Monday, May 29, 2006

Times Gone By

One of the first things that I appreciated when I arrived here 15 months ago is the winter photograph display in the dinning room. Two walls are filled with group photos, one from every wintering year. It gave me an enormous sense of belonging straight away, I thought 'I'm going to be part of two of those groups'. Most of the photos are in black and white and contain three rows of around 20 winterers peering through their hoods. Until recently these were all taken, developed and printed in the base dark room, but thanks to digital cameras and printers our last years one is not only in colour, but was photo-shopped in order to get everyone's best side!

This is my favourite photo of the bunch. It's from 1971 and everyone just seems really happy. I love the way the dogs are more interested in what the people are doing than the camera.

The strangest thing about the photos are that the groups haven't really changed that much. Most photos were taken outside, over the years a few people have chosen to wear inside clothes. These are some of the only clues to which year the photo might be from- that and the aviator sunglasses (and the congo line from the 80's- nice). Our clothes haven't changed that much -we camp with almost the same gear as Scott and the other early explorers did. But two significant things are different; dogs and women. The Antarctic Treaty bans all flora and fauna that aren't native to Antarctica. In 1994 all of the dogs were removed from the continent- most of them died though. After all of the years of isolation from the rest of the world that the dogs weren't resistant to diseases other dogs were. From what I've read the dogs made a big difference to base life (trawling through the old base reports is enlightening). I can imagine having a base cat but have never seen dogs here- so seeing them on films and documentaries is a bit strange. The other difference is the absence of women until 1996. The timing causes the obvious joke that women had to be brought in to replace the dogs, but the reality is that Britain was very late in letting women winter. I suppose a unisex base of either gender would be slightly psychologically easier, but a mixed gender base simply reflects the society we come from and so should be encouraged. Personally I don't see why anyone would have a problem with women here (some people do), and think that the 'good winterer' gene has nothing to do with the X or Y chromosomes, but more to do with whichever genes dictate your personality. This year five of the 16 of us are women and we contribute wonderfully to the base (my digging arm is getting really strong). But that's not because we're women, but because the mix of people (with everyone's individual strengths and weaknesses) on base is perfect.

So why am I waffling on about times gone by? Well, we had an old FIDS evening on Saturday (FIDS being Falkland Island Dependency Survey- which is what all British staff who come South are called). Chef cooked us up a lovely meal using only tinned and dehydrated foods- though as Nicola pointed out, our regular menu hasn't changed that much (though we're not allowed to eat the wildlife anymore). We all dressed up and even attempted an oldie mock photo.

Most of the 2006 crew sitting down for Oldie FIDS evening meal. Photo by Bob. Note Anto's Irish flag to combat the Union Jack and BAT Flag (yes we know the Union Jack is the wrong way up- perhaps done on purpose to reflect taht we're in a very British world but are in the Southern Hemisphere....)

The main influence behind this themed evening was for us to give slide shows to each other. Three of us have avidly been using the dark room, printing off Black & White prints and creating colour slides. I bought an SLR just before I came down and thought I'd give the dark room a go, but spent the first year sending colour print films back to the UK to be developed. Andy and Anto have since got me into colour slides and the quality difference from a digital camera is amazing. It's such a shame that there are no plans to put a dark room in Halley 6.
So Anto, Andy, John (just had some lying around) and I showed a selection of our slides, which I believe went down very well (though South Africa Andy? on a FIDS night?).
We also put on a couple of cinefilms 'The Surfboats of Agra' and a jazz themed 'The Free Piston Engine' were the choice feature films. The base has a very large supply of these cinereel films and I'm not sure if it's possible to watch them all through a winter. Most of the reels are 20 minute news reels, but we have some longer features. They've been supplied to the base by oil companies over the years so the general themes are 'look what this engine can do', 'isn't technology great' and 'drive as far and as fast as you like, there's always going to be more oil'. However the best film in my opinion is the TransAntarctic Expedition (we seem to have more than one copy of this?!?) which set off from Shackleton base (which was not far from here when it existed). We showed this over the summer along with 'The Last Tram' which is about the end of Trams in London Town.

I regularly have a browse through the zfids website (see link to the right) and a recent update was this photo of a Piano in Halley 1. I must say that I am very jealous of this guy. Beside family and friends, the biggest things I miss are pottering about in the garden and playing my piano. There's nothing better to blow the cobwebs away than a bit of Beethoven bashed out an octave lower than it should be. On that note....

Ok- lots of apologies for writing this close to a month ago and not publishing until now... mid-winter blog to come soon (the festivities are ongoing).

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Club Nido

Club Nido - A club held on occasions in the Garage.
Named after the milk substitute we drink here - quite tasty. Real milk is one of the things I thought I'd miss. I drunk gallons of it at home- but I don't miss it at all.

