding this gory (if a little misleading) exhibit.

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