Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mid Winter

Greetings and best wishes on this Mid Winter's week. It's been a fun and eventful week so far, I'll write what's gone on so far and then add more as and when it happens.

The 2006 Wintering Team just about to sit down for dinner.

Mid-Winter is the highlight of every winter. There is the perfect length of time between the ship leaving (end of Feb) and this big event to look forward to. It isn't too far off that it never gets here, but long enough to break the winter up nicely. We still have 6 months until the ship gets in for next relief, but the first plane will be in a month before the ship. We also have winter trips, penguin trips and lots of science going on in the spring (ozone hole time!). Things will get very busy very quickly as the sun (and perfect kiting conditions) come back, and so the summer will be here before any of us expect it. We're still very much enjoying the solitude and darkness but are still waiting for some really good auroras (they have been a little lacking of late). But the sky was amazingly, jaw-droppingly clear this morning with the Milky Way lighting up the snow, the Southern Cross high towards the South and Orion just setting to the East. Worth getting up early the morning after Mid-Winter's day (if not to do the Met and send the balloon off).

So, during the week we all get time off. Things obviously still need to be done like refuelling, filling the meltank, cook, nights, gash, met- but it's quite a relaxed week. Most of last weekend and the beginning of this week I've been down the garage working on my desperately difficult winter present I made for Alex (I can tell you now). I made a remote controlled Snocat, and it worked!!! It was a bit touch and go for a while, isn't perfect (tracks need work) and the body was a bit of a Blue Peter effort, but overall I was quite pleased with the results.
Here's a few photos of my baby being created:

The drive wheels were made out of bottle tops.

The carriers were braised together using a gas welder (it took a long time to get to this stage- but I wasn't in the mood to take photos of the process before this sort of point).

Then they were dipped into the snocat grey paint. Seemed a bit strange considering the size of a normal snocat carrier.

My Blue Peter effort on the body. The idea was to eventually make this out of Aluminium, but I just ran out of time.

Glueing the tracks together didn't actually work. Stapples were the trick in the end.

It was made from a remote control car kit left by a previous winterer (thank you Gareth). What I originally thought would be quite a simple operation changing the wheels to tracks, ended up being a big job but thanks to my technical advisor Anto, I was able to work out the best way to do it. Like all good mid-winter presents I wanted to keep it and I knowing what I know now I would never make another. I did however learn loads of new metal work skills which has brought me one step closer to being a blacksmith.

On the Friday and Saturday nights last weekend we all had enjoyable times in the bar as well as a lovely slide show provided by Bob of his days as a generator mechanic on small leisure boats. Amazing photos, great job and the places he showed us seem a world away.

On Sunday before mid-winter's day we had a Day of Film. I awoke at 10:30 and dragged my duvet to the newly set up sofa/pile of mattresses to enjoy 'It's a Wonderful Life' in big screen and surround sound. I was in (small) floods of tears. Then it was lunch. Life of Brian was the next film- but I was on an odd night shift that night, so took the opportunity to miss out on not only a film provided by me but nominated and voted for. Still I've seen it a million times and I'm lacking in sleep and little did I know at the time, the film was to be re-enacted later in the week! The next top voted for film was To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the book by Harper Lee that everyone reads at school. Excellent film. Old- great acting, very moving story. Then I think we had dinner and we found ourselves in France chasing the mystery behind 'A Very Long Engagement'. With an interval for a met observation and popcorn making we finished the film and with a mass exodus the rest of us put on 'A Muppet's Christmas Carol'. We all sung our way through the rest of the evening. A brilliant day for this young film lover.

Monday: Well I was on nightshift the previous night (added the peculiar 'Heathers' to my good film list), so I spent the morning in bed, and then the afternoon doing my present. We had an all base singles pool competition. 16 contestants, 15 games in a knockout format, best of three frames (5 for the final). All of the 1st round matches were finished by lunch and we started on the 2nd round. There were a few surprises with Kirsty beating Brian with an open-mouthed, super-amazing potting spree. Nicola's inconsistent awesome potting continued (it's the glasses) and we entered the Semi-final round with three girls and John. The match against John was a little tense, could have gone either way (it's a game of two halves?), but ended with me winning 2-1. Kirsty beat Nicola (her luck had run out) to leave Kirsty facing me in the final. The two MetBabes prevail... It was a fun, tense match with both of us using our putting-off skills to the max. Kirsty was winning 2-0 at one stage. There were a few tournament winning shots missed by her, and I somehow managed to scrape back a win. I'm sure she deserved the prize, but the balls fell favourably for me (I feel that potting three solids off a break against John was taking the piss).

Tuesday: I think this day for me (and many others) was lost in panicky last minute changes/finishes to winter presents.
The evening was spent by being beaten by our fellow BAS FIDS at King Edward Point (KEP) on South Georgia Island. I stopped in at this base a year and a half ago on the way to Halley and had a tour round the base, tried to set up a new weather data collection system and did a walk or two around the island. I think the base is most people idea of perfect scenery, though Captain Cook was famous for hating it (hell on Earth the phrase he used?). It's beautiful with many seals (a;lksdfh;aslkdf run!!!), penguins, birds and more. I saw an albatross up really close there, did a lot of running from fur seals, terns and skuas and got some lovely photos of King Penguins (aptly named). Ok, so the point is I've been there. I also know a couple of the winterers there from courses that we did together in preparation to coming down South, so it was really good to chat to them on messenger. We had two webcams set up, one on the bar, and one on the darts board and chatted and related our scores. The KEP team won gallantly even though we were ahead by 200 points on one match (we just couldn't get those doubles!!). And so the Antarctic Darts Tournament continues...