Anyway, there are only 16 of us on base, how can we have a club night? In the summer it worked quite well with so many people on base. We had a BBQ at the same time, and was quite fun. But during the winter Club Nido has to be different. One person has to stay on the Main Platform for safety reasons. Then you can't guarantee everyone's in the mood for it on the night. So 12 of us ended up in the garage, drinking our chosen beverages wondering what the night would end up like. We even started out in gender groups like you would at a BBQ at home... how strange. But us girlies covered ourselves in glitter and sidled on over to the bench all of the boys were nervously perching themselves on.

A blurred photo of the group from the Garage balcony.

The best Met Team photo yet... I think I was trying to persuade Andy out of his overalls.

On Friday and Saturday nights we tend to congregate in the Bar that's in the Lounge a little more than during the week, but it's really really nice to have a change of venue. It's also great to have so much space to hoon about in (we played twister and had at least one piggy back competition). Kirsty, Anto and I did most of the preparations dolling the garage out in different glittery lights and throwing old sheep-skin rugs everywhere we could. But Anto was the most put out since he had to vacate all of the vehicles from the premises and clean the place from top to bottom. So thanks for that Anto. It was very much appreciated. Something that made this a little more interesting was the 60+knot blow outside, Mark managed to hurt his ankle on the 500m walk home. But besides that it's great here... no waiting for taxi's, no drunken strangers in the streets. This is a hermit's heaven.

Vicki and Dave.

These guys discovered that I'm not as light as I look. And I bruise easily.

After a few games of twister the spinning board was only held for show as the person with the board did their best to tangle everyone else up.

All Photos by Anto (?).

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sundown during Nightshift

The sun went down for the last time until August. The tradition is that we don't fly our flag while the sun's down, so the oldest FID on base takes it down. This was Liz's job (we have lots of very young people on base this year), and she did it wonderfully.

Photo by Julius.

The exact date and time of the final viewing of the sun was a well discussed topic here. I think we decided 'sundown' depends on three conditions. 1. Your height above sea-level 2. How much of the sun's disc you count as set (whole thing, a small amount, half or anywhere inbetween) and 3. Local atmospheric conditions. Now it might sound as though I'm trying to back out of the exact date with excuses, but we get a lot of mirages here. I'd say at least a couple of days that people could still see the sun it was only miraged. But then you could see it, so it wasn't set- or was it? A normal sunset is generally agreed to have the center of the sun just under 1 degree below the horizon. Our height above sealevel changes from day to day with the tides, but is about 35m on average on a platform, but then you could be on the roof, or the snowlevel. And the biggest factor is the weather on the day. If there's cloud on the northern horrizon, you won't see the sun. If there's a mirage then you will see it- but it's already set...

In any case, we had a big party with cocktails and a drinking competition on Saturday night, took the flag down around 3pm on Sunday (30th April) and then had a BBQ on the front veranda in the evening.

This last week I was on nightshift. We live in an extreme environment, on our own and it is very important to have one named, sober person for everyone to rely on 24 hours a day. The gash person (a daily cleaner chosen by rota) is in charge of radio chat, making sure everyone's safe and where they should be during the day (as well as the communual areas daily cleaning), and nightshift covers the remaining 13hours (8pm till 9am).
People have written about this part of baselife on blogs before. I suppose it is different for everyone, although I approach it the same everytime. Because it is just one week of swapping your body clock, I never quite get onto nights very well. I'm generally quite unmotivated to do very much (perhaps something to do with not being outside and doing a lot of activity), but potter about the base doing odd cleaning jobs. I normally choose a few films that I haven't seen before, a couple of documentaries and a TV series to watch while I cross-stitch (I don't require any more- thank you).
Nights has it's good and bad points:
Good- it's nice to be by yourself for a bit. Have total choice on what you watch, free reign in the kitchen and it's quite nice to have a cosy week inside.
Bad- I end up being on a totally different wavelength to everyone else, being high as a kite in the morning when people get up and are very groggy, but not really wanting to see many people when I get up and everything on base is happening. I also get a bit fidgety until after midnight- so don't have the attention span to sit and chat or join in with anything until people have gone to bed! Oh, and I can't stand sitting in front of a computer for a long time on the Laws Platform.
Here's a few photos of the things I did manage to do:

Andy and Alex on the extensive Halley Climbing Wall. They were able to give me a few hints and tips, and I can now traverse the wall without too much trouble. It definetly woke me up a bit.

Welding school was taken by Anto and Andy. Dave and I were giving MIG a go. I can see why it's used in preference to Arc a lot of the time.
Photo by Anto.

I made some croissants on my last night. They actually turned out quite well.

The trick to getting back onto days is to help clean out the grifters.
The grifters are tanks that sit underneath the toilets and sinks, there's 5 on the main platform. They need to be checked and cleaned every month or so. This is Brian the plumber's job.
The gloves are definetly required.