Brussels (dpa) – Almost a hundred years after the first human being managed the great trek to the South Pole, a Belgian garden gnome is aiming to become the first lawn ornament to set foot on the world’s most hostile continent.
Jerome Angus Graham III – to give the 25-centimetre-tall plastic model, dressed in a gilded wizard’s hat and reclining in an easy chair, his full name – is famed in Belgium as the country’s most widely-travelled gnome.
Jerome is the property, not to mention brain-child, of a young Belgian couple, Sibby Cleenewerk, 37, and Johan Deprez, 29. In late 2005 they decided as a joke to see whether they could send a garden gnome around the world in one piece.
"How far can you go in sending a plastic gnome around the world? How far would he get before he got damaged, stolen or lost? We all know the kind of conversations that leads to stuff like this…," their website, travellinggnome.net, explains.
Jerome’s first round-the-world voyage was as a parcel to Sydney, albeit a parcel with air holes. The trip took three months, and was not a great success, as the gnome unaccountably failed to come home with photographic proof of his visit to Australia.
But after that trip, Jerome’s owner-managers offered him out as the ultimate novelty travel accessory. The concept was simple: anyone wanting to take Jerome abroad would be welcome to do so, as long as they brought him home with a photo proving where he had been.
"Nobody knows where this will end, but wasn’t that the initial question? ‘How far will this go?’ The answer is simple: as far as you take him!" their website proudly proclaims.
In the last two years, Jerome has travelled over 100,000 kilometres to 21 countries on five continents in the hands, and hand luggage, of various gnome-friendly tourists.
China, Mongolia, Peru and Egypt have all felt the be-sandalled footprint of the travelling gnome.
He is set to tick off his sixth continent later this month, as Belgian travel firm Asteria Expeditions has invited him on a cruise to Antarctica – a voyage in memory of Belgian polar exploration vessel the Belgica, which visited those icy waters in 1896-99.
That tour will make him "the first gnome to set foot on the frozen continent," Deprez said in a recent interview with Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws.
And the visit is set to be followed in the spring by a race around the world, landing on all six inhabited continents within 24 days – though hopefully leaving enough time for photo shoots in between.
In the last year, Jerome the Gnome has also dabbled with political activism, launching an online petition against a Belgian brand of pate called "Gnome pate."
However, he closed the petition once the pate’s producers – a firm called "The Hobbit" – provided proof that the pate was vegetarian and contained no gnome parts, his website explained.