Wednesday: Mid Winters Day - 21st June
For me this started with John the Base Commander waking me up with a lovely cup of tea and orange juice. Ten minutes later, still in my pit room, I heard a lot of radio noise coming from the corridor and suddenly remembered that Simon, the Field Assistant had said that he had a surprise for us all that morning. I rushed out of bed, went to the bootroom and stuck some boots on, my big goose-down jacket, a hat and some gloves on to arrive on the platform just in time to witness a brilliantly orchestrated, one-man fireworks display made with a few mini-flares.
Mid Winter is full of traditions and the next one I partook in is one of my favourite. The mid-winter run. It's neither untraditional or taboo to do a mixed gender run (you're so cold, who cares?), but 4 of us girls had decided to do it together, supporting the not-so confident streakers. So Vicki the doctor, Nicola the chef, Liz the chippy and I planned our assault on the 150m run around the building in -40C (10knots of wind). There's a balance to be struck on such a run to not run too fast that your lungs are overworked and you get frostnip inside your nose, but not too slowly that you're out there for a long time. I'm also a little confused about how no-one heard us stomping around on the snow, shrieking words of encouragement to each other, 'this is a tricky bit, careful on the sastrugi', 'almost half-way now', 'I'm SO numb'. We found a poor unsuspecting Electrician and made him take this photo of us in the bootroom after the event. Five other people streaked that day (1 person twice) and I'm pleased to say that 100% of the girls on base did it. You boys are such wuses!

Me, Vicki, Liz and Nic defrosting.

The boys starting their streak. Co-incidentally this was Local Apparent Noon (the time when the sun is at it's highest for our longitude (13:45z)). Gorgeous colour.

Champagne breakfast followed the run. The breakfast was of course provided by John, this year's Winter Base Commander who I'm afraid gets a raw deal on mid-winter's day. Not only providing us with a lovely breakfast, but it's his first night of a 10-night nightshift. No alcohol for him!!

I was still finishing off wrapping up my snocat when some more streakers took the quiet corridor time to do their run. At 14:30 it was time for a big screen movie 'The Thing'. Set in the Antarctic has quite a realistic view of base life, and is horrifically funny.

Evening drinks began at 17:30z, everyone was looking gorgeous having turned out their wardrobes for their finest of clothes. Dinner started at a punctual 18:00 and was amazing. Nicola defeated us by the main meal, having consumed seafood, sorbet and (my favourite) fried canembert.

Nic putting the finishing touches on the starter.

'Just a small one for me'

By 20:30 we were on to the present giving. Each person handing out a named wrapped present from under the tree. The person the present was for would open it carefully then the person who it was from would shout 'not like that, the other way up- ahh.. you just ruined it'. No, it all went well and was great to see the reason various people have been scurrying off to whichever workshop.

The penguin Bob gave me. Photo by Jules

Everyone (except Bob) and the pile of brilliant presents. Photo by Bob.

At 21:30 we listened to the mid-winter broadcast (click on the link to listen). This is when BAS get free air time to plug the latest news and a reminder that we exist. It's brilliant for us to hear messages from home, and I hope the broadcast keeps on going (even though we've got constant internet and good phone access it's still very much appreciated).

The rest of the evening went merrily along. We had far too much food to eat and there's still a pile of drink that we didn't manage to consume, though we spent a lovely evening admiring each other's presents, hard work and ingenuity.

Well I was back on Met Shift. We had had a network problem on Wednesday morning, so I was still encouraging instruments to log. I believe a copy of Dr. Zhivago was finally found and played in the afternoon. A Quiz was put together by the keeper of all knowledge, Simon. No more will be said on this subject since my team lost.

Games night. We started at the bar with some lovely cocktails made by Vicki and Dave. We played a couple of games of 'murder' where Brian went on a vicious killing spree and then sat down in the lounge for a long game of 'Articulate'. This was very amusing (the cocktails had played their part) and there was a lot of cheating going on. Again my team lost, but I don't think it was any one particular person's fault... more because we were just rubbish as a team. Pictionary followed the same lines as the previous game... Mark, how is that a Robin?

Cabaret Night. This was a superb and excellent night. We have talent, ingenuity and shamelessness coming out of our ears. Dave, Mark and Andy are all naturals on the whole guitar and singing format, but there was much, much more. Too hard to describe.
But I have it all on video!!!!
The DVD will be released following production and is subject to shipping (sea-ice) conditions. All orders by request. Blank DVD's must be provided prior to purchase.

Dave and Andy play a Nirvana song. Photo by Anto.

Brian, Bob, Liz and Chris gave us a renindition of Always look on the Bright Side of Life with Mark on the guitar. Photo by Anto.

And so another Mid-Winter week is over. The workshops are still a mess from present making, the cellar is still very much full of alcohol, the decorations are beginning to fall down by themselves and people are starting to peer out of the windows again- double check the temperature and with a worried look on their faces say 'I wish it would warm up enough for the dozer to start- that meltank's murder'.